Imagens da página
PDF
ePub

duce the most useful knowledge and the most productive discipline, for a knowledge of human experience is more valuable to human beings than a knowledge of the qualities of matter, and the discipline derived from thinking of the operations of the human mind must be of more practical consequence than that derived from thinking of the changes produced in physical things.

If what has been said is true, it will follow that the the literature of a philosophic language, communicating important knowledge, must constitute a most productive subject of study. This leads us to inquire for those languages and that literature which offer to the student the best occasions of mental discipline and the most prolific source of human knowledge.

Mr. Mill assigns this place in the most emphatic manner to the Greek and Latin, and says that his position is justified by the great value in education of knowing well some other cultivated language and literature than one's own, and by the peculiar value of those particular languages and literatures. One reason for learning a foreign language is found in the well-known truth that human error is partly due to the tendency men have of using words without associating them with definite ideas. The more familiar the form of the words the more likely is this to be done. There can be but little tendency to use foreign terms in this way. The act of translating a foreign language into one's native speech requires à study for the meaning of both the foreign and the native words used in the translation. Such study rightly conducted is the best means of correcting the common and pernicious habit of using words with little or no knowledge of their significance. For this purpose an ancient is better than a modern language, as ancient

thought and forms of speech are less familiar than modern, and as some ancient languages excel any modern in the perfection and complication of their structure.

While some ancient languages are to be chosen as a means of discipline, those should be selected that are the most philosophical in their construction, and at the same time bear in their elements and genius a not too distant relation to our own language.

By the concurrent opinion of a large majority of those best able to judge, the Greek and the Latin languages have been chosen as the best means of mental discipline, and of pro:lucing that important mental habit of making a careful distinction between words and things. The study of the grammar of a language, if rightly conducted, directs attention : first, to those words and forms of words by which the subject of a discourse is named and by which affirmations are made. Second, it brings before the mind those words and forms which express the qualities of objects and the attributes of actions. It also presents those words which bind other words together into clauses, propositions, and discourse.

A language will be perfect in proportion as it supplies a distinct form for the name of every distinct object, and act, and quality, and relation. The mental habit of making a nice distinction between a word and the thing it names, is more surely formed and more successfully cultivated by the use of a perfect language. This affords a reason why the grammatical study of the classic languages, especially of the Greek, should be encouraged in all our higher institutions of learning.

In the study of the classic authors, we shall be led by a natural process from the grammar of their language to its style. In this study we shall find models most worthy to be imitated. No one can study the style of the great Greek and Roman authors without learning the value of skill in the use of language; of using no more words than one has ideas to express by them; of selecting appropriate words ; of putting the right words in the right places, and of avoiding all solecisms.

The student of the classic style will learn also that there may be such a perfect use of language as to conceal the perfection, and leave the hearer or reader to turn his whole attention to the ideas expressed. No ancient classic writer of good reputation ever thought of constructing his sentences so as to divert the mind from the sense to the style.

It is for these reasons that modern writers do well to study the ancient forms of speech. We may mark the decline of style in writing as we do the decline of style in the imitative arts, by the use of the excess of ornament for its own sake. The orator or writer who turns the attention of the hearer or reader from the subject of discourse to the author or to his style, has made a wretched failure.

Good sense in writing and speaking, as in human conduct, is shown by following nature or by concealing art. The effect of the study of ancient models will lead the true scholar to despise all ornament used to conceal deformity or used as an end itself. If we turn from the grammar of the classic languages and from the style employed by ancient authors of good repute to their literature, we shall find other reasons for giving these languages a place in our secondary courses of study.

The objects of human study are of two kinds. One belongs to the material the other to the spiritual world. One directs our attention to changes in matter; the other to the nature and experience of man. In physical science

modern investigators have surpassed the ancients. In all that which pertains to the philosophy of human life we do well to refer to the wisdom of ancient times. We do well, even in this progressive age, to go back to the ancient historians, philosophers, orators, and poets, for instruction in ethics and politics, and in the philosophy of education.

Mill says that “human invention has never produced anything so valuable in the way of stimulation and of discipline to the inquiring intellect as the dialectics of the ancients, of which many of the works of Aristotle illustrate the theory, and those of Plato exhibit the practice.

“No modern writing comes near to these in teaching, both by precept and example, the way to investigate truth, on subjects the most difficult to comprehend and the most important to be known. To question all things; never to turn away from any difficulty ; to accept no doctrine either from ourselves or from other people without a rigid scrutiny, letting no fallacy, or incoherence, or confusion of thought, slip by unperceived; above all to insist upon having the meaning of a word clearly understood before using it, and the meaning of a proposition before assenting to it :- these are the lessons we learn from the ancient dialecticians.”

They inspire in our minds an enthusiastic love for the highest truth, and at the same time, they exhibit to us the spirit and the method we should employ in its pursuit. We must enter into the thought of ancient times through ancient forms of speech. Translations inform us what modern writers think of these things, but they fall far short of unfolding to us the true spirit and nature of ancient ideas and ancient civilizations.

The arguments against the general study of the classic languages are old and they have been many times refuted by arguments drawn from reason and experience. They return again as educational ideas make their periodic revolutions to be again refuted, and put to rest until the history of their refutation has been again forgotten.

A knowledge of ancient civilization is necessary to freedom and to progress. A true scholarship and a right temper of the mind are best secured by a philosophic stu:ly of those objects of thought that are related to the nature and history of man. All truth that is of any final importance to us is of ourselves, and of our relations to God and to our fellows. A knowledge of ourselves includes a knowledge of the individual and of the race. An exclusive study of material things makes the student hard and selfish and full of conceit. It turns his attention away from the fact, that each period of our human life is a probation for the period that is to follow, and that all the periods of the present life are a probation for the life that is to be. Hamilton says that nature conceals God, man reveals him. The spirit we bring to the study of nature will make it an expression of infinite wisdom, goodness, and power, or of a fate that is above all human or divine power.

Our free High Schools are the natural products of our civilization. They are necessary to personal freedom and to the well-being of the state. By offering to their members thorough courses of scientific and literary study, they present to them the means of fitting themselves to become their own rulers. If rightfully organized and rightfully conducted they will do what is possible towards directing the people to the highest individual and social good.

« AnteriorContinuar »