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Tell him that he might as well be unemployed, and, without having ever studied logic, he will be very apt to jump at once to the seductive conclusion of idleness.
These languages, let it be remembered, have hitherto not merely formed a part, they have been the very basis of a liberal education. I might almost say they have been education itself. From the revival of letters to the present time, they have held this station, through a period of five hundred years, not in one country only, but in all the civilized world. They gained it by their own merits, and they have kept it by their unquestionable success. Would it be wise or prudent to cast them off, unless we were fully prepared to supply the large space they have occupied, by something equal, at least, if not superior? This is no metaphysical question; nor does the answer to it require the peculiar powers of Mr. Locke, mighty as they confessedly were. It is eminently a practical question, which common sense is fully able to decide. It may be stated thus ; education, having a given end, and a certain plan of education having approved itself during some hundreds of years, and still continuing daily to approve itself to be well suited to attain that end, is it wise or rational to require that it shall be vindicated upon original grounds, and be rejected like a novelty, unless it can be justified to our complete satisfaction, by arguments a priori? Of what consequence is the modus operandi if the desired result be attained? That is a good time-keeper which keeps good time, no matter how constructed. That is good food which is found to nourish the body, whatever peptic precepts may say to the contrary. And that is good exercise, which gives vigour and grace to the limbs, even though a Chinese lady might not be allowed to use it. Against such a fact, once well established, argumentative objection ought to be unavailing, or there is an end to all just reasoning.
“What can we reason, but from what we know ?"
This proof is manisest, in respect to nations, as it is in respect to individuals. It is astonishing, that Mr. Locke could have entertained the suggestion for a moment, that the study of the languages and philosophy was unfriendly to the formation of prudent and strong character, when he looked around upon his countrymen, and perceived, as he must have done, that they are not less distinguished for their attachment to these studies, than for what Mr. Burke has called, “ the family of grave and masculine virtues." Constancy, resolution, unconquerable spirit, a lofty determination never under any circumstances of adversity to admit the betraying counsels of fear, were not more signally exhibited by the old Romans, when Hannibal, triumphant, and seemingly irresistible, from the slaughter at Cannæ, was thundering at the gates of Rome, than they have been by that nation, which Mr. Locke's genius has contributed to illustrate and adorn. This same study has gone hand in hand with every profession and pursuit, refining, exalting and dignifying them all. Theologians, statesmen, lawyers, physicians, poets, orators, philosophers, the votaries of science and of letters, have been disciplined and nourished by it, and under the influence of its culture have attained the highest excellence. The arts of life have, at the same time, kept on with steady pace, so that the people whom Cesar spoke of as, in his time, “ Britannos toto orbe divisos,” now, if not in all respects at the very head of the European family, are certainly not inferior to any of its members. Let those who cavil at a liberal education, and those especially who question the value of the Greek and Latin languages, answer this fact. The tree cannot be bad which produces such fruit. It is unphilosophical to doubt the adequacy of a cause to produce a given effect, when we see that the effect is constantly produced by that cause; and it is unphilosophical to search for another cause, when we have found one that is sufficient. If the study of
the ancient languages has been found, by long experience, to discipline and nourish the intellectual faculties, why should we doubt that it is efficacious for that purpose ? Why should we go about to seek for something else, that if it succeed will but answer the same purpose—and if it fail, leaves us entirely destitute? One will flippantly tell us that it is spending too much time about words, which could be better employed about things. The great British lexicographer has unintentionally given some countenance to this notion, in the Preface of his Dictionary. A man, who had accomplished such a labour, might be permitted, at its close, to feel the departure of the spirit which had sustained him in its progress, and in the pathetic melancholy of taking leave, so eloquently expressed as almost to draw tears from the reader, he might be allowed even to depreciate his own work, by admitting that “words are the daughters of earth, and that things are the sons of heaven.” But even the authority of Dr. Johnson cannot be permitted thus to degrade the pedigree of words, or diminish their importance. Articulate sound is from heaven. Its origin is divine. The faculty of speech is the immediate gift of Him who made us, and its destitution (which his good Providence sometimes allows to occur) is felt to be a great calamity. Language-words--are the exercise of this faculty, as thought is the exercise of the faculty of thinking. The one is worthy of improvement, as well as the other--nay, we can scarcely conceive of their separate existence, or their separate cultivation-and hence the first step in the instruction of the dumb is to teach them the use of language. Words without thought are idle and vain. Thought, without the power of expressing it, is barren and unproductive. “Proper words in proper places,” is the point we all strive to attain; and this is what constitutes the perfection of the power of communicating with each other. It is true, therefore, that “ words are things;" and there is no better proof of it than this, that the most extraordinary, may I not say the most vulgar error sometimes obtains currency, by means of an epigrammatick sentence, by the mere charm of the collocation of words. The fact is, that they occupy our attention throughout our lives; and a greater or less command of them is one of the chief visible distinctions that mark the different orders of intelligence. The child is taught to speak, to spell, and to read—the youth to declaim and to compose
—and the man strives perpetually to improve and perfect himself in the use of language, by frequent exercise, and the study of the best models. Demosthenes is said to have copied the history of Thucydides eight times with his own hand, and to have committed the greater part of it to memory, merely to improve his style. His orations were composed with the utmost care; and they were retouched, improved, and corrected with the minuteness of a Flemish painter—even to the alteration of parts of words. He was never satisfied till he had given the highest possible finish to his work. Was this an idle labour ? More than two thousand years have since rolled by; and the language of Athens, in the days of Demosthenes, cannot be said to be now spoken in the world. Yet is he confessed to be the undisputed master in his noble art. His orations, said by a strong figure to have been as an earthquake in ancient Greece, still agitate the bosom which is sensible of the powers of eloquence, and offer the best model to its votaries. Like the fine remains of the Grecian chisel, they stand in severe, but beautiful and commanding simplicity, as if conscious that their title to respect, being founded in nature and in truth, though perfected by consummate skill, was equally available in every age.*
* Cicero not only studied the Greek language, but to such an extent as to be able to declaim in it, and to excite the strong but melancholy admiration of Appolonius. “As for you, Cicero,” he said, after hearing him declaim in Greek, “ I praise and admire you: but I am concerned for the fate of Greece.
If it therefore be conceded that the study of the ancient languages is calculated to assist us in what is disparagingly termed the learning of words, or, as it ought to be expressed, in acquiring a good style—that it improves the taste, and corrects the judgment—this, though but a part of its merits, would go far to vindicate its right to a place in every system of liberal education.
Sometimes it is objected, as it was by the principal of an academy, already quoted, that an acquaintance with these languages is ornamental,' but not useful.' The meaning of this objection depends upon two words, which, appearing to be exact, are notwithstanding, as ambiguous, perhaps, as any in our vocabulary. They are often used without a definite sense in the mind of the speaker, and very seldom with any certainty of the same understanding on the part of the hearer. If it were necessary to endeavour to be precise on this subject, we might be permitted to say, that in the opinion of many very intelligent people, nothing is properly ornamental that is not in some way useful. But when we have thus disentangled ourselves of one perplexing word, we are obliged to encounter another. What is useful, and what is not useful ? Are mankind agreed about it? By no means. How then are we to determine what is useful? The answer seems to be this we are to arrive at a conclusion by considering man in his various relations, and thence inferring, as we justly 'may, that every thing is useful which contributes to the improvement or the innocent gratification of himself or of others, or qualifies him more effectually or acceptably to perform his duties. Does any one object to those exercises of youth, which give a graceful carriage to the body? Are they not admitted to be useful ? And is it less important to
She had nothing left her but the glory of eloquence and erudition, and you are carrying that too to Rome.”.