Cambridge Essays on Education eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 229 pages of information about Cambridge Essays on Education.

It is when we come to the middle stage, at any rate of boyhood—­for of girls’ schools I am not qualified to speak—­that there is a good deal to be done before the cultivation of literary taste, and all that this carries with it, will be successfully pursued.  In the past, the Latin and Greek classics were, for the few who really absorbed them, both a potent inspiration and an unrivalled discipline in taste:  but it is noteworthy how few even of the elite acquired and retained that lively and generous love of literature which would have enabled them to sow seeds of the divine fire far and wide—­“of joy in widest commonalty spread.”  Considering the intensity with which the classics have been studied in the old universities and public schools of the United Kingdom, the fine flower of scholarship achieved, the sure touch of style and criticism, one cannot help being amazed at the low standard of literary culture in the rank and file of the classes from which this elite has been drawn.  How rare has been the power, or even apparently the desire, of a Bradley or a Verrall or a Murray, to carry the flower of their classical culture into the fields of modern literary study!  And how few and fumbling the attempts of ordinary classical teachers to train their pupils in the appreciation of our English literature!

In recent years a new type of literary teachers has been rising, who owe little, at any rate directly, to the old classical training; and although their zeal is often undisciplined and “not according to knowledge,” with them lies the future hope of literary training in our schools.  They bring to their task an enthusiasm which was too often lacking in the “grand old fortifying classical curriculum”; but it is to be hoped that, as the importance of their subject becomes more and more recognised, they will achieve a method which will embody all that was valuable, while discarding much that was narrow and pedantic, in classical teaching.  And in particular may they all realise, as many already do, what the classical teacher, however unconsciously, held as an axiom, that in order to enter into the spirit of literature, to appreciate style, to understand in any true sense the meaning of great author’s, it is not enough for pupils to listen and to read, and then perhaps to write essays about what they have heard and read.  They must also make something, exercise that creative, and at the same time imitative, artistic faculty, which surely is the motive power of most of our progress, at least in early life.  Nothing has struck me more forcibly than the intense interest which boys will take in their own crude efforts at writing a poem or a story or essay, while they are still quite unable to appreciate with discrimination, or even to enjoy with any sustained feeling, the poetry or prose of the great masters.  Not that there is anything surprising in this.  I know very well that it was writing Latin verses that taught me to

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