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In judging of the proper subjects to occupy the attention of the young, and to form the groundwork of education, a considerable mistake may arise from confounding the utility of any branch of knowledge to the purposes of life, with its aptitude to expand the faculties, and inform the mind.
The exact and experimental sciences are of unquestionable importance the welfare of society, but it would be false to infer that they should be a material part of a liberal education. If those who are determined by natural talent, peculiar taste, and favourable circumstances, or by the necessity of their occupation, devote themselves mathematical and chemical pursuits, all that is requisite for the interests of society will be fully accomplished; it is not more desirable that the young in general should be chemists or mathematicians, than that they should be skilful physicians, or profound lawyers. But whatever contributes to the knowledge of human nature, and the important relations of civil, social, and practical life; whatever enables a man to think justly upon the complicated involutions of human affairs, and skilfully to use that gift of articulate language by which the earliest of poets has distin
guished the human race, to speak and write with propriety and elegance ; whatever tends to perfect him in that union of sagacious judgment and eloquent expression, which, in the opinion of the ancients, formed a complete individual ; this may be justly proposed to the attention of the young. In this view they cannot better employ their time, than in studying the great prose writers of their native language, the illustrious historians, orators, moralists and critics, who may be properly denominated our classic authors.
It is somewhat remarkable, that in every literary nation the improvement of a poetical, has preceded that of a prose style. Men had made a great progress in the cultivation of poetical numbers, and their ears were accustomed to the most melodious cadences of verse, whilst they were still satisfied with the casual arrangement of a conversational style for all other compositions. Hence the earliest historians of Greece and other countries, though their facts are valuable, and their reflections profound, do not captivate the attention by any pleasing distribution of words, or graceful and harmonious closes: there is continually something harsh, imperfect, and awkward in their expression. For the introduction of a rhythmical or periodic structure of sentence, that composition of words which is equally remote from carelessness and stiffness, from accidental variety or studied uniformity, which affects the ear with the melody of verse, but does not tire it, or seem unfit for its subject, by the regularity of metre, we are indebted to the Greek orators and masters of rhetoric.