Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 79.djvu/373

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By Professor E. W. FAY


In The Popular Science Monthly for June, 1907, Professor Alexander Hill, the master of Downing College, Cambridge, contributed an entertaining article on "The Acquisition of Language and its Relation to Thought." What he had to say about the proved value of the study of Greek and Latin sounds like a brief for the classics, and ought to be more valuable as testimony than the arguments of any professed classicist. It is thus that Presbyterians who value tradition are fond of quoting Dean Stanley's admission of the priority of their system of church government. So I am fond of quoting one of my candid colleagues of the anti-classical battalions, who admits that much first-year laboratory work in science is as valuable, educationally speaking, as dish-washing. But, after all, the conclusions of Mr. Hill's essay lead away from the classics, at least as a medium of general education; and his generous admissions of their tried worth as instruments of training might, though unfairly, I think, be construed as the sort of admission a skillful debater, flushed with anticipated victory, will make of the strong points of his opponent's case; not to provoke a verdict for his adversary, but to gain credit for fairness on his own part.

A magazine article has some of the limitations of a sermon, due to the special advantage that it either never gets answered, or the answer must be addressed to different readers: even if it reaches the same public, no real debate results after long lapses of time. But an essay so stimulative and provocative as Professor Hill's calls for comment, and in the main rather for approval than for contradiction. There is instruction in it, too, for classicists, which a classicist may do well to urge on his fellows. There are observations to challenge, because they seem mistaken, and it may be well to point out that Mr. Hill's conclusion is a recommendation of change, to see what the result of change may be: it is not a consequence drawn from the observations of fact that went before it.

In the comment I am about to make, where considerations of space do not admit of full quotation, I shall do my best fairly to state the purport of Professor Hill's remarks, if for no other reason, for the sense of personal obligation I feel toward him for his pleasing and instructive "Introduction to Science" in the series of Temple Primers. But I make free, by virtue, perhaps, of the classicist's hysteron proteron, to rearrange the order of the original argument, even by transposing sentences from their own paragraphs, the which aim at no formal logical development.