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As the question of Classical Learning occurs in the foregoing Essay, — the Author hopes that he may be excused quoting a part of an Address delivered by him at the last Anniversary (June 19, 1844) of the Protestant Dissenters' Grammar School, near London: it has only been printed in a Periodical.
In an age of calculation, a mechanical age, it was the honour of this School to seek and uphold Grammar Learning. The temptation, the increasing temptation, the sordid temptation, was to turn all instruction into a craft, a manipulation. There was appetite for very little more. No clamorous importunity demanded this sterner style. Objections were even heard against it. Its likelihood of superfluousness was urged. Its irreligiousness was denounced. But here this noble Institution made its stand. It would parley with none of the common-places of vulgar ignorance or mistaken scrupulousness. It joined its assent to the authority of universal experience, that the acquirement of languages, especially of the classic languages, is the foundation of the greatest learning, and the instrument best fitted for intellectual outgrowth. None contend for exclusive attention to them. None suppose that they comprehend the utmost materials of indoctrination. Mathematical and physical enquiries deserve no mean place in our institutes of tuition. But is the youthful mind capable of their highest principia 1 Ought it not to pass through a strengthening, expanding, preparation? Would not rigid science overstrain it? The cultivation of the richest languages, in the mean while, elicits and braces its energies. Oh how narrowly do they understand, or rather, how unrighteously do they propound, the case, whose sole notion of learning a language is to get a glossary by rote! They know not that language is the expression of some people's inward life and heart! They know not that language is the minute inscription of habits and tastes which no public monuments can record! They know not that the words of the wise are the chronicles of their wisdom, and the words of the good are the emanations of their goodness! They know not that in the loss of these particular dialects of human speech, the loss must follow of the experience furnished by the most wonderful nations of the world! They know not that men must think in words, and that by words only can they be induced to think! They know not that language is the best analytic test of mental precision, so that rarely is that justly conceived which cannot be expressed! Thus the ancient Greeks declared reason and speech by the same word.*
This is not the time to defend our curriculum. That time is past. We cannot renew the controversy. It is settled. It is fatuous to regard it in a way the most hypothetical as that it can be disturbed. It is a fixed, demonstrated, Copernican, truth.
Only there is a defence of it almost worse than its impeachment. We love not selfish considerations in the unfoldings of the rational and moral principles of our nature. We would not press the care of youthful training upon a scale of social convenience and utility. A smattering of this lore is, forsooth, to be tolerated, because it may assist the conquest of the mercantile modern tongues! It may help the
chemist and the botanist! It may guide the plodder through laborious nomenclatures! It is, perhaps, just endured, because deemed essential to a certain grade of society, and with a hope that it may be attended with civil advantage! It is submitted to as a sacrifice! It is borne with as a loss! It is secretly regretted! At heart it is despised! Aspirations are indulged that it shall soon yield before the discoveries of cerebral organization or of practical thrift!
Oh let us never plead the cause of those great forms of utterance, those musical effusions, those variegated terminologies, those heart-deep vibrations, those scenic epithets, those transparent self-reflections of the mind and the sensibility of the hidden man,—those languages which give us citizenship in ancient states, until we burn with their patriotic passions, and a seat around ancient roof-trees, until we are entangled with their domestic ties ;—those languages which lead us through long-lost cities and homes, far more unerringly than we can find our way through such cities and homes when actually laid open from their volcanic inundation ;—those languages which are as a song of the affections, an enthusiasm of the faculties, of our nature, when of itself it was most dignified and sublimated;—those languages which are full of the aesthetic of beauty and grandeur; — those languages to which others, only as they approach them, are graceful, apt, and strong;—let their cause never be pleaded on grounds of a low expediency, nor hold quarrel for them with "sophisters, oeconomists, and calculators." It is too high a cause for them to appreciate, and can only be conducted by the generous views and emotions which they do not understand.
The study of the Greek and Latin writings has been severely condemned as irreligious. They are most certainly the productions of Pagan writers, and their allusions of a sacred character are formed upon the mythology which they professed. The objection must equally lie against the study of their statuary and architecture. We must cast down all those prodigies of the antique,—those breathing marbles before which we can hardly breathe,—those friezes, those entablatures, those capitals, those colonnades, those arches, which seem to form themselves afresh before our eyes, and to build up anew their original structures. Of the chief classic writings it may be affirmed that they are imbued with a sincere piety. Reverent is the mention of their gods. They impute disaster of every kind to the neglect of the temples. They accept of rule and power as divine gifts on the humble subordination of a people to supernal rule and power. "Hinc omne principium, huc refer exitum."* Why is Mezentius held up to our horror? "Contemptor Divum."t Why are we made to shrink from his prowess and defiance ?" Dextra mihi Deus." Why does the death of the tyrant, though the slaughter of his son might have constrained our pity, fail to draw a tear? "Nec Divum parcimus ulli." Homer is very chastity in his household descriptions, and he is a devout worshipper of those divinities whom his machines so often require and reveal. Pindar, with all his flights and fervours is without a stain. Think of the historians, Herodotus, and Thucydides, and Livy,—the orators, Isocrates, Demosthenes, Cicero,—and where is the fear of harm? In a few places of the epic, and a few more of the lyric, poets, there is polluting image and diction. In some of the moralists there is profaneness. But there is room enough for selection. Suppose that Catullus, Ovid, and Lucretius, were never brought into our schools. It would be loss; but a good acquaintance with Latin, and better Latin, might be formed without them. I have lately most reluctantly come to the conclusion, that Plato is a very tainted writer : but the Middle Attic may be studied without his use, and he is not often set before our youth. The Greek tragedians are singularly pure. We would
hide and exculpate nothing wrong: our wonder, however, is, that in heathen works these vices should be so rare. To say that they are idolaters is certainly gratuitous: but was boy ever proselytised to their superstition? Might not the preceptor direct the pupil to the manner of homage and faith which they bear to their fabled deities, and teach him hence the constant acknowledgment which he ought to render to the Holy One and True 1 To say that the ancient classics are fraught with recitals of battles, is but slightly to condemn them: was boy ever turned into soldier by the blood of mortals and the ichor of immortals, mingled together on the Trojan plain? If battles did occur, it cannot be strange that annalists recorded, or that bards sung, them: the struggles of Thermopylae, Marathon, and Salamis, surely may be told and read: and should any fear that the youth thus taught should fly to arms, it can only be just to remember, that far more probably would strifes of a later and patriotic interest fire his fancy, and native heroes of the past and present hour arouse his emulation. Give these renowned models of writing their own principles of a deplorably false religion, and I fearlessly say, that they present nothing more extraordinary than their devout spirit and their blameless delicacy. He must possess a strange sense of virtue who takes refuge from them in our Gibbon, Dryden, and Pope. There would be as little happiness of escape from Aristophanes and Terence into our native comedy: even Shakspeare's tragic bust is not so unblurred and unsoiled as are the heads which the Grecian Melpomene has so long since crowned.
The higher state of education among us has been very salutary as to our profession of Christianity. When learning was sinking low, an unhealthy feebleness came over all beside. Enquiry was arrested, and thought was proscribed. Our religious belief began to dote. A poverty of conception, an effeminacy of language, presented all sacred principles most