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INASMUCH as this book is devised (so far as its utility in schools is concerned) for the use of the trained teacher, I have arranged the lessons in the form of notes conveying information which the teacher may readily adapt to the understanding and attainments of any given pupil, or class of pupils; and, for the same reason, I have selected the examples, with their corresponding exercises, so as to present as great a variety as my limits allowed. In so doing, I have necessarily confided much to the personal element in teaching; but, as I need hardly say, there is no subject in the teaching of which the personal element does not count for a chief factor; and in none, perhaps, more than in the teaching of Composition.
Generally speaking, therefore, every statement or observation in the text implies a previous question put by the teacher to the pupil; a question so framed as to induce the pupil to arrive at the correct answer by a definite, individual effort of reflection. In practice, the answer, if answer there be, will in all probability go wide of the mark; but the attempt to hit it, will at least have revealed a little part of the pupil's ignorance to himself; and (after all) a conscious
ignorance is the primary condition of knowledge. Hence, the pupil is expected to use the notes and comments in the manual in preparing his work, only. He is not supposed to refer to them while in class; the notes being, as I have said, solely intended for the teacher's use, in the first instance; so that, in the second, they may form references for the pupil. The pupil is also expected to use both note-book and rough note-book freely: so that the notes taken in class (and afterwards compared with the book itself) and the final, corrected draft of the exercises, being fairly transcribed, should form a record which, at the close of his school course, should present his personal complement to the system of the theory and practice of composition as set forth in this manual.
I lay stress upon the importance of teaching by means of the study of examples drawn from the great body of the English Classics. For, no amount of practice in composition can avail, without the acquirement of a standard of taste both sound and catholic, which is attained through the intelligent appreciation of the work of masters.
Much space is devoted to the Story; both because the narrative is capable of including in its scope all other forms of composition, and because experience shows that the imagination of the younger pupils takes shape most readily in that particular form. The section dealing with the Essay has been designed, not only as an exposition of the general principles governing that form of composition but, for the use of pupils who intend to undergo the examinations held in secondary schools by the various University or other examining bodies; and as a preliminary course for those entering for the Civil Service and Military competitive examinations.
As it is assumed throughout that the pupil has been thoroughly grounded in the principles of English grammar and punctuation, and as there are many excellent works extant dealing with these subjects, I have thought it unnecessary to touch upon them. I may say, however, that I have found no work upon grammar more useful for reference than Dr. W. B. Hodgson's Errors in the Use of English, published by Mr. David Douglas; and that, in matters of punctuation, a reference to the later works of Charles Dickens will afford as copious, and as easily accessible, a supply of examples of correct usage as I know.