'Behind the big names of twentieth-century literature there stands a shadow cabinet of writers waiting to take over once the Wind of Change has blown. My own vote goes to Hugh Kingsmill as leader of this opposition.'
That was the memorable opening to Michael Holroyd's introduction to The Best of Hugh Kingsmill. After Puritanism, 1850-1900 provides strong evidence for such a judgment. The book comprises four essays and their purpose is best explained by Hugh Kingsmill himself:
'In From Shakespeare to Dean Farrar the points touched upon are the revolt, in Victorian emotionalism over the young, against the Puritan doctrine of general depravity, the growing sense of Christ's humanity, and he rejection of eternal punishment: in Samuel Butler, the attack on the Puritan theory of the family, and the questioning of Christian morality as well as Christian theology: in Frank Harris, the chaos of late Victorian values, the question of complete verbal licence in literature, and the reappearance of Shakespeare as a human being: in W. T. Stead, the attempt of a Puritan born too late to simplify the modern world.
First published in 1929, it has been out of print for a long time. George Orwell thought highly of it and tried unsuccessfully to get it reissued. Belated though it may be, Faber Finds is happy to bring about his wish.