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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/428

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as was the fact with the gymnasiums, counted for naught. It was only said that the graduates of the gymnasiums beat the graduates of the real schools, when tested side by side in the university. We venture to think that "the most powerful plea ever made in behalf of classical studies," when viewed in the light of Professor James's exposition, will be seen to disclose the customary weakness of all the defenses of the classical superstition, besides being for imperative considerations wholly inapplicable in this country.




That fine classical scholar, and accomplished master of both prose and poetic English, Walter Savage Landor, in his "Letters to an Author," observed, "If we wish to write well, we must keep our Greek and Latin out of sight." We shall not undertake to say what or how much Landor meant by this remark, but he could not have signified less than that the influence of those dead languages may be bad upon an author who strives to attain a high standard in his native tongue. The implication is that the vernacular must be itself and independently cultivated without interference from foreign influences. Obviously skill and perfection in any art can only come from careful study and patient practice of that art, and not by studying any other art. The acquirement of a language for its highest purposes, to become a powerful and perfect instrument for the expression of thought in any of the nobler forms of literature, is the most transcendent of the arts, and the utmost excellence in it is not to be achieved through the study of another language. Genius, perseverance, and an everlasting apprenticeship are required to develop even partially the resources of any vernacular tongue, and, by the laws of all human effort and human success, there must be undivided concentration upon the instrument to be mastered. The Greeks, as we have before had occasion to state, were shut up to this condition, and, by not scattering their efforts upon other languages, carried their own to a high degree of perfection. But in these times, when there is such a passion to become familiar with many languages, there is a corresponding neglect of the vernacular, and no end of crude, incompetent writing is the result. We are told perpetually that perfection in English is to be achieved through familiarity with the ancient classical models; or, in other words, to get the completest command of our own speech, it is necessary first to know the Greek and Latin languages. This stereotyped dictum is equally a violation of common sense, out of harmony with the open facts, and in the teeth of weighty authority. It is simply notorious that a great number of the finest masters of English in different departments of literature knew little or nothing of Greek and Latin, and acquired their proficiency in English by the direct cultivation of it. And that competent classical scholars may be, and often are, incompetent in English, is strongly affirmed by many who have the best opportunities of knowing. An able English scholar, Mr. Dasent, who had large experience as an examiner of classical students, says: "I have known young men who write very good Latin prose indeed, and very good Latin verse. I know what good Latin prose and Latin verse is, and I have known the same young men utterly incapable of writing a letter or a decent essay in their own language." And, again: "I think I know good writing when I see it, and I must say that some who had great classical reputation have been the worst English writers I have known. I have observed this over and over again. I have known men recommended solely in consequence of their university reputation, and I have found that they have been signal failures in English writing—splendid scholars, but utterly incapable of expressing themselves in their own tongue. They have no choice of words,