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In publishing a series of volumes intended for the instruction of youth, it is difficult to avoid repetition in writing the prefaces to each. I will, however, attempt to point out the peculiar characteristics of the present volume, and its relation to the three by which it is accompanied.
My reasons for avoiding the stiff classification of articles by which Enfield's " Speaker" was distinguished, were these. Firstly, there was a temptation held out to read only such pieces as were sufficiently horrible, sentimental, or otherwise, as the head-line might suggest. Secondly, there was as much inconsistency in style as there was affectation of consistency in arrangement. These two evils were only to be met by the system which Mr. Charles Knight (to whose honoured name in literature I gladly acknowledge the idea of the present plan) has so successfully pursued in his "Half Hours." To enjoy the thoughts of a variety of writers -to study the interpretation of those thoughts in the wondrous varieties of our language—to meet with a perpetual contrast-in which the manly vigour or the courtly smoothness of prose is illumined and refined by the fiery heroism or the graceful softness of poesy-such, to my own feeling, has ever been the grand object of a book which should teach, not only to read, but to think.
But a more serious objection, which clung to old works of a similar character, will be found removed in the present one. Not only were the extracts at times ill chosen, but words and phrases, unfit for the ears of youth, were suffered to remain in passages where their presence or absence was a matter of perfect indifference, and where the moral beauty of the author's meaning was impaired by his yielding to the coarseness which the refinement of English society has long since excluded from the language of ordinary life.
Passages of various writers, in which the most sacred things were held, so to say, in a solution of doubt or ridicule, have been carefully excluded from this, as from its companion volumes; while, it is hoped, a rich store of the real gems of English literature will be found collected together, forming a treasury whence the reader may at once derive information alike profitable to his life as a student and a Christian.
If my readers complain that they do not find certain favourite passages included in this volume, I must remind them of two things; firstly, that space, although a relative term according to the axiom of Sir Isaac Newton, becomes a terribly definite one in the compilation of a book; and, secondly, that many of the favourite "pieces" for reading or recitation, will probably be found in the other "Helps to Reading."
The printing and general style of the volume will, I think, leave no reason to complain of want of spirit on the part of the publishers, while the illustrations may certainly challenge comparison both as to number and quality, with those of any work ever put forward at a similar price. The names of Harvey, Gilbert, Birket Foster, Weir, McConnell, and others, in conjunction with those of the brothers Dalziel, as engravers, are sufficient to settle the question of comparison between the present work and any of those from which we first became acquainted with "Hamlet and Ghost," or "Grongar Hill.”
The brief biographical outlines are intended merely to give an idea of the date of the writer's existence, and thereby serve as a sort of index to the character of his style. The notes, though necessarily brief, will, I trust, remove such difficulties as generally distress the young reader, without obtruding on him that mass of over-annotation which is so prevalent in the present day, and which, without rendering the student a whit more independent of the teacher, prevents him thinking for himself. Teasing a young mind with the minute elaborations of mere verbal details too frequently impairs its perception of the whole.
With the sincere hope that this, and its fellow volumes may contribute some humble share to the all-pervading movement in favour of education— that they may contribute to elevate and inspire some taste for diving "deeper and deeper still" into the great works of the men which these brief extracts so feebly represent, I take farewell of my readers. The labour of their compilation has been greater than might at first appear; but should they make but a few of the young prefer the book to the play-ground-should they lead some poor boy (whose means have been scant, whose temptations have been many)—should they lead some young soul from the despair of ignorance to the hope and inspiration of that knowledge which alike becomes the man and the Christian, my end will have been fully answered; and I shall venture to hope that a Press and Public (to whose verdict I have so often, and so satisfactorily, appealed), will recognise these efforts to make good reading cheap, and to combine the power of the artist and the author for the instruction of our English youth, and the wholesome entertainment of our English fireside.
THEODORE ALOIS BUCKLEY.