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the capacity of the child; selections from silly story-books, from periodicals and pamphlets abounding in a plentiful lack of thought, from annuals filled with the unstudied productions of an every-day feeling, and the effusions of an empty mind?
Where can he find a passage which is suggestive? Where can he find one which will move the fancy, touch the feelings, and direct the imagination to what is implied and consequential ? Where can he find a passage which is suitable for exercising the pupil in giving utterance to such sentiments as will enliven the affections and elevate the soul?
Let these remarks and implied censures be received with what qualifications they may, still it cannot be denied that the selections in many reading books used in our schools are such as will dwarf the intellect and stultify the child; and the truth of this may be established by a reference to almost any one of them, opened at random, where will generally be found collected together in an unbroken phalanx, many of those empty nothings which were making their rapid and silent flight to oblivion, without attracting sufficient notice to defray their expenses thither.
In teaching reading and its kindred branches, - grammar and language,—the aim and purpose of which are, or at least should be, to give the child the power of discovering thought, the reading book is, and of course must be, that on which his powers are to be exercised and his taste is to be formed.
Then, instead of laying before him what is bad in taste, loose in style, faulty in construction, and wanting in sense, and requiring him, year after year, to look at words jumbled into sentences by some anonymous versifier, or by some poetaster of no fancy, of little learning, less taste, and almost no feeling, - why not at once introduce him to the best specimens of English literature? Why not place before him the productions of those highly-gifted minds, who put forth the whole strength of their intellect, and lavish upon the creations of an exuberant fancy the riches of a poetical diction?
Why not, for once at least, place before him such specimens of English literature as will act on the mind of the reader, and cause the reader's mind to act upon itself; as will exercise the feelings, the fancy, the affections, the intelligence, anew on each perusal, and at the same time will no more weary contemplation than the most beautiful and sublime scenes of the universe will tire the sight?
Why not attempt, at least, to cultivate in him a taste for the writings of those who have struck out such images of thought, and apparelled them in such select language, that they have gone forth and peopled the minds of intelligent and admiring readers ? and by a destiny which no revolution, either of language or empire, can reverse, they will continue to go forth and people the minds of admiring readers in all ages to come.
That man has neither head, heart, ear, soul, nor imagination to know what genuine poetry is, nor is he capable of enjoying its sweetest and most sublime influences, who can doubt the supremacy of such passages as the Song of the Angels, in the third, and the Morning Hymn of Adam and Eve, in the fifth, book of Paradise Lost.
And what can be said of him who finds nothing to admire in the Night Thoughts, or is not charmed with the perusal of the Seasons? one great and distinguishing excellence of which is, the pure and elevated spirit of devotion which occasionally breathes out amid the reveries of fancy; as though the poet, in describing the beauties of nature, had caught sudden and transporting glimpses of the Creator himself, through the perspective of his works; while the crowning Hymn at the close is unquestionably one of the most magnificent specimens of verse in any language, and only inferior to its inspired prototype in the Book of Psalms, of which it is, in part, a paraphrase.
Perhaps the foregoing remarks may be enforced and illustrated by reference to some of those works which have been puffed into notoriety by favorable notices in all sorts of publications, - daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly, - works which, though they have produced emolument and fame, contain scarcely any thing fit to grace the poet's corner in a common newspaper. A few extracts like the fol owing may serve as a specimen of the whole :
“O, never did the dark-souled atheist stand
And watch the breakers boiling on the sand,
And shake while rush the raging whirlwinds past."
The effects of atheism are described in the following manner:
“ Then, blood-stained Murder, bare thy hideous arm
And thou, Rebellion, welter in thy storm!
Whether Rebellion shakes her own hand, shakes the hand of Memory, or shakes the hand of France — how Rebellion would look shaking France by the hand, or why she should shake her own hand, or what possible motive she can have for weltering in her storm what avenging crime may be – what its spirits may be — why they should burst from their bonds — what their bonds may be — why they should battle with the time — and what the time may be — and what a battle between time and the spirits of avenging crime would resemble, we must confess ourselves quite unable to understand."
The death of the atheist is thus described :
“ See how he shudders at the thought of death!
What doubt and horror hang upon his breath!
A man stiff as marble, standing and gibbering violently, would present so curious a spectacle, that the shades, if they came in his way, might well stare at him.
The following extract may serve to illustrate what is frequently found in prose selections :
"Imagine the feeling of a husband and a father, who returns to the harbor of Nantucket after an absence of forty-eight months, during which time he has heard no tidings whatever from his home. He sees the boat pushing off from the wharf which is to bring him tidings of weal or woe. He stands pale and trembling, pacing the deck, overwhelmed with emotions which he in vain endeavors to conceal," &c.
In regard to the above, it may be just to remark, that, by the principles of construction, we might be inclined to think that it was the wharf which was the bearer of the “ tidings of weal or woe.” This, to be sure, is somewhat curious; but when we are told that a man, pale and trembling, stands still and paces the deck at the same time, we are ready to exclaim, with honest Cassio, “Why, this is a more exquisite song than the other."
Perhaps it may be as well to take an extract from a writer, who has been ranked with the master-spirits of the age:
“Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean, roll'
He sinks into thy depths with bubbling groan,
“ Sky, mountains, river, winds, lake, lightnings ! ye,
With night, and clouds, and thunder, and a soul
Of what in me is sleepless, – if I rest." Although Byron can lay claim to the highest honors of Parnassus, still it must be conceded that no modern author has written a greater quantity of perishing and perishable rhyme than he; and, without reference to the particular faults in the above stanzas, it may be asserted, with but little qualification, that they convey just no meaning at all.
Instances of this sort, among those who are called popular writers, are much more numerous than is commonly imagined. When the sentence is simple — when the construction is plaiu — when words glaringly unsuitable are not combined — the reader frequently proceeds without hesitation, never suspecting that he does not understand a sentence, the words in which are familiar to him, and of which he perceives the grammatical order. But if he, by any means, be induced to reflect a little, and to think more closely on the subject, and to peruse the words a second time more attentively, it is probable that he will at length discover that they express nothing, and that the pompous metaphors and sonorous phrases serve as vehicles for nonsense.
Thus far, we have endeavored to illustrate our remarks by referring to what is obviously defective. Let us now see what further illustration they may receive by a reference to what is excellent.
This is easily accomplished. We need not scale the heights of Parnassus, since we can find flowers at its very foot abundantly sufficient for this purpose. Here may be found specimens of verse most nearly resembling the best prose, in the plainness of the words employed, the natural construction of the sentences, the easy intelligence of the whole, where nothing is wanting, nothing superfluous, nothing out of place, out of season, or out of proportion.