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To return however to our more immediate subject ; the importance of the study of the classics may be regarded under a three fold aspect. 1. As furnishing in its earlier stages a most valuable means of mental discipline. 2. As leading to an elevated standard of criticism ; in which term besides its common acceptation, is included that accurate knowledge of our own language which can be secured in no other way, and also the high science of philology in all its bearings upon mental philosophy, and the moral and mental history of the earliest and most interesting portions of our race : And 3d; as opening the rich but neglected mine of thought contained in the ancient classic authors, whose treasures can only be fully explored in their own unrivalled tongues.
It furnishes, in its earlier stages, a most valuable means of mental discipline. Some in defending the study of the classics have dwelt upon this alone, as though it supplied the only or strongest argument in their favor. Adversaries have been willing to allow them some small merit in this respect. They might do for boys at an early age, when the memory was the only clepartment of the mind which could be exercised. Even Combe, in his proposed revolution of the whole course of education on phrenological principles, would concede to them this slight utility. Although not regarding this early mental discipline as furnishing the only or the highest argument in their favor, still whilst assigning to it the lowest place, we would contend strenuously for its great importance. All of our three divisions might perhaps be included under this head, but for the sake of a more comprehensive arrangement, the term is here used for that discipline which is called forth in the more elementary course of study. Scientiarum janitrix grammatica, was an old maxim of the schools; and whilst this faithful janitrix kept her station an effectual bar was presented to much false knowledge, which has since crept in, and taken up its abode in every part of the temple of science ; especially of mental and moral science. In this maxim however the term is taken in its widest range, as including logic, together with all which is now comprehended in the science of language in general, or philology. Among the Greeks it was almost coextensive with the whole circuit of what we style literature. In modern phraseology however, the term is narrowed to the
science of the forms of words, and their relations in a sen
Taking it even in this confined acceptation, we can. not easily overrate its importance.
English Grammar is a science which should be early commenced, and thoroughly pursued in all our district schools. It should be accompanied by the kindred study of Etymology, with all the helps that could be derived from our best English dictionaries, and selections from our most correct English writers. The history and science of words, thus taught, would not only furnish a better means of mental training, but would also be the inlet to more real science of things, than is derived from all the sprinklings of mineralogy, phrenology, political economy, and natural theology, which are now attempted to be crowded into the brief season allotted to our common schools; and which are the fruitful products of that system which aims not at the concentration, but the diffusion or rather dilution of knowledge. The train of thought in which we have indulged is very far from proceeding from a disposition which would attach little importance to the education of those who cannot enjoy the advantages of our higher seminaries of learning. It is not good that the soul be without knowledge." It is knowledge however for the soul that the wise man means, and not those shallow draughts which only intoxicate the brain; not that system of education which produces only fit subjects for the lectures of empirical sciolists and free inquirers of every grade; which teaches political economy before it inculcates principle from the Divine oracles, and by its feeble attempts to prop Revelation and base it upon nature, instead of establishing faith, only suggests a doubt of truths which otherwise would never have been questioned. If they can only have a little knowledge, (and it is indeed butja little which in this short life even the most lea ed can attain) if they can only have a little knowledge, let it be the pu sterling coin. Let them in addition to the close study of their Bibles and catechisms, be as well instructed as means will allow, in the nature of that instrument by which they not only speak, but think. Let them study words. Then although the external objects of their knowledge be limited, will their thoughts be clear. Then, although they may know little of chemical tests, will they have something by which they may try the false spirits which are abroad, spreading every where moral and political delusion, through that abominable abuse of words, which may be said to constitute one of the prevailing sins of the land. Let logic be thoroughly taught in all our primary schools, in the place of the mere smatterings of botany and mineralogy, and these herds of superficial reformers would no more dare to insult the sound common sense which would be the result of such a course, than a Grecian orator would have ventured to utter a false quantity before an Athenian audience.
The intense interest we must ever feel on the subject of elementary instruction, is our only apology for this slight digression. English Grammar for various reasons, which it would be out of our present course to assign, should precede that of the Latin or Greek. The latter however for all those who are intended for a liberal education should soon follow. Although some knowledge of our native land is necessary before we are prepared to travel, yet there can be no doubt that our domestic positions are best viewed from a foreign point of observation. In like manner, the study of another language, especially an ancient one, affords a more elevated stand from whence to take a clearer and more commanding prospect of our own. The study of the Latin and Greek not only furnishes a better mental exercise, but leads also more directly to a satisfactory insight into the nature of universal Grammar as a science. The want in our language of inflections and conjugations we would not style strictly a defect, and yet it cuts off, for the English student one main department of this science, viz. the investigation of the various changes in the forms of words, according to the various relations which are intended to be expressed. The Greek and Latin are, in this respect, a better type of thought, and more truly correspond to its natural and primitive expression ; although it is admitted that some early tongues are destitute of this peculiarityWords, which are significant only of the relations of other words, are ever the most abstract and have in themselves the least of definite meaning. A language in which these terms universally stand separate from the others, although it may possess more flexibility, must be characterized by weakness and want of integrity. Such terms must either be regarded as forming a part of the words whose relations and connections it is their only office to express, or, if the mind is compelled to rest upon them separately, they enfeeble the sentence, and leave a misty haze upon the thought. In the Greek and Latin they are, to a great extent, actually incorporated in the words to which they belong, and form a part of them, as manifested in augments, terminations, and the various inflections of the noun and verb. The ideas of time and relation which they express, are more distinctly perceived in consequence of appearing upon the forms of ihe language, and thus instead of being purely abstract, they partake of the life and energy of the terms with which they are united. There can be no doubt that this is one cause of that superior power and vividness which is felt to belong to a Greek or Latin sentence when fully understood. The mind is compelled to receive it as a finished whole, and this integrity constitutes its clearness and its strength.
Another reason for the superiority of the Latin or Greek Grammar to the English as a means of mental discipline, is founded on the fact, that familiarity with our own tongue, and our necessary use of it before a scientific analysis of its parts, blinds the mind to its peculiarities and renders this analysis more difficult. New words, and new forms arrest and concentrate the attention. The idea of the abstract distinction between different parts of speech is aided by more visible differences in their forms. A new language is acquired at the same time with its grammar, and the latter is viewed as the most important part, or the frame work of which the words are the completion. We are aware that many regard the opposite of this as the natural, and therefore the better mode. Let us follow nature, say they, and learn another language as she taught us in our infancy ; first the words, and then the grammar by our own inductions. There is a blind adoration of what is styled nature, which sometimes leads to the greatest absurdities. Because we are forced by a natural necessity to make use of our own language before we can study it synthetically as a science, some would contend that this mode must be adopted in all subsequent acquisitions. They might as well insist that the nurses mills should be used through life, because nature prepares it as a temporary support, before it has furnished the infant with teeth, for the mastication of his food. Did not the case involve an absurdity, or could it be supposed that without the previous use of language, a sufficient number of ideas might be called out to enable us to understand the rudiments of any branch of knowledge, it might with even greater propriety be contended, that the acquisition of our own language should be deferred until it could be learned as a science. Nature however has placed her veto on this. Words to some extent must be acquired, before even the science of language can be known, and for the accomplishment of this, not simply a natural, but an almost supernatural process has been provided. Among all the phenomena of existence, no one is more worthy of special admiration, than the early acquisition of its native language by the infant mind. There is not only a rapidity and correctness of induction to which no parallel is presented in the highest philosophy of subsequent life, but also an evolving of what may be styled the soul's native logic, by a sort of instinctive intelligence of which it is utterly unconscious. Who teaches the infant mind not merely to associate sounds with things, but the simplest variations of sounds with the abstract ideas of number, time, relation, and quality ? Who directs its supernatural powers of generalization? Can any one who scrutinises the phenomenon, doubt, that this is a still more wonderful exhibition of that invisible power, by whose guiding wisdom “the hawk spreadeth forth her wings to the warm south, the eagle maketh her nest on high," and the bee constructs her curious mathematical cell? In vain do we expect ever afterwards to learn another language in this manner. It must either be studied as a science, or a life must be occupied in imperfectly obtaining that command, which is acquired in so brief a time by the mysterious infant mind.
In consequence of being thus associated with no scientific order, or one which is laid aside and forgotten as the mysterious process of acquisition is carried on, our own tongue is for us least adapted to the study of grammar as a science; although for reasons which have been given, English grammar should be commenced as early as possible, and even made to precede the Latin and Greek. The mind having thus in some degree become familiarised with the more common scientific terms which are necessary to be employed, these two languages should be very soon brought in aid, that by their freshness, and the vivid manner in which grammatical relations are stamped upon their forms, they may relieve the mind from the confusion of those abstractions, which must be brought to the explanation of English Grammar when pursued alone. It is not necessary to dwell on the propriety of ever combining in classical schools the