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Objections to Mr. Thompson's Method.
of thought, is thus a much slower and more difficult process than the study of French and German; but at the same time it is much more efficacious in enlarging the mental capacity, and in training the mind to unfamiliar processes of thought. For this reason it has been found, both in England and Germany, to be the most fitting preparation of the faculties for critical and philosophical study. If those languages could be acquired in an easy, conversational way, they would lose their chief value as a mental discipline. We admit the necessity of having better and simpler grammars and text-books. We admit too that such a teacher, as Mr. Thompson appears to be, may illustrate even grammatical lessons so as to make them lively and interesting to his pupils. But still the lowest foundations of scholarship must be laid almost entirely in the memory. The inflexions of Latin and Greek words, the rules of syntax, and above all, the common meanings of a great number of words must be acquired, unreasoningly, in the two or three first years of school attendance. And this is the reason why we cannot agree with some educational reformers, that the commencement of the study of Latin and Greek may be advantageously deferred till the minds of boys are more mature. The memory for words is more retentive and more accurate before the higher faculties are awakened; and tasks which are felt to be a great drudgery after the development of the maturer powers of understanding, produce no such impression at an earlier stage of education. A judicious teacher will not expect too much from boys; he will be satisfied with accuracy in the first place, and will be content to look forward to the time when they will make a more intelligent use of the materials which they accumulate in the earlier years of their classical studies. As a boy advances from the mere taskwork of accurately rendering Latin and Greek sentences into English to the work of interpreting the great classical authors, he will find full scope for the exercise of his judgment and reasoning power, of his taste and imagination, of his power of expression, and of all his higher intellectual sympathies. But the condition on which these faculties can be adequately exercised on classical studies is, that they should act on the foundation of accurate and tolerably extensive knowledge; and the most essential part of that knowledge is best acquired in the years when the memory is most active, and the reasoning power is not indeed altogether inoperative—because even then it acts as a silent aid to the memory-but is still latent and unconscious.
We fear that to Mr. Thompson, and to other enthusiasts in education, our views will appear to be mere unreasoning conservatism. We cordially sympathize with his aims; and our first impression on reading his clear and lively statement of his method was, that this was at last a hopeful attempt to solve the difficulties connected with the earlier stages of education. The most valid objections against classical education arise out of the difficulties which surround its commencement. It is scarcely necessary to argue that it is a good system for boys who work well at school, and whose position and future destination secure to them the advantages of a long preparation for the business
But the great difficulty is to make this study, so far as it goes, a useful training for those who are obliged to cut short their education, and enter on the work of life at an earlier period. And for both classes, there seems to be no doubt that this particular study must more and more admit the claims of rival studies-of modern languages and literature, of history, and of science. The advocates of classical education have to meet the double difficulty—of teaching their classics more thoroughly, and of doing so on a less exclusive system. This is the problem which the Public School Commission proposes to the great schools of England; and if our school teaching in Scotland has been less limited in its scope, we are afraid that it has failed in want of thoroughness even more than that of England. We fear, on the whole, that Mr. Thompson's suggestions are hardly a satisfactory solution to difficulties, which will require the careful consideration of many persons interested and engaged in our school and university education. One strong objection to the adoption of his views is, that they are not capable of general application. Mr. Thompson himself might succeed with his system, while an equally good scholar, but a less fluent and ready linguist, would find the conversational method break down entirely in his hands. It is desirable that, within certain limits, every teacher should have a good deal of latitude in his method of teaching. It is only by the success of new experiments that much advance can be made in what is, after all, a purely experimental process. For any real improvement we must rely chiefly on the ability and enthusiasm of individual teachers, and on the common sense of the general body. Mr. Thompson has abundance both of ability and enthusiasm, and even if he fail to establish his main points, he has done no ordinary service to our schools and schoolmasters, by raising the question which he discusses in so interesting and attractive a style.
There is, however, a great deal more in Mr. Thompson's books than mere suggestions for educational improvement. There are several chapters, such as those with the quaint titles, “ Back to Babel,” “Dissolving Views," "The King of the Alphabet," etc. devoted to philological speculation, which are very ingenious writing and very interesting reading on a dry and difficult topic. We don't, however, profess our competency to answer the His Criticism of Ancient Authors.
author's question as to the value of his views, which he puts at page 183:
“ Am I in earnest, Reader, or simply havering ? Have I made some curious discoveries ? or, what is more probable, some curious blunders ? Have I sprung a mine of philology, or sprung a leak ? The issue either way will serve to point a moral: will encourage or deter, by demonstrating the advantage, or the danger, of trusting to mother-wit.'
There is perhaps no branch of knowledge in which a man is more tempted to rely on his mother-wit, and in which discovery seems to be more accessible to happy guessing than philology. But there is no study which demands more caution and more special learning. It is easy enough for an ingenious mind to make guesses, and, in doing so, to light occasionally on discoveries ; but the great difficulty is to find a true criterion by which to distinguish guessing from certainty. We must leave Mr. Thompson's "mine of philology” for the inspection of the two or three competent critics, who have devoted their lives to similar inquiries. But whatever may be the value of his own novelties, there is no doubt that he states in a very clear and lively manner some points, on which we fancy there is now a general agreement among scholars.
There is also some very original and genuine criticism on the style of the ancient authors, and, especially, of the Greek and Latin poets, scattered through these pages. One of the best chapters in the book is that which the author has chosen, for some unexplained reason, to call “Solar Specks." He there gives us the results, in the way of criticism, of his own reading of Homer and of the Augustan poets. The value of his criticism consists in its entire independence. Mr. Thompson reads his classical authors in the way in which a cultivated scholar will always read them for his enjoyment. The true way to enjoy and appreciate Homer and Thucydides, Lucretius and Tacitus, is to take the best text of these books (in the clearest type and most convenient forms), and read them through without looking at a note, and with as little reference to a dictionary as possible. This is the plan which Mr. Thompson's imaginary Principal of his “Schola in Nubibus” recommends to his shadowy pupils, when they enter the University. We fear it will only be "in nubibus” that young lads, on entering the University, will be able to dispense with commentaries and lexicons, but we hope that for the sake of those not “in nubibus,” future commentators will try to interpret their authors in as simple a style, and within as limited a compass as possible, and will not go on raking up all the chaff of their predecessors merely to show that it VOL. XL. —NO. LXXX.
is chaff. The ultimate stage at which we arrive in the interpretation of a classical author is when we get him “ to explain himself by himself.” But before we can accomplish this return to nature, a great deal of artificial toil must be undergone. The power of entering immediately into the spirit of a great representative author and of his epoch, is the last result and highest reward of scholarship. But in acquiring this power we must lean much on the help of others. Even when we think we can see for ourselves, we are none the worse of comparing and correcting our point of view by that of other inquirers. Mr. Thompson would have perhaps been a safer and more useful critic if he had had a less absolute reliance on his own sight; but then he might not have been so suggestive and entertaining a writer. Thus, we think the opinion he has formed of the main subject of the Iliad (p. 130), “that it was the glory of Troy, and that Hector was the real hero of an Ionian poet's fancy,” slight and unsubstantial. His criticism on the action of the poem does not seem to us to “ hold water;" but even if it were.sound so far as it went, it would not help the reader in the way in which a few penetrating sentences of Mr. Arnold help him, to read that poem with a deeper and clearer appreciation. But, on the other hand, Mr. Thompson, reading from his own point of view, and in search of his own special objects of interest, opens up, as it were, a new vein in the criticism of ancient poetry. The original force of his mind, acting through his special faculty for scholarship, leads him to explore the mental conditions under which the great poems of antiquity were composed, by a minute examination of metrical and syntactical effects. The following remarks, for instance, about the Homeric poems, is a specimen of what we consider a novel and valuable line of investigation :-“From the extreme perfection of the metre in the two poems, and the extreme inaccuracy in the use of conditional and dubitative moods, it is obvious that the poems were brought to a completion in an age of high civilisation."
His criticisms on Latin poetry appear to' us on the whole sounder than his observations on Homer, and they are especially valuable and original, by drawing attention to the more artificial style of the great Latin, and especially of the Augustan poets, as exemplified in their departure from the natural position of words. The difficulty which a modern reader finds in satisfying himself that he understands the effect of ancient as thoroughly as of modern poetry, does not arise from the dissimilarity between ancient and modern sentiment and ideas, but from the widely different practice of ancient and modern writers in regard to the collocation of words. This is really one of the greatest, if not the very greatest chasm between the modern Specimens of the Style of the Book.
1 Lectures on translating Homer.
and the ancient mind. We cannot suppose that what appears to us arbitrary and unnatural, appeared arbitrary and unnatural to a Greek and Roman. We cannot doubt that certain powerful effects were produced on the minds of ancient readers or hearers by what Mr. Thompson calls the daring disregard of simplicity' in such writers as Virgil and Horace. But we cannot realize to ourselves what those effects were. To an educated Roman the style of Virgil and Horace may have appeared as natural—if not as simple—as the style of Plautus or Catullus ; but to our modern mental structure the one appears strange and involved, the other plain and direct. From the fact that the educated Romans themselves gave an undoubted preference to those of their writers whose style appears to us most conventional and artificial, we are led to the inference that that style was the result of high art rather than of artificiality, and produced a deeper and more lasting, if a less immediate, impression on the mind, than the language of less thoughtful and elaborate artists.
We have dwelt, perhaps, long enough on those parts of Mr. Thompson's book, which provoke controversy or suggest inquiry. But we said in the beginning of this article, that if the chief value of the book consisted in its educational suggestions, it contained also abundant attractions for the general reader. We shall subjoin a few specimens of the pleasant half-humorous, half-serious strain in which the whole volume is written. Take, for instance, the following graphic description of one of the Ushers of St. Edward's :
“But before quitting for ever the old Under Form, let me say that my quarrel has been with a system and not with persons. The only unfeeling man, under whom I had been placed, was the genteel clergyman of the riding-whip. My other Masters were good and kindly men, who went according to order through a dull routine, believing in it most probably, and quite powerless from their position, if not also from their abilities, to modify it to any material extent. One of them, before passing further, I must specially recall. He was the only classical Usher; the only classical authority not in orders; a tall, gigantically tall and muscular Scotchman, of the name of Ramsay. He was, also, the only classical teacher without a
He used a strap; Scoticè, the tawse. Was it because he was only an usher and a layman? or was it a kindly record of his own more merciful training in his dear native land ? Good soul : even in the using of this innocuous instrument, he kept his elbow on the desk, to spare us the full sweep of his tremendous arm. There was a silly legend current among us, founded only on his physical strength, that the cane had been denied him, after his having once cut unintentionally through a boy's hand,—an idle myth, that wrapped a possibility in specious falsehood. To see the huge torso towering above the comparatively puny desk, it was like the figure-head of a