- Historic Sites
Primer From A Green World
From his native background, William McGuffey drew texts to educate young Americans
August 1957 | Volume 8, Issue 5
Yet along with this dutiful morality, the Readers contained selections of simple charm and of lasting literary worth. Once past the two-syllable limits of the Second Reader , the scholar met Hawthorne, Irving, Bryant, Longfellow, Whittier, Dickens, Lamb, Goldsmith, Milton, Shakespeare. The Fourth Reader , on a present junior high school level, had color and vitality; few of its selections have gone bad. The Fifth and Sixth Readers were mature, varied, and discriminating anthologies of poetry and prose. These volumes were read in the family circle, at church socials and grange suppers, as well as in the schoolroom. They were cherished by scholars long after school days were past. Hamlin Garland, who read them on the prairies of Iowa and South Dakota, wrote in A Son of the Middle Border : “I wish to acknowledge my deep obligation to Professor McGulïey, whoever he may have been, for the dignity and grace of his selections. From the pages of his Readers I learned to know and love the poems of Scott, Byron, Southey, Wordsworth, and a long line of English masters. I got my first taste of Shakespeare from the selections which I read in those books.” Many other Nineteenth-Century Americans have expressed the same gratitude.
While his name and a kind of fame went across the country, McGuffey kept on with his academic labors. After seven strenuous years as a college president, first at Cincinnati College and then at Ohio University, he began in 1845 a l°ng term of teaching at the University of Virginia. Declining the presidency of Miami in 1854, he stayed there till his death in 1873. To the undergraduates he was “Old Guff,” teaching moral philosophy and living quietly in Pavilion 9, while his textbooks made ten millionaires. Unlike the diligent lads in the Readers he did not get rich. A story says that each year at Christmas time the publishers sent him a barrel of hams.