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Two things are attempted in the following work, which the author believes have not hitherto been systematically accomplished. My chief object has been to bring into as clear light as possible the characteristics of the several poets within the period chosen. And as a secondary object to this, I have endeavoured to trace how far each poet was influenced by his literary predecessors and his contemporaries. This is what I have attempted to do. The reader must not in this volume expect to find the works of our poets treated with reference to their race or their social surroundings. “What sort of man was he?" not “How was he formed ?" is the leading question to which I have endeavoured to supply an answer.
In thus deliberately adopting a method that is in one vital respect the opposite of M. Taine's, I should be sorry if it were supposed that I am insensible to the value of what M. Taine has done for English literature. It may be, as one of his critics has said, that M. Taine has added little to the popular conception of the Englishman, as expressed in the nickname " John Bull;" but none the less on that account is it a great and valuable work to have shown that the