Thursday, June 30, 2016


Dreary Hours

E.E. Bowen (1836-1901), "On Teaching by Means of Grammar," in F.W. Farrar, ed., Essays on a Liberal Education (London: Macmillan and Co., 1867), pp. 179-204 (at 188-189):
Lexicons, by what we have said, are to beginners almost as noxious as grammars. Every one who knows Greek in the end, must remember well how dreary have been the hours which he has spent upon the simply mechanical exercise of turning over leaves, with his eye fixed upon the heading of the page. It is monotonous, it is unintellectual, it is distasteful in the highest degree; and there is not a public schoolmaster in the kingdom who has the courage and the benevolence to dispense with it. Lexicons must no doubt exist, for they are needed in many ways; but there is no worse way of discovering the English equivalent of a simple word than looking it out in a dictionary. It is better to have a glossary; it is better to ask a teacher; it is better even to have a literal translation: better, simply because these methods do not waste the time of the learner, and do not spoil his temper. In his first book of Homer, an average boy will look out somewhere between two and three thousand words in his lexicon, and spend, on a moderate computation, from forty to fifty hours in the search. Grievous, however, as his waste of time in this direction is, it is work of the fingers alone; the lessons of Grammar that he learns will torture his brains as much, and will not even give him the satisfaction of feeling in the end that he has gained his grain of knowledge. He will have done something, it is true; he will not have been idle; he will have done as hard work as people do who turn a treadmill.

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