Popular Science Monthly/Volume 1/October 1872/English Against the Classics
|ENGLISH AGAINST THE CLASSICS.|
BY A SCOTCH GRADUATE
NOT long ago, the Lord Rector of the University of Aberdeen submitted to the University Court a scheme for reducing the value of Latin composition. In a lecture recently given at Edinburgh upon education, Prof. Jowett condemned the existing methods of classical instruction, and asserted that Latin and Greek might be learned in two-thirds of the time now bestowed upon them. And the other day, Mr. Fronde, addressing the students of St. Andrew's on the occasion of his installation as their Lord Rector, in place of Greek recommended French, or German, or Chemistry, or Norman-French, or Chinese, or Russian, according to the wants of the individual. Such explosions of discontent keep the question of classical education in a lively condition.
In fact, complaints against the classics have grown so common of late that people begin to be weary of the question before any thing has been done to settle it. The cry that we have had enough of discussion about classics, and the sneer that every scribbler must have his fling at classics nowadays, are taken up with such heartiness by those interested in keeping things just as they are, that it is difficult sometimes to get a hearing.
To vindicate the right of speech on a question that deserves every ventilation, it may be sufficient to say that, if there were more doing, there might be less talking. It is contrary to all experience to suppose that, if there were a cessation of the talking, the authorities might in course of time begin to act. The importunate widow in the parable knew better than that. Believing: that it is wise to discuss such a question to the utmost, and that the public should be grateful for the smallest contributions to the discussion, the writer of the present essay ventures to add his mite.
It will be found that in most cases the services claimed for the ancient languages are valuable services, and that, if a knowledge of these tongues could render one-tenth of the services alleged, it would be a serious crime to utter a word against their continuance as the staple of education. But what if, under the present mode of teaching classics, many of the alleged services are not rendered? And what if it be the case that, where certain services are rendered, or might be rendered, by a knowledge of classics, they are rendered, or might be rendered, in so far as they are desirable, more economically by other means? I propose to consider some of the arguments offered in defence of the classics, and to show that it would be better to replace Latin and Greek studies by the systematic study of English as the basis of a liberal education.
Among the arguments for the study of the classical languages, it is frequently urged that without it we cannot understand our own language. The English Schools Inquiry Commissioners for 1868 reported that "Latin has entered so largely into English that the meaning of a very large proportion of our words is first discovered to us on learning Latin, and to a no less degree has it entered into English literature, so that many of our classical writers are only half intelligible, unless some Latin precede the reading."
This argument is unsubstantial. Perhaps one man in a thousand of our countrymen has some smattering of Latin, fresh or faded; say one man in a hundred: do the Commissioners mean to aver that ninety-nine men in every hundred of us have not discovered the meaning of "a very large proportion" of what we say?
It is useless to reason with men capable of putting on record, or of accepting, such a proposition. It is useless to point out, what seems obvious enough, that the meaning of a word is determined not by its derivation, but by usage.
If anybody, after ten minutes' reflection, continues in such a belief, he had better have recourse to practical experiment. Let him call a servant a "slave," a sturdy rustic a "pagan," a Presbyterian father of a family a "pope." He will thus be delivered from his error very effectually, if not so agreeably as he might desire.
The same argument is put on a somewhat grander scale. Mr. Clark contends that, "whatever the subject-matter may be, no man can expound it with scientific precision unless he is acquainted with the etymologies and mutual relations of the terms he employs."
English Philology is doubtless an interesting study. Like other artists, the verbal artist takes a pleasure in the makers and the materials of his instruments. And some time might not unprofitably be devoted to the sources of the language, and the leading rules of verbal change. That is all that can be said for the study of philology, and it is no small recommendation. To go Mr. Clark's length is a mistake. The meaning of root words, and the history of their transformation down to the present time, are no more essential to clear and effective composition than an historical knowledge of tools is essential to good carpentry; and the reason is manifest. The meaning of a word is determined not by its derivation but by usage. We can no more know the meaning of a word from the meaning of its etymon than we can know the size of a river at its mouth by going to its source.
Philological knowledge, however delightful, being a luxury, and therefore a secondary object, my space will not permit me to expatiate upon it. I make a brief statement.
The enormous acquisition of Latin and Greek is both insufficient and unnecessary.
It is insufficient. A thorough knowledge of Greek and Latin clearly will not help us in such parts of our vocabulary as are not derived from those sources.
It is unnecessary and even useless. The roots in English are computed at 500. The only rational way to study our philology is, to take up these roots, and trace their ramifications, so far as these have been ascertained. A collateral study would be the importation of words from various sources: for this purpose it would be ridiculous to master the syntax and literature of the various original languages. The main groups are determined by simple rules.
The philological argument assumes yet another form. The Latin scholar is supposed to have a peculiar advantage in scientific terminology.
Mr. Torr, a Lincolnshire farmer, examined before the Commissioners, says: "All botany and all chemistry have a sort of Latin derivation. There is a sort of knowledge of Latin in every thing. For instance, a man could not go into chemistry or botany without knowing the derivation and finale of every word."
In this matter, many argue as if the meanings of the original words were learned without an effort. The real state of the case is obvious enough. If the meaning of the original is adopted without change in the derivative, it can be learned as easily in English as in Latin. If the meaning of the original is not retained in the derivative, a knowledge of the one will be no aid toward the knowledge of the other.
Where several words come from the same root, let the common element be explained. If philology were really taught in our schools, as it might be were less time occupied with classics, the root-words in scientific nomenclature would be no less familiar to the average boy than they are at present to the best classical scholar.
We are told, furthermore, that English grammar cannot be taught without Latin grammar. "All masters," say the Commissioners, "appear to be agreed that nothing teaches English grammar so easily, or so well, as Latin grammar; and next to that they would place the teaching of some other foreign grammar, such as French." Mr. Clark, who carries all the favorite arguments for classics to such a height that he may be suspected of a covert design to make them ridiculous, alleges that "a youth who has mastered the Latin grammar, and learned to apply its rules, speaks and writes English without a fault, albeit innocent of Lindley Murray."
Is this argument verified by experience? On this point I might appeal to the individual reader. But we have definite testimony. We have the evidence of Mr. Dasent, who "has had considerable experience as an examiner" for military and civil service appointments. So far from certifying that Latin scholars "speak and write English without a fault," Mr. Dasent says: "I have known young men who write very good Latin prose, indeed, and very good Latin verse. I know what good Latin prose and Latin verse are, and I have known the same young men utterly incapable of writing a letter in their own language, or a decent essay." And again, "I think I know good writing when I see it, and I must say that some, who had great classical reputation, have been the worst English writers I have known. I have observed this over and over again. I have known men recommended solely in consequence of their university reputation, and I have found that they have been signal failures in English writing—splendid scholars, but utterly incapable of expressing themselves in their own tongue. They have no choice of words, and very often have a heavy, cumbrous way of expressing themselves." What could be stronger than this? Coming as it does from one of the few men qualified by experience to pronounce an opinion, this evidence is not to be lightly set aside.
Does the argument in question stand the test of reason? It is a common rejoinder to whatever is said against the existing system of education, that educational results are impalpable. Now, this is not one of the impalpable cases: a certain definite acquisition, the command of the literary usages of our language, is said to be conferred; the alleged possessors are tried and found wanting. However, for fear the evidence should not be considered wide enough, and the report of the Commissioners be adduced as counter-evidence, let us take the only other way of determining the point—let us apply the test of reason. We shall find that Latin grammar, so far from being the only means of teaching English grammar thoroughly, teaches hardly any English grammar. And not only so: what little English grammar it does teach indirectly, had better be taught directly.
How much English grammar is acquired through Latin grammar? The names of the parts of speech, and nothing else. Latin agrees with English in employing similar parts of speech. A Latin sentence, like an English sentence, is made up of nouns, adjectives, verbs, conjunctions, etc. Now, a boy that understands what a noun is, or an adjective, or a conjunction, in a Latin sentence, will probably know what name to give to words performing similar functions in an English sentence. If he knows that "cum" is called a preposition, and that "cum" means "with," he will probably be able to say that "with" is a preposition.
A pupil acquainted with English grammar, before commencing with Latin, has the same advantage toward knowing Latin grammar. If he has been taught to call "with" a preposition, and that "with" stands for "cum," he will probably be able to tell that "cum" is a preposition.
In the above I make a very full concession. It is extremely doubtful whether an ordinary boy would recognize an inflected part of speech in English, from knowing a similar part of speech in Latin. How many boys, if told that "bona" is an adjective, would make out that "good" receives the same grammatical name?
There is no further coincidence between English grammar and Latin grammar. The two languages have very different modes of inflection, whether for noun or for pronoun, or for verb, or for adjective, or for adverb; different concord, different government, different order; and, of course, different derivation and different composition. In all these respects—that is, in all the important or practical part of grammar—the usages of the two languages are wholly different. We cannot know English declensions from Latin declensions, English conjugations from Latin conjugations, English syntax from Latin syntax. "Would a boy know that the past participle of have is had, from knowing that the supine of habeo is habitum; or, knowing the one, would he more easily remember the other? What boy, familiar with Latin declensions and conjugations, would discover by his unaided reason that there were such things as declensions and conjugations in English? Mr. Dasent's evidence clinches this. He bears witness of good Latin scholars that" they did not know even that there was any syntax or construction of the English language."
We are driven to conclude that this too common argument is an example of the error deplored by Mr. Mill—an example of using words without thinking of their meaning. Nobody, after remembering that Grammar is an account of the usages of a language, would be guilty of saying that the best way to get acquainted with the usage of one language is to study the usage of another.
It may be said that the knowledge of another grammar than our own helps our acquaintance with our own grammar, by way of contrast. True, but foreign usages may be illustrated well enough for this purpose with our own vocables. Take, for example, the inflections of Latin and Greek: what hinders the English teacher from showing that, in those ruder and less flexible tongues, relational particles were stuck on at the end of a word, instead of being placed before the word in a separate form? That, instead of saying "He struck with a sword," a Roman would say "Sword-with-struck-he"—a partial advance on the agglutination of more savage dialects, where, instead of "He saw a pig on the road," we should have one word, "Road-pig-saw-he."
A classical education is also said to be the best training in English composition. This argument, in so far as the end alleged is gained through grammar, I have already shown to be groundless. I have still to deal with the direct exercise in English composition obtained in classical translation.
It is to be observed that this value is not special to Latin or Greek, but is common to all foreign languages. Further, if the idea of Mr. Mill and of some others were carried out, and we were able to read foreign tongues as we read our own, we should not translate at all, and could have no conceivable exercise in English composition. If we are exercised at all in English composition by foreign translation, it must be under some such system as the present mode of classical instruction. Is it impossible to write good English without a knowledge of classics? I need only repeat the stock answer. Some of the greatest names in our literature have won their reputation without a knowledge of classics.
Does the power of composing good English always follow upon a good knowledge of classics? Mr. Dasent's evidence, quoted before, gives to this question as explicit a denial as could be desired.
How far, then, is translation an exercise in English composition? Let us consider translation in detail. The pupil has to master the construction, that is, to recall the meaning of the relational particles and endings. He has to muster, partly from memory, partly from his dictionary, the English equivalents for the foreign words, settling which is the word for the occasion. Finally, he has to range the English words in the form of a sentence. This last is the exercise in English composition.
What proportion of the whole time given to translation does this exercise occupy? Sometimes hardly any time at all. The pupil prepares the meanings of the words, and blurts them out anyhow. In the most favorable cases, the time spent on this operation must be comparatively small. The other operations are much more arduous, and must occupy at least five-sixths of the whole time.
What is the nature of the composition done in this sixth of the translating time? Is it calculated to train in good English composition? On the contrary, literal translation is often insisted upon; that is to say, the pupil is drilled in unidiomatic English. This is worse than no English drill at all for purposes of English composition: its only effect in that direction must be to foster a habit of writing bad English.
Where the arrangement of the English words is made in accordance with English usage, this sixth of the translating process becomes an exercise in the amendment of unidiomatic English. But the result is little more profitable than in the other case, for two reasons: One is, that the preliminary mustering of the main English words, and the puzzling over the constructions, absorb so much of the pupil's attention that the finished English rendering is little thought of. The other and principal reason is, that the English version, where attended to—as it must be in a good translation—is remembered only in connection with the Latin, and is not readily remembered when a natural object has to be described. A good translator has no facility in original composition, unless he has practised the art of composition by itself: the words used in translation do not occur as symbols for natural things, but only as equivalents for the Latin expressions. It was quite to be expected that Mr. Dasent would find good Latin scholars "utterly incapable of expressing themselves in their own language." The wonder would be if they found time to learn how to lay out felicitously their own thoughts and sentiments, while they acquired the art of felicitously translating the more or less skilful expression of the thoughts and sentiments of others.
Does the classical scholar acquire an abundance of words or skill in selecting; the right words? In translating, he must cast about over various words of cognate meaning for the word that will suit the passage. Does he thereby learn a wide command of synonymes, and a dexterity in seizing the aptest word to convey his meaning? He learns a command of synonymes, undoubtedly. But where does he get them? Not in Latin; but in his own remembered store, and in the pages of the English lexicographer, his starting-point being some English equivalent of a Latin word. As a learner of synonymes, he does no more, and can make no more progress, than the non-classical pupil that ransacks his memory and his dictionary with a similar object. He does not learn to seize the aptest words to convey his meaning. What he learns is, to seize the aptest words to represent particular Latin words in particular contexts—an entirely different thing. Mr. Dasent's evidence on this matter is very pointed. It is his express complaint of good Latin scholars, that "they have no choice of words" in English.
Does classical composition train in English composition? In translating English into Latin or Greek, the pupil must acquire a certain familiarity with a certain number of English words. If the English be good, so much the better for the pupil. If he is taught to twist and turn it about, so as to make idiomatic Latin out of idiomatic English, so much the better for him. But the advantage is no greater than he would have by keeping passages of good English some time in his memory for any purpose whatsoever.
Let us now consider what can be made of English as an instrument of education.
Passages of English, more or less unsuited for children and often selected without method, are part of existing school-drill. This might be supplemented by attention to elocution, and practice in committing to memory, exercises that children are peculiarly apt for. Such exercises have the advantage of keeping the pupil occupied with the words of his own language, and storing him with a fund of expression.
Looking out the meanings is also a valuable exercise in greater or less present practice. In the hands of a skilful teacher this might lead to a wide command of synonymes. The highest form of this exercise would be the precise discrimination of synonymes. The want of some such early training is very marked in current literature. It is strange that men should know, or at least have spent much of their school-time in learning, the conjectured shades of meaning in Latin or Greek words, while they ride rough-shod over the delicacies of their own vocabulary.
Again, if Philology is to be studied, apart from Comparative Philology, it might be expected that boys should be taught the origin and changes in form and meaning of words they use daily, rather than crammed with the history of words they never use in after-life, and never view with any thing but a pedantic interest at the best.
A beginning might be made in philology at an early stage. The sources of words are determined by simple rules: it would be an easy task for beginners to apply these rules in referring words to their source, to decide whether words were taken from Latin, or Saxon, or Norman-French. A good exercise would be to Saxonize a whole Latinized paragraph, and inversely.
In discussing other studies in English I shall make a distinction between analytical processes and synthetical processes. Both occur in dealing with what usage permits—the province of Grammar—and also in dealing with what, within the compass of permissible usage, is best suited for its purpose—the province of Rhetoric. Analysis is otherwise known as construing, or parsing; synthesis, as constructing, or composing.
In the meagre share of our school-time now allotted to the teaching of English, very little is done toward the practice of these operations. This is all the more to be deplored, because the analysis of sentences and the principles of composition are not taught in connection with Latin or Greek. It is a great waste of energy to learn meanings and shades of meaning of so many vocables destined to total neglect as soon as they have been learned: the evil is aggravated when so much lumber is acquired without reference to principles applicable to all verbal compositions.
The grammatical analysis of sentences has lately been introduced into our schools. But the complaint is made that boys, though they soon learn to repeat glibly enough the hard terms used in that process, often fail to understand them. Now, what is the cause of this? It is due to two causes, both arising from the consumption of so much time on Latin and Greek. Too little time is left for this analysis: none but teachers know the quantity of iteration and exemplification necessary to get an abstract notion into a boy's head. And there is no time at all for an exercise without which analysis can never be vividly understood, the opposite process of synthesis. Before a boy can be fully awakened to the gist of the terms of analysis, he must have applied them again and again to themes of his own composing, and there will be no time for such an exercise until there is an end of the classical supremacy.
The purification of the language from blunders is an urgent necessity. A good way of habituating the pupil to recognized usage would be to keep him working at collections of grammatical blunders. Were English made the systematic study that Latin has been, we should in this way effect, in the course of a generation or two, a great purification of our language. We have a good many collections of genuine idioms with examples of their violation; but we want a great many books of this kind—contributions from many workers in the same field. Latin is well provided for in this way. One cannot help regretting that so much time has been thrown away upon settling pure Latin usage that might have been spent so much more profitably in the purification of our own tongue.
So much for familiarizing the pupil with the parts of a sentence and correct grammatical usage. Practical teachers will recognize in what has been exhibited a wide field for school-study. Others will understand the amount of exercise involved, when they reflect upon the time now spent upon introductory exercises to Latin, of a much less extensive range than those I have indicated.
A knowledge of admissible forms of expression is more than Mr. Dasent seems to have found in several "good Latin scholars." But a youth that is master of this accomplishment is but indifferently equipped for recording and communicating his thoughts. Much imperfect expression passes current. A thing may be put a hundred ways, all conformable to grammar, yet one, and perhaps not many more than one, accords with the laws of good composition.
Can the principles of good composition be taught? Is rhetoric—the knowledge of good and bad in expression, viewed with reference to certain ends—a possible accomplishment for the school-boy? According to De Quincey, the end of rhetoric, as conceived by the ancients, was either ornament or fraud, figurative decoration or sophistry—a conception of rhetoric not so very rare in our day. The one end was served by the branches of rhetoric conversant with Tropes, Figures, and Emotional Qualities of Style; the other by the various maxims of Persuasive Art, consisting for the most part of shrewd devices for securing plausibility. I believe something more might be made of those branches of education than mere garnishing and trickery; still they are, perhaps, too advanced for the school-room. Be that as it may, there are other parts of rhetoric that have a prior claim, because of more general value. De Quincey's account of ancient rhetoric is a fair enough summary; but of late years the canons of rhetoric have taken a wider scope. In Prof. Bain's "Rhetoric" or English "Composition," written with the scientific exhaustiveness and originality characteristic of the author, we have a great advance upon Aristotle. In addition to the old material completed and methodized, we have a body of rules hearing upon the order of words, the principles of the construction of sentences and of paragraphs, the principles of description, narration, and exposition. Of these subjects, the first four are admirably suited for the school-boy, description more than narration or exposition—although these also might be valuable—because it is regulated by a compact, complete, and easily-managed body of maxims.
What is there, then, to prevent this department of English composition from being practised in our schools, instead of composition in a dead language, where the sole ambition is to be grammatical? A variety of objections might be urged, which I proceed to discuss one by one. They will be found to disappear on consideration:
1. It may be said that such studies are not ample enough to keep our school-boys busy, and so fail in the most fundamental requisite of a school-study. How to arrange words, how to form sentences and paragraphs, how to make an easily conceivable description—why should not that be learned in a few lessons? If so, why are years spent in teaching our boys to avoid a few stock pitfalls in Latin composition? The reason is obvious. The rules or principles you may learn in a few lessons: you may not be perfect in the practice of these rules after years of study. The same thing is seen in every art. The pugilist or fencer soon learns the guards theoretically: it is a long time before he can promptly parry the hit or thrust of an adversary. The musician knows all the notes, and where he should place his fingers to bring them out, long before he can play at sight. We can all of us remember what we should have done: the opportunity is often past before we remember what we should do. In English composition, as in every thing else, theory and practice are two very different things. Take, for example, two points: how to place qualifying clauses in the most advantageous light for the words they qualify, and how to apportion the emphatic places of a sentence. These are embodied in Prof. Bain's work, and treated of in isolation, the one by Mr. Herbert Spencer, the other by Mr. Matthew Arnold. The principles are within the comprehension of any boy of ordinary intelligence. And yet they may be practised for years by a grown man without insuring infallibility in rapid composition. Here is a wide field for educational exercises, a field wide as the writings of the language, beginning with easy examples and reaching on to the more difficult. No expensive apparatus is required; wherever you have sentences written in English, you may fall to work. And the principles I have mentioned are but samples. The difficulty is not to get work to overtake, but to overtake much of the work that waits for us.
2. It may he said that studies of this kind are mere elegant trifling. Admitted that classical studies are of no practical value except for discipline: admitted that these English studies contain all the elements of discipline; the one is as useless subsequently as the other; there is no reason for substituting the one for the other. I say that English studies have at least the advantage of keeping the pupil occupied with the words and correct usages of his own language, and that this, were there nothing else, is sufficient cause for change. But I say, further, that these studies can be so directed as to cultivate clearness and force of expression. Perhaps you deny this: you hold that clearness and force are natural gifts. That clearness and force are natural gifts, and that a teacher cannot communicate brains, nobody will care to dispute; but, that the devices and appliances for giving clearness and force to what they say can be communicated to boys of natural aptitude by a skilled teacher, I hold to be beyond question. All would not learn to compose English well, any more than all learn to compose Latin well; but some would learn; and no more can be said for any system of instruction.
3. It may be said that, granting careful tuition a help to acquiring clearness and force of expression, a good style can be formed only by familiarity with the best writers. I answer that this is no objection to the scheme we have considered. We made provision for the analytical as well as the synthetical study of English, rhetorical parsing as well as rhetorical practice. What I insist upon is, that we must have principles of good and bad in expression drilled into our boys, principles to be borne in mind both in analysis and in synthesis, in reading authors as well as in our own composition. Otherwise, how are we to know what to adopt and what to reject in an author, what to imitate and what to avoid; and how shall we escape the errors of Latinists that worship the conceits of Cicero, and adore the Patavinities of Livy? I quote from Dryden a striking confirmation: "Thus difficult it is to understand the purity of English, and critically to discern, not only good writers from bad, and a proper style from a corrupt, but also to distinguish that which is pure in a good author, from that which is vicious and corrupt in him. And for want of all these requisites, or the greatest part of them, most of our ingenious young men take up some cried-up English poet for their model; adore him and imitate him, as they think, without knowing wherein he is defective, where he is boyish and trifling, wherein either his thoughts are improper to his subject, or his expressions unworthy of his thoughts, or the turn of both is inharmonious."
4. It may be said that, granting the necessity of reading admired authors critically, that is, upon principles of good and bad, there are no good authors in English, and that the pupil should go with his principles to classical Greek and Latin. Supposing there were no good authors in our tongue, the amendment of the bad would be as valuable an exercise as the recognition of the good. However, we should be glad to think with Macaulay: "It may safely be said that the literature now extant in the English language is of far greater value than all the literature which three hundred years ago was extant in all the languages of the world put together."
5. It may be said that, if composition were managed according to rule, there would be no scope for variety. That depends upon the nature of the body of rules. If the rule is absurdly narrow, obedience to it will result in a dead monotony. For example, on the unity of the sentence, Irving lays down that "different thoughts ought to be separated in the expression by being placed in different periods"—a rule that would reduce all composition to the movement of a jig. On the contrary, Prof. Bain recognizes that the matter of a sentence is determined by the rest of the composition, and gives the limitations of the absolute rule of unity. A principle of this kind, so far from inducing monotony, tends to assist variety: the writer is compelled to think of the matter of his sentences, and, in all probability, will thereby be prevented from the natural tendency to run them all together on the same model. Even if the rule were absolute, it would still be valuable, provided its reasons were assigned. The dull pupil would be dull all the same: the eager pupil, if he found the restrictions irksome, would either overthrow the reasons, or cast about for all variety within the letter of the law. Cut a root that intrudes into your garden, and the stump sends out twenty suckers for the one. You produce the same effect when you stop short an inquiring boy with a rule: the dull boy, a dead root, is little affected for good or for evil, but the clever boy is put upon his mettle, and becomes twice as active as before.
6. It may be said that writing by rule, like walking on stilts, must be a very cramped and constrained movement. The awkwardness in both cases is removed by practice.
7. It might be said that we should have nobody to teach the new subject. Such an evil would rapidly disappear. Many teachers are already competent, and all could without difficulty keep ahead of their first batch of pupils.
8. It will be said that no material for school-exercises has been accumulated, and that taking up an author at random would be unprofitable. It is not so; a good deal of such material has been accumulated. The reason why so little, comparatively, has been done, is plain enough. Our school-rooms have been occupied by a foreign invader, and the makers of school-books have been retained in alien service. For generations our boys have been condemned to anomalies in Greek and Latin gender, declension, and conjugation, Greek accents, Latin quantities, stiff constructions in Virgil, obscure allusions in Juvenal, various readings in Æschylus, years of study at things of no human use or interest; and generation after generation of school-masters and book-compilers have been tortured to supply the means of torture. If the same amount of ingenuity had been expended upon English, our young writers might have been saved many a throe of composition, and our language many an ugly blemish. No one can tell how much the language might have been improved, and its superior modes and characteristics rendered habitual to the mass of our countrymen.
What I proposed to examine was whether classical studies should cease to be the staple of a liberal education, should in public institutions for general instruction form the basis of all scholarly acquirements. We seem to have reached the conclusion that Latin and Greek in that capacity should be replaced by English. There is no reason why such a change should involve the entire cessation of Latin and Greek studies. It would simply make Latin and Greek as other foreign languages are. It would make them optional, as Hebrew, Sanscrit, German, French. It would prevent the distorted view that we take of their importance, from their anomalous place in our education. It would enable us to survey them in their true light, as two—perhaps an important two, but still only two—of the great family of languages. Our conclusion is not that the study of Latin and Greek should be discontinued, but that, whatever acquisitions be intended for the schoolboy, the foundation of them all should be, not a knowledge of Latin and Greek, but a competent knowledge of his own language.
- ↑ The present article is abridged from a pungent pamphlet reissued by D. Appleton & Co., and entitled "Classical Studies as Information or as Training." Should it be thought that what it says of the neglect of English applies to the state of things abroad, not here, we suggest a recent testimony upon this point. Dr. Manly, President of Georgetown College, Ky., in a commencement address, delivered last June, on Collegiate Reform, speaking of the branches of study that should be added to the course, said:
"Of these, one of the most important is the English language. The study of English grammar, commonly made a botch of in our schools, is usually entirely ignored in our colleges. Dogberry's philosophy appears to prevail, that "to read and write comes by nature." The student is presumed to be a "good English scholar" when he arrives at college; a very violent presumption, by the way, whether we consider either the chance he has had to learn, or the proofs he usually gives that he has learned. And even as to graduates, male and female, I scarcely venture to tell, what I have had abundant opportunities of knowing, in other States besides this, of the blunders they make in spelling, in pronunciation, in the plainest matters of propriety, and the simplest principles of grammar. And yet I do not hesitate to affirm that intrinsically and for its own merits, and then certainly more especially for us, who are to use it all our lives, there is no language the world ever saw more abundantly deserving, or more amply repaying, careful study than this same English tongue."