Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/535
THE ACQUISITION OF LANGUAGE 531
profession — law, medicine, the Church or mercantile life — he has no doubt as to the course of preliminary training. So far as one can judge, his system was uniform and invariable for all kinds of mind, for all walks in life — Greek and Latin driven in with the rod. " Boys, be pure in heart," said Keate, the famous Eton Head Master ; " I'll flog you if you are not." " Boys acquire a tolerable knowledge of the dialects," said Johnson; "take in your knowledge through the eye and ear if you can; but, if you fail to do this, I will undertake to insert it through some other part of your personality." His recom- mendations to his young friend are pellucidly ingenuous. He is to apply himself to the languages and even to the dialects. There is no pretence in this. No false issue is raised. Johnson does not for a moment suggest that his young friend has anything to gain from the subject-matter of JElian's or Xenophon's or Theocritus's works. The scholars of the Eenaissance studied Latin and Greek for the sake of getting at the writer's thought. They found that Greeks and Eomans knew so much more than they did, and argued so keenly about what they knew, that it seemed futile to medieval students to obtain knowl- edge at first hand. Plato and Aristotle could teach them more than they could ever find out for themselves. By the beginning of the eighteenth century the wisdom of Plato and Aristotle had been ab- sorbed into modern thought. The reason for studying Greek and Latin had gone. Yet the languages had a firmer hold upon the schools and universities than they had ever had before. Their study molded the mind of Johnson, and has molded the minds of the greatest of our statesmen, lawyers, philosophers ever since.
Why should the languages produce such admirable results? John- son does not recognize French, German, Italian as coming within the category of languages when thinking of education. They may be useful for business, or even for lighter employment; but they do not train the mind. Why should languages which have lost their purpose as means of communication possess virtues which living languages can not acquire? In a limited sense their uselessness is their chief merit. Amo, amas, amat. The boy who learns the meaning of j'aime or ich Hebe might have an eye upon the possible application of this knowledge; but amo, amas — he would not be understood even by a modern Eoman maiden !
If attention is to be concentrated wholly upon language as a means, there must be no risk of distraction due" to the contemplation of its possible end. "Waiter, 'mrangs!" called the little boy in Punch. " Oh, Freddy, that isn't the way to pronounce m-e-r-i-n-g-u-e-s ! " — " It's the way to get 'em ! " When we are working at a living language thought passes on ahead to the end to be gained. It is only when a dead language is being studied that attention can be wholly devoted to its form. A modern language is studied with a view to 'getting