William Shepherd.

Systematic education: or Elementary instruction in the various departments of literature and science; with practical rules for studying each branch of useful knowledge (Volume 1) online

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Online LibraryWilliam ShepherdSystematic education: or Elementary instruction in the various departments of literature and science; with practical rules for studying each branch of useful knowledge (Volume 1) → online text (page 4 of 44)
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When he has carefully studied the extracts from the Odyssey,
he will be well qualified, and, in all probability, inclined to
read the Iliad. The Lexicon of Schrevelius was drawn up
with a particular reference to this work : and to the unassisted
reader of Homer, this manual will frequently be found of great
service. The most convenient edition of the Iliad is Heyne's
two vols. 8vo. Many of Clarke's notes are very rnstruc-
tive ; but the dangerous allurement of a Latin translatit)n, ren-
ders his edition a very ineligible book for a tyro.

During the perusal of the Iliad, however, considerable

portions of Dalzel's two volumes of Collectanea Majora should

be daily read. These books, the Greek student may be earnestly ,


Noctuni& versare manii, veraare dium&.

W^hen the first volume has been thoroughly digested, the
student will be able w ith ease and pleasure to read Xenophon's
Anabasis. The most useful edition of this interesting work is


that printed at Oxford, in 1788, in octavo. In die notes,
and especially in the Index Graecitatis, they, who are yet
inexpert in the Greek tongue, will find many difficulties eluci-
dated, and many uncommon senses of words and peculiarities
of phrase satisfactorily explained.

A very elegant work was prinfed at Oxford in 1768, en-
titled Tut vcchonuv EfftTa^ioj, or, Funeral Eulogies upon mili-
tary men. The index and notes to this work contain a treasure
of learning, and the editor has manifested great industry and
attention in their composition.

Considerable benefit may also be derived from the notes on
a small collection entitled rioixiAw loTogja, published by Pote, of
Eton, in 1785. It will, however, be advisable for the scholar
to cut out the Latin translation, which in a great measure
destroys the utility of this otherwise valuable manual.

During the whole of the course of reading which has been
delineated, it is indispensably requisite that the student should
daily exercise himself in parsing. Inattention to this exercise
will be ruinous in its consequences. The method of double
translation recommended in the study of the Latin tongue,
may be with advantage practised in the study of Grecian litera-
ture. Bos's Ellipsis Graecae, and Vigerus de Idiotismis, should
be always at hand, as they exemplify and interpret a vast variety
of instances of difficult phraseology.

It is presumed that this course of introductory study will
qualify the scholar ta extend, in almost any direction, his
researches into Grecian literature.




What is included in the Belles Lettres Five periods in the progress of
knowledge A fine taste necessary to the accomplisiied scholar Utility of
the study of the Belles Lettres The foundation to be laid in Grammar,
and the knowledge of the languages Importance of the Belles Lettres
to different characters.

IF we examine into the frame of the human taind, we
shall perceive that the Supreme Being has not only given us a
desire for knowledge, but has also implanted in us a sense of
beauty, harmony, and proportion, so that we cannot help
receiving a high pleasure from a masterly piece of music, an
expressive picture, a sublime poem, and a finished oration,
though we are unacquainted with the sources from which the
pleasure is derived. But though the liberal and elegant arts
aflford us an agreeable entertainment, even when we are
ignorant of their principles ; it is certain that our enjoy-
ment of them will be more just, lively, and delicate, if we
have cultivated our taste, and acquired an accurate and enlarged
view of the several things which contribute to the excellence
of composition. Hence the importance of a general, not to
say an extensive and accurate acquaintance with what arr deno-
minated the Belles Lettres, which will enable us not only to
judge of the works of others, but in a certain degree, to excel
in composition ourselves. Every person who has enjoyed a good
education, or whose situation in life presupposes the advan-

D 2


tages of early and solid instruction, will be expected to speak
and to write his own language with fluency, judgment, and
taste. To assist the reader in the attainment of this perfection
will be the object of the following chapters.

The term Belles Lettres is so vague and indeterminate, that
we scjircely meet with two writers who have meant by it the
same thing. Some persons have maintained that the true
Belles Lettres are Natural Philosophy, Geometry, and other
branches of Mathematics : some have included in this depart-
ment of learning, the polite, or fine arts : and others comprehend
under the term, all those useful and instructive branches of
learning, which occupy the memory and judgment; such as
Geography, Chronology, History, and Heraldry ; and some have
given it a more confined meaning^ including in it. Rhetoric,
Criticism, Poetry, and Oratory. We shall follow the latter
arrangement in our account of Belles Lettres, without ne-
glecting, in the other parts of the work, those other subjects
connectec[ with General Knowledge.

Had we nothing farther to ufge in favour of polite learning,
than jhat it fumislies an innocent, easy, and refined amusement,
even this would render it worthy of attention. In the present
state of our nature, it is a happiness to find recreations which
are always within our reach, and which result from the situa-
tion of our own minds. The Bolles Lettres, in the more exten-
sive use of the term, may be considered in a much superior
point of view, than merely as administering a relaxation from
severer studies : they deserffc to be regarded as matters of no
small importance, as having promoted in the highest degree
the benefit and glory of individuals and nations. We caimot
be insensible, that the periods, and the countries in which the
liberal arts have been cherished, and carried to a high degree
of perfection, are of all others, the most illustrious and

If we look into the history of the world, we shall perceive
five periods that have been particularly famous for their pro-
gress in knowledge and taste, which ace thus enumerated :


I. The Athenian period, which began before the battle of
Marathon, and continued down to the time of Alexaniier the
Great. This aera produced Herodotus, Thiicydides, Xeno-
phon, Sophocles, Euripides, Pericles, Isocrates, ^schines,
Demosthenes, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Aristophanes, Me-
nander, Phidias, Apelles, and Praxiteles.

II. The second is the Roman period, which includes
Terence, Lucretius, Cicero, Caesar, Sallust, Livy, Virgil,
Horace, Varro, and Vitruvius. To these have been added,
though they are men unquestionably of an inferior reputation,
with regard to the purity of their writings, Paterculus, Florus,
Lucan, and Juvenal ; Seneca, Quintilian, and Pliny.

in. The third is denominated the Arabian period, which,
though not to be put on a level with the others, is nevertheless
too illustrious to be passed over unnoticed. When the Sara-
cens had subdued the countries about them, and had esta-
blished considerable kingdoms in Asia, Africa, and Spain,' like
other conquerors, they betook themselves to the arts of peace,
and the improvement of the human mind. For this purpose
tliey translated the best Greek Authors into their own language.
Though they did not wholly neglect the politer studies, and
even excelled in poetry and history, yet they chiefly gave them-
selves up to the sciences, at once sublime, and of practical utili-
ty, viz. Astronomy, Chemistry, and Medicine.

IV. The next is the Italian^ or Medicean period, so called
from the great encouragement given to the study, and improve-
ment of the Belles Lettres by the illustrious family of the Me-
dici. This aera took its rise from the revival of learning and taste
in Italy, after the capture of Constantinople, and reached down
to the close of the iGth century. In this period are included
the celebrated names of Petrarch, Boccacio, Ariosto, Tasso,
Guicciardini, Machiavel, Davila, Bembo, and Vida; all of
whom are illustrious, in some way or other, for their writings ;
and to these are to be added, as ornaments to the arts, Ra-
phael, Michael Angelo, Corregio, Guido, Titian, and such


a constellation of painters and sculptors as the world never

V. The last period is said to have begun about a century
and a half ago, and has continued to the present time. This
period is, on some accounts, more illustrious ihan ihe pre-
ceding, and has been especially eminent for the general diffu-
sion of knowledge and elegance, for the simplicity and refine-
ment of the manners of men, and for an extensive improve-
ment in the conveniences and embellishments of life. With-
out attempting to enumerate all the persons who have adorned
these latter times, we may briefly refer to a few of the writers,
who by tlieir works have done honour to several countries in
modern Europe, particularly to France and England. In the
former have flourished a Corneille, a Racine, a Moliere, a
Boileau, a Massillon, Flechier, Bossuet, and E^nelon.; and
in our own country we recognize the names of a Locke, and
Newton ; a Milton, a Dryden, a Pope, a Tillotson, an Atter-
bury, Addison, and Swift; a Goldsmith, Johnson, and many
others, who deserve to be placed in the same rank, and will
receive due honour from posterity.

If it appear strange that the names of Homer and Pindar
have been omitted, it should be recollected, that these great
poets flourished before the respective aeras that we have de-
scribed. Poetry, and particularly the higher departmeutb of it,
arrives sooner at perfection than the other polite arts, or the
other branches of general literature.

The cultivation of the Belles Lettres reflects the highest
glory on the individuals who have excelled in the study, as well
as on nations who have been benefitted by them. The illus-
trious characters whom we ha\'e mentioned, while they have
thrown a splendour round the countries and the ages in
which they lived, have by their admirable works transmitted
their own renown to all succeeding times, and will ever be
held in grateful remembrance. Without entering upon the
public benefits which flow from the elegant and liberal studies,


we may observe, that an extensive acquaintance with, and a
just taste for polite literature, will tend to improve the under-
standing and to refine the affections and manners. It should
be remembered, that we must join a just taste to an extensive
acquaintance with polite literature, for otherwise our know-
ledge will not greatly avail us. A load of learning will be of
small service, if it be not accompanied with a sound judgment,
?nd a lively feeling with respect to the beauties of composition.
There are persons in the world, to whose erudition scarcely
any thing is unknown, and yet th^ir real character is wejl
drawn by Mr. Pope, M'ho says *

Pains, Reading, Study, are their just pretence ;
And all they want, is Spirit, Taste, and Sense!

But if we apply to the Belles Lettres with a proper degree
of discernment, and with hearts disposed to relish the natural
and unaffected charms, which are presented to us in the pro-
ductions of the best ancient and modern writers, we shall find
reason gradually improving, and our sentiments of things be-
coming every day more accurate, enlarged, and liberal. The
more we converse with the works which have stood the test of
ages, and which are formed upon the principles of Classic
purity and elegance, the more will our faculties be strength-
ened, the greater progress shall we make ia good sense, that
most valuable, acquisition ; and the fitter shall we be for ac-
quitting ourselves with credit and dignity, in the common
duties of our stations. It is the excellence of polite literature,
that the objects, on which it is chiefly engaged, are the usual
events and affections of social life, so that we cannot increase
our acquaintance With it, without increasing our qualifications
for acting with wisdom and prudence in the general intercourse
with our fellow creatures.

An extensive acquaintance with, and a just taste for polite
literature, will refine the manners, as well as improve the un^
derstanding, a circumstance that should recommend it highly
to our regard. The Belles Lettres will contribute to mead


the heart in a direct way, as the works which are eminent
in that branch of knowledge will be found to contain a great
number of useful remarks, maxims, and reflections, and as
they display a multitude of facts and characters which are cal-
culated to make a deep impression upon the mind, and to in-
spire it with the true love of virtue and solid glory. But
the indirect influence of the liberal sciences is perhaps still
more powerful ; a steady application to ihem gradually polishes
the human soul, corrects and softens the turbulence of the
passions, and introduces a nobleness of thinking, which has a
happy effect upon the conduct of life.

Though there is not that strict and close connexion betweei>
a taste for 4iatural, and a taste for moral beauty, which some
philosophers have imagined, yet they are not entirely without
a relationship. The " elegans spectator formarum," with re-
spect to external objects, and the productions of genius, will
be better qualified, and disposed to admire the graces of the
mind, than others, and even to follow after them, when no
extraordinary temptations to the contrary occur in his way.
He cannot converse w ith the sages of antiquity ; the illus-
trious men of former days, and the works of a fine imagina-
tion, without feeling and imbibing in a certain degree, a dig-
nity of sentiment and of action. He will be raised above the
inducements of vulgar pleasures, and become a more amiable
member of society ; accordingly, it may be observed that per-
sons of true taste are seldom deficient in the virtues of polite-
ness and humanity, whatever vices they may possess of any
other kind.

Having pointed out the general usefulness of the Belles Let-
tres, as they are calculated to improve the understanding, and
refine the affections and manners, we shall now, in oider that
we may be the more sensible of their excellence and impor-
tance, mention several of the benefits that spring from those
branches of polite learning, separately considered, which come
under our immediate cognizance.

Although music, painting, and sculpture, do not, in this place.


fall within our province, yet we may observe, that if we have
an easy opportunity of acquiring a taste for, and proficiency in
them, they will contribute to our pleasures, and enlarge our
sphere of knowledge, but they may be omitted without any
prejudice to our reputation ajid pretensions as scholars. Nor
is it proposed to enumerate all the advantages resulting from
the liberal sciences, but to give such a short and compre-
hensive view of the^, as may attract attention, and 'excite
diligence. v

It will not be necessary, that every person shall pursue all
that is recommended as worthy of attainment, each will select
for himself, what he deems most important to his own feelings,
or nearest allied to his situation and rank in society. Few,
perhaps, of the readers of this Introduction, will think it to
their purpose, to pay any attention to the Greek and Latin
languages, and still fewer to the Hebrew, yet we shall touch
upon the advantages resulting from the study of them all, be-
cause to other persons, whose pursuits, taken up, probably,
late in life, force an attention to them, it may be important to
know, that to be well grounded in these languages, is of the
highest moment.

The languages now enumerated, are, to certain class of per-
sons, justly reckoned the keys of knowledge, and the founda-
tion of good taste, so that without a competent knowledge in
them, they will stumble at the threshold, and never make any
considerable progress in their pursuits. As few books of im-
portance are written. in the Hebrew language, excepting the
scriptur-es of the Old Testament, it is chiefly useful to divines,
but with regard to them, an acquaintance with it is absolutely
necessary ; for it is certainly absurd for persons to take upon
themselves the office of explainers of revelation, without be-
ing abl to have recourse to the tongue in which it was deli-
vered. But the Hebrew language merits attention, as a part
of the Belles , Lettres, because the Old Testament abounds
with the finest strains of poetry and eloquence, the simplicity,
grandeur, and beauty of which, cannot be perfectly understood


except by those who have an exact and critical knowledge of
the original.

As to the Greek, it is useful, not only as it was in tliis lan-
guage that the charter of our salvation was delivered, but alo
with relation to our advancement in polite learning. It was
Greece that gave birth to the most eminent poets, orators,
historians, and philosophers ; so that to the language of Greece
we must apply, if we desire to have a thorough acquaintance
with, and a true relish for those natural, unaffected, and sub-
lime beauties of composition, which have been the admiration
of all ages. The same may be asserted of the Latin tongue,
which likewise presents us with a set of fine writers, the disci-
ples and rivals of Greece, who will be applauded so long
as good sense and good taste subsist in the world. But
the Latin is also useful, as it is the vehicle of correspondence
among men of letters, and a kind of universal language, in
which many capital treatises of modern times have been com-
posed, so that unless we are well skilled iu it, we can make
but an indifferent progress in several important parts of science.

In order to our improvement in polite leaniing, we must, in
the first place, lay a solid foundation in the principles of Ge-
neral Grammar ; we must then enter upon that of Qratory, for
the purpose of attaining a clear method in whatever we wish,
either by speech or w riling to enforce upon others as principles
of truth or duty. Our next concern must be to make ourselves
acquainted wilh the rules and art of Rhetoric, contained in
works expressly devoted to the purpose. Closely connected
with Rhetoric, is the art of Criticism, by which is meant a nice
discernment with regard to the beauties and defects of other
species of composition besides eloquence. There are several
kinds of Criticism, all of which are useful in a certain degree ;
even that which relates to tlie different readings of M5S. and
conjectural emendations, is often of great importance to the in-
terests of literature. At the revival of letters in Europe, tliis
art was of the utmost consequence, in order by it to obtain
correct editions of Uie ancient authors, which had been muti-



lated and Injured by the carelessness or ignorance of transcrib-
ers. Nor are- those persons to be despised, or even lightly
esteemed, who continue to labour in the same way, and who
endeavour to oblige the world with still more perfect and
splendid copies of the noble productions of Antiquity. But
a still more interesting part of Criticism, is that which applies
itself to the higher excellences of writing, which philosophically
displays the sources from which they proceed, and feelingly
represent their charms ; and which tends both to correct and to
refine our taste. We cannot converse too much with those
critics who answer to this character, viz, those who are excel-
Jent authors, as well as excellenl^judges. We shall reap substan-
tia\benefit^rom perusing the works of such men as Lon-
ginifl, Qmntilian, Horace, Addison, Hurd, and Lord Kames ;
to these, and particularly to the latter, we shall in what
follows have frequent recourse.

^^Ftora Criticism, we proceed to one of its prime objects,
Poet^, which is well deserving of our attention. Those who
are fond of this divine art, generally speak of it with such rap-
turdfe, as young lovers do of their mistresses. Without, how-
ever, losing our reason, or embracing the language of enthusi-
asm, we may observe, that many solid advantages will result
from an acquaintance with the favorites of the Muses. No-
thing is better calculated to enliven and strengthen the imagi-
' nation. Nothing will afford us an equal choice and plenty of
words, or give us a^superior insight into the variety and force
f of language. Nothing will furnish us with ampler materials
for noble expressions and animated figures. But the higher
species will perform much more than all this. The Epic, the
Tragic, the Lyric, and the Moral kinds, will inspire us with a
number of sublime sentiments and reflections, will instruct us
in the movement of the passions, and form us to a striking and
pathetic manner of composition. The graces of writing will
be acquired from reading the poets, sooner than from any
other source, and perhaps, there never was a person wholly
unmindful of them, that was a truly elegant author ; and if is


no mean recommendation of tlie Poets, that several of them
' may be ranked among our best prose writers. History, on
which we shall soon enlarge, is another very important part of
ji the Belles Lettres, but the benefits derived from the study

* of it, need not be recounted here, they will be better enume-

rated hereafter. It may however be observed, that it qualifies
us for the right conduct of life, whatever be the station we
fill. This, connected with biography, presents to the view
a thousand illustrious characters, actions, and events, deserv-
^^ ing of our attention. It opens to our mind the great objects
of government and morality. It sets before us the discoveries
of science, the improvements of art, and the progress of hu-^
man reason. ^^ m

Another circumstance well worthy of our attentioff w iff be,
the obtaining some acquaintance with the sentiments and
systems of the ancient philosophers. T4 this may be added
miscellaneous learning, which is almost Ventirely a mid^ui
acquisition. The ancients generally are either poets, or orators,
*^**~^ or philosophers, or historians, or critics ; but the moderns have

produced a multitude of performances which cannot fcro- \
perly be ranked with any of these species, and yet are not
to be neglected. Under the denomination of miscellaneous
learning, may be ranked the Spectator, the Guardian, Ram-
bler, Adventurer, &c. ; fictitious history, productions of
wit and humour, together with occasional dissertations andV

With regard to the Tmportance of the study of the Belles
Lettres, it may be assumed, that it will assist us in attaining
a clear, harmonious, and forcible style, which is a matter of
great consequence to those who have to convey their ideas to
others. Perspicuity is indispensable to the writer or the
speaker, and without it, all that a person says or does, in the
way of literature, can be of no avdil. If we do not express
our sentiments in a manner that is easy to be understood, our
labour will be lost. Nor is the harmony of language to be
considered as a trivial accomplishment. A taste for it is im-



planted in the human breast, and persons will find themselves
pleased and affected by it, though they cannot assign a rear
son for the influence it has upon them. Besides, the clearness
of a discourse will frequently be seen to depend greatly on a
just and elegant arrangement of the terms we make use of.
As to.a forcible style, there can be no doubt about its excel-
lency, since it must be exceedingly important to have our ^
thoughts come with weight upon the minds of our readers or /,
hearers. It may probably be asserted, without fear of con-
tradiction, that none, who were wholly ignorant of polite lite-
rature, ever united in their works, a perspicuous, harmoni-
ous, 'and strong manner of expression. They must have been
ficient in one or more, *or all of these qualities. It is only
by convemng with the fine writers of ancient and modem
times;, it is only by applying to the liberal studies, that we
caiif learn to comninicate our sentiments at once with clear-
k new, gracefulness" and strength; and a happy conjunction of

* Nearness, gracefulness, and strength, will add an efficacy to our ^

compositions that cannot be easily described. The ancients
were thoroughly sensible of the benefits resulting from the
unji)n of the qualities just enumerated, and therefore applied

Online LibraryWilliam ShepherdSystematic education: or Elementary instruction in the various departments of literature and science; with practical rules for studying each branch of useful knowledge (Volume 1) → online text (page 4 of 44)