Page images
PDF
EPUB

181

ART. VI. - AN ECONOMICAL METHOD OF STUDYING THE

CLASSICS.

We have made the following extracts from an article, with the above title, in the Literary and Theological Review, written by Professor Lewis of the University of New York. The many discussions on the value of classical literature which have agitated the public mind in years past, seem to have resulted in the very general conviction, that the Greek and Latin classics must form an integral part and a large part of a course of liberal education. Yet, we believe, there is no department of instruction, the theory of which has been more neglected, or in which the results have been more imperfect, and inadequate. We have known the plan proposed by Professor Lewis, to have been adopted with wonderful success, and we earnestly commend it to the consideration of classical teachers. The teacher however, who tries it, ought to accompany his efforts with laborious and minute instruction, and thorough explanation, on which the success of the method will materially depend; and he must exercise a constant vigilance, to guard against a mere memoriter and unintelligent study, by aiming continually to impart somewhat of the enthusiasm which the lover of the classics) feels, and wbich the pupil in eren the early stages of his progress, may be made in some degree to feel.

“Herein we conceive lies the grand secret of education. The fear of punishment or disgrace soon loses its effect, and the minds which need it are those of which we can have the least hope. The excitement of emulation or rivalry seems morally wrong, and must be condemned as an appeal to a passion which needs rather to be checked than encouraged. İnducements founded upon the idea that the acquisition of knowledge is easy, and attempts to render it so by removing its necessary asperities, are soon found to be delusive, and productive only of mental indolence or disappointed hopes. But the delight of accurate knowledge, the charming sensation which accompanies the consciousness of knowing anything well, be it in the higher or more humble departments of science, is the surest guaranty of increasing and persevering efforts for still farther acquisitions. And this is a stimulus under the influence of which almost every subject may be brought, and of which every faithful teacher may avail himself. Only let great pains be taken, and much patience exercised, that the first lessons be most thoroughly and completely learned, even to the minutest particulars : that no difficulty of the smallest kind be left in the way, as a perplexing impediment in some future portion of the course ; only let this be effectually secured, and the student, under the glowing delight of conscious accurate knowledge, and the encouraging feeling that this has been the result of the toilsome exercise of his own powers, will proceed with eager relish to his subsequent task ; a relish which will be increased at every step, provided this regimen is rigidly adhered to. I have sometimes thought that the thorough acquisition in this way of all the forms of the Greek nouns and adjectives together with the accents, quantity, and rules of inflection, would almost infallibly secure a satisfactory acquaintance with the whole range of Greek literature. We need not contrast with this the painful emotions which arise from confused and inaccurate knowledge. With thousands the vivid recollection of the discouraging perplexities which may be traced to this cause, constitute about the only remembrance of their academic or collegiate course.

It is high time the secret should be disclosed, that notwithstanding our Hamiltonian and Pestalozzi schemes, notwithstanding our productive and inductive systems, and all the new inventions and quackery of the day, there is, after all, no great mystery in the art of teaching. Mistakes arise from overlooking the simplicity and singleness of the object. It is nothing more than conveying to one mind what exists clearly in another, with this difference, that the teacher is supposed to see the results and to understand the philosophy of the process, whilst the student must of necessity be taught to take his first lessons as matters of authority and memory, antecedent to, and affording a foundation for, a subsequent exercise of the reason. According to this view, the qualifications of a good teacher may be briefly defined to be these : 1st, a thorough understanding of the science he professes to teach ; 2d, unwearied patience, ever resisting the temptation to suffer his pupils to proceed to a second lesson until they have completely mastered the first; and 3d, an unyielding determination to make perfect accuracy the first thing, and second thing, and third thing, in every course of education, and every department of science. Let the old plan of exercising the memory be revived, if for no other purpose than thereby to give strength and clearness to all the other faculties of the mind. Let elementary grammars be selected, full, yet concise, expressed with all that logical accuracy for which the older works of the kind were distinguished, giving results alone, instead of perplexing the student's mind at the outset with pedantic theories of a language of which as yet he knows nothing. When he has learned by authority the structure of the language as an existing thing, a good foundation will be laid for subsequent instruction in relation to its origin and philosophy. Of grammars thus selected, let the whole, and not merely detached parts, be thoroughly committed to memory, and repeated, until the forms, inflections, rules and idioms, with it their various modifications and exceptions, are stereotyped in the mind, and without any further effort of memory arise habitually and spontaneously to the thoughts. All this, to be sure, requires no great skill, and puts in no claim to originality ; but it requires patience and perseverance, and with these qualities, this indispensable work may be accomplished. Let this be accompanied by constant exercise, in wri. ting, accenting and pronouncing, together with the reading and parsing of such examples as may most effectually familiarize the rules and forms which have been learned, until the grammar, the soul or substantial part of the language, has been completely mastered, and the subsequent acquisition of words will be both easy and pleasant. In vain, on any other plan, will the lexicon be worn out in an endless repetition of the same wearisome and unsatisfactory exercise. Words will be easily remembered and rapidly acquired, when the grammatical frame-work has been prepared in the mind for their reception. To expect it on any other system is as absurd as the attempt to build a wall without cement, composed only of loose pebbles or grains of sand. Let half a year, if necessary, (although this length of time will seldom be required,) be employed in this grammatical exercise. Six months thus occupied, will save treble that amount of time in a subsequent part of his course, or rather will prevent the whole from being utterly wasted. The estimate, however, is based upon the supposition that no other studies are pursued in connection with the languages; otherwise a much longer period would be required. Let a second year, be spent in the slow and cautious reading of some pure Latin author, with continual parsing of every word; the steady

and constant repetition of the grammar being still regarded as the primary object. During this period the student should be regularly exercised in writing the language, and in making double translations from Latin to English, and from English to Latin ; also in construing in this double manner from the voice of his teacher, and with the book closed; proceeding from single words to complete sentences, until the thought comes to his mind in the Latin order, and the full power of a Latin sentence is felt as an inseparable whole. This, as we said before, requires patience, but with patience it can be done; and when the course is fairly commenced, and thoroughly persevered in, the rapidity of the actual progress may be found to exceed the teacher's most sanguine expectations. By actual progress we mean not the amount of apparent space passed over during the first year, but the real degree of satisfactory insight into the nature and structure of the language. Let the student also, during this time, be supplied with convenient blank books, containing well written forms of all the declinable parts of speech, together with all the rules of syntax, aad let him be required to inscribe, under their appropriate heads, every new form and construction he may meet with at each recitation. The commencement of the third six months, (allowing the fullest extension of time,) will find the scholar thus exercised possessed of far more substantial knowledge of the language, than one who has hurried over far more ground, and apparently made much more rapid progress. His subsequent course may then be continual reading, in which he may be pushed to his full speed, and carried forward with as much rapidity as the encouragements of his teacher, his own well acquired habits of diligence, and the exquisite delight of accurate knowledge can ensure. Henceforth he will have before ( him an unembarrassed field of enjoyment, which will supersede the necessity of any other stimulus. The grand object will have been attained. His subsequent perseverance, and attachment through life to classical literature will have been secured. Henceforth his progress will be measured, not by the scanty and oft-times ill-selected fragments which are found in our ordinary school books, each one presenting only a renewal of the same difficulties, but by the entire reading of some of the best Greek and Latin authors. I have no doubt that, by rigidly pursuing this course with both languages, the six principal Roman and Grecian historians, their best orators, and a large share of their epic and dramatic poetry might be read in less time than is frequently occupied in preparing for college. Like the mechanical law of the accumulation of forces, there would be in such a course a continual acceleration of velocity, rapid in proportion to the first slow and cautious progress, and more than exceeding the ratio of the square of the times and distances passed over.

1 *As an illustration and proof of this position, the fact may be mentioned, that in a school conducted upon this plan during the period in which one class were diligently occupied with the first two hundred lines of the Æneid, another scholar, who had previously gone through a similar pro. cess, read with accuracy the whole of Herodotus, four select orations of Demosthenes, and fifteen buoks of the Odyssey, together with an almost lequal quantity of Latin.

Classes thus prepared in the academy or primary schools, will enter upon their collegiate course, far in advance of those who ordinarily graduate from our higher institutions ; and instead of occupying the professor with the details of the grammar school, will allow him to perform, what should ever be his legitimate duties, viz. in in a continued series of lectures to improve himself, and to direct the minds of his classes to the higher departments of classical literature; to discuss the philosophy of the ancient languages; to point out the rich stores of metaphysical thought, which are contained in primitive terms; to examine the critical excellencies of the ancient writers ; to dwell upon the sublimity of the primitive philosophy; and to disclose to well prepared and delighted auditors the never fading beauties of the world's earliest poetry.

These, we say, should be reserved for the collegiate course, or at least for its higher classes. They cannot be realized in the earlier period, whilst the mind is occupied with the drudgery of grammars and lexicons. During this time all that is said about the beauties of the classic authors, must appear unmeaning pedantry, unless the student is led to repose habitual confidence in the encouraging declarations of his teacher, that as a recompense for patient toil and accurate investigation, there is in reserve for him a rich and inexhaustible mine of the most refined enjoyment.

The plan proposed iu this article, as we said before, presents no claim to the merit of originality. It is the same

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »