Good English by Henry Seidel Canby - (1919) - PDF ebook

Good English 

Good English



Excerpt from the introduction:

Although there has been a deluge of writing upon good English, the theory of composition in our language has been little changed since the days of those good old rhetorics of the later nineteenth century that every textbook maker mentions by way of honourable reference in his preface. But the practice of teaching written and oral English has altered, and is altering, with startling rapidity; and this is the sufficient excuse for another book in the field of elementary instruction. Rhetoric in the 'nineties was discipline plus instruction; rhetoric today is instruction plus stimulation. 

We are thinking less of rules and more of writing and speak- ing; we are working less among abstract principles drawn from masterpieces, and more in the laboratory of actual experience where each and all are busy with experiments leading toward prose that may unlock the lips and speed the pen. For such an endeavour a textbook cannot be too fresh and apposite, or too closely related to the moving thought and emotion of the time. 

Not a book of the scores of manuals upon English that have been published since this new view of rhetoric began but will show somewhere, somehow, a response to the call of the new generation for bread instead of stones. Praise is due to them. Yet the older masters were not so graceless as our moderns seem to believe. 

They grasped some essentials of practical teaching that this adventurous age is prone to forget. The books they wrote may have been weighted with abstractions; at least they published no inchoate encyclopedias of the miscellaneous experiments. 

They were aware that there are principles underlying expression; they knew that a book on composition, like a book on chemistry or the theory of sin, must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. This they never forget, and their students were never allowed to forget it as they read. Is it possible to make a book upon the composition that gets somewhere definitely; that is organized and yet experimental in its method, informal in its treatment, and related to English as it is written or spoken rather than to rhetoric as the doctrinaire has devised it in his brain? 

It is not only possible, but it is also necessary, if, from our teaching of English, we are to get results. This textbook on Good English is offered as labour in this very field. It is offered to those who believe with the authors that the teaching of composition may be as informal, as flexible, as vital as the living speech itself, and yet never lose sight of harmonious development and a definite goal. The plan of the book speaks for itself in the table of contents. 

We have chosen our categories, not in medieval fashion from the logical abstractions of the subject, but from the real needs of the youth of from twelve to fifteen. Unity, Coherence, and Emphasis, or the Composition, the Paragraph, the Sentence, these are not the handles by which a boy would grasp expression and subdue it to his use. 

We have chosen a more sympathetic classification. And once this change is made, the rest is easy. To be clear, one must be coherent, one must write good paragraphs; to be interesting, one must use right words; to be convincing, one must be emphatic; and thus the fundamental principles and divisions of rhetoric come in when they are needed and are no longer rules merely, to be learned and quickly for- gotten.


The brief introductions .are quite as much for the teacher as the pupil. They are intended to serve as guideposts, pointing the way along with a logical development of thought. Poetry is for reading rather than careful study and analysis. Few exercises are based upon it, but it will be no less useful for this. Let the pupil feel that some writing, at least, is done for the joy of it, not merely to illustrate the theories of good English. 

The instruction in this book, with certain definite exceptions, is for both oral and written work. Letter-writing, of course, must be chiefly written, debating, chiefly oral. But in the planning of sentences, paragraphs, compositions in general, the tongue is as much concerned as the pen. 

Therefore, in the majority of the following lessons, the pupil is taught to feel that he must know how to write his thoughts, with due consideration of spelling, punctuation, and ar- arrangement of parts; and also how to speak his thoughts, with all that this involves as to enunciation, pronunciation, and voice control. 

To separate oral and written composition, except in certain special fields and for certain definite purposes, is a dangerous expedient. 

The appendix is for reference. It is not to be taught by lessons. Teach it inductively, when its material is really needed for work being done elsewhere, or to make clear the many doubtful points in the customs of writing that will always trouble the beginner. In sum, let your own personality and your own best methods work through and with this book; let the needs of your class determine the how and the what and the where and the why in using it. If you do this heartily, you will find its abundance, its logical development, and its careful division into topic lessons helpful in the great problem of teaching many minds good English.
book details :
  • Author:ry Seidel Canby - John Baker Opdycke, 
  • Publication date: 1919
  • Company: New York Macmillan

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