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THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY,
WITH `AN INTRODUCTION
R. G. HUTCHINS, D. D.
Books are a real world, both pure and good,
Our pastime and our happiness may grow.
All profitable study is a silent disputation-an intellectual gymnastic; and the most
The study of English Literature has peculiar claims upon the youth of our age and country. Our people and our times are not more truly characterized by devotion to the physical sciences, by material enterprise and political agitation than by the prevalence of literary enthusiasm. Indeed this enthusiasm is the efficient handmaid of all our advancement.
The habits of reading, composition, and public speaking, have never elsewhere nor previously been so generally practiced. Our Public Reading Rooms are thronged, the books of our Public Libraries pass rapidly from hand to eager hand; while the centretables of mansions and cottages alike are covered with books, with newspapers, and periodicals. He who does not read much, can not now escape the imputation of ignorance. But in proportion to the development of the habit of reading is the demand for such taste and judgment as shall render this habit the purveyor of a genuine culture. When undiscriminating and omnivorous, it is of questionable value. The discussion of the literary “masters and master-pieces” sharpens discernment, quickens insight, furnishes a key to the relations and proportions of truth, and supplies associations which are the allies of memory. Moreover by such discussion, the student may be introduced to intimate, delightful, and life-long friendships with the greatest and the best who have used his native tongue. Such stimulating companionship can hardly be over-estimated in its influence upon education, character and happiness.
The prevailing voracious appetite for all sorts of literature has abolished the time-honored custom of starving authors in miserable attics; though it cannot be denied that were it revived, in its application to certain classes of writers, the world would suffer far less than the scribblers themselves. But while inferior work is tolerated, and in the absence of better, welcomed and paid for; yet in all departments of literature great prizes now await perspicuous, vigorous and elegant authorship. Meanwhile literary competitors are so numerous that he hardly need aspire to eminence in authorcraft who has not enriched his mind, clarified his judgment, and perfected his style by familiarity with the recognized masters of his art.
The characteristics of our political institutions and our social and religious life conspire to stimulate and reward public speaking. Yet it is to be observed, that the higher orders of eloquence imply literary cultivation as well as the special arts of oratory.
Thus I conclude, that the American student of to-day can less than any other afford to forego an intimate acquaintance with English Literature, whether he is to be a judicious reader, an intelligent writer, or a well-furnished orator.
In addition to these considerations, which are of special application, there are general grounds upon which I would assign to this department an important place in an educational course. Like the graneries of Egypt, in which Joseph stored the surplus grain of the years of plenty, the literature of a great people is a depository of garnered wisdom, harvested and winnowed from the thought, struggle and experience of ages. To this depository must subsequent generations, like the sons of Jacob, go to buy corn. A people's literature is (to change the figure ) the gallery in which hang its historic paintings, its portraits, its battle scenes, its social and moral landscapes. Or again, we may say of a literature like ours, that it is a great and venerable university with famous chairs in all departments, welcoming to its halls all princes and all peasants.
Having thus suggested the prominence which the study of our literature deserves, let us inquire what special features should characterize a text-book upon this subject.
In such a work the impartation of knowledge should be subordinated to the excitement of the student's self-activity. He is not a receptacle to be filled, but an organism to be developed. Study should be specially directed to the literature itself ; the history of authorship being auxiliary. The student should be encouraged and helped to analyze the writings of an author, to discern the characteristics of the artist in the products of his art, to trace the secrets of his effectiveness in the elements of his thought and style.
And even more important than a critical estimate of a really great author, is a sympathetic attitude toward his work. And here it is to be observed, that the value of familiarity with an author's life is not exhausted when it has furnished to the student its invitations and inspirations, or its dissuasives and its beacons. It also lends the attraction and interpretation of a personal interest to the fruits of the author's genius. With what new enthusiasm do we read “Hypatia,” “Alton Locke” and the “Saint's Tragedy” after we have learned through his Biography, to admire and love that knightly soul, Charles Kingsley.
To excite and sustain the pupil's interest, a text-book must not approach the form of a naked skeleton of outline facts and general statements. It must possess inviting warmth and completeness of incident and detail. As the enveloping English ivy lends a living charm and attractivenes to many a ruined castle and abbey, which