"And I charged you with extortions
On the nobler fames of old, -
Ay, and sometimes thought your Porsons
Stained the purple they would fold."
THE decline of the classical spirit at Harvard, as well as elsewhere, is much lamented by those who believe that Greek and Latin studies have been important always, and are now particularly so. This decline is explained and justified, as so many other things are, by a hasty allusion to "the spirit and the temper of the age" (of this great and good age whose tendencies should be fondled only, and condemned never). Greek and Latin are dead, it is said, and should be buried; but the modern languages and the sciences are alive and full of practical interest. How much or how little truth there is in this cry it is not necessary or possible to discuss here, for I am considering, not whether Greek should be taught at all, but how it should be taught.
One reference, however, to "the temper of the age" I shall make, because it may thus be seen that the system of teaching which, in this day, puts Greek authors at a point so distant from us as to be discouraging to all and inaccessible to most is necessarily bad. A striking characteristic of the literature of our age is its sympathy with the Greek in thought and in feeling. There never was a time before when writers of English in almost all departments but the religious drew their inspiration so often and so directly from Greek authors. Proofs of this are found where, if this statement is correct, they should most frequently be found, - on the pages of those poets who distinctly embody the intellectual peculiarities of their time. One, among many illustrations of this truth, is that translations of Greek tragedies may be made, are made, which, while wonderfully literal, breathe in every line the peculiar, indefinable spirit of our own literature. Here is the clew to the proper method of instruction in the Greek authors; the teacher should aim to bring out the human and literary side of the work he is engaged upon, and not to treat the Greek book merely, or even almost, as an antiquated piece of writing, full of many curious puzzles and "posers," or as a text for grammatical dissertations. In other words, if our instructors will be something more than grammarians and antiquaries; if they will treat Greek literature as literature; if they will be content to be men, not pedants; if they will elucidate AEschylus as they read Shakspere, - then classical learning will revive among us.
The study of Greek literature should be governed by the same laws which we should follow in studying our own literature. Surely no rational being would deny that in reading a great play in any language, the object is, first, to grasp the action as a whole; secondly, to learn the author's distinctive ideas and opinions; thirdly, to become familiar with his style; and finally, to descend to the details of grammar, of philology, of history, of geography, etc. But with us this order is reversed, and "the finest literature of the world" is buried out of sight under a mass of important nothings, scholastic notes and comments. Of course this averment will be denied, and it will be said that the instructor helps the student to the classic meaning by his explanations, and so the scholiasts were, no doubt, defended. In truth, however, it happens again and again that the student of some Greek play attends recitations faithfully, listens carefully to what is said at them, fills sheet after sheet with "notes," and at last, with a sigh of relief, throws down his book without having caught one glimmer of that light which, for those who see it, shines as brightly now as it did when the most ignorant man in Athens felt the roll of the thunder in AEschylus' words, and was the wiser and the better for it. Such an unfortunate result cannot always be prevented by the best instructor, but in most instances it can be, and in most instances with us it is not. This is a broad assertion, but they know its truth who have observed the woful ignorance which prevails in a Greek class as to the connection of any particular passage with what has gone before, and as to the action, purposes, and peculiarities of the whole work it is reading; and this, too, often among those who are diligent scholars.
Does a student come to his instructor with a budding appreciation of the "divine philosophy," or feeling within himself something responsive to the passion and the pathos of Euripedes "the human," then let his youthful ardor be fed with a list of the fifty manuscripts of the work in hand, which lie rotting on a dusty shelf of the Bodleian library; teach him the peculiarities of all the editions ever published; let him point out the errors in copying made by the drowsiest monk in the darkest age; let him learn to lay his finger with a feeling of proud superiority upon the four places in all his great author's works where he has clearly gone wrong in grammar; let him show why it is that Herr Klopstock is silly and ignorant for supposing that line 1293 should read n uov, and that Herr Bumfritz, who makes the emendation n uot, is wise and goodly among men. Let all this be done, and it will be odd enough if he shall not forget that Plato and Euripides were real men, who wrote for real men, and that they are indeed
"The dead but sceptred sovereigns, who still rule
Our spirits from their urns."
H. C. M.THE Senior Class held their meeting for the election of officers yesterday evening. Mr. Clark was elected Chairman, and Mr. Hodge Secretary. As the first business of the meeting, Mr. Van Duzer read the report of the committee on the allotment of officers; this report was accepted. Mr. Canfield stated that the Signet desired to throw open to the class the offices allotted to it, in conformity with the belief of the members and the principles of the society. Mr. Van Duzer then offered the following resolution, recommended by the Committee on Offices, -
Resolved, That the duties of the Ivy Orator be so changed that the office will be one of importance and dignity.
This resolution was adopted. Tellers were next appointed, - Mr. Lawrence, Mr. Bird, Mr. Raymond, and Mr. N. Taylor. Mr. Lowery moved that officers be voted on as in the list given below. This motion was carried, and it was also decided that the method of the elections should be an informal ballot without nominations, immediately succeeded by a formal ballot on the same office. The following are the names of the gentlemen elected to fill the different offices; all the elections, if not unanimous at first, were made so by votes of the Class.
LESTER WILLIAMS CLARK.