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RICHARD BURTON, PH.D., Editor-in-Chief
PROFESSOR OF GOVERNMENT
THE GREGG PUBLISHING COMPANY
The literature that lives has nothing to do with Time. It may be a farce by Aristophanes, a speech of Cicero's, a canto of Dante's song, or a story by 0. Henry; it is always a question of vitality. On the contrary, a piece of writing that lacks this precious, preservative quality dies the day it is born. The idea that because a poem, a tale, a play, or an essay was written a hundred or a thousand years ago, it must necessarily be dead, is quite false. Always the question is: Has it charm, beauty, power, human meaning? If it has it will survive; if it is without these saving graces, it not only will not last, but never was alive.
We speak of the “dead languages," and the familiar phrase is right in the sense that the tongues themselves in the form they once took are no longer vital on the lips of men. But the thought and feeling embodied in the words of great writers during the so-called classic days of Greece and Rome are truly and splendidly alive to-day, for the simple reason that they were alive then; and are so true to the universal experience of mankind, and so beautiful in their expression, that Time cannot touch them nor age wither their "infinite variety."
The books of the present series are vital for this reason and in this sense. They belong, to be sure, to the modern period and do not go further back than the eighteenth
century; most of them fall in the nineteenth or the twentieth century. But they are selected not because they are of this or that period, but primarily for the reason that they are fine examples of the art of letters, and illustrate what living literature is and always will be, so long as men can read and think and feel the force and attraction of winged words, couched in the noble tongue which was native to those who use it, and is the priceless heritage and possession of all who communicate their thought in English speech.
The first half-dozen volumes of the series offer authors, British or American, who are strictly contemporary. Interest in writers of our own day naturally precedes interest in the older, even standard writers. So far as appeal is concerned, literature, like charity, begins at home, both as to time and place. Later, some of the elder masterpieces will be offered, like a novel of Scott's, or George Eliot's, or a play by Sheridan or Goldsmith. But it should be realized and recognized that the work of modern men such as Stevenson, or Huxley, can lay claim to equal consideration so long as it is sound as art and sane and tonic in the representation of life. An author of to-day is not of necessity to be treated as a suspect, although he has not so long been tested by critical opinion.
It is believed that the contemporary writers included here have produced masterpieces deserving inclusion in any fair, broadminded, and enjoyable study of the native letters. That is why they are presented herewith, and given prominence.
An asterisk (*) denotes pieces printed in full.
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