Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/19

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9
LIBERAL EDUCATION

that unlocked the stores of a whole new world of ethical thought, in the shape of the philosophy, the history, and the poetry contained in Greek and Roman literature. How assiduously those literatures were studied, how they leavened the whole thought of Europe, and mightily contributed to disperse the intellectual darkness and break the bonds of the spiritual despotism of the mediæval Church, we all know. Classical philosophy, history, poetry, and art, nourished the European mind, and were almost the sole foundation of its culture, through all the period during which the Latin and Teutonic races of Western Europe were slowly elaborating languages and literatures of their own. They were thus of necessity the main instrument of culture of the schools during the period when, save the obsolete scholastic philosophy, no other instrument was forthcoming; and I do not think it possible to overrate the debt which Western Europe owes to them. But gradually their educating influence has been absorbed, and in great measure exhausted, while partially, but by no means wholly, out of the nutriment they furnished have sprung the national languages and literatures which, as more and not less powerful educating instrumentalities, are to supersede them. It is to ignore the vast progress of the human mind since the days of Erasmus to try any longer to make classical learning stand in the same relation to the modern student that it stood in to Erasmus: and Erasmus, if he were alive today, would be the first to abandon the dead pedantries of the past for the fountains of new thought he would see flowing all round him.

When I say, then, that I think the languages and literatures of Greece and Rome are soon to be abandoned, as the sole or main instruments of that side of liberal culture which I have preferred to call ethical rather than literary, it is not that I do not fully recognize their value and beauty, or the vast service they have done in emancipating and training the mind of Western Europe: it is not that I do not recognize their value as among the specialties of liberal culture now. It is only as the sole or chief instruments of literary school training that I believe them to be superseded. So far from believing that they will be abandoned, I believe they will be more diligently and successfully studied in the future, when they will be left as a specialty in the hands of that small number of students who, at any time, in this modern world of ours, will of their own free choice[1] pursue them. As a

  1. The advocates of the classical theory sometimes point triumphantly to the number of students who, in colleges where the elective system prevails, freely, as they say, elect the classics; but it should be remembered that at present their whole previous school training has been by compulsion classical. Of science they are absolutely ignorant; and it is not strange that they should prefer to go on in studies whose elementary difficulties they have partially overcome, rather than engage in a belated encounter with new difficulties, of a sort for which their minds have been by their very previous training unfitted. The present system at some of our colleges of giving an election between science and literature, after admission, and no similar election in regard to preparatory studies, seems to me to be the very reductio ad absurdum of the grindstone-theory.