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La Légende des Siècles   By: (1802-1885)

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Encouraged by the favourable reception accorded to the 'Oxford Modern French Series,' the Delegates of the Clarendon Press determined, some time since, to issue a 'Higher Series' of French works intended for Upper Forms of Public Schools and for University and Private Students, and have entrusted me with the task of selecting and editing the various volumes that will be issued in due course.

The titles of the works selected will at once make it clear that this series is a new departure, and that an attempt is made to provide annotated editions of books which have hitherto been obtainable only in the original French texts. That Madame de Staël, Madame de Girardin, Daniel Stern, Victor Hugo, Lamartine, Flaubert, Gautier are among the authors whose works have been selected will leave no doubt as to the literary excellence of the texts included in this series. Works of such quality, intended only for advanced scholars, could not be annotated in the way hitherto usual, since those for whom they have been prepared are familiar with many things and many events of which younger students have no knowledge. Geographical and mythological notes have therefore been generally omitted, as also historical events either too well known to require elucidation or easily found in the ordinary books of reference.

By such omissions a considerable amount of space has been saved which has allowed of the extension of the texts, and of their equipment with notes less elementary than usual, and at the same time brighter and more interesting, whilst great care has been taken to adapt them to the special character of each volume.

The Introductions are also a novel feature of the present series. Originally they were to be exclusively written in English, but as it was desired that they should be as characteristic as possible, and not merely extracted from reference books, but real studies of the various authors and their works, it was decided that the editors should write them in their own native language.

Whenever it has been possible each volume has been adorned with a portrait of the author at the time he wrote his book.

In conclusion, I wish to repeat here what I have said in the General Preface to the 'Oxford Modern French Series,' that 'those who speak a modern language best invariably possess a good literary knowledge of it.' This has been endorsed by the best teachers in this and other countries, and is a generally admitted fact. The present series by providing works of high literary merit will certainly facilitate the acquisition of the French language a tongue which perhaps more than any other offers a variety of literary specimens which, for beauty of style, depth of sentiment, accuracy and neatness of expression, may be equalled but not surpassed.


OXFORD, December , 1905.


Victor Hugo's conception of the scheme of the series of poems to which he gave the title of La Légende des Siècles is thus described in the preface to the first scenes: 'Exprimer l'humanité dans une espèce d'oeuvre cyclique; la peindre successivement et simultanément sous tous ses aspects, histoire, fable, philosophie, religion, science, lesquels se résument en un seul et immense mouvement d'ascension vers la lumière; faire apparaître, dans une sorte de miroir sombre et clair que l'interruption naturelle de travaux terrestres brisera probablement avant qu'il ait la dimension rêvée par l'auteur cette grande figure une et multiple, lugubre et rayonnante, faible et sacrée, L'Homme.' The poet thus dreamt of a vast epic, of which the central figure should be no mythical or legendary hero, but Man himself, conceived as struggling upwards from the darkness of barbarism to the light of a visionary golden age. Every epoch was to be painted in its dominant characteristic, every aspect of human thought was to find its fitting expression... Continue reading book >>

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