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THE English language-of all subjects in education— deserves our attention. Its acquisition commences in the cradle, its practical application terminates only in death. Through it alone can mental acquirement be made, and social enjoyment felt.
Our mother-tongue ought to hold in education, a preeminence which certainly has hitherto been denied it,—for it is in that tongue we have to think, to speak, to write. If we become orators, historians, or poets-pleaders, speakers, or preachers-it must be in English. And yet, of all branches of study taught in our Schools, and even in our Universities,* there is none so neglected as that of cultivated reading and good delivery. In this country, the Pulpit, the Senate, and the Bar ought, from their position and advantages,
* See "Times" on the Oxford Commemoration, June 17, 1863. "Congratulatory Poems were then delivered on the occasion of the Royal visit, by two Undergraduates, and this was decidedly the heaviest and least satisfactory portion of the day's proceedings. As specimens of Oxford Poetry, they were very bad as specimens of how the Undergraduates committed their studies to memory they were worse: and as specimens of delivery they were worst of all."
to be standard authorities, but unfortunately those who enter on each of these careers are generally so ill-instructed themselves as to require, from those condemned to hear them, the admonition, "Physician heal thyself." But here I may anticipate all objections, by stating that I do not advocate "tricks of speech," or the art of speaking so as to tickle the ear only. Such an art is unworthy any wise or good man. True eloquence is the power of speaking to the purpose, with tones so clear and manly, and gesture so natural and graceful, as to move every heart to feel the meaning and power of what is delivered. It is a common error to suppose that everyone who studies the art of speaking must necessarily become un-natural and stilted in his style. I shall only add, as to the prevalence of bad speaking, and intolerable reading, that it ought not so to be, in an era so remarkable for the expansion of intellect as the nineteenth century, and in a nation, too, who rely more on the art of oratory than any other nation of modern times.
Now, whatever touches the highest point of society, vibrates to the lowest link of the chain. Hence, we need not be surprised that our "Working Classes" speak and read so indifferently. A great educational agency has been hit upon in the shape of "Penny Readings for the People," by which the mind of the working man may be educated, his taste elevated, and his spirit refreshed in the midst of his hard work. The success of these Readings has been so great in Bath, that, although ten or twelve Working-men, who have been previously trained in a Free Elocution Class, read
in public every week,-yet many of the higher classes attend; a fact significant of the interest they take in the movement, and perhaps of the deficiency they may themselves feel in the simple but difficult art of reading. It will be sufficient to state that upwards of twenty-one thousand persons attended twenty-three Penny Readings given in Bath during the past winter.*
From these Readings has originated the present volume of "Select Readings." Almost all the pieces it contains were read in Bath, and will retain, therefore, an increased interest in the mind of those who heard them illustrated by the living voice. I have snatched time from onerous duties for this little publication, hoping it may be useful to ministers and laymen who already hold, or may wish to start "Readings for the People;" and also that any profits arising from its sale may help the Bath People's Hall Fund.
I beg publicly to thank all those Authors who have so generously allowed me the use of their pieces. The Volume would have been more complete but for the refusals of a few, notwithstanding the benevolent purpose for which it is published. Some have even compelled me to remove pieces which were inserted in the first edition, though placed there only from admiration of the Author, and with no pecuniary motive save to benefit the People.
If, however, I have still inserted any piece in a like manner,
* For account of this movement, see "Bath Penny Readings, their Origin and Progress," By Rev. James Fleming, M.A. Price Sixpence. R. E. Peach, Bath. Published for the benefit of the People's Hall Fund.
I trust the Author will forgive me when he knows the motive from which, and the object for which these "Select Readings," were compiled. I stand deeply indebted to Alfred Tennyson, Esq., Charles Mackay, Esq., and Miss Eliza Cook, for their kind and generous interest in this movement, and to many others whom it would be tedious to name. I shall conclude this necessary Preface by the words of Montaigne :-" You will find here a nosegay of culled flowers, to which I have brought nothing of my own but the thread that ties them."
Bath; July, 1863.