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Among the various means of instruction which we possess, there cannot be a doubt that book-reading occupies a prominent and important place, and to attain the effect desired, claims the serious attention of the teacher. In order that the pupil may be enabled to garner up the knowledge thence derived, the selections for reading should be made with a constant view to unity of purpose and arranged according to their natural order. The various subjects thus grouped and classified should be studied by the pupil in such a manner as to render him sensible of their necessary connection and, by constantly comparing them, to give him a faithful impression both of their relative value and of the whole composing this great variety of individual parts.
But unfortunately the reverse of this too often takes place. A multitude of unconnected facts, fortuitously gathered from desultory reading, jostle one another in the mind in chaotic confusion, and render the understanding turbid instead of enlightening it. To guide the pupil therefore in the selection of his readings is not less important than to teach him the laws of a language, by which he is enabled to arrive at the meaning of the words.
For the upper classes of schools so little has been done in this way that they have been compelled to have recourse to the complete works of modern English authors; thus occasioning a needless waste of time and trouble, the perfect and the imperfect models of style being studied without discrimination, and a far smaller portion of the richer treasures of English literature falling to the pupil's share than he might otherwise enjoy; his knowledge of English life, customs, manners and feeling is needlessly stinted; nor is he so well able to appreciate and to enter into such elements of thought and action as may be termed peculiarly English.
If the study of modern languages may lay claim to intrinsic value, and an honourable position in our educational establishments equal to that of the classic languages, they should be taught so as to impart, with the language, both the general information possessed by the respective people, and their history, which is always found embodied in their literature. The language of a people elucidates only one point of its existence, is inseparable from it, and becomes, as it were, the corporeal mind of the nation; whilst the various phases of that mind indicate the nation's history. Hence the teaching of a language imparts not the language alone, but-and this more particularly-furnishes the pupil with a key to the civilization, the social habits and the political organization of the people, all of which are most faithfully reflected in the national literature.
Herrig, British Auth,
This national literature can only be taught in our schools by a method which will at once impart the material of which it consists, at least in its leading features. A mere abstract of reasoning would only lead to vague and fruitless speculation. We require a book that shall furnish us with the original true colours for the national picture, we must hear the orator deliver his barangue in the senate and on the platform, we must feel political parties grow hot in their controversy, we must watch the rural sport on the village green and listen to the country maiden's evening song; the rich and the poor, the powerful and the humble, the wise and good, as well as the low and scurrilous must pass before our eyes, each arrayed in his own dress and speaking his own language. Then we shall not only have learned words, rules of grammar and a literature, but we shall have comprehended the innermost being and spirit of a nation.
Encouraged by the advice of several friends I ventured, several years ago, to publish a class-book of English national literature for the students of our schools, in chronological order. By this method the gradual development of the English language and literature may be duly traced by the reader; whilst by subdivisions of the great historical periods, the different kinds of composition also are distinguished, showing the relative importance of individual writers in each period, as well as their full influence in the general field of literature; and I hope thus to have exhibited the matter in its clearest possible light and to have attained that degree of perfection so essentially desirable in our school-books.
The present complication, of course, affords no place for ancient English literature. It has been my object to give an historical organism of English literature, by pieces carefully selected and arranged in chronological order, so that all changes and peculiar features may readily be traced in the respective specimens. And where pieces were too long or tedious to be inserted at full length, I have selected such parts as were complete in themselves-taking care that the characteristics of the author, and of his time, should in each be duly preserved. I have felt compelled, in certain instances, to omit passages offensive in a moral point of view, in order to render the work as pure as I trust it will be found useful and promotive of the interest now so generally felt for the treasures of English literature.
It is in the very nature of a compilation like the present, that it should approach to perfection by degrees; we may remain true to one principle, and yet, when the store from which we select is so vast as that of the whole Literature of a nation, alterations may be made in innumerable instances without materially affecting the character of the work. In this new edition several improvements have been made. The work has been supplemented by a concise but tolerably complete historical outline of English literature; and some useful notes have been appended to the text.
AN HISTORICAL OUTLINE OF ENGLISH LITERATURE.
The English Language, page IX.–Old English Writers, X.- Middle English, XII.—Jodern
English Literature, The Elizabeth an Era: Poets, XVI.— Prose - Writers, XXV.-
The Age of Transition: Poets, XXVI.— Philosophical, historical and miscellaneous
Writers, XXX.-From the reign of Queen Anne till the year 1780: The Wits of
Queen Anne's reign, XXXI.—The Essayists, XXXV.—The great Novelists, XXXVI.— The
great Historians, XXXIX.-Miscellaneous Writers, XL.- The Transition School, XLI.-
From 1780 till the present time: Poets and Prose-Writers, XLV.-Recent Eng.
The Legend of the knight of the Red
Encounter of St. George with the
The misery of a suitor at court
A tribute to Chaucer (Tityrus)
On Shakespeare; who for a time had
Candlemas-day, or the killing of the
children of Israel (Miracle-play) 10 On Margaret Ratcliffe
The tragical history of Doctor Faustus 16
Caratach, Prince of the Britons, with
Antony's Address to the Romans 53 Invocation to Sleep .
Morning-hymn of Adam and Eve 88 Causes of weakness in Men's under-
Alexander's feast, or: the power of music 94
Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon.
Character of the English, under the
similitude of the Jewish people . 95 Cromwell
97 Christian in the hands of Giant
1. THE WITS OF QUEEN ANNE'S Joseph Addison.
Endeavours of mankind to get rid of
The origin of superstition and tyranny 111
On the knowledge of the world 131
The shepherd and the philosopher 114 Jonathan Swift.
The study of astronomy peculiarly
The shepherd's dog and the wolf 115
117 The great plague in London
Description of the man whose thoughts
are not of this world