Page images


This little volume is an experiment, but it is an experiment which I may say has already succeeded. Its object is to show that clear, accurate, and scientific views of history, or indeed of any subject, may be easily given to children from the very first. In truth the more rigidly accurate and scientific a statement is, the more easy it is for a child to take it in. The difficulty does not lie with the child, who has simply to learn, but with the teacher who often has to unlearn. A child finds no difficulty in attaching a correct and definite meaning to a word from the first time of his using it; the difficulty lies wholly with the teacher, who has often been used to a confused and unscientific way of using words, which he finds it hard to leave off.

I have, I hope, shown that it is perfectly easy to teach children, from the very first, to distinguish true history alike from legend and from wilful invention, and also to understand the nature of historical authorities and to weigh one statement against another. Here again the difficulty is not at all with the child, but wholly with the teacher.

I have throughout striven to connect the history of England with the general history of civilized Europe, and I have

[ocr errors]

especially tried to make the book serve as an incentive to a more accurate study of historical geography. For this pur pose I hope that the maps with which the book is illustrated may be found really useful. No error should be more carefully guarded against from the beginning than that of bondage to the modern map.

A child should learn from the very beginning that names like England, Scotland, France, do not necessarily mean, and have not always meant, exactly the same as they do now. Without perfect accuracy in these matters, no clear view of history can ever be gained. Here again the only difficulty lies with the teacher, who may have to unlearn ; to the child it is just as easy to learn the right names from the beginning as the wrong ones.

I have throughout striven carefully to distinguish history from legend, but I have not thought it right wholly to throw aside the tales which have so often usurped the place of true history. These tales ought to be known, if only because they have usurped the place of true history. They ought also in many cases to be known, sometimes on account of their real beauty, sometimes as excellent studies for the comparative mythologist. I have therefore not wholly left them out, but I have told them as tales, in a shape which clearly distinguishes them from authentic history. And in telling them I have taken as my model the best of all examples of simple narrative, the best of all examples of English slightly antiquated but still perfectly intelligible, our received version of the Old Testament.

The present book was begun a good many years ago, and as written bit by bit for the use of my own children, as they wanted it, or as I found time to write it. It will, ) suspect, be found that the latter part takes for granted a much greater degree of general knowledge than is supposed in the early parts. This is owing to the obvious cause that the children for whom it was written grew older while it was being written. As the same change will doubtless happen to other hearers or readers of the book, I cannot fancy that any difficulty will arise on this score.

The book, being written for particular children, living in a particular part of the country, had from the beginning a certain local character, and it gave special prominence to West-Saxon and especially to Somersetshire affairs. This was done on two grounds. It was utterly impossible to give a detailed history of all the fluctuating states which made up our elder England. I therefore chose for special notice that state which in the end swallowed up the rest and which grew into the Kingdom of England. But besides this, I thought that it gave further life and interest to the story for those for whom it was at first meant, if I made those parts of the history which concerned Wessex, and especially those which concerned Somersetshire and the Somersetshire Bishoprick, to stand out in a more marked way than others.' And when revising the book for publication I saw no reason to leave out or to change these local allusions. I believe they add somewhat to the life and reality of the story, and I hope that they may be also useful in another way. I have certainly had some advantages for my purpose in living in what was so long a border district, a battle-field of the Briton and the Englishman. But every shire, almost every neighbourhood, has its own contributions to English History, its own places and events of special interest. Very few of these could be directly mentioned in a book of this kind, but I hope that the sort of use which I have made of the facts and events special to my own neighbourhood may lead others to deal in the same way with the places and events which more closely concern them. I trust that intelligent readers and teachers will often be able to supplement my references to matters belonging to Somersetshire with references of the same kind belonging to other parts of England.

With regard to the spelling of Old-English names, I must plead guilty to a certain amount of inconsistency. My own feeling is in favour of always using the genuine spelling of the old names rather than the common Latin and French corruptions. But I find that many people are in a manner frightened at the unusual form which is thus given to names still in common use. I have therefore, somewhat at the expense of consistency, left some of the more common names, such as Alfred, Edward, and Edith, in their modern spelling; while other names which are less familiar to modern readers, and which often have no one generally received modern shape, I have left in their ancient form. On the subject of Old-English names and on one or two points connected with the Old-English language I have added a few remarks at the end of this Preface.

I ought to mention that this little work was begun, and a great part of it written, before I had so much as planned the History of the Norman Conquest. In the parts of the history where the two works come on the same ground, the smaller was, I believe, everywhere written before the larger. The influence of the larger work on the smaller has been twofold. First, it has brought it sooner to an end, and has

« PreviousContinue »