Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/726

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verbal memorizing will probably enable its fortunate possessor to get off many an apt quotation at the dinner-table, and far be it from me to detraction that much-longed-for accomplishment; but, after all, the college professes to fit its students for life rather than for its dinner-tables, and in life a happy knack at quotations is in the long run an indifferent substitute for the power of close observation, and correct inference from it. To be able to follow out a line of exact, sustained thought to a given result is invaluable. It is a weapon which all who would engage successfully in the struggle of modern life must sooner or later acquire, and they are apt to succeed just in the degree they acquire it. In my youth we were supposed to acquire it through the blundering application of rules of grammar in a language we did not understand. The training which ought to have been obtained in physics and mathematics was thus sought for long, and in vain, in Greek. That it was not found is small cause for wonder now. And so, looking back from this stand-point of thirty years later, and thinking of the game which has now been lost or won, I silently listen to that talk about "the severe intellectual training," in which a parrot-like memorizing did its best to degrade boys to the level of learned dogs.

But the case, as presented by Mr. Adams, was really much stronger than any individual experience could make it. He is descended from an illustrious line of scholars and statesmen—men eminent in affairs and of large national influence. His great-grandfather and his grandfather were Presidents of the United States, and his father represented this nation as minister to the English court at a very critical period in the relations of the two countries. These distinguished men were all graduates of Harvard College, and it must be assumed that they were capable of doing the best honor to their opportunities. But the representative of the fourth generation appeals to a family experience, extending through nearly a century and a half, in reprobation of the system which he had himself found so worthless and injurious. It was the same old story—Greek half-learned, good for nothing, and forgotten, while modern languages had to be acquired as indispensable implements of successful work in practical life. We can not give this interesting special history which so effectually clinches the case; but we quote the reference to the fourth and fifth generations, which shows that the system of fetichistic immolation is still practiced with desperate perversity at Harvard College:

I come now to the fourth generation, cutting deep into the second century. My father had four sons. We were all brought up on strict traditional principles, the special family experience being carefully ignored. We went to the Latin schools, and there wasted the best hours of our youth over the Greek grammar—hours during which we might have been talking French and German—and presently we went to Harvard. When we got there we dropped Greek, and with one voice we have all deplored the irreparable loss we sustained in being forced to devote to it that time and labor which, otherwise applied, would have produced results now invaluable. One brother, since a professor at Harvard, whose work here was not without results, wiser than the rest, went abroad after graduation, and devoted two years to there supplying, imperfectly and with great labor, the more glaring deficiencies of his college training. Since then the post-graduate knowledge thus acquired has been to him an indispensable tool of his trade. Sharing in the modern contempt for a superficial learning, he has not wasted his time over dead languages which he could not hope thoroughly to master. Another of the four, now a Fellow of the University, has certainly made no effort to keep up his Greek. When, however, his sons came forward, a fifth generation to fit for college, looking back over his own experience as he watched them at their studies, his eyes were opened. Then in language certainly not lacking in picturesque vigor, but rather profane than either classical or sacred, he expressed to me his mature judgment. While he looked with inexpressible self-contempt on that worthless smatter of the classics which gave him the title of an educated man, he declared that his inability to follow modern thought in other tongues, or to meet strangers on the neutral ground of speech, had been and was to him a source of life-long regret and the keenest mortification. In obedience to the stern behest of his Alma Mater, he then proceeded to sacrifice his children to the fetich.