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On the other hand, especial care has been taken to make the book practically helpful and suggestive on the historical side. Besides the chronological arrangement, the division into literary periods, the insertion of biographical dates, and such obvious aids to the student, wherever it was practicable the selections have been so chosen, that the authors speak for themselves, and reveal their own characters, or the plan and purpose of their works. Thus, Bede, Alfred, Layamon, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Caxton, Burton, and many others, tell us directly about their lives, their characters, or the making of their books. We learn of Spenser's hot anger at the intrigues and procrastinations of the Court, from his own lips; we listen to Greene's tragic self-reproaches; while Milton's unconquerable nobility of spirit under the chastisement of blindness and disappointment, and Scott's no less splendid fortitude, lie open to us, with no medium of critic or commentator between their souls and ours. To study literary history in such a fashion is to drink from the fountain-head.
Care has also been taken to introduce selections illustrative of literary history, and, so far as possible, to make one selection explain or supplement another. For instance, we can follow up our reading of Cædmon's Hymn and Bede's Death Song, with Bede's story of Cædmon, and with Cuthbert's Letter on the Death of Bede; we can study Dr. Johnson in his prose and poetry, we can see him through the eyes of Boswell"in his habit as he lived,” or again, we can look back and, with Macaulay and Carlyle, regard both Johnson and Boswell in that perspective which time only can supply. Many of the biographical and critical selections can be made in this way to serve a double purpose, for when one great author writes of another, he tells us something not only of his subject but of himself. Or again, we can see how the same experience, or the same problem, has impressed different minds. As we read the account of the fire of London in Evelyn or in Pepys, we see something more than confusion, terror, and burning houses, -we see with an equal distinctness the contrasted natures of the two men. Or if we would understand the widely different impressions made upon thoughtful men by the material progress and scientific spirit of the last century, we can gain some notion of it by contrasting the utterances of Macaulay and Newman, of Huxley and of Ruskin and Carlyle. Hence, while a general adherence to chronology in the arrangement of the selections was manifestly advisable, the order in which the selections are read may be modified by the teacher at his discretion, for many selections may be found to belong together in spirit and to be separated only by the accident of time.
As the book is intended primarily for students who are approaching the subject from the purely literary side, all the selections from the Old and Middle English periods (with the single exception of Chaucer) have been translated or modernized. For a few of the renderings I have gone to Tennyson, Henry Morley, or others; some of them have been made by Dr. Percy V. D. Shelly for the present book; but by far the greater number are versions, made by Dr. J. Duncan Spaeth or by myself, which have already appeared in the Early English Poems. In any case, the object has been to furnish the student with a version which, while it gives the meaning of the original, preserves something, at least, of its illusive spirit and its poetic form. Every one agrees, that to be good a translation must be accurate; but many confuse the deeper faithfulness to one's original, with a merely servile and literal accuracy, forgetting that, especially in translating poetry, there is an
obligation to be faithful to the spirit as well as to the letter, and that the letter without the spirit is dead.
Translation or modernization was necessary if the earlier literature were to be made generally accessible, but the original texts have been changed as little as was consistent with this object, and in many cases obsolete words or quaint and unusual expressions have been retained and explained. In order that the student may have some idea of the nature and extent of these changes, and have some concrete reminder of the slow growth of the language, short passages from the earlier authors are given in the appendix in their original form. To give the reader ready access to the author, it was not enough to clear away
the barriers of an unfamiliar language, there were also obscure allusions, involved or ambiguous expressions, or other difficulties, which it was necessary to explain. In such cases the necessary explanation has been given at the foot of the page. I have tried to make these notes as few in number, as brief and as unobtrusive as I possibly could. Except in a few cases, I have confined myself to a short explanation of some real difficulty in the text. Biographical and critical matter has been introduced very sparingly, and I have often refrained from giving the source of a quotation, believing that the formal reference to an ancient and little-read book was of no real help to the student. The traditional commentator is not unlike the traditional policeman, always on hand except when he is really needed, and the middle path between the too-little and the too-much is a hard one to hit or to follow. The practice of giving complete works, rather than fragments or
"extracts," has been followed in this book, as in its predecessors, wherever circumstances allowed. But to hold rigidly to this practice in all cases and especially where one is dealing with prose) would entail too great a sacrifice. Most of the selections are, however, either literally or essentially complete; while in cases where this was impracticable, I have tried to make the selection intelligible by explanatory notes, or by an abstract of the portion omitted. As the drama and fiction could not be adequately represented by extracts, and as it was obviously impossible to give an entire novel or play, it seemed best to leave these two important divisions of literature unrepresented. I have, however, given a few passages, not scenes,-from the Elizabethan dramatists, which can be read purely as poetry, and, for the convenience of the teacher, I have inserted a short specimen of a Miracle, and of a Moral play in the appendix.
One personal conviction it may, perhaps, be permissible for me to express here, for a preface is a spot which even an impersonal editor can call his own. The chief business of the teacher of English literature is to lead the student to read the right things in the right way. The student must be taught to interpret, possibly “to contradict and to confute," but he must, above all, be taught to enjoy. The range of his enjoyment must be widened; his taste must be made more catholic, excluding nothing that is really significant or really excellent of its kind; yet he must be taught to discriminate, and trained to prefer in all sincerity the good to the inferior, and even above the good, to set the best. To this supreme object, all others, however curious or praiseworthy, must, after all, be made subordinate and contributory. The historical development of the literature, the lives, the characters, the personal peculiarities of authors, the “chatter about Harriet," the study of philology, the study of dates, or “sources,” the problems of text and
authorship, all such things, fascinating and important as they undeniably are, must be regarded as means to an end, for, as Tennyson said of Knowledge,-they are “the second not the first."
This business of teaching people to read is really a matter of incalculable, of national, importance to us in America. I doubt whether there was ever a country on the face of the earth which contained such multitudes of people who knew how to read, and so few true readers; a country which contained so few who were illiterate, and so many who were uneducated. With all this we have quite unparalleled opportunities for the reader. We teach him the mechanical process of reading, and we establish innumerable agencies to provide him with reading matter at a small cost, or at no cost at all. We have a great host of writers, who produce books without number, yet we make but a trifling contribution to the permanent literature of the world. I suspect that the true reader is almost as rare as the great writer, and I suspect that to teach a child to read without teaching him to prefer a good book to a bad one, is very like giving a boy a loaded gun without showing him how to use it. Such a situation, and I do not think it is over-stated, imposes a heavy but an honorable responsibility upon the teacher of English. It is his task, subordinating all merely curious researches and vain disputations, to teach as many as he can among this multitude of un-read readers, to know and to delight in the best literature. “We need to be reminded every day,” says Frederic Harrison, “how many are the books of inimitable glory, which, with all our eagerness after reading, we have never taken in our hands.” Many works of this enduring and "inimitable glory" have been brought together here, gathered from the noblest utterances of more than a thousand years. If a book of this kind helps the teacher to bring these glories nearer to the minds and lives of his students, if it helps any reader in school or out, to come into closer and more human relations with great literature, it has its place and part (small as it may be) in an immeasurably important work. My indebtedness to others is too great to be specifically acknowledged.
I cannot, however, omit a word of especial gratitude to my friend Dr. Percy V. D. Shelly, of the University of Pennsylvania, who, besides contributing several translations from Old English and Latin, has worked with me faithfully in the preparation of this book.
H. S. P. ISLESFORD, MAINE,
July 15, 1915.
ROBERT OP GLOUCESTER:
The Celestial Country (From the same) 35 Gesla Regum Anglorum, c. 1120)..... 45