Imagens das páginas

liarities of his time, his æsthetic canons by the prevailing tastes of his time.

In the case of John Milton, these barriers between the author and his readers in secondary schools are especially difficult to surmount. His Latinized language (natural to himself and his contemporaries) is an unknown tongue to the youth of the present day. His elevated style, with its involved sentence structure, sounds unfamiliar to their ears. His whole mental atmosphere, permeated by Puritan theology, Mediæval and Renaissance science, and classical æsthetics, is an atmosphere in which they are unable to breathe freely. Even in matters not peculiar to the past, our pupils lack the equipment to read an author so learned as Milton. How shall these barriers be removed, and pupils thus limited be enabled to read with comprehension and appreciation the works of the greatest English poet?

Two methods of study are now in use in secondary schools, each finding advocates among teachers of literature. Either the pupil reads the text with notes appended, these notes aiming to elucidate whatever passages may be obscure; or, with only the author's text in hand, he seeks in a reference library the information requisite for the comprehension of its meaning.

The first mentioned method is pedagogically unsound for at least two reasons. It leads the pupil to exercise his memory to the almost entire exclusion of comparison, selection, reflection; and the notes present facts apart from their relations to one another, whereas it is the characteristic of a trained mind that it contemplates all facts in their relations. A subtle evil effect of studying texts

thus annotated is seen in the conception which the pupil forms of what constitutes the study of literature. He comes to believe that he knows the poem when he has memorized the matter contained in the notes, whereas he is merely ready to know the poem. An equally deplorable practical effect is the fostering of bad habits of study. Instead of reading the text with care, referring to notes only for aid in resolving perplexities that arise in the mind during the reading, the pupil often yields to the temptation to work from the notes backward to the text (in order to save time), believing that passages to which notes are not appended may be assumed to be clear.

The second method, claimed by its advocates to develop the power of original research, I believe to be both practically and theoretically objectionable in the case of an author like Milton. Even were reference books abundant in our schools, the expenditure of time required for the consultation of dictionaries, encyclopædias, and histories, on merely the facts absolutely necessary to the comprehension of Milton's thought, would be wholly out of proportion to the results obtained ; and the pupil's exhausted energies would prohibit any enjoyment of the æsthetic element in the composition. The error in theory made by the extreme advocates of the method of original research is that they assume that man cannot with profit avail himself of the labors of his fellow-man, but must rediscover the whole domain of knowledge for himself. The most disciplinary and fruitful subjects of research in connection with the study of Milton would seem to be those which are ordinarily treated most fully by editors; namely, matters relating to his life, the political and religious history of his times, and his indebtedness to the writers that preceded him. In the study of these topics, a very few books could be made available for an entire class, the work in literature could be correlated with that in history and in the Greek and Latin languages, and a genuine spirit of research could thus be fostered much more effectively than by the wearisome delving after petty details in books of reference.

In arranging this book, the following aims have been kept in view : to economize the pupil's time and strength by enabling him to use wisely the results of other men's industry, to the end that he may approach the study of Milton's poetry with a mind prepared to comprehend and to enjoy it, and to make both the preparation and the subsequent study contribute to his power to read any literature whatever that is akin to Milton's work. To attain these ends the necessary information is included in an introduction, in which facts have been systematized as in an encyclopædia, while definitions and derivations have been relegated to a glossary. Notes referring to special passages have been employed only for such suggestions as would guide the pupil's thought, and lead, but not carry, him into a knowledge of the works of our greatest English poet. These notes deal especially with the three elements of poetry emphasized in the present college requirements in English, — matter, structure, and style. Much more of Paradise Lost has been included in the text than is required for admission to any college, in the hope that the pupil may be tempted to read further from interest alone. The selections have been made with a view to securing unity of subject and continuity of narrative, while exhibiting as adequately as possible Milton's widely varied powers of poetic composition. They treat of the principal events in the career of Satan, and include, besides the events immediately following his expulsion from Heaven (as narrated in Books I. and II.), the War in Heaven which caused his fall, the Creation of the World to serve as an abode for his destined successors in God's favor, his Adventures while in search of the Earth, and his Ultimate Punishment in Hell.

It is recommended that those using the book first devote some time to a rapid study of the introductory matter, as a preparation for the study of the work as literature, and as an historical survey of the characteristic ideas of Milton and the literary traditions of his times. When by this means the pupil has prepared himself to approach the poem with a mental equipment not unlike that of the readers to whom Milton originally addressed himself, let him make the poem itself the sole object of his study (thenceforth referring to the explanatory matter only where his memory fails him), striving ever to contemplate it as the imaginative and impassioned expression of noble thought, enriched with melody, and inspired by a consecrated purpose.

A. P. W. BOSTON, August, 1897.

« AnteriorContinuar »