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THIS little book is a humble but serious attempt to give a practical answer to the question: Can English Literature be taught in schools? Many able teachers have answered the question for themselves in their own way; but there is a general complaint that the text-books in use are too large, attempt too much, and are written on the supposition that the books they discuss have been read by the young learners.
This book is intended for beginners- -as a first book. I have aimed chiefly at three things:
1. To give a short life of the greatest writers.
2. To give a list of their best works.
3. To teach learners how to examine and appreciate the style
of these writers.
The information given is very rudimentary; but it is intended to become less so, as the book goes on. Abstract terms and the phraseology of criticism have been very sparingly employed; and I have all along kept in my eye learners of from fourteen to eighteen. The treatment of literature in Epochs and Schools will be the next step for the young student.
It may be objected that literature cannot be taught by mere extracts, and that the architectural proportions of great works are missed in this way. This is quite true; at the same time, as a first step in Literature, it may be as well to keep the young learner to the examination and comparison of the fabric and the fibre of each writer's style-the very words and phrases; and it is probable that larger views must come only with larger experience and wider reading.
Hence I have spent much labour in drawing up Exercises-a new thing in a book like this. The purpose of these Exercises
is to train to a careful and minute examination and valuation of
It was found impossible to discuss, with any practical utility, the dramatists, or their representatives in the nineteenth century— the novelists. The subject here became too large to be treated with justice in a book for beginners; but I have tried to give a short view of the origin of the drama.
By omitting many minor writers, space has been gained for the more thorough treatment of the best authors in our literature. I have discussed no living writers. Where criticism is given at all, it is hoped and meant that it should be correct as far as it goes, but not that the learner should at all regard it as final.
I have dwelt at greater length on, and given longer extracts from, the poets than the prose writers, because it seems to me that in poetry a larger number of opportunities arise for putting questions, as there is a more elaborate form in poetry, and a perpetual series of contrasts between the form and the matter.
I have done what I could to make the book practical and useful in schools, and to make the subject somewhat attractive to the pupil. After this book, Professor Morley's First Sketch, Professor Minto's Manual of English Prose Literature, his Characteristics of English Poets from Chaucer to Shirley, and the larger works of Professor Craik, Professor Morley, and M. Taine, should be read. The critical prefaces to Ward's English Poets may also be read with profit.
The amount of minor detail in this book being considerable, I shall be much obliged to those teachers who use it, if they will be so kind as to send me corrections or suggestions, to the care of the Publishers.-J. M. D. M.
ON VARIOUS TERMS EMPLOYED IN ENGLISH
ITERATURE is the collective term for all writings that are not connected with a special SCIENCE or with the technical details of ART. Wordsworth and De Quincey proposed a division of all books into Books of Knowledge and Books of Power; and to the latter alone they confined the term Literature. Under Books of Knowledge might be classed works on Science, Law, Language, and so on; under Books of Power, Poetry, the best Histories, Essays, and others. It is difficult to give any adequate positive definition of the term. The subject, too, is vague; but it may be fairly described as MAN. Literature treats of Man, both as an individual and as a social being. Now the distinctive and differentiating mark of Man is the power of using language.
2. Literature expresses itself in LANGUAGE; as Painting does in Colour, and Sculpture in Stone.
Language consists of (a) Matter and (b) Form. The Matter of a Language consists of Words, and is called its Vocabulary; the Form consists of Changes or Inflections, and of certain Arrangements of Words, and is called its Grammar. From the time when, in the fifth century, the English Language made its appearance in these islands, it has been constantly adding to its stock of Words, and also constantly losing in its stock of Changes. The Matter of the Language has been constantly growing; the Form of the Language as constantly breaking down. There is a vast difference