which should set at defiance what is perfectly well defined as the science of cramming. Could the graduates of my time have passed such an examination in Latin and Greek? If they could have done that, I should now see a reason in the course pursued with us. When we were graduated, we should have acquired a training, such as it was; it would have amounted to something; and, having a bearing on the future, it would have been of use in it. But it never was for a moment assumed that we could have passed any such examination. In justice to all, I must admit that no self-deception was indulged in on this point. Not only was the knowledge of our theoretical fundamentals to the last degree superficial, but nothing better was expected. The requirements spoke for themselves; and the subsequent examinations never could have deceived any one who had a proper conception of what real knowledge was.
But in pursuing Greek and Latin we had ignored our mother-tongue. We were no more competent to pass a really searching examination in English literature and English composition than in the languages and literature of Greece and Borne. We were college graduates; and yet how many of us could follow out a line of sustained, close thought, expressing ourselves in clear, concise terms? The faculty of doing this should result from a mastery of well-selected fundamentals. The difficulty was that the fundamentals were not well selected, and that they had never been mastered. They had become a tradition. They were studied no longer as a means, but as an end—the end being to get into college. Accordingly, thirty years ago there was no real living basis of a Harvard education. Honest, solid foundations were not laid. The superstructure, such as it was, rested upon an empty formula.
The reason of all this I could not understand then, though it is clear enough to me now. I take it to be simply this: The classic tongues were far more remote from our world than they had been from the world our fathers lived in. They are much more remote from the world of to-day than they were from the world of thirty years ago. The human mind, outside of the cloisters, is occupied with other and more pressing things. Especially is it occupied with a class of thoughts—scientific thoughts—which do not find their nutriment in the remote past. They are not in sympathy with it. Accordingly, the world turns more and more from the classics to those other and living sources in which alone it finds what it seeks. Students come to college from the hearthstones of the modern world. They have been brought up in the new atmosphere. They are consequently more and more disposed to regard the dead languages as a mere requirement to college admission. This reacts upon the institution. The college does not change—there is no conservatism 1 have ever met, so hard, so unreasoning, so impenetrable, as the conservatism of professional educators about their methods—the college does not change; it only accepts the situation. The routine goes on, but superficiality is accepted as of course; and so thirty years ago, as now, a surface acquaintance with two dead languages was the chief requirement for admission to Harvard; and, to acquiring it, years of school life were devoted.
Nor in my time did the mischief end here. On the contrary, it began here. As a slipshod method of training was accepted in those studies to which the greatest prominence was given, the same method was accepted in other studies. The whole standard was lowered. Thirty years ago—I say it after a careful search through my memory—thoroughness of training in any real-life sense of the term was unknown in those branches of college education with which I came in contact. Everything was taught as Latin and Greek were taught. Even now, I do not see how I could have got solid, exhaustive teaching in the class-room, even if I had known enough to want it. A limp superficiality was all-pervasive. To the best of my recollection the idea of hard thoroughness was not there. . . .Many of you are scientific men; others are literary men; some are professional men. I believe, from your own personal experience, you will bear me out when I say that, with a single exception, there is no modern scientific study which can be thoroughly pursued in any one living language, even with the assistance of all the dead languages that ever were spoken. The modern languages are thus the avenues to modern life and living thought. Under these circumstances, what was the position of the college toward them thirty years ago? What is its position to-day? It intervened, and practically said then that its graduates should not acquire those languages at that period when only they could be acquired perfectly and with ease. It occupies the same position still. It did and does this none the less effectually because indirectly. The thing came about, as it still comes about, in this way: The college fixes the requirements for admission to its course. The schools and the academies adapt themselves to those requirements. The business