« ForrigeFortsæt »
piety of that man who would dare to question a syllable of the authenticity of all that he has related, of the war in heaven, of the state of the rebellious spirits, &c. &c. This is a new proof of the preponderancy of Milton's genius,. as well as of his popularity.
On the Uses of Classical Learning.
MY DEAR JOHN,
I CANNOT better close a correspondence which has had so much reference to the classical writers, than by a short view of the uses and advantages of classical learning. The substance of what I shall advance on this subject was published some years ago in one of the volumes of the Memoirs of the Manchester Philosophical and Literary Society; but as that work is, I believe, out of print, and not likely to be reprinted, you will not be sorry to see what were then my sentiments on this important topic.
The study of ancient languages, the Greek and Latin at least, and of what are usually termed the classical authors in those languages, has, for some centuries, constituted a branch of liberal education, in every refined nation in this quarter of the globe. It appears, indeed, no more than a just tribute to the labours of
antiquity, that posterity should not ungrate fully consign them to unmerited oblivion; nor even content itself with contemplating that imperfect copy of their features, which a transla tion exhibits. It is a curiosity natural to the human mind, a becoming pride, to wish as intimate an acquaintance as possible with the illustrious dead; to hold, in a manner, a friendly conversation with them, in their own language, and in their own peculiar style.
If these, however, were the only reasons for the cultivation of classical literature, though they might interest the philosopher, and the man of taste, still we could not in justice allow them that universal cogency, which is necessary to sanction a general practice. There must be other motives to warrant the hardship, which is imposed on almost every well-born youth, of consuming in severe study several of the most gay and delightful years of life, and of encountering hardships, which nothing but an object of some importance can justify.
Without wishing to appear a lover of paradox, I cannot dissemble that I do not in my own mind allow much force to the maxim which insists on the absolute necessity of classi
cal learning in what are called the professions I confess, I think it a most pernicious pedantry, which would involve in any kind of mystery those sciences which are most essential to hu- . man happiness. The Christian world has been no gainer either as to piety or morals by speculative divinity; all that is necessary to mankind in theology ought to be, and I doubt not is, plain and easy to be comprehended by every capacity. What! shall none but Greek and Latin scholars be permitted to employ their reason on the most necessary topics ? Admit-. ting that there ought to be men in the Christian church who should be able to read the holy scriptures in their original languages, to cor, rect mistranslations, to compare and collate manuscripts, and to detect errors of every kind; must every plain country clergyman be an adept in languages, which cannot afford him the least assistance in instructing and informing the poor and illiterate flock, which is committed to his care?-He cannot preach in La-. tin; the plainest and least pedantic style is that which will be most beneficial to his hearers; nay, the formality of college manners, or the unyielding spirit of literary arrogance, are per
Haps qualities, more directly than others, cal culated to obstruct or to frustrate his pious labours.
In medicine, I. am sure, the use of a dead language has impeded rather than advanced science. Who will pretend to allege that the modern practitioner is obliged to have recourse to the antients for the principles of his art? The English language, if we include the translations from foreign authors, contains a body of medicine, ample and voluminous enough to engage the attention of most practitioners, and to furnish them with 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 o en as possible to the reason of mankind ?-Ought it not to be industriously, weeded of all tech-. nical jargon?-Ought not every thinking per