England has a rich literature with a long history. This is an attempt to tell the story of Englishliterature from its beginnings to the present day. The story is written to be read as a whole,though it can be read in parts, and its apparatus and index allow it to be consulted for reference. To be read as a whole with pleasure, a story has to have a companionable aspect, and the number of things discussed cannot be too large. There are said to be ‘nine and twenty ways of reciting tribal lays’, and there is certainly more than one way of writing a history of English literature. This Introduction says what kind of a history this is, and what it is not, and defines its scope: where it begins and ends, and what ‘English’ and ‘literature’ are taken to mean. ‘Literature’ is a word with a qualitative implication, not just a neutral term for writing in general. Without this implication, and without a belief on the part of the author that some qualities of literature are best appreciated when it is presented in the order in which it appeared, there would be little point in a literary history. This effort to put the most memorable English writing in an intelligible historical perspective is offered as an aid to public understanding. The reader, it is assumed, will like literature and be curious about it. It is also assumed also that he or she will want chiefly to know about works such as Shakespeare’s King Lear and Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, the poems of Chaucer, Milton and T. S. Eliot, and the novels of Austen and Dickens. So the major earns more space than the minor in these pages; and minor literature earns more attention than writing stronger insocial, cultural or historical importance than in literary interest.