In considering, then, the place of literature in education, I propose to keep constantly before my eyes the people with whose education I am personally familiar, namely, myself, my children, and the various types of public school boy which I have known as boy, as undergraduate, as college tutor and as schoolmaster. I say various types of public school boy; for although there still is a public school type in general which is easily recognisable by certain marked superficial characteristics, the popular notion that all public school boys are very much alike in character and outlook is a mere delusion.
Again, I propose, when I speak of literature, to mean literature, and not a compendious term for anything that is not science. The opposition that has in modern times been set up between science on the one hand and a jumble of studies labelled either literary or “humanistic” studies on the other is to my mind wholly unfounded in the nature of things, and destructive of any liberal view of education. It may perhaps be held that literature in its most literal sense is a name for anything that is expressed by means of intelligible language—a use of the word which certainly admits of no comparison with the meaning of science, but which also leads to no ideas of any educational interest. But I take the word literature in its common acceptation; and, while admitting that I can give no precise and exhaustive definition, I will venture to describe it as the expression of thought or emotion in any linguistic forms which have aesthetic value. Thus the subject-matter of literature is only limited by experience: as Emile Faguet says somewhere—without claiming to have made a discovery—la litterature est une chose qui touche a toutes choses. And the tones of literature range from Isaiah to Wycherley, from Thucydides to Tolstoy; its forms from Pindar to a folk song, from Racine to Rudyard Kipling, from Gibbon to Herodotus or Froissart. And while no two people would agree in drawing the line of aesthetic value which should determine whether any given verbal expression of thought or emotion was literature or not—a fact which is not without importance in the choice of books for forming the taste of our pupils—yet, for the purpose of discussing the place and function of literature in education, we all know well enough what we mean by the word in the general sense which I have attempted to describe.
As this is not a tractate on education as a whole, I must risk something for the sake of brevity, and will venture to lay down dogmatically that the objects of literary studies as a part of education are (1) the formation of a personality fitted for civilised life, (2) the provision of a permanent source of pure and inalienable pleasure, and (3) the immediate pleasure of the student in the process of education. None of these objects is exclusive of either of the others. They cannot in fact be separated in the concrete. But they are sufficiently different to be treated distinctly.