There seems to be a general and growing sentiment among the students that the German department is by no means what it ought to be. President Eliot is known everywhere as a strenuous advocate of the modern theory of education which recognizes the fact that the usefulness of a knowledge of the living languages is of more value than the superior discipline which, it is claimed, the classics give; and it has been through his influence that the curriculum of the freshman year has been so changed as to make French or German practically the only prescribed study. And yet we do not hesitate to say that Harvard is weakest where it should be strongest, that is in German. The trouble lies not perhaps with the individual instructors, but with the general management. What is sadly needed is a head, some one who will be to this, what Professor Bocher is to the French department. At present there are in German two instructors, and two assistant professors, but no full professor, and we think that it is due to this more than anything else, that the department has been so conducted as to call forth such severe criticism as it does from the students who are trying to acquire some knowledge of this language.
In the first place we doubt the advisability of elementary instruction in any language being given by native teachers; it is impossible for them to appreciate the difficulties which the learner encounters, and they are therefore apt to give long lessons, and to fail to explain what are really the difficult idioms and constructions. Of the courses open to Sophomores, German I is intended to give some practice in writing and speaking the language as well as in translating it. The instructor has worked hard and conscientiously, but has failed to arouse enthusiasm on account of the unfortunate choice of text-books at the beginning of the year. The book was too hard and too technical, and the student became discouraged in attempting to translate his lesson. This half year a new book is to be used, and we hope with better results.
German II, the other Sophomore course, is intended as a preparation for those who have use for the language in their college studies. The object of this course is most commendable; but the recitations are conducted in such a dull, listless way that before many weeks have passed, most men become thoroughly sick of it. German III is intended to follow either of the two preparatory courses; but the course is so hard, and so large an amount of work is required in it, that few of those who have had only the training of Freshman and Sophomore years can pursue it with profit. The trouble here is not with the instructor, but with the gradation of the courses. The mid-year examination was required to be written in German, although little or no attention had been given to this practice during term time. And surely the work in the preparatory courses was not sufficient to enable a man to write a critical essay in a language in writing, in which he had had so little practice. Inasmuch as the other courses are taken by freshmen, we do not have the complaint which we so often hear in regard to these three courses. But if German is to be taught with the same degree of success with which other languages are taught at Harvard, there must be some one man who will take upon himself the responsibility of organizing this department, in other words, we must have a head for the German department.