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LESSONS IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE,
A BRIEF STATEMENT OF THE GENEALOGY OF THE ENGLISH
DESIGNED FOR USE IN
COLLEGES AND SCHOOLS.
HOMER B. SPRAGUE,
Principal of the Adelphi Academy, Brooklyn, N. Y., and late Professor of Rhetoric in Cornell
IN FOUR BOOKS.
J. W. Schermerhorn & Co.,
14 BOND STREET.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1874, by
HOMER B. SPRAGUE,
In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.
LANGE, LITTLE & Co.,
Being at some pause, looking back into that I have passed through, this writing seemeth to me, si nunquam fallit imago, as far as a man can judge of his own work, not much better than the noise or sound which musicians make while they are tuning their instruments; which is nothing pleasant to hear, but yet is a cause why the music is sweeter afterwards. So have I been content to tune the instruments of the muses, that they may play that have better hands.
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.