A Short History of English Literature

A Short History of English Literature

The oldest document which has a possibly authentic claim to be English Literature,^ if but English Literature in the making and far off completion, is the poem commonly called Widsith, from its opening word, which some take to be a proper name.’- Others simply see in it the designation of a ” far-travelled singer, who here recounts his journeyings in 143 lines of no great literary beauty, and only interesting as sketching the gainful and varied life of a minstrel in the Dark Ages, were it not for the proper names which 1 Fuller English treatments of this matter will be found in Mr. Stopford Brooke’s History of Early English Literature

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A Short History of English Literature

The oldest document which has a possibly authentic claim to be English Literature,^ if but English Literature in the making and far off completion, is the poem commonly called Widsith, from its opening
word, which some take to be a proper name.’- Others simply see in it the designation of a ” far-travelled singer, who here recounts his journeyings in 143 lines of no great literary beauty, and only interesting as sketching the gainful and varied life of a minstrel in the Dark Ages, were it not for the proper names which 1 Fuller English treatments of this matter will be found in Mr. Stopford Brooke’s History of Early English Literature ; in Mr. H. Morley’s English Writers, vols. i. and ii.; in Professor Earle’s Anglo-Saxon Literature; and in the translation of Ten Brink’s English Literature, vol. i. The texts discussed in this chapter form the first five numbers of Grein-Wul(c)ker’s Dibliothek der angels&chsischen Poesie, vol. i., pp. 1-277, which gives two texts oi Beowulf. This latter has been frequently edited and translated ; Professor Earle’s Deeds of Beowulf is a good translation
without text. 2 Some high authorities, looking upon Widsith as a ” made-up ” thing, hold it to be later, and would assign the priority to the Finnsburg fragment or others. No opinion one way or the other is expressed here ; indeed, the writer holds that the evidence is insufficient for adopting any. But it may be convenient to make the point an occasion in limine for a respectful request to readers not to take absence of mention of theories of this kind, or statements in the text apparently antagonistic to them, as proof of ignorance on the writer’s part. This book attempts to be a history, not of the latest or any opinions about literature, but of that literature itself. The practically endless questions of authenticity, integrity, date, and so forth must be, as a rule, left to special study.

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