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English at Harvard.


The following editorial, taken from the New York Commercial Advertiser, should interest our renders:

"In his last annual report the president of Harvard College gives a very interesting and encouraging account of that institution's efforts to promote the teaching of the English language and English literature in the preparatory schools, by steadily increasing requirements in this respect as conditions of admission to college. It appears that, with the exception of Yale College, all the leading educational institutions of New England have united with Harvard in the movement, and have issued identical lists of the literary works with which freshmen are required to be familiar. So far as the purpose of this endeavor is concerned we have only the heartiest approval to express. We hold a thorough mastery of the English language to be the one thing absolutely essential to the education of English speaking men, and we regard the literature of the English language as the one literature with which it is a shame for any educated man or woman to whom English is a mother tongue to be unfamiliar. We hold that a loving familiarity with our own literature is of much greater worth as education and cultivation than all else that the colleges teach or can teach, and we rejoice in the courage shown by Harvard College in laying aside academic traditions and seeking to give some sort of recognition to the truth that the language of Shakespeare and Milton and Hawthorne and Irving, and the literature of that language, are as worthy subjects of study as the Latin or the Greek.

"But when we come to examine the way in which Harvard has carried out its purpose we confess to a good deal of disappointment. The list of required books in this department and the subjects selected for examination papers indicate a peculiar narrowness of view on the part of those who have made the selections and a curious tendency to run in ruts.

"Unquestionably the lists indicate a lamentable narrowness of view and a disposition to direct the study of English literature into certain rigidly-confined channels. Shakespeare, Scott and Goldsmith-these are great names, but to have an adequate acquaintance with English literature one must know the works of many other writers. A great educational institution ought to direct the attention of its students to Milton, for example, and to Coleridge, Wordsworth, Byron, Thackeray, Dickens, Pope, Dryden, Sterne, Burton, and some dozens besides.

"But, gentlemen of Harvard, are you aware of the fact that your college is in America and within a few miles of Lexington and Concord? Is it not a strange teaching that you give, by implication at least, when you exclude from your lis's every American writer's works? What inference must a student draw who comes to you saturated with Emerson, lovingly familiar with Bryant, Longfellow, Holmes and Lowell, knowing Irving and Hawthorne by heart, ready to write essays by the score on Cooper, Sylvester Judd and Brockden Brown, or to discuss the works of Paulding, Poe, Prescott, Motley, Park man, and the rest, but who, for lack of familiarity with Scott, must fail in his examination? Is Scott, then, the one writer of fiction whose works an American boy should read? Is there nothing in American literature that should command his attention? Is it your purpose to teach him that Hawthorne, Irving, Bryant, Longfellow, Holmes, Emerson and Lowell are of minor consequence in comparison with Goldsmith and Scott? Shakespeare is a matter of course, and Milton ought to be, though your examination papers do not indicate that you so regard him; but, after those two, is there any English writer with whose works it is more important for an American boy to be familiar than it is for him to know something of the great literature in which our own American life and thought are reflected? The young men who look to you for guidance are Americans; could you not manage to include at least one American author in the list of those from whose works you select the subjects for your entrance examinations in English literature. Is there none in all the list who is worthy of such recognition by a leading American college, or is it the deliberate judgment of Harvard College that acquaintance with American literature is wholly unnecessary and valueless as a part of the education of American men?"

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