Friday, December 27, 2013


Learning for Her Own Sake

Frederic W. Farrar (1831-1903), Julian Home: A Tale of College Life (London: A. & C. Black, 1899), pp. 92-95:
The incentives which lead young men to work are as various as the influences which tend to make them idle. One toils on, however hopelessly, from a sense of duty, from a desire to please his parents, and satisfy the requirements of the place; another because he has been well trained into habits of work, and has a notion of educating the mind; a third because he has set his heart on a fellowship; a fourth, because he is intensely ambitious, and looks on a good degree as the stepping-stone to literary or political honours. The fewest perhaps pursue learning for her own sake, and study out of a simple eagerness to know what may be known, as the best means of cultivating their intellectual powers for the attainment of at least a personal solution of those great problems, the existence of which they have already begun to realise. But of this rare class was Julian Home. He studied with an ardour and a passion before which difficulties vanished, and in consequence of which he seemed to progress not the less surely, because it was with great strides. For the first time in his life, Julian found himself entirely alone in the great wide realm of literature—alone, to wander at his own will, almost without a guide. And joyously did that brave young spirit pursue its way—now resting in some fragrant glen, and by some fountain mirror, where the boughs which bent over him were bright with blossom and rich with fruit—now plunging into some deep thicket, where at every step he had to push aside the heavy branches and tangled weeds—and now climbing with toilful progress some steep and rocky hill, on whose summit, hardly attained, he could rest at last, and gaze back over perils surmounted and precipices passed, and mark the thunder rolling over the valleys, or gaze on kingdoms full of peace and beauty, slumbering in the broad sunshine beneath his feet.

Julian read for the sake of knowledge, and because he intensely enjoyed the great authors whose thoughts he studied. He had read parts of Homer, parts of Thucydides, parts of Tacitus, parts of the tragedians, at school, but now he had it in his power to study a great author entire, and as a whole. Never before did he fully appreciate the "thunderous lilt" of Greek epic, the touching and voluptuous tenderness of Latin elegy, the regal pomp of history, the gorgeous and philosophic mystery of the old dramatic fables. Never before had he learnt to gaze on "the bright countenance of truth, in the mild and dewy air of delightful studies." Those who decry classical education do so from inexperience of its real character and value, and can hardly conceive the sense of strength and freedom which a young and ingenuous intellect acquires in all literature, and in all thought, by the laborious and successful endeavour to enter into that noble heritage which has been left us by the wisdom of bygone generations. Those hours were the happiest of Julian's life; often would he be beguiled by his studies into the "wee small" hours of night; and in the grand company of eloquent men and profound philosophers he would forget everything in the sense of intellectual advance. Then first he began to understand Milton's noble exclamation—
"How charming is divine philosophy!
Not harsh and rugged as dull fools suppose.
But musical as is Apollo's lute,
And a perpetual feast of nectared sweets,
Where no crude surfeit reigns."
He studied accurately, yet with appreciation; sometimes the two ways of study are not combined, and while one man will be content with a cold and barren estimate of γε and που derived from wading through the unutterable tedium of interminable German notes, of which the last always contradicted all the rest; another will content himself with eviscerating the general meaning of a passage, without any attempt to feel the finer pulses of emotion, or discriminate the nicer shades of thought. Eschewing commentators as much as he could, Julian would first carefully go over a long passage, solely with a view to the clear comprehension of the author's language, and would then re-read the whole for the purpose of enjoying and appreciating the thoughts which the words enshrined; and finally, when he had finished a book or a poem, would run through it again as a whole with all the glow and enthusiasm of a perfect comprehension.

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