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Much current misunderstanding of the theories about literature held by eighteenth century Englishmen is due to the fact that a large part of the criticism published in their time has been difficult of access. It is the purpose of this volume to lessen the difficulty by putting into the hands of the student a group of representative critical essays. Most of these have not been reprinted since the eighteenth century, and one of them has become really rare. To the less familiar work has been added a selection from the criticism of Steele, Addison, and Pope in order that the survey might be more nearly complete. Essays displaying general theories and tendencies have been chosen rather than those discussing only individual books or plays.
The volume aims to present, therefore, the more significant criticism published between 1700 and 1725. There are, however, two notable omissions. There is no representation either of Shaftesbury's criticism or of the several essays dealing with Shakespeare. The latter have been excluded on the ground that they are already easily accessible in D. Nichol Smith's Eighteenth Century Essays on Shakespeare. Shaftesbury has been excluded for reasons of space. It would have been impossible to represent him adequately without devoting to his work a disproportionate number of pages and consequently excluding other work of perhaps greater importance. This exclusion is the less to be regretted because the Characteristics have already been republished in an excellent modern edition.