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The kindly reception accorded to the author's “Study of English Prose Writers," published in 1898, seems to warrant the appearance of this complementary volume, which was foreshadowed in the preface to the “ Prose Writers.” As the method involved is somewhat distinctive, it seems wise to make some repetitions from that preface. A certain amount of repetition will be found, also, in the chapters on Milton, Lowell, and Holmes.
It is generally admitted by teachers of English that, after one has learned to avoid the common violations of clearness, force, precision, and the other requisites of good style, he may best improve his own use of the mother-tongue by studying the English classics. But how is one to study the English classics so as to obtain positive and appreciable results ? This volume represents an attempt to answer that question so far as it applies to the poets concerned. Certainly, the question has not been answered satisfactorily by the numerous text-books on English literature, nor by the countless editions of English classics “ with notes." To memorize biographical data or the generalities and negations of criticism, or to trace out obscure allusions or doubtful meanings, is certainly not to study a writer in any broad or fruitful way. While the method here
may not be ideal, it is not merely theoretical. It has been rigidly and continuously tested in the author's class-room during the last twelve years by means of a partially developed manuscript, printed privately for the use of his own pupils, and again in his published volume on the “ Prose Writers." In a word, the method consists in determining the particu
lar and distinctive features of a writer's style (using the term style in its widest sense), in sustaining this analysis by a very wide consensus of critical opinion, in illustrating the particular characteristics of each writer by carefully selected extracts from his works, and in then requiring the pupil to find, in the works of the writer, parallel illustrations.
The method grew out of dissatisfaction with results obtained under the old ways of teaching English and out of the conviction that such a revolution as has taken place in the manner of studying all branches of natural science during the last quarter-century is both possible and desirable in the study of English. Just as the pupil has learned to study oxygen and electricity and protoplasm, and not merely what someone has written about these, so he must learn to study the masterpieces of style themselves and not merely what someone has written about them. Moreover, as the student of chemistry, physics, or biology must have a hand-book or a set of tables to show him how to go to work, so the student of English classics must have a hand-book to show him how to go to work. This volume is offered as such a hand-book for the poets of generally accepted rank except Shakespeare.
It is a plausible objection to the method here presented that it is unscientific because it seems to apply the old scholastic dictum, “ First learn what is to be believed," and because it follows a deductive rather than an inductive order. The reply is that the pupil must have some guidance, and that “every one knows more than any one." It is believed that the consensus of criticism here offered is sufficiently wide to annul any charge of mere individual preference. To ask an ordinary undergraduate to study an English classic without giving him some specific directions, is as fruitless as to ask him to fly. Moreover, it will be seen that the method here offered is really inductive and scientific ; for the pupil is encouraged to discover, in any writer under consideration, any other distinctive characteristic for which he can find clear illustrations