« ForrigeFortsæt »
every useful kind of information. Would it not really be better for mankind, would it not prevent the most fatal mistakes, if prescriptions were written in our own language, instead of those uncouth characters, which frequently appear like hieroglyphics, and are too often absolutely so to those who are to prepare the medicine? In short, ought not a science which concerns the first of temporal possessions, to be laid as open as possible to the reason of mankind?....Ought it not to be industriously weeded of all technical jargon?....Ought not every thinking person to be invited and encouraged to pay some attention to the progress of those diseases, which he may have an opportunity of observing, and to bring in with confidence, let them be right or wrong, his quota of discoveries to the common stock? I do not believe such a circumstance would be injurious to the health of the community, or discouraging to the regular practitioner.....It is only by knowing the outlines at least of medicine, and of the sciences subordinate to it, that any person can estimate truly the value of a physician, or see the necessity of long instruction and much practice, to accomplish a man in this important art. Is it not the ignorance of the public on these points, that gives countenance to quackery; and is it not, because the science is treated as a kind of mystery, that every antiquated female is possessed of some infallible nostrum? In other arts or professions, the knowledge of Latin is not insisted on as a necessary qualification, and yet no person, not regularly brought up to them, presumes to intrude himself into these professions. In a word, let no man practice physic who shall not be regularly educated or instructed in it; but in the name of reason, what has the writing or speaking of Latin to do with the cure of diseases.
I grant that some useful treatises in medicine are occasionally published in Latin, but these are few, and the argument will equally apply to the necessity of accomplishing the young physician, in all the European languages. In a word, let it be remembered, that I am not pleading against the utility of the dead lan
guages, but in favour of their general utility, against the vulgar notion that they are only necessary to certain professions.
Of all branches of knowledge, the Law ought to be the plainest, and most easily understood. Praying in an unknown tongue is not a greater solecism, than the involving in mystery and obscurity those rules which are to govern the conduct of every individual citizen. How can I be expected to conform to laws, with which I am to be unacquainted, or which I cannot understand?.... What indeed are the evils to which the inhabitants of this country are not exposed, on account of the complex and intricate nature of our laws? I must observe (and I do it with no intentional disrespect to the honourable and upright part of the profession) that all who are unfortunate enough to hold their property by any disputable title, or who have rashly exposed themselves in any way to the mischiefs of legal chicanery, are made the prey of one class of citizens; and it is almost proverbial, that of all English commodities, Justice is by far the most expensive. If any part of what I have urged on this topic is consistent with fact, ought a classical education to be considered as a necessary qualification for understanding what all ought to understand?
It must be confessed, that with respect to the cultivation of the dead languages, society is at present in a very different state from what it was at the revival of Letters. At that period, all the science, all the history, all the taste which existed, were locked up in the volumes of the Ancients; there was no access to any branch of knowledge but by this path; it was necessary to be introduced into this enlightened school, or to remain in barbarism and ignorance.
In the present state of literature it would be disingenuous to deny, that it is possible for a person not classically educated, to make a proficiency in almost any department of science or literature.
In medicine and philosophy some persons might be named, of no inconsiderable eminence, with but a very slender portion of Greek or Latin. In law and politics
also some instances might be adduced, was not a false pride unfortunately predominant, which might construe into an affront, what is really a compliment. The ladies may be cited with less ceremony on this occasion. In history and philosophy we have a Macaulay; in poetry a Seward and a Williams; in morals a Burney; in dramatic writing a Cowley and an Inchbald, all unacquainted with the languages and compositions of the ancients. It does not, however, follow, from these splendid examples, that the shortest and easiest way to knowledge and excellence, is through the medium of our mother tongue, and that a classical education is of no utility whatever. One lesson indeed we may deduce from what has been advanced on this topic, and that is, to look with a less fastidious eye upon those, who without these advantages (for advantages they certainly are) have made good their progress to eminence and fame.
In estimating the uses of a classical education, it is necessary to confine our views entirely to the present state of literature, for indubitably a few centuries ago its advantages were infinitely greater, it was indeed not ornamental, but essential to science. Discarding, therefore, as much as possible, every prejudice of every kind, the real uses of a classical education appear to be nearly as follow.
I. In the first place, grammar, and perhaps orthography, are assisted, by an early acquaintance with the dead languages. I would not be understood to assert, that a person may not be practically versed in both these branches, without any such assistance, but it is a question, whether almost an equal portion of time is not consumed in the attainment of them, through the ordinary medium of English grammars, &c. Besides this, I am apprehensive that a complete, an enlarged, a scientific acquaintance with the principles of grammar, is hardly to be obtained, without the knowledge of some other language than our own. The grammar of the Latin language is more regular than that of any other, and it is therefore admirably calculated to initiate young persons in that necessary science.
II. A similar advantage, which flows from a classical education, is a general knowledge of the structure of language. The Greek, so copious, so curiously compounded, so admirably adapted to supply every want of the mind with respect to expression, affords the happiest instance of art and human invention in the construction of language; it is impossible to study it without perceiving our ideas enlarged and improved on this curious subject. Such an acquaintance with the ancient forms of language, enables us to improve our own, to extend and diversify our modes of expression, to add new and proper words, if necessary; and gives us confidence in occasionally introducing new expressions, and deviating from the common and colloquial forms.
III. A third use, which is not less obvious, results from an accurate acquaintance with the etymology of words. To the phrases of common life, custom has sufficiently familiarized us, and these indeed are most of them derived from our northern ancestors. But the language of science, the language of books indeed, in general, is of classical origin; and it is impossible to know the full force, the correct application of words, without, in some degree, being acquainted with their
Every man who has composed for the public, must be sensible of this observation; and allowing every thing to genius and industry, still it cannot be denied that accuracy in writing, at least, is almost exclusively the characteristic of those who can boast some acquaintance with the languages of antiquity.
IV. It is some commendation of almost any pursuit, to say, that it affords us an elegant and an innocent amusement. That it engages occasionally the mind, which, perhaps, would otherwise be the prey of spleen; that it fills up agreeably those hours which, if left vacant, might perhaps be contaminated with vice:
"Posces anté diem librum cum lumine; si non
"Intendes animum studiis et Rebus honestis,
Hor. Lib. I. Ep. 2.
"Unless you light your early lamp to find
It is true there are a number of excellent authors in our own language, but still the perusal of the classics, in their original dress, varies and extends this species of entertainment.
V. It is pleasant to observe the manner of an original author, and instructive to remark the peculiar style in which men of exalted genius have, at such distant periods, expressed themselves. I may add, that from the perusal of an original author, we seem to form a more perfect picture of the manners and characters of the age which he describes, than can be acquired from a translation 1.
VI. Whoever expects to find in the ancients the perfection of science, will be disappointed; but this will not warrant us in a total rejection of all the assistance which may be derived from this source. Of natural knowledge, in particular, there is certainly but little to be collected from their writings. Aristotle, in his history of animals, is a laborious and tolerably correct reporter of facts; but how small a branch of natural' science is this, and how much better detailed by modern writers? Pliny, except where he has copied Aristotle, is a wretched fabulist, and no reasoner at all.
The metaphysics of Plato are subtile, visionary, and, useless; those of Aristotle are mere scholastic definitions. In the republic of the latter, as well as in some of the writings of Xenophon and Cicero, are some good political observations; but the experience of the moderns has enabled them greatly to improve this important science.