The author says in his short preface—“It will be perceived, from an examination of the present volume, that the exercises contained in it have been arranged in such a way as to form a regular and progressive course; and it is believed that, after the student has been carefully taken over the entire work, he will be fully qualified to enter upon the task of original composition in Latin verse, an accomplishment which forms decidedly the truest and most enduring ornament of classical education.” Such an accomplishment is, indeed, of great value to one who can estimate its bearings, or who, in receiving the discipline its attainment brings, has not forfeited others of far greater importance. A growing prejudice prevails in the more living and larger portion of our society against the boasted advantages of a “classical education.”—The man brought up in familiarity with outward nature, and to a use of his own bodily and instinctive powers, feels a contempt for the purblind scholar who cannot see through his spectacles what is imperatively required by a young and growing life like ours. The man whose mind has been cultivated not classically, nor in classes, but by earnest seeking and grasping on every side for what is demanded by the wants of his individual mind, doubts whether there is time, amid the vast new conquests of science, the profuse fruits of modern literature and arts, the needs in a great novel life of original thought and methods suited to the period, for a careful attention to the making of verse in the dead languages. He doubts whether the boy whose eyes have been during his best years turned too exclusively to the past will ever see as clear into the present and future as his neighbors, less schooled in the classics but better in nature and the spirit of the times.
Yet there is a beautiful propriety in referring back to the Greeks and Romans, could this but be done with intelligence and in harmony with the other branches of culture. It is only pedantry and indolence that makes this dangerous. The honey of Hymettus need not spoil the taste of the American wild bee, but only teach him not to content himself with the coarsest flowers when he might do better.
Those nations brought some things to a perfection that the world will probably never see again. We must not lose the sense of this greatness because our practice is in a different sphere. For this it is that marks the true eclectic, that he need not cling to the form because he reveres the spirit that informed it, but treasures the seed of each plant that ever bloomed in the garden of Humanity, without demanding their fruit when the season is past.
Then asks for ice ’mong June’s new-fangled shows.”
The metres, the methods of verse that grow up in a nation are one of the highest expressions of its spirit, one of the finest organizations of its life, The rules which are derived from them give the science of that life as far as it can be understood from without. Genius needs not to learn, but will take pleasure in examining them. To make verse according to rule will enable no man to write one word of poetry, but it may make him more deeply familiar with the sense in which poetry has been written, by refining the taste and cultivating the ear. To know these Greek and Roman writers critically, to imitate by rule their methods, has the same benefit for the mind, that external association with a graceful person does on the manners. A deeper intimacy may arise; mind may speak to mind, and grace to love; but, unfortunately, the way in which acquaintance is begun more frequently hinders than furthers this higher benefit. The little girl imitates the graceful lady and thus spoils her own manners, instead of, by intelligent sympathy, awakening within herself that soul of beauty from which graceful manners flow. The boy learns how the great poets wrote in measure, and copies the cadence of their feet, but neither by his tutor is he taught, nor of his own seeking mind does he learn, that metres are nothing except the harmonious movements of a mind deeply conscious of the universal harmony, and that only by adoring and studying that can he really emulate them. Were this otherwise, were the spirit made known with or through the letter, classical education, and this branch of it especially, would be of true and deep value, and demand far less time too than it has hitherto, for the mind runs quick when it apprehends the goal.*
“A System of Latin Versification . . .” New-York Daily Tribune, 12 May 1845, p. 1.