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This book is the result of a study, extending through five years, of methods by which the required course in literature for elementary college students may be made more effective. The editors, with their colleagues who have been associated in teaching English (3) in the University of North Carolina, were dissatisfied with the prevailing type of course, the study of literary history illustrated by "specimens”-as a requirement for elementary classes made up of students preparing for all sorts of careers. They believed that there should be a sharp differentiation between the methods used in such a course and those employed in advanced elective courses, where philological scholarship and literary criticism have value not only because of the greater maturity of the students but also because these students have chosen their courses through liking for such work. The editors believed, therefore, that that type of course which endeavored to create an interest in literary phenomena, their sequence and relations, was unwise because such interest, even when induced by an experienced teacher, is factitious, possessing little permanent value for the average student, who means to be a farmer, or a banker, or a lawyer, or an engineer. They believed,
, also, that the type of course which has developed through the dissatisfaction of many teachers with the one just outlined,—the course founded not on technical scholarship but on "interest,” a series of pleasant rambles among the foibles of Pepys or in the intricate rhythms of De Quincey, or a compound of love lyrics and fiction and Elia, while more likely than the other to arouse interest in reading, yet offends by its miscellaneousness, its lack of body, its failure to supply material for the development of what Bacon called “the sinews and steel of men's minds."
The present volume recognizes both the need of teaching literature for its human and intrinsic value and the need of providing salutary discipline through a rigid adherence to a logically connected program of ideas. The basis of the book is historical, but it does not represent literary history in the narrower sense. The selections are chosen partly for their value as expressions of permanent human emotions and points of view; partly as landmarks in the march of the Anglo-Saxon mind from the beginning of the modern period. They are intended to represent, not the literary forms and manners, but the dominant ideas of successive epochs in the national life of the two great English speaking peoples, as these ideas have received large and permanent expression in literature. It will be recognized at once that in making this their principle of selection the editors have been true to the deeper current and the main intention of English literature, which has from the beginning been conditioned not by canons and principles of art but by national thought and feeling. It will be acknowledged also that what is most vital in English literature, especially in the later periods, has connected itself more or less closely with the special problem and the great practical achievement of the Anglo-Saxon race, the working out of self-government. For this reason the emphasis on political materials, in so far as these materials embody principles rather than detailed applications, is justified, not only by their practical value in the problems and duties of citizenship, but by their adaptability to the broader end of humanistic culture.
That the book, however, is not an anthology of patriotic literature will be apparent upon examination of the table of contents. Indeed, the editors have carefully avoided the poetry and prose of national aggrandizement. The principle that has guided the choice of material has been that expressed by Arnold: "It is important, therefore, to hold fast to this: that poetry is at bottom a criticism of life; that the greatness of a poet lies in his powerful and beautiful application of ideas to life,-to the question, How to live." It is this quality of the poet as a teacher that the greatest English poets themselves have always insisted upon as the mark of their calling. Philip Sidney speaks of "that delightful teaching which must be the right describing note to know a poet by”; and, like others of his contemporaries, “a passionate lover of that unspeakable and everlasting beauty to be seen by the eyes of the mind,'' he regards poetry as the chief means by which to attain the end of knowledge—“to know, and by knowledge to lift up the mind from the dungeon of the body to the enjoying his own divine essence.” One might make use of that time-honored device, the "roll-call," to show how continually this view is voiced by the greatest English poets. Spenser, the poet's poet, the embodiment of the qualities which seem to make of poetry a thing apart, nevertheless stated that his aim in writing the Faerie Queene was “to fashion a gentleman or noble person in virtuous and gentle discipline.” Milton summed his idea of Spenser, whose disciple he was, in the statement that he was a better teacher than Aquinas," and Milton's own writings bear abundant witness to his wish to be regarded as a teacher. In countless places in his poetry Wordsworth illustrated his faithfulness to the ideal which he professed: “Every great poet is a teacher; I wish to be considered as a teacher or as nothing." To him "poetry is the breath and finer
“ spirit of all knowledge; it is the impassioned expression which is in the countenance of all science”; a belief which Shelley reiterates when he holds that poetry is "the center and circumference of knowledge; it is that which comprehends all science''; and which rings out in the final words of his Defense: "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world."
The task of the editors has been to select a body of prose and poetry that should not only illustrate the “planet-like music” of great thought clad in fitting vesture but should also reveal a great tradition, a constant and progressive commentary on what the race has achieved in the arts of life. It is what Shelley called "idealized history," by which he meant events seen as outward shadows of spiritual truths. It is a bible of the English speaking peoples on both sides of the Atlantic, made up of scriptures that we value not for flawless art but for their interpretation of the spirit of the race. Whatever has been admitted has been chosen because it seemed to have some bearing on the right interpretation of this spirit and to have the quality of permanence. It will be found that the book includes most of the poetry and much of the prose that teachers have long agreed upon as the basis for an elementary college course. There is, therefore, ample material for the teacher who wishes to trace the historical development of English literature or for him who wishes to emphasize the imaginative sweep and the beauty of expression found in great literature. But it is felt that elementary students are more likely to arrive at some measure of appreciation of literature as belles lettres if little is said in class about the value of such appreciation. For such students the best method of approach would seem to be frankly intellectual: the attempt to answer the question “What does the author have to say in this piece of writing and how is this related to what we have studied or to what men have thought in the past or are thinking in the present ?" In order to assist the student in his effort to assimilate the material and to make it a permanent possession, a complete outline has been supplied and special titles are given, usually in the words of the author, for the selections from longer works.
But while the book contains a large amount of the material generally included in books designed for survey courses, presenting it, however, in such a way as to assist the pupil to get something permanent out of it, the editors have omitted many writers and works usually represented in such anthologies. Many authors, significant for historical reasons, are appropriately studied in advanced courses where the chief emphasis is on the history and development of English literature as an art, but have no value to the elementary student except for their contribution to his lumber-room of facts. Thus, Cowley is an important figure for the study of the growth of English classicism; his dates, his use of the couplet or the ode, and the names of his poems will not ordinarily be retained by a Sophomore beyond the date of the final examination in the course. We inflict such “discipline” upon him because of our own interests or our own scholarly training; we are not thinking of him at all. It ought not to fill us with pride if the examination books we read at the end of the term are mere compounds of more or less accurate information about the relations between Genesis A and Genesis B, the middle English dialects, the problem of authorship of Piers Plowman, the poetry of Crashaw, the use of the Spenserian stanza in the eighteenth century, “the return to nature," and the other disjecta membra of a Cook's tour through literature. Through the marvelous recuperative power of nature, the germs of such misinformation as may chance to find a temporary lodgment within the outer corridors of sophomore intelligence are lightly and easily brushed aside after the day of testing has passed, and things are as they were.
The space saved by these omissions and others like them has been used for presenting many new selections. These will be found valuable, it is believed, not only because of their timeliness but also because they help to give unity and solidity to the entire structure of the book. For example, we are accustomed to the use of selections from the essays of Lord Bacon. These, however, have not hitherto been related to present thought; they have been studied chiefly for their difficulties of style and vocabulary. But the Advancement of Learning, which is practically unknown to college students, contains many passages which are much easier for them to understand; it is also a trumpet-call for ambitious youth. Furthermore, when these passages from Bacon's treatise on learning in his own day are studied in connection with certain of his essay3, or counsels of experience, and along with selections from Elyot and Spenser which bear on the same subject,—the training of those who were to rule Britain, we have a sounder principle of organization than that given by literary bibliography, annotation, and criticism of style; we have also an excellent method for understanding the mind of the Renaissance; and, best of all, we have solid contribution to the education of those of this new day who are to rule in our commonwealth and in the new and greater commonwealth of the peoples of the world. As to timeliness of interest, examples are to be found in the scathing satire on war and governments in Swift's Gulliver, or in Thomas More's sarcasm on “a place in the sun” as given in Utopia, or in Hooker's judgment on the philosophy that led Germany to attack the world, or in the fine argument for a League to Enforce Peace contained in the extract from the Leviathan of Hobbes, or in the compact summary of the difference between the theory of government held by the late masters of Germany and the ideals of democracy set forth in the closing paragraph of Mills's essay on Liberty. This last example is one of many that are scattered through the book which serve to show the difference between the philosophy and ideals of militarist Germany and the philosophy and ideals of the allied democracies. Could anything be more timely from this standpoint than to have college men study Burke, not only for the splendors of his style, or as an illustrious exponent of the art of oratory, but for those great passages in which he sets forth the principles of justice, international honor, and free government? Consider, for example, in the light of present problems, his treatment of the nature of empire, or his warning against the attempt to draw an indictment against a whole people, or his conception of justice tempered with mercy—“not what I may do, but what humanity, reason, and justice tell me I ought to do?'—or his insistence that the safety of the people consists not in documents and constitutions but in the spirit that informs them, a spirit as light as air, as strong as links of iron; or his definition of free government: “To make a government requires no great prudence. Settle the seat of power; teach obedience; and the work is done. To give freedom is still more easy. It is not necessary to guide; it only requires to let go the rein. But to form a free government; that is, to temper together these opposite elements of liberty and restraint in one consistent work, requires much thought; deep reflection; a sagacious, powerful, and combining mind.” Throughout the book will be found such passages, sometimes familiar enough, but here thrown into