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COPYRIGHT, 1891 AND 1892,
These two essays are reprinted from Mr. Thurber's Select Essays of Macaulay and Select Essays of Addison, without any change in the numbering of the pages.
Norwood Press :
J. S. Cushing & Co. - Berwick & Smith.
To be perfectly adapted for reading and study in the class-room, a selection from our literature must meet these conditions: it must be interesting, both in matter and in manner, to the young persons for whom it is intended; it must have a genuinely important content, that is, its subject must be worthy of serious attention and must promise a substantial gain in knowledge; it must be a masterpiece of English, a model of clearness, simplicity, and vigor.
The literary essays of Macaulay not only fulfil these conditions, but they offer other advantages for schoolroom study which render them, for a certain stage of the high-school course, perhaps the most eligible prose writings in our literature. Macaulay's reading had been wonderfully comprehensive, and his memory retained the results of this reading in a manner unexampled among modern writers. Hence he illustrates his meaning, as he develops his subject, with constant allusion and citation, challenging his reader with comparisons, and never suffering him to relax his attention. His paragraphs are full of names or of suggestions of names. He assumes that his reader has the same acquaintance with the older literature as himself. To catch instantly the entire pertinency and appositeness of every allusion of this writer would require that the reader should him
self be endowed with equal gifts and possessed of equal stores. The reader of Macaulay must often stop and think; he must summon up all his historical and literary memories; often he must inaugurate fresh reading under . the stimulus of an off-hand citation that evidently was deemed by the author to throw a flood of light on the subject in hand.
While, therefore, many writers are interesting in their several ways, Macaulay's way lies peculiarly in the direction of provocation to further examination both of his main topics and of his incidental references. An interested reader always reads concentrically; that is, with some nucleus about which books and authors group themselves with more or less mutual relation. Such a centre is sure to be found in one or another essay of Macaulay. Each essay requires at once certain further research. The other essays are soon found to help wonderfully towards the understanding of the one first read. This reading must be done with pencil in hand. The reader's own notes thus become his all-sufficient guide in choosing his next books. Thus reading becomes organic, having a principle of structure, a clear aim and purpose, instead of being amorphous, with here a book and there a book picked up by chance or at the advice. of another person.
The essays of Macaulay on historical and literary themes suggest immense ranges of possible reading of the most interesting kind. They give to such reading a stimulus far more potent than the pages of histories of literature, for the reason that in the essays we see and feel the effects of reading upon the culture and the power of a writer, while the histories give us only exter
nal facts. The young reader is apt to ask for a list of books to read, and the old adviser is often too willing to accede to the request. But prearranged lists of books are fatal to inner, spontaneous interest. No one reads through a list except under duress. Not a list of items to be checked off, but a centre, a starting-point, is the true gift of the school-room Mentor to his learners. The lines of progress that radiate from a good centre are infinite both in their number and in their extent. All good reading is gradually included within their reach. The atoms of acquisition come in this way to cohere and to take shape in well-rounded culture.
For yet another reason Macaulay is a writer peculiarly stimulating to youth: he is himself always a youth in the fervor and the intensity of his sympathies. What he admires he admires extremely, and what he hates he hates with most cordial hatred. It is usual to say that he goes too far, and praises too highly, or depreciates more than is fair. It is plain, however, that were Macaulay's feelings less ardently enlisted in his expositions, these expositions would tend to approach the commonplace, and would never have become the power in literature that they are. It is impossible to conceive an earnest and moving piece of writing whose chief concern should be to balance praise and blame, and show up merits and demerits in equal measure. Macaulay's function in literature was not cold criticism. He was far removed from indifference towards the persons and the things he describes. His service was to arouse in English readers an interest in the great events of their history and their literature. He is the most popular of writers. Nor will it be said that his judgments, though