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this, that the most extraordinary, may I not say the most vulgar error sometimes obtains currency, by means of an epigrammatick sentence, by the mere charm of the collocation of words. The fact is, that they occupy our attention throughout our lives; and a greater or less command of them is one of the chief visible distinctions that mark the different orders of intelligence. The child is taught to speak, to spell, and to read—the youth to declaim and to compose and the man strives perpetually to improve and perfect himself in the use of language, by frequent exercise, and the study of the best models. Demosthenes is said to have copied the history of Thucydides eight times with his own hand, and to have committed the greater part of it to memory, merely to improve his style. His orations were composed with the utmost care; and they were retouched, improved, and corrected with the minuteness of a Flemish painter-even to the alteration of parts of words. He was never satisfied till he had given the highest possible finish to his work. Was this an idle labour ? More than two thousand years have since rolled by; and the language of Athens, in the days of Demosthenes, cannot be said to be now spoken in the world. Yet is he confessed to be the undisputed master in his noble art. His orations, said by a strong figure to have been as an earthquake in ancient Greece, still agitate the bosom which is sensible of the powers of eloquence, and offer the best model to its votarieș. Like the fine remains of the Grecian chisel, they stand in severe, but beautiful and commanding simplicity, as if conscious that their title to respect, being founded in nature and in truth, though perfected by consummate skill, was equally available in every age.*
*** Cicero not only studied the Greek language, but to such an extent as to be able to declaim in it, and to excite the strong but melancholy admiration of Appolonius. “As for you, Cicero," he said, after hearing him declaim in Greek, “ I praise and admire you: but I am concerned for the fate of Greece.
If it therefore be conceded that the study of the ancient languages is calculated to assist us in what is disparagingly termed the learning of words, or, as it ought to be expressed, in acquiring a good style—that it improves the taste, and corrects the judgment—this, though but a part of its merits, would go far to vindicate its right to a place in every system of liberal education.
Sometimes it is objected, as it was by the principal of academy, already quoted, that an acquaintance with these languages is ornamental, but not useful.' The meaning of this objection depends upon two words, which, appearing to be exact, are notwithstanding, as ambiguous, perhaps, as any in our vocabulary. They are often used without a definite sense in the mind of the speaker, and very seldom with any certainty of the same understanding on the part of the hearer. If it were necessary to endeavour to be precise on this subject, we might be permitted to say, that in the opinion of many very intelligent people, nothing is properly ornamental that is not in some way useful. But when we have thus disentangled ourselves of one perplexing word, we are obliged to encounter another. What is useful, and what is not useful ? Are mankind agreed about it? By no means.
How then are we to determine what is useful ? The answer seems to be this we are to arrive at a conclusion by considering man in his various relations, and thence inferring, as we justly may, that every thing is useful which contributes to the improvement or the innocent gratification of himself or of others, or qualifies him more effectually or acceptably to perform his duties. Does any one object to those exercises of youth, which give a graceful carriage to the body? Are they not admitted to be useful? And is it less important to
She had nothing left her but the glory of eloquence and erudition, and you are carrying that too to Rome.”
give a graceful carriage to the mind ? Are good manners,
But the limits of a discourse would be unreasonably transcended, by an attempt to enter into a more particular examination of this subject. Nor is it necessary that I should thus trespass upon your patience, already so largely taxed— Abler heads, and stronger hands—strong in good learning-have been repeatedly employed upon the work and I should only enfeeble their demonstrations, by at
tempting to restate the process. As a witness, however, stating the result of his observations, confirmed by the observations of others, I may be allowed to say, that to a young man, entering upon the study of a liberal profession, a thorough groundwork of classical education is like a power gained in mechanics, or rather it is the foundation wanted by Archimedes for his fulcrum! It gives him a mastery of his studies which nothing else can supply. Of its other influences, allow me to quote to you the testimony of a distinguished female, who, to uncommon opportunities united extraordinary genius and power of observation, and is entirely free from all suspicion of partiality.
- The English Universities, (says Madame de Stael, in her. Germany,') have singularly contributed to diffuse among the people of England that knowledge of ancient languages and literature, which gives to their orators and statesmen an information so liberal and brilliant. It is a mark of good taste to be acquainted with other things besides matters of business, when one is thoroughly acquainted with them ; and, besides, the eloquence of free nations attaches itself to the history of the Greeks and Romans, as to that of ancient fellow countrymen. * * * * The study of languages, which forms the basis of instruction in Germany, is much more favourable to the progress of the faculties in infancy, than that of the Mathematics and Physical sciences.” For this she quotes the admission of Pascal.
Some part of the doubt, which, in this country, has been insinuating itself into the public mind, is owing to the imperfect and insufficient manner in which the languages have been taught; or rather, it should be said, in which they have been learned; for there has probably been at all times a disposition to teach them. Enough has not been acquired to fix a permanent taste in the student himself, or to demonstrate its value to others. The consequence is, that the graduate suffers his little stock to decay from neglect, and his parents and friends exclaim that
learning is of no use. Another consequence is, that there is no scholar-like mind, to exert its influence upon the community, and operate upon the mass of public opinion. The corrective is in more thorough teaching. It will require more time and more labour from the student. But time thus employed, will be well employed. And as to labour -if he desire to arrive at excellence of any sort, he can learn nothing better than how to apply himself with diligence to the work that is before him. There is a great deal of affectation in the world, of facility and expedition in the performance of intellectual tasks—of doing things quickly, and without preparation or exertion, as if by an inspiration of genius, and differently from those, who, by way of derision, are called plodders! It is a poor affectation. Sometimes it is maintained at the expense of sincerity, by concealing the pains that are really taken. Oftener it is only the blustering of conscious weakness and indolence. The highest and surest talent—that which will hold out longest, and often reach the greatest elevation—the only talent, I might almost say, which is given to man for intellectual achievement is the talent of applying his faculties to produce a good result—that is, of labouring with success. No one need be ashamed of possessing, of exercising, or of cultivating it. The great lesson of life is to apply ourselves diligently to what is before
Life itself is but a succession of moments. The largest affairs are made up of small parts.-The greatest reputation is but the accumulation of successive fruits, each carefully gathered and stored. The most learned scholar began with learning words. Every day is by itself a day of small things. But the sum of our days makes up our life-and the sum of our days' work makes up the work of our life. Let every one, therefore, who would arrive at distinction, remember, that the present moment is the one he is to improve, and apply himself diligently to its improvement.