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The recent manifestation of American patriotism, the new discovery by Europe of the soul of America, and the new insistence upon the teaching of Americanism in our schools and colleges, especially in those that for a time were under government control, has brought the study of American literature into the foreground as never before. More and more clearly is it seen now that the American soul, the American conception of democracy,— Americanism, should be made prominent in our school curriculums, as a guard against the rising spirit of experimental lawlessness which has followed the great war, and as a guide to the generation now molding for the future. For courses in literature, as literature is now taught, handbooks are necessary. The insistence now is not upon facts about authors and masterpieces, but upon the masterpieces themselves. The pupil must read wisely and intensively from the best work of the authors included in the course, and with the equipment of the average school or college library this is impossible. Each member of a large class cannot go to the library and draw the Poems of Longfellow when Longfellow is under consideration, or the writings of Poe or Lowell or Whitman or Burroughs when those authors are up for consideration, and the ordinary student is not able to buy for himself separate editions of the various classics comprehended in the course. The only solution is a book of selections copious enough to illustrate the message and the style and the significance of each of the major authors and of each of the great phases of our literature.
The present handbook attempts to furnish such material for teachers and students of American literature. It has been thought best to begin with the first genuinely American authors like Franklin and Freneau, men of the new Republic, and to go quickly to the major figures of Irving, Cooper, and Bryant. The selections have been made from three standpoints: first, literary excellence and originality; second, style and individuality of the author; and, third, light thrown upon the period of the author and upon the growth of the American spirit. The last of these has been kept constantly in mind, for it has been considered by no means the least important of the three. The book is not only a handbook illustrating American literary art and its gradual evolution during more than a century; it is, if the compiler has done what he considers his duty, a handbook in Americanism, an interpretation of the American spirit by those who have been our spiritual leaders and our Voices.
An attempt has been made, and it is hoped with reasonable success, to illustrate the evolution of the American short story by presenting representative examples of this literary form from each decade since Irving, and also the development of American society verse as well as other poetic forms. The best of the American patriotic songs have been included with notes explaining their origin and their early use. Several distinctive American documents like Washington's Farewell Address and Lincoln's Inaugurals have been given since it is believed from their perennial worth that they should be a part of the education of every American youth. American criticism has been illustrated by examples from Poe, Lowell. Burroughs, Stedman, and Fiske; the chief American historians have been similarly represented; and the highest reach of American thought and American feeling and the American soul huS been illustrated by many typical poems from the great leading voices during a century and more of American song.
For the use of two hitherto unpublished pieces by Henry Cuyler Bunner,— the lyric 'Written on Valentine's Day,' and the short story ' Father Anastatius,'— the editor is indebted to Mrs. Bunner.