Hippolyte Adolphe Taine (1828-1893) was a 19th century French critic, thinker, and historian. He most notably championed French positivism through his attempts to apply the scientific method to the humanities. Taine’s main argument for this positivist project and for the work listed here is an ecological and cumulative theory of literature wherein a nation’s cultural characteristics are the direct result of the climate and soil of the land which it occupies. Literature serves as a manifestation of these characteristics. Through the study of literature, thus, we can study the psychological history of an entire people: “It was perceived that a literary work is not a mere individual play of imagination, the isolated caprice of an excited brain, but a transcript of contemporary manners, a manifestation of a certain kind of mind. It was concluded that we might recover, from the monuments of literature, a knowledge of the manner in which men thought and felt centuries ago” (p.17, from the Introduction).
As for why Taine chose to break down English literature rather than the literary output of his native France or of another European nation, the answer seems to be a desire for a more objective pose than is really possible when writing about a tradition from inside of it combined with a quite critical view of most nations literary outputs as unsuitably limited: “I intend to write the history of a literature, and to seek in it for the psychology of a people: if I have chosen [the English] nation in particular, it is not without a reason. I had to find a people with a grand and complete literature, and this is rare: there are few nations who have, during their whole existence, really thought and written. Among the ancients, the Latin literature is nothing at the outset, then it borrowed and became imitative. Among the moderns, German literature does not exist for nearly two centuries. Italian and Spanish literature end at the middle of the seventeenth century. Only ancient Greece, modern France and England, offer a complete series of great significant monuments. I have chosen England, because being still living, and subject to direct examination, it may be better studied than a destroyed civilization, of which we retain but the relics, and because, being different from France, it had in the eyes of a Frenchman a more distinct character” (p.31).
- Title: History of English Literature: Complete in One Volume
- Author: A. Taine
- Translator: Van Laun
- Publisher: John Wurtele Lovell
- Place: New York
- Year: 1879
- Length: 722pp
- Dimensions: 25” x 7.5” x 1.5”
- Condition: The cover is in fair condition. It appears to be original, deep plum silk-covered boards. It is significantly scuffed and worn, particularly along the edges. A chunk of the bottom edge of the back cover has worn away, and the spine has turned an orange-y color from light exposure. The gilt titles on the spine are just visible. The binding is tight and complete. No pages are missing. In general, the pages are clean and crisp—no folds, tears, or extraneous marks.