THOSE who are familiar with the appearance of great libraries, and
have endeavoured to calculate the number of famed authors, whose
works they include, cannot fail to be astonished at their multitude.
The years go by: in every year, every nation produces literary works
of sterling value, and stores of books have accumulated for centuries.
Among the authors, who are the most eminent? This is a question I
feel incompetent to answer. It would not be difficult to obtain lists of
the most notable literary characters of particular periods, but I have
found none that afford a compact and trustworthy selection of the
great writers of all times. Mere popular fame in after ages is an
exceedingly uncertain test of merit, because authors become
obsolete. Their contributions to thought and language are copied and
re-copied by others, and at length they become so incorporated into
the current literature and expressions of the day, that nobody cares to
trace them back to their original sources, any more than they interest
themselves in tracing the gold converted into sovereigns, to the
nuggets from which it was derived or to the gold-diggers who
discovered the nuggets.
Again: a man of fair ability who employs himself in literature turns
out a great deal of good work. There is always a chance that some of
it may attain a reputation