First Steps in English Literature

BY ARTHUR GILMAN, A. M. New York : Hurd and Houghton.
THIS little book is a creditable attempt to reduce the study of English literature to the form of a scientific treatise. The works which it is designed to supplant have been composed almost entirely of details of the lives, and unsatisfactory quotations from the writings of individual authors. Mr. Gilman has avoided this error, and has produced a manual of unquestionable value. Whether it is adapted in every way to the uses of a text-book, only the practical teacher can say. It may be hardly simple enough for schools, and hardly full enough for colleges, and it must in any case, as is evidently the intention of the author, be studied in connection with more exhaustive reading or lectures.
The careful charts, introducing each main division of the subject, and the “ Bibliography ” at the end of the volume, are what will make it especially valuable to the general reader as a book of reference. American literature has not been slightingly passed over, as it is so often in works of this kind. The general divisions of the subject are, it strikes us, very good and philosophical, and we wish we could say the same of some of Mr. Gilman’s definitions. It is awful to think what will be the feelings of those who produce the average magazine and newspaper poetry, when they read, under the head of “Definition of Terms,” this edict of exclusion against themselves as follows: “Poets are those writers who so combine the materials of the natural and moral world as to present them in new shapes, or in unaccustomed or affecting points of view, and in metrical language.” Mr. Gilman, however, is not peculiarly severe upon poets, for if he has succeeded in carrying out his purpose, he has placed his book outside of his own definition of literature.