And behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of
great authority under Candace, Queen of the
Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure
and had come to jerusalem for to worship, was
returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias
the prophet . . .
And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him
read the prophet Esaias, and said, Urzderstandest
thou what thou readest ?
And he said,
How can I, except some man should guide me ?
TO THE READER
It is not my business to give an account here of the system of Basic English which
has been used in writing the book. Such an attempt would be out of place in my
hands and anyhow unnecessary after the books which have been produced so
regularly by the Orthological Institute in the last five years -- a list of which may
be seen on the last page. The purpose of the work of which this book is a
development was to see if the Basic system was able to give any help in training
learners in the art of reading. That it
was necessary to give some expert training
I no longer had any doubt after teaching
English for three years in Japan and
reading Dr. Richards’ Practical Criticism.
Till the last event I was able to have the
comforting belief that bad reading was
only the outcome of learning by unnatural
systems ; but ‘Practical Criticism
me quite certain that it was as bad a
reader as any, and that all the systems
had the deeper errors in common. My
limited experience of university teaching
in Cambridge and Durham has made no
change in that view, which is supported
not only by my little knowledge of school
work but by my observation of older
persons under a system of education quite
different from that of school or university.
Possibly a natural tendency to have doubts
about what is said with loud outcries not
unmixed with self-approval has kept me
from taking very seriously those to whom
the language and outlook of the cheapest
papers seem to be those of our time.
But it was not possible to be unmoved
by the discovery that whenever a newspaper
writer got on to a question I had
some knowledge of he was generally wrong
and, in addition, not giving the idea
he had in mind. The first is not surprising
: the second is, under healthy
conditions of language, unnecessary, and
it is the business of education to put it
right. And the experience of teaching in
two countries had given me a strong belief
that the use of Basic English might do so.
My first attempts to make use of simple
language in teaching the Japanese had in
this way gone through a process of growth,
till I came to the material of this book :
to the attempt to make use of the simple,
clear, and controlled Basic for the purpose
of ordering my thoughts and giving them
to others in a form in which they might
be questioned without wasting time on
the discovery of all the changing senses
in which I make use of more complex
words. I seemed to myself to have made
some things clearer and even to have made
some discoveries; and so this book was
put together bit by bit, starting with the
Examples, which are by far the most
important part of it. If my arguments
are right they give a clear view through
our present troubles over the control of
thoughts by language to the education of
the future; but here time -- and the reader
-- will be my judges.
The general reader who is interested in
the teaching of English will probably do
better to go first to the second part of
the book where the business of language-teaching
in other countries is not given so
much attention. The first part may seem
to English readers to be an example of the
work of Mr. Facing-two-ways, being taken
up in part by an account of Basic as sorting-machine,
but more by the steps by which
learners in other countries may come to
Poetry. I may say here that my two-way
position is taken consciously and on purpose.
It is no longer possible for work on
living language to make attempts to be
like the Lady of Shalott.
Having given an account of the growth
and purpose of my book I have only to
say that without the books of Dr. Richards
and Mr. Empson it would not have been
possible, and that without the care and
attention which Miss Lockhart and Dr.
Richards gave it in its earlier stages it
would not ever have come to its present
form. I may say with every hope of
being completely right that its errors of
taste, argument, and sense are the outcome
of not taking the help I have been so freely
University College, Durham
I . THE PRESENT POSITION : A STATEMENT
i . THE PRESENT POSITION OF POETRY
It is a common enough statement among those whose business is education that the
present position of 'Poetry' is not a good one. And it is not hard to get facts in
support of this opinion the work of Dr. Richards in England and America and
that of Mr. Biaggini in Australia gives a clear idea of the level of taste in schools
and universities ; and it would probably not be questioned that the minds tested
by these and other experts are better than those whose education has been stopped
earlier or has gone on different lines. The reactions to good writing seen in Practical
and English in Australia
have to be taken as common, as general, and as
In a sense, the position of Poetry has not ever been a good one. Petronius was
(to the best of my knowledge) the first to make a clear statement of it -- to say
that the business of writing verse is not the way to the love and respect of those
in power, or to money making.
" Ego " inquit " poeta sum et ut spero, non
humillimi spiritus . . ."
" Quare ergo " inquis " tam male vestitus es? "
“ Propter hoc ipsum. Amor ingenii neminem
unquam divitem tecit." -- Satyriaon, 83.
At times the position has not been so
bad as that, though generally it has not
been much better. The way in which
the present position is worse than it has
ever been in the past is, however, important.
In the past the opinions of the
greater number were unimportant. Now
they are not. A writer is a man with
something to say to other men, and the
power to say it ; and that power will not
come to its full development if he is not
in touch with men and writing to them as
his hearers. This is not true of all
writers ; but it is true of the greatest -- of
Moliere and Shakespeare -- of Dante and
Confucius equally. At present there is a
tendency for the man with something
more delicate to say than will go into
the newspaper language to become the
in the end) a small
group which takes a certain pleasure in
being ‘ different.' It is almost necessary
for him to have private money1
writing of verse will not give him
an income -- and that again keeps him
out of touch with his true business -- the
feelings and thoughts of men and women.
Worse than this, there is a marked tendency
for the great books of the past to
become only the special field of knowledge
of a small number widely separate in
place and business, without the living
force of a conscious common interest to
keep them together. Such persons are
certain to be unhappy. They have the feeling
are in a way ‘better’ than
those among whom they are living: men of
taste, with a knowledge of what is good.
They have at the same time a natural
desire not to be ‘ different ’ in a way which
may possibly make them hated for seeming
to be better. It is common knowledge that
men put a low value on things they have
no knowledge of2
-- or do their best to.
These troubles have been made worse
by school education, not better.
There is a general feeling that school
education has little connection with the
true business of existence -- getting work,
making money, going with girls, being
good at sport, having property, being
respected, and having power . . . Poetry
is a part of school education : it has no
clear connection with any of these desired
purposes; and so it is one of the worst
parts of education -- something limited to
schools, good enough possibly as an amusement
for girls, but no more ; a strange
taste of men in the past, with no place
in the present.1
Under such conditions a wide reading
of poetry will not be common. A small
amount will be forced upon unhappy boys
(and girls only a little less unhappy), a
very little of which (probably the worst)
will somehow be kept in memory. The
word ‘ poetry’ will have nothing but
unpleasing suggestions: hard and
uncommon words: wrong ways of putting
things : words without sense : the hated
business of learning by heart under
fear of punishment: shaming errors of
memory : a complex system of unnatural
beliefs forced upon young minds by the
old. Clearly, the one natural, normal
thing to do will be to get away from it all
for ever when the chance comes. And
that is what the greater number do.
In the belief that all this is the outcome of
errors in education in the use of words the
present writer will make a start with a new
way of giving an account of the words of
which poetry is made. The idea of the
book might equally well be given by naming
it FROM statement TO suggestion -- for the
reason that a start is made with a limited
list of words used as far as possible only
for their value in statement, after which
an attempt is made at outlining the way
to the more delicate uses to which the
general name of suggestion has been given.
ii . THE PRESENT POSITION OF PROSE
is important if we are to get a clear idea
of the different senses of the word ' statement.'
There is certainly one sort of
prose whose present condition may be said
to be completely healthy -- and that is the
simplest sort of writing used in science.
This is not
the language used in giving
an account of science to " the man in the
street ;" which is frequently very bad,
with all the marks of the present diseases
of words upon it -- the use of false or forced comparisons,
taking of a word from one field in which it has certain fixed sense or range of senses to be used in another completely different, the use of words with almost no statement value, and the tendency to put in feelings about things where only facts are important ; and these are only a small number of the signs.
p. 15 . . . (more). . .
iii . WHAT IS POETRY ?
This is not the place for a full discussion of this question. for our present purposes it is enough to say that the word has a wide range of senses, and is used sometimes of the sort of experience
which is put into writing, sometimes of the way
in which words are used, sometimes again of the structure of a bit of writing. Generally this book will make use only of the range covered by the first of these (sort of experience) : the last will be named ' verse,' while the general question of the use of words ' will be given discussion from a number of different angles (suggestion, purpose, and so on.)
The sort of experience
pointed to by the name of Poetry is taken generally to be important, complex, and delicate, and while having in it relations to a number of different feelings, memories, thoughts, is at the same time a unit and complete. A Poem is at the same time a record and a cause of such experiences, by which they are given from one man to others so that the important events of one short existence are not necessarily limited to one man or one time.1
In this sense Wordsworth said that Poetry was the breath and inner light of all knowledge. In a sense quite near to this it may be said to be the valuing of existence 2
-- the fact that someone took the trouble of making a record is itself a clear suggestion that he took it to have some value.
iv . BASIC ENGLISH AND VERSE
It is clear that a verse record of important, complex, delicate, far-ranging and uniting experience will not frequently be possible, with only a limited selection of 850 words for use (a selection made with care for another purpose than verse-writing). It is true that it is not necessary for the writing of poetry to be done in verse,1
but up to the present, verse has (for a number of reasons) been chiefly used for such records. The writing of verse in Basic English is not at all impossible -- though the small range of words with like endings makes it hard to give verses the commonest form -- that of rhyme.
But even great poetry has at times come inside the narrow limits of the Basic selection -- in something the same way as M. Jourdain made the discovery that he had been talking prose. (It is true that, unlike the prose of Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, it does not take place frequently.) " Let there be Light ; and Light was " is at the same time Poetry, great poetry (see the opinion of Longinus in his Peri Hupsous,
ix), and Basic. But the writing of verse with this limited word lst is a best a trick -- a way of letting the writer's power over words and the ideas be seen ; and generally comes to his saying not so much what he has
to say as what he is able
to say with the given words. One's memory goes back to a comparison of Dr. Johnson's which might be used about attempts at writing poetry in a limited selection of words -- that of a dog walking on its back legs. As he said, " The thing is not well done ; but you are surprised to see it done at all."
One important reason for this trouble over simple words is that the rate of statement
in poetry makes necessary a process which is opposite to the one generally at work in present-day English and American : the tendency to make a statement about an act by using two simple words in place of one more complex. By taking the name of acts (verbs
) with a wide range of possible connections, poetry has more instrument for its purpose than are generally used in talking and writing.
p. 23 . . . . . .
v . BASIC AND SUGGESTION
p. 24 . . . . . .
vi . BASIC AS A HELPING HAND
p. 25 . . . . . .
vii . MAKING A BASIC COPY
p. 27 . . . . . .
viii . BASIC AND 'TRANSLATION'
p. 32 . . . . . .
ix . THE USE OF SPECIAL WORDS
p. 39 . . . . . .
x . FOUR VALUES OF A WORD
p. 48 . . . . . .
xi . THE WAY OF THE COMMON READER
p. 52 . . . . . .
II . THE SYSTEM OF THE FUTURE : A SUGGESTION
i . THE DIFFERENT FIELDS
It will be better to keep separate the two chief fields in which an apparatus for
the controlling of attention to words ins needed : the schoolroom in which the
learner is given English as a second language : and the places i which English
readers are to be give better training in the use of their mother-tongue.
The first half of this part (with the materials on pages 118-29 making a connection between normal Basic and the Verse List) is a possible line of attack on verse for the overseas teacher, starting with a working knowledge of the 850 words of Basic
p. 58 . . .
ii . POSSIBLE DEVELOPMENTS
The best start would be with very simple verses in normal Basic, designed only to give a first idea of verse-statement and some regular forms of verse. ...
p. 58 . . . . . .
iii. A THOUGHT-MACHINE FOR THE ENGLISH READER
p. 65 . . . . . .
iv. THE FIRST STEP . . . of this new attempt at self-organization will not be
p. 65 . . . . . .
v. . . . AND THE LAST
If, then, the Basic machine may be of some use in ordering our thoughts, in
giving the power of a more delicate attention to our feelings and making us
more conscious of the force and direction of words, let us take some examples and
see how it will work. . . .
p. 75 . . . . . .
It seems best here to take a small number of short examples as different
from prose as possible : the power of Basic as a clearing-machine will best be seen where the sense is darkest and the mind-position produced by good reading hardest to get into. The idea was to take examples with some special point about every one of them -- to make an attack on ' obscurity ' (unclear sense) or ' ambiguity ' (two or more levels of statement or suggestion) in one, in another to let Basic be seen at work on another language, in a third to give an example of ' wit ' as seen in word-play, and so on.
In work of this sort a certain number of special words are needed. It is best however, to keep this number as small as possible. I have made no attempt at producing what is generally named ' good writing.' There will be no work-in of other men's words (' Allusion ') to give polish or attraction to what I say. Not because there is not some amusement to be got from this form of library-sport, but because my present purpose is to say things which will be, as far as possible, the same to all readers.
p. 79 . . . . . .
p. 93 . . . . . .
p. 108 . . . . . .
p. 113 . . . . . .
A LAST WORD
In putting forward Basic English as a guiding line to good reading of Poetry no
more is being attempted than the outlining of a possible way of getting round the
troubles caused by the fact that words have such different effects on different
minds that argument is no help. It is
clear enough that much of the language
used by experts on books is uncertain in
sense or has a number of changing senses
and does not do its work : that it makes
thought harder and is representative at
worst of little more than broken sounds
of approval. And it is highly probable
that much of this approval given to books
of the past comes from fear of newer work,
from taking the word of experts at one
time highly respected, and being ready
to be safely guided through the dangers
of questioning minds, even if no im-
pulses are unconsciously based on the
knowledge of a business interest in keeping
things as they are. It is certain on the
other hand that, as Longinus said, " the
power of judging books is the last fruit
of years of hard work," and that this power
of coming to fruit will be very limited in
all but the uncommoner minds. In the
greater number it will not take place at
all. It the reading of great verse is only
an amusement for one’s free time -- if there
is any comparison between it and Contract
(than which it will have to be said
to be worse, because it takes a man away
from sweet society) -- then this possible
self-development is the business only of a
small band of strange persons who are
not like other men. But if the opposite
is true, if there is still authority in the
opinions of great men who have said that
Poetry is “ a more general, a more serious
thing than history " (Aristotle), that it is
the record of the " best and happiest
hours of the happiest and best minds’
(Shelley), “ the breath and higher part ol
all knowledge " (Wordsworth) and at its
highest “ takes up man’s mind almost to
the level of that of God " (Longinus and
Coleridge), then it may seem of value
to give time and trouble to the ways in
which so important a seed may be put
into the earth and taken care of in the
time of growth. No very great number
of us are so happy, good, serious, and wise
or so fully in control of the better part of
all knowledge as to have no need of a
force for keeping us safely in our ruling
position over the country of the mind.
A NOTE ON THE SENSES AND SUGGESTIONS OF WORDS FROM A VERSE-LIST
In the first part of this note we will make a list of the possible expansions of the first
fifty words in the list for verse given in the ""Stories from the Bible." Observations will be
made on words from the second half, and parallels pointed out ; but the chief business
will be the expansion of the senses and suggestions of these words, taken as they come.
From our testing we may be able to see how safe it is to make attempts at giving an account of
verse (or judging it) using words which are themselves in common use in verse.
These are the first 50 words : --
angel, arrow, beast, bow, breast, bride, brow, bud, child, cross, crown, curse, dawn, delight
dew, dove, dream, eagle, evening, evil, faith, fate feats, flock, flow, fountain, fox, glory,
god, grace, grape, grief, guest, hawk, heaven, hell, hill, honey, honour, image, ivory, joy
lamb, lark, life, lion, lord, meadow, melody, mercy.
It is clear after one look at the list that some of the words have very important connections
with the Bible (for the English reader) and that these will not be clear to all at the first reading.
. . .
p. 118 . . . . . . (more) . . . for 8 pages . . .
The Second Half of the Verse List
An attempt at listing some (not all) of the senses and suggestions of words in the second
half of the list may now be made. Two important points have to be made clear in this connection.
(1) a word may be used for its simple sense only, and its suggestions may be (for the
time) unimportant. In the Stories from the Bible
'beasts' is frequently used without the possible
feelings of 'low, disgusting, cruel,' etc. being important. For example, Genesis 1:24, 25 :
"the beasts of the earth" has simply the sense of 'animals' 'not men.' . . .
p. 126 . . . . . . (more) . . . for 2 pages . . .
A . Basic Parallels of Complexes
p. 128 . . . . . .
B . Suggestion-Words.
p. 129 . . . . . .
p. 130 . . . . . . for 3 pages.
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Last updated January 16, 2016.