Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

poor boy, however, shows real talent, and a decided inclination for that course of study, let facilities be afforded to him; let a certain number of places in every college be kept at the expense of the state, to which boys from the primary schools may be admitted on examination; but let the great number of the industrious classes have schools in which they may learn all that is really of use to them in the course of life which they are to follow. For such the bürger or middle schools as established in Germany are intended. Such is Cousin's argument; and we believe that the ambitious, but very imperfect classical education to which young men above the condition of rustics or poorer artisans have been till lately confined in France, Italy, and some other parts of the continent, has mainly contributed to recruit that vast and dangerous multitude of turbulent, restless men who abound in the cities of those countries; unfit for any industrious calling; discontented with everything, without having a clear conception of what they want; lavish in indiscriminate censure, and yet unable to suggest one single reasonable, practical remedy for existing grievances. They are to be pitied, for they have no chance of being satisfied except in a general overthrow of the whole system of society; their satisfaction would be the ruin of millions. Let this evil, at least, not be perpetuated through future generations.

Mrs. Austin in her preface adverts feelingly to this subject, although in a more extended view. She thinks that we are guilty of great inconsistency as to the ends of education; that we ought not to hold out to the humbler classes as the only object of education that it will raise them above their station; that education is the way to advancement; that knowledge is power, which expressions, generally speaking, are understood by them in a worldly and material sense, and must necessarily be the source of bitter disappointment to the many.

'If, instead of nurturing expectations which cannot be fulfilled, we were to hold out to our humbler friends the appropriate and attainable, nay, unfailing, ends of a good education, the gentle and kind sympathies; the sense of self-respect, and of the respect of fellow-men; the free exercise of the intellectual faculties; the gratification of a curiosity that "grows by what it feeds on," and yet finds food for ever; the power of regulating the habits and the business of life, so as to extract the greatest possible portion of comfort out of small means; the refining and tranquillizing enjoyment of the beautiful in nature and art, and the kindred perception of the beauty and nobility of virtue; the strengthening consciousness of duty fulfilled; and to crown all," the peace which passeth all un derstanding,"-if we directed their aspirations this way, it is probablę

that we should not have to complain of being disappointed, nor they of being deceived.'-Preface, p. xvii.

In fact, instruction or learning, as it is called, is only a part of education; education ought to embrace moral, as well as mental training; it ought to cultivate the heart as well as the understanding.

The Prussian system prescribes no special books for the different branches of instruction in the primary schools: the lesson books are selected by the school committees, with the concurrence of the higher authorities. Every gemeinde or parish has its schulvorstand (school committee) composed of the most considerable persons in the parish, who associate with the pastor or curate in superintending and administering the school. All parents or guardians have a right to inquire into the system of education pursued in the school, and the progress made by their children. They may address complaints to the higher authorities, and these complaints must be examined into with the strictest attention. The greatest publicity possible is secured in the case of the public schools, by means of public examinations, and by published reports of the state of education in each province. The examinations of girls, however, only take place in the presence of their parents.

Our limits do not allow us to say more concerning M. Cousin's very interesting work, which is now rendered accessible to all through Mrs. Austin's translation. We recommend its perusal to our readers, not as an amusing book, but, what is better, as a book of which almost every page, not omitting the preface, affords materials for important and useful reflexion. It will be seen by another paper in this Journal*, how far M. Cousin's recommendations have been carried into execution in France.

EXERCISES IN ENGLISH COMPOSITION.

Progressive Exercises in English Composition. By R. G. Parker, A.M. London, 1834.

WE are disposed to regard every publication of this kind with a favourable eye. The power of expressing our ideas in correct and suitable language is so intimately connected with all social and intellectual improvement, as to make its acquisition universally desirable. Why it should be so irksome, as it confessedly is, to acquire the habit of commu

*See also No, XIII. p. 150,

nicating our thoughts with accuracy and ease is a question more readily asked than answered. The fact cannot be denied, that mental intercourse is much more limited than it ought to be, from the want of that facility in the expression of our ideas which is necessary to render it agreeable. The art of composition is one of difficult attainment. Only few are complete masters of it: and even of these few, there are some who cannot at all times express their ideas without a painful effort.

The cause of this may probably be traced, in some degree, to impressions of early dislike to the practice of composition, and to the preposterous way in which the art is taught. Whose recollections of theme-days are pleasant? The necessity of furnishing a certain fixed quantity of matter on a given subject involves a kind of discipline that does not leave upon the mind the most agreeable associations. No pains were formerly taken, in the public schools at least, to simplify the labour or facilitate its execution. The daily construings out of Greek or Latin authors were almost the only preparations thought necessary, in those days, for the writing of themes. Little attention was paid in such compositions to anything beyond grammatical construction. A youth of ability or studious habits now and then acquired a correct style, owing to superior taste and a knowledge of English literature, but such an attainment was rare: the progress made under this system was, for the most part, limited to the production of a few common-place ideas, badly conceived, and worse expressed*.

In all the best schools, the routine of education is very different from what it was, even a quarter of a century ago; and, among other reforms, the English language has been rescued from that neglect with which it was formerly treated. It is no longer, as it used to be, only a graft upon the dead languages. Its grammar and idiom are becoming particular objects of study and attainment. The cultivation of it, both

* Quintilian's authority has been quoted to justify this course. It is true he recommends the practice of translation, as a good exercise for acquiring a correct style: he does not, however, confine the pupil to a close expression of his author's meaning; he afterwards allows him to give a free and even paraphrastic translation. But all this is only introductory to the more systematic study of the art of composition. These are his words: Adjiciamus tamen eorum curæ quædam dicendi primordia, quibus ætates nondum rhetorem capientes instituant. Igitur Æsopi fabellas, quæ fabulis nutricularum proximè succedunt, narrare sermone puro, et nihil se supra modum extollente: deinde eandem gracilitatem stylo exigere condiscant: versus primo solvere, mox mutatis verbis interpretari: tum paraphrasi audaciùs vertere, qua et breviari quædam, et exornare, salvo modo poetæ sensu, permittitur.'-Quintil. lib. i. cap. vi.

in relation to correct speaking and to a clear style of writing, forms a part of the modern plans of education; one of the consequences of which is, that an increased demand is created for books suitable both to the teacher and the pupil.

6.

The limited number of publications calculated to promote this object shows, at once, the poverty of our schoolcatalogue in works of this class, and the little attention hitherto paid to composition as a branch of education. Three, or at most four, elementary books have been published with a view to teach this art, and one of these, being little more than a compilation from Blair's Rhetoric,' and Campbell's Philosophy of Rhetoric,' is adapted rather for an advanced, than an early stage of instruction. Rippingham's Rules for English Composition' was almost the first, as it was the best preparatory work on the subject, previously to the publication of English Themes and Essays,' by Mr. Walker, the author of the Pronouncing Dictionary.

6

6

The demand for these works, as indicated by the number of editions through which they have passed, will not justify us in drawing the conclusion that they are even yet extensively used. Compared with the sale of other popular schoolbooks, in which there is infinitely more competition, the demand for these is trifling.

The inference forced upon us by this fact is one which we do not record without reluctance: either the art of composition is by no means generally taught, or, it is taught unsystematically. We are inclined to believe that the latter is the state of the case in the better sort of schools; the former, in those of an inferior character. In many schools of high repute, an English grammar is never seen; the structure of the language is never explained; an analysis of its principles forms no part of the routine of instruction: the pupils are left to acquire their knowledge of the language in which all their ideas are conceived and expressed, from their own desultory reading and observation, or, from the little experience which they can gain by writing occasional essays on subjects illsuited to their years, and often without reference to their acquirements. The folly of this practice in reference to Latin composition has been exposed by Milton, in language which applies as forcibly, with the alteration of a few words, to the custom still too prevalent of requiring English themes without a previous course of preparatory exercises.

"That which casts our proficiency therein so much behind is our time lost in a preposterous exaction, forcing the empty wits of children to compose themes, verses, and orations, which are the acts of

ripest judgment, and the final work of a head filled by long reading and observing, with elegant maxims and copious invention. These are not matters to be wrung from poor striplings, like blood out of the nose, or the plucking of untimely fruit; besides, the ill-habit which they get of barbarizing against the English idiom, with their Latinisms and Græcisms, odious to be read, yet not to be avoided without a well-continued and judicious conversing among pure authors digested, which they scarce taste: whereas, if after they were led to the praxis thereof in some chosen short book lessoned thoroughly to them, they might then forthwith proceed to learn the substance of good things, and arts in due order, which would bring the whole language quickly into their power. This I take to be the most rational and most profitable way of learning languages, and whereby we may best hope to give account to God of our youth spent herein.'

The plan recommended by the learned poet is that to which we must come before any adequate progress can be made in teaching the structure and use of the English tongue. It is only by making ourselves familiar with the properties of a correct style that we shall be likely to acquire them.

We took up the little volume, whose title is placed at the head of this article, in the hope that in it would be found some of those facilities to acquiring a knowledge of our language, and the art of composition, the want of which has so long been felt. How far this expectation has not been disappointed will appear in the course of our observations upon Mr. Parker's book.

The design of the work is unexceptionably good. By a series of progressive exercises, the scholar is to be conducted from the formation of easy sentences to the more difficult and complex arrangement of words and ideas. He is, step by step, initiated into the rhetorical proprieties of the language, and furnished with directions and models for analysing, classifying, and writing down his thoughts, in a distinct and comprehensive manner. The following extract from the author's preface will develop his views :

[ocr errors]

The simplicity of the plan here proposed requires no laboured explanation. The first exercise or lesson consists in giving the pupil a word, or a number of words; and instead of asking for a definition of them, requiring him to use them in a sentence or idea of his own. From this simple exercise he is led onward, through a series of lessons in easy and regular progression, from the simplest principles to the most difficult combinations. After the principle of each lesson is stated, (and, when necessary, explained,) a MODEL is presented; which is designed to show the pupil how the exercise is

« ZurückWeiter »