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It will be recalled that in Mr. Dooley's classic description of the interview between the college president and the millionaire, who is desirous of entering his son in the college, the president finally turns to the boy and says in effect: "And now what subjects should you like our learned and accomplished professors to study FOR you? Almost any undergraduate of today could safely be trusted to name certain courses which would have been included in that young man's choice of electives, courses which are much sought after, in spite of attempts to check the student's wayward fancies by rules regarding "concentration" and "dissipation".
Such courses, in which a mature scholar sets forth briefly the results of long study, are extremely valuable for such students as have the necessary background to enable them to appreciate the content of these courses, but there is always a danger that such a course may be discovered by an enterprising undergraduate in search of something that he can pass. And such courses are not usually difficult to pass. As an example from another field one might cite the discovery of radium, which to the scientific man was a matter of profound significance affecting the whole fabric of physical science, but the newspaper reporter could in a brief time acquire sufficient knowledge of the subject to write an article that would pass.
Essential to Know Originals
So courses in literature in translation, to one who knows something of the original, are continually suggestive of the original, and constantly send one back to the original, just as an orchestral theme played on a single instrument recalls the full strains of the orchestra to one who is familiar with the symphony. For one who has not this background it has no such suggestion; yet if he is possessed of a fairly quick ear he may be able later to whistle enough of the tune to pass; and passing is the "sine quanon" of undergraduate existence. It is surprising that no undergraduate seems to have discovered the beauties of Gothic literature, and asked the Faculty to enrich the curriculum by offering a course in Gothic literature in translation.
There is no doubt that a fairly intelligent person in two weeks time, under proper guidance, could get a better idea of the many activities of Harvard University as a whole than is gained by most undergraduates during a four years residence, but such a person would stand in no danger of getting the training which it is the purpose of the College to give. So too the youth who spends his time on the bleachers, smoking cigarettes, during the hours of baseball practice may get a broader outlook on the game than is gained by the pitcher or the catcher, but how the broad outlook thus acquired serves to advance either his own physical condition or the game of baseball is a question still unanswered. Emerson's dictum, is often quoted (or misquoted) by persons who in their reading, find it more comfortable to sit on the bleachers than to take part in the game. His words are: "I should as soon think of swimming across Charles River when I wish to go to Boston, as of reading all my books in originals, when I have them rendered for me in my mother tongue". The frequenter of the bleachers would like to substitute "any books" for "all my books", but Emerson, who could real the originals, did not say that.
Example of Doric Temple
The perfected Doric temple, by means of its slightly curved lines and unequal spacings, produces the effect of a structure with straight lines and equal spacings, the truth of the imagination far surpassing the truth of reality; and a play of Sophocles or an ode of Pindar is a literary structure to which the same painstaking care has been given. But in translation the effect of all this delicate workmanship is irretrievably lost. He who is content to study the classics in translation alone will be content to regard as Doric temples the post-office buildings, with column drums slushed in mortar, which the Government has recently been depositing throughout this country. Again he who is content to study the classics in translation alone may fitly be compared to the man who is satisfied to stand at a distance and throw kisses at a beautiful girl--an agreeable and engrossing occupation for one who lacks the initiative or the desire to go further.
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