Latin is Practical

At least, it is if you value thinking. Here’s RM Wenley from the University of Michigan, in an essay called The Nature of Culture Studies.

Ability to write decent Latin prose, with dictionary at elbow, simply cannot be acquired without at the same time inducing the kind of mental organization which at length enables a man to go anywhere and do anything, as a great general phrased it.

He continues by quoting Mr. Shorey of Chicago (Paul, I believe), who insisted quite strongly on the importance of Latin studies for thinking purposes:

I am cynically skeptical about students who cannot understand elementary Latin syntax, but distinguish themselves in mathematics, exact science, or political economy. The student who is really baffled by the elementary logical analysis of language may be a keen observer, a deft mathematician, an artistic genius–he will never be an analytic thinker.

Then Wenley picks up the argument again:

I draw proof from my own experience. The most effective masters of the “positive” sciences known to me personally are invariably the men who have first acquired the mental organziation which the culture studies [i.e. Latin and Greek classics] confer; of this fact they are quite aware themselves. A creed was impressed upon them in these early years; not simply work, and still work, but work in a certain fashion. They gained connective processes; thereafter the rest is, not only easier, but immensely more efficient.

These passages from a speech delivered just prior to 1911 bring to mind Dorothy Sayers fervent defense of Latin in her Lost Tools of Learning essay, where she said,

If I were asked what, of all the things I was ever taught, has been of teh greatest practical use to me, I should have to answer: the Latin Grammar.

Or these words from CS Lewis:

Hardly any lawful price would seem to me too high for what I have gained by being made to learn Latin and Greek.

For myself, I can only say that the best training I have ever received was that time spent with my Greek New Testament in front of me and Young’s Concordance, Vine’s dictionary, Arndt and Gingrich, an analytical lexicon and whatever else I could get my hands on me spread out over my desk, bed, and floor. I wnated to understand the text. Through the intensity of my study, I learned how to think.

But I know only too well, from the taste I received, both how valuable the intellectual training is, and how much I would have benefited from more of it.

There is quite simply no substitute for Latin and Greek studies for people who want trained intellects, mature minds, and practical intellectual skills. Please teach them in your schools, whatever it costs.

 

Kopff Defends Classical Educaton

My good friend Christian Kopf has written another tour de force defending a classical education. Take a look HERE.

The inability of our leaders to think soundly and speak persuasively affects all of us, because their decisions affect all of us. Leaders of a regime based on consensual institutions need the full panoply of verbal ability…

In Real Education, Charles Murray sees the direct connection between “correct understanding of the meaning of individual words,” grammar and syntax, “mastery of the rules of reasoning” and finally “understanding the principles of rhetoric.” This connected and coherent verbal curriculum is the late ancient and medieval trivium—grammar, logic and rhetoric—that survived in the Humanist curriculum that was then developed by the Reformers for Protestant countries and by the Jesuits in Catholic lands. (The quadrivium includes the non-verbal arts of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music.)

It is the curriculum that created the modern world. It has been revived and is fundamental for contemporary Classical educators. They know a lesson that was accepted for centuries and is now ignored at enormous academic cost. Grammar is fundamental for other important intellectual activities.

 

Why we teach Latin (one little reason)

This from The Nature of Culture Studies, by RM Wenley, University of Michigan:

Accuracy of mental operation does not come with memorizing linguistic forms and rules. Here our culture study friends frequently fool themselves. Nevertheless, ability to write decent Latin prose, with dictionary at elbow, simply cannot be acquired without at the same time inducing the kind of mental organization which at length enables a man to go anywhere and do anything, as a great general phrased it. My brilliant colleague, Mr. Shorey, of Chicago, lays his finger on the point when he says:

I am cyncially skeptical about students who cannot understand elementary Latin syntax, but distinguish themselves in mathematics, exact science, or political economy. The student who is really baffled by the elementary logical analysis of language may be a keen observer, a deft mathematician, an artistic genius–he will never be an analytic thinker.

You can read this passage in an extraordinary work from 1911 called Latin and Greek in American Education, edited by Francis Kelsey. Look for more quotations from time to time.

How Latin studies cultivate the intellect and prepare for real life

Here is R.M. Wenley in an essay entitled, The Nature of Culture Studies, published in Latin and Greek in American Education, which we consider one of the five most important books on education written in the 20th century:

Ability to write decent Latin prose, with dictionary at elbow, simply cannot be acquired without at the same time inducing the kind of mental organization which at length enables a man to go anywhere and do anything, as a great general phrased it. My brilliant colleague, Mr. Shorey, of Chicago, lays his finger on the point when he says: “I am cynically skeptical about students who cannot understand elementary Latin syntax, but distinguish themselves in mathematics, exact science, or political economy. The student who is really baffled by the elementary logical analysis of language may be a keen observer, a deft mathematician, an artistic genius–he will never be an analytic thinker.”

And I draw the proof from my own experience. the most effective masters of the “postive” sciences known to me personally are invariably the men who have first acquired the mental organization which the culture studies confer; of this fact they are quite aware themselves. A creed was impressed upon them in these early years; not simply work, and still work, but work in a certain fashion. they gained connective processes; thereafter the rest is, not only easier, but immensely more efficient.

This essay was written in 1911, back when the classics were at war with the progressives and the progressive pragmatists had not yet so thoroughly routed the classics that even classical schools now teach as little Latin as possible and debate whether to include Greek. Here we are witnessing the beginning of that process known as the dumbing down of our children (which now, of course, means ourselves since we also were dumbed down).

For me, the biggest frustration in reflecting on these words is the realization that my own faculties are far from adequately cultivated. I have renewed my commitment to read some Latin every day, if only five minutes worth. Maybe I’ll never really learn it. Or maybe nibbling will lead to opportunities.

I would be interested in another research project too: what is the effect of Latin and Greek studies on the aging mind? Does it slow down dementia, memory loss, alzheimer’s, etc.? Seems like a worthwhile study, though more involved, no doubt, than studies on crossword puzzles and eating sardines.

Seeing things Latin

I learn from Bill Neal in Gardener’s Latin that Clematideus means “with long climbing branches; like clematis” and I realize once again that the benefits of Latin cannot be enumerated. Across the page I learn that columbinus means, “like a dove; flowers shaped like a group of doves.” One cannot drive past a Columbine Street or see a Columbine sign or even hear the word columbine without being reminded of the sad free fall of our culture. How doubly ironic, how painful, to be reminded that the bird of peace was shot down on that day.

Latin enables us to see connections that would not otherwise be visible, not only in words but in the reality behind the words. So doing, it enables a depth of perception and thus a depth of feeling that can’t be provided as readily by any other language, especially not English. Latin brings the abstractions of English (what is a columbine?) back to many of their concrete roots, thus enabling the student of Latin to experience the once firm connection between the earth and the sky, between the concrete and the abstract, between philosophy and experience.

Latin enables a student to see the world with a poetic facility.