ON looking over the various subjects in which special honors are given at graduation, one would think that every field was thoroughly covered, every want met. But perhaps a little careful consideration of the subject will serve to dispel this illusion, if such it be.
It is an open question whether the restricted course necessary for the aspirant to honors, though undoubtedly exerting a stimulating and concentrating influence on the mind, may not, by the very narrowness of the curriculum and the continual contemplation of merely one subject or set of subjects, defeat the object of honors by warping, more than disciplining and cultivating, the mind. Undoubtedly the age and antecedents of the student determine the advisability of such a course. All that can safely be said is that, for a man of little general reading, little knowledge beyond the text-books of the first two years in college, the exclusiveness of an honor course is extremely deleterious; to a more generally read man, extremely beneficial.
Claiming, as every student presumably does, to be more or less literary rather than practical, it seems strange that a more purely literary course has not been marked out for honors. To be sure, we have a course for honors in three sets of languages, but we have none for them combined. These courses for honors in languages seem to aim chiefly at memorizing a vast number of words, rather than becoming familiar with the thoughts of the men who used these words as vehicles. It is too much like the school-boy fashion of memorizing the words of two hundred lines per day of the sublimest passages in Virgil, too much like what the poet Juvenal speaks of, who recited his verses standing on one foot. Such dexterity at the expense of profundity is of little use.
Every man of catholic literary taste admires the classics; the masterpieces of Italian literature are worth a careful perusal; and Mr. Lowell always expressed a great admiration for the genius of Cervantes; and of course there are profundity of thought, poetic beauty, and felicity of description in French and German authors as well as in our own tongue. This country as yet has no class of regular litterateurs, as Paris and London have; but it is probable that, with the growth of the country, such a class is rapidly growing. Our College has in the past sent forth more eminent literary men than any other; but they - many of them, at least - say they owe not very much to the College: most of their culture was attained after leaving here. In those good old times every man, as I understand it, was forced to study the same subjects. Now a man can, if he have any particular bent, turn his attention to one line of study. The advantage is inestimable.
Many men come here familiar with either the French or German languages, but not knowing the literary masterpieces. To the earnest student the rudiments of Spanish and Italian, with his knowledge of Latin, present few serious difficulties. If he take some Spanish or Italian rudimentary course as an extra "cram-up" on Diez, he will find Dante and Cervantes easy.
Why, then, should such a man, having little taste for history or philosophy, or rather a greater love for literature, not be allowed special honors in general literature, without confining himself to classics or modern languages? Why would not the stimulus and incentive for honors in some such courses as Greek 9, 11; Latin 5, 8; Italian 3; English 2; and either English 3 or Spanish 3 be just as beneficial, to a man of a purely literary temperament, as the courses laid out in history or philosophy or mathematics for men who have tastes in that direction only? It is not claimed that the establishment of such a department would raise up in our midst another Emerson or Lowell; but, genius or no genius, intimacy with the immortal thoughts of AEschylus, Plato, Dante, and a crowd of lesser luminaries, cannot fail to brighten and cheer our own feeble and faint steps. With proper restrictions such a course might be made thorough and exhausting; while by a judicious admixture of the history of the writers, their influence, predecessors, etc., a more comprehensive, comparative, and reasonably scholarly survey of the fields of ancient and modern literature might be secured without the exclusive pedantry of the one and the superficial glibness of the other.
E. L. M.
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