IN a college like Harvard, whose ambitious students are wont to boast that her professors of Latin and Greek have not their equals in America, it is a little strange that such great learning should not be allowed to cover a few sins of pedantry. If we, in our prouder moments, maintain that our professors know more than any others of av, or of fuerat for fuisset, can we not, in the recitation-room, allow a little of that learning to be uttered to our unappreciative ears? But I am not willing to admit that there is much of this pardonable pride in pedantry, if you prefer to call it so, or that all time is wasted which is spent in the minute details of an author's style. The trouble often lies in the fault-finders themselves. Most men do not care, or are too indolent to take the trouble, to "grasp the action as a whole"; it is even often considered "a low trick," and not a proof of some knowledge of his duties, when an instructor gives notice that a synopsis of the argument may be required for examination. You will rarely find a good scholar who grumbles at being forced to pay attention to "the details of grammar, of philology, of history, of geography," etc.; in fact, the scholarly mind often takes great pleasure in them, or at any rate recognizes their necessity as the very foundation of a right understanding of the author's meaning. Usually, the only complaint is that too much time is spent on the details of grammar, and it is admitted that philology, history, and geography are sometimes both interesting in themselves and helpful in discovering the author's ideas and opinions. Again and again words occur whose sense can only be fully shown by going through the successive steps by which they arrived at that sense; if you avoid such discussions, do you not leave an obscurity in your knowledge of the book you are reading? The charge that an exact knowledge of history and geography is useless is certainly most remarkably original; but it is easily overthrown by asking how much profit you would derive from reading King John, if you were not taught the correct history of those events which Shakspere was obliged to misrepresent for the sake of his drama. Setting aside the question of profit, how much pleasure do you get, if you merely have a faint idea that John was king of England a long time ago?
That I may not be accused of confining myself to general statements, let us look at the first elective examination paper printed in last year's Catalogue. It is one in Greek, in which we find an explanation of iv' nv n duvaues asked for. Possibly some man had translated that "in order that the force was," and then wondered why Demosthenes wrote such an absurd sentence; and possibly he discovered his mistake, and was saved from repeating it by the explanation and reference to the Greek moods which were given. How many would of their own free will have learned anything about the time and circumstances of the First Philippic or about the geography of Greece? The derivation of three words is another question; the first of them is a hit at Euripides, - a little obtuse, to be sure, but quite worth understanding, - and the last informs us of one the ancient customs. There is no more room for further examples, but almost all the papers are made up of questions which a man can easily answer who thoroughly comprehends the author.
Some instructors make a practice of reading a good translation to their classes, if a good one has been made, or of translating the lesson themselves, if it is at all obscure; they take pains to refer us to other books which oppose or support the author's opinions, - does that indicate contempt for the literary aspect of Greek literature?
It is difficult and often deceptive to try to understand another person's motives, but it would be but charitable to suppose that our teachers realize that the most necessary things are often the most disagreeable, and to allow that, if they give us a good foundation, we may justly be expected to do the easiest and most interesting part of the work ourselves.
R. H. G.
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