« PreviousContinue »
and to combine and to interpret—to impart real knowledge—is the schoolmaster's highest work. Of course the facts must be collected ; but this the memory, properly directed, easily accomplishes. Now with respect to English teaching, every pupil, however young, has already amassed a considerable store of facts : for instance, he can talk the language easily, he has a certain standard by which he talks it ; he has a vocabulary of no mean extent. The teacher should avail himself of this store; he should aim at making the pupil the conscious master of it; he should assist him to order and methodize it. It is not so much necessary at first to add to it. To create Kosmos out of Chaos no fresh material is wanted. Therefore let the pupil be led to observe and to order the stock of information he already possesses ; let him be made to turn that to good account ; let him be told nothing that he in fact knows though he is not sensible that he knows it. It may be questioned whether we always avoid the frightful example of the great Dunce Schoolmaster :
By all means let the pupil “ask ;" but let him first ask himself.
As for matters which he certainly does not know, or on which mere observation and reflection will not inform him, it is often good not directly to inform him, but to put him in the way of informing himself. Some personal exertion will endear to him the knowledge he acquires, and will impress it more deeply on his mind. The habit of independent search, conducted in however humble a way, is highly valuable.
(ii.) With regard to the following paragraphs, it would not be advisable to give in every case equal importance to the various methods of study they indicate. With a less advanced " form," certain of these methods might be omitted altogether ; with a more advanced one, certain others might be omitted. How many of them are made use of, and to what degree any one that is made use of should be carried, must depend upon circumstances; for instance, with a very low form it might be well to dwell simply on the story of what is read, to see hat that is thoroughly understood and realized.
To avoid vagueness, it may be well to take a particular piece of English writing, and apply what has to be said to it. Let us take a piece of English poetry, of no extraordinary difficulty, on which to make our experiment.
O listen, listen, ladies gay!
No haughty feat of arms I tell ;
That mourns the lovely Rosabelle.
“Moor, moor the barge, ye gallant crew!
And, gentle lady, deign to stay!
Nor tempt the stormy frith to-day.
To inch and rock the sea-mews fly;
Whose screams forebode that wreck is nigh.
A wet shroud swathed round lady gay ;
Why cross the gloomy firth to-day?”
To-night at Roslin leads the ball,
Sits lonely in her castle hall.
And Lindesay at the ring rides well,
If’tis not fill’d by Rosabelle.”
A wondrous blaze was seen to gleam;
And redder than the bright moonbeam.
It ruddied all the copse-wood glen ;
And seen from cavern'd Hawthornden.
Seem'd all on fire that chapel proud
Where Roslin's chiefs uncoffin'd lie,
Sheath'd in his iron panoply.
Seem'd all on fire within, around,
Deep sacristy and altar's pale ;
And glimmer'd all the dead men's mail.
Blazed every rose-carved buttress fair:
The lordly line of high Saint Clair.
There are twenty of Roslin's barons bold
Lie buried within that proud chapelle :
But the sea holds lovely Rosabelle.
And each Saint Clair was buried there,
With candle, with book, and with knell ;
The dirge of lovely Rosabelle,
(i.) Let the piece be learned well by heart. This should be made a necessary part of the out-school work—of “preparation.” While, as has been said above, something more than the memory is to be thought of, and a mere loading of that faculty is before all things to be deprecated, the memory is not to be neglected. The memory is to be the servant of the mind ; it is to fetch and carry for it, and it must be kept busy. One might say it should serve as a sort of library, which it were well to stock judiciously, with volumes well read and to be read again and again, not with shelves of works unintelligible to us. The learning a piece of good writing is placing a volume in that library. It is not enough to learn it, but it is a good beginning. Certainly, aus has often been said, it is no trivial blessing to have the memory furnished in one's youth with what is worth remembering to the end of one's life, and grows more and more precious as we grow older and discern better its virtues.
Some attention should be paid to elocution. The piece learnt must be recited carefully and thoughtfully. When the pupil understands it better, as it is to be hoped he will do at the close of his “ lesson,” he will probably repeat it more intelligently ; but to repeat it with some inteligence, some proper feeling and emphasis, this must be one of the duties of his preparation for his work. How rare is good reading, at least among English men! Ladies generally read better, because they have more practice in the art ; amongst men the art can scarcely be said to exist. Certainly much of the music of poetry and of rhythm
is often lost or diminished, if the passage containing it is not read aloud. To be fully appreciated, it should be heard by the outer ear, and so by the inner. By younger persons, this music will probably be altogether unperceived and not understood, if they are not taught to feel and hear it. Rosabelle will be to them as a passage from one of Sir Richard Blackmore's Epics. They will miss its varying tones; they will see the poet piping, so to say, but they will not hear the notes that flow from him; he will pipe, but they will not dance; he will mourn, but they will not lament. Let, then, their sense of the music of poetry be cultivated. Let them see that reading is in a manner interpretation.
(ii.) Now let the general meaning of the piece be considered. To turn to our instance, let the story of the poem be brought out. Rosabelle, it will be seen, divides into four parts : there is the introduction, the minstrel's proem ; then there is the group of figures on the frith shore, with the storm gathering over them ; then Roslin Chapel all ablaze; then the two last stanzas connect, as it were, the two preceding scenes-connect the chief of those figures with that ominous blaze. To each of those two main scenes five stanzas are devoted; so that in mere form they correspond together. These scenes should be carefully realized ; the pupil should describe them in his own words. For younger pupils this realizing of the story might, as I have already said, be work enough. For them, old ballads and pieces like Rosabelle, or a chapter of one of the Waverley Novels, or a passage from Pope's Iliad would serve excellently ; or, which would require a little more power, they might read a play of Shakspere merely for the story. Of course with poems of a not merely narrative sort, greater difficulties would arise : take Wordsworth's lines on The Daisy, for instance, or Gray's Ode on the Spring. Perhaps few persons are fully conscious how very common most careless reading is, especially of poetry. Again and again the main point of a poem is missed : or, if the main point is caught, that is all. One may frequently meet devout admirers of Milton's Lycidas who understand scarcely a passage of that noble poem. They are lulled and pleased with Lycidas as one is with the sound of waves without knowing what they say. Gray's Elegy is, I suppose, a generally popular poem. How many of those who doat upon it follow the current of the thought, or at all comprehend certain parts ? Yet surely poetry read in this fashion is read most ineffec
tually. Poetry becomes a mere pleasant murmur. It is like hearing laughter without knowing the joke that moves it. Yorick, “a fellow of infinite jest," sets the table in a roar, and we roar with it; but what was that “flash of merriment”? To these readers poetry is an inarticulate art, like music, but with inferior sensuous expression.
It is most important, therefore, that the general meaning of everything read should be asked after, even where it seems obvious. When this is well discovered, the meaning of the parts should be inquired into, and their relation to the main idea investigated ; that is, the unity of the piece should receive attention. It should be shown how in all artistic works of excellence one main idea rules and sways; that there is one great centre towards which all the parts bend and converge ; that no part is really isolated and independent, however much it may seem so, but subserves that main idea. In what does the unity of Rosabelle consist ? We have seen that this ballad presents us with two powerful pictures ; how are these pictures related ? Are they mere rivals jarring with each other? Do they divide and distract the attention ? Or are they harmoniously subordinate to one idea, each serving to bring that idea into its full relief? Do their colours blend so as to leave one single impression ? Questions of this sort may seem easy enough to the wise ; but they will certainly not be found so by the ordinary learner. To answer them will demand his best attention and thought. Again and again the teacher will discover that the part has been mistaken for the whole, that an aisle has been regarded as the cathedral.
It would frequently be advisable to direct one's pupils to make written abstracts of any piece of prose or poetry that is to be studied by them. These would serve as an evidence that the hours allotted to preparation had been rightfully employed ; secondly, they would thoroughly test the writer's comprehension of his work; thirdly, they might be of use in teaching the scholar how to write his native tongue. With regard to the last suggested advantage, this mode of learning the art of composition is surely better, at least for younger persons, than that of what is called Essay writing. To exact “Essays” is perhaps to imitate that austere Egyptian master who insisted on bricks being produced though he declined to furnish straw. Even let it be supposed that a youth has knowledge enough to write an essay, yet the difficulty of transferring that knowledge to paper has to be overcome;