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May we not hope and expect that our children are to be taught English literature better than their parents were ? The intelligent teacher is now brushing aside the text-book that keeps pupil and authors apart, and he and they are allowed to meet face to face. How we could ever have thought that the study of what some one had said about literature or its authors was a study of literature itself excites our wonder now; we wonder that as pupils we did not detect the usurper, and rise against him in indignant revolt. Some of us have learned—what our teachers did not seem to know—that grievous wrong is done a pupil in furnishing him a mass of second-hand knowledge concerning authors, and in substituting the study of this mass for the study of the authors themselves.
Indeed, is it not to utter an educational truism now to say that no greater harm can be inflicted upon a pupil in any study than doing for him in it what he can do for himself? It takes from him the keen relish of it which the discovery of a fact or the conquest of a principle gives it; it robs him of the pleasure which such conquest or discovery yields; it deprives him of the inestimable discipline which such labor compels; and it weakens his hold upon the fact or the principle, which slips from a grasp that would have been tenacious had he made the attainment unaided. Better far than the whole prepared for him and communicated to him by textbook or teacher would be a half or a tenth of it found out by himself-better that among his possessions, independently acquired, there should be some error than that through fear of error he should be kept from making any self-relying effort.
But we have not said, and do not say, that a text-book in English literature is not needed by the pupil; we say only that it should not assume functions which do not belong to it. A text-book, we think, is needed. It is needed to furnish the pupil that which he cannot help himself to. It may group the authors so that their places in the line and their relations to each other can be seen by the pupil; it may throw light upon the authors' times and surroundings, and note the great influences at work helping to make their writings what they are; it may point out such of these as should be studied, and may present extracts from them full of the author's real flavor; it may teach the pupil how these are to be studied, soliciting and exacting his judgment at every step of the way which leads from the author's diction up through his style and thought to the author himself; it may present critical estimates of the leading writers, by those competent to make them, provided it requires the pupil to accept these judgments only as he finds them borne out by the passages quoted or the writings referred to ;-in all these ways and in other ways it may place the pupil on the best possible footing with those whose acquaintance it is his business as well as his pleasure to make. Such functions as these, discharged by a text-book, would justify its use; and such a text-book we have tried to make the one we now present.
The Primer of English Literature by Stopford Brooke has been chosen as the basis, or nucleus, of it, it being admirably adapted for our purpose. The excellence of the Primer is our only apology for its appropriation. Great liberties have been
. taken with the text. Many passages have been eliminated -specially those criticised by Matthew Arnold in his review of the work. The Primer has been rearranged to suit our purpose, and has been cut up into Lessons. All the matter taken from Mr. Brooke has been enclosed in quotation marks. We have added a Biographical and Topical Index, which contains much valuable information concerning authors that is not be found in the body of the work.
The Eight Periods in which Mr. Brooke places English literature, and into which it seems naturally to fall, have, with slight changes, been retained. Each Period is preceded by a Lesson containing a brief resumé of the great historical events that have had somewhat to do in shaping or in coloring the literature of that Period. The pupil, it is hoped, will be able to see the better in the light thus shed.
We have inserted short estimates of the leading authors, made by the best English and American critics. These criticisms are to be used as indicated above, and as pointed out in the Introductory Lesson. They are not to take the place of the pupil's work, but are themselves to be judged by him, and ratified or amended according to his findings in the study of the authors themselves.
Extracts, as many and as ample as the limits of a text-book would allow, have been made from the principal writers of each Period. We have tried to find such as contain the characteristic traits of their authors both in thought and in expression. But few of these extracts have, so far as we know, ever seen the light in books of selections-anthologies of poetry or prose. None of them, we may say, have been worn threadbare by use, or have lost their freshness by the pupil's familiarity with them in school-readers. There is less need than formerly of such extracts, now that short classics, full of good things from the best authors, and admirably annotated, can be easily and cheaply procured. We heartily commend for use in the class-room the list of short English Classics, already quite extensive, published by Clark & Maynard, and the list entitled American Classics for Schools, issued by Houghton, Mifflin & Co., Boston.
We have prepared a Bibliography for the most eminent authors. This will be of service to such teachers and pupils as have access to public libraries, and who care to correct or supplement their knowledge by reading the opinions of others. We had for a long time been making these Bibliographies, when we found the work already largely done for us in the catalogue of the Brooklyn Library. Since then the catalogue has been freely used. It will be seen that the greater parts of the references are to Magazine articles, and that these are recent. Whatever may be claimed for the critics of the generations gone, it will be allowed that never has criticism been more discriminating, delicate, just, and appreciative than it is now.
In the Introductory Lesson we have indicated how we wish the book to be studied. The method there detailed has grown up out of a long experience with classes in literature. It is that, also, up to which the work in Reed and Kellogg's Grammars and in Kellogg's Rhetoric have led the pupil; it completes such work, and applies it to the study of authors. We beg teachers to examine the method carefully, and test it by trial before rejecting it.
We wish here to express our grateful acknowledgments to Messrs. Houghton, Mifflin & Co., to G. P. Putnam's Sons, and to Messrs. Appleton & Co. for the generous use they have allowed us of the sterling works published by them. POLYTECHNIC INSTITUTE, Brooklyn, N. Y.,
June 1st, 1882.