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THE author of this work, having been appointed to prepare a course of reading in English Literature for the Latin School in Boston, was induced, after the adoption of the plan, to enlarge and perfect it, in order to supply an acknowledged want in popular education.
It is not expected that this, or any compilation, no matter how full and exhaustive, will be sufficient for the thorough student. It is undoubtedly wise, as a rule, to insist upon. studying authors in their complete works; beyond question this is the only way to gain an adequate notion of an author's power and of his command of English; and no one knows so well as the perplexed compiler how hard it is, if he would keep within the proper limits, to do any justice to the authors whose essays and poems he must mutilate, as mineralogists crack fossils or geodes, for specimens.
The writer well remembers the few and meagre collections of books in his native town. Excepting Scripture commentaries, hymn books, and a few religious biographies, not always inviting to children of ardent temperament, the most fascinating volumes accessible were "Rollin's Ancient History" and "Riley's Narrative." It must be admitted, however, that "Thaddeus of Warsaw," and a few other contraband romances, stowed away in the haymow for furtive reading at odd intervals on rainy days, furnished ideal pictures for the boyish imagination to dwell upon. It is with something like
a pang that he reflects now, what a priceless treasure in those his best days even so imperfect a collection as this Hand-Book would have been.
When the imperative wants of schools and the vast numbers of youth without the means of literary culture, even of the most elementary sort, are considered, it must be allowed that a judicious compilation, with the necessary adjuncts, will be a public benefit. At all events it will be doing much, if by means of the Hand-Book the student is directed to the ampler sources from which he can derive amusement for his leisure hours, and acquires a habit that will illuminate and ennoble his whole life.
The numerous reading books in use, though containing many of the best passages from the best authors, have been designed mainly to serve as exercises in elocution, and, when considered as aids to literary culture, are fragmentary and inadequate.
But the Hand-Book does not aim at the completeness of an encyclopædia; the selections have been made for the most part from authors in whom scholars, through all the changes of literary fashion, have preserved a living interest. The author has not sought, like another Old Mortality, to deepen and make legible anew the inscriptions which Time has surely begun to obliterate. In looking through the long list of authors once famous, the eye falls upon many that are now mere names; and to continue making selections from the works of such is like lumbering a house with decrepit and useless furniture, to the exclusion of that which is tasteful and adapted to modern wants. Still it is believed that nothing of real worth to the reader of to-day has been rejected on account of its antique garb; the error is more likely to be in the other direction; for, by the power of association, age gives all the racier flavor and the more enduring charm to any work of genius. An examination of the index will show, after due allowance is made for differences of taste, that few, if any, authors have been omitted
whom the concurring judgment of the literary world has pronounced classic.
By exercising a careful discrimination as to the number of authors cited, it is possible to give far more liberal and satisfactory specimens from those whose preeminence is unquestioned.
Above all, the Hand-Book is intended to be readable, to make the introduction to our noble literature attractive, and to show that works of acknowledged authority are none the less entertaining, even to the casual reader, from being models of style and treasuries of thought.
The extracts are arranged in chronological order, so as to show the development of the language; but it will be found convenient in schools, in the first reading, to follow an order similar to that marked out in the original plan for the Latin School, mentioned in the early pages of this volume: since few pupils would be able to contend with the difficulties of obsolete phraseology and masculine thought at the outset. But when the selections are read a second time, it should be in the order in which they are printed.
In regard to this order of reading just mentioned, it will be observed that a few works are prescribed which are not included in this volume. The reason will commend itself to all judicious teachers. While we must be content, in the majority of cases, to give only selections from an author, often too brief, there are some works that will not bear any division, but must be read entire, if at all. For instance, to give a single scene, or even an act, from one of Shakespeare's plays, would be merely tantalizing; far better to omit altogether, unless a whole play could be presented. And any single play would be but a partial expression of his genius. It is strongly recommended that every High School should be furnished with a sufficient number of copies of Shakespeare to allow of a systematic reading of several of his plays; also with Scott's "Lady of the Lake," and Goldsmith's "Vicar of Wakefield."
A few other authors, of whom Pope, Cowper, Tennyson, and Macaulay may be cited as instances, deserve more attention than the limits of the Hand-Book allow; and the addition of their works to the school library would be highly desirable.
A condensed account of the growth of the language, and of the character and influence of its various elements, is presented, with which, it is hoped, aided by the exposition of the instructor, every pupil will become familiar.
A biographical notice, brought by necessity into narrow limits, is prefixed to the specimens of each author.
For explanatory notes which might often be of signal service, but would fatally cumber the book, the reader must be referred to the full editions in the libraries. Glossarial references, however, are printed upon the margin of the extracts from Chaucer and Burns, and in a few other instances. The translations of a few Latin quotations will be, found in an appendix at the end of the volume.
If students derive as much pleasure in reading over this collection as the author has enjoyed in preparing it, they will be amply repaid.
The author acknowledges his indebtedness to Trench "On the Study of Words," Professor Schele de Vere's "Studies in English," White's "Words and their Uses," Marsh's "Lectures on the English Language," Chambers's "Cyclopædia of English Literature," and Morley's "Tables of English Literature." He would also express his gratitude to Robert Carter, Esq., Editor of "Appleton's Journal," to George W. Minns, Esq., and other Masters of the Latin and English High Schools for valuable suggestions during the progress of this work.
A second volume, containing extracts from the works of American authors, made on a somewhat more liberal scale, is nearly ready, and will be issued uniform in style with this.
BOSTON, April 5, 1871.
THE language of a nation, like the prevailing features, stature, and other traits of the people, is a part of its history, and its elements are derived from the speech of older races which have combined to form the new type. Most of the existing languages of Europe are composite, and each one corresponds in close analogy to the union of the races or tribes whose blended traits have become the characteristics of the modern nation.
Our inquiries will not go back farther than the Christian era; to trace the origin of words back to the Sanskrit through Asiatic colonization is a matter of great difficulty and uncertainty, and does not belong to a treatise so elementary as this. That the Latin and Greek languages appear to us as mainly original and uncompounded is due to the fact that the migrations that took place while these tongues were forming were prior to any authentic history. After the fall of the Roman empire, when each European tribe was left to establish its own government, their several original languages, more or less impregnated by the Latin of their former masters, began to receive their natural and diverse development. The laws and customs of each people, their cultivation of the arts of war or peace, their agricultural or maritime pursuits, their fertile plains or mountain fastnesses, their easy obedience to rulers or their fierce contests for independence, their local attachments or their roving, marauding disposition, all these native tendencies and social and political influences were soon evident as well in their speech as in their character. And, if we did not know the speech of a single