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This collection of READINGS IN LITERATURE is designed as a basal Reader for the eighth grade of the Elementary School or the mid-year of the Junior High School. It has been prepared with the realization that this is a period of transition for most pupils from elementary to secondary education, and that the character of the literature is an important means of bridging the gap between the two.
The high-school requirements in literature usually include: Poetry, Essays, Biography, Oratory, Prose Fiction, Drama, and Scripture. It is the purpose of this Reader to acquaint pupils with these types of literary expression in their simplest and choicest forms, without taking the keen edge off the pupils' interest by anticipating the more difficult selections that will be read later. The book thus lays the foundations for highschool English by presenting many kinds of poetry from Addison down through the recent World War; by numerous biographical notes and sketches of statesmen and men of letters, and essays of humor and fancy; by many simple examples of oratory from American and English statesmen, including some of the most recent; by short stories and tales from Irving, Poe, O. Henry, and living writers; by a sketch of the life of Shakespeare, and three great scenes from Julius Cæsar; Old Testament readings from the book of Daniel, the Psalms, and the book of Job.
In short, the selections pave the way for future literary study, without trespassing on the material that belongs to the later period. They represent the usual forms in which great literary artists speak to the human heart. Culture demands an acquaintance with all these forms because, first in one and then in
another, according to our various moods, we find satisfaction and inspiration.
The purpose of this Reader is, however, more fundamental than simply to convey an idea of literary forms and an appreciation of standards of literary excellence. It recognizes that pupils in this grade are in the transitional period from childhood to youth, and that they have definite needs and immediate interests, which, rightly satisfied, will furnish firm foundations of character. General reading and the study of other subjects satisfy the desire for facts and information, but the still keener hunger of the imagination must also be administered to, for through it we construct our ideals, and these determine what we shall be.
Van Dyke says that the imagination has four tongues, Scripture, Mythology, Chivalry, and Democracy, and that the latter will inspire the art and literature of the future. These are all drawn upon in this collection, if we interpret Mythology as Nature's appeal to the heart of man, or God speaking through his handiwork. An entire group of selections is devoted to Nature and in large part to its spiritual aspects; Chivalry tells its most beautiful story in “Gareth and Lynette”; and the Bible is represented by some of its most sublime passages.
Recognizing that Democracy in its larger meanings is to be the vitalizing principle in the life of the world, and that serious attention is given to Civics in the school year for which this book is designed, the place of honor is here given to a series of selections upon the American Spirit and the Ideals of Democracy. It is more than a collection of great oratory and fine writing. It presents the strong foundations of American life, and shows the slow unfolding of the idea of world-wide democracy. Through these great utterances, the pupils cannot fail to construct a somewhat adequate conception of what America means, and of their own privileges and duties.
Another group of selections on Human Life reveals vital truths of ethics, the moral bonds that hold society together.