Page images




We might as easily fall in with those who reOn the Study of the Ancient Languages in gard the study of the ancient languages, as a humthe United States. bug, which must soon be exploded, and who consider all time devoted to their study, as worse than wasted, and those who spend years in acquiring and teaching thein as dull pedants utterly unfit for the practical business of life.

NO. 6.

The question may perchance be asked "Why trouble the public, especially the readers of a periodical in which the sprightly and entertaining are naturally expected to predominate over the serious and useful, on a subject. so trite and thread-bare, which has already been viewed in every possible aspect, and discussed to exhaustion by men of all calibres'?"

By pursuing either of these courses, we should follow the natural tendency of mankind to ultraism, and find it much easier to indulge in sweeping denunciation or measured laudation, than to confine ourselves to a cool, dispassionate examination of the subject, and the comparatively cold, plain language of common sense. We

To this we answer, that the particular side of the question at which we propose to look, has not been so much examined, as some others, maintain, that in this subject of education, as although in getting to a proper position for see-well as in all others, social, political, or religious, ing it, we may be compelled to pass over ground the human mind, like a pendulum, is always already much trodden. swinging backwards and forwards between exIt would be easy to array ourselves, either with tremes, and is never stationary at that middle the ultra conservatives, who almost deify the point where truth is usually found. In this matancient languages, and regard every moment of ter, as well as others, some would cut us off entime taken from their study as absolutely lost, or tirely from the past, and persuade us to act, speak with the opposite faction of Vandal innovators, and think, without any light from those who have who would employ the besom of destruction as preceded us, while others come to a conclusion ruthlessly against the dialects, as the barbarians diametrically opposite, that every thing which did against the national existence, and monu- has been is best, and, like the Bourbons, neither ments, of the Greeks and Romans. It would not learn nor unlearn any thing from experience. be difficult to expatiate in good set terms, gar- No rational man will, in the abstract, deny the nished with an ample supply of classic quota- folly and danger of this ultraism; but to resist his tions, on the copiousness, delicacy, and flexibility own practical tendency towards one of these of the Greek, with all its treasures of poetry, phi- two extremes, hic labor, hoc opus est. In attemptlosophy, oratory and history, and on the majestic ing, therefore, to attain to what appears to us the simplicity and remarkable regularity of the Latin, golden mean, we are fully aware that we shall in which the dignified conquerors of the world. not only displease both of the opposite parties, leaving the palm of originality and speculative but in all probability prove the truth of our thesubtlety to their predecessors, have embalmed soory, by running into some ultraism of our own. much practical wisdom, manly eloquence, en- But before defining our position, and coming tertaining narrative, and exquisite poetry. We directly to the point which we have most at heart, might complacently declaim ou the folly of those we wish to say a word about the triteness of the who will not seek these priceless treasures, lying subject. within their reach, especially when their own It seems to us a matter so eminently practical languages and literature, are to so great an ex- and the decision of which is so highly important, tent, derived from the ancient, when their scien- that every man in the community is fully wartific discoveries to this very day, almost invaria-ranted in forming opinious, and giving utterance bly, are named from the Greek, and when they can to them, in a spirit of patriotism and philancombine with these advantages, peculiar to the thropy, not of arrogant dogmatism. Many inGreek and Latin, all those common to the study deed may entertain the false idea, that this is a of every foreign language. From this, the in-matter of mere speculation, in which none but a ference would be, that every other part of edu- few closet men have any interest. There is nothcation must be sacrificed to this one thing needing which comes more emphatically "home to ful, a profound and familiar acquaintance with the business and bosoms of all men," who enterclassic lore. tain for themselves or their offspring the hope of


a liberal education. Those who receive what is position is little and rarely at all cultivated. The usually called a thorough education, commonly editions of classical authors, now so frequently spend five or six years mainly, if not entirely, in issued from the American press, prove at once the study of the ancient languages. Can the the increased devotion of a few scholars to the manner in which so large a portion of human classics, and the demand for editions, which will life is spent, and that in the plastic season of make the classical course easier and shorter. It youth, and by that class which commonly takes is an undeniable truth that a very large portion, the lead in society, be a matter of indifference, we believe a majority, of those who have their or even of small concern, to any patriot, philan- children educated, set very little value on Greek thropist or Christian? It must have a powerful and Latin, and have them taught those languaeffect, not only on the intellectual and moral charges rather against their own judgment, either acter of those who are thus educated, but on those merely because other boys learn them, or because who are affected by their legislation, and by the the collegiate institutions to which they send public and private influence of those belonging them, make the classics a compulsory portion of to the liberal professions, and in all the points in their course. It is notorious that students parwhich educated men are brought into contact ticipate largely in this undervaluation of the anwith society. cient languages, usually indeed carrying it to a If it can be shown that this study is in itself much higher degree than their parents, and that useless or pernicious, or that it prevents those very few pursue the study with real interest. devoted to it from acquiring other knowledge Practically they may neglect the mathematics which is more useful, it ought surely to be aban- and other branches of science, or the modern doued, or its pursuit so modified as no longer to languages; but theoretically they admit their interfere with the great, practical purposes of ed-utility, and if they have any industry or ambiucation. If, on the contrary, it can be demon- tion at all, are much apter to give them earnest strated to the satisfaction of all, that it gives, in and cordial attention. a very eminent degree, that intellectual discipline One of our most eminent collegiate presidents, afforded by the study of all language, that it is who has devoted much time and study to the well-nigh indispensable to the thorough mastery condition of our higher seminaries, seems to be of our own tongue, as well as those of several fully apprized of the existence of this feeling other nations with which we have most inter- which we have been describing. He says: "If course, and that we cannot conveniently substi- we except the ancient languages, there are but tute other studies for it, the objections to it ought few of the studies now pursued in college, which, to be abandoned, and attention earnestly directed if well taught, would not be attractive to young to the improvement of the prevalent systems of men preparing for any of the active departments instruction. of life." He thinks the decline in the proportional number attending our colleges, is to be

But we cannot expect unanimity in the admission of either of these opposite conclusions. The traced to the compulsion under which our colletruth is, that men's minds ought not to stand still giate system places students, to pursue a particuon the great questions which concern the intel-lar course of study, of which ancient languages, lectual and moral improvement of society. Our in their estimation, form too prominent a part, position is very different from that of those who and proposes what may be called the voluntary lived immediately after the revival of letters. system, adopted by the Virginia University from Then the Greek and Latin writers were almost its commencement, as the most effectual remedy the only sources of information on all subjects, for the evil. We do not intend at present to as well as the great models of taste; now the consider this question, one of the most imporknowledge once exclusively contained in them, tant and difficult connected with the whole subhas been transferred to other languages, and has ject of education, but merely mention Wayland's been swelled by vast additions, made since those opinion, based on an extensive observation of languages ceased to be living. Indeed there is facts, to show the peculiar difficulties growing no small disposition to depreciate the classics, and out of public sentiment in teaching the ancient at the same time to sound the praises of many languages in the United States, difficulties which, ideas as modern discoveries, while those very if we are to credit Sidney Smith, have been long ideas were in reality stolen from ancient authors. known and felt in England. Public sentiment Then, and long afterwards, all compositions which is certainly against the long continued study of were expected to possess permanent interest, the classics, except in that very limited class, were written in Latin, regarded as common to the which has usually had the control of our higher whole republic of letters. Now, the practice of seminaries, and nothing but a sort of reluctance writing even the notes to classical authors in to break through long-established custom, or the Latin is fast becoming obsolete, and Latin com- necessity of submitting, in order to get any edu

cation, makes most fathers and sons submit to to the Arts, Science of Law. Of this long list, what they consider the useless drudgery. Nine-which after all is perhaps not complete, the greater tenths of those who frequent colleges, backed portion has either been introduced, or has greatly by the opinion of their parents, who are anx-advanced in consequence, since the revival of ious to be rid of the expense too often greatly letters, and it is undeniable, that in the opinion swelled by the reckless extravagance of their of great numbers, this is far the more important sons, desire to pass with rail-road speed over portion of education. Is it not then perfectly what is called education, to active and lucrative obvious, that the ancient languages are less imemployment. Much as the votaries of literature portant in relation to other studies, and to the and science may lament this hot haste to be rich, pursuits of active life? Men have been always which renders mature scholarship almost impos- educated in Europe, and were formerly educated sible, this impatience is and is likely to remain a in this country, exclusively to prepare them for fixed fact, which every friend of education must the learned professions; now our citizens desire look in the face, and by which he must modify education to fit them for all occupations, and a his abstract theories. The advice of enlightened large majority believe, rightly or wrongly, that men may, in some instances, convince parents that fitness can be attained without studying anand pupils that economy and industry may and cient language. However unwilling the lovers ought to give them more leisure for laying this of the olden time, laudatores temporis acti, may best foundation of future usefulness and emi-be to admit the fact, tempora mutantur et nos mu

tamur in illis, both in regard to the constitutions of States and Colleges.

Since then their relative value has diminished, since in a large and respectable portion of society, there is a fixed opposition to the study of the classics, and since there is another and no small division of the community who study them rather from fashion or necessity than conviction, let us see what course, in the premises, is dictated by practical wisdom.

The wild innovator, with the same spirit which To acknowledge the truth, the reasoning of animates him iu politics, would bid us fling away these objectors, while leading to extravagant at once this rubbish of the past, shake off this conclusions, is not altogether unwarranted by the incubus which retards the progress of the human facts of the case. As before mentioned, and as mind, and the onward march of society. The universally admitted by all men not absolutely ultra conservative, living in a world of his own, blinded by antiquarian tastes, while the absolute in which, like the fish said to be found in the importance of the ancient languages, as a branch Mammoth Cave, he has no eyes for the outer and of study, has not diminished since the revival of active world around him, would have us resist letters, their relative value has certainly been the irresistible current of human affairs and pubgreatly lessened. Not only have the fine thoughts lic sentiment, of the masters of ancient literature percolated, as it were, into the derivative tongues, not only can we find models of composition in the modern languages that may well compare with any in the ancient, but the number of subjects now taught in upholding the time-honored study of the clasin collegiate institutions has so greatly increased, sics. We humbly opine, that we must try to find that very little time comparatively is left for the the golden mean of true wisdom between these classics, which formerly engrossed it all, or divi- two extremes. ded it with the mathematics. Let us see the On the one hand, we believe that there are subjects which Dr. Wayland proposes should be manifold advantages, not so easily or completely taught in Brown University when remodeled, and secured in any other way, which can be derived which it is certainly desirable should be taught from the study of the ancient languages. They in every complete collegiate instruction, in addi- are vehicles of thought, used and perfected by tion to the languages and mathematics. They nations, who, if they did not absolutely lead the are Chemistry, Geology, Physiology, English van in civilization, are most immediately conLanguage, Rhetoric, Moral and Intellectual Phi- nected with our own forms of civilization and losophy, Political Economy, History, Science of literature. They constitute, to a great extent, Teaching, Principles of Agriculture, Application the basis of our language, both in its established of Chemistry to the Arts, Application of Science words and phrases, and in those which scientific

nence. But if the adviser be a teacher, his advice will be much more frequently rejected from the suspicion that he is merely endeavoring to promote his own interest, and that of his class. by prolonging the period of tuition; and even if he be no teacher, he will still be regarded as an unsafe counsellor, because he will be thought to set undue value on the advantages which he has himself enjoyed. A very large proportion of society will present a solid and impenetrable surface to all the weapons of persuasion.

་ nor bate one jot

Of heart or hope; but still bear up and steer
Right onward,"

discoveries are constantly introducing. From all European science and literature in their hands, their many inflexions, which adapt them better imposed, in the grossest manner, on the laity of to purposes of brevity, harmony and rhetorical all classes, and still impose on the ignorant and effect, and afford the best opportunity of study- degraded. The same leaven of corruption reing the general principles of grammar, they de- mains in human nature, in spite of the reformaserve to be studied by all who wish to understand tion, and that religious freedom of which we are the comparative anatomy of language, and fully so justly proud. Much as we boast in this counto appreciate the excellencies and deficiencies of try of freedom of thought, of speech, and of the their own. press, even the Protestant pastor is commonly the standard of opinion to the majority of his flock, who do not usually investigate, but swallow his doctrines whole, without any attempt at diges

The fact that they differ so widely from the English and other modern tongues, is a peculiar recommendation to Latin and Greek. As a man who travels in the East, where tyranny has pre- tion. There are many, indeed, who are individvailed from time immemorial, and the social in-ual exceptions of independence, exceptious by no stitutions are so opposite to ours, will best under means confined to the learned; but it is plain that stand from contrast the defects of our own po- this number would be greatly and dangerously litical and social organization, so shall we best lessened, if ancient learning were left as a mounderstand the peculiarities of our own idiom, nopoly in clerical hands. by comparing it with others of opposite character. It is unfortunate, indeed, that most anuotators are engrossed with pointing out the beauties of their author, and the superiority of the language in which he writes, forgetting entirely the actual faults and relative inferiority in some points of both the writer and his tongue. This is every way injudicious, because it tends to prevent the exercise of judgment and taste, and either produces false impressions of admiration, or disgusts the student by blind idolatry, and leads him to suspect that all laudation of the ancients is a mere humbug.

Students of Law and Medicine, the two other professions which have appropriated to themselves the name of liberal, will also derive some peculiar benefits, in addition to those which are common to all proficients in the classics. They will both find it much easier to understand and recollect the technical terms, the nomenclature of their professions, while the lawyer will find his acuteness greatly sharpened, and his skill in the interpretation of language greatly improved, from the habits formed in the acquisition of classic lore. We doubt not, that merchants, farmers and men of all occupations, will find their faculties sharpened, enlarged, and every way improved by this study.

The benefits derived from a cultivation of the classics, already mentioned, are common to all who desire to enlarge, liberalize, and refine their intellects, whatever may be their profession or occupation.

Among professional men, as they are usually called, to none is the study of ancient languages so important as to students of divinity. An acquaintance with the tongues in which the oracles of God were communicated to man, seems almost indispensable to a teacher of revealed religion. In connexion with this it may be remarked, that it might be unsafe to abandon this study entirely to the clergy. Clergymen, in the United States, are usually enlightened, pious, and useful men, and the emulation and vigilance of the rival sects, operate powerfully in preventing corruption. But all history proves, that it is unsafe to allow a branch of knowledge, which is of practical importance, to be engrossed by a class under temptation to its abuse.

On the other hand, it must be admitted that a portion of the benefits, derived from the knowledge of the ancient languages, may be realized from an acquaintance with the modern, which are of more immediate utility to those who mix with the world at home and abroad. They make us acquainted with a living and breathing and not a dead civilization, and afford sufficient contrast with our own language, to aid us very much in perfecting the knowledge of it. One unacquainted with Latin and Greek, may certainly write English remarkably well, although we can scarcely go so far, as to ascribe the perfection of the Greek language to the exclusive devotion of those who employed it, and who looked on foreign nations and languages with equal contempt. General Washington and others, entirely ignorant of Latin, are certainly among our best writers.

The Roman patricians, that wonderful order which astonished the world by their valor, genius, wisdom and exploits, thus abused the pretended science of augury and their acquaintance with the forms of civil action, which, for their own than many others who have devoted years to purposes, they concealed from the commonalty. their acquisition. We have already shown, that The Roman Catholic priesthood, when they had we are far from considering them of no value;

Again we find not a few ministers, who either never knew, or have completely forgotten Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, and yet are exercising an influence far more salutary and commanding,

« PreviousContinue »