The Complete Pedant, The Finest Teacher

Alston Hurd Chase, Time Remembered: Part I, Veritas:

“The course which determined my entire future was that in Beginning Greek, given by the gifted eccentric, Carl Newell Jackson. No one was ever more superbly endowed to teach the first principles of a language with both discipline and inspiration. I shall speak more of his teaching methods when I come to discuss my own in which I played, to quote Stevenson, the sedulous ape.

A tall, handsome man, with the frown we often associate with near-sightedness, he suffered from an agonizing shyness which may have accounted for his lifelong celibacy. His natural presence was glacial, lightened by almost no trace of humor. On those very infrequent occasions when he did smile the process was apparently so agonizing that it resulted in what appeared to be a grimace of pain. In many ways he was the complete pedant, yet he was unfailingly interesting in the classroom. He would enter, seat himself at his desk, remove from his waistcoat a large, old-fashioned watch and chain, place it before him, clear his throat with a rafter-shattering roar, and begin the lesson, never during all these preliminaries looking up at the class. One of his most fascinating procedures was his explanation of the vocabulary for the next day’s lesson. Each word suggested a comment, sometimes upon its linguistic peculiarities, sometimes upon its cognates or derivatives in the modern languages, but most often it served as a springboard for some anecdote or curious bit of information in history, biography, philosophy, or literary criticism. Under his teaching, Greek was a magic casement, a peak in Darien, from which we gazed upon the whole expanse of human knowledge and experience. Professor Jackson indeed made the Classics deserve the name of Humanities. And, whether consciously or not, each of these brief comments served as points in memory to which to attach the word in question by association.”

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