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THERE are already so many text-books of English literature that it seems only proper to state why I have added another to the list.
I have attempted to write a book which should answer the needs of those who are beginning to teach the subject accord. ing to new methods. In our schools the study of English literature is at present in an experimental and transition stage. In boys' schools especially its value is still practically questioned ; its standing uncertain ; the methods of teaching it ill defined. Notwithstanding this confusion, there has been for some time a growing tendency to abandon the old plan of memorizing dry facts about authors and their works, and, instead, to bring the student into living contact with the literature itself. The beginner is no longer put off with “elegant extracts"—those scraps and fragments from the banquet :-he now knows that Hamlet does not consist of the soliloquy, or Julius Cæsar of Mark Antony's oration.
This study of the great classics in their entirety is an incalculable gain ; but it should not be allowed to wholly supersede the study of the historical development of the literature. In our anxiety to avoid studying the history of the literature without the literature, we are in danger of rushing into the opposite error, and of studying the literature torn from its living historic and human relations. That the second error is less serious than the first affords no sufficient justification ; it is serious enough to be avoided. That a great work must be interpreted in the light of its time ; that any serious study of literature involves the study of history—these and similar propositions have become axioms of literary study and criti. cism. But while generally recognized in the higher education, there is a disposition to ignore them in our schools ; a disposition which the English admission requirements of our colleges are admirably adapted to foster.
Believing that some historical study of English literature should be pursued, with tact and under due restrictions, in the upper classes of our secondary schools, I have attempted to prepare a book which should put the student in direct contact with some representative masterpieces, without ignoring the study of literature from its historical side. I have tried to help the student to study these representative works of the great literary epochs in the light of the men and the time which produced them ; I have tried to make him feel, further, that every literary epoch is but an episode in a continuous and intelligible story of literary development. To accomplish this within any practicable limits compelled the omission of much that I should gladly have included. While I cannot venture to hope that I have always shown a right appreciation of relative values, I believe the general principles of selection in such a case to be plain and indisputable, however difficult of application. I have endeavored to awaken an interest in a few great authors, and that I might treat of them at comparative length I have unhesitatingly passed over a host of other writers, believing that they could be safely left for more advanced work. The literary tables will give the student some idea of the great names of the respective periods.
The manner in which the book should be used depends upon the needs of each particular class and must be left largely to the tact and judgment of the teacher. The teacher is more than any text-book, and I have tried to recognize this by making the present handbook as flexible as possible. Thus when the class is a comparatively elementary one, some of the historical matter might be omitted, and the time spent on the selected works with the biographical and other sections immediately related to them. If the class is an advanced one, free use of the reference lists and footnotes will enable it to pursue many subjects merely hinted at in the text. This should be done whenever possible, and the student encouraged in an intelligent use of books. The teacher can easily supplement the selections here given, or, if needs be, substitute others. In the case of shorter poems, Ward's English Poets will be found invaluable for this purpose. Many topics lightly touched on—as The Influence of Patriotism on the English Drama; Wordsworth and Carlyle : their Points of Contactmay be used as subjects for essays, if the class is far enough advanced.
Unless the class is a backward one I would insist upon its thoroughly mastering the first, or general, literary table, (pp. 7 and 8); the other tables are meant for reference. The greater number of authors demanding mention in the Modern Period forced me to omit biographical details. These can, however, be easily supplied. Poetry necessarily occupies a larger space than prose in the selections, as most prose masterpieces, otherwise desirable, proved too long for insertion. To partially remedy this I have treated of certain prose writers, particularly the recent novelists, at comparative length, and when time allows some of their works might profitably be read by the class.
Lack of space has forced me to greatly restrict the notes to the selections, but, with a capable teacher and a few reference books, I believe this will prove rather an advantage than otherwise.
Before attempting a book like the present the pupil should have some acquaintance with good writers. We can hardly begin too early to develop a literary taste. During his early years at school the pupil should be persistently familiarized with much that is excellent in our literature as a preparation for his after study. A large body of literature is within his grasp, which he may be led to enjoy without regard to historical development. Such poems as “ The Lady of the Lake," “ Marmion," “ Rokeby," "Evangeline," “ Miles Standish," " The Vision of Sir Launfal," “ The Lays of Ancient Rome"; shorter pieces, some of which can be committed to memory, as The Battle of the Baltic," “ The Defense of Lucknow," "The Pied Piper of Hamelin," “ The Wreck of the Hesperus," and a host of others; certain plays of Shakespeare, Julius Cæsar and The Merchant of Venice are among the best for the purpose—all these can be used to educate the literary sense. In prose, the range of available classics is perhaps even wider: Rip van Winkle, and many of Irving's sketches, Hawthorne's Wonderbook, Mrs. Ewing's stories. Lanier's King Arthur and Mabinogeon and Bullfinch's Age of Chivalry will serve as an introduction to the Middle Ages ; Kingsley's Greek Heroes and Church's Stories from Homer, to classic times. Constant early association with such books will prepare a student to enter with intelligent enjoyment on the study of literature in some of its historical connections.
In conclusion, I most sincerely thank my many helpers and well-wishers. My indebtedness to others cannot be repaid or over-estimated ; in a world where “everything is bought and sold " it is a wholesome and a beautiful thing to find that so much kindly help and good will can be “had for the asking." The admirable index is the work of Mr. Albert J. Edmunds.
H. S. P." GERMANTOWN, December 7, 1892.