Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/536

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

532

THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

there,' as an American would phrase it. Only a dead language can be looked at as a vehicle, with due regard to its carrying capacity and its power of going, but with no thought of either its particular cargo or its destination.

For something like ten years a public-school boy is daily exercised in the analysis of sentences in Latin and Greek and in the construction of sentences in the same style. He is working at languages which are elaborately inflected, and articulated according to almost innumerable rules. It is a mental exercise which is not supplied in quite the same form by means of the analysis and synthesis of English. German, French, Italian are troublesome to learn; but it is not the rules, but their infraction, the perversities of the language, which tax the memory. Greek and Latin are far from being guiltless of 'exceptions'; yet their architecture, although more elaborate, adheres more closely to a type-form than does that of any modern European language. Each year the schoolboy becomes more expert in expressing, in English, the meaning of his classic author. He recognizes the force, in the expression of thought, of case and mood and voice. He notes the effect upon sense of the position and juxtaposition of words, and of the substitution of one word for another which at first glance appears to mean the same thing. And, since, psychologically, it is impossible to distinguish between thought and the expression of thought, his power of thinking develops pari passu with his capacity of giving form to his thoughts. He acquires a feeling for style—the compromise between yielding to the gratification of the ear and the businesslike jerking out of words—the response to the music of language without forgetfulness of its meaning—style, a quality which all the adjectives in the dictionary leave undefined. A man who has had a classical education has a craftsman's feeling for literature: he regards it as an artist regards a picture. The only questions which a layman asks are: 'Is it beautiful?' and 'What does it mean?' The artist can never quite dissociate his criticism of the result from his consideration of the means by which it was attained.

The mind-making property of the study of the classics has been established beyond all doubt by innumerable experiments made upon juvenile minds of all types. It does not appear to me that, in the face of this mass of accumulated evidence, it can be regarded as a question open to dispute. It is not equally clear that the study of the classics stands alone in its potentiality of generating the power of thinking. Owing to the monopoly of the classics in the best class of schools, for the past three hundred years, other subjects have had no chance of showing what they can do.

The teaching of the classics has, pace the reformers who are calling out for improved methods, been brought to perfection by generations of school masters, working under the guidance of daily experience;