« AnteriorContinuar »
study of our own language with the Latin and Greek, and of constantly intermingling parsing recitations in each. The benefits of such a course are too obvious to need being particularised.
In remarking upon the early mental discipline which is derived from the proper study of the primitive languages, we have had reference only to that which is convected with grammatical recitation and construing. Even here they may most advantageously be contrasted with any of the sciences associated with them in a course of education.Strength of memory, fixedness of attention, keenness of discrimination, habits of accuracy, the power of concentrating the faculties on fixed and definite objects of thought, unti all their boundaries are precisely determined, and their more immediate relations distinctly perceived--these are the habits and states of mind which need first to be formed. On this foundation alone should we build, if we build at all. Any other foundation is in the sand. The expansion of the mind, or the developement of its ideas, to use one of the can: phrases of the day, must be the work of the subsequen: stage. When the ballast is placed in the vessel, and the anchor is on board, the sails may be spread to the breeze. We believe most strongly in the sublime doctrine, that the sou possesses not merely capacities or possibilities, but innate & priori ideas of all necessary and eternal truths ; yet if we wish nature ever effectually to develope any of her ideas ir. the present life, we must first prepare a way for her. Defi. nite objects, and well understood words must be provided, as diagrams to which these ideas may attach themselves and by which they may be represented and reflected to the mind's own consciousness. According as this is done will these reminiscences of the awakened soul come forth in all their native beauty and clearness. The office of the teacher (if we may introduce into English a favorite word of Socrates) is strictly maieutical ; yet let him not endeavour to bring the mind's infant offspring forth to light, until he has prepared fitting place and furniture for their reception.
With respect to the habits of mind which have been lately enumerated, perhaps there is no way by which they may be brought into more combined exercise, than in the proper study of Latin and Greek Syntax, and the unravelling of complex Latin and Greek sentences. Viewed merely as a sort of mathematical exercise for sharpening the intellectual
powers, no one can be more profitable to the student, than that which continually chains him down to search for the reason of the use, position, and connection of every word, even the smallest connecting or qualifying particle, in a finished sentence of a good Greek author. Great as is the importance of mathematical discipline, (which we would concede to any extent that is claimed for it,) probably an equal if not higher degree of mental acuteness is acquired by verbal and syntactical analysis. Even the investigation of the construction of the edifice calls into exercise some of the highest faculties of the mind, independent of the rich treasures of thought contained within.
The compact geometry of Archimedes does not contribute more to chain the attention, and concentrate the thoughts, than the study, as a mere verbal exercise, of the highly polished and elaborate antitheses of Isocrates, the neatly constructed stanzas of Horace, the magnificent sentences of Cicero, where every thing is full and nothing redundant, the musical harmony and exquisite adjustment of the sweet periods of Plato's poetical philosophy, or that sublime power of words, when stripped of all extraneous ornament, which is manifested in the writings of Aristotle, and which Cicero has so well described as a river of flowing gold. The verbal analysis of English writers of equal merit would not be productive of the same results, because our vagne familiarity with the language makes it more difficult to rivet the attention to that critical examination which is required for the full perception of the force and mutual dependencies of words.
In the second department, however, of the study of the ancient languages, which in its widest extent we have styled the department of criticism, there may be justly claimed for them a higher rank, and a decided superiority over their sister sciences. In this stage we may aim at what may more properly be styled the mind's expansion. The development of ideas naturally follows the previous discipline of the powers of memory, attention, and discrimination; and here the mathematics evidently fall behind in inportance. Mathematical studies render the mind acute, but their exclusive pursuit has a tendency to contract it, or at least to confine its expansion withiu very narrow limits. Philology not only invigorates, but in due time unfolds the intellect. The one, as in the focus of a blazing mirror, pours the converg
ing light of certainty upon an interesting, thougir narrow field of thought. The other, ever expanding, is a continual source of ideas begetting ideas, extending above, around, and within us. The study of powers and curves (tis true) is constantly producing discoveries of new truths, but ever in one direction. They furnish an infinite line of thought, but without breadth or depth. Out of this confined range, they are barren and unproductive. The other is a stream, which sends its fructifying influences over the broad fields of mental, moral, and political philosophy. It is a continual exhibition of the truth, that there is indeed a spirit in words, especially primitive words, and that their critical study furnishes the most direct inlet to the knowledge of our own souls. It inspires a conviction, that however much language, like the other gifts of heaven, may have suffered from the depravity of man, and the moral and mental darkness which it superinduces, it has notwithstanding a divine origin, and that to its ancient and sacred fountains must we resort for those influences, by which alone it can be purified and corrected. If philology has this advantage over the mathematics, with still more confidence may it be claimed, in respect to the natural sciences; and with safety may it be asserted (although we cannot now stop to prove the position) that more expansion of thought, and invigoration of the thinking power is derived from a close verbal analysis of one chapter in the Hebrew Bible or Greek Testament, than from the study of whole treatises on the facts and laws of chemistry or mineralogy.
The greatest difficulty in the mode of studying the classics in our country arises from the fact, that even when most faithfully pursued, it is not carried far enough. The student stops short of that point, where he would have begun to find his studies a source of exquisite delight. Only a little farther, and that position might have been attained, which would have been in itself the accomplishment of the great object. Unless the collegiate course can be lengthened, or the system of instruction in the primary schools so far improved as to leave a portion of the last two years in college to the higher departments of classical literature unem: barrassed by grammatical drudgery, the most important object is almost wholly defeated. Only let a rising taste for the beauties and power of the classics (which is the inevitable result of previous accurate study) be once formed, or
only let it begin to be formed, and the work is done. The student will never lay them aside in subsequent life, but will continue to study them with a fondness constantly increasing, as maturer years add solidity to his judgment, and elevation to his critical powers. To fall short of this is only throwing away the labor of previous years, and unless some higher aim form the distinct purpose, either in the mind of the student or his teacher, it is foily ever to commence.
If, however, great pains are taken, this may be accomplished in respect to particular authors, in a more limited period of time. Should the student (for example) or the graduate who wishes to revive his knowledge, confine himself to some one Greek author, with whom in the ordinary course he had become most familiar, and review bim repeatedly with a careful analysis of every word; not expecting too much at first but content that enjoyment should follow labor ; should he thus persevere, he would, after a few faithful trials, find himself able to read without any verbal or mental construing. We mean by this, that he would be able to take the thought directly from the Greek in all its integrity, without changing the order, and without the intervention of any English words, which though necessary at first, do in fact always mar the thought by expressing either a little more or a liule less than the true meaning, or by resolving a nervous Greek word for which we have no representative, into a diffuse and feeble circumlocution. No two languages ever so perfectly agree, that one can furnish an exact translation of the other except in some mere names of things; a fact which arises from the different aspects and feelings under which similar thoughts are viewed by nations remote from each other in time or space; and more especially is this difficulty experienced, when we attempt to transfer some of the fresh and vivid ideas of antiquity, into a worn and degenerate modern dialect. By perseverance however and continual reading with a forced exclusion from the mind of all English terms, the student will at length drink into his soul the spirit of the Greek; and the full sense of every word and component part of a word will be not only understood, but felt in all its native richness. By this means he will learn partially to think in the language, or at least to fall fully and easily into the spirit and train of thought of the particular author whom he thus reads. The words will no longer be merely signs of corresponding English words, but representatives directly of their own ideas. General terms in English do not ordinarily in raading suggest any sensible image to the mind, but are only said to be understood, when through habitual association, the fitness of their connection with other terms, is felt and acknowledged. This may not only be done with equal effect in Latin or Greek, but it may even be said, that abstract terms are less abstract in these languages than in the English. The primary sense, which is always a sensible image or action, is more closely associated with the secondary or metaphorical in the primitive tongues, than in those modern dialects from which the primary meanings have in a great measure faded away.
Having thus recalled them from the dead, he may dispense with that interrupting and enfeebling medium, which was at first used as an auxiliary, and resorted to from necessity. When he thus enters into communion with the soul of the ancient and long departed author, he will be astonished at the change which will come over his mind in judging of his merits. He will be lost in admiration of the power of that noble instrument by which his thoughts are expressed. He will find himself breathing a purer atmosphere, and his own ideas assuming, through this medium, a clearness and distinctness which they did not before possess.
By applying the same practice to other writers, he will find each one presenting less and less difficulty, until he can read almost any common Greek author, with nearly as much ease as any work in his own tongue and far more pleasure. He will thus acquire what may be called a tact in criticism, which no system of rules however closely studied could ever fully give, and will begin to feel that all which is said about the superior beauties of the ancient classics is not the mere affectation of pedantry. Previous to this, he cannot judge and should not condemn. To read Homer in this way, combining his sweet melodious versification with the full thought and poetical beauty of every word rising richly to the mind from the native Greek, is well worth even a long period of devoted toil. To the disgrace of our schools, must we again repeat it, few ever reach the point at which this taste even begins to be formed. The highest beauties of diction, eloquence, philosophy, and poetry are passed over by hurrying and unthinking