« PreviousContinue »
ducal training It does notnot so muly ourselves is
and skill, student, themonious de the atten
reader revolts at such groundless assertions. We do not affirm, therefore, that the ancients possessed all wisdom-only that they were wise; nor that a knowledge of the classics is absolutely essential to a good education-only that it is highly important; nor that classical study should alone or chiefly occupy the student's attention—but that it ought to hold a prominent place in every system of education which claims to be liberal. The design of all intellectual training is to develop and strengthen the native faculties of the mind. It does not aim at mere acquisition, but at origination. Its design is, not so much to learn what others have thought wisely, as to think wisely ourselves; not so much to accumulate as to originate thoughts. It is rather learning how to think, than what to think; providing in- . tellectual strength and skill, rather than intellectual stores. The great object of the young student, therefore, is to expand and invigorate the mind, to promote a harmonious development of all its powers; to improve the memory, control the attention, give accuracy and discrimination to the judgment, refinement and elegance to the taste, and to impart to all these faculties such a manly vigor and compactness, as will enable him to grapple successfully with the most difficult and abstruse questions of philosophy, and, at the same time, appreciate and enjoy the most splendid creations of imagination. But, some one may ask, Do you pretend that the classics can accomplish this great work alone? Most certainly not. A mere classical scholar is by no means a thoroughly educated man. A complete education contemplates other objects besides intellectual culture. Man needs physical and moral as well as mental training. He has a will to be regulated, passions to be governed, appetites to be checked, and affections to be cultivated. The influence of classical study in these respects, it is not our object now to discuss. We wish to show its utility as an intellectual discipline ; and, be it remembered, while we maintain the importance and excellence of such discipline, we do not exclude other sciences or deny their utility. We would not recommend the exclusive application of the mind to any department of knowledge. It is only the combined influence of different studies which can make the finished scholar, the able reasoner and deep thinker. While we make these concessions in favor of other sciences, we may safely assert that the study of the languages is the best discipline for the tyro, and one of the most valuable helps to the mature scholar. The mathematics
and metaphysics are suited to a more advanced stage of education, and are peculiarly adapted to develop the reasoning powers, though less efficient in the cultivation of a correct taste, a chastened imagination and a tenacious memory.
A great part of the work of education is preparatory. The foundation must be laid broad and deep before a stable superstructure can be reared. How often have we been told that the mind, like the body, requires exercise in order to its complete development ? Who does not know, that without that exercise, the mind must forever remain infantile and weak ? It should be the first object of the teacher, therefore, to promote intellectual activity. It is in vain to crowd the young mind with facts and theories; the understanding must be enlarged, before it can contain; the judgment must be matured before it can decide; the memory must be strengthened before it can retain; the taste must be cultivated before it can distinguish. Knowledge cannot be poured into the mind, like water into a cask—as the ancient sophists taught-without regard to capacity. As well might you teach the infant to walk, by presenting to his eye the process upon a canvass, as teach the young pupil to think, by the bare presentation of facts. In both cases, the child must exercise his own powers; and that he may properly exercise his mind, he must be furnished with appropriate subjects of contemplation. The proper stimulus must be applied, and a right direction given to his thoughts. If the material be such as to employ all the powers of the mind at once, time will be saved, and great advantage secured. The mind is enlarged by expansion and not by accretion. The true index of its greatness is its power to originate and execute, not a mere capacity to contain. We should not aim to make the mind a mere reservoir of other men's thoughts, but a living fountain, sending forth its own refreshing streams. A student may acquire the elements of universal science, and, by mere dint of memory, make his head a storehouse of facts, and yet be a mere sciolist. If he has made no effort to classify these facts, to investigate the causes and effects of events, to reason from premises, to draw conclusions from arguments—in a word, if he has taken no care“ to preserve that delicate balance of all the powers, which constitutes the truly philosophic mind,” he has no claim to the title of scholar, much less to that of a genius. We cannot justly predicate intelligence of such a man any more than we can of an encyclopedia. They both contain the
SECOND SERIES, VOL. VI. NO. I.
thoughts of others, and will communicate them when consulted.
If the business of education has been properly stated, it follows that that course of study, which most effectually secures the object of all mental training, is the best. Let us now examine more particularly the claims of the classics to our attention. Let us notice their influence upon the individual faculties of the mind, the memory, the attention, judgment, imagination, taste and reasoning powers.
1. In the acquisition of the words and grammatical forms of a new language, the memory is essentially improved. This is perhaps one of the least important results of this discipline. The memory is more easily trained than any other faculty of the, mind. Almost any exercise will be profitable to the memory of the child; still, in the process of a regular education, economy of time and mental advantage should determine our choice of means. If we take into view the collateral benefits which result from classical study as a discipline for the memory, its influence in creating mental capacity and stimulating to mental effort, by invigorating the mind, and, at the same time, furnishing the richest materials of thought, it may be questioned whether we can select a better exercise for the young student. No scholar will deny the great importance of a tenacious memory, if the other powers of the mind are properly matured. It is commonly believed that a good memory is not the usual concomitant of a great intellect; and, that it is the prerogative of true genius to invent, not to retain. The notion is equally prevalent, that close application and accurate scholarship are incompatible with superior mental endowments. Because genius is sometimes eccentric, and, either from indolence or perversity, neglects that culture which is essential to the growth of common minds, every unfledged witling, forsooth, possessed of the requisite indolence and aversion to study, presumes to play the genius by aping his follies. Every reflecting mind will acknowledge that accuracy of memory is essential to correct judgment; for, in order to discriminate between things that differ, a man must readily call to mind all the circumstances that constitute that difference; else he will decide preposterously. We cannot arrive at safe and equitable conclusions respecting disputed points unless we can retain and weigh the evidence advanced upon both sides. Hence a good memory is absolutely indispensable to the judge, the advocate and public speakers of
every description. Cicero, in speaking of the value of a good memory to the orator, says: Quid dicam de thesauro rerum omnium, memoria ? quæ nisi custos inventis cogitatisque rebus et verbis adhibeatur, intelligimus, omnia, etiamsi præclarissima fuerint in oratore, peritura.*
In the ordinary process of education, the memory frequently receives undue attention, and is cultivated at the expense of higher intellectual powers. “Young learners,” says Dr. Jahn, “ are accustomed to do violence to the faculty of memory, when they earnestly strive to learn every thing by rote, or, at least, to retain it in the memory. By efforts of this nature, which are overstrained, they fatigue the memory, deprive it of its natural vigor, and debilitate it; whence it comes, that they remember what they obtain in this manner with the greatest difficulty, and, of course, easily forget it. The memory loves freedom, and is refreshed, nourished and strengthened by it.” Hence, in educating the young mind, the memory should not be unduly tasked, but only trained to a spontaneous, healthy activity, in co-operation with the other mental powers. In the discipline we propose, there is little danger of giving a disproportionate employment to the memory. If the languages are properly taught and studied, the pupil must think and reason and decide as well as remember.
2. The study of the languages enables the student to command the attention at will, to fix it, for any length of time, upon a single point, and to form those habits of patient investigation and nice discrimination, which are essential to intellectual eminence. This is the most difficult and painful part of the whole business of education. Indeed, it is difficult for the best trained minds to gain a perfect control of the attention, so as to command it at will and concentrate it for a longer or shorter period, upon a given subject. This habit is by no means the gift of nature. The mind naturally loves ease or amusement, better than toil and solid improvement. It is disinclined to patient thought. It loves to indulge its own idle reveries, to sport with its own spontaneous musings, to brood over the creations of its own imagination, and to follow its own vagaries to the ends of the earth. “Every man who has instructed others," says Dr. Johnson, “ can tell how much patience it requires to recall vagrant inattention, to stimulate sluggish indifference, and
* De Oratore, Liber 1: 5.
to rectify absurd misapprehensions.” “In order to grapple successfully with the difficulties of science, the mind should be brought to the task, in a collected and unruffled state. No half subdued gust of passion should start up, no melancholy train of thought should pour in its muddy current, no sudden start of skittish fancy or engrossing remembrance of darling diversion, no dreams of romance should come in to ruffle the smooth surface. The whole soul should be only a mirror of thought, whose every image should be well defined and without distortion."
Such a perfect control of the emotions, passions and thoughts can only be acquired by the truly philosophic mind, and that by intense application and rigid discipline. Still, trial, effort and practice may do much, even for the feeblest intellect. Confined attention is always irksome to the undisciplined mind, and it readily welcomes any amusing day-dream, which may help to expel unwelcome thoughts. This subject is so happily illustrated by Dr. Beecher in his “Plea for Colleges,” that I cannot forbear quoting his remarks. “Human indolence abhors this habit (of confined attention] as nature does a vacuum; and the mind can be brought to it only by the power of habitual training. It is this aversion to close attention, which produces in the early stages of college life, so many partial insurrections against the languages and mathematics; and such profound and eloquent dissertations upon the inutility of the one, and the folly of plodding through the sterile regions of the other; and such warm-hearted eulogies of the literature and various knowledge, which glitter on the surface, and for the acquisition of which the eye and the ear and the memory may suffice; with little taxation of thought and mental power, in which the inspirations of genius are idolized and hard study stigmatized ; in which, instead of putting in requisition the whole energy of the soul to turn the key of knowledge, the young gentleman may skip through college with kid gloves and rattan, worship Bacchus and Venus, and cultivate the graces before the glass and before the ladies; and take his diploma, with all his college honors blushing thick upon his vacant head ;-a system of education that might suffice to qualify men to govern monkeys, but never to form and govern mind."
Now it is found, by long experience, that the study of the languages is an excellent remedy for languid attention and intermittent application. It is impossible to advance a single
duces hing I can be broed attenmarks."