Percy Arthur Barnett.

Common sense in education and teaching; an introduction to practice online

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ating of processes conceivable, as soon as pupils are old
nough to understand it. Opportunities for illustration
ccur oftener than one would think. We may enliven
"aesar by finding an illustrative passage in Kinglake or
Napier ; a class advanced enough to read Moliere may
>e invited to suggest parallels in Dickens, even if we
:annot find suitable illustrations in our own eighteenth
;entury writers ; an idyll of Theocritus sends us to
vtatthew Arnold, and so on. Where other languages
ire taught at all by means of great books, it is of the
greatest service in the cultivation of what we call taste to
ind the parallel in our own stock. Education, as it has
>een said, is meant to fit people for life. And Literature
s life. 1

We begin by making a clear distinction between the
:hree branches of literary study sometimes English .
too often combined under the name of stu d y i s O f
'English"; between the knowledge of a books, of
)ook or books, the knowledge of the gram- philology, of
nar and history of the English language, and
:he knowledge of the "outlines" of English literature.

1 For herein may be seen noble chyualrye | Curtoyse | Hu-
nanyte | frendlynesse | hardynesse | loue | frendshyp | Cowar-
lyse | Murdre | hate | vertue | and synne | Doo after the good
md leue the euyl | & it shall brynge you to good fame & re-
lovnee | And for to passe the tyme thys book shal be plesaunte

174 Common Sense in Education

These are three distinct branches of study ; the firs
cultivates the power of appreciating and analysing 01
rhetorical and aesthetic grounds some famous book o
great value in itself; the second combines science an(
history ; the third is history pure and simple. The]
are best treated apart, and the second and third shoul<
be used in connexion with the first only for the pur
poses of elucidation, the pupil being lifted rapidly an<
easily over difficulties so that he may not be brought ii|
suddenly and put off the track of enjoyment, which i
the indispensable condition of any training in literatur
Be in b ^ a ^ * s wor ^ the name. The training of th
presenting power of appreciation is of all our object
the book as that which we should work hardest to attain
At every stage we must begin by presentinj
the subject as a whole. We must get the general viev
first of all. Let us take it for granted that no passage
or book should be chosen for the lesson in literatur
unless it is possible for the class to get a fair genera
notion of its drift by inspection, by reading it througl
cursorily. Before a piece of literature we are in th<
condition of a three or four year old child who is intro
duced to an "object" say an orange. We should no
expect much to come out of an endeavour to introduo
him to rind, skin, pips, and so forth before we handed hiq
the whole orange, to make him acquainted with it aj
a whole, however lacking in articulation his knowledg*
may be. It is not otherwise with a work of art ; if youl
pupil is to " know " it, he must see it first as the makel
meant it to be seen when it came from his hand. After h<

to rede in | but for to gyue fayth & byleue that al is trewe that ij
conteyned herin | ye be at your lyberte | but al is wryton for oui
doctryne. Caxton's preface to the Morte D' 'Arthur.

Literature and Formal Linguistic Study 175

las made acquaintance with it, he must be got to know
ts parts, and to know about it. Let us see how this
Vorks out.

To " appreciate " is, first, to set a value on a thing, or
o examine its claims to be valued ; secondly,

, . , . -. r 11 Appreciation

o set a high value on a thing, for good and
ufficient reasons. Appraise and appreciate are different
orms of the same verb. It is no small thing to have
r ot your pupils to like a fine piece of literature, a book,

passage, a line, a phrase. You have placed in their
>ossession at all events a standard of comparison. You
lave to a greater or less extent, enriched their thought ;
nd therewith, pretty certainly, their vocabulary. Shake-
peare's vocabulary is richer than that of any other

But this alone is not enough. To be most fruitful,
ppreciation should be critical ; that is, there must be
udgment, and ground for judgment. As a pupil grows
ip, he must be taught to examine the mechanism of
iterature, and to discover, so far as discovery is possible,
tie external qualities by virtue of which a great piece
f literary art acquires impressiveness.

It is perfectly true that when we have exhausted all
>ur criticism and made all our discoveries, there remain
till in great literary work those impalpable suggestions
.nd those inexplicable strokes of insight that cannot be
nalysed. But we must not therefore forbear or shrink
rom the endeavour to analyse a rhetorical effect into
:s superficial causes, if we can compass such analysis,
"he discoverable use to which genius puts rhetorical
evices need not make us think less respectfully and
everently of its work; while, on the other hand, the
areful examination of the modes of expression used by

great writer to produce a certain effect reacts at once

176 Common Sense in Education

on our own power of expression as well as of general

Rhetorical analysis is not grammatical analysis. The
Rhetorical purpose of speech is first to inform, then to
and gram- persuade. Even the poet who writes his
matical verses and then secretes them in his desk

analysis addresses himself to at least an imaginary
auditor, in order to inform or persuade him. By what
devices, then, does the writer whom we are studying
secure that his information shall be clearest and most
telling, his persuasion most effective ? Rhetorical analy-
sis helps us to find out at all events the more mechani-
cal artifices of composition, and to remember them by
giving them names. Grammatical analysis enables us
to understand the formal relation of word to word and
of clause to clause, but no more. When we read a
great author in the spirit of rhetorical analysis, we know
of course, that he did not set out on his task with z
Treatise on Rhetoric before him ; but we can only avoid
conveying that impression to our pupils if we take th.4
precaution of seeing that they have mastered the genera\
contents of their book before proceeding to its parts!
Our admiration or appreciation of beauty and force tha
we cannot define in great work should be all the greate
when we have learnt the most that we can by rhetorica
examination. Each kind of great work has its un
capturable qualities ; its fancy, grace, insight, majesty
eloquence, and the like. But their whereabouts and som
of their modes of action can be detected by those whJ
know what devices tend to what effects, what are th
Rhetorical main lines of style in poetry and prose, whal
analysis and the figures of speech and their results in stimd
composition l a ting emotion. This knowledge, again, tend!
directly to strengthen the power of composition. Corrj

Literature and Formal Linguistic Study 177

position at every stage is the exercise of intelligent,
intelligible, and consecutive expression. A child " com-
poses " as soon as it speaks ; for thought is, in its very
nature, composition ; and speech is thought expressed.
The cultivation of the power of consecutive expres-
sion may be begun as early as you please ; indeed, it
must begin before any analytical grammar whatsoever.
Happily, mothers are still sufficiently uneducated to let
their children learn to speak before they are taught to
pick out nouns and verbs from sentences ; and the
children begin to learn " composition " at nay, on
their mothers' knees. The suggestion that "composi-
tion" should be taught only after some analytical
grammar has been taught is a flagrant instance of the
vice that delights in bottling up " subjects " of education
in water-tight compartments. It is an unpardonable
violation of the principle of connectedness.

During the actual process of teaching, it is mere
pedantry and impracticable pedantry, too, Answers in
as we have seen to insist on every question complete
being answered in a complete sentence. But sentences
note : as an occasional exercise with young pupils this
practice is useful and even necessary, the need however
being distinctly greater if the children come from a slow-
thinking class, from homes where they hear little intel-
ligent general conversation and are therefore less " quick
at the uptake ". From such children you do not expect
rapidity or nimbleness of thought, and therefore no great
harm comes from a fairly frequent use of the exercise ;
but it must not be exacted invariably or too often. For
all children it is one of the paths to composition under
two conditions : the first, if it is used in the lesson
designedly devoted to composition, and the second, if
a child is also called upon to recapitulate the substance


178 Common Sense in Education

of a lesson both immediately after it has been given and
also after some interval, in a series of sentences. Speech
in complete sentences, if you like ; but no uniform in-
sistence on answers in complete sentences. 1

Every lesson that lends itself to such an exercise should

be recapitulated orally by one of the class. Children in

secondary schools may well be expected to

Composition . r . r

write down summaries lor themselves from
their eighth or ninth year ; before that, the " composition "
(that is the recapitulation of the lesson) should be built
up on the black-board by contributions from the class.
Pupils of primary schools, for reasons already given, will
remain in this latter stage longer than others. The com-
position lesson proper will follow the literature lesson and
the lesson in rhetoric that accompanies it. Pupils may
be called upon to write a page, making use, if possible,
of certain figures of speech discussed and explained, on
matter, if possible, arising out of the literature lesson,
being taught to avoid th characteristic defects of each
figure. In the earliest stages we are content if pupils use
and and but, he, she, and it, correctly. Another stage is
the use of the relative. Then come sentences contain-
ing subordinate clauses. An intelligent pupil of thirteen
should be able to expand a metaphor into a simile, and
a little later to construct metaphors out of similes. At
fifteen he can be taught to marshal his information in

1 This heresy of the complete sentence we get, like so many
other more useful things, from Germany; and we have most
warmly adopted it just when Germans are beginning to laugh at
it even in their comic papers. " Will you marry me ? " asks a
Professor in a well-known German Punch, addressing himself to
the lady of his choice. " Yes, by all means," says she. " Pardon
me," the swain replies, " let me have your answer in a complete

Literature and Formal Linguistic Study 179

logical order and to use safely other simple figures such
as antithesis, climax, metonymy, and the rest.

Paraphrasing is of great use if sparely used. It is how-
ever most undesirable to set for paraphrase a Paraphras-
passage which expresses a great thought in ing
form so perfect as to be " inevitable," beyond improve-
ment. Nothing whatever is gained by the endeavour to
turn what we feel to be perfect into comparative mean-
ness. But in the elucidation of a crabbed passage or of an
occasional phrase which lends itself to expansion without
sacrifice of noble form, paraphase may be used with much
profit. The exercise however should always be set with
a caution and an apology. We must make sure that our
pupil does not regard a paraphrase as merely another way
of saying the same thing, a way as good as the author's.
If we leave such an impression, we may easily poison his
mind ; we go far to destroy his reverence, that respect
which the cultivated person conceives for persons or
things just because there is in them something great,
beautiful, or lovable, which is theirs inalienably and not,
as he feels, within his own power of achievement. Those
mean spirits to whom nothing is admirable, who affect
to regard even great things as matter of mechanism,
are simply deficient in the sense of proportion ; they
themselves are, in their own conceit, too big to conde-
scend to admire. We ought to be cautious therefore not
to give our pupils any excuse for suspecting that a noble
idea nobly expressed is merely one way among many of
dressing up commonplace.

Literary interest is, at bottom, an interest in man. We
are first of all interested in his doings, then in The source
his thoughts. When we are children, it is of interest in
action that fascinates us ; as we get older we literature
know that the thought, the thought sometimes expressed

180 Common Sense in Education

in the "winged word," is the truer life of man. This is
why young people and people who remain young love
romances, and why people who know the world and
have thought about it find their highest literary pleasure
in works that deal with action reflectively.

A very little child does not care for action which it
cannot well realise ; that is why infants prefer, of all
stones, stones in which they themselves are made to
figure. Imagination grows, they acquire simple notions
of goodness and naughtiness, and then they love to hear
of grotesque personages, of unlimited might and stupen-
dous personality, fairies, giants, dwarfs, good or bad.
The world is not yet for them a system of causes and
effects uniformly concatenated ; and if you tried to make
it so, you would find that their experience of details is too
limited ; they will not believe you, though your folly may
appear to win a superficial assent. You must proceed
gradually by helping them to recognise in process of
time the usual order of events, and in the meanwhile
cultivate their taste for letters and humanise them by
making tliem familiar with the fancies and traditions of
Fairy story those who have gone before them. This is
and epic the justification of the use of the fairy story
and the epic both, we see, on the grand scale as
instruments of education. Providence is the real hero
of both fairy story and epic ; in both fairy story and epic
the providential end is reached by grotesque and mon-
strous means ; less grotesque and monstrous and more
rational in the epic than in the fairy story ; but the end
is reached. In the fairy story the personages are inter-
esting because of their grotesqueness, in the epic because
of their size, their heroism. The epic is the more advanced
taste, for its actions and characters are less amorphous,
and the child's appreciation of goodness and badness is

Literature and Formal Linguistic Study 181

growing more definite and conforming itself gradually
to the adult standard ; he wants less chaos, more order.
This is the period during which we should teach the great
world stones, the Homeric, Vergilian, Germanic sagas.
Between this and the next stage come the semi-historic
ballads, still epic in form, the personages large and heroic,
and performing impossibilities ; but having a faint back-
ground of fact, and easily connected with the lessons in
recorded history. It matters little that fiction forms their
bulk ; the fiction only makes them more interesting, and
the child gets with them what is positively truer than
; any narrative, and that is something of the contemporary
feeling of the historic age of composition. When he reads
| the sober narrative history, he will have the better atmo-
sphere and will understand his text the more surely.

Science is no substitute for the fruitful wonderment of
fairy story. The " fairy land of science " is not at all
wonderful to a child. He turns away with just disdain
from the phonograph, and electric telegraph, and bacteria;
they are no marvels, especially if we try to " explain "
hem. But Jack and the Beanstalk is quite another
hing. No explanation of this convincing history is
possible; and if it were possible, it would be impertinent.

The next stage is the history ; not the text book, but
the writings of the statelier historians, Claren- The epical
ion, Gibbon, Prescott, Macaulay ; read, not for histories
:he training in historical method, of which we shall speak
lereafter, but purely to cultivate a sense of spacious-
less and style. This is the period at which a pupil
eads the historical speech ; Burke, it may be, or a more
nodern master of political eloquence, such as Bright or
Disraeli or Gladstone. When our pupil has worked up
o this point, and has had concurrently lessons in rhetoric
ind in the practice of rhetoric, that is composition, he is

1 82 Common Sense in Education

fit for the closer study of more complex forms of litera-
ture, and, in particular, poetry. Poetry the pupil will
have had from the beginning, though it may
have been poetry in the form of prose or
ballad. He will have learnt much ballad verse and
some lyrical verse by heart ; but he ought, at sixteen, to
make a serious attack on prosody, and, in order to learn
the difficulties and respect the achievements of the great
poets, he should be occasionally called upon to write
English verse himself, in the style of the particular poem
which he is or has been studying.

It is not easy, it is not even desirable, to draw up an
exclusive list of authors for the last three years (sixteen
to nineteen) of school life. But it may be reasonably
required that a good deal should be done with the very
greatest writers of verse, and always with particular
emphasis on prosody, for the cultivation of the ear-
Shakespeare, Milton, Gray, Wordsworth and his conn
temporaries, must all find a place. It is equally impor-
tant that some great contemporary or comparatively
recent poem should be read and known well, in order
to keep alive the sense of continuity, reality, and

In every one of these stages it is important that the
study should be the study of literature, and the result
most desirable is that our pupil should know some greal
works well and should find fervid pleasure in them
The pleasure will be the greater when, after all the
study, the great writer still keeps the secret of his influ-
ence ; and when we find that, with all our rhetoric, w(
have only learnt a few of the devices that move us t(
admiration for which we can account in terms of tru
schools. Indeed, the proof of the greatness of th<
greatest works is that every time we come to them w<

Literature and Formal Linguistic Study 183

discover that there is yet more in them than we had felt
before ; and that is why we never tire of them. Mark,
too, that if we do not plant a taste for good literature,
and especially for good verse, during adolescence, we
cannot hope that it will sow itself later in life. We never
forget the things that have in youth warmed us with
delight, and the pleasure in noble thought and subtle
expression is second only in purity to the pleasure
inherent in unselfish action. Base pleasures also trail
behind them a craving for repetition, and we must fight
them with the delight of nobler experience. Adolescence
is the period during which the deepest spiritual impres-
sions are made for good or for evil ; and not to use fine
literature, portable and accessible as it is, in order to fill
the place which lies open then to spiritual influences,
is to throw away the most powerful instrument of good

It is well to remember that for every stage of education
there is to be found appropriate literary food and training
in what William Allingham calls "verse-poetry". The
delight of the ear in verse-effects is ultimately unanalys-
able, but those who would prepare the young wisely for
life should begin early to lay up in their minds incor-
ruptible stores of good poetry. " Babes love the sound
of it, youth passionately delights in it, age remembers it
gladly ; it helps memory, purifies and steadies language,
guards elocution ; it gives wings to thought, touches
hidden verities, can soothe grief, heighten joy, beautify
the common world, and blend with the divinest aspira-

If a pupil has passed through such a course as we
have here in outline, he will have achieved two great
things : he will have formed the habit of critical apprecia-
tion and he will have a standard of taste for life. He

184 Common Sense in Education

will also be well fitted for further systematic work, at
the universities or elsewhere ; although, as the Literature
Schools are mainly taken by women, perhaps for the
neutral He I should here say rather the exclusive She.

It is no doubt desirable to correlate history and litera-
Literature ture studies as much as possible. But it must
and History be remembered that literature is not the same
as history, and that the training of the power of literary
appreciation, though all the easier and all the truer if we
can get pupils to realise the far-off setting and atmo-
sphere, is primarily a training in feeling, or " aesthetics ".
We are not therefore to exclude King Alfred or King
Canute from our histories merely because we cannot ask
our school population to master the contemporary speech
of those heroes ; nor are we to forbid Gullivers Travels
to our children merely because the book treats of politics
in a fashion far beyond the comprehension of the little
boys and girls who take most delight in it. On the other
hand, wherever history and literature can be made to
illustrate each other, the teaching of both gains enor-
mously in true and permanent effect ; and when the
last stage of school life is reached, it is of the greatest
advantage to read history and the contemporary literature
side by side.

We must remember again, that, though excellent in
itself, the study of the History of Literature is not the
study of Literature. The study of literature (let us say
it again) is a training in appreciation, in aesthetics ; and
the history of literature is history, appealing mainly to
the memory. We can cultivate a literary sense, to be a
refining influence and a pleasure and possession for ever,
while imparting little or no knowledge of the history of
books and the influences working to produce them ;
though it is emphatically true that the appreciation is

Literature and Formal Linguistic Study 185

sounder and truer when it is correlated to an exact
knowledge of each thing.

The History of Literature, then, should, certainly till
the last year of school life, say eighteen or nineteen, be
used in detail merely when it is necessary to get a correct
environment for the work under consideration. For in-
stance, an intelligent study of a play of Shakespeare should
reasonably include (but as subsidiary to the aesthetic
study) some knowledge of the way in which plays were
produced, the events of contemporary history necessary
to explain the text and not much else in the " histo-
rical " side. It does no harm, indeed, to make a pupil
in an upper form read (though not commit to memory)
a short History of English Literature ; but anything like
a detailed study is surely better left to a time when
wider reading will have given the pupil something real
to work upon. It is worse than useless, it is distinctly
injurious, to set young people to learn dates and lists
and gorgeous criticisms concerning works of art with
which they have no acquaintance. It cultivates literary
hypocrisy and pretentiousness, and is an obstacle to real
reading and the saturation which is the chief thing
necessary. Of course, it is desirable that our pupil
should learn to use a History of Literature for refer-
ence ; indeed a great deal that we try to impose on the
memories of our pupils, in more studies than this, is
better left to be looked for when required. It is precisely
this power of profitably using books of reference which
the children of so many of our schools lack, the efforts
to teach them being divided mainly between telling and

At every stage our pupil should be required to deal at
length, both orally and, as we advance, on paper, with
part of the subject matter treated in the lessons ; and

1 86 Common Sense in Education

subjects should be so prescribed that, without being too
recondite, they may frequently involve some little re-
search and consultation of authorities, with room for the
free expression of individual opinion. At the top of the
school, pupils may be encouraged, as they are in France,
to get up some special point for oral exposition from the
teacher's chair, to the class. The first shyness is soon
overcome, and the practice once started is most stimu-

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Online LibraryPercy Arthur BarnettCommon sense in education and teaching; an introduction to practice → online text (page 14 of 25)