Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 17.djvu/161

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
149
THE CLASSICS THAT EDUCATE US.

development. "Self-alienation," if I may be allowed to aphorize a little, too, is self-repression, which will stunt the developing intellect, though it may stimulate the developed one. Culture, be it observed, is not capacity but the growth of capacity, and that which might energize the one would paralyze the other, the full-formed organ deriving strength from what may deaden the rudiment. The study of foreign languages, in place of being the means of culture, is simply a means of knowledge, and the study of the dead languages is not a necessary or convenient means to that. Our mother-tongue alone, as the instrument of our thinking, is the instrument of our culture. It is hence the thing of all things that we should master first and master thoroughly. In this philosophy and common sense are at one.

But the obvious way to master our mother-tongue is to study that, and not the mother-tongue of somebody else—to study it in its own masterpieces, not excluding indeed its adopted ones, whether from the Greek or Latin or any other original, but studying these in 'its own idioms, forms, and words, not in theirs. If there is to be any alienation in the matter, let the Greeks and Latins suffer it; they are dead, and it will not hurt them. Us it will hurt of necessity, since it will hinder our mastery of the tongue whereby we think, and by which, consequently, we master our faculties. Here, doubtless, I shall be confronted with the necessity of "self-alienation" as a means of knowing our mother-tongue itself, and not unlikely be reminded of Goethe's aphorism, of which Mr. Harris's is a tolerable equivalent: "He who is acquainted with no foreign tongue knows nothing of his own." To this there are two answers: it is irrational, and imposing facts contradict it. Strictly speaking, the converse of the proposition is true: he who knows nothing of his own tongue knows nothing of any. other, for it is through his own that he becomes acquainted with another. The literal aphorism is literally preposterous. Assuming that it means in reality, what is the least admissible meaning, that he who is acquainted with no foreign tongue is not a master of his own, it is still irrational. What constitutes the mastery of a tongue? The "accurate and refined use" of it. And what, by common consent, is the criterion of this use? The established practice of the best writers and speakers of the tongue. Then how can the use be acquired better than by the study of these writers and speakers? Nay, how otherwise can it be acquired at all? And why is the study of any other tongue necessary? We can conform to the use of the best writers and speakers only by studying their works, and, when we have done this effectually, we have nothing else to do; the habit of conformity is established—the use is acquired. One does not learn to employ the brush by handling the chisel, or to shoot a rifle by throwing a boomerang; yet he could do either about as well as learn to use his native tongue by studying a foreign one, from which the incidental gain to his vocabulary would be offset by the loss to his syntax, while the linguistic learning that he