BLTC Press Titles

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Letters on the Aesthetical Education of Man

Friedrich Schiller

The Revolt of the Netherlands

Friedrich Schiller

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde

The Souls of Black Folk

W. E. B. DuBois

Medieval story and the beginnings of the social ideals of English-speaking people

by William Witherle Lawrence



In accordance with the terms of the Hewitt Foundation, the following lectures, delivered during the months of February and March, 1911, at Cooper Union in New York City, are herewith issued in book form.

It seems desirable to remind the reader who is unfamiliar with the conditions under which the Hewitt Lectures are given that they are designed, in part at least, for a less academic audience than that usually in attendance upon lectures given under the auspices of Columbia University. In the present instance, no acquaintance with medieval literature, nor, indeed, any interest in it on the part of the audience could be taken for granted. The course was therefore designed primarily to reveal the charm of this literature, and its significance for modern times. With this end in view, such narrative poetry was selected for analysis as would best illustrate a single theme, — the development of social ideals in the history of the English people. The successive lectures were, however, mainly devoted to discussing this early poetry as literature, in the belief that an understanding of its subject-matter, its origins, and its spirit would best lead to a comprehension of its significance as an. index of social progress. It should perhaps be stated that while the general outline of each lecture was strictly adhered to in actual delivery before the audience, the manuscript was not closely followed, much of the speaking being extemporaneous.

In preparing the lectures for the press, few changes have been made. The writer feels that the published volume ought to represent the aims of the Foundation, which was not to appeal to a restricted audience of scholars. Consequently this book is designed for the general reader rather than for the specialist. Whenever it has seemed best to emphasize a point familiar to every student, this has been done without hesitation. Illustrative material from other medieval sources than those discussed here has been sparingly introduced, since the unfamiliar is seldom truly illuminating. No space has been devoted to the discussion of disputed questions; the position which appears to the author most reasonable has been adopted without comment. Since the aim of the book is to make medieval literature seem real and vital, the apparatus of scholarship has been discarded; footnotes have been dispensed with so far as possible, and learned citations avoided. The reader who desires further information will find in the appendix directions for more detailed study.

Although the volume is not primarily designed for those who are familiar with the Middle Ages, the writer hopes that they may not find it without interest, as presenting familiar material from a point of view which should make it as significant for the historian and the sociologist as for the student of literature. It is well, too, even for those whose knowledge is most profound, to forget learning occasionally, and to view these old poems as human documents, as the records of the imagination and of the aspiration of our remoter ancestors.

Finally, the writer would express his gratitude for the generous assistance of his colleagues, Professor Harry Morgan Ayres and Professor George Philip Krapp, in


Eakly in the month of March, 1910, the daily papers of New York City reported that there had just been unusual excitement in the little principality of Monaco. The home of the most famous gambling establishment in the world has always known excitement enough; the sunny skies of Monte Carlo have looked down on many a tragedy of blighted hopes and ruined fortunes. This particular disturbance, however, was of quite another sort, arousing no interest among the hectic figures hanging about the gambling tables in the casino, but affecting the residents of the principality itself. The streets of the capital had been filled with a hurrying crowd, and noisy with the sound of many voices raised in eager discussion. Nearly half of the male population of this little country had marched to the palace, and demanded — a constitution! They had declared, so the account runs, "that Monaco was the only absolute monarchy remaining on the face of the globe," and that the time for a change had come. Thenprotest was heeded; the prince of Monaco received a deputation from the crowd, and promised to consider its wishes.

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