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English study and English writing by Henry Adelbert White - PDF

English study and English writing 

English study and English writing


Before we begin to use another text, let us answer the pertinent question, Why a new book on the study and writing of English? Little is to be added to the theory of composition; for the simple rules of writing, since the times of Aristotle, have been expounded by many generations of competent scholars. Still, criticism persists. 

Those who teach, and some of those who receive instruction, are often confronted by the charge that we do not secure the right results. Practical men, in office and counting-house, assert that our schools and colleges are failing to graduate either logical reasoners or ready writers. Nor can we hope to answer, or to refute, some of many criticisms before we have studied all the problems seriously. Complaints seem to increase. Hence the growing number of school books that once again restate the rules that were discovered by old rhetoricians. 

Are we not all trying to render a genuine service to the nation and to those individuals who come under our influence? 

For a number of years, the writer of this text has been trying to divest the study of English composition and literature of much that ordinary pupils find either impractical or superfluous. The book you are to study contains the results of this effort. Nothing revolutionary is claimed for it. One principle is stressed throughout: We acquire a good English style by observation and by practice.

 Our native literature is the foundation on which we shall build. That the study of our finest English authors should be made a part of every curriculum the schools and colleges have long realized. More of late, however, a new emphasis is being laid upon two elements; and these in the past have often been slighted. First, working knowledge of grammar is now regarded as absolutely essential. Second, books on the history of literature, and the biography of single authors, are now giving way to the reading, more intensively, of good literature itself. Literary history now defers literary study. To attain an individual style, we find, therefore, three main elements are combined: 

1. Information as to the correct grammatical and rhetorical laws. 
2. Skill in applying this information to our own writing. 
3. Taste for good literature, of all periods, from Old English to Kipling. 

Several texts already consider one or more of these aims. A few possibly have sought to combine all three. Many books stress grammar; others, literature; still others, composition as a personal matter. Yet few authors seem to think it worthwhile to include something on them all. Almost no book mingles, in anything like the right proportions, the study of typical mistakes in grammar, the elements of rhetoric and English style, and the study of our great classics. 

The sole aim of the text we are to use together is to unify the knowledge and the skill, relating to English, in one volume. Many good grammars give their whole attention to formal rules and precepts. Other texts skip these altogether and assume that the student knows how to write, and is now ready to enjoy and appreciate good literature. Alas, many a high school senior, and many a freshman in college, have only learned the mere rudiments of correct expression. Much in addition needs to be accomplished to make him effective either in college or in business. If the pupil is to enter directly from high school into the tasks of business or professional life, he should all the more thoroughly know the essentials of how to write good English. 

If he is to enter college after his preparatory course, he may have one more chance to help himself, — but his chance he, with far too many, may scorn and reject, if he can only find a way to slight his work in the composition class. Let us agree in a frankness that one who does not learn to write well, either in school or college, only cheats himself out of his natural birthright as an American citizen. No textbook, therefore, can wholly succeed without active cooperation between pupil and teacher. Contrary to common notions, English is not the easiest study in the school curriculum. Learning well, without wasted time or effort, is one of the hardest. 


More time can be wasted in superficial or misdirected studies in English than in almost any other field of human learning. Always remember that to learn your language thoroughly, you must study as hard as you do to acquire a knowledge of geometry, or to distinguish the ordinary chemical compounds by laboratory experiment, or to make a beautiful table in the manual training shop. To some, an acquirement like these mentioned may come easily; to others, with great struggle. It is the same with English study and English writing.

Author: Henry Adelbert White
Publication date:1922

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