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From the observations made, it will be perceived, that our children and youth can acquire but a small fund of ideas from the books they read in schools; and from observation, it will be seen, that this is the fact. They may, and probably do, frequently acquire a decent knowledge of an elementary education, or of the most necessary parts of it. But what if they do this, and have not acquired a taste to rear up and beautify the intellectual edifice, for which an elementary education is the mere foundation? As it would be little or no use for a person to acquire the knowledge of some mechanic art, if he did not afterwards labour in it; so it would be little or no use to learn the rules of arithmetick, unless they should be applied to practical purposes; or to acquire a knowledge of geography, unless it be followed by the study of history or travels; or even to become well skilled in the art of reading, if there is no taste for the frequent and habitual exercise of this skill. Nor is it sufficient that there is simply a taste for reading-it should be for reading, that will be beneficial. Persons may read much to no profit; and, alas, many do read much to no profit-read nothing that is calculated materially to strengthen the sentiments of virtue, or secure the mind against allurements to vice-nothing that is calculated to develope the human character, by the exhibition of human conduct-nothing that is calculated to unfold the goodness or the providence of God, by the display of his works, and of the world of mankind, over which he is the sovereign Arbiter. The persons who thus read, know so little of the real world, and of the inhabitants of the real world, that they must have an ideal world of their own-they must contemplate beings who are imaginary, and traverse regions where existence has never been called forth by creative power from the slumbers of eternity. In other words, the real world and all it contains, to them is dull and insipid.-Romance, of course, is seized on with avidity, and becomes the only object of interest.
If the reading books now used in our schools are generally thus defective in their tendency, how can the defect be supplied? To say that the lessons should contain useful information, and in a form to interest the attention and make a deep impression on the mind, is only stating what is obvious to every person, and of course needs no illustration. The enquiry then ultimately refers to the particular kind of reading lessons, that will answer these valuable purposes, opening a wide field for speculation; and what is the more difficult, it presents a subject on which there may be a great diversity of opinion. But since the Author has ventured to animadvert on this part of the usual course of education, it may reasonably be expected, that he should at least offer the result of his own reflections.
The remark has been made, that our first ideas are of sensible objects of these, the objects of sight probably make the most
easy and indelible impression. We comprehend the almost-infinite variety of any prospect, in a momentary glance, and the imagination can revive the picture at pleasure; but a verbal description of it would be tedious, the impression faint, and the recollection difficult. Hence children very soon learn the names of objects about them-objects which they can see. And indeed how fruitless would be the attempt to teach children what a table, a chair, a window, or a door is, unless these objects can be seen! But when seen, the labour is easily accomplished. Hence we may conclude, that the first lessons in reading for children should commend themselves to the attention by signs or pictures of the objects described in the lessons. Perhaps natural history is the most abundant in suitable subjects for such exercises, although many works of art might be mentioned as well calculated to increase the variety. Let animals, with which children are usually familiar, be the subjects of the introductory lessons; and when these are used, let others, with which they are not familiar, be taken. Such a course of reading lessons would give children, in a comparatively short time, a pretty good knowledge of this part of natural history. When this is done, and a good proficiency is made in the art of reading, history may well be made the subject of the next class of reading books for schools.
The author is aware, that various objections will at once be made to history, as the subject of our school reading books. It will be said, and justly too, that these books must be few in number, and of a moderate size, since large numbers of our children and youth are unable to be at much expense in their education. And it is then asked, What, of history, can be brought into such a small compass, as to be accessible to the great body of youth in our schools? It is urged too, that a single small volume can no more than contain a compend of the history of a particular country, and that such histories are generally the most uninteresting, being but little else than chronological tables. It is known, that a particular history of a single country will require volumes of a size and expense to forbid their use in common schools and it is known also, that the usual compends of history are not sufficiently interesting for our present purpose-they are good for certain uses-if well constructed and executed, they answer a valuable object for study, and more especially for reference and review to such as have spent much time in reading more complete works on the subject; but for reading books in schools, they are totally unsuitable-it would probably be impossible for a person to become a good reader by the use of them.
It would be indeed a visionary expectation, to calculate ou seeing the youth of our schools made adepts in historical knowledge--on seeing them acquire, in a few years, and especially at 1*
a period when all the faculties of the mind are in embryo, what might well be considered the business of a long life. No more is expected than to see them acquire a taste for reading history-to see them lay a good foundation for subsequent reading. The latter of these undoubtedly consists in a good knowledge of geography; and the former, it is taken for granted in the following Work, with little fear of being mistaken, comes from a knowledge of the most interesting portions of history. Instead, therefore, of putting into the hands of our youth a connected summary of history which is made up chiefly of dates, unless it be for regular study, give them a volume of extracts describing the most important events on record. Such extracts would abound in those extraordinary incidents, which never fail to captivate the elastick and expanding minds of the young-which never fail to interest all, whether young or old, who read them-incidents, which equal, if not surpass, the utmost efforts of imagination as displayed in Romance. Who would not be interested with the history of Tamerlane, of Ghengis Khan, of Mary of Scots, of Charles I., of the Crusades, Discovery of America, Capture of Montezuma, Conquest of Mexico, Plymouth Colony, the American Revolution, Bonaparte's Campaign in Russia; and of numerous other parts of history that might be named!
If persons, when young, become well acquainted with all such portions of history, few will have so little curiosity as not to read the remaining parts—to fill up the chasms-to connect together these prominent parts. If a painter were to draw a landscape, he would not in the first instance form complete a single object, say a tree, before the other parts were touched.No, he would mark all the conspicuous points, then connect these points together, and then put on the finishing touches. Or, if a limner were to exhibit on canvass a human form, would he, at first, finish a leg or an arm, before the other parts were begun? No, he would first sketch all the prominent parts, then unite these parts, and then give it the colour and expression of life. Much in this way, it will be perceived, the Author would recommend that persons acquire a knowledge of history.
A few observations more will conclude this Preface, already extended to an immoderate length. It may be said by some, that a book for young persons, of the description named, will cause them to place a false estimate on human conduct-that, in the same degree as they thence fail duly to appreciate real goodness, they will become the less inclined to it; and in the same degree as they become familiarized with vice, they will view it with less abhorrence, and will consequently be the less secured against temptations to it. The Author would not deny that this may sometimes be the case; but he does maintain, that there is no necessary tendency in history, to produce these de
leterious effects in the human character. Those who read history, must blame themselves or their teachers, if suitable moral reflections are not made as they pass along. If history were studied as it ought, the most tragical relations which disfigure its ensanguined pages might be made conducive to our instruction. If we did but reflect on the tears of the widows and orphans, and imagine ourselves to hear the groans of the wounded and dying; if we represented to ourselves the splendid and warlike appearance of an army, at its first taking the field, contrasted with the distressful spectacle of its shattered remains, after a hard fought battle, or a bloody campaign; we should be thunderstruck at the reflection, and contemplate with horror the dreadful effects of the human passions, instead of being greatly dazzled with what is called martial glory, and unduly inspired with love for the praise usually bestowed on it in history.
The names of the several persons from whose writings extracts have been made in this Work, are not annexed to those extracts, because in some instances the same article has been taken from different writers, and in other instances the phraseology has been partially altered-the former of which renders the giving of names inconvenient, and the latter might be considered an act of injustice, inasmuch as it would ascribe to the individuals named what is not properly their own. The Author, however, aiming to let the Work possess as much variety of style as possibly consistent with his main plan, has avoided introducing his own phraseology, in many instances, where the extracts made are evidently susceptible of improvement in this particular. Indeed, it has been found difficult, if not impossible, to obtain that variety connected with that approved excellency of style, which practicable in a collection of extracts on more miscellaneous subjects. The best class of writers on history is comparatively small; and the subject admits also only a comparatively small rhetorical diversification of language. The Author nevertheless indulges the belief, that this compilation is not greatly wanting in that variety and excellency of style which are of the first importance in books for the use of schools; and, that it will be found well calculated to inspire the youthful mind with a desire for more extensive and connected reading on this useful and interesting subject.
J. L. BLAKE.
Concord, February, 1823,