Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 1.djvu/417

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403
MODERN LITERATURES IN THE HIGHER EDUCATION.

ness of the language can take away the inherent complexity of the subject. However, were it even granted that for the best men Latin and Greek, as being harder in their grammar, are better instruments of training, does it follow that French, German, and Italian, should be neglected altogether? In point of the variety of the knowledge connected with them, they stand above Latin and Greek; and it may be suspected that even their comparative easiness as languages would benefit some men, who, though possibly of very sufficient ability, have not the linguistic faculty very strong. Mathematics are even a more severe intellectual gymnastic than Latin and Greek; but the superior variety of knowledge connected with the classical languages is considered to make them not inferior as means of education. The same argument, taken a step further, serves to defend modern literatures from the charge brought against them in this point of view. But, at the worst, let them, in the distribution of the prizes of the university, be considered inferior; not, therefore, as of no account whatever.

A frequent objection to the proposal here made is the advantage it would give to those who had happened to have been educated abroad. The stress sometimes laid on this objection is quite ludicrous. The advantage is one analogous to that which richer men have over poorer, in being able to command the services of better instructors. It would, however, be considerably diminished by the fact that, in such an examination, more regard must necessarily be paid to substance than to style or language. And if the effect were that of inducing parents to take all possible means of giving their children an early acquaintance with foreign languages, could this be said to be a bad result?

It is probable that modern literatures would require a greater exercise of judgment in the examiner than Latin and Greek. They verge more on controversial questions; it is more easy in them to win credit for a petty sharpness, a flimsy mode of dealing with great subjects. But this is merely a danger which it is needful to point out, not a solid and final objection.

This is not the place to discuss what should be the precise form of an examination in modern literatures. Of course, definite authors would have to be selected by the university; it would be impossible to leave the student to wander at his own sweet will over George Sand, Alfred de Musset, and Heinrich Heine—the kind of authors which, it is to be guessed, are more read than any other by the present students of French and German. Of these definite authors, some might be permanent, others changed every year. Then, as to the composition in modern languages; this, it is probable, would take the form as much of essays on special points connected with the authors read, as of direct translation into those languages. English literature and composition would itself come in for a share in the curriculum; and it is possible some modern Latin works might be admitted, as those of Erasmus or Reuchlin. Experience would guide toward the right mode