Wordsworth was a romanticist, Addison wrote newspaper articles in 18th Century London, Newman was a Cardinal, and Donne did not always practice what he preached. These are some of the miscellaneous and disconnected facts about English literary history, which are about all most of the men who are taking English 1 will ever remember. This gigantic survey course, which attempts to cover all of English literature from Beowulf to Beerbohm, is required for all English concentrators and has been consistently criticized through the years as being exhausting, boring, and worthless.
Almost to a man, students have decried the breakneck pace at which this course plummets through its thousand-year time span. Unlike mathematics and physics, literature cannot be drilled into the mind by the numbers, so many lines per poet, so many poets per week, and so many literary periods per month. Since the reading covers almost everyone who has written a book in England since 800 A.D., and since the grades depend greatly on an ability to identify spot passages and supply a few facts about the authors, most men will never remember anything more than a few trite comments.
English concentrators need a good background for their later studies in the field, but they do not need to waste a year acquiring a smattering of unassimilated, stereotyped facts and literary cliches. The English Department should reform this course so as to make it a true comprehensive history of English letters and not the literary almanac that it is today.
The Visiting Committee for English, now reviewing the workings of the department, should recommend a less ponderous and more pleasurable introduction to the field of English literature.