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THOMAS SHERIDAN, A. M,
BRITISH EDUCATION, &c.
Quo minus funt ferendi qui hanc artem ut tenuem ac jejunam cavillan
tur; quæ nifi oratori futuro fundamenta fideliter jecerit, quicquid fu.
QUINCT. L. 1. C. iv,
ART of READING.
F all 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
any other ; or that the method of teaching it must be erroneous and defective. With regard to the first, it might easily be shewn 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 fuddenly 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,