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step without careful attention. The interpretation of language requires thought, reflection and reasoning. In the more diffcult passages it requires undivided attention and intense application. The student must not only have a clear idea of the separate meaning of the words, but also of the thought presented to the reader by their combination. He must not only be familiar with the general meaning of each word, but he must know its particular meaning in the passage he is examining. He must form a just conception of the import of each sentence, and of its relation to the context. The precise thing indicated by every word and every sentence must be presented to the mental eye, and the exact shade of thought which lay in the author's mind, must be exhibited under new forms, and in new relations, so as not to lose one of its original characteristics. This requires a careful attention to all the circumstances of the writer's situation, the time, the place and the cause of his writing. The author's peculiar mental and physical constitution, his mode of life and habits of thinking should also be investigated. Sometimes an author cannot be fully understood and appreciated without an intimate knowledge of the geographical, commercial and political condition, domestic manners, mental habits, private and public life of the people to which he belonged. So that frequently the whole field of ancient lore must be explored, and the whole world of antiquities be laid under contribution to illustrate a single author.
The connection of each word, thought and paragraph, with every other portion of the work, must be carefully scrutinized, lest in translating we make the writer contradict himself. The nature of the subject discussed, and the logical sequence of the arguments must also be noticed, so that our interprétation may not be incongruous or irrelevant. This process requires a vigorous exercise of the powers of invention and comprehension. Thus the mind is kept in a constant state of healthy activity and pleasurable excitement. Its natural appetency for new truths and new relations is abundantly gratified. The pleasure of acquisition beguiles the tediousness of severe study, and the habit of patient investigation and critical analysis is formed without the consciousness of fatigue. “ The power of making nice distinctions, and of separating things, which, to the ignorant and inexperienced, appear alike,” says Prof. Stuart,“ is one of the most important powers ever acquired and exercised by the human mind. I must believe that linguistic study, di
rected as it ought to be, viz. to acquire a knowledge of things that are designated by the words of a foreign language, is one of the most important means of improving and strengthening the faculty of nice discernment, that is within the reach of a young man.” The same author acknowledges himself more indebted to this discipline than to all his other studies. The judgment is also called into active exercise, during the whole process of interpretation, in unravelling and recomposing every sentence and paragraph, but more especially in analyzing an entire work. The same faculty may be judiciously exercised in comparing synonyms, in determining their exact shades of difference, and in deciding why a particular word is used in a given place instead of another. In reading different authors, their peculiarities may be noticed, their excellencies or defects compared, and their merits determined. In this way, even the young student may create for himself a standard of merit, and form some notion of a higher and philosophical criticism, When he has once learned to think with precision, and to discriminate with accuracy, he will easily command right words and forcible expression for the vehicle of his thoughts. The classical student, if he have clear ideas and definite notions of what he wishes to communicate, cannot want for words. His familiarity with the best models will generally secure him from inaccuracies in the use of language and offences against taste.
3. The study of the classics tends to refine, chasten and exalt the imagination. Perhaps there is no one of the native powers of the mind, which usually exerts so important an influence upon our happiness or misery in this life, as the imagination. If properly trained and directed, it may become the source of the most exquisite pleasure; if neglected and abused, of the most excruciating torment. In those departments of literature which are the peculiar province of the imagination, the ancients stand unrivalled. In their poetry and oratory, the student is introduced to the most splendid creations of genius. It is the prevailing opinion of some of our best critics, that the infancy of society is most favorable to poetic excellence. Every thing then is new. All the impressions of the bard are fresh and vivid. The current of his thoughts gushes out warm from nature's living fount. As men advance in society, they become less susceptible to those lively emotions, excited by an ardent imagination. They deal more in general ideas and cold ab
usiasm in his true, the student science into poeto
stractions. The reasoning powers become more acute, the imagination more tame. The experimental sciences, which require time for maturity, advance with the improvement of society, while poetry remains stationary or retrogrades. “ As civilization advances,” says Macaulay, “poetry almost necessarily declines. In proportion as men know more and think more, they look less at individuals, and more at classes. They therefore make better theories, and worse poems. They give us vague phrases instead of images, and personified qualities instead of men. They may be better able to analyze human nature than their predecessors. But analysis is not the business of the poet. His office is to portray, not to dissect.” “The Greeks,” says Menzel, “ translated beautiful nature; the middle ages translated faith; we translate our science into poetry.”
If this theory be true, the student can kindle the true poetic enthusiasm in his own bosom, only by stealing a coal from the altar of the ancient muses. A thorough acquaintance with ancient poetry will undoubtedly give him a just notion of the office of the imagination in literature, and reveal to him the secret process by which this “ shaping spirit” creates the magic wonders of its power. It is not enough that the scholar views and admires these unequalled productions of genius; he must become familiar with them and feel their influence. It is not sufficient to notice and treasure up the beautiful conceits and striking expressions of an author; but he must strive to reproduce in himself the inspiration of the bard and the enthusiasm of the orator. He must, for the time, forget self, and, in imagination at least, exchange places with the author, live in the very midst of the stirring scenes that called forth the orator's pathos, or kindled the poet's fire, breathe in his spirit, be moved by the same impulses of feeling that actuated him, be touched by his sorrow, be melted by his tears, catch his fire, feel the same emotions of sublimity, and enjoy the same beauties that elevated or ravished his soul, soar with him in imagination, and train the whole intellectual being to like modes of thought. In this way he may acquire sufficient strength and nerve to wield the giant armor of men of other days.
By this process alone, can the student become an adept in classic lore. Some practical men may cry out: “Enthusiasm ! extravagance !” Admit that it is enthusiasm. Great attainments were never made in any branch of literature, science or art, without some degree of professional enthusiasm. This devotion of eminent scholars and artists to their favorite pursuits is the very secret of their success. The geologist is in raptures at the discovery of some antediluvian reptile or more recent petrifaction. The philosophic antiquarian gazes with mingled awe and reverence at the remains of ancient art,—those magnificent ruins and marvellous columns that stand upon the soil beneath which countless generations sleep,
Flinging their shadows from on high,
The physician boasts of his splendid illustrations of morbid anatomy, and of his beautiful specimens of diseased bones; and no one objects to this devotion to a particular department of study, this professional enthusiasm. On the contrary, every intelligent man commends it as the very key that unlocks the temple of science.
4. The taste is refined and matured by this same discipline. By constant association with refined society the individual is himself refined. The mind, in like manner, is moulded by the objects it contemplates. By long familiarity with these finished models of composition, the principles of philosophic criticism are gradually acquired, and a cultivated taste is unconsciously formed, so that, in writing, the student instinctively adopts what is beautiful in sentiment and faultless in expression, and rejects what is vulgar and anomalous. Though he may forget every word and every thought he has ever learned from ancient authors, his time will not have been lost. There still remains in the soul “an intellectual residuum," a kind of mental precipitate, which, though differing from all the elements that were originally thrown into the intellectual crucible, still contains their very essence, and is superior to them all. The student's taste is classical. And can we use a more expressive epithet? Can there be higher praise ? After long acquaintance with classic excellencies, he has an intuitive perception of the beauties of a literary production. He does not need to recur to the. standard he once used. He has risen from the condition of a learner to that of judge, and his nice perception of the beauties of a finished composition has become a part of his mental constitution. The man, who has been thus educated, can scarcely become so degraded as to lose entirely his taste for the beautiful, the poetic and the sublime in literature. Nor is this disci
pline, which thus forms the taste and polishes the mind, a mere unrequited toil, destitute of pleasure or profit. There is a pleasure in mere intellectual activity. We are so constituted, that without exertion we cannot enjoy. Knowledge is the proper aliment of the soul, and the highest mental enjoyment results from the uninterrupted pursuit, and the constant acquisition of new truths. A philosopher once said: “If the gods would grant me all knowledge, I would not thank them for the boon; but if they would grant me the everlasting pursuit of it, I would render them everlasting thanks.” When the student commences a course of classical study, he does not enter upon a barren desert, with only here and there an oasis to gladden his heart, but a land of hill and dale, whose eminences are clothed with perpetual sunlight, and in whose bosom sleep the treasures of a world.
5. Classical study is eminently useful in strengthening the reasoning powers. The art of reasoning is one of the most complicated and difficult of all arts. It can be acquired only by long and laborious training. Perfection in this art would require all knowledge. The noblest productions of human reason have resulted from the combined influence of all liberal studies. The higher mathematics furnish an excellent discipline for minds that have already been partially matured by an appropriate early education. But as mathematical reasoning alone admits of absolute certainty, and all moral reasoning is based upon probabilities, classical study is found to be an excellent co-worker with the mathematics and metaphysics, in preparing men for the diversified employments of life. In most of our daily avocations, we reason from probable evidence. The difficulty of this process is increased by the ambiguity of human language. In the business of translating from a foreign tongue, the mind is constantly employed in weighing evidence, and balancing probabilities. It is made familiar with the very process of reasoning which we need to employ in the intercourse of life. “The mind,” says Dugald Stewart, “in following any train of reasoning beyond the circle of the mathematical sciences, must necessarily carry on, along with the logical deduction expressed in words, another logical process, of a far nicer and more difficult nature,—that of fixing, with a rapidity which escapes our memory, the precise sense of every word which is ambiguous, by the relation in which it stands to the general scope of the argument.”