Translation and Clear Thought

H.E. Spalding, The Value of the Classics:

When I was graduated from the University of Michigan thirty-five years ago I was able to read Greek and Latin at sight fairly well and I have continued the reading of both ever since for my own pleasure. My business has been the practice of law. I have no qualification to judge of the value of classical studies except such as these facts imply.

Aside from disciplinary value and that of an acquaintance with two literatures which so largely enter into the fabric of all modern literature, the principal direct benefit of classical study, as it seems to me, is found in the training which that study if properly conducted gives in the high and difficult art of clear and accurate expression of thought. I speak advisedly when I say that few can state any matter, other than the simplest, in clear, accurate and concise language, and that the lack of this ability accounts for a very large proportion of litigation as well as of other human misunderstandings. In my judgment translation, especially translation at sight, without which no one can escape the slavery  of the dictionary, is far superior to original composition as an instrument for the development of this ability.

I may say at the same time, for the sake of emphasis, something often said before, that classical teachers in schools and colleges have been and as I think still are not sufficiently mindful of the importance of this matter. The proper practice of translation materially contributes to the formation of a good English style. Slipshod translation, such as was common when I was in college, and which I incline to think is still not uncommon, materially interferes with the development of the ability to perceive differences in meanings and to misunderstand the force and effect of different forms of expression. Students ordinarily enter college with the most rudimentary ideas of expression. They can neither speak nor write clearly and accurately. Classical studies should correct these faults. As those studies were commonly prosecuted a generation ago they tended to confirm students in habits of slovenly and inaccurate expression and necessarily in corresponding faults of thought.

Georges Croegaert, The Scholar

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