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This undertaking had its origin in connection with the General Survey of English Literature at the University of Wisconsin - a course which the editors have been engaged in conducting for some years past. The successful reorganization of this course in 1907-8 led them to offer the results of their experience to a wider public. The selections are primarily intended for college undergraduates above the freshman grade, though they will no doubt be found suitable for both younger and older students. Plays and novels are omitted, as it is thought that these can only be effectively studied as wholes, and to include them would have extended the book beyond the one volume the editors had in view. It is intended that the readings here given should be supplemented by the study of representative plays and novels and by a course of lectures, for which a basis is given in the Century Outlines for a Course in English Literature, issued by the same publishers.
No effort has been spared to secure the accuracy of the texts presented. Unless there were cogent reasons for following the original spelling and punctuation, modern usage has been followed. Omissions are indicated by asterisks; changes or insertions by square brackets. Only the author's original notes are given at the foot of the page.
The editors are indebted to numerous predecessors for help both in determining the various texts and in elucidating them; they wish particularly to acknowledge their obligations to Messrs. Houghton, Miffin & Co. and Professor R. E. N. Dodge for permission to use the latter's Cambridge edition of Spenser ; and thanks are offered to other colleagues for kindly interest in the undertaking and assistance in proof reading.