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POETRY FOR SCHOOLS.
THE REV. F. C. COOK, M.A.
ONE OF HER MAJESTY'S INSPECTORS
OF CHURCH SCHOOLS.
This little book is intended to serve as an introduction to the study of the great classical poets of England. Among the collections which have appeared from time to time, none seemed to me to be precisely calculated to meet the wants or to effect the objects I had in view in making this compilation, I will endeavour briefly to state why such a work appears to be needed at present, to explain the principles which have guided. me in making the selection, and to point out in what manner it may be used to the greatest advantage by those for whose benefit it was specially intended.
The system of education in our national schools has lately been much extended and improved ; and there is every reason to expect that, in a few years, the children of the peasantry and artisans throughout England will be instructed by well-trained and able teachers. The beneficial effects of such an improvement will not be confined to those classes which are directly affected by the system. We may hope, that while the intellectual faculties of the poor are developed, the feelings of mutual confidence and regard between the various classes of society will be confirmed and strengthened. But these benefits depend entirely upon the character of the instruction, and upon the direction that is given to the tastes and feelings, as well as the intellects, of the children. If it be not of a kind calculated to create or to foster a real sym pathy between them and their benefactors, — if the heart and mind be not subjected to high and humanising influences, we should have reason to apprehend lest the accession of power, which must be the result
of an increase of knowledge and mental vigour, may be attended with no inconsiderable danger.
It is very true that the religious instruction, which has always been the first object of the supporters of national schools, is the best and surest preventive of danger; and I willingly repeat, what I have frequently had occasion to state officially, that in all our best schools the children are thoroughly grounded in the principles of Christianity, and have a comprehensive knowledge of the Holy Scriptures. If this were not the case, I acknowledge that I should feel little or no interest in the general progress of education; which, if not based on religion, would, as I believe, be injurious rather than beneficial to all classes. It is because this foundation has been well laid, that we may safely add whatever may be found requisite to complete the instruction of our young brethren, and to make them intelligent and useful members of our social system.
Now the education of the poor, as it seems to me, has been hitherto deficient in two respects. On the one hand they have a very limited acquaintance with their own language ; their vocabulary is not only incomplete, but it is incorrect; they do not attach to their words the same meaning, and are frequently at a loss to understand the forms, which persons of cultivated minds are accustomed to use in expressing their thoughts. On the other hand, they have a very limited range of information ; many important faculties are undeveloped, and in a dormant condition; they cannot sympathise with sentiments and principles by which well educated persons are influenced, because they have not breathed the same mental atmosphere, and are at a loss to understand not only the forms of expression, but the processes of thought itself. This appears to me to be a dangerous state of things, tending to mislead the higher classes in their estimate of the wishes and feelings of the poor, and exposing the latter to some peculiar temptations. The socialist infidel finds ready access to minds darkened by ignorance, and impervious to reasons which are conclusive with persons of cultivated minds.
Much, however, has been done to supply these de
ficiencies. Some elementary branches of science are now studied in national schools, and the reading books published by the various educational societies have already produced a considerable effect in enlarging the minds of the children. But I feel convinced that it is time to make another step in advance, and to introduce the elder pupils, and more especially the candidates for apprenticeship, as well as the pupil teachers themselves, to those great authors, both in prose and verse, whose works have been the most powerful agents in eliciting the faculties and forming the tastes of the English nation. This is the only substitute which can be provided for that course of ancient and of modern languages which forms so important a part of the edu. cation of the higher classes. It exactly meets those wants which I have remarked, both extending and correcting the vocabulary of the poor, and accustoming them to high and noble trains of thought. Nor am I afraid that such a course of reading will tend to produce conceit or arrogance. Each accession to their little store of information will but make them more aware of their deficiencies; and while, to a certain extent, they become better able to understand and sympathise with the views of their superiors, they will learn also to appreciate the vast disparity that must always exist between their own scanty and imperfect knowledge and the mental resources which are supplied by a complete and scholarlike education.
It is with these convictions that I have prepared this selection from the great classical poets of England. A few words may be necessary to explain the reasons for omitting many writers whom the reader might expect to find, and for selecting some passages which may appear to be beyond the capacity of national schoolboys.
I have not taken any extracts from writers of the present century; partly because the book would have been too bulky and expensive, had I given sufficient specimens to do justice to the authors, and partly because I think it more advisable to begin with the study of those writers whose works have borne the test