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NEW CLASS-BOOK OF ENGLISH POETRY.
(NELSON'S SCHOOL SERIES.)
It is important that the process of acquiring the art of readingnot as a mechanical art merely, but as an accomplishmentshould be rendered to the pupil as pleasing and attractive as possible. It is necessary, also, that his reading should be of such a nature as imperceptibly to impress him with the sense of a true and beautiful style; thus becoming to him a source of intellectual pleasure, by gratifying a taste which it serves to create. And, more obviously still, it is of the utmost consequence in educational work, that the heart should be addressed as well as the intellect, and that the development of the moral affections should go on together with the culture of the mind.
It has therefore been the aim of the Editor of this volume to present such a Selection as will make the work a really useful auxiliary to the teacher who recognises the importance of the principles referred to, and is desirous of carrying them into effect in the daily work of the school.
Special attention is requested to the following admirable extract from a Lecture by Mr. Vernon Lushington :
ON LEARNING BY HEART.
Till he has fairly tried it, I suspect a reader does not know how much he would gain from committing to memory passages of real excellence; precisely because he does not know how much he overlooks in merely reading. Learn one true poem by heart, and see if you do not find it so. Beauty after beauty will reveal itself, in chosen phrase, or happy music, or noble suggestion, otherwise undreamed of. It is like looking at one of Nature's wonders through a microscope. Again: how much in such a poem that you really did feel admirable and lovely on a first reading, passes away, if you do not give it a further and much better reading !--passes away utterly, like a sweet sound, or an image on the lake, which the first breath of wind dispels. If you could only fix that image, as the photographers do theirs, so beautifully, so perfectly! And you can do so! Learn it by heart, and it is yours for ever!
I have said, a true poem; for naturally men will choose to learn poetryfrom the beginning of time they have done so. To immortal verse the memory gives a willing, a joyous, and a lasting home. However, some prose is poetical, is poetry, and altogether worthy to be learned by heart; and the learning is not so very difficult. It is not difficult or toilsome to learn that which pleases us; and the labour, once given, is forgotten, while the result remains.
Poems and noble extracts, whether of verse or prose, once so reduced into possession and rendered truly our own, may be to us a daily pleasure;better far than a whole library unused. They may come to us in our dull moments, to refresh us as with spring flowers; in our selfish musings, to win us by pure delight from the tyranny of foolish castle-building, self-congratulations, and mean anxieties. They may be with us in the work-shop, in the crowded streets, by the fireside; sometimes, perhaps, on pleasant hill-sides, or by sounding shores;--noble friends and companions our own! never intrusive, ever at hand, coming at our call!
Shakspeare, Milton, Wordsworth, Tennyson,--the words of such men do not stale upon us, they do not grow old or cold .... Further : though you are young now, some day you will be old. Some day you may reach that time when a man lives in greater part for memory and by memory. I can imagine a chance renewal, chance visitation of the words long remembered, long garnered in the heart, and I think I see a gleam of rare joy in the eyes of the old man.
For those, in particular, whose leisure time is short, and precious as scant rations to beleaguered men, I believe there could not be a better expenditure of time than deliberately giving an occasional hour-it requires no more - to committing to memory chosen passages from great authors. If the mind were thus daily nourished with a few choice words of the best English poets and writers ; if the habit of learning by heart were to become so general, that, as a matter of course, any person presuming to be educated amongst us might be expected to be equipped with a few good pieces --I believe it would lead, far more than the mere sound of it suggests, to the diffusion of the best kind of literature, and the right appreciation of it, and men would not long rest satisfied with knowing a few stock pieces.
The only objection I can conceive to what I have been saying is, that it may be said that a relish for higher literature belongs only to the few; that it is the result of cultivation; and that there is no use in trying to create what must be in general only a fictitious interest. But I do not admit that literature, even the higher literature, must belong to the few. Poetry is, in the main, essentially catholic---addressed to all men; and though some poetry requires particular knowledge and superior culture, much, and that the noblest, needs only natural feeling and the light of common experience. Such poetry, taken in moderation, followed with genuine good-will, shared in common, will be intelligible and delightful to most men who will take the trouble to be students at all, and ever more and more so.
Perhaps, also, there may be a fragment of truth in what Charles Lamb has said, -- that any spouting 'withers and blows upon a fine passage ;
" that there is no enjoying it after it has been "pawed about by declamatory boys and men." But surely there is a reasonable habit of recitation as well as an unreasonable one; there is no need of declamatory pawing. To abandon all recitation, is to give up a custom which has given delight and instruction to all the races of articulately speaking men. If our faces are set against vain display, and set towards rational enjoyment of one another, each freely giving his best, and freely receiving what his neighbour offers, we need not fear that our social evenings will be marred by an occasional recitation, or that the fine passages will wither. And, moreover, it is not for reciting's sake that I chiefly recommend this most faithful form of reading--learning by heart.
I come back, therefore, to this, that learning by heart is a good thing, and is neglected amongst us. Why is it neglected? Partly because of our indolence, but partly, I take it, because we do not sufficiently consider that it is a good thing, and needs to be taken in hand. We need to be reminded of it: I here remind you. Like a town-crier, ringing my bell, I would say to you, Oyez, oyez! Lost, stolen, or strayed, a good ancient practice--the good ancient practice of learning by heart. Every finder should be handsomely rewarded.”
If any ask, “What shall I learn?” the answer is, Do as you do with tunes -begin with what you sincerely like best, what you would most wish to remember, what you would most enjoy saying to yourself or repeating to another. You will soon find the list inexhaustible. Then “keeping up is easy. Every one has spare ten minutes; one of the problems of life is how to employ them usefully. You may well spend some in looking after and securing this good property you have won.