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A NUMBER OF CLASSIC WORKS.
F. V. N. PAINTER, A.M.
PROFESSOR OF MODERN LANGUAGES AND LITERATURE IN ROANOKE COLLEGE.
LEACH, SHEWELL, & SANBORN,
THIS work is an attempt to solve the problem of teaching English literature. The ordinary manuals, it is believed, have ceased to give general satisfaction. This result was inevitable; for the principle upon which they are based is fundamentally at variance with educational science. While containing a great deal about English literature, these works do not teach English literature itself; and it is not unusual for a student to finish them without being acquainted with a single classic work, or having acquired the least fondness for sterling literature. It is the recognition of these facts that has caused many teachers to desire and seek something better.
The subject of English literature is of great extent; no other nationality has a richer intellectual heritage. Its history extends through twelve hundred years, and the list of authors and of their productions is almost endless. Some knowledge of this literature is an indispensable part of a liberal education. Simply as information, this knowledge is of far more importance to us than an acquaintance with any other literature, ancient or modern. And as an educating instrumentality, it possesses great value, Its criti
cal study disciplines the attention, refines the taste, and cultivates the memory and judgment. But of more importance than any of these particulars, is its value in awakening mind. English literature is peculiarly adapted, in the hands of a competent teacher, to produce a genuine thirst for knowledge and culture - a thirst which once awakened rarely fails, in this age of books, to attain its end.
But the vast extent of English literature makes it a difficult subject to handle successfully in the class-room. Two leading mistakes, which have been embodied in numerous text-books, are easily made. On the one hand, a treatment too comprehensive in its scope necessitates a painful meagreness of details; and the result is that the subject, with its bare biographical facts and its broad generalizations, remains confused and barren in the learner's mind. He is told many things about English literature, but he is not once permitted to see and examine for himself. On the other hand, brief illustrative extracts, with a short biographical notice of each writer, leaves the student unacquainted with English literature in its wonderful course of development. While learning many names and perhaps some choice bits of poetry and prose, he knows nothing of the writers in relation to one another, and to the times in which they lived.
Evidently some plan of selection and arrangement that might avoid these two erroneous methods is desirable. Greater fulness of treatment should be secured by the
omission of unimportant writers; and in addition to this, the characteristics of each period, which are related alike to all the writers belonging to it, should be traced at some length. Fortunately English literature lends itself readily to this two-fold treatment. The long course of our literature is broken up into a number of periods marked by the presence of new and weighty influences; and in each period there are a few writers that stand, by reason of their ability and enduring works, in positions of recognized pre-eminence. These are our classic authors; and it is with their writings, in connection with the moulding influence of epoch and surroundings, that the formal study of English literature should begin. This plan, which it is hoped will be found embodied in the present work, not only gives the student what is rightly called a philosophy of our literature, but also leads him to a direct acquaintance with the literature itself.
A moment's examination will show the structure of the present work. The treatment of the representative writers of each period is sufficiently extended to allow considerable fulness of biographical and critical detail. This, it is hoped, will add to the interest of the work, and also be useful in developing a literary taste. The selections are representative pieces; and, studied with the help of the critical and explanatory notes, they will be found sufficient to give the student a clear idea of each author. To secure greater completeness of treatment, and also to encourage independent investigation, it is recommended