Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

what principle that small pack of knowledge shall be composed, which he can advantageously bear with him into life. This is the question of questions,—a question that demands for its solution the highest qualification of the priest and the philosopher, while we leave the question to be decided by the unlettered mechanic. Man's wants are boundless; his means of: carriage are small; life is short-school-time is still shorterknowledge is infinite;—what shall his pack of knowledge be ?"

Now, in reply to this important question, so forcibly put by Lord Ashburton, one may, I think, safely lay down two general principles for our guidance in this difficulty. First, that the knowledge in question may be used as an instrument of intellectual development, as an exercise of the understanding; and, secondly, that this knowledge may be capable of practical application. Regard not the acquisition of that. knowledge which will not stand these two tests. Now, let me explain myself, and illustrate what I am saying. I know of no mental gymnastics which can stand for one moment in comparison with the study of logic. I mean the ancient Aristotelian logic, with its whole theory of syllogistic reasoning, and the perfectly rigorous demonstrations by which the propositions are established. I believe that, as a whetstone for sharpening and putting a fine edge on the understanding, giving great precision of definition, and accuracy in drawing legitimate conclusions from given premises, shutting out the truth or falsehood of the premises themselves, the old logic of the schoolmen, as they are called, stands unrivalled and unapproachable. The study of mathematics under this one point. of view is not, in my opinion, to be compared with it. There may, however, be some doubt as to the position the study of geometry holds with regard to it; certainly none as respects analysis. Now, notwithstanding all this, and though it had besides the prestige of centuries in its favour, the study of the ancient logic has been almost if not quite abandoned in all our universities. The spirit of sound reasoning still hallows their courts, but its outward form reposes forgotten in the dust on their shelves. Why was this? Because the study of logic failed in this characteristic, that of manifest applicability, it was hustled out of its place by studies of more palpable. utility. Logic may have strengthened the grasp, may have nerved the intellectual muscle; but it provided no well-.

defined mental engine, like mathematical analysis, or the doctrine of atomic weights, which enable their possessors to master the stubborn resistance of nature. Your labourers in the field do not practise gymnastics, because they sensibly feel that their daily toil gives them quite enough of muscular exertion. So, in our own day, men cannot afford the time to whet their wits on barren studies, no more than our merchants can afford to take exercise of a morning by walking into town, when they are forced to rush in to their offices by the rail. Again, a knowledge of Roman law would be a most useful acquirement; but how can any one give his whole time to it, and much less would not suffice, while new discoveries in knowledge are matters of daily occurrence, and of expectation little short of certainty ?

I now approach another question of great delicacy, and one on which a wide diversity of opinion exists. I speak of the study of Greek and Latin in commercial schools. We all of us know that it is no uncommon thing for a boy to spend five or six years of the most valuable, because the most impressible, period of his life in getting by heart the rules of a language he is never to have the good fortune to learn; to waste his energies in putting up a scaffolding for a building of which he is never to lay a single stone. What can be more ridiculous than that a boy who is intended to work at a trade, or to serve out goods behind a counter, should stupify himself in getting by heart dead rules and exploded forms ? exploded by a more recent and deeper insight into the mechanism of language. And this is not the worst; but that same puzzled little boy must have crammed into his memory long strings of exceptions to those grammar rules, gleaned by the laborious inquisitiveness and microscopic curiosity of old grammar-makers, who had nothing on earth else to do but to gather them out of the musty pages of the forgotten works of third and fourth class authors. To a boy who is leaving school next half, to deal out soap and sugar from behind a village counter, or to look after a steam-engine, how valuable and important a fact it must be for him to know that an exception to such or such a rule is to be found in Columella or Varro. Sidney Smith puts this point very forcibly and wittily. “ Cicero, in his ' Offices,” says the reverend reviewer, “ tells a whimsical anecdote of Cato the Censor. Somebody asked

him what was the best mode of employing capital? He said, to farm good pasture land. What next? To farm middling pasture land. Well, but after that, what the next? To farm bad pasture land. Now, the notions which prevail in England respecting classical learning seem to me to resemble very much those which the old Roman entertained with regard to his favourite method of cultivation. Is a young man able to spare the time necessary to enable him to pass through the University ? make him a good classical scholar. But a second, instead of residing at the University, must go into business when he leaves school. Make him a tolerable classical scholar. A third, has still less time to snatch up knowledge, and is destined for active employment while still a boy. Make him a bad classical scholar. If he does not become a Porson or a Heyne, he

may
learn to write nonsense verses.

If he does not get on to Horace, he may read the first book of Cæsar. If there is not time for such a degree of improvement, he may at least be flogged through that immemorial vestibule of learning—Quis docet: who teacheth ? Magister docet: the master teacheth. Would to heaven that he taught something better worth knowing."

Now I do not undervalue classical learning. As an instrument of developing the faculties, and available for that purpose with most minds, I think highly of it, but only when pursued to a considerable extent. Getting by heart dead rules is “ multiplying words without knowledge,” not learning classics. If a man learns and knows the First Book of Euclid, even though he should never proceed to the second, he will have made an acquisition which will, so far, not only improve his reasoning faculties and exercise his memory, but afford him knowledge, small though it be, that may be of considerable use to him afterwards. When it is intended that a young man shall proceed to College, I am convinced that he should endeavour to acquire a thorough knowledge of the classical writers of antiquity, not merely with the dead forms and fixed idioms through which they gave to the world their ideas, but with their modes of thought, their methods of investigation, with their political and ethical opinions, their solutions of social questions, with their views, sometimes luminous, often narrow, on the constitution of society. He should make himself thoroughly acquainted with the course of historical events

developed under forms of government and modes of executive administration, differing so widely from his own, with the usages of peace and war, and the rules of international law so abhorrent from those of modern times. He will then learn how vague were their notions of freedom, how tyranny lurked under all their forms of government, how little of individual liberty-our great boast and privilege-existed. He will then discover that while they pushed certain speculations to the very utmost verge and limit to which they have been advanced or can be extended by human reason, they in other abodes of knowledge stopped short at the threshold, unable to grope their way through the palpable darkness which lay before them, through the want of the guidance of a method, which, cæca regens filo vestigia, might lead them through the unexplored recesses of nature. And he will be humbled by the reflection, that while for them the paths of abstract science were illumined by the bright sunshine of truth, in other regions, where discovery is of far higher importance to man, they had but feeble and fitful glimmerings, and saw as but “ through a glass darkly” the line of duty shadowed out before them; and that the wisest of them without “ a light unto their paths,” fell short of great truths which are now so obvious, so universally admitted, that they have passed into the constituent elements of our knowledge, into our common rules of action, and gone beyond the platform of discussion. When pursued to an extent even approaching to this, the study of classics as a mere instrument of mental discipline is invaluable. But to keep a lad for five or six years over the unintelligible rules of a grammar or syntax, which treat of things about which he has not the remotest conception—for to understand the rules tacitly presupposes a knowledge of the language—and about which it is not intended he shall ever have any clearer notion, is, I say, an absurdity so incredible, that if we had not proofs of it in the misdirected instruction of almost every youth who goes to a middle-class school, we should utterly disbelieve it. Would not a boy exercise his memory quite as well, and somewhat more profitably, in getting by heart the beauties of Shakespeare, Milton, and our other classical English authors, as in grubbing his way through quæ genus or as in præsenti, or the Eton Latin grammar, or such like, to him unintelligible stuff?

Oh, but some one will say, a knowledge of classics, however slight, improves one's English style. Now this, too, I question. If a tithe of the pains which are bestowed on the nice minutiæ and on the idiomatic refinements of Greek verse or Latin prose were expended in acquiring the art of writing with facility, elegance, and accuracy the language we must use every hour of our lives—were the same labour and study, I say, expended on the acquisition of a pure, terse, vigorous, and idiomatic English style, that is now lavished on languages which no man ever writes or speaks a line of after he leaves school or college, we should not have so much incorrect slipshod slang as is daily written amongst us. The man who would blush at being detected using a phrase of doubtful Latinity, writes without compunction or hesitation any sort of shambling English that comes uppermost. Those old Greeks, whom we in vain attempt to rival, who were masters of the art of composition to a degree of perfection which has never since been equalled, knew no language but their own, and despised every other. To perfect and polish the Greek tongue they bestowed all their care, and that care was not bestowed in vain. Instead of copying their results, we should strive rather to follow their mode of procedure.

Again, it will be said the histories of those ancient nations supply us with examples of fortitude, heroism, magnanimity, and of all those bright virtues which adorn humanity. That to retard the influences of modern deterioration, we should keep those splendid illustrations before our eyes. Now this is true no longer, however just this view may have been in the infancy of modern society, when mankind had only just emerged from the long night of barbarism; when it was but natural that men should look upon the East with feelings of the deepest veneration, associated as it was in their minds with everything great, noble, and good; hallowed too by the belief that “ the Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” first dawned upon mankind from Bethlehem's lowly shed. To them it was the birthplace of the only intellectual and moral greatness which throughout the earth’s vast round had raised man's race above the beasts that perish. But we have now no need to search the annals of antiquity for such examples. We must not laud them overmuch, nor consign our own to dumb forgetfulness. The

« ElőzőTovább »