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MERCHANT OF VENICE.
INTRODUCTION, AND NOTES EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL.
FOR USE IN SCHOOLS AND CLASSES.
REV. HENRY N. HUDSON,
PROFESSOR OF ENGLISH LITERATURE IN THE SCHOOL OF ORATORY,
PUBLISHED BY GINN & HEATH.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1879, by HENRY N. HUDSON,
In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.
Cushing & Bramhall, Printers, Boston.
ENGLISH IN SCHOOLS.
WHY should English Literature be taught in our schools? and, What is the best way of teaching it? These are the questions which I propose to discuss.
As preliminary to such discussion, it will, I think, be rightly in place to consider, briefly, what our people are aiming to prepare their children for, and what sort of an education it is the proper business of the school to give; that is to say, what form of mind and character, and what disposition of the faculties, it is meant to impress.
Now I take it that a vast majority of the pupils in our schools are not to pass their life as students or as authors. Their main business in this world is to gain an honest living for themselves and for those dependent on them. And no plan of education is just that leaves this prime consideration behind, in quest of any alleged higher aims: for there really are no higher aims; and all pretence of such is a delusion and a snare. Some men, it is true, do more than gain an honest living; but this is the best thing that any man does; as, on the other hand, shining intellectually is the poorest thing that any man does, or can possibly learn to do. Then too most of the pupils in our schools, ninety-nine hundredths of them at the least, are to get their living by hand-work, not by head-work; and what they need is, to have their heads
so armed and furnished as to guard their hand-work against error and loss, and to guide it to the most productive means and methods. And, for gaining an honest living by handwork, the largest and best part of their education is not to be had in school; it must be got somewhere else, or not at all. The right place, the only right place, for learning the trade of a farmer or a mechanic is on the farm or in the shop. For instance, Mr. Edward Burnett's "Deerfoot Farm," in Southborough, Massachusetts, is, I undertake to say, a better school for learning agriculture than any "agricultural college" is likely to be. There is no practicable, nay, no possible way of acquiring the use of tools but by actually handling them, and working with them. And this rule holds equally true in all the walks of life, — holds as true of the lawyer, the physician, the merchant, as of the shoemaker, the bricklayer, the machinist, the blacksmith.
On this point, our people generally, at least a very large portion of them, have their notions all wrong side up: their ideas and expectations in the matter are literally preposterous. How the thing came to be so, it were bootless to inquire; but so it clearly is. Parents, with us, are manifestly supposing that it is the business of the school to give their children all the education needful for gaining an honest living; that their boys and girls ought to come from the schoolteachers' hands fully armed and equipped for engaging, intelligently and successfully, in all sorts of work, whether of head or of hand. And they are evermore complaining and finding fault because this is not done; that their children, after all, have only learnt how to use books, if indeed they have learnt that, and know no more how to use tools, are no better fitted to make or procure food and clothes, than if they had spent so much time in stark idleness or in sleep.
But the fault is in themselves, not in the school; their expectations on this head being altogether unreasonable, and such as the school cannot possibly answer. That, say what you please, is the plain English of the matter; and it may as well be spoken.
I repeat that, with very few exceptions, and those mostly applicable to girls, the most and the best that the school can do, or can reasonably be expected to do, is to educate the mind and the heart: as for the education of their children's hands, parents must, yes, must look for this elsewhere: probably their best way is to take it into their own immediate care, and hold themselves religiously bound to attend to it. Possibly, withal, some parents, as also some who drive the trade of idealizing about education, may need to be taught, or warned, that unless the school have something ready made to its hand, unless the pupil bring to it something inside his skull, it cannot educate his mind: brains it cannot furnish; though it is often blamed for not doing this too. And, good as vocal intelligence may be, yet, for all the practical ends, and even the dignities, of life, manual intelligence is vastly better this it is that makes both the artist and the artisan ; and without this the former, however it may prattle and glitter, can neither plough the field nor reap the corn, neither tan the leather nor make the shoe, neither shape the brick nor build the wall, neither grind the flour nor bake the / bread.
But I suspect our American parents have become somewhat absurdly, and not very innocently, ambitious of having their boys and girls all educated to be gentlemen and ladies; which is, I take it, the same in effect as having them educated to be good for nothing; too proud or too lazy to live by hand-work, while they are nowise qualified to live by