Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 79.djvu/375

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

lish, even, in any way worthy the name. But school systems are not devised for such as these. Speaking generally, the English stylists have caught their trick from their classical studies, as Calverley's matchless versification has been attributed to his rigid training in classical verse-making. On the other hand, the lucidity of French prose, the stylistic excellence of which none but the French ever seem disposed to question, is supposed to be due to the direct study of their native tongue. A writer in The Athenæum,[1] put it this way:

As our best English writers have learned how to write clear and accurate English from their long training in the subtleties of Greek and Latin grammar, so the French have attained their skill through the scientific teaching of their native tongue.

Certainly there can be small question that Quintilian's system of teaching, which laid stress on the mother tongue, failed not to teach the art of clear writing. But, given a method so thorough and detailed, one can not imagine his pupils to have saved any time as compared with Cicero, who attributed his attainment of style to his translations from and into Greek. Still, the Greeks, like the French, learned to write by studying their own language—which proves nothing against the value of discipline in a foreign language, for they also got their education without any substantial drill in mathematics.

Yet, after conceding much of what is claimed for the possible sufficiency of a modern language or the native tongue to meet the boy's need of language drill, it remains an open question whether, in giving up the classics, the loss in thoroughness and in interest might not exceed the supposed gain in time. There are two points we must not overlook, the value of the finger in the dictionary—twice emphasized by Professor Hill—and the great syntactical variety of the classics. These values, and particularly the first, can hardly be overestimated. In seeking to realize their peculiar part in classical study, we can do no better than begin with Professor Hill's own happy figure in which the Greek chorus is represented as a puzzle which the student has to rearrange into English. This accords with a favorite illustration of my own, which I point with Lewis Carroll's familiar line:

He set them conundrums to guess.

In the puzzle lies a strong element of human interest. In my boyhood I used to notice how some puzzle of fox and goose and corn would set half a village to work to get them carried by twos across a stream—so stringless is puzzleland—without one animal or the other being left free to devour its natural food. A simple arithmetical catch would exercise the idlers at a cross-roads store for hours. Let us insist upon the human interest and the educational value of the puzzle and the riddle, and if my simple illustrations drawn from modern experience do not suffice to carry conviction, a pretty paper on "Riddles" in

  1. October 13, 1900, p. 473.