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THE TEACHING OF ENGLISH.
Σμικρὰ μὲν τάδ ̓ ἀλλ ̓ ὅμως
ἄχω . .
IT is certain that a great revolution is now taking place in the educational world. A discontent which has been growing for several generations is now reaching its culmination. For a long time Englishmen have been dissatisfied with their schools and universities; they have felt that those well-designed institutions failed to do their proper work; they have been made painfully conscious that the fosterchildren of them were to a great degree ignorant of what they ought to know, and accomplished in what was comparatively worthless; and at this state of things they have not unnaturally murmured. Not unfrequently they have done something more than murmur. There have arisen thoughtful and wise observers who have loudly and clearly protested against the existing system; but no immediate hearing has been vouchsafed to them. The old idols have stood firm on their pedestals; and no new divinities have been honoured with places by their side. But at last there seems to be come a time when those protests are to be heard, when school-doors and college-gates are to be thrown open to subjects that have long clamoured in vain for admission. This wonderful unbarring the present age appears destined to witness. When this century closes, the ordinary education
of an Englishman will be a very different thing from what it was when the century began. The school of our grandchildren will not closely resemble that of our grandfathers. It will exhibit new methods; it will comprehend fresh subjects; it will exalt other interests. We of to-day should feel strange and unacquainted, were we seated on those benches of the future. There will be sounds we know not of, textbooks to us incomprehensible, arrangements that with their novelty would puzzle and perplex. There will perhaps be missing in these future class-rooms something that is to us dear, and justly dear; there will certainly be found in them much on whose value we can have no opinion, inasmuch as we are scarcely qualified by knowledge to form any. For good or for evil a great revolution is taking place. It is hard to think that it is all for evil, although many dear traditions are being swept away. Doubtless it is hard to throw the brand Excalibur into the mere. One cannot but see how richly gemmed and jewelled it is; one cannot but remember what noble services it has wrought in its day, what famous home-thrusts it has dealt, what safety and confidence it has given, still less that in the beginning it was bestowed by Heaven: but for all these facts and memories it may be better that it should now be flung away-that we should strongly wheel and throw it." At all events it may be well to recognize that there are other weapons with which good work may be achieved in our assaults upon the strongholds of Ignorance and Dulness. Let the good sword be supported by other arms.
With whatever feelings we may regard this educational change, it is certainly coming to pass. This nineteenth century seems likely to be as memorable, or perhaps more memorable, in the history of education, than are the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. As in those days Greek and "the New Philosophy" at last found a place in our schools and universities, so now Modern Languages and Natural Science appear to be establishing themselves. It would perhaps be not uninstructive for us to note what bitter opposition those old innovations encountered. The introduction of Greek, for instance, was effected in the teeth of the most furious hostility. The struggles described by Homer as raging beneath Troy walls were neither so fierce nor so long lasting as those which raged between the modern Greeks and Trojans, as the combatants in the educational battle of the sixteenth century called themselves. There were many then who from various points
of view echoed the sentiment expressed by the Duke of Norfolk in 1540. "I never read the Scripture," said that adherent of the departing age, nor never will read it. It was merry in England before the new learning came up; yea, I would all things were as hath been in times pust." Who could laugh at these words of a strangely troubled spirit? Rather one might weep over them; there is a certain pathos in the helpless embarrassment and despair they reflect: but one can see they were not wise, provident words; one cannot regret that the "new learning came up." But not altogether unlike is the sentiment that may sometimes be heard in these days of like unsettlement and transition.
'Ημείς τοι πατέρων μέγ' ἀμείμονες εὐχόμεθ ̓ εἶναι.
But is this boast so well founded? Do we derive all the benefit that is possible from their experience? Are we so much more catholicminded?
Surely the wise course now is not to set our faces against the incoming studies, but to do our best to regulate and order their admission. Let us give these strangers a judicious welcome. Let us frankly and generously examine what recommendations they have to advance for themselves. Let us banish utterly and for ever from our minds the notion of finality in education. Let us recognize that all our efforts are but tentative, and that we are yet an immeasurable distance, not only from absolute perfection, but from that degree of perfection which is attainable. May it not be indeed that we are at present in an extremely rudimentary stage of advancement in this momentous respect?—that the question of education is yet in its veriest infancy? Perhaps we are yet at the very foot of the mountain, and have not really commenced the ascent. Not odder, it may be, in our eyes is the educational system of the Middle Ages than our present system will be according to the decisions of posterity. These possibilities should surely make us, not reckless revolutionists, but thoughtful, considerate reformers. The changes that are now making will in their turn perhaps be modified or superseded. There is no such thing as an educational canon which closes and is complete.
The subjects which especially concern us in this paper are English Language and Literature. These subjects may be said to be now finding places in our school curricula. That they will eventually be
admitted everywhere, there seems no reason to doubt. During the last ten years this important movement has advanced with hastening steps. The reign of Victoria will be as conspicuous in the history of our language in its connection with Education as is now the reign of Richard the Second. Between these two epochs-more than five hundred years apart-there is perhaps no other one of any comparable moment. In Richard the Second's time English was admitted into schools as the teaching medium; it is now being admitted as a teaching subject. "John Cornwall," says an old chronicler in a wellknown passage, a master of grammar, changed the lore in grammar school and construction of French into English, and Richard Pencrich learned that manner teaching of him, and other men of Pencrich. So that the year of our Lord a thousand three hundred fourscore and five, of the Second King Richard, after the Conquest nine, in all the grammar schools of England children leave French and construe and learn in English."* To that innovation no doubt resistance was offered; that same chronicler goes on to balance the advantage and the disadvantage but it was effected. 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 Shakspere 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 Shakspere as the Greeks knew their Homer? In Xenophon's Symposium one of the guests says of himself: ὁ πατὴρ ἐπιμελούμενος ὅπως ἀνῆρ ἀγαθος γενοίμην, ἠνάγκασέ με πάντα τὰ ̔Ομήρου ἔπη μαθεῖν· καὶ νῦν δυναίμην αν ̓Ιλιάδα ὅλην καὶ ̓Οδύσσειαν ἀπὸ στόματος εἰπεῖν. My father, earnestly wishing that I should become a good man, made me learn all Homer's poetry; and at this day I could say off by heart the whole Iliad and Odyssey." Not that we should servilely follow that method, and commit all Shakspere's poems and plays to memory; but why should our poet not have his proper place in our schools? There is room for him and for Homer too. There is no fatal incompatibility between these two supreme spirits. We do not love Homer less, but Shakspere It is a great loss to our national life that we do not more * See Morris' Specimens of Early English (Clarendon Press Series), p. 339.
thoroughly study our great national poet. Do not let us flatter ourselves that at one time or another in our lives we do, as a nation, study him. There is much talk of Shakspere; is there much real knowledge? There is much pride in him; is it intelligent pride? To the great majority of persons are his plays much more than names, or at best but fine stories? It is no slight cause for rejoicing that the time of this ignorance is no longer to be winked at; that our Shakspere is, to some extent at least, to be known, and receive a better informed, a more discriminate, a more practical admiration.
But it is not proposed here to enter into any general advocacy of the teaching of English. This subject is rapidly becoming independent of any such support; its admission into schools is, as has been already said, almost secured. What I propose in some sort to deal with is rather the details of English teaching, not in the hope of suggesting anything new or fresh to the many able teachers who have of late turned their attention to this matter, but rather of showing those who may still regard English as a subject somewhat barren of such material as the teacher requires, how abundant and rich it is in fact. Something of what follows has already been said in a paper which appeared in the London Student magazine in July 1868, where an attempt was made to treat one of Milton's sonnets mainly after the same manner in which Scott's Rosabelle is to be treated here.
Before we proceed to our special work, let me make two general observations:
(i.) Nothing should be told a pupil which he can think out or find out for himself. The great function of education is not so much to give information as to put the pupil in the way of getting it and recognizing and using it justly when he has it. A man's knowledge is not to be estimated by the number of facts which he has appropriated, by the amount of books he has devoured, nor yet by the number of principles which have been impressed upon his memory. A principle mastered in such a way is, in an educational, a thought-developing point of view, of no more worth than a fact. But knowledge is to be gauged by the manner in which facts are arranged and combined, in which principles have been arrived at. To teach how to arrange facts,