In 1963 I taught for the first time a second-semester sophomore English Lit class at the University of Alabama. The textbook included a section on non-fiction Victorian prose. One of the readings in that section was a short passage of some twenty or thirty paragraphs from Charles Darwin's Origin of Species. There were samples of many other writers in that section: Thomas Carlyle, Cardinal Newman, Matthew Arnold, an editorialist from The Times of London, and other famous or probably not-so-famous British prose stylists from the 1840's to the 1880's.

The expected outcome of my lectures, writing assignments, and testing was enabling the 30 or so youngsters in my class (as the departmental syllabus drearily put it) "to recognize the elaborate and formal diction and sentence style of early and mid-Victorian writers and to become familiar with common themes in the literature of the period."

Here's what actually happened:

At the first class meeting, I told the class what textbooks to buy, handed out copies of the syllabus, told them to prepare to take part in class discussion of the first reading assignment at our next meeting, warned them that there would be pop quizzes from time to time, asked them to prepare any intelligent questions they might have, and dismissed the class.

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