The book is English Literature: A Guide to the Best Reading, by Edwin L. Miller, A.M. (J.B. Lippincott, 1917).
The first sentence of his Preface grabbed my attention and urged me to read on:
"All my life I have loved, owned, collected and read books."Yeah? Me, too! What else have you got to say?
Plenty, it turns out, and I found more unexpected connections to this author through his two-page Preface. One paragraph in particular required repeated reading:
"...I trust that the following pages will be pleasant to read; that they "will arouse curiosity about books and authors; that they will incite people to read books; and that they will inoculate some of those who read them with the altogether proper, harmless and desirable mania for owning them. The last assertion I make boldly, though I know that some persons of low character will probably charge me with being in league with those natural enemies of society who are commonly known as printers. To forestall their criticism, I will add that, in my opinion, the most meritorious act ever performed by Napoleon was to order one of them shot. Though I perceive that the last sentence is a trifle ambiguous, I purposely leave it so."Miller states his hopes for inspiring people to not only read books, but to surrender to "the altogether proper, harmless and desirable mania for owning them." But in a mystifying contradiction of his desires, he goes on to say that printers of books are "natural enemies of society." In an effort to fend off any critics who may have thought him sympathetic to the printing trade, Miller makes his feelings about printers very clear: "...in my opinion, the most meritorious act ever performed by Napoleon was to order one of them shot." How do you really feel about it, Ed?
I knew immediately who this printer (and bookseller) was, as I had done a bit of research on him for the first entry on this blog more than four years ago: Dangerous times for a bookseller.
Miller admits to a degree of ambiguity in his statement about printers and further admits that he intends to let it stand as is.
He concludes this interesting Preface with his opinion on which chapters will provide the most satisfaction--Milton, Bunyan, and Dryden. And here, you can almost see him winking as he gives his reason: He did not write them; that credit goes to Miss Helen M. Hard.
Thus, this lover of literature and collector of books, with his ambiguous attitude toward the printers who make both possible, concludes his thoughts on literature in general and his book in particular. His Preface, in full, is reprinted below.
All my life I have loved, owned, collected and read books. The motive back of these activities has not, however, been any desire on my part to improve my mind. Being satisfied with my mind as it is, I have read in the spirit in which boys play ball, girls dress their dolls, men attend prize fights, and women gossip about their neighbors. I have read, in other words, for fun; and I have found in the collection, the ownership, and the perusal of books a source of pleasure which, unlike most pleasures, is not only inexpensive and harmless but has grown deeper with time.Who was Edwin L. Miller? A lover of books and language. A writer. An educator, Principal of Northwestern High School in Detroit, circa 1917. Edwin Lillie Miller, 1868-1934. In addition to Miller's Preface to his English Lit text, I also found and enjoyed his treatise on the function and roles of a public school.
My object in writing this book has been, if possible, to convey to others the secret of the location of the source of this fountain of perpetual refreshment. I wish to show people how to extract from books the same kind and degree of satisfaction that they get from games, movies, and automobiles. I hope, therefore, that these pages will be read, not because they are instructive, but because they are entertaining. Of course, like the pages of Mark Twain's " Roughing It," they do have information in them. '' Try as I will," he says, " information appears to stew out of me like the sweet ottar of roses out of the otter." It is so with me. I cannot help it. Judging, however, by what I know of the average person, I am inclined to believe that he will not absorb enough learning from this book to impair either his health or his character.
Seriously speaking, however, I trust that the following pages will be pleasant to read; that they "will arouse curiosity about books and authors; that they will incite people to read books; and that they will inoculate some of those who read them with the altogether proper, harmless and desirable mania for owning them. The last assertion I make boldly, though I know that some persons of low character will probably charge me with being in league with those natural enemies of society who are commonly known as printers. To forestall their criticism, I will add that, in my opinion, the most meritorious act ever performed by Napoleon was to order one of them shot. Though I perceive that the last sentence is a trifle ambiguous, I purposely leave it so.
The reader will note that some authors, who, in the encyclopedia of literature, should be treated at length, are scarcely mentioned, while others receive a relatively large amount of attention. This circumstance is due to the fact that my purpose is to stimulate the interest in beginners in literature rather than to convey information to experts. Thus there is a good deal about Pope and Macaulay and not much on the subject of Arnold and De Quincy. I am guided, in other words, in my choice of bait, not by my own taste, but by what I conceive to be the taste of the fish.
It is my belief that, of all the chapters in the book, the reader will find most satisfaction in those on Milton, Bunyan and Dryden. This need occasion no surprise, for I did not write them myself. They are from the pen of Miss Helen M. Hard.
Edwin L. Miller.
Detroit, July 14, 1917.
In the Detroit Journal of Education, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1928, I found Miller's open letter to the faculty, pupils, and friends of Northern High School, his new place of employment. In it are some interesting ideas, probably considered a bit radical or revolutionary for the day. Detroit and other public schools across the nation might benefit from the application of such principles advocated by a principal early in the last century. If only it were possible.
From the editor of the journal, there is this note about Miller and his letter:
Mr. Miller's letter to the pupils and friends of Northern High School is reprinted because of the interesting way in which he utilizes the cardinal principles of education as a basis of common understanding between the high school and the community. He has succeeded in treating these principles in an informal manner that makes them attractive to pupils and parents alike.The letter is an interesting read on the subject of education and offers more insight into the character of this educator and lover of books and literature. The excerpt below comprises a good chunk of the letter, as well as Miller's philosophy on education.
The health of the pupils should be a principal's first care. It takes precedence. A good lunch room, a spotless building, a yard free from rubbish, proper heating and ventilation, instruction in right living, physical training, and athletics are, therefore, to be regarded not as frills but as fundamentals. Pupils should seldom or never leave school on account of their health. If they are ailing, their programs should be readjusted in such a way that their health will be restored. In other words, they should not leave school to get well, but go to school to get well..
The fundamental processes are readin', 'ritin', and 'rithmctic. Our ancestors thought that they constituted the whole of education. Though this was not a philosophic view, they still constitute the backbone, so to speak, of education. This means that in high school, every pupil must learn to speak and write plain English with fluency and precision, must become familiar with many great books, and must take as much training as he can in mathematics. The study of a foreign language is of incalculable value in the mastery of one's own. For this purpose Latin has no peer, though French and Spanish, which, after all, are only modernized forms of Latin, are excellent.
The study of music, literature, domestic art, domestic science, household mechanics, drawing, and art contributes to training in worthy home membership. The school should make boys and girls more useful, agreeable, and thoughtful about their homes, not only in the future, but now. If it fails in this, there is a fault somewhere, which can and should be discovered and corrected.
Training in citizenship is one of the chief duties of a school. Respect for law and constituted authority should be taught in all classes, though this is the more particular function of the teachers of history, economics, and civics. At the present moment, the Constitution of the United States, as never before, should be presented to pupils as the supreme political classic of the world. There is no room in our schools for any teacher who believes otherwise and no room in the United States for any flag except the Stars and Stripes.
Vocational guidance is one of the fundamental duties of a school. At the earliest reasonable moment in his school career, a pupil should know whether he is to earn his bread and butter as mechanic or minister, as artisan or engineer, as draughtsman or doctor, as bookkeeper, stenographer, lawyer, teacher, or writer. I say at the earliest reasonable moment, for a hasty or ill-considered decision may be disastrous. At best, it will mean a loss of time. Pupils who have decided to be artisans will get good preliminary training in the drawing, building, and automobile classes; the commercial department will take care of those who are going into business; and those who plan to enter law, medicine, engineering, teaching, or literature should take four years of English, four years of mathematics, four years of Latin, French, science, or history, and two years each of any two of the following—Latin, French, science, history, or Greek.
Athletics, art, literature, science, proper social organizations, and school entertainments, wisely managed, afford training in the worthy use of leisure. Today, as never before, this is essential. The love of good books, if all high-school pupils could acquire it, would be a national asset. A passion for wireless or chemistry or art or music or gardening or carpentry is a priceless protection against silly society, worse than silly movies, and those indescribable hodge-podges of nonsense, noise, and indecency, which are called musical comedies.
The last and probably the most vital function of a school is to teach ethical conduct. The good old laws of right living are not obsolete