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For the other and more modern class of reading-booksthose which aim at combining practice in reading with the acquisition of a large fund of useful information on practical subjects — there is more to be said. But the idea from which they originated has been carried to extreme and wholly intolerable lengths. Their compilers, ignoring the importance of securing the greatest breadth of culture possible under the circumstances, have restricted themselves to one department of knowledge — namely, to what it has of late years been customary to describe as Common Things;" that is, facts connected with agriculture, the manufactures, commerce, the elements of the physical sciences, &c. Having set up in their own minds a standard by which they determine certain facts to be such as (to use phrases they are fond of) it is “essential for
every one to know," and "a disgrace to be ignorant of," they contrive with little difficulty and without trespassing beyond the limits they have marked out for themselves, to bring together a mass of encyclopædiac information which is literally appalling. Their pages are so thickly studded with facts that there is no room for anything else. How is it possible that such books can be interesting to the young ? They are little more than bald and meagre catalogues ; serviceable, indeed, as text-books for special subjects or as works of reference, but for that reason unsuitable as readingbooks.
Those who understand that the grand aim of education should be to develore the power and the habit of independent observation and thinking, will at once concede that at certain stages of progress no better material than
common things,” or rather no material half so good, can be made use of by the teacher. The idea of the “ Object Lessons,” which are becoming so general throughout the schools of England, is an eminently valuable one. But the best teachers are well aware that it is impossible, even by means of them, to impress upon the pupil's mind more than a very limited number of facts; and not even that, except by the exercise of considerable skill. The mind must be prepared for a fact before it can receive it, or know what, to do with it. The educator who has grasped this truth will not only turn with aversion from the coarse and vulgar expedient of loading the memory with minute details of technical information, but he will be extremely cautious in communicating facts at all. He knows that if they lie as a dead burden on the memory, this faculty is apt to display an extraordinary power of getting rid of them.
The editor of the present series has gone upon the principle that a good deal of practical knowledge may be imparted in reading lessons incidentally; but he has endeavoured to make the communication of such knowledge subordinate to the development of mental activity in the widest sense. He has given a prominence altogether unusual to what naturally amuses and attracts the young. He has allowed due scope and ample range not merely for the perceptive and intellectual faculties, but also for the healthy play of those imaginative and emotional powers which are strong at the age for which the lessons are designed ; and if the series now introduced possesses any merit at all, it will mainly be from the zeal with which
the idea of combining these various objects has been carried out.
As the title imports, a distinctive feature of “ The Graduated Series" is the graduation of the difficulty of the lessons. It is true that this feature characterises, in a greater or less degree, all school reading-books which have any pretensions to the name. But the novelty of the present undertaking is, that it seeks to base the principle of graduation on more philosophical foundation than existing works of the same kind have attempted to do. It has hitherto been the practice to graduate reading-lessons, almost exclusively, either according to the complexity of the grammatical constructions, or according to the difficulty of the words which occur in them. This practice has resulted from a too limited view of what the term
reading " should imply. A lesson cannot be said to be properly read unless it is fully comprehended ; and it by no means follows that a lesson is easy of comprehension because it exhibits a scarcity of unusual words and constructions: for what can be uttered and grammatically analysed with great facility may present a very hard problem to the intellect. In graduating the lessons of the present series, the editor has had reference, not only to their verbal and grammatical peculiarities, but also to the general calibre of mind required to understand the ideas which they express.
This method of graduation has harmonised well with an aim which has been steadily kept in view throughout the series, for the purpose of obviating the charge of encouraging desultory and immethodical thinking which is frequently, and with justice, preferred against the employment of books
of miscellaneous extracts in schools. The editor has in no case attempted to exhaust a subject systematically, but he has striven so to select and arrange, that each lesson shall either prepare the way for something which follows, or throw additional light on something which goes before. In other words, he has throughout aimed at a certain continuity in the treatment of topics. Beginning with rapid sketches which rouse rather than gratify the appetite, he has endeavoured to lead the pupil by gradations, as nearly imperceptible as possible, to a somewhat deliberate and special survey of the great departments of human knowledge, and to an approximate estimate of their relations and proportions.