« VorigeDoorgaan »
claims on public respect and esteem, when they are qualified for their position, and disposed to acquit themselves of its duties. It is against those who are neither one nor the other that we make war. If the judge passes sentence on certain members of any class whatever, it does not follow that he is the enemy of that class ; it is much more correct to consider him as its friend, provided his judgment is founded on sufficient proof of their guilt. Supposing this guilt to consist in seeking to pass off. brass for gold, or a counterfeit bankbill for the genuine, who would say that the party proved to have incurred it did not deserve to be exposed and punished ? And the truth is that one who pretends to teach others what he does not understand himself, and charges them money for doing so, does more injury to society in proportion as he is believed than the utterer of false money. And if this be true of one teacher, it is so still more em phatically of six or a dozen, who unite together for the same purpose, although they may call themselves the faculty of a college or university. Indeed the evil is increased in this way in a much greater ratio than the numerical increase. If the parties who thus combine have sufficient intelligence to know their own want of capacity, they are morally, if not legally, guilty of that species of swindling known as obtaining money under false pretences. Nor has he who points out to us what is bad or spurious done his duty as an honest citizen until he has also indicated to us where the good or genuine is to be found; for who would feel more than half satisfied with one who, if his lips were parched with thirst, would inform him that the water of a particular well was not who!esume, except he also told him where the good water was to be found ? At least such are our views on the subject. Nor do we think we ought to be the less willing to point out the pure and refreshing fountain, because its owners entertain theological opinions which are somewhat different from our own.
We will now allude briefly to what we consider the best means of securing a thorough education, and then mention some of the American institutions which, in our opinion, avail themselves of those means with most effect. Incidentally we shall speak of certain defects ; but we prefer not to indicate the institutions at which we have found the latter most prevalent. In our view no language, ancient or modern, can be learned without an attempt to speak it to a greater or less extent. If we devoted ourselves forever to merely trans
lating any language, declining its nouns and conjugating its verbs, we should only have an imperfect knowledge of it; we should, indeed, know the words when we saw them, and understand what they mean, but if we heard them read or spoken, they would, in general, sound as strangely to us as if we had never studied the dialect to which they belong.
This would be a serious defect if we never had any use of it, or did not intend ever to use it, for conversational purposes; it would be pretty much the same as to confine ourselves to theorems in geometry or algebra, without making any attempt to illustrate those theorems. · In demonstrating a proposition in either of those sciences, we acquire a familiarity not only with the principles on which it is founded, but also with those which form the bases of other propositions ; so that we are enabled to deduce one set of facts or series of truths from another. Thus, for example, after we have fully demonstrated that the three interior angles of any triangle are together equal to two right angles, and that the square described on the hypothenuse of any triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the base and perpendicular, we become acquainted with a set of principles which enable us to understand several other propositions of whose nature we had previously been ignoraut.
In a similar manner, our efforts to speak any language makes us familiar with words whose real signification we should never have learned by translating alone. This is true of the particles both of Latin and Greek, especially of the latter, which has so large a variety of them. Let any one try it if only for a few months, and then see with how much greater facility he can translate any author that he had
previously been reading. He will find that particles, especially adverbs of time and place, have much more meaning than he had ever supposed before; nay, that the want of understanding those particles, now rendered so familiar to him by the necessity of examining their nature, and comparing it with that of the particles of the vernacular, presents greater obstacles to his progress in translating than any other deficiency whatever.
That it requires a good deal of time and study to learn to use either Greek or Latin colloquially with even a tolerable degree of fluency, is very true; although by no means so much as is commonly supposed, even by those who consider themselves good classical scholars. But were the time and labor required three times as much as they are, they would be
fully compensated for by the results obtained. Thus, let us suppose that a student devotes two hours a day to the translation of Horace or Juvenal without being able to make very satisfactory progress; that is, reading with some difficulty, having to refer to the dictionary rather frequently, and without deriving much pleasure from what he reads. Let him devote one hour daily of this time for some months to Latin conversation, under the auspices of a competent instructor, then return to the translation, and see whether he cannot translate with much more facility than he could have done had he continued to devote the two hours to it as formerly, without devoting any time to conversation. Thus the faculty of expressing his ideas orally, in the language of Cicero and Virgil, would be an addition to his stock of utilitarian accomplishments, which may be said to have cost him nothing. If it be urged that the gain thus acquired arises more from the increased interest awakened in the student by the habit of speaking a classic language than from the merits of the colloquial system per se there is no need to deny the fact, since it matters but little what has been the motive of the student in acquiring more knowledge than usual, provided he has acquired it. But whatever increases the taste of a student for any study, whatever stimulates the interest he takes in it, is an advantage by itself.
There are many professors, who would have us believe that it is absurd to speak Latin or Greek, while they cause their students to devote a large proportion of their time to scanning Latin and Greek verse. Now, is not the latter a little more absurd than the former? This will be the more readily assented to if it is borne in mind that no one knows at the present day how either the Greeks or Romans scanned their verse; that the most eminent modern scholars can only furuish us with conjectures as to Greek and Latin quantity, What can be more ridiculously absurd, or pedantic, for example, than to speak as follows: “I do not, indeed, speak Latin; I never learned it, because it is useless; but I know the exact quantity of every syllable in Homer and Virgil; there is not an ode or a satire in Horace but I can scan."
Is there any intelligent person, having any pretensions to common sense, who would believe such a statement ? We think not; but we are not the less aware that there are many that attend college commencements for the purpose of makingja display of their erudition who, without being capable of ex
pressing a single idea in either Greek or Latin, will not scruple to interrupt whole classes. by queries in regard to quantity or versification which might have puzzled Aristophanes or Juvenal. This sort of thing has become a great nuisance. Doubtless those who indulge in it imagine that they prove themselves great scholars; but it is the cheapest kind of scholarship. Just one hour devoted to almost any little treatise on scanning or versification would enable even one who never had any accurate knowledge of any language but his own (if indeed he is quite familiar with even that) to puzzle the most thoroughly trained graduating class in the country ; although, perhaps; none would be more puzzled than himself if asked to scan the next verse. If asked to scan it in the language in which he pretends to be so profoundly learned, it is ten to one that he might as well be addressed in Egyptian hieroglyphics.
Far be it from us to undervalue translating from a classic author either as a means of mental discipline or a means of acquiring a knowledge of the classic language; but some translate so mechanically as to derive but little profit in one way or the other from the exercise. We do not mean, indeed, that all students should translate alike. The only way beginners should be required to translate is word for word, taken in grammatical order. When the student has made some progress in the language, he should be encouraged to proceed exactly in the order of the original. By this means he would become familiar not only with the author's style, but also with his mode of thinking. Still better is it to have the student translate the sense of the original, giving expression to it in the most appropriate words of the vernacular; by this mode he acquires a pure, perspicuous and energetic style in his own language in proportion as he makes progress in rendering himself familiar with the original.
This is the most difficult mode of translating ; and yet even when well done it is not sufficient. Let the student translate as he may, he ought to be required to enter into the spirit of the author as much as possible. First, he should make himself familiar with his subject, then with his main object, then with his peculiarities of style, so as to be able to point out characteristics in which he differs from other authors. Merely to be able to translate a passage from any author is no sufficient evidence that the student understands that author, since he may translate by rote; he may be so “ crammed” that he can give a very good version of one sentence or paragraph while he could not render a word of the following, or even the previous sentence. Yet this is the sort of translating which is most common. For one who can intelligently explain, who understands how far he has proceeded in his journey, or who is able to tell why the author makes use of one form of expression in a particular place rather than another, there are ten who scarcely associate any ideas with the words with which they render the original. It need hardly be said that this exercise, if such it may be called, is simply mechanical, and contributes but little, if anything, either to the development of the mind or the increase of knowledge. In short, one sentence intelligently rendered, one properly analyzed, whose connection with the context is well understood, and whose characteristics of style can be pointed out and compared with those of other sentences, does more good than whole chapters, or even whole books, which are translated merely by rote, in the manner indicated.
The common habit of requiring students to commit so much to memory, which they do not understand, from the grammar, is another great defect in the American system of education ; it is one that discourages thousands by wearying them with dry details at a time when they are incapable of being in any manner interested by them. Those who pursue this system forget that language existed before any grammar could be compled as a means of learning it; and that there are numerous rules even in the best grammars which some of the most eminent scholars have declared erroneous. One rule learned in connection with the passage which illustrates it is worth a score of rules learned by rote, or learned before the student is capable of understanding their meaning. But it is not alone a mass of rules which most of our students are obliged to commit to memory in this way, as so many cabalistic phrases, but also hundreds of “exceptions," whose signification or utility is still more inexplicable to them. What wonder is it, then, that so many are discouraged—led to despair of ever mastering either Greek or Latin, or of even acquiring a tolerable smattering of either language ?
In most of our literary institutions the practice of writing compositions is acknowledged to be the most useful and important of all exercises. Great progress has thus been made in recent years. The great difficulty is that, in too many instances, the instructors having charge of this department have never learned to use their pens themselves with any