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My design in publishing the present collection of ExaminationPapers in the English Language and Literature is to help forward that general movement which has been so well described by Mr Hales, in his Introduction to ‘Longer English Poems.' “In Richard the Second's time,” he says, “ English was being admitted into schools as the teaching medium; it is now being admitted as a teaching subject....Some future historian will record of this present age that it witnessed the introduction into our schools—at least into some of them—of a careful study of our native tongue and the great works written in it. He will record that English boys and girls were for the first time instructed in the great classics of their country, that Shakespeare and Milton and Scott were read and re-read along with Homer, and Sophocles, and Virgil, that a pernicious monopoly was for ever abolished. Why should we not know our Shakespeare as the Greeks knew their Homer?” It certainly seems high time that boys in our schools should receive some better introduction to the study of our best authors than that purely casual one which they gain by being told to turn such and such a passage of Shakespeare into Greek Iambics.
Little need be said about the Papers here collected beyond a statement of whence they are derived. With a very few exceptions, they are papers that have been set in the University of Cambridge, at Trinity College, Christ's College, and Trinity Hall; as explained in the Table of Contents. The exceptions are limited
that have been set elsewhere by myself. I am also responsible for several of those set at Christ's College; for the rest, I am indebted to Mr Hales, Mr Peile, and Mr Reid, of Christ's College; and especially I have to thank Mr Aldis Wright, of Trinity College, and Mr Latham, of Trinity Hall, for the assistance they have so kindly afforded me. It would have been easy to add many more papers to the list, especially from the Shakespeare-papers set at Trinity, but perhaps the present selection will suffice to give a good general idea of what students may be expected to know. I have also refrained from making any new papers for the occasion, as it seems to me that a paper that has actually been set is really a
better guide than one made merely as a specimen of what might be set.
On this account, I have also further taken care to give them nearly as they were actually first printed, with such alterations only as seemed necessary for the student's convenience, which I have further consulted by adding a large number of references shewing where the principal phrases occur'. The paper on Goldsmith's Deserted Village was intended for boys; it is, of course, too easy for senior students. The only others that call for remark are Nos. 1 and 8, which have been inserted for a special purpose. Rather more than a year ago, arrangements were made for instructing ladies by correspondence. The scheme proved perfectly practicable, and in a great measure successful; and by way of giving some idea of the method of its working, I have included these two papers, as being specimens of those actually set, and—what is more to the purpose-actually answered by ladies, and answered very well too. In fact, it is one very great advantage of such an excellent subject as the English Language and Literature that, with a little supervision and management, it can easily be adapted for female students, who, at least in some cases within my own experience, take a keen and intelligent interest in it, and reap much benefit therefrom.
I have not hesitated to give many papers on the same subject, because the questions are mostly independent, and framed by different examiners at different times. A standard piece like Chaucer's Prologue or Shakespeare's Macbeth can never be too well known.
The real practical questions that naturally arise are, what uses can be made of these papers, how is one to set about the study of English, and what books are most useful to a student? To the consideration of such questions I shall now address myself
. The papers are intended to be suggestive in the first instance, and afterwards to be used as tests of knowledge. They are suggestive, because they bring into prominence examples of such words, phrases, and allusions as ought most to occupy the student's attention. One very great help to the accomplishment of any object is to get some sort of idea as to what it is one is going to do before any beginning is made; and the student may hence gather some notions as to what the study of English means before he begins it. The questions may further serve yet another purpose, by furnishing food for reflection to those who suppose that their own knowledge of English is perfect, and that they have nothing to learn; for it is not uncommon to find that Englishmen imagine that they know all about their own literature by the light of nature, and that it requires no special study.
1 The references to Shakespeare are to the Act, Scene, and Line, as numbered in the Globe. Edition. The other references are indicated.
The perusal of one of the Papers of Questions in this volume may perhaps suggest to many some doubts as to the absolute perfection of their knowledge.
A great deal of nonsense has been written on the subject of "cramming;" for the term is often used so vaguely as to admit of the most contradictory statements. The mere gorging of undigested information which is to be of no use except to astonish for the moment, or to serve for passing an examination, is doubtless bad; but this affords no excuse for declining to learn, or for ridiculing sincere attempts to acquire learning for its own sake. Every examiner knows that even the best scholars, who really understand their subject, have to get up or “cram” up several minor details which they cannot long remember, in addition to those matters which they really make their own by careful consideration and critical thought. The chief point is, of course, to get as much as possible abiding good out of every piece of work; but it is an absurdity to suppose that the amount of good to be got is commensurate with the whole extent of the work done. To avoid “cram” altogether is impossible; but it may easily be made merely subsidiary, and altogether of secondary importance. One great object of learning is to arrive at leading principles; but a good many facts must be first committed to memory before such principles can be clearly perceived. There will still be a certain residuum of facts which it is difficult to see the full force of; and these cannot always be retained. It is well known, also, that nothing so helps the memory as association of ideas. It is easier to remember six facts that are connected with each other than a single one that seems to be connected with nothing else.
One way of using an Examination Paper is this. After reading, let us say, the play of As You Like It as carefully as you can, shut up all books whatever, and try and write out as many answers as possible, working for about two hours, or at the most three, at a stretch, in which time you ought to be able to finish. The written answers can now be compared with all the books of reference, and the mistakes and deficiencies observed. The Paper should not be read at all till you suppose yourself to be quite ready to answer most of the questions.
Another way, and one perhaps more easy for beginners, is to allow yourself to read over the paper first; to keep it by you while studying the play, and make out what the answer to every question ought to be. When the play is finished, an interval of at least a few days should be allowed to elapse; and then, all books being now closed, write out all the answers as rapidly as possible and at one sitting. The one great rule to be always carefully observed is this:-never to refer to any book during the process of writing out'. If you forget the answer, leave the question, and pass on; if you only remember a partial answer, write down that and no more. Afterwards, carefully verify your answers by books, observe your errors and deficiencies, and try to do better next time. In this way, self-improvement may easily be effected, and to good purpose.
If the saving of time is a desideratum, the student may, instead of writing down the answers, recite or say them; but he must then use as careful language as if he were writing; and should not only think over the answers, but enunciate them in words, half-audibly at the very least, since the composition of sentences is just what is most worthy of being practised. Study brevity, keep closely to the question, and avoid irrelevant matter. Thoroughly consider every question before beginning to write an answer, and then write quickly and without hesitation. Finally, make notes of the difficulties you cannot solve, and let such difficulties stand over for the present.
In beginning the study, assume your ignorance rather than your knowledge of it. I am convinced that the student makes the most important step towards the final comprehension of the subject at the moment when he first clearly perceives the vastness, the variety, and the difficulty of it; and he first begins to understand English grammar at the time'when he first recognises that it involves questions of history, of chronology, and of gradual development. To take a common example. It is now frequently considered 'correct' to write up “ This house to be let;" and people will tell you, with the utmost confidence and effrontery, that to be let is “the right grammar, you know.” But an intelligent student may be permitted to doubt this; for, although modern grammar is, to a great extent, merely an exact following out of the prevailing usages of speech that obtain most generally at the
1 Sometimes the text is required, as forming part of the question. This is an obvious exception, but it is the only one. It must only be opened at the