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IT is intended that the present Series of English Clas
sics for Schools should contain at least as large a proportion of prose as of poetry.
Nearly all our principal English poets have been annotated, more or less satisfactorily, though never before, we believe, in so cheap and at the same time so complete a form.
But prose works, short enough to be read in a term or half-year, and with notes sufficiently elementary for boys of fourteen or fifteen, are still a desideratum.
Nor is the choice of such works easy. It would, indeed, not be difficult to compose any number of volumes of extracts, but to such books there are several objections. In the first place, an author can be but very imperfectly known by selections; and further, the Editors have found by experience, that the pupil's interest is much less likely to flag in reading consecutive portions, and that one of the principal advantages of English teaching is lost by reading selections—the mental training acquired by following out a continuous argument, and the power of appreciating a work as a whole.'
Cp. Bacon, Essay 50: “Distilled books are like common distilled waters, flashy things."
The tendency of classical teaching, at least in its earlier stages, is of necessity to concentrate the attention on the words at the expense of the matter, and to emphasize the beauty of parts, instead of judging the works as wholes. These defects it is believed may be corrected by a judicious study of English, and more especially of English prose, if read continuously and in sufficient quantities.
As a first instalment of the series, no book seemed to the Editors so well fitted to fulfil these conditions as Bacon's Essays.
1. An Essay will, as a rule, be found sufficient for an hour's lesson; the longer ones will probably take two or three. Though fragmentary in their style, there is nearly always a well-marked logical sequence of ideas, and at first a considerable portion of the lesson will be taken up in ascertaining how far the pupil has grasped this connection.
2. The language, though offering no very great difficulties, is yet sufficiently peculiar and archaic to keep the pupil's attention on the alert, and to afford the master endless opportunities of expounding English grammar and English philology.
* It is satisfactory to find the opinion here expressed endorsed by so weighty an authority as Hallam. In his Introduction to the Literature of Europe, vol. iii. p. 151, he thus concludes his remarks on Bacon's Essays :“ They might be judiciously introduced, with a small number more, into a sound method of education, one that should make wisdom rather than mere knowledge its object, and might become a text-book of examination in our schools.”
2 “The English of Bacon rarely requires a note; it is remarkably lucid and free from archaisms and obsolete forms of expression."-SINGER, Preface to Bacon's Essays. “One might almost say that the little volume of Bacon's Essays alone contains as large a number of words and phrases no longer employed in our language as the whole of Milton's poetical works.”—Marsh, Lectures on the English Language: In medio veritas: but boys will rather incline to Mr. Marsh's opinion.
3. The Essays treat of everyday subjects, on which every boy must have some notions, however crude or elementary, and the master may generally bring the matter home to a boy by illustrations drawn from the cricket-field or the class-room.
In conclusion, we would offer one or two hints for varying a lesson in Bacon's Essays, and for testing how a boy has prepared his lesson, and how far he has appreciated it :1. Let an analysis of the Essay be required to be
brought up with the lesson. 2. A paraphrase of any difficult piece. 3. To expand a single sentence or portion of an Essay. 4. An original essay on the same subject as the last
Essay done in school, especially when the advance of science or the altered circumstances of society have rendered Bacon's treatment inaccurate or inadequate.
In the present edition the spelling has been modernized, except in cases where some principle of philology was involved : e.g.
“then” for “than” has been retained. The Editor would acknowledge his great obligation to Mr. Wright's admirable edition. Wherever he has borrowed directly he has stated his obligation, but Mr. Wright has also often supplied a valuable reference.
Archbishop Whately's edition is rather a volume of sermons to which Bacon supplies the text than a genuine edition of the Essays. But Whately had much of Bacon's sound practical genius and logical acumen, and he has occasionally supplied a hint on the subject matter of the Essays.
INTRODUCTION TO THE ESSAYS.
Essays is best given in Bacon's own words: “They handle those things in which both men's lives and their pens are most conversant.” “ They come home to men's business and bosoms.” Descending from his “ 'specular mount,” the philosopher of the Novum Organum discusses with us the pros and cons of married and single life, he accompanies us on our travels, he gives us hints how and where to build a house, he strolls with us in our gardens, he joys with our joys, and sorrows with our sorrows.
2. The next point to notice is their terseness. No modern and no ancient writer (except perhaps Aristotle) has contrived to put so much meaning in so small a space. There is never a superfluous word. Let the pupil attempt to paraphrase Bacon, he will find it impossible without expansion.
3. This brevity is never (as is the case with Tacitus) counterbalanced by obscurity. The thought is as clear and limpid as the language. He avoids all technical and philosophical terms, and speaks to us as a plain English gentleman.
4. His wit is sometimes a mere play on words : e.g. " by pains men come to greater pains” (Essay 11); those that want friends are cannibals of their own hearts" (Essay 27). But more often it consists in aptness of illustration. This is such a salient feature of the Essays,