« AnteriorContinuar »
IV. (v.) And now something might be said about the author of our poem. Information given about an author before his works or some work of his is read, is not likely to be very interesting or useful. Handbooks of literature should not be read before something is known of the literature dealt with. What is the use of sign-posts, if one is not in, or is quite ignorant of, the country to whose roads they belong? But, having read Rosabelle, we may not unnaturally wish to know something of him who wrote it. Do we not always long to learn who the beauty is who charms us ?--under what sweet influences she grew to her present sovereign loveliness ? --what things and what persons have enjoyed the regard of her fair eyes? We cannot indeed interpret the secret of her fairness ; but yet we would know what we may of its budding and its growth. Who, then, was the author of Rosabelle ? What else did he write ? When, and where did he live? What were the chief impulses of his times ?
Is there anything in this little poem which connects it with its times ?-or could it have been written at any time, and at any place ? Suppose nothing was known of its origin, could anything be gathered from itself? Are there any features that might reveal the secret of its birth? Is there any tell-tale likeness? At first sight the poem may seem to carry us back into distant ages. The first stanza pictures us a minstrel in some old hall, singing and playing after the manner of his craft. “Feats of arms” were the great delight of men then ; but now he sings not to men, but to “ladies gay,” no martial trumpet-clanging triumphant story, but a soft-toned lay with a sad ending. Then there occur in the song, as we have seen, long extinct manners and customs and superstitions. Is, then, Rosabelle a voice from the old ages ? Is it really an ancient ballad ? A more careful study will show us signs of elaboration and refinement such as do not characterize genuine balladry. In the sense in which we speak of a “historical novel,” it may be called a historical ballad. It is but an echo of these old days which it professes to portray. It is but a flash of “summer" lightning.
What age was it, then, that cared enough for those far-away times to try to reproduce them in literature ?—that lent an ear to those voices that had seemed to die away in the distance and be forgotten ? When
did the old halls rise again from their ashes, and the minstrel once more strike his strings in them, and the “ladies gay” bow their fair heads and weep with eyes that had been lustreless for many a long day? When did old fancies and beliefs re-awaken, and bind men's minds with a fresh fascination ?
From a study, then, of Rosabelle by itself, without any external help, much might be learnt of the circumstances of its appearing. We may learn the general character-or at least one highly significant characteristic of the age when it appeared. To find the date of such an age as could have produced it we must turn to history. This necessity shows us how highly important it is to keep together, as far as possible, the studies of Literature and History. Do we really believe what is so perpetually repeated, that the literature of a nation reflects its life? Then why do we sò obstinately put asunder the studies of History and Literature ? Why do we not permit them to support and uphold each other? Even in schools, certainly with the higher pupils, this unhappy estrangement should as far as possible be ended by making the scholar in his History work study the same period to which his English Literature lessons belong. In this way a considerable economy of labour may be effected ; and certainly a much more thorough knowledge of what is studied—both of History and of Literature—may be gained.
(vi.) And now it is time that we should turn to matters of Grammar. Grammar consists of two main parts—Accidence and Syntax. Let us accordingly observe first the inflections—the word-forms--that occur in our poem, and then the relation in which the words, both those that are inflected and those that are not, stand to each other—first each word, or each noteworthy word, by itself, and then in connection with its fellow words.
a. What “part of speech” is that in stanza 1, still in st. 11, pale in st. 10, &c. ? But first of all, this phrase "part of speech” should be clearly understood, and equivalents given for it. It is, in fact, a bit of old English which has lingered on in our language ; as if, though we have so completely changed our costume in other respects, we should
still “slash" our sleeves, or deck our modern hats with a fine feather. · We do not speak now of the “French speech” or “the study of speech.” In what sense do we still retain the word ? Then what is signified by “part”? Strictly, we ought to say, “To what part of speech does such a word belong ?” Let, then, this phrase be made quite clear. Then how is the pupil to discover what “part of speech” any word is? Can he do so by looking at the word by itself? Are there cases where its form may guide him? Or may the grammatical definition of a word vary with its context ? How many “parts of speech” may still, for instance, be? Let similar instances be quoted.
What part of the verb is listen, is mourns, is cross in st. 4, is chide in st. 6, buried in st. 12, &c. ? These and such questions cannot be answered without an amount of care and attention which for a younger pupil would be considerable ; probably with regard to some of them he would need a helping hand. What case is thee in rest thee, and in stay thee? Compare such phrases as “he sat him down,” “he lies him down,” “he hies him home,” “I followed me close” (Shaks. i Henry IV. II. iv. 240), &c. How are the pronouns in all these cases to be explained ? Here, too, of course the student must be assisted ; but by all means let him feel, before he is so, what the difficulty is. What “case” is Roslin's ? What does the apostrophe stand for? What wrong interpretation was once current, and is preserved in the Book of Common Prayer ? Why was it wrong? What does the apostrophe stand for in sheath'd ? Does it then always stand for e? Mention, with instances, other letters and letter-combinations which it occasionally represents. Then what is the effect of adding ed or 'd to sheath ? Or is there more than one effect that may be so produced ?—that is, is sheathed always a “preterite”? In what other way may a preterite be formed? Then the terms for the two methods of forming the preterite might be given, for they would now be felt to be useful. Do any verbs avail themselves of both methods ? Let the pupil make as good a list as he can from his own observations. Are there any such verbs in Rosabelle? Have any verbs two forms of the “strong” preterite? Is there difference in our present usage between sang and sung, rang and rung (see st. 13), &c. ? In such a phrase as “ he has seen,” what is the tense ? What part of the verb is seen ? Is it correct to say “he has come”? What is the tense in “he did go”? What part of the verb is go? What part of the verb is hold in “doth hold” (st. 12) ? What part is doth ? What difference is there between doth and does, hath and has, &c.? In some such manner let the pupil be stimulated
to observe and think for himself, and to arrange his thoughts and observations. Many of these questions the pupil may be able to answer by the analogy of other languages-of German or French or Greek or Latin.
B. Now let the relations of the words to each other and in the sentence be considered. What part of its sentence is listen? What part is feats ? &c. If the terms subject, predicate, object are not thoroughly understood, let them be discussed. The syllables sub, ob, pre, ject occur in a great many English words. What is the force of each one ? Perhaps if the student made himself short lists of words in which they occur, he might, by comparing the words of each list together, gather that force; and such an attempt at induction would be most valuable. Dicate might prove perplexing ; indicate might not lend help enough. So the pupil might turn to his dictionary; or he might be told that preach is in fact but a corrupted form of predicate, and preacher of predicator, therefore predicate = preachment, or statement. He must then learn how the use of the term is limited in grammar-how the “ preachment” in grammatical usage is not the whole sermon, but only a certain essential part of it. And so with regard to the terms subject and object as used in grammar, he must be instructed in their limitedness. The subject is not the whole text, but only a certain part of it; the object is, in fact, part of the preachment or predicate in the broadest sense of that term. Now let the terms be applied to various sentences in Rosabelle. How many sentences are there in stanza 3? What are their various subjects? What are the various predicates? Which sentence contains an object? The general absence of inflections in English nouns, in the present state of our language, makes this sort of “parsing” something less of a mere mechanical process than it is apt to be where certain endings at once discover the “case.” Then what part of the third sentence is the last line? What part of the first is “ with white"? What part of the second “to inch and rock”? In stanza 4 how many sentences are there? What relation do the words “last night” hold to the predicate? In stanza si what part of its sentence is the clause
“ When fate is nigh
The lordly line of high Saint Clair ?” &c. &c. This analysis can be made as difficult or as easy as the teacher wishes. Such questions as have just been suggested may
admit of a ready solution ; but from time to time there will arise cases demanding the nicest delicacy, the most adroit management.
(vii.) It may often be well to submit the passage which is the lessonsubject to the formal processes of logic, which is the grammar of thought, as what is ordinarily called grammar is the grammar of words. The terms subject and predicate may be used in their logical sense; the thought of the poem carefully examined ; the passage reduced to a series of propositions, and the proofs of these, where it is possible, thrown into a syllogistic form. Of course a purely narrative piece such as Rosabelle-a ballad-is not so well adapted for this treatment as one that is argumentative or quasi-argumentative, as, for instances, many passages of Wordsworth, of Shelley, of Pope, of Milton : yet even here there are parts where this method might be usefully followed. Why are “ladies gay” especially to listen to this lay? What is the major premiss of the 1st stanza? What is that of the 4th stanza? What is the conclusion of the 5th and 6th stanzas ? This conclusion, it may be noticed, is, in accordance with the bold abrupt character of the poem, left to the imagination of the reader. It is, in fact, expressed by the impatient hurrying gesture which, so vivid is the picture, one sees Rosabelle making. If our thoughts are in danger of being obscure and confused until they are embodied in words—if our reason may grow morbid or deformed unless we give it plenty of air and exercise, then surely it is well to insist often on the transcription of those thoughts ; it is well to bring reason out into the light of the day, that any threatened malady or distortion may be averted. Surely it must be a good thing to make a student observe what his writer takes for granted and what use he makes of what he so takes, and so, by an obvious application, to bethink himself of what are the general propositions on which his own opinions and actions proceed.
Of course all terms new to the pupil must be closely investigated before he is allowed to employ them. Let him, as has been suggested above, be made sensible of this need before they are put into his mouth. Let him see that the word is created for the thing, not the thing for the word. This advice is not perhaps so superfluous as it might seem. Has no one, for instance, when the wonderful nomenclature in which the ancient scholiasts and grammarians delighted has been prematurely imposed on his memory, been left half in doubt whether the figure was made for the term, or the term for the figure ?