A Substitute for Greek
IT may be well to nail at once to the outer gate certain fundamental theses, not here argued, for which, however, the essayist is quite willing to make due defense on occasion : (1.) Every study should contribute, in a large sense, to good citizenship. That is the true common bond, commune vinculum, which Cicero saw uniting all culture. (2.) Every study should be preparatory, not loading the memory with accumulated facts, but strengthening the reasoning faculty, so that it may apply universal principles through a lifelong educational experience. (3.) Therefore, though the subjects, the materials, may vary somewhat, the methods of instruction must be essentially the same, whether we graduate our students into the machine shop, the countingroom, or the university.
In a great city high school, where each teacher has about fifty students under constant supervision, we recently saw a Greek class of three only, of average ability at best, occupying for an hour daily a skillful and well - equipped teacher. Another Greek class had consisted of one, out of over two thousand pupils in the school. Meantime more than twoscore must study in the same room, distracted more or less by discussions and blackboard exercises of which they understand nothing.
This state of things is largely typical, but none the less clearly abnormal. It is also, as a matter of fact, likely to pass quickly. Nearly all colleges for women already accept other languages as readily as Greek. Their example is followed more and more widely by institutions of learning generally. Beginners’ Greek courses must soon be offered in every college of liberal arts. Greek will be taught in schools only exceptionally, to groups or single students who early show remarkable aptitude for linguistic studies. We must greet the inevitable with a smile. The present writer does not even regret the relegation of his favorite study to specialists as teachers, and to the student’s maturer years.
There is already apparent a hopeful attempt to agree upon a series of indispensable studies to be pursued by all children. About this required course will eventually radiate, at each larger stage, a moderate number of electives. Choice among these will be made for, rather than by, each child, and will be based on a study of each individual, of his peculiar aptitudes or needs.
There is no room, in any rational system, for petty groups, reluctantly carrying on a difficult and uncongenial study, merely because the next gate is barred to all who bring not with them that particular shibboleth. Indeed, the college and the university will soon fling their portals wide open to all whose general scholarly maturity fits them to work in the larger ether of academic freedom. Few will contend that the Greek language, studied before the eighteenth birthday, or after it, is indispensable to the acquirement of a liberal philosophic culture. Therefore no large-minded faculty will require it of all entering students. No high school supported by public taxation will be compelled to teach it at the need of one student in a hundred or a thousand. The need itself will have vanished.
Recent political events seem destined to quicken and illuminate incalculably the recasting of educational programmes. For instance, Mr. Dooley’s delicious banter about the Anglo-Saxon cannot obfuscate the large truth that our kinship with England, and hardly less with Germany, is the greatest factor in the present and future of world politics. The tie of blood may be ridiculed ; the unbroken tradition of language, of social and political usages, the common economic interests, cannot be ignored.
This consciousness of kin will doubtless become one corner stone in our popular education. What forms of natural science, what branches of mathematics, what purely ethical, artistic, civic, mechanical, or physical culture, maybe fixed upon as indispensable, others can better foretell. But certainly, the political growth, the language and literature, in short the entire story, of the AngloSaxon race, will be prominent in that core of essential studies already foreshadowed.
Be it said in passing that the learning and recitation of the best verse should be vigorously revived. Poetry is the most direct and natural appeal to the eager imagination and to the warm heart of youth. A hundred of Longfellow’s poems are better worth knowing by heart than any mere statements in the textbooks.
It is a familiar axiom that to understand ourselves we must know other men. Eventually, the remotest civilizations can all teach us something : the Japanese and the Hindu more than many races nearer home. But our nearest neighbors are undoubtedly the German and the Roman ; for the German AngloSaxons received through Norman rulers a Romanized speech and a Roman civilization. In a century Germany has contributed millions to our population. A living language, fully known, can be more easily and thoroughly studied than the fragmentary records of an artificial literary 252dialect, long since practically dead.
Such considerations alone might drop Latin to the second place. German has, however, another decisive claim. It is to-day, and must long remain, the chief instrument of utterance for the most advanced specialists in many fields of research. It is needless to argue this point, to any one who knows Germany at all. The wonderful organization of its scholarly forces has won in this century a thousand peaceful victories as signal as Sadowa or Sedan. For example, a man who knows nothing of Blass or Brugmann, Mommsen or Böckh, — yea, add Furtwängler and Dörpfeld, Roscher and Iwan von Müller, — has no right to call himself a classical teacher at all. He cannot breathe the same intellectual air with the poorest-paid gymnasium instructor in German Elsass or Pomerania. If he does not know his own ignorance, so much the worse. In general, the man who has no well-thumbed German books upon his desk is not to be counted among scholars.
This condition of things may pass away, but not until we first assimilate the high-piled results of German research, and rival, not to say improve upon, the organization of German scholarship. That tremendous task will keep busy the three generations of the incoming century, at least.
Meantime, German should be the first foreign language studied in our schools. The tenth year is quite late enough to begin it. In four or five years it could be really mastered as a working tool. Nor should the best literature be long postponed. The supreme masterpieces, indeed, Faust, Wallenstein, Nathan, are ill suited for children. Most of Wilhelm Tell or Hermann und Dorothea could be read in grammar schools. But perhaps the greatest wealth of the German speech is in ballad and lyric. The vocabulary of this literature, also, is very close to the hearty homely Saxon English of our own homes and hearts. Scores, if not hundreds, of such lyrics as Uhland’s should be stored in the memory of every child of fourteen or fifteen.
There may be, in certain communities, sufficient reason for the election, or even the peremptory substitution, of a different living language, though the grounds for the choice here made seem difficult to assail. As Milton long ago intimated, a little Spanish or Italian may be a fit pastime for boyish leisure. For linguistic prodigies we do not shape our curricula. John Stuart Mill and Elihu Burritt may still be reincarnated in every generation.
Thus far I have spoken mainly of primary and grammar courses, extending through nine or ten years. The higher education is, and will long remain, the privilege of a valuable but relatively small minority, which should be selected not by the favoring chance of wealth, but by evident fitness for enlarged intellectual vision. Now, our high-school course needs a central study, or a mighty connecting bond among its studies, springing naturally out of the previous education, which shall illuminate and enliven all tasks set during these four or five years. This is the true “ correlation of studies,” when all are felt to be converging toward a visible and worthy central goal. Of course the inner or subjective ideal in all education is the philosophic adjustment of the individual, with all his powers, to life, with all its problems. But is it possible to outline or to name a corresponding external and objective field of work ?
The essential unity of all human history gleams upon the seer in his moments of purest inspiration.
I count the gradual gain of Man,”
as Whittier sings, devoutest of our home poets. More easily unified is the advance of the Western Aryan, belting the globe at last, from the first dawning selfconsciousness in the Homeric Hellene to the impending invasion of China by the European spirit of progress. Africa is no longer the dark continent. Asia will soon be no more the mysterious Orient. The task left unfinished by Alexander is completed by the English in India, by Russia on the northern steppes. The passing of China, lastly, we may well live to see. The antithesis of East and West is dissolving as we gaze. We can all realize, to-day, the unity of our history, as no generation before us, as hardly a Freeman or a Von Ranke of fifty years ago, could descry it. Mere children may
The harvest that the dead have sown,”
in the spirit of large-minded philosophic scholarship.
The story of the Aryan race, I say, is one. Its literature is one great side of that story, the imaginative and ideal side, far more faithful, at least to the divine possibilities of our nature, than the mere chronicle of bloody wars, or even the slow tale of physical and mechanical improvement. The arts that make life beautiful are in truth usually identical with those which make it endurable. Music, most ideal of all, has won more battles than gunpowder, has steadied a wavering column oftener than coffee, whiskey, or bread. The architect builds the temple, and strengthens the hut walls against the winter cold. Is either alone his proper task ? Both are essential to a true history of civilization.
So the poet who creates an Iliad, a Commedia, a Canterbury pilgrimage, performs, incidentally, more economic work than a million ordinary toilers, by quickening the growth of a common speech, rousing a prouder consciousness of unity in race, religion, and political ideals. All this prepares men for larger combined action, of which the selfish barbarian could not even dream. Even if Troy never existed, any more than Camelot, yet the Iliad is none the less the first chapter in European history, because it was the Bible of the first civilized race, moulding a dozen generations far more than did the dim tradition of an actual past. We may not believe Achilles ever lived, but Alexander envied and imitated him.
My substitute for Greek is already foreshadowed. Latin should remain as the chief alien language study in high schools and other secondary institutions. On its purely linguistic side it should be frankly affiliated with the vital study of English. At the same time, German should at least be used enough so that it shall not be lost. But there should appear prominently in all our curricula a study whose textbooks are not yet written, whose competent special teachers we have hardly begun to train, — the true history of civilization. Indeed, the creation of such books, the equipment of such teachers, should command at once the best united efforts of the historian, the literary critic, and the philosophic student of those arts which create comfort and beauty, which are therefore indispensable alike to man’s body and to his soul.
A day may come when no schoolboy shall know the five Homeric variants for the infinitive to be, provided every boy and girl has a living realization that the Iliad created the consciousness of kin among Hellenes; that Helen is, from Homer’s day to Tennyson’s, in all civilized lands, the type of treacherous beauty, Penelope of wifely devotion, Achilles of short-lived valor, Odysseus of selfpreserving craft. Perhaps the number of those students who read Æschylus’ Prometheus in Greek is destined still to grow less ; we hope all will hear the myth expounded by the professor of sociology. Though every youth can trace a Latin derivation in the Century Dictionary, and differentiate, for instance, preposterous from ridiculous, I doubt if all can fully enjoy the long pathetic roll of the Virgilian hexameter, the
Ever moulded by the lips of man.”
At least they may see how near Augustus came to world-wide dominion, and how truly the Æneid was the chief bulwark of the imperial throne, the widest interpreter of Roman statesmanship.
Such a study as this must never harden into rigid moulds, never become dead and fossilized. It may always crave many books, or teachers wiser, more alive, than any book. Meantime, even an ideal stigmatized as unattainable need not be wholly fruitless. Surely we may insist on two elemental necessities : all teachers must themselves be enthusiastic students ; all enlightened study is an attempt to adjust the minutest fact, or the largest principle, in its proper relation to the whole law of truth one and indivisible, to life.
William Cranston Lawton.