Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/23

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13
LIBERAL EDUCATION.

I think that we monstrously overrate the educating value of the mere process of learning other languages; but with the mother-tongue the case is altogether different. Here the mastery of form and substance can proceed pari passu. The mother-tongue is the only one which can stand to our modern liberal education in the relation in which the classical tongues stood to the scholars of the revival of learning. It might be said that Greek and Latin were mother-tongues to them as scholars, because it was through them alone that they reached the thoughts which really educated them. They were not brought up on empty words and barren syntax; they studied no grammars, for grammars were non-existent. Their minds were really nourished on the philosophy of Plato, and Cicero's eloquence, and Homer's poetry, and the lessons not the words they found in Tacitus and Thucydides. Now, when we have a philosophy, a history, a poetry, a law, an ethics, which embody all that is valuable in classical literature, together with all the progress of thought has produced through these later centuries, we not only fail to use them as those older scholars used their older instruments, really and efficiently, but we equally fail in using the older ones. We abandon both to feed our boys on a husk without a kernel. What wonder that our higher education is struck with barrenness?

When, therefore, I propose modern language-study instead of ancient, as a chief instrument of school education, I mean much more than the mere substitution of the study of some modern language as language, for some ancient language as language—German, for instance, instead of Greek, as has sometimes been suggested. This would be the mere semblance of a remedy, for the difficulty consists in the enormous overrating, by what I have called the grindstone-theory, of the educating value of the study of the mere structure and vocabulary of any strange language whatever. It has sometimes been doubted if we can ever really know more than one tongue, and certainly all our deeper mental processes go on in that one we know best. If that is a foreign one, it is because we have lost a mother to gain a step-mother; and a stepmother she will ever remain. What is very certain is, that too many of the recipients of our present education, in seeking to possess themselves of more than one language, end with having none whatever. Neglecting to develop their minds through the instrumentality of their mother-tongue, and never, therefore, really knowing it, they equally fail in providing themselves with any substitute; with Shakspeare's pedants, "they have been at a great feast of languages, and stolen the scraps."

My position, therefore, is that, so far as language-study shall form a part of the elementary discipline of the liberal education of the future, the centre and pivot of it all will hereafter be the scientific study of the mother-tongue. I anticipate something almost like ridicule for this proposition on the part of those—and they are many—who undervalue our native language so far as to believe it to be incapable