"The English Question" Again

—The waning power of expression that Mr. Greenough deplore, in his admirable essay in The Atlantic for May, 1893, is, it would seem, only partly accounted for by the prevailing conditions he describes, and could hardly be revived or duly encouraged solely by the methods he advocates, With— out regard to personal aptitude, is not the power of expression, generally speaking, a matter of definite understanding ? The most uneducated person strongly possessed of a definite idea finds little difficulty in expressing it ; is, in fact, irresistibly impelled to the expression of it, though perhaps in no very nice language. But it is especially the discrimination resulting from a rich vocabulary and all its associations that can be cultivated by study under competent masters.

Is there any more important or essential thing to be learned than the relative value of facts and deductions? Is there any practical necessity for drawing the usual hard-and-fast lines between the different subjects of inquiry ? For instance, a boy is studying Latin. That “ Omnia Gallia divisa est in partes tres ” is to him neither an historical nor a politico-geographical fact, and is not made to appear so. In short, why cannot his Cæsar be made a means of teaching him history, geography, and literature as well as Latin ? Should not Carlyle’s statement, that the sum of all possible human knowledge is what mankind has said and done, be engraved on the walls of every schoolroom ?

It is not so much the recitation of lessons that will insure readiness of expression as an appreciation that every word in the language has a history, a complete understanding of which is equivalent to the most liberal education. A child who should be taught to describe some one thing or condition with scrupulous nicety every week, and taught to appreciate something of the value of the selected words, would not fail, in a few years, to become more liberally educated in the true sense than most of us ever are, and would be sure to find the expression of an idea a second nature, — especially if to oral discussion were added the task of committing to writing the accepted definition or description.

To describe accurately and adequately is, perhaps, the flower of all education. This sort of teaching can be graded to the capacity of any age, sex, color, or previous condition ; from the description of the simplest objects and things to that of phases of exalted feeling or accomplishment. A child in the primary class — even when this shall be confided, as Professor Shaler would have it, to none but the most gifted persons — could not be expected to appreciate the force and beauty of De Quincey’s comparison between Dr. Johnson and Edmund Burke as conversationalists : “ The doctor was remarkable for a word, a distinction, a pointed antithesis; but a projectile thrown by Burke in conversation rebounded at new angles, and went on splintering and coruscating.”