Изображения страниц

of time, and have been long enrolled among the standard literature of our country. As I wish to give some idea of the progressive formation of our language, I have begun with Cowper, in whose works its present condition is represented with remarkable grace and purity, and have concluded with a few passages from Spenser; the earliest author whose writing could easily be made intelligible to the persons for whose use the book is intended. If I may depend upon my own early experience, the difficulties presented by a few obsolete words, and by the peculiar orthography of this great poet, will not destroy the pleasure which the young reader will derive from the liveliness of his narratives, and the exquisite melody of his style.

I have omitted many celebrated names for various reasons; for instance, Pope and Dryden, in whose writings I did not find many passages for the moral and religious principles of which I would willingly make myself responsible; nor do I think that the study of either should be recommended to persons whose education must be partial, and ought to exclude all works of questionable tendency.

I have endeavoured to make the extracts sufficient to give a fair notion of the characteristic excellences and peculiarities of each writer, and also to make each extract as far as possible a complete and intelligible whole.

I wish it to be understood, however, that they are not intended to be, what are commonly called, the beauties of the several authors. If the young reader admires any passages in this book, he may be assured that he will feel a far deeper and more intelligent gratification when he studies them hereafter as well adjusted portions of a beautiful whole. I have omitted many of the most striking and popular passages, especially in Shakspeare, because their beauty and value depend principally upon their suitableness to the person to whom they are attributed, and upon their connection with what precedes and follows. Lear's passionate address to the elements is mere raving to one who has not traced the progress, and ascertained the cause of

his mental aberration, and Hamlet's famous soliloquy would be but a sophistical argument on suicide, if it were not regarded as the expression of a mind overwrought and diseased "like sweet bells jangled out of tune and harsh." In this book the young student will only learn to read poetry, and to become conversant with the forms of expression and modes of thinking which characterise our great poets: hereafter he will learn to appreciate and love their best productions. I should be much surprised and disappointed if a careful study of the passages which the pupils find here do not induce them to save enough money to purchase a cheap edition of their favourite authors, and, directed and assisted by the teachers, to study their entire works.

It must of course depend chiefly upon the ability and discretion of the master or mistress to what extent this little book will effect the object for which it was intended. Each piece ought to serve as an exercise of various faculties in the pupil. The understanding should be thoroughly awake to the meaning of each word, the construction of each sentence, and the general purport of the passage-the judgment should be assisted and guided-the reason stimulated to apprehend, the imagination to realise, the subject matter - while the heart must be taught to sympathise with every noble sentiment and principle. To enter fully upon such a subject would require a separate treatise, or rather a series of treatises; I will merely suggest a few practical rules, which are so simple and obvious that had I not observed how frequently they are neglected, I should have deemed it unnecessary to mention them.

The teacher will of course take care to select passages adapted to the capacity of his pupils, and likely to interest their feelings. In Cowper he will find many which their religious education will have prepared them at once to comprehend and admire. Several passages have been chosen with reference to the instruction in secular subjects usually given in schools, especially geography, natural history, and the history

of England. them so as to relieve and illustrate details which are apt to become dull and tedious, especially in schools conducted on the monitorial system.

With a little care the teacher can use

It seems almost unnecessary to press upon teachers the importance of explaining fully and clearly the meaning of every word; but I have observed that the following method is seldom adopted, although it has been found most successful. The teacher underlines

every word that presents any difficulty, before the passage is given as a lesson. These words should be written out by the pupil, together with their exact meaning and derivation, or if the difficulty be one of construction and grammar, the rule should be found and applied. I had some doubt whether this book should be supplied with a glossary, and I have given a few brief explanations of words which are obsolete or likely to be mistaken. But as all school libraries are, or ought to be, furnished with a good dictionary or compendious encyclopedia, it appeared on the whole better to leave this as an useful exercise of the student's ingenuity and industry.

When the pupil has so far prepared himself, the teacher should read the passage through with him, explaining the construction and directing his attention to the peculiar beauties both of style and thought. The pupil should be taught to apply the rules of prosody, and to trace what are called the figures of poetry. There is, however, too much pedantry in most of the introductory treatises upon this subject, and I should be disposed to recommend the teacher to confine his attention in the first place to the explanation of metaphors and similes. Few persons are aware to what an extent all language is metaphorical. I have observed with pleasure the lively interest displayed by intelligent boys and girls in searching for the meaning and application of phrases in our great poets, which most persons would consider to be beyond the reach of their minds. I attach great importance to this

I am afraid that this indispensable book is too often wanting.

exercise, and have selected many picces because they appeared to be well calculated to call forth the ingenuity and to reward the exertions of pupils and teachers.

Having thus analysed and mastered the meaning, great pains must be taken to read the passages with proper emphasis and expression.

Here two evils are to be equally guarded against. On the one hand, many boys and girls, even in our best schools, read with a dry monotonous tone, and some with a vulgar accent, while few manage their voices so as to give a correct and pleasing expression to passages which require a sustained or varied intonation. On the other hand, when young persons first learn to admire poetic language and imagery, their unpractised taste is attracted by exaggerated and strongly-coloured descriptions they invariably prefer an inflated style; and, if not corrected, declaim or spout such passages in a tone which is only less distressing than the old nasal twang, because it indicates a partial awakening of mind.

The pieces in this book have been selected very much with a view to aid teachers in contending with both of these evils. The accent will soon acquire life and spirit if the teacher choose passages which describe familiar and striking scenes, or which have a dramatic interest. And if he converse with the pupil in an easy, natural tone, upon the subject, he will not find it difficult ot encourage an unaffected and unconstrained tone of reading, so that the voice may become an echo to the thought. I believe also that any vulgarity or coarseness of pronunciation will become more perceptible even to the pupil himself when he is made to read aloud passages of graceful and harmonious poetry, and that it will be more easily corrected by the teacher, who will, of course, take great pains to modulate his own voice skilfully in reading to and with the pupil. I have chosen many passages in which the sentences are rather longer and more complicated than usual, with a special view to the improvement of elocution. The selections from Thomson, although some

expressions are not free from affectation, will be found very serviceable in this respect; while most of those from Milton and Shakspeare combine the charms of deep thought and splendid imagery with grace and energy of style.

It appears to me very desirable, when the pupil has learnt to read a piece well, that he should commit it to memory, and repeat it as a lesson in elocution to the managers of the school, whose cultivated taste will at once detect any violations of good sense and proper feeling. 'I do not, however, think it advisable to encourage public exhibitions, however useful these may be for boys in public schools, who may hereafter have to address large assemblies; the pupils in our national schools, who require no such preparation, are likely to be confirmed in a false and exaggerated tone of declamation by such a practice, not to speak of the great danger of fostering that tendency to conceit and presumption which, without the most cautious management on the part of their instructor, will mar the prospects of many of our most promising youths.

[ocr errors]

I acknowledge that I have felt great pleasure in preparing this little book for the use of my young friends. Some of them will have access, for the first time, to an extensive and delightful field of study they will learn to admire and prize those great authors to whom England is indebted for some of her highest and most durable claims to fame; and they will be put in partial possession of that inheritance which belongs to every Englishman, but which cannot be enjoyed by the uneducated. I hope that they will become more zealous as well as more intelligent in the discharge of all their duties, and especially in assisting their masters and mistresses in teaching their younger brethren, remembering always that every addition to their privileges is also an addition to their responsibilities, and that defects which are overlooked in the ignorant are justly held to be inexcusable in those whose minds are expanded and enlightened by a liberal education,

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »