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exercise a wise forethought in the arrangement of business is rarely possessed except by the well-instructed man.
It is a mark of indolence to give ourselves up wholly to the enjoyment of literature; it is a proof of self-conceit to value our reading only as a means of display; while to determine all questions by what books say is the sure characteristic of a pedant. Learning supplements and improves natural gifts, but itself needs to be further improved by the experience of life; for our natural gifts are like trees which need discipline and culture, and learning itself is apt to mislead a student, unless its conclusions are corrected by actual experience.
Learning is not unfrequently despised by the clever practical man; it is regarded with childish wonder by the foolish ; but it is only truly appreciated by the wise. For learning does not teach its possessor how to employ it; the power to do this aright is a higher attainment than any scholarship, and can only come by thinking and observing.
Or you choose for an analysis of its meaning part of the opening passage of Paradise Lost.
And chiefly Thou, O Spirit, that dost prefer
It is not well to begin at once and try to paraphrase line by line. But the character of the invocations with which the Iliad and the Æneid commence may be pointed out; then Milton's classicalism, dominated as it was in this case by devout Christian feeling; then the passage in Genesis which was evidently in his mind; finally the mingling of humility in the presence of so vast an undertaking, with an inward consciousness of
power to achieve it. Afterwards the meaning of the whole passage admits of being rendered on this wise ;
II. But most of all do I invoke Thine aid and teaching: Thou Holy Spirit, whose choicest dwelling place is the guileless and reverent human heart. Thou wast present at the beginning and like a dove with outstretch'd pinions didst hover over the void and formless infinite, and impregnate it with life.
In so far as I am ignorant, enlighten me: when my thoughts are mean or poor, elevate and sustain them; that so I may be enabled to utter words not unworthy of my lofty theme, to speak rightly of the Divine Government and to vindicate the dealings of God with mankind.
In choosing passages for this purpose, it is well to have regard as much to the ease, the dignity, and the charm of the language as to the instruction which it may convey. And exercises of this kind, though more often in writing, may often with advantage be oral, and should almost always be made the subject of conversation and questioning before they are attempted.
With a view to correct the tendency to wordiness, which some forms of paraphrase are apt to generate, it is well to intersperse them with a few exercises on what is called in the public offices précis-writing; the condensation into a sentence or two of the main drift and purpose of a letter, an essay, or a formal document. The effort of mind required here in seizing upon the salient point among a number of particulars, of seeing the difference between the most relevant and the least relevant parts of a statement, and of stripping off all the dressing and circumlocution from the one chief purpose of a writer, is not only of special value in the after conduct of official business, but it is in itself of great value in promoting discernment and clearness of thought.
Considering how important a part is played by versemaking in the learning of Greek and Latin, it is remark
able that the composition of English verse is so seldom set as a school exercise. It must be owned that the Sapphics and Hexameters produced by school-boys do little to call out invention and literary taste. They are good exercises in grammar and prosody, and they guard the pupil against the one deadly sin of making false quantities ;-a sin however, of which in the case of two languages which are seldom or never to be spoken,-it is very easy to exaggerate the seriousness. The effort is apt to prove a very mechanical one, and to be somewhat sterile in intellectual result; because the pupil is much more concerned with the length and shortness of the syllables, than with their meaning. Similar failure would result from exercises in English versification, if the making of rhymes, or the use of difficult metres were required. But when the pupil is familiar with some good passages from Shakespeare, Milton, and Wordsworth, and has caught the ring and movement of the English heroic measure, it is worth while to draw attention to the conditions which render that measure musical and effective, to the law of the recurrent accents, and to the necessity of making the structure of the thought, and the logical arrangement of the sentences fit in with the structure of the verse. Then it is a good exercise to give a subject, or a suitable extract from a book, and to require it to be reproduced in blank
This will be found to encourage the choice of a diction, elevated a little above that of ordinary life; to give practice in conciseness, and in the better arrangement of the thoughts; and to tune the ear to a truer perception not only of the melody of verse, but also of that of rhythmical prose.
And here it seems fitting to make some reference to The study English Literature as a branch of school instruction.
of Engiish Literature.
This is a comparatively new ingredient introduced of late years into the school course, and largely encouraged, and almost enforced by the influence of the Local and other University Examinations. A play of Shakespeare, or a part of Paradise Lost is taken as a theme, and read critically. In order to do this well several things are necessary: (1) To explain and trace to their origin all difficult and archaic words, (2) To hunt out all the historical and other allusions, (3) To elucidate the meaning and purpose of the book as a whole, (4) To analyse, paraphrase, and learn by heart, choice and characteristic passages, (5) To know something of the circumstances in which it was written, and the relation in which it stands, not only to the author's other writings, but to the literature of the period, and (6) To examine its style, and discover its merits or peculiarities as a work of
literary art. How to There can be no doubt that the reading of any one study the
of the masterpieces of our literature in this way, is a very masterpieces of valuable and awakening exercise, and that rightly con‘English. ducted it does much both to inform the pupil, and
also to cultivate literary taste and a love of reading.
should not treat the book you are dealing with merely as something which has to be analysed, commented on, and picked to pieces; but also as a work of genius which has to be studied as a whole, and which the pupil must learn to appreciate as a whole. Before beginning to read the selected book piecemeal, the time of one lesson may be well devoted to a general and uncritical reading of the whole through, simply with a view to shew the scholar what it is about, and to kindle some interest in it for itself, and not as a lesson. A very skilful teacher of this subject complained to me that Study of Literary Master-pieces.
this was too often neglected, that pupils were invited to give their whole attention to the philological, historical, and antiquarian details, which were supposed to be useful in examinations, and that in this way all the enjoyment of the flavour and style of a book, as a great work of art, became impossible.
Indeed the complaint is not unfrequently made, that the habit of treating Macbeth or Comus as a lesson, taking it to pieces and putting them together again like a puzzle, is rather lowering and vulgarising in its effect, and calculated to destroy the freshness and interest with which the reader enjoys the book for its own sake. Now, this result is no doubt possible, but if it arises, I am sure it comes from bad and unskilful teaching
It is surely a little inconsistent on the part of scholars, who profess to have formed their own literary taste by the close study of the Greek and Roman classics, and who do not admit that all the school exercises, the grammar, and the versification, have deadened their admiration for the beauties of Virgil and Homer, to say as they sometimes do that the study in an analogous way of an English poet, tends to deprave the literary taste, and to give disagreeable associations with our own classics. It would be truer to say, An Englishman can get discipline in taste and expression from reading Homer critically, although the language is ancient and unfamiliar. He ought also to get a like advantage from reading Shakespeare or Burke, though the language in which they wrote is his own. It is because English is our vernacular that a fuller knowledge of Shakespeare than of Homer is possible to an Englishman; and we should therefore set ourselves to attain it.