Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 26.djvu/33

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23
GERMAN TESTIMONY ON CLASSICS QUESTION.

the language of the classic writers in the Latin and Greek classes, and the history class, for which we had to learn by heart the dry paragraphs of an outline, was entirely disconnected from them."

On this point Paul Pfizer wrote in his "Correspondence of Two Germans" (1831): "In the construing of ancient writers, as it is carried on in the schools, the spirit of modern life is simply lost, without that of the past being gained. . . . Among us twelve years of youthful life is sacrificed to the study of a dead language which the student learns neither to speak nor to write, and very promptly forgets, while the opportunities of parading this unfruitful possession are be- coming scarcer and scarcer."

The slight acquaintance with antiquity and the imperfect command of the classical languages gained by school-boys having been often pointed out, the study is now defended mainly on the ground that the most valuable mental exercise is obtained from wrestling with the grammars. It is interesting to note what value this use of the dead languages had in the estimation of Herder:

"As soon as learning Latin is made an end, and this in itself so pleasing and useful language is no longer employed as a means of learning history, of looking into the minds of great men, and of making one's own the whole field of an excellently developed language, then the Muses of Latium are allowed too much space in the schools. To be more particular, if the interpretation of an author affords nothing but words and mechanical style for the pupils to learn, if the method of the teacher has for its chief aim only the grammatical choice and arrangement of words, and if the whole school or educational system is controlled by a certain Latin spirit, which must produce a sad deficiency in other branches, then, however admirable and useful the Latin language may be, too much is sacrificed to it."

Again, Paul Pfizer: "The fact that from the 'school of the ancients' excellent men have come forth proves nothing as to the exclusive pre-eminence of Latin-learning, with its eternal translating, its verse-making, and its phrase-twisting. Not from the school of the ancients, but from the hand of Nature, have these men come forth, and the acquiring of Arabic or Persian would have done them about the same service."

It may be objected that most teachers of the classics do not report any such discouraging failures. Are they not likely to know best the condition of their own business? The pamphlet before me contains a passage which shows that declarations of teachers, among which the famous "Berlin report" should be counted, must be taken with several grains of salt, thus aptly re-enforcing the article by Professor James already referred to:

"The resolutions which are passed by bodies of teachers can not be regarded as representing the actual state of affairs. Against the complaints or remonstrances of the laity the teachers stand as one