« PreviousContinue »
not to be classed with the abstract speculations of men who, very likely, never taught a day in their lives. This reflection, that mere length of service in the classroom makes any man's opinion worth something, together with the fact that many of you are my former pupils, reassures me in this attempt to comply with the request of this body of teachers that I should talk to you to-night on the teaching of Latin.
A thoro treatment of our subject, about which many volumes have been written, especially in Germany, would take the pupil at the very beginning of his Latin course and conduct him thru all the details of the successive stages until entering college. This is the method employed by Dettweiler in his exhaustive work, published in 1895, much of which is of great interest and value to us even in our American conditions. But in view of the breadth of the subject to be covered in the brief time at our disposal, I shall ask you to consider merely some leading features of Latin instruction. A consideration of these topics will suggest at least what it is desirable to secure, even tho the methods of securing it be not in all cases satisfactorily ascertained.
What is the primary aim of Latin study? It is the power to read Latin. Simple and obvious as this aim appears, it has been strangely overlooked in Latin teaching. Owing, doubtless, to the fact that the benefits of Latin study are many and various, even teachers of Latin who have taught many years have differed widely in their answer to the question, “What is the chief object in studying Latin?” Perhaps the most common answer has been “mental discipline”; and elaborate arguments have been framed to show that no other study, except that of Greek, can compare with Latin in this regard. Others have given chief weight to the advantage that Latin study offers in taking us to the source of half of our English vocabulary, and in making clear the forms, the history and much of the material of modern literature. Again, the study of Latin is chiefly valued by some because it greatly assists in the acquisition of the modern languages, or because, by the training it affords in observation, analysis and classification, it prepares the mind admirably for the study of physical science. Possibly some have taken no higher view than that, inasmuch as Latin is a traditional subject that must be reckoned with in order to get into college, it is to be studied without asking any questions, simply because the colleges require it and the schools provide funds for such instruction.
The advantages mentioned, and other cognate ones that might be named, are great and undeniable; but no one of them should be considered the prime object of the study. They are incidental and secondary; and to elevate any one of them to the highest place dislocates the system of work and produces a defective result. We cannot too clearly conceive our fundamental purpose, the real title of Latin to its place in education. We are to teach Latin because the language and literature, in and for themselves, are worth reading and worth knowing. Only here can we find a really solid foundation. By seeking first this mastery we shall find all these things added unto us; and in no other way shall we compass them all.
Fortunately for the future of education, this is coming to be the prevailing view in this country. It has been declared again and again during the last fifteen years by the best Latinists and the highest educational authorities. It is the foundation principle of the classical programs of the Committee of Ten and of the preparatory courses recommended by the New England College Commission and the American Philological Association.
This cardinal matter settled, we may consider the means to this chief end. Of these none claims earlier or later attention from teacher and pupil than the careful pronunciation and expressive reading of the language itself. Happily we may now be said to have passed thru the vexatious transition from the English to the Roman method of pronouncing Latin. The latter is practically universal in the United States, and the great majority of undergraduates have never known any other. Many teachers, however, were brought up on the English method; and altho they have adopted the other, they find themselves lapsing rather often from the strict and full rendering of the long vowels, even if they do not occasionally utter the English vowel sounds. As all who have tried it can testify, a resolute effort is required in order to make the change complete. But systematic practice in reading aloud, with the strictest care to give each long vowel its full time, will gain the desired end. And it is extremely important that this end should be gained speedily, for the slightest carelessness on the teacher's part is bound to be reproduced and exaggerated by the student; while the careless ways of pronouncing that students are prone to on their account will pass unnoticed and become inveterate.
Milton remarks that “to smatter Latin with an English tongue is as ill a hearing as law French.” But even if we give the so-called Continental vowel sounds, as Milton did, we have gone barely half-way. The characteristic feature of the Roman method is, of course, its observance of quantity. But the quantitative pronunciation of the vowels is especially difficult for English-speaking people. Whatever the cause may be, we have a strong tendency to shorten the open vowels, using a very close o in words like stone, bone, coat, throat, and even boat; so too a flat a in words like path, mass, cast, etc. Good utterance must shun all this; and the boy or girl who is being properly drilled in Latin is getting valuable vocal practice with words like Romānõrum, amābāmini, civitātēs.
What has been aptly termed “the convulsion of the accent” in English is also in direct conflict with the principle that a long vowel, wherever found, should have its full time for utterance Such words as judicature, inevitably, peremptorily, also milit'ry and liter’ry in the mouth of an Englishman, show how we slur and swallow syllables, sacrificing everything to the sledgehammer stress of the accent. Hence when the pupil comes upon the Latin original of the English inevitable, he is pretty sure to say inevitabilis, with every vowel short, instead of inēvitābilīs (if acc. plur.) with four long vowels out of six. So, too, the pupil quite naturally says mensis for mensis, in his first declension paradigm. At this earliest stage hardly too much care can be taken that, in the memorizing of the declensions and conjugations, each form shall be correctly pronounced, and in particular that each long vowel shall be given its due time, whether it occurs in an accented syllable or not. Now that most preparatory text-books, including some editions of Vergil and Ovid, have the long vowels so marked in every Latin word, all that is needed is vigilance in the teacher tn keep himself and his pupils to the standard of full and free vowel and consonant enunciation.
The practice necessary to acquire and maintain correct pronunciation will show the great value of oral work as a means of gaining an insight into the language itself. Nothing else gives such a hold upon a foreign tongue as the frequent hearing of it. The Romans, moreover, beyond modern men, shaped their language and their literary productions for the ear rather than the eye. Almost everything that was written was spoken or recited by the writer. Latin is therefore essentially rhetorical, oral. “ The grandeur that was Rome " still reverberates in these full-throated sounds. I am persuaded that there are few boys and girls who cannot be made to feel this oral beauty. As long as the English pronunciation prevailed, which was confessedly a makeshift, a barbarous jargon,—there was every inducement not to read the text aloud; and thus was fostered the tendency to make instruction dry and too largely linguistic. But with the adoption of the restored pronunciation Latin study has received a new impetus. The improved methods of teaching, which make oral work prominent, have kept pace with the advance of the restored pronunciation, and in many instances have been conceived and applied by its warmest advocates.
From the nature of the case we must deal with Latin objectively. It is never “ in the air," as German is in Germany or French in France. If we could bring all five senses to bear upon it, we should never master too thoroly its many difficulties. But both sight and hearing we can apply; and I believe oral reading will be more and more resorted to for the new life that it imparts. The more oral work the better for both teacher and pupil. From the beginning the pupil should be taught to read the lesson aloud to himself in his room repeatedly, and also before the class, always with strict attention to pronunciation, to quantity and accent. The teacher should read aloud to the class the Latin text hy the page,—often the review lesson, oftener the advance lesson,—taking pains not only to pronounce with accuracy, but to express the thought as fully as possible in the Latin words. When the instructor thus feels the Latin as Latin, and renders the shades of emphasis as the word order demands, the pupil will soon find himself able to see thru a simple sentence without translating it. The word order will no longer seem mysterious and arbitrary, but will have increasing significance. He will learn to watch for the emphasis required. His own pronunciation will cease to be mechanical and unmeaning. His translation will become more intelligent, and his interest will deepen with his deepening insight.
In these observations I have had in mind the prose authors. In dealing with verse, let the teacher make himself master of the art of metrical reading; and after the class has studied some hundred or more lines of Ovid or Vergil, let him read to the class long passages, both familiar and unfamiliar, with as much feeling and expression as he could put into a page of Milton. Then let him gradually bring his pupils up to a similar readiness. Teachers who have not tried it will be surprised to note how soon the better scholars can be brought to move with freedom and expression thru a page of verse. Obviously, poetry can be properly appreciated in no other way; nor, for that matter, can prose.
Much will be gained toward this end if, from the start, translation at hearing from Latin into English and from English into Latin is faithfully practiced. If this can be supplemented by the declamation of interesting selections of Latin prose or verse, so much the better. Words and constructions once thoroly memorized are a possession forever. It is just this quick memory of the very youthful pupil that ought to be much more generally utilized in learning the elements of Latin in the last year or two of the grammar school.
Nine Latin students out of ten turn out to be what the first year makes of them. Too often they turn out helpless and