Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

a

them, not only without disgust, but with pleasure and admitation.

It is a common remark, that knowledge acquired with ease is soon obliterated, while we pertinaciously retain the fruit of labor. Thus the classical student has laid a solid foundation for excellence ; when the mere English scholar, by a rapid perusal of books, has gained only superficial ideas; and, by a supposed acquaintance with every science, has closed the avenues of real wisdom.

Universal experience demonstrates, that no real advantage arises from instructing boys in moral or natural philosophy. These studies require a maturity of judgment, which early youth does not possess.

A good memory, a habit of patient investigation, are then primary objects ; and no studies are more favorable to these improvements, than those, whose cause we now plead.

Some, who have not the hardiness to deny, that we derive much benefit from the classics, assert, that a sufficient knowledge of them may be obtained by means of translations. This they esteem an objection so formidable, as at once to silence all, who contend for reading them in the original tongues. Candor will however confess, that a translation in the higher kinds of writing must necessarily be inferior to the archetype. The beauty of style is gone. That verbum ardens, that glowing expression, so pleasing in the original, appears not in the copy. To contemplate the works of CICERO and VIRGIL in the medium of a translation is indeed seeing them through a glass darkly. Their finer beauties of sentiment, their delicate allusions and turns of thought, together with the harmonious arrangement of their language, are either dimly seen, or totally obscured.

Uncommon excellence in literature can only result from à noble emulation, which presses forward against difficulties, with a full determination to overcome them. If we are taught to aim at the second prize, instead of boldly, striving for the first, our ardor in the race will soon abate, and we shall obtain-neither. What must we then think of those,

с

[ocr errors]

whose first lesson to their pupils is to impress upon them the belief, that to study the ancients in their original languages is too difficult a task. Youth easily imbibes and extends these maxims of idleness ; and yet the foolish instructors are astonished at the ill success of their labors.

We shall mention some benefits, which may result from the study of the classics.

To extol the ancients and depreciate the moderns has been a favorite employment with some admirers of antiquity. Former times are represented as the golden age of the world, when wisdom and virtue were universally prevalent. We have already had too much of this ridiculous cant.

It is our pride and pleasure to believe, that the world is at present at least as humane, as virtuous, and consequently as happy, as at any former period. Yet if we are superior to the Greeks and Romans in the milder and more amiable virtues of socio ety, we are deficient in those heroic and disinterested sentiments, which they certainly possessed. Our virtue is too much the effect of calculation ; and a habit of coolly reasoning on every subject has almost annihilated the warm and generous feelings of the heart. The present age is also unhappily disa tinguished by an inordinate love of riches. Ambition with the ancients was the ruling principle, a principle productive indeed of much vice and misery, yet surely superior, in its nature and censequences, to the mean and base selfishness of avarice. It is the province of history to correct the defects of modern times by the example of former ages ; and the object of education, to fortify the young and untainted mind against the contagion of fashionable vices. What more effectual method can we take to produce these excellent effects, than imprinting upon the retentive memory of childhood the inflexible justice of Aristides, the voluntary poverty

of VADERIUS, the modesty of CATO, who chose rather to be, than to seem good, and the virtue of FABRICIUS, whom, by the confession of an enemy, it was more difficult to turn from the path of honor, than the sun from its course. read the story of REGULUS or of the Decii, he burns to imitate

Let a boy

them; his eye flashes fire, his breast swells with indescribable emotion; every noble and honorable sentiment is stamped in deep and lasting associations. His character acquires that heroic elevation, that devotion to the public weal, which constitutes the true patriot, and which has raised to immortal glory an ALFRED, a SIDNEY, and a WASHINGTON.

To give an opinion on the general merit of the classics would be ridiculous. The authority of the best critics however justifies us in asserting, that in poetry, in history, and in eloquence, they have no equal in modern times. Homer's Iliad and the Anabasis of XENOPHON are so interesting, that they are read with pleasure even by the school boy, who turns to his dictionary at every line. The Georgics of Virgil are esteemed by the learned equal, if not superior to any of the most admired productions of later ages ; and it may well be doubted, whether we shall be gainers by laying aside the plain and simple rules of LONGINUS, QUINTILIAN, and HoRACE, to substitute in their stead those obscure and ponderous volumes of metaphysical criticism, which in our day so greatly abound.

Against making the study of the classics an essential part of education with those, who are designed for the practice of law and medicine, it is urged, that attention to professional studies allows no time for the perusal of classic authors. But this is the plea of indolence. Very many of the most eminent lawyers and physicians are not more celebrated for professional skill, than, for classical learning. Independent of those direct advantages derived from an acquaintance with the learned languages, they communicate a grace and dignity to those liberal professions, which render them respectable in the eyes both of the vulgar and the learned.

In these times of doubt and infidelity, an accurate acquaintance with the classics is highly necessary in the teachers of a religion, the evidence of whose truth is contained in the Greek and Latin languages. In vain shall we oppose to a future Hume or GIBBON the arguments of our best divines, however conclusive their reasoning may appear.

The appeal

[ocr errors]

is made from them to the original authorities. If we are ignorant of these, and unable to examine them, the cause of christianity may suffer in so unequal a contest.

It is said, that a few men, singularly well skilled in the learned languages, will be sufficient to prevent these ill consequences. This is true ; but it should be considered, that to obtain these few many must be well instructed

the study must receive encouragement and general esteem, or men of genius will turn their attention to pursuits, which promise more notice and applause.

Not only the principal evidence for the truth of our religion, but our religion itself is contained in the language of the Greeks. The leading and most important doctrines of the New Testament are indeed plain and easy to be understood. They were addressed to the understandings of the multitude ; and cannot be obscured, even byan imperfect translation. Yet there are some parts of the sacred volume, of which this cannot be affirmed. The apostle Paul was educated in all the learning of ancient philosophy. Hence, says Mr. Locke, his epistles abound with subtle argumentation and intricate reasoning, with allusions to Grecian customs, and illustrations drawn from the ancient poets. They are also full of abrupt digressions; and the chain of argument is often so fine, that, if one sentence be misunderstood, the whole becomes unintelligible. From such premises we infer, a priori, the improbability, that a translation executed in the early dawn of learning, and executed too by men, who must necessarily tinge the Scriptures with the colours of their own prejudice, should give universally the sense and spirit of the original. God forbid, that we should cast any reflection on the memory of those pious, those venerable men, to whom we are indebted for the çommon version of the Scriptures. That they performed their task so well will ever be matter of astonishment and admiration. They emancipated themselves from a heavy load of established prejudices. At a period when it was dangerous to doubt and criminal to reason, they dared to think and decide for themselves; and we have profited little

by their excellent example, if, in this free and enlightened age, we are so idle or so indifferent, as to rest contented with a human copy, when we have before us the divine original, Let a clergy, who are restrained by episcopal authority, whose opinions are established by acts of Parliament, and fettered by the iron bands of subscriptions and test acts; let such alledge these circumstances in excuse for not examining the Scriptures. In this land of civil and religious liberty no such refuge is afforded. Enquiry is unrestrained, and negligence doubly criminal.

The study of the classics, we have seen, affords much pleasing and useful instruction. It tends to enlighten the mind, improve the taste, and correct the heart; it makes us acquainted with the best writers, which the world has produced ; it inspires the love of liberty and virtue ; it lays open the oracles of divine truth. Shall then the liberal and learned, yielding to the clamors of the illiterate, or to indulge their own indolence, neglect these studies ? Let them rather, by a frequent perusal of the ancients, endeavour to acquire their simplicity of style and energy of thought; they may then hope to equal, if not surpass them. .

We have hitherto said nothing respecting the oriental languages ; both because they are less understood than the Greek and Latin, and also as the knowledge of them is principally useful to the profession of divinity. The Hebrew and its dialects will undoubtedly reward the diligence of those, who wish to attain an accurate acquaintance with the Jewish Scriptures. With respect to the utility of the ancient oriental versions of the New Testament, we shall content ourselves with quoting the authority of a late translator,* whose learning and veracity can never be too highly praised. He insists, that many difficult and obscure passages may be illusfrated by comparing the oriental versions ; and assures the laborious student in theology, that an examination of them will abundantly reward his intense application.

a

*

a

GILBERT WAKEFIELD,

« PredošláPokračovať »