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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/279

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EDITOR'S TABLE.

tant—faculties of the mind those which can only be aroused to vigorous action by direct application to the facts of the phenomenal world. That classical studies fail here has been long conceded. Dr. Whewell declares that "mere classical reading is a narrow and enfeebling education," and Sydney Smith speaks of "the safe and elegant imbecilities of classical culture." A system characterized by feebleness and imbecility in its mental reactions is no preparation for dealing with the stern problems of modern life. More and more it is felt to be out of place, and is consequently neglected. No kind of culture degenerates so readily into stupid mechanical routine as that of language. Professor Halford Vaughn thus characterizes the effects upon the mind of our excessive addition to lingual pursuits: "There is no study that could prove more successful in producing often thorough idleness and vacancy of mind, parrot-like repetition and sing-song knowledge, to the abeyance and destruction of the intellectual powers, as well as to the loss and paralysis of the outward senses, than our traditional study and idolatry of language." Very properly may it be said that our inordinate study of language is an idolatry of which the blind devotion to Greek is but the fetichistic form. The cause of the failure of the classics is, therefore, not because a thousand years of experience with them has failed to give us good methods of study, but because, in the competition with modern sciences, as Canon Farrar remarks, "they have been weighed in the balance and found wanting."

We have, therefore, to regard the educational failure of the dead languages as a result of the progress of the human mind, and therefore as a normal and inevitable thing. They hold their position against the advancing knowledge of the age through the power of tradition, through the blind veneration of things ancient, because they represent a conventional culture, and are conserved by old and wealthy institutions. There is, besides, a good deal of money in the classics, which is not to be overlooked when we wish to account for the tenacity with which they are maintained. Professor Gildersleeve, in a recent article "On Classics in Colleges," in the "Princeton Review," takes a very hopeful view of their continued ascendency because, among other reasons, "the vested interests of classical study are, even from a mercantile point of view, enormous. Not only teachers, but bookmakers, have a heavy stake in the fortunes of the classics, and the capital involved in them reminds us of the pecuniary hold of paganism in the early Christian centuries." Through the operation of such causes, the classics will undoubtedly linger long in the universities, but that they must yield to the pressure of modern knowledge is inevitable; and the indications that they are yielding are apparent on every hand.

But if the failure of dead-language studies be thus necessary for the causes assigned, can they then be said to succeed, even if the student accomplishes everything proposed? Is it so entirely clear that he who faithfully masters them is not worse off than he who slurs and neglects them? The presidents of our colleges tell us that the students of Latin and Greek actually succeed, even when they seem to fail; but may it not be said with more truth that they fail even when they seem most to succeed, so that it is hardly a paradox to say the greater the success the greater the failure? If classical studies are behind the age and out of place, then the greater the proficiency the worse the displacement. The hope is on the idlers at the tails of their classes, as they stand a chance of learning something else, while the poor victim of classical infatuation, with his cultivated contempt of everything useful, comes out the most pitiable of all failures. Hap-