Great Superstructures and Embellishments of Greek and Latin

Joseph Addison, Tatler – No. 158

“There is another kind of pedant, who, with all Tom Folio’s impertinencies, hath greater superstructures and embellishments of Greek and Latin, and is still more insupportable than the other, in the same degree as he is more learned. Of this kind very often are editors, commentators, interpreters, scholiasts, and critics; and in short, all men of deep learning without common sense. These persons set a greater value on themselves for having found out the meaning of a passage in Greek, than upon the author for having written it; nay, will allow the passage itself not to have any beauty in it, at the same time that they would be considered as the greatest men in the age for having interpreted it. They will look with contempt upon the most beautiful poems that have been composed by any of their contemporaries; but will lock themselves up in their studies for a twelvemonth together, to correct, publish, and expound, such trifles of antiquity as a modern author would be contemned for. Men of the strictest morals, severest lives, and the gravest professions, will write volumes upon an idle sonnet that is originally in Greek or Latin; give editions of the most immoral authors, and spin out whole pages upon the various readings of a lewd expression. All that can be said in excuse for them is, that their works sufficiently show they have no taste of their authors; and that what they do in this kind, is out of their great learning, and not out of any levity or lasciviousness of temper.”

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Hatred in the Academy

Recollections of the Table Talk of Samuel Rogers, to which is added Porsoniana:

‘Porson had no very high opinion of Parr, and could not endure his metaphysics. One evening, Parr was beginning a regular harangue on the origin of evil, when Porson stopped him short by asking “what was the use of it?” Porson, who shrunk on all occasions from praise of himself, was only annoyed by the eulogies which Parr lavished upon him in print. When Parr published the remarks on Combe’s Statement, in which Porson is termed “a giant in literature,” &c., Porson said, “How should Dr. Parr be able to take the measure of a giant?”

Parr was evidently afraid of Porson, of his intellectual powers. I might say too that Horne Tooke had a dread of Porson; but it was only the dread of being insulted by some rude speech from Porson in his drunkenness. Porson thought highly both of Tooke’s natural endowments and of his acquirements.” I have learned many valuable things from Tooke,”was what he frequently said; “yet I don’t always believe Tooke’s assertions,” was sometimes his remark. (I knew Parr intimately. I once dined at Dilly’s with Parr, Priestley, Cumberland, and some other distinguished people. Cumberland, who belonged to the family of the Blandishes, bepraised Priestley to his face, and after he had left the party, spoke of him very disparagingly. This excited Parr’s extremest wrath. When I met him a few days after, he said, “Only think of Mr. Cumberland! that he should have presumed to talk be fore me, before me, sir, in such terms of my friend Dr. Priestley ! Pray, sir, let Mr. Dilly know my opinion of Mr. Cumberland, that his ignorance is equalled only by his impertinence, and that both are exceeded by his malice.” Parr hated Dr. Horsley to such a degree that he never mentioned him by any other name than the fiend. Parr once said to Barker, “You have read a great deal, you have thought very little, and you know nothing.”)’

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Greek Fondness for Birds

John Ruskin, Praeterita:

“And at last, because I was so fond of the Doctor, and he had the reputation (in Walworth) of being a good scholar, my father thought he might pleasantly initiate me in Greek, such initiation having been already too long deferred. The Doctor, it afterwards turned out, knew little more of Greek than the letters, and declensions of nouns; but he wrote the letters prettily, and had an accurate and sensitive ear for rhythm. He began me with the odes of Anacreon, and made me scan both them and my Virgil thoroughly, sometimes, by way of interlude, reciting bits of Shakespeare to me with force and propriety. The Anacreontic metre entirely pleased me, nor less the Anacreontic sentiment. I learned half the odes by heart merely to please myself, and learned with certainty, what in later study of Greek art it has proved extremely advantageous to me to know, that the Greeks liked doves, swallows, and roses just as well as I did.”

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No More Compulsory Latin & Greek

From Benjamin Rush’s commonplace book*

“Habit continues after what occasioned it ceases. Latin and Greek [were] useful to monks when all knowledge [was] shut up in them. Not so now. As well might continue the spade since the invention of the plough, or skins and fig leaves since the discovery of silk, cotton, and woolen clothing… Dead languages [are] less necessary now than formerly. All that is available in them [is] diffused through other and modern books… As medicine and law cannot be learned by all, but are necessary to all, why [can] not the dead languages [be] confined like medicine and law to certain persons only? Teaching dead languages [is] irritating to the tempers of Schoolmasters. [There should be] No ears pulled, no swearing, no calling [students] beasts for ignorance or dullness of apprehension in teaching other things.”

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*Cited in The Founders and the Classics by Carl J. Richard

The Work of a Greek Scholar

Gilbert Murray, The Interpretation of Greek Literature:

“If this were a new University, or if Greek were what it was at the Renaissance, a new and unexplored subject, there would be all sorts of suggestions and prospects of interest to lay before you. But in a University of vast traditions, of long-tried efficiency and fame, the first thing that a new Professor should think of is not to change something in Oxford, but to do his best to be worthy of Oxford. And something similar holds of the subject. True, research is a necessity to understanding : and no study that is really flourishing can help both seeking and finding new things ;true, also, that we have Crete and the Papyri before our eyes. Yet, on the whole, the main work of a Greek scholar is not to make discoveries or to devise new methods, but merely to master as best he can, and to reorder according to the powers of his own understanding, a vast mass of thought and feeling and knowledge already existing, implicit or explicit, in the minds or the published works of his teachers.”

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Learning Requires Memory and Experience

Aristotle, Metaphysics 980a22-981

“All people naturally yearn for knowledge. A sign of this our delight in our senses: for we take pleasure in them beyond their use—especially in the use of our eyes. This is not only so we may act but also when we are about to do nothing we choose seeing before all of the other senses, in general. The cause of this is that this sense especially helps us learn and clarifies many differences.

Animals too are born having senses, and from these some have memory and some do not. This is why some animals have more thoughts and may learn better than those who are not capable of memory. Some are clever but without the skill of learning, for example the bee or another other type of this kind of creature. However so many creatures have perception in addition to memory can learn. The rest of the animals live by images and instincts and have a small portion of experience.

The human race survives both by skill and reasoning. Experience comes to us from memory—for the many memories of the same matter results in the power of a single experience. Experience certainly seems similar to knowledge and skill, but knowledge and skill come to people from experience. For, “experience produces art,”  as Polus has rightly pronounced, “while inexperience makes good luck.”

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Πάντες ἄνθρωποι τοῦ εἰδέναι ὀρέγονται φύσει. σημεῖον δ᾿ ἡ τῶν αἰσθήσεων ἀγάπησις· καὶ γὰρ χωρὶς τῆς χρείας ἀγαπῶνται δι᾿ αὑτάς, καὶ μάλιστα τῶν ἄλλων ἡ διὰ τῶν ὀμμάτων. οὐ γὰρ μόνον ἵνα πράττωμεν ἀλλὰ καὶ μηθὲν μέλλοντες πράττειν τὸ ὁρᾶν αἱρούμεθα ἀντὶ πάντων ὡς εἰπεῖν τῶν ἄλλων. αἴτιον δ᾿ ὅτι μάλιστα ποιεῖ γνωρίζειν τι ἡμᾶς αὕτη τῶν αἰσθήσεων, καὶ πολλὰς δηλοῖ διαφοράς. Φύσει μὲν οὖν αἴσθησιν ἔχοντα γίγνεται τὰ ζῷα, ἐκ δὲ ταύτης τοῖς μὲν αὐτῶν οὐκ ἐγγίγνεται μνήμη τοῖς δ᾿ ἐγγίγνεται. καὶ διὰ τοῦτο ταῦτα φρονιμώτερα καὶ μαθητικώτερα τῶν μὴ δυναμένων μνημονεύειν ἐστί, φρόνιμα μὲν ἄνευ τοῦ μανθάνειν ὅσα μὴ δύναται τῶν ψόφων ἀκούειν, οἷον μέλιττα, καὶ εἴ τι τοιοῦτον ἄλλο γένος ζῴων ἔστι· μανθάνει δ᾿ ὅσα πρὸς τῇ μνήμῃ καὶ ταύτην ἔχει τὴν αἴσθησιν. Τὰ μὲν οὖν ἄλλα ταῖς φαντασίαις ζῇ καὶ ταῖς μνήμαις, ἐμπειρίας δὲ μετέχει μικρόν· τὸ δὲ τῶν ἀνθρώπων γένος καὶ τέχνῃ καὶ λογισμοῖς. γίγνεται δ᾿ ἐκ τῆς μνήμης ἐμπειρία τοῖς ἀνθρώποις αἱ γὰρ πολλαὶ μνῆμαι τοῦ αὐτοῦ πράγματος μιᾶς ἐμπειρίας δύναμιν ἀποτελοῦσιν. καὶ δοκεῖ σχεδὸν ἐπιστήμῃ καὶ τέχνῃ ὅμοιον εἶναι ἡ ἐμπειρία, ἀποβαίνει δ᾿ ἐπιστήμη καὶ τέχνη διὰ τῆς ἐμπειρίας τοῖς ἀνθρώποις· ἡ μὲν γὰρ ἐμπειρία τέχνην ἐποί- ησεν, ὡς φησὶ Πῶλος, ὀρθῶς λέγων, ἡ δ᾿ ἀπειρία τύχην.

Education, Degraded to a Trade

Mark Pattison, Suggestions on Academical Organisation

“For teaching, there is required a persuasion, as well as for advocacy, though of a different kind. The highest education cannot be given through a literature or a science which has no other than an educational value. Classical learning, or Greek and Latin, is often spoken of by its advocates in this country as if it had no intrinsic value, as if it was an instrument of training and nothing more. If this were the case, Greek and Latin, however proper a matter for school discipline, would not be an adequate subject of the superior education. The university is hereby distinguished from the school, that the pupil here takes leave of disciplinal studies, and enters upon real knowledge. The further consideration of this distinction belongs to the section on ‘Studies;’ it only concerns us here as it points to a difference between the school teacher and the university teacher. The student comes to the university to enter upon the studies of men, to grapple with those thoughts which are occupying the men of the time. He is the apprentice of a faculty which is to introduce him into the real business of life. The teacher here cannot be content with knowing a little more than his pupil, with reading ahead of him; he must be a master in the faculty. Our weakness of late years has been that we have not felt this; we have known no higher level of knowledge than so much as sufficed for teaching. Hence, education among us has sunk into a trade, and, like trading sophists, we have not cared to keep on hand a larger stock than we could dispose of in the season. Our Faculties have dried up, have become dissociated from professional practice at one end, and from scientific investigation on the other, and degrees in them have lost all value but a social one. The intrinsic value of knowledge being thus lost sight of, and its pursuit being no longer a recognised profession, it is easy to see how the true relations of teacher and learner have become distorted or inverted. The masters of arts, the heads and fellows of the colleges, who constituted the university, and who were maintained here ‘to godliness and good learning,’ have become subordinate to the uses of the students, for whom alone all our arrangements are now made. It is because our own life here is wanting in scientific dignity, in intellectual purpose, in the ennobling influences of the pursuit of knowledge, that it is owing that our action upon the young is so feeble. The trading teacher, whatever disguise he may assume whether he call himself professor or tutor is the mere servant of his young master. But true education is the moulding of the mind and character of the rising generation by the generation that now is. We cannot communicate that which we have not got. To make others anything, we must first be it ourselves.”

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