Thomas Babington Macaulay Macaulay.

Critical, historical, and miscellaneous essays online

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petuities. A chartered and endowed College, strong in its
wealth and in its degrees, does not find it necessary to teach
what is useful, because it can pay men to learn what is use-
less. Every fashion which was in vogue at the time of its
foundation, enters into its constitution and paitakes of its im*
mortality. Its abuses savour of the reality, and its prej-
udices vest in mortmain, with its lands. In the present
instance, the consequences are notorious. We every day see



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THE LONDON UNIVERSITY. 845

clever men of four ami five-and-twenty, loaderl whh acailem-
»««l honours and rewards — .scholarship"^, fellowship?, whole
cabinets of medals, whole shelves of prize books, — enter
into life with their education still to begin, unacquainted with
the history, the literature, we might almost say, the langua^^e
of their country, unacquainted with the first principles of
the laws under which they live, unacquainted with the very
rudiments of moral and political science ! Who will deny
that this is the state of things ? Or who will venture to de-
fend it?

This is no new complaint. Long before society bad so far
outstripped the Colleges in the career of improvement as it
has since done, the evil was noticed and traced to its true
cause, by that gre^t philosopher who most accurately mapped
all the regions of science, and furnished the human intellect
with its most complete Itinerary. *' It is not to be forgotten,*'
says Lord Bacon, '^that tiie dedicating of foundations and
donations to professory learnings hath not only had a malign
influence upon the growth of sciences, but hath also been
prejudicial to states anil governments : For hence it proceed-
eth, that princes find a solitude in respect of able men to
serve them in causes of state, because there is no education
collegiate which is free, where such as were so disposed
might give themselves to histories, modern languages, books
of policy and civil discourse, and other like enablements unto
'■jiuses of state."* The wannest admirers of the present
system will hardly deny, that, if this was an evil in the six-
teenth century, it must be a much greater evil in the nine-
teenth. The literature of Greece and Rome is now what it
was then. That of every modem language has received
considerable accessions. And surely, *' books of policy and
civil discourse " are as important to an English gentleman of
the present day, as they could be to a subject oS James the
First.

We repeat, that we are not disparaging either the dead
languages or the exact sciences. We only say, that if they
are useful they will not need peculiar encouragement, and
tliat» if they are useless, they ought not to receive it. Those
who maintain that the present system is necessary to promote
the study of chissical and matheraatiail knowledge, are the
persons who really depreciate tliose pursuits. They do in
A Advancement of Learning, Book II.



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846 THE LONDON UNIVKUSITV.

fact declare, by implication, that neither amusement nor prndi
is to be derived from them, and that no man has any motive .
to employ h\A time upon them, unle.<s he expects that tliey
may help him to a fellowship.

The utility of mathematical knowledge is felt in every part
of the system of life, and acknowledged by every rational
man. But does it therefore follow, that people ought to be
paid to acquire it. A scarcity of persons capable of making
almanacks and measuring land, is as little to be apprehended
as a scarcity of blacksmiths. In fact, very few of our academ-
ical matbematicians turn their knowledge to such practical
purposes. There are many wranglers who have never
touched a quadrant What peculiar title then has the mere
speculative knowledge of mathematical truth to such costly
remuneration ? The answer is well known. It makes men
good reasoners' it habituates them to strict accuracy in
drawing inferences. In this statement there is nnqtiestion-
ably some truth. A man who understands the nature of
mathematical reasoning, the closest of all kmds of reasoning,
is likely to reason beUer than another on points not math-
ematical, as a man who can dance generally walks better
than a man who cannot. But no people walk so ill as dan-
cing-masters, and no people reason so ill as mere mathemati-
cians. They are accustomed to look only for one species of
evidence ; a species of evidence of which the transactions
of life do not admit. When they come from certainties to
probabilities, from a syllogism to a witness, their superiority
is at an end. They resemble a man who, never having seen
any object which was not either black or white, should be
required to discriminate between two near shades of grey.
Hence, on questions of religion, policy, or common lif^, we
perpetually see these boasted demonstrators either extrav-
agantly credulous, or extravagantly sceptical. That the
science is a necessary ingredient in a liberal education, we
admit. But it is only an ingredient, and an ingredient which
is peculiarly dangerous, unless diluted by a large admixture
of others. To encourage it by such rewards as are bestowoil
at Cambridge, is to make the occasional tonic of the mt^^d
its morning and evening nutriment.

The partisans of classical literature are both more numer-
ous and more enthusiastic than the mathematicians; and tlie
ignorant violence with which their cause has sometimes been



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THE LONDON UNIVKRSITY. 347

tfti^iiled, has added to its popularity. On this subject we are
sui-e tliat we ait; at least impartial judges. We feel the
warmest admiratioh for the great remains of antiquity. We
gratefully acknowledge the benefits whu^n mankind has owed
to them. But we would no mor^ <tuffer a pernicious system
to be protected by the reverence which is due to them, than
we would show our reverence for a faint by erecting his
shrine into a sanctuary for criminals.

An eloquent scholar has said, that ancient literature was
the ark in which all the civilization of the world was pre-
served during the deluge of barbarism. We confess it. But
we do not rend that Noah thought himself bound to live in
the ark after the deluge had subsided. When our ancestors
first began to consider the study of the classics as the prin-
cipal part of education, little or nothing worth reading was
to be found in any modem language. Circumstances have
confessedly changed. Is it not possible that a change of
system may be desirable ?

Our opinion of the Latin tongue will, we fear, be consid-
ered heretical. We cannot but think that its vocabulary is
miserably poor, and its mechanism deficient both in power
and precision. The want of a definite article, and of a dis-
tinction between the preterite and the aorist tenses, are two
defects which are alone sufficient to place it below any other
language with which we are acquainted. In its most flour-
ishing em it was reproached with poverty of expression.
Cicero, indeed, was induced, by his patriotic feelings to deny
the charge. But the perpetual recurrence of Greek words
in his most hurried and familiar letters, and the frequent use
which he is compelled to make of them, in spite of all his
exertions to avoid them, in his philosophical works, fully
prove that even this great master of the Latin tongue feh
the evil which he laboured to conceal from others.

We do not think much better of the writers, as a body,
than of the language. The literature of Rome was bom
old. All the signs of decrepitude were on it in the cradle.
We look in vain for the sweet lisp and the graceful wildnes»«
of an infant dialect. We look in vain for a single great cre-
ative mind, — for a Homer or a Dante, a Shakspeare or a
Cervantes. In their place we have a crowd of fourth-rate
and fifth-rate authors, translators, and imitators without end.
The rich heritage of Grecian philosophy and iK)etry wa-?



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848 THE LONDON UNIVERSITY.

fatal to the Romans. They would have acquire 1 more
wealth, if they had succeed<^d to less. Inst«^a<l of acctiinu-
lating fresh intellectual treasurei^ they contented themselves
with enjoying, disposing ifi new forms, or impairing by an
injudicious management, tho.^e which they took by <lescent.
Hence, in most of their works, there is scarcely any thing
spontaneous and racy, scarcely any originality in the thoughts
scarcely any idiom in the style. Their poetry tastes of the
hot-house. It is transplanted from Greece, with the earth
of Pindus clinging round its root^. It is nursed in careful
seclusion from the Italian air. The gardeners are often skil-
ful ; but the fruit is almost always sickly. One hardy and
prickly shrub, of genuine Latin growth, must indeed be ex-
cepted. Satire was the only indigenous produce of Roman
talent ; and, in our judgment, by far the be^t.

We are often told the Latin language is more strictly
grammatical than the English ; and that it is, therefore,
necessary to study it, in order to speak English with elegance
and accuracy. This is one of those remarks whicli are re-
peated till they pass into axioms, only because they have so
little meaning, that nobody thinks it worth while to refute
them at their first appearance. If those who say that the
Latin language is more strictly grammatical than the Kng-
lish, mean only that it is more regular, that there are fewer
exceptions to its general laws of derivation, inflection, and
construction, we grant it. This is, at least for the purposes
of the orator and the poet, rather a defect than a merit ; but
be it merit or defect, it can in no possible way facilitate the
acquisition of any other language. It would be about as
reasonable to say, that the simplicity of the Code Napoleon
renders the study of the laws of England easier than for-
merly. If it be meant, that the Latin language is forraetl
in more strict accordance with the general principles of
gmmmar than the English, that is to say, that the relations
which words bear to each other are more strictly analogous to
the relations between the ideas which they I'epresent in Liitin
timn in English, we venture to doubt the fact We are quite
sure, that not one in ten thousand of those who repeat the
hackneyed remark on which we are commenting, have ever
considered whether there be any principles of gi*ammar
whatever, anterior to positive enat'tment, — any solecism
which is a malum in se^ as distinct from a malum prohilntuM.



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THE LONDON' UMVEUSITY. 349

Or, if we suppose that there «^xi>t siicli principles, is not the
circumstance, that a particular rule is found in one language
and not in another, a sufficient proof that it is not one of
those pnnciples ? That a man who knows Latin is likely to
know English better than one who does not^ we do not dis^
pute. Bat this advantage is not peculiar to the study of
Latin. Every language throws light on every other. There
is not a single foreign tongue which will not suggest to a man
of sense some new considerations r^jspecting his own. We
acknowledge, too, that the great body of our educated coun-
trymen learn to grammaticise their English by means of
their Latin. This, however, proves, not the usefulness (»f
their Latin, but the folly of their other instructors. Insteiid
of being a vindication of the present system of education, it
is a high charge against it. A man who thinks the knowl-
edge of Latin essential to the purity of English diction,
either has never conversed with an accomplished woman, or
does not deserve to have conversed with her. We are sure,
that all persons who are in the habit of hearing public speak-
ing must have observed, that the orators who are fondest of
quoting Latin, are by no means the most scrupulous about
marring their native tongue. We could mention several
Members of Parliament, who never fail to usher in their
scra|>s of Horace and Juvenal with half a dozen false con
cords.

The Latin language is principally valuable as an introduc-
tion to the Greek, the insignificant portico of a most chaste
and majestic fabric On this subject, our Confession of Faith
will, we trust, be approved by the most orthodox scholar.
We cannot refuse our admiration to that most wonderful and
perfect machine of human thought, to the flexibility, the har-
mony, the gigantic power, the exquisite delicacy, the infinite
wealth of words, the incomparable felicity of expression, in
which are united the energy of the English, the neatn<iss of
the Trench, the sweet and infantine simplicity of the Tuscan.
Of ah dialects, it is the best fitted for the purposes both of
science and of elegant literature. The philosophical vocab-
ularies of ancient Rome, and of modem Europe, have been
derived from that of Athens. Yet none of the imitations
has ever approached the richness and precision of the orig-
inal. It traces with ease distinctions so subtle, as to be lost
in every other language. It draws lines where all the other



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850 THK LONDON UNIVEKSITY.

instruments of the reason only make blots. Nor is it lesa
distinguiRhcd by the facilities which it afford-* to the poet.
There are pages even in the Greek Dictionaries over which
it is impossible to glance witliout delight. Every word sug-
gests some pleasant or striking image, which, wholly uncon-
nected as it U with that which precedes or that which follows
gives the same sort of pleasure with that which we derive
from reading the Adonais of poor Shelley, or fn»m looking
at those elegant, thongh unmeaning frieze^ in which the eye
wanders along a line of beautifnl faces, gi*aceful draperies,
htag3, chariots, altars, and garlands. The lilerntufe Is not
unworthy of the language. It may boa^t of four poets of
the vei*y first order, Homer, -^schylus, Sophocles, and Aris-
tophanes — of Demosthenes, the greate<t of onitors — of
Aristotle, who is perhaps entitled to the name rank among
philosophers, and of Plato, who, if not the most satisfactory
of philosophers, is at least the most fascinating. These are
the great names of Greece ; and to these is to In; added a
long list of ingenious moralists, wits, and rhetoricians, of
poets who, in the lower departments of their art, deserve the
greatest praise, and of historians who, at least in the talent
of narration, have never been equalled.

It was justly said by the Emperor Charles the Fifth, that
to learn a new language was to acquire a new soul. He who
is acquainted only with the writers of his native tongue, is
in perpetual danger of confounding what is accidental with
what is essential, and of supposing that tastes and habits of
thought, which belong only to his own age and country, are
inseparable fi-om the nature of man. Initiated into foreign
literature, he finds that principles of politics and morals,
directly contrary to those which he has hitherto supposed to
be unquestionable, because he never heard them questioned,
hav* been held by large and enlightened communities ; that
feelings, which are so universal among his conrem[X)raries,
that he had supposed them instinctive, have been unknown
to whole generations ; that images, which have never faileil
to excite the ridicule of those among whom he has lived,
have been thought sublime by millions. He thus loses that
Chinese cast of mind, that stupid contempt for every thing
beyond the wall of his celestial empire, which was the effect
of his foimer ignomnce. New associations take phiee among
his ideas. He doubts where he formerly dogmatised. Hfc



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THE LONDON UNIVERSITY. 351

tolerates where he formerly execrated. He ceases to con-
found that which is universal and eternal in human passions
and opinions with that which is local and temporary. This
is one of. the most useful effects which results from studying
the literature of other countries; and it is one which the
remains of Greece, composed at a remote period, and in a
state of society widely different from our own, are peculiarly
calculated to produce.

Bat though we are sensible that ^reat advantages may be
derived from the study of the Greek language, we think
that they may be purchased at too hif^h a price: And we
think that seven or eight years of the life of a man who is
to enter into active life at two or ihree-and- twenty, is too
high a price. Those are bad economists who look only to
the excellence of the article for which they are bargaining,
and never ask about the cost. The cost, in the present
instance, is too often the whole of that invaluable portion of
tinne during which a fsnd of intellectual pleasure is to be
stored up. and the foundations of wisdom and usefulness laid.
No person doubts that much knowledge may be obtained
from the Classics. It is equally certain that much gold may
he found in Spain. But it by no means necessarily follows,
that it is wise to work the Spanish mines, or to learn the
ancient languages. Before the voyage of Columbus, Spain
supplied all Europe with the precious metals. The discov-
ery of America changed the state of things. New mines
were found, from which gold could be procured in greater
plenty, and with less labour. The old works were therefore
abandoned — it being manifest those who i>ersisted in laying
out capital on them woukl be undersold and ruined. A new
world of literature and science has also been discovered.
New veins of intellectual wealth have been laid open. But
a monstrous system of bounties and prohibitions compels us
still to go on delving for a few glittering grains in the dark
and laborious shaft of antiquity, instead of penetrating a dis-
trict which would reward a less painful search with a more
lucrative return. If, after the conquest of Peru, Spain had
enacted that, in order to enable the old mines to maintain a
competition against the new, a hundred pistoles should be
given to every pei*son who should extract an ounce of gold
from them, the parallel would be complete.

We will admit that the Greek language is a more valuable



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352 TFIK LONDON UNIVERSITY.

lanjruage than tlic French, the Italian, or the Spaiii-h. Rut
whether it be more valuable than all the three togetlit* r, tnny
be doubted ; and that all the three may be acquired in le<s
than half the time in which it is possible to become thor-
oughly acquainted with the Greek, admits of no doubt at kIL
Nor does the evil end here. Not only do the modern dialects
of the Continent receive less attention than they deserve,
but our own tono^ue, second to that of Greece alone in force
and copiousness, our own literature, second to none that ever
existed, so rich in poetry, in eloquence, in philosophy, is uu-
pardonably neglected. All the nineteen plays of Euripides
are digested, from the first bubbling froth of the Hecuba to
the last vapid dregs of the Rlectra ; while our own sweet
Fletcher, the second name of tbe modern drama, in ^pite of
all the brilliancy of his wit, and all the luxury of his tender-
ness, is suffered to lie neglected. The Essay on the Human
Understanding is abandoned for the Theotetus and the Phoe-
don. We have known the dates of all the petty skirmisher
of the Peloponneaian war carefully trant^ribed and commit-
ted to memoi-y, by a man who thought that Hyde and Clar-
endon were two different persons! That such a man hais
paid a dear price for his learning, will be admitted. But, it
may be said, he has at least something, to show for it. Un-
happily he has sacrificed, in order to acquire it, the very
things without which it was impossible for him to use iu Me
has acted like a man living in a small lodging, who, instead
of spending bis money in enlarging his apartments and fitting
them up coiumodiously, should lay it all out on furniture fit
only for Chatsworth or Belvoir. His little rooms are blocked
up with bales of rich stuffs and heiips of gilded ornaments,
which have cost more than he can afford, yet which he has no
opportunity and no loom to display. Elegant and precious
in themselves, they are here utterly out of place; and their
)K)4sessor finds that, at a ruinou.<^ expense, he has bought noth-
ing but inconvenience and ridicule. Who has not seen men
to whom ancient learning is an absolute curse, who have
laboured only to accumulate what tlwjy caimot enjoy ? They
come forth into the world, expecting to find only a larger
university. They find that they are surix>un<led by people
who liave not the least respect for the skill with which they
delect etymologies, and twist corrupt Epodes into something
like meiming. Classical knowledge is indeed valued bj all



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THE LONDON UNIVERSITY. 353

intelligent men ; but not such classical knowledge as theirs.
To be prized by the public, it must be refined from its grosser
panicle**, burnished into splendour, formed into graceful orna-
ments, or into current coin. Learning in the ore, learning
with all the dross around it, is nothing to the common spec-
tator. He prefers the cheapest tinsel ; and leaves the mre
and valuable clod, to the few who have the skill to detect its
qualities, and the curiosity to prize them.

No man, we allow, can be said to have received a com-
plete and liberal education, unless be have acquired a knowl-
iHlge of the ancient languages. But not one gentleman in
lifty can possibly receive what we should call a complete and
liberal education. That terra includes not only the ancient
languages, but those of France, Italy, Germany, and Spain.
It includes mathematics, tlie experimental sciences, and moral
philosophy. An intimate acquaintance both with the pro-
found and polite parts of English literature is indispensable.
Few of those who are intended for professional or commer-
cial life can find time tor all these studies. It necessarily
I'ollows, that some portion of them must be given up : And
the question is, what portion ? We say, pix)vide for the mind
as you provide for the body, — first neces-aries, — then con-
venieuces, — lastly luxuries. Under which of those heads do
the Greek and Latin languages come? Surely under the last.
Of all the pursuits which we have meniioned, they i*equire
the greatest sacrifice of time. He wlio can afibrd time
for them, and for the others also, is perfectly right in acquir-
ing them. He who cannot, will, if he is wise, be content to
go without them. If a man is able to continue his studies
till his twenty -eighth or thirtieth year, by all means let him
learn Latin and Greek. If he must; terminate them at one-
and-twenty, we should in general advise him to be satisfied
with the modern languages. If he is forced to enter into
active life at fifteen or sixteen, we should think it best that he
.should confine himself almost entirely to his native tongue,
and thoroughly imbue his mind with the spirit of its best
writtirs. But no ! The artificial restran»t*» and encourage-
menLs which our academic system has introduced have alto-
j^ether reversed this natural and salutary order of things.
We deny ourselves what is indispensable, that we may pro-
cure what is superfiuous. We act like a day-lal)Ourer who
hhould stint himself in bread, that he might now and then



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364 THK LONDON UNfVKRSlTT.

freat himself with a pottle of Janunry strawbemejs. Cicero
tells us, in the Otfices, a whimsical anecdote of Gito the
Censor. SornelKwly a-^ked him what was the best nwde of
employing capital. He said, To farm good pasture land.
What the next ? To farm middling pH^ture land. What
next ? To farm biid pasture land. Now the notions which
I>i*evail in England respecting ela?*sical learning »eem to us
very much to re.-emble those which the old Roman enter-
mined with regard to his favourite method of cultivation.
Is a young man able to spare the time necessary for pa^^s-
ing through the "Univei*e«ity ? Make him a good classical
scholar I But a second, instead of residing at the Univer-
sity, must go into business when he leaves school. Make
him then a tolerable classical scholar! A third has still less
time tor snatching up knowledge, and is destined for active
empk)yment while still a boy. Make him a bad cUtssical
scholar ! If he does not become a Flarainius, or a Bu-
chanan, he may learn to write nonsense verses. If he does
not get on to Horace, he may read the first book of Ctesar.
If there is not time even for such a degree of improvement,
he may at least be flogged through that immemorial vestibule
of learning. **■ Quis docet ? Who teacheth ? Magister docet.
The master teacheth." Would to heaven that he taught



Online LibraryThomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayCritical, historical, and miscellaneous essays → online text (page 67 of 84)