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My aim in compiling these books of historical extracts is a very simple and practical one.
The teaching of English History is spreading fast through our schools; but it can hardly be said as yet to have become a popular subject of study among their scholars. In fact, if I may trust my own experience, a large proportion of boys and girls turn from it as “hard," "dry,” and “uninteresting." I "
” cannot say that the complaint is a groundless one. In their zeal to cram as many facts as possible into their
pages, the writers of most historical text-books have been driven to shut out from their narratives all that gives life and colour to the story of men. History, as we give it to our children, is literally "an old almanack;" and is as serviceable as an old almanack in quickening their wits or in rousing their interest. No doubt wiser books will come in time; but meanwhile those teachers who care to appeal to more valuable faculties than that of mere memory are hard put to it to find a remedy for the “dryness" of history,
One of the most eminent of our English schoolmistresses has been in the habit of breaking from time to time the history lessons of her various classes by reading to them passages from the greater historians, illustrative of some event in the time which they were studying, and weaving these extracts into a continuous story by a few words at their opening and close. The plan is a very simple and effective one, as its success has proved, for history has become popular with her scholars, while the "dry” parts of the text-books are mastered with far greater accuracy than of old. There is but one obstacle in the way of its general adoption, but that is a serious one; for it presupposes the possession of an historical library far too large and expensive to be within the reach of the bulk of teachers.
It is this difficulty that I have tried in some degree to meet by these books of extracts. Read to a class which has fairly mastered the facts of the period which they illustrate, I trust they may solve in some measure the difficulty which has been found in enlisting the interest of the learner on the side of history, while requiring from him a steady knowledge of historical facts.
In compiling this book I have been driven here and there by sheer necessity of space to omissions and a few trivial changes, for which its purely educational character must be my excuse. I have not been able to avail myself as largely as I could have wished of passages from recent or living authors; but I have to acknowledge my obligations to Messrs. Longman, Murray, and other publishers for their permission to use extracts from works which are still their property.