Monday, July 10, 2017


Classical Education

G.H.S., "Two Letters to a Classical Friend. I," Classical Review 15.5 (June, 1901) 282-284 (at 283):
But the predominating impression which Virgil left upon my mind, was that of sheer fag, of the stiffest piece of grind which I had ever gone through. And you know I still retain the opinion that grind is one thing, and poetry quite another, as different (to put it briefly) as Martha and Mary.
Id. (at 283-284):
I felt, rightly or wrongly, that the study of the classics was not pursued for its own sake, but as part of an established system of education, of which the value and importance were rather taken for granted than really felt or proved. To me, and to most others on my own level of attainment, it was just mere cram and grind and shop, and could by no possibility be anything more. There was nothing in all this to gratify the love of Letters, the love of Nature, the love of Beauty. No experience could be less Hellenic, or less Humane. The classics, I then felt, and I feel still, were hackneyed to death, and nothing short of a miracle could impart to them the least touch of freshness. A classic text to me both was and is, a thing of verbs and adjectives; of the grammar and the lexicon; and the study of it had no more to do with Poetry than it had to do with Chemistry.
G.H.S., "Two Letters to a Classical Friend. II," Classical Review 15.6 (July, 1901) 320-322 (at 320):
I find that, so far as I am concerned, an Ode of Horace is the literary equivalent of a Chinese puzzle. With pains I can solve the puzzle or construe the text; but the result has neither beauty nor meaning. The whole thing leaves me weary and indifferent.
Id. (at 320-321):
My love for Lycidas and Adonais, and even my indifference to the Bucolics of Virgil, now led me to attempt Theocritus. I might as well have read so many consecutive pages of Liddell and Scott. And when Liddell and Scott come in at the door, Poetry flies out at the window. Clearly Theocritus was a task beyond me, a task for the man who makes the study of classical literature the main business of his life. I must be content to let that go. I had wished to follow downwards the tradition of pastoral poetry. That must now be left to others.
Id. (at 321):
I have somehow made my way through the first twelve books of the Iliad. Frankly, I find it detestable. Let me remind you once more that I am not passing judgment, I do but register the results of much painstaking labour. The vile jargon in which the poem is composed, half barbarism and half affectation; the inextricable confusion of the accidence, which keeps the reader in continual perplexity and embarrassment; the peculiar vagueness and obscurity of the vocabulary, which prevent him from receiving any clear or forcible impression; the sickening conventionalities of the style, the rhetoric and rhodomontade, the verbosity and diffuseness, the set phrases and recurring formulae, the epithets without meaning and adjectives which go without any word; the interminable declamation, as of the professional reciter mouthing polysyllables at so much a verse; the uniform monotonous flow of twaddle disguised in verbiage; the disjointed succession of episodes, without unity, or plan or progress; the tedious elaboration of trivial detail; the prating heroes and ignoble gods; have left upon my mind a sense of absolute nausea.
Out of my unlucky experience, one broad result has clearly emerged, and for myself at least, is henceforth placed beyond the possibility of doubt. The classical literature is by its very nature a study for the specialist; no real appreciation of it is possible except to the specialist; and classical education is the education of the specialist or it is nothing. A subject so alien, so remote, so difficult, so technical, so elaborate, so artificial, can have no value for the purpose of general education. The fallacy which you classical men commit is that of supposing that the ancient languages and texts have, or can have, for your pupils, the same significance that they bear to yourselves.
Id. (at 321-322):
For most of us, what is called classical education means no more than an imperfect, and therefore useless, acquisition of the mechanical or linguistic part of the study; and that which alone has, in the Greek sense, musical, or, as we say, literary value, is never really assimilated. The texts read remain not a literature but a chrestomathy. We ask for bread and you give us a stone. In order to impart, in nineteen cases out of twenty, a mere smattering of the grammar and rhetoric of two dead languages, you have sacrificed all the opportunities of culture and the faculties of the mind. So far from inspiring the love of letters, it would be nearer the truth to say that you have stifled it. So far from communicating a real knowledge of any part of literature, you have stopped the way with your costly and useless commodities, your display of learning without life. In the few cases where your system has the only success of which it is capable it produces the professional scholar, for whom I have no less respect than yourself, though perhaps a less exclusive admiration. In the vast majority it generates the prig, taught to flatter himself upon his acquirements and to prefer form to substance; the smug, versed in his especial task of book-learning and ignorant of all beyond; or the dunce, whose small capacity has been extinguished by those who should have developed it.

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