Popular Science Monthly/Volume 70/June 1907/The Acquisition of Language and its Relation to Thought
|THE ACQUISITION OF LANGUAGE AND ITS RELATION TO THOUGHT|
MASTER OF DOWNING COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE
FOR a few years the great Samuel Johnson kept an academy for-*-young gentlemen. It was not a success, despite the fact that he had the two Garricks as pupils. Johnson was not fitted for the work. Yet, little as Johnson succeeded as a teacher, he was himself a monument of mental training—his memory colossal, his style the classic for the English language, his wit so keen as to make Boswell's six volumes of biography perennially good reading. If he could not teach others, he had succeeded in teaching himself. We are bound to give due weight to his views on his own education. To what did he attribute its success?
When Langton asked him how he had acquired so accurate a knowledge of Greek and Latin, 'the Doctor' replied: "My master whipped me very well; without that, sir, I should have done nothing." "I would rather have the rod a general terror to all to make them learn than tell a child: 'If you do thus or thus, you will be esteemed above your brothers and sisters.' The rod produces an effect which terminates in itself, whereas by exciting emulation and comparisons of superiority you lay the foundations of lasting mischief." The rod was Johnson's instrument of education. What were his materials? What subject did he consider as the most suitable vehicles of education? A single illustration will reveal his whole mind.
Writing to a young friend who had asked his advice as to the best subjects for him to study before entering the university—he must have been a lad of fifteen or sixteen years old—Johnson says: "I know not well what books to direct you to because you have not informed me what study you will apply yourself to. I think it will be best for you to apply yourself wholly to the languages until you go to the university. The Greek authors I recommend you to read are these: Cebes, Ælian, Lucian, Xenophon, Homer, Theocritus, Euripides. Thus you will be tolerably skilled in the dialects, beginning with Attic, to which the rest must be referred." Then follows a still more appalling list of Latin writers. Johnson "does not know the study to which his young friend intends to apply himself." But, whatever his destined 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 recommendations 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 Ælian's or Xenophon's or Theocritus's works. The scholars of the Renaissance studied Latin and Greek for the sake of getting at the writer's thought. They found that Greeks and Romans knew so much more than they did, and argued so keenly about what they knew, that it seemed futile to medieval students to obtain knowledge 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 absorbed 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? Johnson 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 liebe might have an eye upon the possible application of this knowledge; but amo, amas—he would not be understood even by a modern Roman 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 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; riot aiming at the application of theories which might or might not hold true. The teaching of 'modern' subjects has not as yet settled into custom similarly guided by the observation of results. The essential difference between the classical and the modern system is the difference between training and teaching. A classical education is practically a training pure and simple: a modern education is a combination of training and teaching with mainly a teaching aim. In the pressure and struggle of life it is undoubtedly to the advantage of young people that they should, when they leave school, not only have the strength and agility which will enable them to use any weapon, but also skill in handling the particular weapons with which they will be called upon to fight. Like most other questions, there is no absolute distinction between the two systems—their difference is a matter of degree. The parent to whom money is of no consequence may allow his sons an indefinite—that is to say, a classical—training in the assurance that they will afterwards get a surer and more intelligent grasp of the subjects upon which will depend their success in the battle of life. He is wise in allowing them to continue their general mental training if he is quite sure that the delay thus caused will not prevent them from making their way to the first fighting rank when they come to the front. Such a delay is not, so far as I can judge, detrimental to success in preparing for the professions. Rather is the delay a good thing in , for various more or less indirect reasons which, we need not discuss. But in the case of commercial life the handicap is, I gather, heavily in favor of those who are early in the field. The luxury of a classical education may prove costly, either by delaying the acquisition of business methods, or by causing the novice to hurry over and consequently to scamp the inevitable routine of business training. Every business is based upon knowledge of a specialized kind. It may be little more than bookkeeping, or it may include a considerable acquaintance with various branches of geography, science, modern languages, or other subjects. The successful merchant who is fond of asserting that his sons must begin their work young by 'learning to lick stamps' is thinking of the business machine which he has made, and which will continue to work so long as it is kept well oiled; he is not thinking of new developments, new competition, new needs for adaptation which will give fortunes to those who have brains and take them away from mere office machines. 'Licking stamps' was not the basis and source of the business methods which he himself developed, although he is fond of vaunting it as the open sesame of an ever-swelling banking account. It is a perverse and paradoxical expression of a half-truth; but its enunciation indicates a stupid incapacity of recognizing the causes of success in the past, and a still more stupid inability to recognize the trend of the forces which will make for success in the future.
Already innovations are being made in the training for commercial life. We shall probably see greater changes in the future. As a preparation for professional life—a 'training' in the athletic sense of the term—the classics hold the field. They develop the muscles of the mind, without attempting to give specialized skill in their use. The story of their attainment to this supreme position in education is a curious one. It is a story of blundering along the right road, reaching the right goal with the wrong end in view. During the Renaissance, men relearned the languages in which the knowledge of the ancients was enshrined, in order that they might extract their treasures of science and thought. With this fresh growth of learning, scholars felt the need of a common language in which to acquire knowledge and to express the results of their investigations. It was a necessity in the days of oral teaching and itinerant study. Equipped with Latin, an English student was equally at home in Cambridge, Paris or Padua. Frenchmen, Germans, Italians and Spaniards spoke and wrote in the same language as his teachers at home. Erasmus might 'learn in Oxford, teach in Cambridge,' correspond with all the scholars in Europe.
The first generous handfuls of classic wisdom snatched, scholars joined in a pedantic contest for the crumbs. This search required accurate knowledge of the languages which encased them. It was impossible to pay too much attention to their form. National, or rather university, rivalry instigated the representatives of learning to acquire a correct and elegant latinity in which to express their thoughts. It became traditional that a Scholar (with a capital S) was a man able to write Ciceronian Latin without the aid of dictionary or books of accidence; and this medieval tradition still holds in our public schools. When one reflects upon the purpose for which so much effort was originally spent, it is not a little humorous to find the effort continued for generations after the purpose has ceased to guide it. The results for which our ancestors strove have long been attained. The thought of the ancients has long been accessible to every one who can read English. Their science, which was living to the scholars of the Renaissance, is a historic curiosity, interesting merely as a stage in the progress of the human mind. We can attain all that the Renaissance sought for, and an infinity beside, without knowledge of either Greek or Latin. Yet in the epoch of Winchester rifles we still practise with flint locks. We stitch samplers in the days of sewing machines. A Runic inscription is scarcely more out of date than a Latin oration, since both are equally things of the past; both have equally fallen into disuse. Yet, with all the zeal of the Renaissance and with an equal appearance of seriousness, we spend years in preparing our boys to write Latin orations without the aid of books of reference. The cache of preserved fruits which the Renaissance discovered has long been consumed. Mental nutriment must now be sought for in the primal forest, with aid of axe and saw.
I should be very sorry to be misunderstood. It is impossible to exaggerate the magnitude of the debt which Europe owes to the Italian scholars of the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. One needs to read the story of the rediscovery of the classics, as told by John Addington Symonds in 'The Renaissance in Italy,' to understand it fully. Latin at the beginning of the fourteenth century was so debased as to be almost forgotten; Greek was a lost tongue. Petrarch, Boccaccio and their successors restored Latin and rediscovered Greek. Dictionaries were compiled; codices compared; no effort was too great, no detail too petty if it helped to the comprehension of the meaning of the text or enabled the scholar to amend it when corrupt. It is—shall we say?—three centuries since this work was substantially complete. It is dangerous to fix a date, seeing that able men at our various universities are still engaged upon the task; but it can not be gainsaid that by the beginning of the seventeenth century scholars were in a position to read Homer and Aristotle, Virgil and Cicero, and to understand what they read. The seam of gold was exhausted, the mine had yielded up its hidden wealth; though it may be that for years to come the 'tailings' will repay the industrious work of those who are content with specks.
Yet the pedagogic method of preparing boys for the search remains the same. And, looking at the matter fairly, we readily acknowledge that, however empirical, the method is justified by its results. In the presence of the indisputably satisfactory effects of the method, it ought not to be difficult to trace the true relation between effects and cause. How is the success of a classical education to be explained? Let us decline to admit reasons which, if not absolutely false, are at any rate half untrue. A boy does not learn Greek and Latin roots because they will help him to understand his own language. He does not acquire these languages in order that he may absorb the science and thought of the ancients direct from the original text. He does not study Cicero in the expectation of some day writing Latin letters. For school-boys Greek and Latin are exercises in grammatical expression, and nothing more.
Among the many disingenuous arguments which have recently been advanced in favor of the maintenance of the compulsory study of Greek is the contention that it would be of inestimable value if properly taught. Its advocates are ready to disown the accumulated evidence of success, to deny results upon which they might safely rely, and to advocate a new venture. Greek, they say shutting their eyes to the teaching of experience, has hitherto been badly taught. It will answer all expectations if teaching methods are reformed. Too much attention has been paid to accidence, to scansion, to niceties of grammar. The subject has been made arid and infertile. Give more generous treatment a fair chance! Limit, says one class of apologists, the work in Greek to Homer and Herodotus. Let the boys do their translations with open dictionary and grammar. Do not delay so long over the introduction; hasten their acquaintance with the Hellenic heroes; let them come beneath their spell and experience their glamor. With equal vehemence another school contends, not for Homer and Herodotus, but for Plato's 'Republic' and the 'Memorabilia'; not for heroics, but for philosophy and art. The teaching of Greek is to have a new lease of life if it gives pledges that it will turn over a new leaf. These protestations of its advocates are pure cant. They known that neither legend, history, philosophy, nor art has influenced the vast majority of the boys who have thriven on a grammar-school training. Stultify the grammar, distract attention from accidence, syntax, prosody, and the value of the gymnastic is reduced to nil. Were it not for its humorous side, this change of front would be somewhat tragic. Boys are to be given the most sacred products of Greek thought as playthings. They are to be encouraged to express their opinion, in the vernacular of the dormitory, of Plato's metaphysics.
Because in the past such good results have been obtained by giving boys the shell without the kernel we are asked to believe that we shall do far better by giving them the kernel without the shell. We decline to recognize that it was not the nut which nourished them, but the exercise of cracking it which prepared their jaws for an attack on more nutritious food. There is no question as to the nourishing properties of the Greek kernel, but it must take its place with the English kernel as an article of diet; and there are obvious reasons for serving the English kernel first.
Do away with grammar—sheer, barren, jejune grammar—and you sacrifice the discipline which has caused our schools, for centuries after the purposes of the classical revival were accomplished, to cherish Greek and Latin as the most efficient instruments of education. We do not want a reformed teaching of Greek. Its reformation would be its destruction. Homer's clash of shields may stir a martial spirit. Plato's spiritualism may satisfy a yearning. But these emotions are not vehicles of education; they are its burdens. The valor, the philosophy, the poetry, the art of the Greeks contributed little to the making of the mind of the boy Johnson, the boy Macaulay, the boy Gladstone—however much these great scholars may have been inspired by Greek ideals in later life. We have Gladstone's own emphatic testimony that when at Eton he cared nothing at all about the Homeric gods, nor yet for many a year after he had left. He was at Eton under the famous flogger, Dr. Keate, at a time when Greek and Latin were the only subjects in the school curriculum, with "as much divinity as can be gained from constructing the Greek Testament, and reading a portion of Tomline on the Thirty-nine Articles, and a little ancient and modern geography." A few months after leaving school, he told Arthur Stanley that "Eton was a very good place for those who liked boating and Latin verses." It was the painful study of genders and cases, of dactyls and spondees, which contributed little by little to the building up of the logic-weaving machine in his brain. Let any one who can remember his school-boy days try honestly to recall the sentiments which accompanied the translation of a passage whether from the commonplace 'Anabasis' or an incomprehensible chorus. Let him feel again the emotions which a struggle with the languagepuzzle evoked, and he will, if he can remember those days, find that the real meaning of the passage interested him not a whit. He was engaged in the by no means unattractive task of disarticulating a puzzle covered on one side with Greek characters, and so rearranging the pieces that when he turned the whole thing over on to its back he would find that the other side was English.
No argument could be more disingenuous than that of the would-be reformers who reply to those who, though they recognize the proved potency of the classics as educational instruments, nevertheless ask whether other subjects are not available, if not equally good as instruments, yet more prolific of practical results: "Although the classical vehicles have produced such admirable results, you will be amazed to find how much more beneficent they are if you substitute for the vehicles their contents." This is proposing a new venture. It is embarking upon a new scheme of education, which has neither experience nor tradition to support it. No rational man doubts the human interest of Greek letters; none doubts their moral and aesthetic influence; yet it may be open to question whether boys would not find the Arthurian legends as inspiring as the 'Odyssey,' and the plays of Shakspere as full of wit and precept as Sophocles, Æschylus and Euripides. However great the Greek example, there are reasons for endeavoring to form the character of English boys upon noble types from nearer home. Besides, the noblest masterpieces of the Greeks have been nobly translated. In English they will do more for a boy's mind than the 'Anabasis' will do in Greek. Boys, whatever their career, must have some literary training, say the apologists for the present system of teaching classics. This is my contention also, but I advance it with still greater emphasis. The literary training obtained whilst learning Latin and Greek is indirect, accidental. It is too serious a part of education to be thus left to chance. The grammar schools did not aim at giving to a boy the capacity of appreciating the literature of his own land. The old classical training was a drill, boys were taught to mark time, not to march. Generations of jurists and men of action have proved that when they left their grammar schools they were amongst the most vigorous of marchers. No one grudged the time spent in practising the goose-step, since there was no doubt as to the enhanced rate of progress when marching began. But times are changing. We will not say that competition is increasing—our fathers made the same assertion, and their fathers before them—but it is spreading. The public-school boy, notwithstanding the severe discipline of the classics, finds it hard work to hold his own against boys who have not had the benefit of this drill. Conditions have recently changed in a remarkable way. It is no longer a competition between boys all of whom have had either a grammar-school training or none at all. Public elementary schools, higher-grade schools, county schools, technical institutes are pouring their students into the upper ranks of the labor market. These students may be superlatively ignorant of classical grammar, but they have certain kinds of knowledge and certain forms of dexterity which make them hard to beat. A very large number of public-school boys are obliged to find a sphere for their more generalized attainments on the ranches of North America and the sheep runs of Australia and New Zealand. If, reluctantly, we abandon the classical drill which has secured our confidence by three centuries of undeniable success, we must be well assured that the tactics which we teach in its place are effective in the modern world.
That the study of language ought to occupy a predominant position in school life is overwhelmingly proved by grammar-school experience. I think, too, we must also allow that the fact that the school-boy never contemplates the classical languages as possible means of communication is in their favor.
The conclusion which appears to me to be established beyond all possibility of doubt, both by the positive evidence of the value of a grammar-school training and by the negative evidence of the difficulty which attends the acquisition of foreign languages in adult or even adolescent life, is that training in language is of the essence of education in early years. It is of the essence of education in early years because it is only then that it is effective; and, further, because training in expression means giving precision to thought. Thinking and expressing thought in words are so inseparably connected that widening the range of expression is equivalent to expanding the field of thought. The benefit of a classical education depends to a large extent upon the fact that for years a boy's finger is kept between the pages of a dictionary. He learns new words and comes to feel the importance of accurate definition. Words are the tesseræ of thought. Their arrangement in patterns is thinking. The mosaic of words shows by its richness or its poverty, its boldness or its uncertainty, its simplicity or its confusion and redundancy, the quality of thought. Expressing is thinking. The schoolmen of the Middle Ages attached so much importance to dialectic that they came at last to confuse success in the game of words with conviction: they looked upon the triumphant application of arbitrary rules of logic as proof. They apprehended the principles of thought; but failed because they mistook their own bylaws for natural law. The Popes of the Renaissance, who, like Eugenius IV., made the only test for high office in the Church an irreproachable Latin style, were not actuated merely by fashion or caprice: they mistook rhetorical ability for intellectual power, eloquence for wisdom. They were right in the idea, although too zealous in its application. Eloquence would be wisdom made manifest, if, in the multitudinous torrent of words, none were used in an ambiguous sense, none were superfluous, none were capable of replacement by others more congruous with the thought, none could be displaced from their position in the phrase without detriment to its sense.
It is not natural to children to make nice distinctions between approximately equivalent words. It is hardly second nature with grown men, especially if they be Englishmen. A boy finds that it is 'jolly beastly' to have to go back to school, and 'beastly jolly' to be coming home. He is always struggling back to barbarism—the use of gesture and stress in place of words. Even grown men have usually got to get somewhere. They have got to get their hair cut, or have got to get a book, have got a cold, or have got home. A very few tesseræ serve them to make the pattern of their thoughts, and their thoughts are in consequence crude and colorless. Children must learn words and must be drilled in their use. To attribute the proved success of classical education to its content appears to me a ludicrous and even wilful misreading of history; though I readily admit that even the average boy acquires something of valor, of patriotism, of esthetic sensibility, of emotional and intellectual sanity from contact with the mind of Greeks and Romans.
My doubt is as to whether, considering the modern conditions of life, the time has not yet come to replace Greek and Latin by modern and functional languages; to trust to their masterpieces for material with which to influence character; and, in the case of children who will never need to speak or read any language but English, to rely upon our ownfor words, grammar and emotional tone.
If we but knew the most rudimentary principles of the psychology of speech! What form of language is best suited for the expression of thought? What form of language is most favorable to thinking? To those of us who have been through the ordinary grammar-school training the highly organized classical languages appear to be indisputably superior to their maimed and curtailed successors. We feel that gunpowder has not done more harm to the temples of Athens and Rome than the barbarians have done to Greek and Latin. We can not resist the impression that modern Greek and Italian, as they are but the ruins and vestiges of the languages in which Demosthenes and Cicero spoke, afford by comparison but miserable accommodation for thought. From our extremely small experience of the speech of the world we judge that, in the case of the few languages which we know, evolution has proceeded backwards: the better organized, and therefore, from the evolutionary standpoint, the higher, language has given place to the lower. But we are not justified in this conclusion. Language is essentially labile. The solvent of thought changes as the quality of thought changes. Philologists can but speculate as to the stages through which Greek acquired its complexity. Demosthenes did not help to regularize a single inflexion. He used the instrument of expression as it came to his hand. His language is not more, but less, ornate than that of Homer.
Greek and Latin were not made by cultured Greeks and Romans. The languages took form in the converse of their illiterate ancestors. Literature, upon which the beginnings of culture rest, closes language-building in the larger sense. Zulu is a more highly flexional language than Greek, with more elaborate endings, expressive of gender, number, case, mood, voice; with nicer laws of euphony. Probably the ancestors of the Greeks were, like the Zulus, a loquacious, quarrelsome, rhetorical race. The language of the Zulus is not great because it is complex in form. Every language becomes great when greatly used—Greek from Demosthenes's mouth; English from Milton's pen. The test of the elevation of a language, from the evolutionary point of view, is its simplicity, freedom from ambiguity, correspondence in the order in which words are used with the sequence in which ideas successively occupy the focus of consciousness. 'Amabo, love, future, I,' is as swift an expression of thought as 'I shall love'; although it does not place the constituents of the idea in the order in which they pass across the mirror of my mind; my personality, in the case of such a general proposition, takes the lead. 'Lucretiam amabo,' no doubt, gives the order aright. But neither conglomerate allows of the inversion 'Shall I love?' Picking up the school-book nearest to hand, I have essayed the 'sors Virgiliana.' This is the sentence which my finger touched: "Relinquit animus Sextium gravibus acceptis vulneribus" ('De Bello Gallico,' VI.). It seems to me incredible that this sentence expresses the thought as it formed itself in Cæsar's mind:" Leaves it the soul Sextius by or to grave by or to received by or to wounds." Surely the idea of the personality of Sextius preceded the idea of some one fainting? What purpose is served by three times explaining that it was by or to (leaving it at the end an open question which) wounds? '-ibus,' if it does not impress the mind of the reader as the really important constituent of the phrase, is unduly heavy for a mere inflexion. Cæsar did his best with the language which his unlettered ancestors had bequeathed to him; but he was to be pitied in that his thoughts when they went abroad must walk in irons.
The only evolutionary tendency in language which we can recognize is this tendency towards analysis, towards dismemberment. So great an authority as Sir Charles Eliot, vice-chancellor of Sheffield University, who perhaps knows a greater variety of languages than any other man, from Portuguese to Russian, from Turkish to Japanese, languages of Central Africa and of the Polynesian Islands, tells me that he considers that this progress favors thought. Gender, number, case hamper language, restrict its flexibility, impede thought. A monosyllabic root-language, such as Chinese or Burmese, is a swifter and more precise solvent of thought than are the highly inflected Bantu tongues. If this be true—and it does not seem to me open to doubt—it is easier to think in English than in Latin.
The drilling of boys in languages of lower type than their own must have some strange, mysterious sanction to justify its use. There must be an explanation of the undeniably good results which have followed this generalized, purposeless training—results which caused those who were best qualified to judge to cling to it with such tenacity. It is not of the schools of to-day that I am speaking. So many reservations and qualifications would be necessary that I could not hope that my thesis would be approved. The schoolmaster has for some years been engaged in the process of sloughing his skin—a process which he seems very reluctant to see accomplished. The rattle at the end of his tail which so easily subdued the pupils under him has gone. Yet he still clutches at his gold and purple scales. The lineaments of Greek gods and Roman orators are still to be distinguished in the folds of the sadly crumpled case with which he is so unwilling to part. He feels strangely cold clad in nothing but his native wisdom. It is not of this half-accomplished rejuvenescence that I wish to speak. Let us go back to the golden days of grammar schools. It is not as long ago as Mr. Gladstone's youth. Many of us of a younger generation experienced their heroic rule. Assuredly it was not the content of the classics which proved in our case of educative value. It could not, for the reasons I have stated, have been the languages, as such. I have but one explanation. It was the rebound on to English which the classical drill produced. We were ceaselessly searching the pages of the dictionary. We were learning new words. We were studying English syntax. In my opinion any foreign language would have served equally well to produce this rebound. Or it might have been brought about by the intelligent paraphrasing, construing, analysis of English authors. The last course would probably be the shortest road to the supreme goal—skill in the use of the language in which we think and with which we speak.
- Presidential address to the Teachers' Guild of Great Britain and Ireland, delivered at University College, London, May 22, 1906.