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In the series of Supplementary Readers, the plan of which is given on the opposite page, the “Seven British Classics” is designed, in connection with the “Seven American Classics," to supply a superior kind of reading for use in the advanced classes of grammar-schools.
It is not needful to discuss the import of the term classic in connection with the writers from whom these selections are drawn; but it may be remarked that the word is here used in a somewhat free sense. Time is the consecration of a classic; and, while in the case of Addison and Lamb there can be no question as to the legitimacy of the epithet, it may be deemed too early yet to apply it to men of our own generation, — to men who like Macaulay and Thackeray have but lately passed away, or to Tennyson who wears the laurel on a living brow. We can only say of the authors here represented, either that they are already classics in the strict sense, or that their works hold, embalmed and treasured up, that ethereal and fifth essence which gives assurance that the world will not willingly let them die.
It is sincerely hoped that this taste of standard literature may tend in some degree to counteract the effect of the scrappy incoherence of the matter which children are generally condemned to read in school. It is unfortunate that the technical conditions which school-readers must fulfill are such as to
exclude, especially in the lower books, the best writers; but it seems that even in the higher books, — such as are in the hands of pupils from fifteen to seventeen years of age, - compilers are too prone to sacrifice the seasoned timber of literature for the merely “popular" pieces of the fashionable writers of the day. The literary firmament is never without its holiday fireworks, – its brilliant coruscations that often outshine the heavenly lights for a moment. But the rockets and “brief candles” go out, leaving the stars in their serene and sempiternal beauty.
The seven masters here represented are Addison, Scott, Lamb, Campbell, Macaulay, Tennyson, and Thackeray; and it is hoped that, so far as space permitted, they are adequately represented. Complete pieces have been given save in the few instances of selections from elaborate works, and even in these it may fairly be claimed that the selections are in themselves “ entire and perfect chrysolites.” To present complete pieces of literary workmanship, was indeed the prime object of the book, for extracts are at best what Bacon calls “flashy things.” The “Seven American Classics” has been made on the same plan, and the two little volumes can hardly fail to beget some appetite for what is purest and best in the literature of our language.
I. JOSEPH ADDISON.
THE VISION OF MIRZA. . . . . .
I 7 10 13 17 18
II. SIR WALTER SCOTT.
A PICTURE OF ANGLO-NORMAN DAYS . .
IV. THOMAS CAMPBELL.
'Tis DISTANCE LENDS ENCHANTMENT
101 103 105 107
109 . 113
116 . 117
V. LORD MACAULAY.
On the fifth day of the moon, which according to the custom of my forefathers I always kept holy, after having washed myself, and offered up my morning devotions, I ascended the high hills of Bagdad, in order to pass the rest of the day in meditation and prayer. As I was here airing myself on the tops of the mountains, I fell into a profound contemplation on the vanity of human life; and, passing from one thought to another, “Surely,” said I, “man is but a shadow, and life a dream."
Whilst I was thus musing, I cast my eyes towards the summit of a rock that was not far from me, where I discovered one in the habit of a shepherd, with a little musical instrument in his hand. As I looked upon