Saturday, May 06, 2017


The Time Spent on the Classics

Mark Rutherford (pseudonym of William Hale White), Pages from a Journal, with Other Papers (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1900), pp. 202-203:
I have come to the conclusion that the time spent on the classics, both here and in Germany, is mostly thrown away. Take even Homer. I admit the greatness of the Iliad and the Odyssey, but do tell me, my dear godfather, whether in this nineteenth century, when scores of urgent social problems are pressing for solution, our young people ought to give themselves up to a study of ancient legends? What, however, are Horace, Catullus, and Ovid compared with Homer? Much in them is pernicious, and there is hardly anything in them which helps us to live. Besides, we have surely enough in Chaucer, Spenser, Shakspeare, and Milton, to say nothing of the poets of this century, to satisfy the imagination of anybody. Boys spend years over the Metamorphoses or the story of the wars of Aeneas, and enter life with no knowledge of the simplest facts of psychology. I look forward to a time not far distant, I hope, when our whole pedagogic system will be remodelled. Greek and Latin will then occupy the place which Assyrian or Egyptian hieroglyphic occupies now, and children will be directly prepared for the duties which await them.

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