The constantly increasing necessity of a practical knowledge of modern languages is now fully appreciated by the authorities of Columbia College. Ability to deal in person with the people of foreign tongues has become even a requirement for success in a country so cosmopolitan as the United States, whose financial markets, whose learned professions, and whose general society is influenced and even controlled by an ever-enlarging element of foreigners. A recent writer in the New York Post says in regard to some salutary changes in the curriculum of modern languages at Columbia:
"A city college, from its position, is called to a very different kind of work from a similar institution situated in the country; for a large proportion of Columbia's graduates enter directly some one of the many lines of business activity which the metropolis affords them. In so cosmopolitan a centre as ours it needs no argument to demonstrate that the knowledge of the chief modern languages is a primal requisite; for, while from a purely practical standpoint it matters comparatively little to the banker, broker or merchant whether he has read Homer, or pursued a course in calculus, it is a thing of the utmost moment to him to have acquired a sound practical knowledge of French and German. Hence our first aim has been to meet the needs of exactly this class, and, with this in view, carefully graded four-year courses have been organized, which shall take men just where they are found and lead them onward; this being effected by disregarding completely the distinctions of college classes, admitting freshmen directly to any year in the department for which their preparatory training fits them.
But it is not our purpose to send forth into the world mere money-making machines. The New York business man needs, after the bustling life down town, the rest and refreshment of some literary pursuit; hence, our lecture courses on the different literatures are intended to foster a literary taste, and implant a desire to know something more about those new worlds that offer so fair a literary fruitage.
It will not be supposed however, that this is by any means our chief aim. We share fully the belief of those who look forward confidently to a time when New York shall hold the literary primacy of our country, as indisputably as now the commercial. But this goal is not to be reached at once, nor without earnest, patient effort. Little by little centres of literary activity must be formed and their growth fostered.
Profoundly convinced that Columbia's privilege and calling lie exactly in this direction, our university courses in literature and philology have been organized. These include the comparative study of the chief monuments of Romanic and Teutonic literatures, comparative philology, and the study of those members of both groups of languages not embraced in the undergraduate course.
It is our intention furthermore to make, ultimately, our lecture courses twofold, offering first, to regularly matriculated students the broadest opportunities for literary and philological culture, and, secondly, to open channels of influence between the college and the world without, through popular courses of lectures, adhering in the man to the plan pursued in all the universities of Europe.
Thus Columbia will be enabled at once to contribute nobly her part toward a higher development in literature, becoming, as we confidently anticipate, more and more the representative institution of culture, the standard-bearer of the future literary metropolis."
While we have serious doubts as to New York becoming the centre of the intellectual gravity of America, we think that the care and earnestness shown by Columbia College in the advancement of one of the most useful and pleasant branches of modern study are to be heartily commended. This conduct in the light of modern views and purposes is in the right spirit. When one considers the prevailing tendency of American feelings, it will be seen that the future success of American colleges will depend to a great extent upon the success with which they combine the aesthetic and utilitarian.