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SELECTED AND EDITED BY
TOM PEETE CROSS, PH.D.
PROFESSOR OF ENGLISH AND COMPARATIVE LITERATURE, AND
Heath's Readings is designed (1) to meet the needs of the student, or general reader, who desires an acquaintance with the greater masterpieces of British literature, and (2) to afford an adequate background for the undergraduate who wishes to specialize or "major" in the subject of English. The works included therefore comprise not only poems and prose pieces that illustrate the historical development of the literature of England but those writings as well whose claims. upon the student's attention are justified not so much by their purely historical value as by their long-continued popularity or intrinsic merit. Particularly in the earlier periods, works of unusual literary excellence or human appeal have occasionally been substituted for documents which, though sometimes included in anthologies because of their historical value, seldom if ever arouse the enthusiasm of the undergraduate or of the general reader. In making the selections, the editors have been constantly guided by accepted critical opinion, seconded by their own judgment, and by a sympathetic respect for the taste of the student who is to use the book. Although specimens of the drama and the novel have been omitted because of the limitations of space, lists of suggested readings in these types are given at the beginnings of the several larger divisions.
The book aims to represent adequately, as far as is practicable, all the major types and authors, along with a sufficient number of minor writers to illustrate the continuity of literary history and the great diversity in subject matter and method of treatment. To this end the compilers have departed somewhat from the common practice in anthologies of excluding all literary works of the earlier period that were not actually written in Anglo-Saxon or in Middle English. Too often the fact is overlooked that before the Renaissance some of the finest flowerings of literary genius in Britain found expression in languages other than English. During the centuries when English was regarded as a medium not sufficiently dignified for universal literary usage, Latin was the language of scholarship and religion as Anglo-Norman French was of chivalry and courtly society; hence it is in works composed in Latin or French that we must seek for the reflection of the most advanced culture of England during a considerable part of the Middle Ages. Moreover, before the close of the twelfth century there had appeared in Irish and in Cymric (Welsh), the ancient language of Britain, writings of unexpected literary excellence that give us fascinating glimpses of the native foundations of British literary tradition and are indispensable to an adequate understanding of the history of British fiction, particularly Arthurian romance. In all selections mere fragments have been avoided, as usually being misleading and, in accordance with present methods of instruction, pedagogically unsound. In the few cases where it has been judged inadvisable to give a work entire, an effort has been made to choose a passage that is at once representative of the whole work and within itself possessed of artistic unity.