The Benefits of Classical Study Exaggerated

R.C. Jebb, Humanism in Education:

“Thus one eminent scholar said, ‘If the old classical literature were swept away, the moderns would in many cases become unintelligible, and in all cases lose most of their characteristic charms.’ Others averred that no one could write English well who did not know Latin. One distinguished head-master even said, ‘It is scarcely possible to speak the English language with accuracy or precision, without a knowledge of Latin or Greek.’ Now claims of this kind, all containing some elements of truth, but needing to be carefully limited and defined, struck people in general as preposterous, when stated with crude exaggeration ; and did all the more mischief, because, in the sixties, an apprehension of the true claims of humanism was much less widely diffused, among educated people outside of the academic world, than it is to-day. And when such people, who had no personal knowledge of humanistic study, heard claims made for it which seemed repugnant to experience and common-sense, they not unnaturally suspected that the whole case for the humanities was unsound.”

Domenico Fetti, ‘Portrait of a Scholar’

5 thoughts on “The Benefits of Classical Study Exaggerated

  1. Nice return to business. I really like Jebb.

    But the following will probably drive people a bit batty:

    ‘It is scarcely possible to speak the English language with accuracy or precision, without a knowledge of Latin or Greek.’

  2. “Scarcely possible” may well be hyperbole, but I do wonder how Greek/Latin stand in terms of efficiency and quality in terms of producing lasting knowledge of English (admittedly, prescriptive) grammar. Lord knows my written English would be in many ways worse—though probably in some ways better!

  3. Pingback: Humanism in education – Tom Shakely

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