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THE present volume, completing the series of National Readers, is intended primarily for the highest class in Elementary Schools. For some time to come, it will also be found serviceable in Secondary Schools.
The previous volumes were composed of miscellaneous passages from all departments of Literature, for the most part the productions of modern and recent authors. No. VI. aims at exhibiting, in chronological order, representative specimens of representative authors throughout the whole course of English Literature, from Beowulf down to the present day.
Three large DIVISIONS have been made. The First, extending down to the end of the fifteenth century, is meant, not for general class reading, but chiefly for the use of the more advanced and enterprising scholars. If they get occasional help from the teacher, and will only believe that their main difficulty, at all events with the later half of the passages, lies in their self-distrust and groundless shyness at the ancient spelling, they will soon make good way in an interesting and useful study. For it is well that the pupils should early be led to observe the ever-varying forms of their own language within the historic age; so that they may gradually come to understand how Language, in common with all other
phenomena, human and natural, is subject to the universal law of change or evolution. The smaller type enables us to make room for an unusual number of specimens of this early period. The Second and the Third Divisions take very nearly equal shares of the last four centuries. Both these divisions are for general class reading: and it will be advisable, in the first instance, either to begin with the more recent authors alone, or to take them in alternation with the authors of the Second Division; the final reading should follow the historical arrangement. The breaks at Dunbar and Dryden, if open to the charge of being more or less arbitrary, are probably as justifiable as any others that would offer the same practical advantage.
The account of each author's LIFE AND LITERARY ACTIVITY should be studied in connection with the Introductory Sketch of the Language and Literature.
The EXTRACTS, while necessarily incomplete representatives, are intended to shew as large a number as possible of the qualities characteristic of the several authors and of their times.
The NOTES deal with a wide range of points: allusions, history, geography, mythology, meanings, derivations and general philological relations, grammar, rhetoric, composition, &c. While these do for the pupils what many or most of them might not be able to do for themselves, care has been taken to suggest inquiries and exercises that will give scope to all their knowledge and energies. The exercises or suggestions following the Notes proper should be boldly attempted, and the teacher will not be over-exacting at first. It is too often forgotten that such points of Rhetoric and Composition as we have directed attention to, are very much easier for the young pupil than the commonest matters of grammar.
Generally, endeavours have been anxiously made, both in the selection and in the treatment of extracts, not only to furnish passages for reading, to remove difficulties, and to communicate information, but also to point out fruitful lines of inquiry, and to create or to stimulate desire on the part of pupils to pursue the further study of English literature in the only excellent way-namely, by making acquaintance with the authors in complete works read in historical connection.