English Literature: Modern
G. H. Mair
Part 4 out of 4
desolate Atlantic coast and wrote the plays by which his name is known.
His literary output was not large, but he supplied the Irish dramatic
movement with exactly what it needed--a vivid contact with the realities
of life. Not that he was a mere student or transcriber of manners. His
wandering life among many peoples and his study of classical French and
German literature had equipped him as perhaps no other modern dramatist
has been equipped with an imaginative insight and a reach of perception
which enabled him to give universality and depth to his pourtrayal of
the peasant types around him. He got down to the great elemental forces
which throb and pulse beneath the common crises of everyday life and
laid them bare, not as ugly and horrible, but with a sense of their
terror, their beauty and their strength. His earliest play, _The Well of
the Saints_, treats of a sorrow that is as old as Helen of the vanishing
of beauty and the irony of fulfilled desire. The great realities of
death pass through the _Riders to the Sea_, till the language takes on a
kind of simplicity as of written words shrivelling up in a flame. _The
Playboy of the Western World_ is a study of character, terrible in its
clarity, but never losing the savour of imagination and of the
astringency and saltness that was characteristic of his temper. He had
at his command an instrument of incomparable fineness and range in the
language which he fashioned out the speech of the common people amongst
whom he lived. In his dramatic writings this language took on a kind of
rhythm which had the effect of producing a certain remoteness of the
highest possible artistic value. The people of his imagination appear a
little disembodied. They talk with that straightforward and simple kind
of innocency which makes strange and impressive the dialogue of
Maeterlinck's earlier plays. Through it, as Mr. Yeats has said, he saw
the subject-matter of his art "with wise, clear-seeing, unreflecting
eyes--and he preserved the innocence of good art in an age of reasons
and purposes." He had no theory except of his art; no "ideas" and no
"problems"; he did not wish to change anything or to reform anything;
but he saw all his people pass by as before a window, and he heard their
words. This resolute refusal to be interested in or to take account of
current modes of thought has been considered by some to detract from his
eminence. Certainly if by "ideas" we mean current views on society or
morality, he is deficient in them; only his very deficiency brings him
nearer to the great masters of drama--to Ben Johnson, to Cervantes, to
Moliere--even to Shakespeare himself. Probably in no single case amongst
our contemporaries could a high and permanent place in literature be
prophesied with more confidence than in his.
In the past it has seemed impossible for fiction and the drama, i.e.
serious drama of high literary quality, to flourish, side by side. It
seems as though the best creative minds in any age could find strength
for any one of these two great outlets for the activity of the creative
imagination. In the reign of Elizabeth the drama outshone fiction; in
the reign of Victoria the novel crowded out the drama. There are signs
that a literary era is commencing, in which the drama will again regain
to the full its position as a literature. More and more the bigger
creative artists will turn to a form which by its economy of means to
ends, and the chance it gives not merely of observing but of creating
and displaying character in action, has a more vigorous principle of
life in it than its rival.
It is best to study English literature one period, or, even in the case
of the greatest, one author at a time. In every case the student should
see to it that he knows the _text_ of his authors; a knowledge of what
critics have said about our poets is a poor substitute for a knowledge
of what they have said themselves. Poetry ought to be read slowly and
carefully, and the reader ought to pay his author the compliment of
crediting him with ideas as important and, on occasion, as abstruse as
any in a work of philosophy or abstract science. When the meaning is
mastered, the poem ought to be read a second time aloud to catch the
magic of the language and the verse. The reading of prose presents less
difficulty, but there again the rule is, never allow yourself to be
lulled by sound. Reading is an intellectual and not an hypnotic
The following short bibliography is divided to correspond with the
chapters in this book. Prices and publishers are mentioned only when
there is no more than one cheap edition of a book known to the author.
For the subject as a whole, Chamber's _Cyclopaedia of English
Literature_ (3 vols., 10s. 6d. net each), which contains biographical
and critical articles on all authors, arranged chronologically and
furnished very copiously with specimen passages, may be consulted at any
* The books with an asterisk are suggested as those on which reading
should be begun. The reader can then proceed to the others and after
them to the many authors--great authors--who are not included in this
Chapter I.--*More's _Utopia_; _Haklyut's Voyages_ (Ed. J. Masefield,
Everyman's Library, 8 vols., 1s. net each). North's _Translation of
Plutarch's Lives_ (Temple Classics).
Chapter II.--Surrey's and Wyatt's Poems (Aldine Edition. G. Bells &
Sons); *Spenser's Works, Sidney's Poems. A good idea of the atmosphere
in which poetry was written is to be obtained from Scott's _Kenilworth_.
It is full of inaccuracy in detail.
Chapter III.--*The dramatists in the Mermaid Series (T. Fisher Unwin);
*_Everyman and other Plays_; ed. by A.W. Pollard (Everyman's Library).
Chapter IV.--*Bacon's Essays; Sir Thomas Browne's Works; *Milton's
Works; *Poems of John Donne (Muses Library, Routledge); Poems of Robert
Chapter V.--*Poems of Dryden; *Poems of Pope; Poems of Thomson; *_The
Spectator_ (Routledge's Universal Library or Everyman's); *Swift's
_Gulliver's Travels_; Defoe's Novels.
Chapter VI.--*Boswell's _Life of Johnson_; *Burke (in selections);
Goldsmith's _Citizen of the World_ (Temple Classics); *Burns' Poetical
Works; *Poems of Blake (Clarendon Press).
Chapter VII.--*Wordsworth (Golden Treasury Series); *Wordsworth's
Prelude (Temple Classics); Coleridge's Poems; *Keats's Poems; *Shelley's
Poems; *Byron (Golden Treasury Series); *Lamb, _Essays of Elia_; Hazlitt
(volumes of Essays in World's Classics Series).
Chapter VIII.--*Tennyson's Works; *Browning's Works; Rossetti's Works;
*Carlyle's _Sartor Resartus, Past and Present_, and _French Revolution_;
Ruskin's _Unto this Last, Seven Lamps of Architecture_; Arnold's Poems;
Chapter IX.--*Fielding's _Tom Jones_; Smollett, _Roderick Random_;
*Jane Austen's _Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice,_ and _Northanger Abbey_
(as a parody of the Radcliffe School); *Scott's _Waverley, Antiquary,
Ivanhoe, Old Mortality, Bride of Lammermoor_. It seems hardly necessary
to give a selection of later novels.
Chapter X.--W.B. Yeats' Poems; Wilde, _Importance of Being Earnest_;
*Synge, Dramatic Works.
And every new work of the best contemporary authors.
LIST OF THE CHIEF WORKS AND AUTHORS MENTIONED
The dates attached to the authors are those of birth and death; those
with the books, of publication.
Sir Thomas More, 1480-1535.
_Utopia_. 1516 (in Latin).
William Tindall, 1484-1536.
_Translation of the New Testament_, 1526.
Sir John Cheke, 1514-1557.
Roger Ascham, 1515-1568.
Richard Hakluyt, 1553-1616.
His _Voyages_, 1598.
Sir Thomas Wyatt, 1503-1542.
The Earl of Surrey, 1517-1547.
_Tottel's Miscellany_ (containing their poems), 1557.
Sir Philip Sidney. 1554-1586.
_Astrophel and Stella_, 1591.
Edmund Spenser, 1552-1599.
_Shepherd's Calendar_, 1579.
_Fairy Queen_, 1589, 1596.
John Lyly, 1554-1606.
_Euphues and his England_, 1580.
Richard Hooker, 1553-1600.
_Ecclesiastical Polity_, 1594.
Christopher Marlowe, 1564-1593.
_Tamburlaine_, 1587 (date of performance).
_Dr. Faustus_, 1588 (date of performance).
_Edward II._, 1593.
Thomas Kyd, 1557(?)-1595(?).
_The Spanish Tragedy_, 1594 (published).
John Webster, 1580(?)-1625(?).
_The White Devil_, 1608 (date of performance).
_Duchess of Malfi_, 1616 (date of performance).
Ben Jonson, 1573-1637.
_Every Man in his Humour_, 1598.
John Donne, 1573-1631.
_Poems_, 1633 (first published, but known, like those of all
Elizabethan poets, in manuscript long before).
William Browne, 1591-1643.
George Herbert, 1593-1633.
Robert Herrick, 1593-1674.
Richard Crashaw, 1613-1649.
Francis Bacon, 1561-1626.
_Advancement of Learning_, 1605.
The Bible, _Authorised Version_, 1611.
Robert Burton, 1577-1640.
_Anatomy of Melancholy_, 1621.
Sir Thomas Browne, 1605-1682.
_Religio Medici_, 1642.
John Bunyan, 1628-1688.
_Pilgrim's Progress_, 1678.
John Milton, 1608-1674.
_Paradise Lost_, 1667.
_Paradise Regained_ and _Samson Agonistes_, 1671.
John Dryden, 1631-1700.
_Absalom and Achitophel_ and _Religio Laici_, 1682.
_The Hind and the Panther_, 1687.
Alexander Pope, 1688-1744.
_Essay on Criticism_, 1711.
_Rape of the Lock_, 1714.
James Thomson, 1700-1748.
_The Seasons_, 1730.
Daniel Defoe, 1661-1731.
_Robinson Crusoe_, 1719.
Jonathan Swift, 1667-1745.
_The Tale of a Tub_, 1704.
_Gulliver's Travels_, 1726.
Joseph Addison, 1672-1719.
Richard Steele, 1675-1729.
_The Tatler_, 1709-1711.
_The Spectator_, 1711-1712.
Samuel Johnson, 1709-1784.
Edmund Burke, 1728-1797.
Oliver Goldsmith, 1728-1774.
Thomas Gray, 1716-1771.
William Collins, 1721-1759.
Robert Burns, 1759-1796.
William Blake, 1757-1827.
_Songs of Innocence_, 1789.
William Wordsworth, 1770-1850.
_Lyrical Ballads_, 1798.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge. 1772-1834.
Sir Walter Scott, 1771-1832.
Lord Byron, 1788-1824.
_Child Harold's Pilgrimage_, 1812-1817.
Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1792-1822.
John Keats, 1796-1821.
Charles Lamb, 1775-1884.
_Essays of Elia_, 1823.
William Hazlitt, 1778-1830.
Thomas de Quincey, 1785-1859.
Lord Tennyson, 1809-1892.
_Idylls of the King_, 1859.
Robert Browning, 1812-1889.
_Men and Women_, 1855.
_The Ring and the Book_, 1868.
D. G. Rossetti, 1828-1882.
William Morris, 1834-1896.
A. C. Swinburne, 1836-1909.
Thomas Carlyle, 1795-1880.
John Ruskin, 1819-1900.
Samuel Richardson, 1689-1761.
_Clarissa Harlowe_, 1750.
Henry Fielding, 1707-1754.
_Joseph Andrews_, 1742.
_Tom Jones_, 1749.
Jane Austen, 1775-1817.
William Makepeace Thackeray, 1811-1863.
Charles Dickens, 1812-1870.
George Meredith, 1832-1909.
_Advancement of Learning, The_,
_Anatomy of Melancholy, The_,
_Antonio and Mellida_,
_Arcadia_, the Countess of Pembroke's,
_Astrophel and Stella_,
_Atheist's Tragedy, The_,
Beaumont and Fletcher,
Browne, Sir Thomas,
Cheke, Sir John,
_Christ's Victory and Death_,
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor,
De Quincey, Thomas,
Discovery, Voyages of,
_Duchess of Malfi, The_,
_Elia, Essays of_,
_Essays, Civil and Moral_,
_Fairy Queen, The_,
French Revolution, the,
Greville, Sir Fulke,
_Henry VII., History of_,
Italy, influence of,
_Jew of Malta_,
Miracle Play, the,
More, Sir Thomas,
_New Atlantis, The_,
Obscurity in Poetry,
Oxford Movement, the,
Pastoral Prose and Poetry,
_Purple Island, The_,
Raleigh, Sir Walter,
_Rape of the Lock_,
Reynolds, Sir Joshua,
Rhetoric, study of,
Romantic Revival, the,
Rossetti, D. G.,
Scott, Sir Walter,
Seventeenth Century, the,
Shaw, G. Bernard,
Shelley, P. B.,
Sheridan, R. B.,
Sidney, Sir Philip,
_Spanish Tragedy, The_,
Stevenson, R. L.,
Surrey, the Earl of,
Swinburne, A. C.,
Synge, J. M.,
_Tale of a Tub, The_,
_Temple, Sir William_,
Thackeray, W. M.,
Theatre, the Elizabethan,
Victorian Age, the,
_View of the State of Ireland_,
Wells, H. G.,
_White Devil, The_,
Yeats, W. B.,
Back to Full Books