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THE following collection of extracts from the best and most celebrated writers of English prose, from the days of Queen Elizabeth to those of Queen Victoria, was made at the request of the publishers, and is intended as a companion volume to "The Thousand and One Gems of English Poetry," by the same Editor. The difficulty of selection has been much greater in the present than in the previous case, owing not only to the vastness of the literary field to be traversed, but to the length of many of the extracts, which are necessarily deficient in the conciseness of poetical composition, and not so easily to be detached from the context and made to stand alone. It is manifestly impossible to comprise within a single volume a whole Cyclopædia of English prose literature, as to include a specimen of every author. All that has been aimed at is a selection from the works of the most famous writers who have flourished in Great Britain and America, arranged in chronological order, and classified according to subject. In a work depending so largely on individual taste as well as research, every one who has read much will of course be able to discover omissions, and to suggest the pieces for which he would have preferred to find a place. This is the inevitable fate of all selections, and must continue to be so as long as men's tastes differ, and their literary industry prefers one field of cultivation to another. With regard to
contemporary literature, the difficulty of choice has been increased by the superabundance of material. To have included selections even from one-tenth of the writings of recently deceased authors, and those who still live to instruct or entertain their countrymen, would have extended the work to many volumes; but the Editor hopes that, notwithstanding all omissions enforced upon him by this cause, the work will be found sufficiently varied and comprehensive. He has to return his thanks to Messrs. Longman & Co. for permission to include extracts from the works of Lord Macaulay and the Rev. Sydney Smith, and to Messrs. Chapman and Hall for permission to extract from the works of the late Charles Dickens. He would have been glad to offer the same acknowledgment to the proprietors of the copyright of the works of his friend Mr. Thackeray, who, if living, would not, he thinks, have been well pleased to be unrepresented in this collection; but those gentlemen peremptorily refused permission. Had it not been that the Messrs. Routledge possess the copyright of one work to which Mr. Thackeray was a contributor, no specimen of that eminent writer could have appeared in these pages.