« AnteriorContinuar »
n Fall arts that have been taught man
kind, Reading is by much the most general ; in Britain particularly it is almost universal, since even the children of peasants are instructed in it. And yet by a strange fatality it has happened, that whilst in all other arts, numbers arrive at a great degree of perfection, and many attain to excellence, in this alone there are few that succeed even tolerably. There are but two ways of accounting for this; either, that the thing itself is in its own nature more difficult than
Dec. & 34.
- any other; or that the method of teaching
it must be erroneous and defective. With regard to the first, it might easily be thewn that there are many other arts infinitely more hard to be attained; but to clear up the point, it will be only necessary to shew that the art itself has always been in the lowest state amongst us, and that this proceeds from a method of teaching it erroneous' and defective to the last degree.
For a long time after letters had been introduced into Britain, the art of reading was known only to a few. Those were days of ignorance and rudeness ; and to be able to read at all was thought little less than miraculous. Such times were not proper for cultivating that art, or bringing it to perfection. After the revival of the dead languages amongst us, which suddenly enlightened the minds of men, and diffused general knowledge, one would imagine that great attention would have been paid to an art, which was cultivated with so much care by those ancients, to whom we were indebted for all our lights ; and that it would have made an equal progress amongst us, with the rest which we had borrowed from them. But it was this very circumstance, the revival of the dead languages, which put a stop to all improvement in the art of Reading; and which has continued it in the same low state from that time to this. From that period, the minds of men took a wrong bias. Their whole attention was employed in the cultivation of the artificial, to the neglect of the natural language. Letters, not founds; writing, not speech, became the general care. To make boys understand what they read; to explain the meaning of the Greek and Roman authors; and to write their exercises according to the laws of grammar or prosody in a dead language,
were the chief objects of instruction. Whilst that of delivery, was so wholly neglected, that the best scholars often could not make themselves understood in repeating their own exercises ; or disgraced beautiful composition by an ungracious delivery. Those who taught the first rudiments of reading, thought their task finished when their pupils could read fluently, and observe their stops. This employment requiring no great talents, usually fell to the lot of old women, or men of mean capacities ; who could teach no other mode of utterance than what they possessed themselves ; and consequently were not likely to communicate any thing of propriety or grace to their scholars. If they brought with them any bad habits, such as stuttering, stammering, mumbling, an indistinct articulation, a constrained unnatural tone of voice, brought on from imitation of some other ; or if they were unable to pro
nounce certain letters, these poor creatures, utterly unskilled in the causes of these defects, sheltered their ignorance under the general charge of their being natural impediments, and sent them to the Latin school, with all their imperfections on their heads. The master of that school, as little skilled in these matters as the other, neither knew how, nor thought it part of his province to attempt a cure; and thus the disorder generally passed irremediable through life. Such was the state of this art on the first propagation of literature, and such it notoriously remains to this day.
When we reflect on the general benefit that would accrue from bringing this art to perfection ; that it would be useful to many professions'; necessary to the most numerous and respectable order established amongst us; ornamental to all individuals, whether male or female ; and that the state of pub