Imatges de pàgina

the circumstance, that a particular rule is found in one language and not in another, a sufficient proof that it is not one of those principles? That a man who knows Latin is likely to know English better than one who does not, we do not dispute. But this advantage is not peculiar to the study of Latin. Every language throws light on every other. There is not a single foreign tongue which will not suggest to a man of sense some new consideration respecting his own. We acknowledge, too, that the great body of our educated countrymen Icarn to grammaticise their English by means of their Latin. This, however, proves, not the usefulness of their Latin, but the folly of their other instructors. Instead of being a vindication of the present system of education, it is a high charge against it. A man who thinks the knowledge of Latin essential to the purity of English diction, either has never conversed with an accomplished woman, or does not deserve to have conversed with her. We are sure, that all persons who are in the habit of hearing public speaking must have observed, that the orators who are fondest of quoting Latin are by no means the most scrupulous about marring their native tongue. We could mention several Members of Parliament, who never fail to usher in their scraps of Horace and Juvenal with half a dozen false concords.

Greek Language and Literature. We cannot refuse our admiration to that most wonderful and perfect machine of human thought to the flexibility, the harmony, the gigantic power, the exquisite delicacy, the infinite wealth of words, the incomparable felicity of expression, in which are united the energy of the English, the neatness of the French, the sweet and infantine simplicity of the Tuscan, Of all dialects, it is the best fitted for the purposes both of science and of elegant literature. Thc philosophical vocabularies of ancient Rome, and of modern Europe, have been derived from that of Athens. Yet none of the imitations has ever approached the richness and precision of the original. It traces with ease distinctions so subtle, as to be lost in every other language It draws lines where all the other instruments of the reason only make blots. Nor is it less distinguished by the facilities which it affords to the poet There are pages even in the Greck Dictionarie; over which it is impossible to glance without delight. Every word suggests some pleasant or striking image, which, wholly unconnected as it is with that which precedes or that which follows, gives the same sort of pleasure with that which we derive from reading the Adonais of poor Shelley, or from looking at those elegant, though unmeaning friezes, in which the eye wanders along a line of beautiful faces, graceful draperies, stags, chariots, altars, and garlands. The literature is not unworthy of the language. It may boast of four poets of the very first order, Homer, Æschylus, Sophocles, and Aristophanes,-of Demosthenes, the greatest of orators-of Aristotle, who is perhaps entitled to the fame rank among philosophers, and of Plato, who, if not the most satisfactory of philosophers, is at least the most fascinating. These are the great names of Grecce; and to these is to be added a long list of ingenious moralists, wits, and rhetoricians, of poets who, in the lower departments of their art, deserve the greatest praise, and of historians who, at least in the talent of narration, have never been equalled.

It was justly said by the Emperor Charles the Fifth, that to learn a new language was to acquire a new soul. He who is acquainted only with the writers of his native tongue, is in perpetual danger of confounding what is accidental with what is essential, and of supposing that tastes and habits of thought, which belong only to his own age and country, are inseparable from the nature of man. Initiated into foreign literature, he finds that principles of politics and morals, directly contrary to those which he has hitherto suppose to be unquestionable, because he never heard them questioned, have been held by large and enlightened communities; that feelings, which are so universal among his contemporaries, that he had supposed them instinctive, have been unknown to whole generations; that images, which have never failed to excite the ridicule of thosc among whom he has lived, have been thought sublime by millions. He thus loses that Chine e cast of mind, that stupid centempt for everything beyond the wall of his cele tial empire, which was the effect of his former ignorance. New associations take place among his ideas. He doubts where he formerly dogmatized. He tolerates where he formerly execrated. He ceases to confound that which is universal and eternal in human passions and opinions with that which is local and temporary. This is one of the mo t useful effects which results from studying the literature of other countries; and it is one which the remains of Greece, compo ed at a remote period, and in a state of society widely different from our own, are peculiarly calculated to produce.

Ancient and Modern Languages. But though w are sensiblc that great advantages may be derived from the study of the Greek language, we think that they may be purchased at too high a price: And we think that seven or eight years of the life of a man who is to enter into active life at two or three-and-twenty, is too high a price. Those are bad economists who look only to the excellence of the article for which they are bargaining, and never ask about the cost. The cost, in the present instance, is too often the whole of that invaluable portion of time during which a fund of intellectual pleasure is to be stored up, and the foundations of wisdom and usefulness laid. No person doubts that much knowledge may be obtained from the Classics. It is equally certain that mueh gold may be found in Spain. But it by no means necessarily follows, that it is wise to work the Spanish nines, or to learn the ancient languages. Before the voyage of Columbus, Spain supplied all Europe with the precious metals. The discovery of America changed the state of things. New mines were found, from which gold could be procured in greater plenty, and with less labor. The old works were therefore abandoned-it being manifest tho-e who persisted in laying out capital on them would be undersold and ruined. A new world of literature and science has also been discovered. New veins of intellectual wealth have been laid open. But a monstrous system of bounties and prohibitions compels us still to go on delving for a .few glittering grains in the dark and laborious shaft of antiquity, instead of penetrating a district which would reward a less painful search with a more lucrative return. If, after the conquest of Peru, Spain had enacted that, in order to enable the old mines to maintain a competition against the new, a hundred pistoles should be given to every person who should extract an ounce of gold from them, the parallel would be complete.

We will admit that the Greek language is a more valuable lauguage than the French, the Italian, or the Spanish. But whether it be more valuable than all the three together, may be doubted; and that all the three may be acquired in less than half the time in which it is possible to become thoroughly acquainted with the Greek, admits of no doubt at all. Nor does the evil end here Not only do the modern dialects of the Continent receive less attention than they deserve, but our own tongue, second to that of Greece alone in force and copiousness, our own literature, second to none that ever existed, so rich in poetry, in eloquence, in philo ophy, is unpardonably neglected. All the nineteen plays of Euripides are digested, from the first bubbling froth of the Hecuba to the last vapid dregs of the Electra; while our

own sweet Fletcher, the second name of the modern drama, in spite of all the brilliancy of his wit, and all the luxury of his tenderness, is suffered to lie neglected. The Essay on the human understanding is abandoned for the Theotetus and the Phædon. We have known the dates of all the petty skirmishes of the Peloponnesian war carefully transcribed and committed to memory, by a man who thought that Hyde and Clarendon were two different persons! That such a man has paid a dear price for his learning, will be admitted. But, it may le caid, 'he has at least something to show for it. Unhappily he has sacrificed, in order to acquire it, the very things without which it was impossible for him to use it. He has acted like a man living in a small lodging, who, instead of spending his money in enlarging his apartments and fitting them up cominodiously, should lay it all out on furnitnre fit only for Chatsworth or Belvoir. His little rooms are blocked up with bales of rich stuffs and heaps of gilded ornaments, which have cost more than he can afford, yet which he has no opportunity and no room to display. Elegant and precious in themselves, they are here utterly out of place; and their possessor tinds that, at a ruinous expense, he has bought nothing but inconvenience and ridicule. Who has not seen men to whom ancient learning is an absolute curse, who have labored only to accumulate what they cannot enjoy? They come forth into the world, expecting to find only a larger university. They find that they are surrounded by people who have not the least respect for the skill with which they detect etymologies, and twist corrupt Epodes into something like meaning. Classical knowledge is indeed valued by all intelligent men; but not such classical knowledge as theirs. To be prized by the public, it must be refined from its grosser particles, burnished into splendor, formed into graceful ornaments, or into current coin. Learning in the ore, learning with all the dross around it, is nothing to the cominon spectator. He prefers the cheapest tipsel; and leaves the rare and valuable clod, to the few who have the skill to detect its qualitie-, and the curiosity to prize them..

A Complete and Liberal Education. Not one gentleman in fifty can possibly receive what we should call a complete and liberal education. That term includes not only the ancient languages, but those of France, Italy, Germany, and Spain. It includes mathematics, the experimental sciences, and moral philosophy. An intimate acquaintanee both with the profound and polite parts of English literature is indispensable. Few of those who are intended for professional or commercial life can find time for all these studies. It necessarily follows that some portion of them must be given up: And the question is, what portion? We say, provide for the mind as you provide for the body,---first necessaries,then conveniences,-lastly luxuries. Under which of those heads do the Greek and Latin languages come? Surely under the lat. Of all the pursuits which we have mentioned, they require the greatest sacrifice of time. He who can afford time for them, and for the others also, ii perfectly rigbt in acquiring them. He who cannot, will, if he is wise, bo content to go without them. If a man is able to continue his studies till his twenty-eighth or thirtieth year, by all means let him learn Latin and Greek. If he mu t terminate them at one-and-twenty, we should in general advise him to be satisfied with the modern languages. If he is forced to enter into active life at Afteen or sixteen, we should think it best that he should confine himself almost entirely to his native tongue, and thoroughly imbue his mind with the spirit of its best writers. But no! The artificial re traints and encouragements which our academic system has introduced have altogether reversed this natural and salutary order of things. We deny ourselves what is indispensable, that we may procure what is superfluous.

The Classics under an Optional System. Under a free system, the ancient languages would be less read, but quite as much enjoyed. We should not sce so many lads who have a smattering of Latin and Greek, from which they derive no pleasure, and which, as soon as they are at liberty, they make all possible haste to forget. It must be owned, also, that there would be fewer young men really well acquainted with the ancient tongues. But there would be many more who had treasured up useful and agreeable information. Those who were compelled to bring their studies to an early close, would turn their attention to objects easily attainable. Those who enjoyed a longer space of literary leisure would still cxert themselves to acquire the classical languages. They would study them, not for any direct emolument which they would expect from the acquisition, but for their own intrinsic value. Their number would be smaller, no doubt, than that of present aspirants after classical honors. But they would not, like most of those aspirants, leave Homer and Demosthenes to gather dust on the shelves, as soon as the temporary purpose had been served. There would be fewer good scholars of twenty-five; but we believe that there would be quite as many of fifty.

University Bounties not Wisely Bestowed. We have supposed that the bounties which they offer to certain studies are fairly bestowed on those who excel. The fact, however, is that they are in many cases appropriated to particular counties, parishes, or names. The effect of the former system is to encourage studies of secondary importance, at the expense of those which are entitled to preference. The effect of the latter is to encourage total idleness. It has been also asserted that at some Colleges the distributors of fellowships and scholarships have allowed themselves to be influenced by party spirit, or personal animosity. On this point, however, we will not insist. We wi h to expose the vices, not of individuals, but of the system.

The Curriculum not Strictly Enforced. All who wish for degrees must reside at College; but only those who expect to obtain prizes and fellowships apply themselves with vigor to classical and mathematical pursuits. The great majority have no inducement whatever to exert themselves. They have no hope of o'taining the premium; and no value for the knowledge without the premium. For the acquisition of other kinds of knowledge the Universities afford no peculiar facilities. Hence proceeds the general idleness of collegians. Not one in ten, we venture to say, ever makes any considerable proficiency in those pursuits to which everything else is sacrificed. A very large proportion carry away from the University less of ancient literature than they brought thither.

Too much claimed and Allowed for University Residence. The defenders of our Universities commonly take it for granted that we are indebted to them for all the talent which they have not been able to destroy. It is usual, when their merits come under discussion, to enumerate very pompously all the great men whom they have produced; as if great inen had not appeared under overy system of education. Great men were trained in the schools of the Greek sophists and Arabian astrologers, of the Jesuits and the Jansenists. There were great men when nothing was taught but School Divinity and Canon Law; and there would still be great men if nothing were taught but the fooleries of Spurzheim and Swedenberg. A long list of eminent names is no more a proof of the excellence of our Academic institutions, than the commercial pro perity of the country is a proof of the utility of restrictions in trade. No financial regulations, however absurd and pernicious, can prevent a people amongst whom property is secure, and the motive to accumulate consequently strong, from becoming rich. The energy with which every individual struggles to adVance, more than counteracts the retarding force, and carries him forward, though at a slower rate, than if he were left at liberty. It is the same with restrictions which prevent the intellect from taking the direction which existing circumstances point out. They do harm. But they cannot wholly prevent other causes from producing good. In a country in which public opinion is powerful, in which talents properly directed are sure to raise their professor to distinction, ardent and aspiring minds will surmount all the obitacles which may oppose their career. It is amongst persons who are engaged in public and professional life that genius is most likely to le developed. Of these a large portion is neces arily sent to our English Universities. It would, therefore, be wonderful if the Universities could not boast of many considerable men. Yet, after all, we are not sure whether, if We were to pass in review the Houses of Parliament and the English and Scottish Bar, the result of the investigation would be so favorable as is commonly supposed to Oxford and Cambridge. And of this we are sure, that many persons who, rince they have risen to eminence, are perpetually cited as proofs of the beneficial tendency of English education, were at College never mentioned but as idle, frivolous men, fond of desultory reading, and negligent of the studies of the place. It would be indelicate to name the living ; but we may venture to speak more particularly of the dead. It is truly curious to observe the use which is made in such discussions as these, of names which we acknowledge to be glorious, but in which the Colleges have no reason to glory,—that of Bacon, who reprobated their fundamental constitution; of Dryden, who abjured his Alma Mater, and regretted that he had passed his youth under her care; of Locke, who was censured and expelled; of Milton, whose person was outraged at one University, and whose works were committed to the flames at the other !


From these radical defects of the old foundations the London Univer ity is free. It cannot cry up one study or cry down another. It has no means of bribing one man to learn what it is of no use to him to know, or of exacting a mock attendance from another who learns nothing at all. To be prosperous, it mu t be useful.

We would not be too sa guine. But there are signs of these times, and principles of human nature, to which we trust as firmly as ever any ancient astrologer trusted to the rules of his science. Judging from these, we will venture to cast the horoscope of the infant institution. We predict that the clamor by which it has been as ailed will die away,-that it is de tined to a long, a glorious, and a beneficent existence, -that, while the spirit of its system remains unchanged, the details will vary with the varying necessities and facilities of every age,—that it will be the model of many future establishments-that even those haughty foundations which now treat it with contempt, will iv some degree feel its salutary influence, -and that the approbation of a great people, to whose wisdom, energy and virtue, its exertions will have largely contributed, will confer on it a dignity more imposing than any which it could derive from the most lucrative patronage, or the most splendid ceremonial.

« AnteriorContinua »