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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

John William Cunliffe (1865–1946) and Ashley Horace Thorndike (1871–1933)

By Preface

ONE main principle in conducting this revision has been to maintain the high standard set when the work was originally undertaken. The lapse of twenty years has necessitated some additions and the revision of some critical judgments which were representative of the best opinion prevailing at the time they were written, but the excellence of the original workmanship was such that the necessary changes proved to be fewer than might reasonably have been expected. Indeed some of the critical articles—those, for instance, by Henry James, Sir Leslie Stephen, and W. D. Howells—have become veritable classics in the sense that they embody permanent judgments which will be of value so long as the English language lasts.

Some of the giants of those days are still with us, and we have been fortunate in securing their services for the revision of their own work. It is an especial gratification that Mr. Howells has been willing to spend the opening days of his eighty-first year in revising and completing his estimate of Tolstoy made twenty years ago. In not a few cases contributors to the original edition have been induced to add new articles on authors who have attained eminence during the interim, but for the most part we have endeavored to enlist the leaders among the new generation of critics to interpret the work of the new generation of authors.

For a considerable number of authors included in the original edition it has been necessary to have new articles written, as, for example, for Mark Twain, Henry James, Theodore Roosevelt, Gerhart Hauptmann, and Anatole France. In other instances, where the criticism seemed admirable, so far as it dealt with the author’s works up to the time when it was written, supplementary notes have been added dealing with phases of later development. The selections given in the original edition have also sometimes been enlarged in order to make use of a new translation of a classic, or to represent a well-known author more comprehensively.

In the addition of new authors, the editors have felt that the general plan of the Library compelled them to proceed somewhat conservatively. The last dozen years have been marked by great literary activity among many nations, notably in prose-fiction, poetry, and drama. No one who surveys this recent literature can fail to be impressed by its novelty, attractiveness, and seeming vitality, but the interest in much of it may be said to lie rather in its ideas and tendencies than in the artistic achievement or distinctive point of view of the individual authors. Moreover, the literary movements which are producing some of the most brilliant writing to-day are themselves uncertain in direction and momentum. In the case of many writers now attracting a great deal of attention a suspension of judgment seems advisable, though we have endeavored to give due recognition to substantial achievement.

In order to report adequately some striking tendencies in recent literature, comprehensive articles have been added on the Drama, Fiction, and Poetry of the Twentieth Century, and on the Irish Renaissance. These critical essays afford the reader an opportunity to survey the most interesting and varied activities in these fields and to make his own prophecies. These general articles have not, of course, prevented the separate biographical and critical treatment of distinguished writers in these general fields. Among the seventy new writers added to these volumes, there are many, as Andreyev, Bergson, Brieux, Butler, Conrad, Galsworthy, Gissing, O. Henry, Masefield, Rostand, Shaw, Synge, Verhaeren, Wells, and Yeats, whom few had heard of twenty years ago and whom no one would exclude to-day.

The Dictionary of Authors and the Digest of Books have been recast from beginning to end, involving the addition of much new material. Most important of all, a carefully devised Course in Literature has been worked out by competent hands, so that the possessor of the Library may follow out a logical and consistent scheme of home reading, which he may vary to suit his individual tastes. It is not too much to say that the student who uses the Library according to the instructions there laid down will not only derive a great deal of pleasure from a carefully arranged course of reading, but, by passing in review the achievements of the human mind in the successive stages of its development, will become what is perhaps increasingly rare nowadays, in spite of the wider opportunities for instruction—an educated man.

John W. Cunliffe Ashley H. Thorndike