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For the attainment of these ends nothing seems to me better fitted than to embue the youthful mind with genuine poetry; and it is with this view that the poems composing the following volume have been selected. They are necessarily of various degrees of excellence, and various degrees of difficulty. In making the selection, I have been anxious to avoid, on the one hand, poems fit only for the nursery or the infant school, and, on the other, those which require a higher range of thought, and a greater insight into human life than are to be found in youth. It is good gently to stimulate the fancy of the child, and very good to excite the highest thought of the matured mind; but these are not the objects now aimed at. This volume is meant to occupy an intermediate region, and to afford matter of fit instruction for young persons from ten to sixteen years of age.
In teaching these poems, the great object to be kept in view is, first, that they be understood as far as grammatical and logical structure is concerned, and so far as historical or geographical knowledge is required; and, secondly, that they be felt and appreciated through that mysterious contact of mind with mind in which all true teaching consists. The teacher who rests satisfied with the dead letter of the poem, and does not inspire his pupil with its living spirit performs but half the business of education.
It is true that some of these poems, and parts of many of them, appeal to higher stages of thought than can by possibility have been reached by young persons. But the teacher will have sufficiently done his duty who assists his pupil to interpret by his own consciousness, so far as that extends, what the poet means, and when he is no longer able to
understand, to keep him from misunderstanding. The evolu tions of life will let him understand that which for the present he cannot comprehend. In every poem, perhaps, in this way there may be something understood and something not understood, and if the unknown is not out of proportion to the known the pupil will be benefited by the study.
A subordinate object, though not an unimportant one, in drawing up this volume, was to bring together a larger collection of truly poetical pieces, fit to be committed to memory, than is at present before the public. In teaching any science it is now pretty generally agreed on, that it is better not to prescribe formula to be committed to memory, but to leave each pupil to store up facts, theories, &c., in his own way. But from this it has been too hastily assumed that verbal memory is not worth cultivation. In the old modes of teaching, this faculty was too much appealed to, but, perhaps, in the new it is too little. How far it may be exerted will depend on circumstances and the individual constitutions of pupils; but it may, without risk of contradiction, be asserted, that few will feel it a task to commit to memory one or two of these pieces in the course of a week. In this way a great fund, from which they may in after years draw, will be gradually accumulated. "The best words in the best language" will be rendered familiar to them, and indelibly impressed on their memory; their sympathies will be called forth and properly directed, and their taste at once elevated and improved.
Royal Naval Schools, Greenwich Hospital,
1. The Homes of England,
The Sea and the Sailor.