No observant person can, I think, have failed to note of late years a certain increasing hesitation and perplexity in regard to the true function of literature in studies. Indeed, there are reasons not a few for thinking that we are preparing for one of those revisions and restatements of the general conception of what we should try to get from literature, of which we have several examples in the past. I do not mean merely that our literary taste is changing, or that we are passing from one set of literary admirations to another. Such lesser variation is incessantly going on. Classicism yields to romanticism, romanticism to realism, and this to something else, in an unbroken round of change. But these minor modifications of feeling and opinion about literature may easily take place without any material disturbance of the general estimate of the nature of literatnre or of the attitude of men's minds towards it. My neighbor may think that bad in books which I think good, and yet we may both seek in our reading to satisfy essentially the same needs, intellectual or aesthetic.
The change, however, to which I have reference, is of a far profounder kind. It affects the very substance of men's thought about books, substitutes for one form of promise and enticement to the reading of them another and quite different appeal, and necessarily carries with it new aims and methods in the study of them. I shall, perhaps, make my meaning clearer on this point by some brief illustration.