Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/463

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

an element of weakness. For the classical writers of Rome were far behind those of Greece in their achievements; indeed, the best among them owed their culture to Greek predecessors, and the schools of Athens always held the first rank in the esteem of men. Their teachings constitute the background of all literary achievement. Our Western civilization has received its most peculiar moving thoughts, its current forms, from Grecian literature. Homer, Aristotle, and Plato have continued to be the teachers of the peoples till our days.

The balance of decision in this conflict is now swinging hither and thither. Professional interest in the Latin has declined since the Greek writers have been read again in the original, yet the Latin language has remained the principal subject of instruction. Its reach, however, has constantly become less. Since the use of language as such has steadily diminished, we have let rhetoric drop and have limited ourselves more and more to grammar. Indeed, grammatical teaching has gradually become so predominant that even the Latin essay has been reduced to a pious desire. We have thus reached a turning point with the classical languages. Schooling in grammar is not that aid to continuous growth which our youth need. It does not produce that desire to learn which is an essential preliminary to independent advancement; on the other hand, it is evident that it has become an object of aversion to many pupils, and perhaps for more parents. Greek has already been half surrendered. No one expects any longer that the mass of the pupils coming from the schools shall be so far advanced as to be qualified to take up the independent reading and explanation of the Greek writers. Medical men had apparently the most reason for regret, for their science is the only one which has grown up during more than two thousand years uninterruptedly on the basis of the Greek writings. But it can not be denied that Hippocrates and Galen offer so few points of touch with present doctors, although these piously adhere to the Greek terminology, that the study of them is of the least significance to the understanding of pathological processes. The real value of Greek literature, moreover, lies not in its technical parts, but rather in the philosophical and poetical departments, the influence of which in cultivation is for the moment underestimated.

An important innovation has meanwhile taken form in the philological department, which we may proudly praise as eminently a German achievement: I mean the study of comparative linguistics. With it a properly genetic element became valid even in philology. Wonderful results, of inestimable value in the history of human civilization, are now in prospect. Ever new researches keep the probability in view that comparative linguistics will continue to be a regular constituent of the higher education.