« AnteriorContinuar »
over him, or of the excellence of the studies he is required to pursue. Such doubts must inevitably produce insubordination and indolence, and will end in the disappointment of his hopes. Enthusiastic and ardent zeal, an estimate even exaggerated, of the excellence of a given pursuit, amounting almost to folly in the judgment of by-standers, are the needful stimulants to successful enterprize. Nothing great is achieved without them. The heart must go along with the understanding. A strong passion must take possession of the soul, inspiring it with warmth, and with enduring energy, and unconquerable resolution; so that all its faculties may be fully and steadily exerted, and overcoming the vis inertiæ of our nature, and deaf and blind to the temptations that would seduce it from its course, it may press forward continually towards the prize which is to be the reward of its toils. Such ought to be the feelings of the youth who is favoured with the opportunity of a liberal education. Devotion to his studies, as excellent in themselves, affectionate respect for his teachers, as faithful guides and impartial judges, an honourable competition with his equals, in virtuous exertion, and a conscientious observance of the laws of the institution—these are the habits which will lay a deep foundation for the structure of future usefulness and eminence. The honours of the col. lege, their first fruits, and their just reward, are the gratifying proofs of a capacity for further triumphs, and constitute the richest, and most acceptable offering which filial duty can present as an acknowledgment and requital of parental care.
That part of a course of liberal education, however, which has been most frequently assailed, is the study of the Greek and Roman Classics—what is emphatically called Classical learning. Some have insisted that it ought to be altogether excluded; and others, that it does not deserve to occupy so much of the time and attention of youth.
Mr. Locke, who himself enjoyed the full benefit of the treasures of ancient learning, seems to make a compromise of the matter; for while he admits that the languages may be useful to those who are designed for the learned professions, or for the life of a gentleman without a profession, he seems to consider that they, as well as philosophy, are calculated rather to have an injurious effect upon the general character, than otherwise. The broader ground of entire exclusion, however, as has already been said, has had its advocates. Many years ago, a distinguished citizen of the United States, whose memory, let it be said, is entitled to great veneration, among other things for the example he gave of untiring industry and youthful vigour in his varied pursuits, continued to almost the last day of a long life, published an essay, in wbich, with his usual ingenuity and force, he contested the value of classical learning as a branch of education. It appears from a subsequent publication, by the same author, that this essay produced many replies, and that it also produced a complimentary letter (now published with the essay,) from a gentleman who is stated to have been at that time the principal of an academy. In this letter, after complimenting the author, the writer proceeds as follows—“There is little taste for them (the learned languages,) in this place. 'In our academy, where there are near ninety students, not above nineteen are poring over Latin and Greek. One of these nineteen was lately addressed by a student of arithmetic in the following language— Pray, sir, can you resolve me, by your Latin, this question? If one bushel of corn cost four sbillings, what cost fifty bushels ? A demand of this kind, from a youth, is to me a proof of the taste of Americans in the present day, who prefer the useful to the ornamental!” This was surely an extraordinary triumph over the poor Latanist, and a very singular evidence of what the good principal was pleased to call “ American taste!" Who
ever imagined that the study of the Greek and Latin would teach a boy the first rules of Arithmetic ? Or who was eyer absurd enough to contend that Greek and:Latin were to be taught to the exclusion of the simplest elements of pure mathematics? They have their appropriate uses and advantages; but they do not profess to be themselves the whole of education, nor to accomplish every thing that is desirable. They do not give sight to the blind, nor hearing. to the deaf, nor speech to the dumb; but when these faculties exist in their usual perfection—as is happily the case with the far greater part of mankind—and there is the ordinary portion of talent, they furnish an occupation, which is both useful and ornamental, which is not inconsistent with the necessary attainments in mathematics, and which may not only well go along with the acquisition of our own language, but is deemed to be indispensable to its accurate knowledge, and highest enjoyment.
But however feeble was the commentary of the Principal, and however ignorant was the argument of the “student of arithmetic,” yet, for him, it was not in a wrong spirit. Arithmetic was his pursuit, and it was fit that he should think well of it. But the poor student of Latin! What could be expected from his labours in a seminary where the study was systematically depreciated; and the head of it, from whom he was to look for encouragement and assistance, gloried (conscientiously, no doubt,) in having nearly expelled it from his school? The teacher might, and probably did, endeavour to perform his duty ; but it must have been coldly and heartlessly done. Instead of breathing warmth and animation into the atmosphere, to invigorate the tender plants entrusted to his care, they must have been in imminent danger of being stunted in their growth, by chilling and withering indifference.
Of the opinions which have been mentioned, the one proposing entirely to exclude the ancient languages from a
course of liberal instruction—and the other, to reduce the time and attention devoted to them, it would be difficult to say, that aś applied to this country, the one is more to be deprecated than the other. Are the languages overtaught now? Will they bear a reduction ? The reverse is known to be the fact. Compared with the teaching in the German schools, where the design is to make scholars, compared with the teaching in the schools of England, where the design, in addition to this, is to qualify men for all the higher employments of life, as well as for a life without particular employment, it can scarcely be said that here they are taught at all. Excepting in the profession of divinity, is it too strong to affirm that there is scarcely such a thing as scholarship? And even in that profession, how many are there, in proportion to the whole number engaged in its sacred duties, who would be able to encounter a learned infidel with the weapons of ancient learning ? We have eminent lawyers—we have distinguished physicians—enterprising and intelligent 'merchants—and a fund of general talent capable of the highest elevation in every employment or pursuit of life. Occasionally we meet with one among them, commonly of the old stock, in whom is discerned the elegant influence of classical literature.
But where are our eminent scholars? Where are the greater lights, ruling with a steady and diffusive splendour, and vindicating their claim to a place among the constellations which shine in the firmament of learning ? Nay, how few are there among us, of our best educated men, who, if called upon to bring forth their storés, would be able to say with Queen Elizabeth, that they had “ brushed up their Latin," or would have any Latin to brush up? The truth is that this branch of study is already at the very minimum, if not below it. It will not bear the least reduction. It positively requires to be increased in teaching, and raised in public esteem. Classical learning neither falls in
showers, nor flows in streams. Here and there a solitary drop appears, sparkling and beautiful to be sure, like the last dew on a leaf, but too feeble, without the support of its kindred element, even to preserve itself, and utterly powerless to enrich or fructify the neighbouring soil. To propose a reduction, is therefore equivalent, at least, to an entire exclusion, if it be not worse. Less taught than it now is, or less esteemed, the teaching would be almost a false pretence, and the learning a waste of time. It would be as well at once to blot it from the course, and, as far as in our power lies, to let the Greek and Latin languages sink into oblivion, and be lost in profound darkness, like that from which, by their single power, they have once recovered the world.
This would be a parricidal work for civilization and science. But if it is to be accomplished, the mode, is not what is to characterize it as unnatural. Before we advance to a conclusion of such incalculable importance, let us first consider what it is, and then endeavour to be fully assured that it is right. If it be once decided that the study of the ancient languages can be dispensed with in a collegiate education, and the honours of a college obtained without it, there is no difficulty in perceiving it must also be dropped in the preparatory schools. Why begin it, if it is not to be pursued? Why take up time in acquiring what is afterwards to be thrown aside as rubbish, and forgotten? Forgotten it inevitably will be, if it be entirely discontinued at the time of entering college. By what motives or arguments will a boy be persuaded to apply himself to learning in a Grammar School, what is not necessary to obtain for him the honours of a college, and what he is distinctly told will be of no use to him in life? It is absurd to think of it. The youngest child has sagacity enough to understand an argument, which coincides with his own inclination, and to apply it to the indulgence of his own natural love of ease.