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WHEN I had the honour—now about thirty years ago—of being appointed to the Chair of Humanity in the University of Aberdeen, a city then, and still, famous for the excellency of its Latin scholarship, I had not been many weeks employed in the discharge of my new functions when I became aware of certain very glaring perversities and absurdities which had grown up, like tares among the wheat, in connexion with an otherwise admirable system of training.
Of these perversities the following were the most prominent. In the first place, the young Latinists had been taught, with a great amount of labour, a system of rules about the pronunciation of words to which they systematically gave the lie whenever they opened their mouths. One of these rules, for instance, I recollect, commenced thus —for they were in Latin—"08 produc”—which was meant to inculcate the doctrine that in the Latin language, when a word ends with the syllable os, the vowel in that syllable, like a long note in music, is pronounced with a prolongation of the voice, as when we say in English the Põpe, and not the Popp, hope,
and not hop. But in the face of this rule, which has no sense at all except as regulating pronunciation, they never made any distinction in reading betwixt õs, the mouth, which follows the rule, and ós (according to English orthography oss), a bone, which is an exception. And in perfect consistency with this glaring inconsistency, they dealt with their rules for final syllables through the whole long weary catalogue, pronouncing longos as if it had been written in English longoss, which is not a whit less ridiculous than if an Englishman were to talk of having the gut in his toss, instead of the gout in his toes. The next thing I noticed in the linguistic habit of the Aberdeen Latinists was, that whenever I addressed to them, in the way of conversation, the shortest sentence in the language which they professed to understand, they looked very much surprised ; a peculiarity which indicated certainly that the colloquial method, which I had taught myself, and which was largely practised by Erasmus, Amos Comenius, and other distinguished scholars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries all over Europe, and is still, to a considerable extent, practised on the Continent, had, in Aberdeen at least, fallen altogether into distise. And not only had the colloquial element in language been neglected, but there were no signs whatever of a living appeal from the tongue of the teacher to the ear of the taught having played any part in the course of scholastic indoctrination, to which the young men had been subjected ; and this appeared the more strange as the laws of the Northern University were regularly written and read out in Latin, and discourses in that language delivered constantly by the students of theology in the
Divinity Hall. Closely connected with these three perversities, and springing manifestly from the same root, was the extreme narrowness of the vocabulary of which these young gentlemen, so nicely drilled in curious syntactic rules, had been made masters. It was plain their memory had been well packed, or at least their phrase-book well stored, with a routine of military phrases from Cæsar's Commentaries ; but if the Professor, speaking the language which he taught, told an ill-bred lad to take off his hat, or to raise his voice and not squeak like a weasel, they understood no more of bis diction than if he had addressed them in the dialect of the Brahmins. It was plain that, whatever else they had been taught, the objects round about them and immediately before their eyes had, so far as their training was concerned, been considered as non-existent. It was plain also that they had never been taught to think in the language which they had been studying ; for, instead of directly using their store of words to express their thoughts, they had always to go through the process of a translation through the English ; a process unnatural, cumbrous, and slow, and so beset with difficulties that it ought never to be largely used without the facilities which a previous exercise in the more natural, direct, descriptive, and colloquial method so richly supplies.
There is a class of persons who will think that all this is but the necessary consequence of the difference in the method of teaching which belongs to a dead, as contrasted with a living, language, and that nothing more should be said about the matter. But a moment's reflection will show the inadequacy of this notion. No
doubt one may imagine the case of a solitary individual, for special professional purposes, getting up the mere bookish form of a language as presented to the eye, without concerning himself in any degree with the living reality of the vocal organism, as it addresses itself to the ears of those who use it ; but this is not the way.
; in which either a practical knowledge of language for purposes of business, or a scientific knowledge for the cultivation of the taste, is ever acquired, certainly not the way in which the classical languages are taught in our great schools and colleges. For, though a book is
. always the medium of instruction, the book is read aloud, and thus raised from the category of a dead record to that of a living utterance ; and this to such an extent that compositions in Greek and Latin prose, and even more notoriously in verse, passing in some way or other through the ear, form a prominent part of the scholastic drill of our classical scholars. It appears, therefore, that the dead language is to a certain extent resuscitated, and the ear, though not scientifically treated, is nevertheless used. Let it therefore be used in the proper sense of that word, and not rather, as it too often now is, grossly abused. If we profess to derive an æsthetic luxury from the nice balance of Greek and Latin verses, and the grand roll of the classical prose periods—a luxury which has no meaning except as addressed to the ear -let us not stultify ourselves by writing verses from rules which contradict the practice of our ears, and by admiring periods enunciated in direct antagonism to the demonstrable orthoepy and rhythmical harmony of the languages of which they are a' part. In this respect, so far as teaching is concerned,