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HISTORY begins in myth and legend, saga and song: the teaching of history begins in the same way. The historic sense is the flower of a complete culture: feeling for the lapse of time, grasp of causal connexions, apprehension of corporate motives and impersonal forces-these gifts come late; to some of us they never come at all. But the youngest scholar can relish a good story, whatever the century in which the scene is laid. He can appreciate the picturesque or panoramic aspect, the pageant of history; and if the panorama be arranged in temporal order and kept in place by a few dates well driven in, he has a store of incident for his growing mind to work upon and a framework of chronology to hold his knowledge together.
But history has another function in the school. Even should our scholars never develop the historic sense, yet if the episodes in this pageant be chosen for their moral as well as for their picturesque value, they may inspire young hearts with a love for their country and a reverence for the great figures and ideals of its past that may have incalculable effects upon its future. This is the ethical aspect, the parable of history; and it is here that literature can best do it service. On the seventeenth of February, 1818, some workmen digging about the ruins of Dunfermline Abbey discovered a coffin, in which lay the skeleton of a man of great stature. Fragments of cloth-of-gold were about the bones; the breast-bone had been sawn asunder. The news went through Scotland that the tomb of Bruce had been found. From all parts people flocked to gaze upon the relics of that hero-king; and as they filed past the coffin it is recorded that
many of them burst into tears. What was it that had kept Bruce's memory so green that after five hundred years it would still evoke such an outburst of feeling from a people so loth to show emotion? It was certainly not political history as presented in the textbooks. It was literature, oral and written. The Bruce over whom these people wept was the Bruce of literature and tradition. He stood to them for a national ideal, for love of country and love of freedom, for courage and patience, kindliness and magnanimity. And these things belong to an order above historicity.
To present this pageant and to inspire this reverence for the great figures of the past-such are the objects of this collection. Historical anthologies may err in two ways. In their anxiety to illustrate every period, editors may fall back on poems of poor literary quality; or, if their propensities be literary, they may include good poems that illustrate little or nothing. I trust that our editors will be found to have avoided both errors indifferently well.
So far I have spoken of picturesque episodes and great personages, for these are the themes of this book. But there is another aspect of history that has been found to attract the young-I mean the story of the actual life of the 'dim multitudes', the Hodgiad of Mr. Maurice Hewlett. One of the present editors, Mr. Turral, has in hand a volume of Illustrations to British History', which will deal, I trust adequately, with that aspect. To that volume also have been relegated many contemporary poems and ballads, which, though not apt for the purpose of this book, yet illuminate British history at many points, and sometimes even helped to make it.
I am desired to acknowledge the indebtedness of the editors to Mr. Hugh Cass, whose knowledge and taste supplied several of the most striking selections.
J. C. SMITH.