The Moral Influence of Classical Learning

Cornelius Felton, A Lecture on Classical Learning:

“It would be useless for me to attempt a full and just exposition of the claims of Grecian genius upon our studious attention. As I have before remarked, a detailed and philosophical history would alone unfold all the relations, in which a familiar acquaintance with its masterly excellences would benefit the mind, and prepare it for future usefulness in the actual world around it.

But I cannot help adverting to the high moral effects of a classical course of study, upon the heart and character. I am aware that wise and good men have objected to ancient literature, on the ground, that the deities of Greece and Rome are represented as indulging in human vices and passions. But it does not seem to me possible that a poetical description of the pagan gods — understood to be merely poetical — can have any bad tendency. At least, the mind capable of being injured by an influence so indirect and distant, would be injured in a tenfold greater degree by the most ordinary temptations of daily life.

In all other respects, the moral influence of classical learning, is certainly excellent; and this excellence appears most conspicuous on comparing it with the miscellaneous reading so common among students of the present day. The severe intellectual discipline of former times, has, I fear, become too nearly obsolete. The great passion of our age, is to acquire knowledge without labor. This I think is to be deprecated. Labor is the unavoidable condition of all excellence whatever. He who attempts to reverse this first law of our being, attempts the greatest of impossibilities. We read the periodicals and other popular works, and dream that we are winning knowledge with infinitely greater rapidity than our predecessors; and congratulate ourselves, that the studious days and watchful vigils of the gigantic scholars of old, are now no more. Besides that portion of our popular reading, which is merely light, there is much positively pernicious. The dangerous and seducing sentiment of many works which the press in its abundance pours out upon us, weakens the character and corrupts the heart.”

Cornelius Conway Felton.jpg

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