Do not pause and explain what a Nymph is, or why Liberty is the ‘Mountain Nymph’! Go on reading: the Prince has always to break through briers to kiss the Sleeping Beauty awake. Go on with the incantation, calling him, persuading him, that he is the Prince and she is worth it. Go on reading—
Mirth, admit me of thy crew,
To live with her, and live with thee,
In unreproved pleasures free;
To hear the lark begin his flight,
And singing startle the dull night,
From his watch-towre in the skies,
Till the dappled dawn doth rise.
At this point—still as you read without stopping to explain, the child certainly feels that he is being led to something. He knows the lark: but the lark’s ’watch-towre’—he had never thought of that: and ’the dappled dawn’-yes that’s just it, now he comes to think:
Then to come, in spite of sorrow,
And at my window bid good-morrow,
Through the sweet-briar or the vine
Or the twisted eglantine;
While the cock with lively din
Scatters the rear of Darkness thin;
And to the stack, or the barn door,
Stoutly struts his dames before:
Oft listening how the hounds and horn
Cheerily rouse the slumbering Morn,
From the side of some hoar hill,
Through the high wood echoing shrill:
Sometime walking, not unseen,
By hedgerow elms on hillocks green,
Right against the eastern gate,
Where the great sun begins his state,
Robed in flames and amber light,
The clouds in thousand liveries dight;
While the ploughman, near at hand,
Whistles o’er the furrow’d land,
And the milkmaid singeth blithe,
And the mower whets his sithe,
And every shepherd tells his tale
Under the hawthorn in the dale.
Don’t stop (I say) to explain that Hebe was (for once) the legitimate daughter of Zeus and, as such, had the privilege to draw wine for the gods. Don’t even stop, just yet, to explain who the gods were. Don’t discourse on amber, otherwise ambergris; don’t explain that ‘gris’ in this connexion doesn’t mean ‘grease’; don’t trace it through the Arabic into Noah’s Ark; don’t prove its electrical properties by tearing up paper into little bits and attracting them with the mouth-piece of your pipe rubbed on your sleeve. Don’t insist philologically that when every shepherd ‘tells his tale’ he is not relating an anecdote but simply keeping tally of his flock.
Just go on reading, as well as you can; and be sure that when the children get the thrill of it, for which you wait, they will be asking more questions, and pertinent ones, than you are able to answer.
This advice, to be sure, presupposes of the teacher himself some capacity of reading aloud, and reading aloud is not taught in our schools. In our Elementary Schools, in which few of the pupils contemplate being called to Holy Orders or to the Bar, it is practised, indeed, but seldom taught as an art. In our Secondary and Public Schools it is neither taught nor practised: as I know to my cost—and you, to yours, Gentlemen, on whom I have had to practise.