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What shall we read ? is becoming a serious question. A man can hardly find time for the daily newspapers, much less for even a glance over the pages of all the new books. But when he surveys the accumulation of literary treasures in a large library, he shrinks in despair from an effort to make them his own. The only resource is to select, and it is a good rule to always "get the best."
The productions that have stood the test of time and of multiplied criticisms, and are recognized as masterpieces, are comparatively few. Whatever else may be omitted, no intelligent man can afford to be unacquainted with these. But in the text-books of English Literature, one of two imperfections is almost always present. The first arises from an attempt to give, by mere description, correct and vivid ideas of literary creations; as if one should seek to impart a clear knowledge and awaken a just appreciation of the particular works in an art-gallery by merely talking about them to one who had never seen them. The second and more common mistake, is the endeavor to bring all the prominent authors at once within the scope of the student's observation. Under this process the book becomes little more than a dictionary of poetical quotations" and a collection of smart or eloquent sayings in prose. To use our former comparison, it is an art-gallery which exhibits nothing but fragments; a foot of the Venus de Medici, a devil from Michael Angelo's Last Judgment, a marble chip from the Parthenon,-in fine, a multitude of specimens in all degrees of mutilation.
To obviate these faults we must, in the first place, give none but acknowledged MASTERPIECES, admitting very sparingly, if at all, the works of living authors. Secondly, we must give, whenever practicable, productions that are complete in themselves. Thirdly, in order to keep the book within dimensions that shall be convenient for class use, the number of selections must be somewhat limited, and additional series must be published in separate volumes.
In the following work, constituting the first series, and, indeed, in each of the subsequent volumes, the object is primarily and chiefly to present for study the masterpieces in English literature; but incidentally the attempt is made to show, in the first two volumes, something of the philosophy and development of the English language, and to awaken an interest in its critical study. In the third volume it is proposed to deduce the principles of rhetoric from the passages examined, and arrange them in a system. In the fourth volume the authors will be classified, and the whole field of English Literature surveyed, and a system of logic outlined.
In the present series, a brief biography is given of each author from whose works a selection is taken; for it is often quite important that we know the man in order to appreciate his book. In each volume much matter is suggested for original compositions.
As no test of a pupil's appreciation of a passage is better than to require him to read it aloud with due attention to delivery, such a compilation is one of the best books for drill in oral expression. All the wealth and beauty of the author should find utterance in the voice. This practice can hardly be too strongly urged. To facilitate this drill, a brief treatise is contained in the first series, showing the elements and principles of vocal expression, with striking examples to illustrate their application.
In a work involving such a multiplicity of details, the author cannot hope to have avoided errors and imperfections. With great diffidence, therefore, yet with confidence in the soundness of its method, and with the hope that scholars will look upon it indulgently as an earnest effort in the right direction, the author submits this work to his fellow teachers. He will be grateful for any criticisms made in a friendly spirit.
CONTENTS OF VOL. I.