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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/541

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537
THE ACQUISITION OF LANGUAGE

a portion of Tomline on the Thirty-nine Articles, and a little ancient and modern geography." A few months after leaving school, he told Arthur Stanley that "Eton was a very good place for those who liked boating and Latin verses." It was the painful study of genders and cases, of dactyls and spondees, which contributed little by little to the building up of the logic-weaving machine in his brain. Let any one who can remember his school-boy days try honestly to recall the sentiments which accompanied the translation of a passage whether from the commonplace 'Anabasis' or an incomprehensible chorus. Let him feel again the emotions which a struggle with the languagepuzzle evoked, and he will, if he can remember those days, find that the real meaning of the passage interested him not a whit. He was engaged in the by no means unattractive task of disarticulating a puzzle covered on one side with Greek characters, and so rearranging the pieces that when he turned the whole thing over on to its back he would find that the other side was English.

No argument could be more disingenuous than that of the would-be reformers who reply to those who, though they recognize the proved potency of the classics as educational instruments, nevertheless ask whether other subjects are not available, if not equally good as instruments, yet more prolific of practical results: "Although the classical vehicles have produced such admirable results, you will be amazed to find how much more beneficent they are if you substitute for the vehicles their contents." This is proposing a new venture. It is embarking upon a new scheme of education, which has neither experience nor tradition to support it. No rational man doubts the human interest of Greek letters; none doubts their moral and aesthetic influence; yet it may be open to question whether boys would not find the Arthurian legends as inspiring as the 'Odyssey,' and the plays of Shakspere as full of wit and precept as Sophocles, Æschylus and Euripides. However great the Greek example, there are reasons for endeavoring to form the character of English boys upon noble types from nearer home. Besides, the noblest masterpieces of the Greeks have been nobly translated. In English they will do more for a boy's mind than the 'Anabasis' will do in Greek. Boys, whatever their career, must have some literary training, say the apologists for the present system of teaching classics. This is my contention also, but I advance it with still greater emphasis. The literary training obtained whilst learning Latin and Greek is indirect, accidental. It is too serious a part of education to be thus left to chance. The grammar schools did not aim at giving to a boy the capacity of appreciating the literature of his own land. The old classical training was a drill, boys were taught to mark time, not to march. Generations of jurists and men of action have proved that when they left their grammar schools they were amongst the most vigorous of marchers. No one