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of its shroud, of dressing it in the garb of every-day parlance, and giving the skeleton life, health and a flow of spirits, the crime of condemning youth to so horrible a task as acquiring, in the heyday of boyhood, a dead language, would not be so unpardonable, though it would be bad enough; but, to place a child in the hands of a tutor, whose knowledge of the Latin language only serves to make him vain, and to display, on all occasions, his ignorance, whose tongue cannot lisp even an accent of the dialect in which Cicero declaimed and Horace poetized, is crime heaped upon crime. It is crushing the youthful intellect. It is confining the growing plant in a dark dungeon, and expecting it to mature, and yield a rich harvest !
At the breaking up of the night that hung for so many centuries over the middle ages, and the dawn of day in the hitherto dark horizon, the languages of Europe were in a mixed and confused state. They were, generally, imperfect and unfit for the expression of thought. They were the mere vehicles of ordinary intercourse between people of the same country, and, save in one or two instances, there was no spoken tongue adequate to the burden of conveying men's opinions upon the newly born science and letters of that period.
The Latin language had been disinterred from the graves of the monasteries, about the era of the art of printing, and editions of the choice works that had been saved from the wreck of things in the dark ages, were among the first specimens of the art preservative of all arts. It was soon found that the Latin language was a common language to the learned of all Europe. Its general diffusion among the savans of that day, led to its adoption, as a means of intercommunication, and hence the necessity of teaching it early in life, so as to enable the recipient to write and speak it fluently. All the aids, which could be brought to insure success in effecting the object, were secured. Boys were not taught, as now, the elements of the Latin language, by men who could scarcely read it fluently, but they were indoctrinated into it by teachers who spoke and wrote it with all the ease of their mother tongue.
The Latin writings of a Milton show us how much labor and pains were taken to diffuse a correct knowledge of this language, and, indeed, the works of all the great men of that day, are a testimony of the care and success with which it was taught.
The object to be gained, in those dark times, was worth the labor, but though the necessity of attaining the Latin language exists no more, the custom is still retained in the schools. The prejudices and vanity of learned men, and their tendency to isolation from the rest of the every-day world, have kept up the old system, when all its benefits are gone.
Some few men, in the present century, have argued against the evils of confining a child for half a dozen years to the study of Latin, and taken ground against the system, but they have not been heard. Their arguments have been met by the assertion, that, as the Latin is the main source of the English tongue, and the mother of the Spanish, Italian and French languages, it is necessary to acquire it in order to understand English well, and to attain facilities in learning the three continental tongues of which it is the parent.
Learned men appear to be satisfied with this argument, and thousands upon thousands of boys continue to be immured in schools and colleges, poring over the dry pages of a Latin book, and wasting their precious youth in trying to get a smattering of a tongue of no earthly utility to them.
Nothing appears to us so false as the position, that it is necessary to learn Latin before touching English, German, Italian and French, Spanish or Portuguese. We spent the years of our youth in studying Latin, until we could speak it with tolerable fluency, (though of no use to us, now, whatever,) and, master of the intricacies of a dead tongue, our spirits gone, and careless of the future, we were put to the study of French and Italian. It is true, we soon learned to read these languages, but, before we acquired the art of speaking and writing them fluently, necessity drove us from the field of study into the high-road of life, along which we were hurried with haste in the pursuit of a livelihood. Had one tenth of the money expended in making us learn Latin, been paid for teachers of the modern languages, we are sure that we could have spoken and written the latter with ease, at an early age, and then the repulses of fortune would have found us with the knowledge of living tongues upon our lips, and we should have had no occasion to complain of our ill luck.
But, the advantages of knowing Latin are, in our opinion,
decidedly overrated, for we found ourselves compelled to work quite as hard in committing the French and Italian verbs to memory, as we did those of the Latin. The youthful mind does not perceive the analogies between one language and another, with such clearness as to aid it in its labors. That is an after task.
We had learned that “Salve, Domine," was the expression by which the salutation of " Good morning, Sir," was to be made in Latin. But that knowledge was of no avail to us when we came to learn that, “ Monsieur, je vous souhaite le bon jour," in French, meant the same thing; or that, in Italian, “Ben levato,” had the same signification ; or that, “ Guten morgen, mein Herr," was "good morning, Sir," in the German; or that "Dzien dobry W. M. Panu ?" was "good morning," in Polish, and so on in other modern languages. The being able to read Horace with facility, after years of sad toil, did not aid us in speaking and writing the French, or Italian, or Spanish, or German languages. Nor did it assist us in reading the standard authors in those tongues, in such a measure, as to justify the labor spent in studying Latin.
To speak a language, the forms and expressions of speech must be acquired from actual mingling with its speakers, in the same way that the child learns its mother tongue, that is, by drinking in the sounds conveying modes of speech, without any regard to analysis. It is in this way, that the mind becomes so imbued with the expressions of a language, that it learns to think in those expressions. Such we deem to be the invariable process of acquiring a language, to be spoken and written. Any other mode constantly subjects the speaker to the awkward dilemma of thinking in his mother tongue, and translating his thoughts into the garb which he pretends to speak. Speaking and writing a language with ease and power, necessarily presuppose thinking in that language.
But, urge the sticklers for the Latin tongue, the English language is made up of so many words that are derived from the Latin, that it is necessary to study the latter first, to get a thorough knowledge of the former. Admit this to be true, and the English student will be compelled to study all the languages from which the English is derived, before he is capable of mastering that beautiful and powerful form of speech!
What is it to the English scholar, that boy is said to be derived from the Greek vocative, pai, that begin may come from the German beginnen, that way may be a corruption of the Latin via, that from plaisir, French, pleasure may flow, and so on to the end of the chapter of derivations, fancied and real ? If it is of absolute use for a man to understand the Latin language, how came it, that, when a boy, he could learn to express his thoughts without that knowledge ?
So far from the knowledge of other languages being an advantage to a speaker and writer of the English language, we are confident in the opinion, that it is a disadvantage to him. Purity of style among English writers is a rarity now-a-days, not only in this country but in Great Britain, and we believe that no obstacle in the way of attaining it, is so powerful as an acquaintance with foreign tongues. There is a poetess now in the State of Kentucky,* who knows nothing of any language but her
own, nor has she read to any extent the modern and old English poets, and her style is remarkable for its purity. She uses none but the plainest English words, and this circumstance gives a richness and freshness to her compositions, that constitute their principal charm.
We would not be supposed as going for limiting our studies to the acquisition of the English alone, but we do say, that, where there is not time nor means to acquire the art of speaking and writing any of the other modern tongues, it would be better for the cause of American literature, and for the interest of the student, to confine himself to the study of his maternal language. We can never get a national literature without the adoption of this system of education. Our own tongue first, then the modern tongues, and if there be time, then the dead languages; this should be motto of every father, of every man in the community.
A knowledge of the Italian language, would enable a student to acquire the Latin in almost as many weeks as years are now taken to learn even to hobble over the Georgics of Virgil
, and the reason is plain ;—the Italian is modern Latin, and could be acquired in a very brief space of time by means of living teachers, and the transition
* Mrs. Welby, who writes for the Louisville Journal over the signature of
thence to the Latin would be delightful and easy, for there is no other object, in these days, in knowing Latin, except to be able to read the standard authors.
There is an idle argument in vogue about the immense value of grammatical knowledge, which, they say, cannot be acquired from any other source so satisfactorily as from the rudiments of the Latin language. Certainly, the grammatical construction of the Latin tongue is as perfect and as beautiful a structure of the philosophy of speech as exists, but, of what avail is a knowledge of it, we would ask, to the English student, whose language is based upon different principles ? None in the world. You may be able to repeat the Latin Grammar, verbatim, and yet not be capable of constructing a grammatical sentence in English, a common case with hundreds of young men who leave college with the title of A. M. attached to their names. The genius of language is sui generis, and there is no way to master that language, but by a study of its own elements
, principles, structure and spirit. The education of children, from the time that their attention is directed to book learning, we deem, in nearly every instance, to be vitally defective. It is a system unworthy of the enlightened age in which we live. It should be swept away by the spirit of reformation that is abroad, and a new, philosophical system adopted in its place, for the relief of the youth of the land from the thraldom which now weighs heavily upon their irrepressible energies.
Instead of burdening their excitable and tender brains with the task of learning strange people's modes of thought, the object should be, (we speak now of education in languages alone,) to go on and perfect the dear creatures in the knowledge of their maternal tongue. They should be taught to speak correctly by habit. Vicious modes of expression should be corrected by those to whose care they are given, and mal-pronunciation by all means arrested. Hence, the necessity of employing no man for a teacher of the English language, who cannot pronounce according to the highest canons of the lexicographers, and who is not a thorough scholar.
The common process of teaching reading is wrong. The letters of the alphabet are first taught, and the boy is instructed to combine them into words. Were words so