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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/539

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535
THE ACQUISITION OF LANGUAGE

been consumed. Mental nutriment must now be sought for in the primal forest, with aid of axe and saw.

I should be very sorry to be misunderstood. It is impossible to exaggerate the magnitude of the debt which Europe owes to the Italian scholars of the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. One needs to read the story of the rediscovery of the classics, as told by John Addington Symonds in 'The Renaissance in Italy,' to understand it fully. Latin at the beginning of the fourteenth century was so debased as to be almost forgotten; Greek was a lost tongue. Petrarch, Boccaccio and their successors restored Latin and rediscovered Greek. Dictionaries were compiled; codices compared; no effort was too great, no detail too petty if it helped to the comprehension of the meaning of the text or enabled the scholar to amend it when corrupt. It is—shall we say?—three centuries since this work was substantially complete. It is dangerous to fix a date, seeing that able men at our various universities are still engaged upon the task; but it can not be gainsaid that by the beginning of the seventeenth century scholars were in a position to read Homer and Aristotle, Virgil and Cicero, and to understand what they read. The seam of gold was exhausted, the mine had yielded up its hidden wealth; though it may be that for years to come the 'tailings' will repay the industrious work of those who are content with specks.

Yet the pedagogic method of preparing boys for the search remains the same. And, looking at the matter fairly, we readily acknowledge that, however empirical, the method is justified by its results. In the presence of the indisputably satisfactory effects of the method, it ought not to be difficult to trace the true relation between effects and cause. How is the success of a classical education to be explained? Let us decline to admit reasons which, if not absolutely false, are at any rate half untrue. A boy does not learn Greek and Latin roots because they will help him to understand his own language. He does not acquire these languages in order that he may absorb the science and thought of the ancients direct from the original text. He does not study Cicero in the expectation of some day writing Latin letters. For school-boys Greek and Latin are exercises in grammatical expression, and nothing more.

Among the many disingenuous arguments which have recently been advanced in favor of the maintenance of the compulsory study of Greek is the contention that it would be of inestimable value if properly taught. Its advocates are ready to disown the accumulated evidence of success, to deny results upon which they might safely rely, and to advocate a new venture. Greek, they say shutting their eyes to the teaching of experience, has hitherto been badly taught. It will answer all expectations if teaching methods are reformed. Too much attention has been paid to accidence, to scansion, to niceties of gram-