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However successful we are in dealing with individual passages as types of general treatment, there remains the fundamental difficulty of covering the immense field of English Literature, during the school course. Very naturally the question rises : Is it necessary to attempt to cover it? Can we not be content to deal with only so much of it as lies within the reach of the pupils' capacity, and can be dealt with in the limited time allowed for the subject ? Even in the new teaching it appears to be pretty generally held that the pupil who leaves school at sixteen or eighteen should have a general notion of the scope of the whole of English Literature, though of course it will be necessary to content ourselves with sample work in many of the periods, while insisting upon a fairly wide reading of works from some selected period or periods. The new teaching recognizes the serious danger of hampering the individuality of the pupil by restricting his reading in English Literature, and yet cannot reconcile itself to the complete neglect of certain fields and periods. It accordingly falls back with some satisfaction on what it likes to call “ browsing.” This is the term that we use when we wish to look on the sunny side of desultory reading. Throughout his course the pupil is to be allowed, in an increasing degree as he passes up in the school, to read what he pleases so long as his choice is limited to authors permitted by the teacher. The hardier spirits would put the pupils for certain hours every week in a good library and allow them to read whatever they liked. A good case could be made out for this absolute freedom, if the pupils were in their turn hardy spirits and strong. But most teachers feel that a certain restraint is necessary even in browsing. And, after all, there cannot be said to be any lack of
breadth in the reading of pupils who have at their disposal all the books in English Literature that can pass the censorship of the new teacher. By this relatively free browsing the pupils in a school are allowed to read along their own line, with the result that in dealing in class with general questions in Literature it is usually found that among them the pupils can give illustrations from every branch.
It is recognized, of course, that while the browsing in school may be regulated, there is an external browsing that is not under the teacher's control, at any rate in day schools. Here emerges the problem of the penny dreadful.
This kind of reading has to be clearly marked off from prurient stuff. The penny dreadful as such is usually merely sensational and silly. The injury it does is not positive so much as negative. It does not usually do actual harm, but merely takes the place of better stuff. The new teaching has not quite made up its mind here. . There are teachers who say that they can easily tell which of their pupils read this kind of literature, not from their depravity, but from their wider vocabulary. Besides, there are all degrees of
dreadfuls. When all is said, Treasure Island is only the best of the genre, and the master's Sherlock Holmes and Green Mantle belong to the same group as the pupil's Alone in the Pirates' Lair and Caradoc the Briton. Leaving out of account the Dick Turpin and Wild Boys of London type, which stands self-condemned because of its bad morals, the question remains whether sensational stories should not be tolerated because they encourage the reading habit, and may lead to higher literature. Ruskin, of all men, is called in as a witness on the side of the dreadful, since he preaches that we ought to be sincere in our artistic admirations, and that we ought to present to the public we wish to train something within its reach but just a little bit higher than it would of its own initiative seek out. The recapitulatory theory is also pleaded in defence, and it is maintained that the penny dreadful marks a stage through which it is natural that we should pass on our way to higher things.
A strong argument in favour of browsing is that it removes the contrariant feeling that prescribed reading so often calls forth. Many years ago, at a literary dinner in London, a distinguished author dealing with the question of how it came about that modern writers had any chance at all when they had to compete with the immortal company of the Great Masters, reassured his fellows by maintaining that so long as the Immortals are set for school study the moderns will never lack a public. Browsing in a library from which the ultra moderns are excluded—not because they are inferior, but because their turn has not yet come—is the best way to give the Immortals fair play. It is sometimes objected that there are certain great authors that school pupils will never touch unless under compulsion. The out-and-out new teacher is inclined to reply that this very fact shows that these authors are unsuitable for the school age. The more cautious section are inclined to compromise and say that browsing has among its advantages the separation between works that of themselves attract and works that need the stimulus of the teacher's recommendation and exposition. But, broadly speaking, it may
be truly said that the new teaching recognizes that there are certain types of literature that are permanently unsuitable for the school age, for the reason that they
demand an experience of life that is for ever impossible at that stage. It has no sympathy with the oldfashioned notion of making pupils familiar with texts that they cannot understand in order that “when they come to years of discretion ” they may have suitable material at their disposal. It is recognized, of course, that pupils may profitably study books the full meaning of which they cannot appreciate till much later. What is barred is the sort of book that makes no appeal at all at the school stage. A boy may disturb his parents in the evening by his uproarious laughter over certain passages in Don Quixote, or gloat over the Lilliputians, while leaving to the future the understanding of the full meaning of the books. So, too, some of our poets may be read at an early stage for the mere sound and the surface meaning. But many books have no attraction at all for the young, and to force them to read works of this kind forms no part of the scheme of the new teaching.
It would be difficult to find a better expression of the attitude of the new teaching than Mr. Nowell Smith's concise statement of the objects of literary studies as a part of education : (i) the formation of a personality fitted for civilized life ; (ii) the provision of a permanent source of
pure and inalienable pleasure; and (iii) the immediate pleasure of the student in the process
of education. The Head Master of Sherborne thus turns back the new teaching to an old source, and plays the disciple to Tranio, whose “study what you most affect” has now been raised to the dignity of an educational principle.
1 The Cambridge Essays on Education, p. 105.
MODERN FOREIGN LANGUAGES
BY LOUIS DE GLEHN, M.A.
It is strange to see how slow our pedagogues have been to admit the claims of common sense in their methods of teaching, what inveterate theoretic prejudices have had to be overcome by those who endeavoured to press those claims. How often have reforms urged in the name of common sense been damned by such arguments as that they were not educational, that they were merely utilitarian !
In no field of teaching, I suppose, has the strife been more bitter, nor the confusion of the narrower with the wider conceptions of utilitarianism more disastrous than in the teaching of modern foreign languages. Indeed one may say it was not until Science came to the help of common sense and armed it with arguments which enabled it to meet the reactionary pundits on their own ground—that of Educational Theory—that it became possible to urge at all effectively the common-sense plea that learning a language should consist primarily in learning to understand and use the spoken tongue and lead the learner thereby to the enjoyment and understanding of the literature, as in the case of the mother-tongue. And it is thanks to the Gouins, the Viëtors, the Paul Passys, the Widgerys, the Jespersens, the Palmgrens and the long list of pioneers, who fought valiantly for this cause in the last quarter of