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writing to children is obvious. To the right-minded child literature is life; it is not artifice. Nor is writing artifice; it is a natural, verbal reaction of the individual to his world. The moment his attention is held by form at the expense of substance his interest fades; and without interest the game is not worth the candle; and for the following reason. All good writing starts in the impulse to express something vital. This creative impulse-essentially the same in the high school child and in the epic poet—stirs the mind, sets words flowing, shapes and incarnates the thought, according to the measure of the mind in which it stirs. This is the process we wish to secure, not merely in order to get fresh, original compositions, but to widen and deepen the child's life, to give him the high pleasure of creation and the coördinate pleasure of appreciation. To all this, interest is an absolutely necessary antecedent. Therefore, in this book, form is subordinated to matter.
And here appears the primary value of literature. Actually many a writer finds his material, gets his ideas by suggestion or inspiration from other writers. It is true, as Stevenson remarks, that every revival of letters has been heralded by a "cast back to earlier and fresher models.” True it is also, that these revivals have come not mainly by intellectual analysis and formal imitation, but rather by generous admiration and enkindling of the imagination. And thus it is that literature may serve the child by suggestion and stimulation.
This book attempts to set the child writing; to suggest something which he can work up, which will please him, when written, and seem to him worth while.
It should be added that it attempts also to set him going in the right direction; it does not abandon the field of technique, but attempts to guide his expression toward literary effectiveness. A vital interest once aroused, technique can do its perfect work.
Similar practical considerations have determined also the order of presentation. A text-book in composition is necessarily unsatisfactory because it is fixed; it must follow one way, while every class has its own development of interest, presents its own peculiar order in development of faults and virtues. No one book can fit every case. Ideally, every class, not to say every individual, should have its own book made over night according to the demands of the day. And at no period in the history of the English student are these difficulties so great as in the last year of grammar school, and early years of high school. Interests spring up and die out with mushroom swiftness; new traits appear in character, and die out or go on to permanence; variety in interest and in character development is the only permanence the teacher can safely count on. This difficulty is not avoidable. But it is possible to abandon an order based on logical analysis of the science of rhetoric for an order based on the exigencies of practice in the art. Such order sacrifices the symmetry of the table of contents to the immaturities and growing powers of the child. This is but following the example set in modern language textbooks, where a logical development of the subject has given place to a presentation based on actual habits of speech.
To give the pupil pleasure in the exercise of his powers and in the works of literature is no mean object in these days when one of the perils of democracy is the absence of high pleasures and the increase of the crass and the vulgar. Beyond this even, lies the broadly human significance of the study.
Educators have often dwelt on the critical period in the development of a child,—"the golden age of life;" the time when new ideals are forming, new aptitudes are stirring, new faculties are germinating. At this time, the sympathies can be touched to finer response, the whole nature enriched and directed to higher issues. At this time, then, no study should be regarded wholly as a source of information or of mental discipline, nor as a means to a technical end ; least of all the art of writing. No study offers more opportunities than does composition, for directing and stimulating to sincere and complete living. The teacher who has access to the pupil's note-book has open sesame to the sacred mystery of the growing soul; and on him devolves the responsibility of enlarging the interests, directing the sympathies, and clarifying the thinking.
My hearty thanks are due to many friends; notably to the teachers of the Tuley High School, for Appendix B on Punctuation; to Mrs. Maude Radford Warren, of the University of Chicago, for unfailingly helpful suggestion; and to Mr. George B. Aiton, Inspector of High Schools, State of Minnesota; H. E. Giles, Superintendent of Schools, Hinsdale, Illinois; E. H. Kemper McComb, Head of English Department, Manual Training High School, Indianapolis, B. A. Heydrick, Girls' High School, New York City; Miss Ellen Fox, Instructor in English, Central High School, Kansas City; Bruce Smith, Instructor in English, St. Louis High School, St. Louis; Dr. R. H. Griffith, University of Texas; Robert R. Reed, Superintendent of Schools, Stephen, Minnesota; Miss Chestine Gowdy, State Normal School, Normal, Illinois, for acute criticism and generous assistance.