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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/429

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EDITOR'S TABLE.

and very often have a heavy, cumbrous way of expressing themselves."

But the most striking exemplification of this principle on a grand scale is probably now to be found in Germany. From the article of Professor James we gather that the dead-language superstition holds on in that country with the greatest inveteracy. Dead languages are the center and pivot of the national system of education, maintained with unrelenting tenacity in all the favorite government institutions of culture, the trade-mark of social position, and the gateways to all honor and emolument. In the official preparatory schools, the gymnasia, twice as much time and labor are given to Latin and Greek as in our own colleges. Certainly here, if anywhere, we should observe the general reflex advantages upon the vernacular speech of life-long intercourse of the cultivated German mind with the classical masterpieces. If the study of dead languages can perfect a living language, then surely the German language should have become the world's model in every desirable attribute, and German books should be taken as the world's standards of the finest lingual achievement. If the virtues of grinding in Latin and Greek are so great as they are alleged to be, German writing should be the type of lucidity, elegance, conciseness, and force of expression. But such are not the characters for which the German writers are usually distinguished. They are the worst expositors in the world, and the national habit is so careless and slovenly that it is recognized even by some German writers themselves as a national reproach. Professor Helmholtz translated a series of works into German, among other reasons for the avowed purpose of doing something to raise the standard of clearness and simplicity in the use of the German language. These works, offered as exemplars, were not from the treasures of Latin and Greek, but were from a living language, the English, and by a writer, Professor Tyndall, who had attained his remarkable mastery of the native tongue by the critical study of it, and not by the study of dead languages. The following extract from an editorial in "Science" of October 5th sufficiently illustrates the literary habits and general state of mind of a people trained beyond any other people in the old languages of Greece and Rome:

In German scientific writings the excellence of the matter usually contrasts vividly with the defective style and presentation. Indeed, the Germans, despite the superiority of their modern literature, are awkward writers, and too often slovenly in literary composition. Conciseness and clearness are good qualities, which may assuredly be attained by the expenditure of thought and pains; but these the German investigator seems unwilling, in many cases, to bestow upon his pen-work, but follows the easier plan of great diffuseness. Besides this, another defect is not uncommon—the ill-considered arrangement of the matter. This occurs in all degrees, from a well-nigh incredible confusion (to be sometimes found even in elaborate and important essays) to a slightly illogical order. In this regard, a curious and not infrequent variety of this fault deserves mention. According to the headings of the chapters or sections, the division of topics is perfect; but under each head the matters are tumbled together as if a clerk was contented to stuff his papers in anyhow, if only he crammed them into the right pigeon-hole. Speaking broadly, the German mind lacks conspicuously the habits of clearness and order. There have been celebrated exceptions, but they were individual. The nation regards itself as having a decidedly philosophical bent, meaning a facility at taking broad and profound views of the known. We venture to contradict this opinion, doing it advisedly. Their profundity is mysticism, their breadth vagueness, yet a good philosopher must think clearly. It is a remarkable but little-heeded fact, that Germany has not contributed her share to the generalizations of science; she has produced no Linné, Darwin, Lyell, Lavoisier, or Descartes, each of whom bequeathed to posterity a new realm of knowledge, although she has given to the world grand results by the accumulated achievements of her investigators. The German's imperfect sense of humor is another obstacle which besets him on every path. He is cut off from the perception of some absurdity, like that of Kant's neumenon, for instance. One can not explain this