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The Yale Report of 1828 · Part II
Liberal Education and the Classical CurriculumRobert J. O’Hara (email@example.com)
One of the most influential documents in the history of American higher education was “The Yale Report of 1828.” The report consisted of two parts: a general discussion of the nature of liberal education, and an argument for the retention of Greek and Latin literature in the college curriculum. The first part of the report, on general liberal education, has already been transcribed for the Collegiate Way website. The second part, which is more narrowly focused on Classical languages, is reproduced here. Editorial insertions in this transcript are enclosed in ; all ellipses are original to the text.
COURSE OF INSTRUCTION
COMMITTEE OF THE CORPORATION,
PRINTED BY HEZEKIAH HOWE.
Containing extracts from that part of the report of the faculty in which the resolution of the corporation is more particularly considered.
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By a liberal education, it is believed, has been generally understood, such a course of discipline in the arts and sciences, as is best calculated, at the same time, both to strengthen and enlarge the faculties of the mind, and to familiarize it with the leading principles of the great objects of human investigation and knowledge. A liberal, is obviously distinct from a professional, eduction. The former is conversant with those topics, an acquaintance with which is necessary or convenient, in any situation of life, the latter, with those which qualify the individual for a particular station, business or employment. The former is antecedent in time, the latter rests upon the former as its most appropriate foundation. A liberal education is fitted to occupy the mind, while its powers are opening and enlarging; a professional education requires an understanding already cultivated by study, and prepared by exercise for methodical and persevering efforts.
Such seem to be the views, on which the system of collegiate education is founded. It has been believed, that there are certain common subjects of knowledge, about which all men ought to be informed, who are best educated, who are prepared to mingle to the best advantage with persons of different tastes, ages and pursuits, and to enter with the best prospects of success, on the details of professional study and practice. As this education, which is called liberal, was originally founded on existing objects of literary interest and pursuit, it has always had reference to such objects, and has varied with the varying state of knowledge. What, therefore, at one time, has been held in little estimation, and has hardly found a place in a course of liberal instruction, has, under other circumstances, risen into repute, and received a proportional share of attention. It is not now the inquiry, whether the changes in the collegiate course have been sufficiently great and frequent;—it is enough for the present purpose, to state the fact of such changes, and to admit their propriety.
An education, then, to be liberal, should have reference to the principal branches of knowledge, and as knowledge varies, education should vary with it.
The subject of inquiry now presented, is, whether the plan of instruction pursued in Yale College, is sufficiently accommodated to the present state of literature and science; and, especially, whether such a change is demanded as would leave out of this plan the study of the Greek and Roman classics, and make an acquaintance with ancient literature no longer necessary for a degree in the liberal arts. Before considering this topic directly, it may be useful to premise a few remarks on another branch of liberal education, in order more clearly to exhibit the kind of objections which are often thrown out, some against one part, and some against another, of the whole course of collegiate study;—and to make more apparent the limited and inadequate views of those who urge them.
The usefulness of mathematical learning is generally admitted, and few persons, perhaps none, would consider that course of education liberal, from which the mathematics are wholly excluded. At least, the study of the mathematics is allowed a prominent place in those institutions in which, what is called a practical education is the professed object aimed at, and from which the ancient languages, on the ground of their being of little or no practical utility, are in part or wholly excluded. If it is asked, on what grounds the pretensions of mathematical learning rest? the reply is at hand. The study of the mathematics, by the consent of the ablest men who have been conversant with the business of instruction, is especially adapted to sharpen the intellect, to strengthen the faculty of reason, and to induce a general habit of mind favorable to the discovery of truth and the detection of error. Mathematical science, furthermore, lies at the foundation of most of the practical sciences, or affords valuable aid in illustrating their principles, and in applying them to the purposes of life. It forms the best preparation for pursuing the study of physics in all its branches, and is not without its use, at least in its indirect influence, in most of our reasoning on other subjects.
But here it is sometimes objected, that though much of this may be true, still mathematical knowledge, to most students is of little practical use. The plain rules of arithmetic, it is said, are all which most men ever find occasion to apply, and if to these rules is added a knowledge of bookkeeping, few, indeed, feel the want of more extensive information in this department of knowledge. Why, it is asked, should a student be compelled to devote years to the acquisition of a species of knowledge, which is useful only, as it enables him to advance the study of navigation, surveying, astronomy, and other sciences, into which mathematical principles largely enter, when he has no wish or expectation to engage practically in either of these sciences,—and will probably from his distaste for the whole subject, forget in a few years, what he has learned with so great labor? If a man occupied in divinity, law or physic, wishes to know any principle in navigation, let him inquire, says the objector, of some one whose business it is to understand this science. If he wishes a substance analyzed, let him apply to the professional chemist, if he wishes to know the name of some mineral, its properties, or its use, let him ask the mineralogist, who from his love of this science, has made himself familiar with the numerous facts and details which it embraces, and who, by his far superior knowledge in his profession, finds actual employment within its precincts. If it is important, that he should know the times of the rising and setting of the sun and moon, the time, quantity, or duration of an eclipse, let him purchase an almanac, which is a much shorter way to the whole of this knowledge, than to determine even one of these particulars by his own calculation. Let those study the sciences, and those only, who have a taste for them, and who expect to pursue at least some one science for a livelihood. If the knowledge of any science is of use, the demand for this knowledge will insure not only its existence, but its prevalence to the exact extent needed; and every thing beyond this is not only superfluous but injurious. Those act in opposition to the plainest principles of political economy, who manufacture for the market an unsaleable article. If wares are not wanted, who does not see, that there will be a glut? and the manufacturer, who shall persist in furnishing them, will work his own ruin that is, institutions, in which mathematics are taught beyond their actual application to use, will of necessity be deserted by the public.
But notwithstanding all these difficulties and objections, the knowledge in question is still practical, not in the narrow view of it which the objector takes, but in a sense higher and wider, and which it may be useful briefly to explain. The student, who has laid up a fund of mathematical knowledge, and has extended his inquiries to those sciences which depend upon mathematical principles, though he is employed in the practical application of no science, yet is brought into an important relation to those who are so employed, and experiences from this relation the most important benefits. He is able to judge of the pursuits of others, to estimate the value of those pursuits, to understand the progress of science, and to feel an interest in the occupations of a large portion of mankind. Whether his own station in life is public or private, whether he engages in a professional career, or is called upon to discharge the duties of a magistrate, the occasions for employing his knowledge are innumerable. Granting, that he loses from his memory, many or most of the details of the sciences, he still knows where to apply for information, and how to direct his inquiries, and is able to judge correctly the talents and pretensions of those who are prominent in any one department, and whom he may wish to employ in the accomplishment of actual business. He is acquainted with the region where he is, acts more understandingly in what he undertakes, and is found, in consequence of his knowledge, to be, in all his transactions, a more practical man. The student, likewise, by familiarizing himself with the general principles of the sciences, prepares himself for pursuing, to whatever extent he chooses, any one branch, for which he finds himself to possess talents and inclination. Educated in this way, besides the advantages of mental discipline which have been already mentioned, he enlarges the circle of his thoughts, finds in his superior information, new means of benefiting or influencing others, and his mind is thus far liberalized by liberal knowledge.
It is on the same general grounds, that the use and necessity of classical literature in a liberal education may be defended. That this study occupies, at the present time, an important place among literary pursuits, both in Europe and America, will not be denied. In the British Islands, in France, Germany, Italy, and, indeed, in every country of Europe in which literature has acquired distinction and importance, the Greek and Roman classics constitute an essential part of a liberal education. In some countries, classical studies are reviving from a temporary depression, in others, where no such depression has been experienced, they are pursued with increased ardor, and in none, are they known to be declining in public estimation. There may be more variety of opinion than formerly, as to the use of classical learning in certain departments of life; but the conviction of its necessity in the highest education, that which has any claim or pretence to be denominated liberal, is not known to have sustained any considerable change. The literature of every country of Europe is founded more or less on classical literature, and derives from this source its most important illustrations. This is evident not only from such works as have long since appeared, and which form the standard literature of modern times, but from those most recently published, and even from the periodical works of the day. Classical learning is interwoven with every literary discussion. The fact only is here insisted on, and this is undeniable. Whoever, then, without a preparation in classical literature, engages in any literary investigation, or undertakes to discuss any literary topic, or associates with those who in any country of Europe, or in this country, are acknowledged to be men of liberal acquirements, immediately feels a deficiency in his education, and is convinced that he is destitute of an important part of practical learning. If scholars, then, are to be prepared to act in the literary world as it in fact exists, classical literature, from considerations purely practical, should form an important part of their early discipline.
But the claims of classical learning are not limited to this single view. It may be defended not only as a necessary branch of education, in the present state of the world, but on the ground of its distinct and independent merits. Familiarity with the Greek and Roman writers is especially adapted to form the taste, and to discipline the mind, both in thought and diction, to the relish of what is elevated, chaste, and simple. The compositions which these writers have left us, both in prose and verse, whether considered in reference to structure, style, modes of illustration, or general execution, approach nearer than any others to what the human mind, when thoroughly informed and disciplined, of course approves, and constitute, what is most desirable to possess, a standard for determining literary merit. This excellence of the ancient classic writers is, indeed, doubted or denied;—and it becomes, therefore, necessary to adduce such proof of it as the subject admits.
The case here to be considered is not unaccompanied by analogues. In the range of human improvement, there are other facts nearly allied, both in their character and circumstances, to this now asserted, which afford it very powerful support. Architecture and sculpture, in their most approved forms, not only had their origin, but received their perfection in Greece. These arts may have been, in certain respects, modified in the progress of time, changes may have been introduced to accommodate their productions to the necessities and manners of a later age; yet the original works of Grecian genius are the models by which artists, even at the present time, direct their labors, the standard by which, in a great measure, their merits are determined. It is in vain to pretend that this is the effect of prejudice, the bias of early impressions, and the undue veneration of antiquity. The statuary, in modelling a head or an arm, has nature always in view, yet he refers notwithstanding to the remains of Grecian art as his best guides, the surest interpreters of nature itself. His work is not imitation, it is a nearer approach to perfection through the skill derived from the contemplation and study of superior excellence. In architecture, the eye of one least conversant with antiquity is struck with the simplicity and just proportions of Grecian models; and these first impressions are strengthened by observation and reflection. Time, which brings to light so many defects, and suggests so many improvements in most of the discoveries of men, has added its sanction to the perfection, which followed the efforts of the early cultivators of architectural science.
If, then, sculpture and architecture, after the revolution of so many centuries, still derive aid from the remains of ancient skill, it ought not to excite surprise, that in other departments of taste, antiquity should exhibit the same excellence; we need not wonder, that in poetry and eloquence, it should have likewise left specimens, worthy to become patterns for succeeding ages. That this superiority belongs to ancient literature, is proved by the only proper evidence, the voice of men of letters in every country where the classics have been studied, and where a correct taste has prevailed. It is unnecessary here to cite authorities. The literature of Europe attests the fact. Hardly a question can be named where the practical decision of mankind has been more absolute.
But the study of the classics is useful, not only as it lays the foundations of a correct taste, and furnishes the student with those elementary ideas which are found in the literature of modern times, and which he no where so well acquires as in their original sources,—but also as the study itself forms the most effectual discipline of the mental faculties. This is a topic so often insisted on, that little need be said of it here. It must be obvious to the most cursory observer, that the classics afford materials to exercise talent of every degree, from the first opening of the youthful intellect to the period of its highest maturity. The range of classical study extends from the elements of language, to the most difficult questions arising from literary research and criticism. Every faculty of the mind is employed; not only the memory, judgment, and reasoning powers, but the taste and fancy are occupied and improved.
Classical discipline, likewise, forms the best preparation for professional study. The interpretation of language, and its correct use, are no where more important, than in the professions of divinity and law. But in a course of classical education, every step familiarizes the mind with the structure of language, and the meaning of words and phrases. In researches of a historical nature, and many such occur in the professions, a knowledge, especially of the Latin language, is often indispensable. The use of a thorough knowledge of Greek to a theologian, no one will deny. It is admitted that instances may be found of distinguished success in these pro-fessions, where the advantages of a classical education were not enjoyed;—but success of this kind proves only that talents may sometimes force their way to eminence through powerful obstacles. In settling a plan of education, the inquiry should be, not what some men of uncommon endowments have done, but what most men find necessary. Even in cases of extraordinary success, such as have been now alluded to, the want of classical knowledge has often been felt and lamented.
In the profession of medicine, the knowledge of the Greek and Latin languages is less necessary now than formerly, but even at the present time it may be doubted, whether the facilities which classical learning affords for understanding and rendering familiar the terms of science, do not more than counterbalance the time and labor requisite for obtaining this learning. Besides, a physician, who would thoroughly investigate the history of his profession, will find a knowledge of the ancient languages, essential to his object. In all the professions, likewise, a knowledge of general literature is of high importance as a qualification for extensive intercourse with mankind. The formality of the professional character, where the course of reading and thinking is confined to one channel, has often been remarked. The mere divine, the mere lawyer, or the mere physician, however well informed he may be in his particular profession, has less chance of success, than if his early education had been of a more liberal character.
For these very obvious advantages, which now attend the study of classical literature in the college, the course of study which, it is understood, would be proposed as a substitute, promises but few and partial equivalents. Instead of the poems of Homer, which have had so extensive and important an influence on the heroic poetry of all succeeding times, and which, it cannot be denied, are constantly appealed to as establishing many of the most important canons of criticism, we are presented in several new courses, with the Henriade of Voltaire, and the History of Charles XII. of the same author, in place of the historical writings of Livy and Tacitus. This is a specimen of the improvements in education which are the occasion of so much boasting, an example of a change to render knowledge more practical and popular. But in what sense, so far as an acquaintance with the rules of taste, and a familiarity with those general prin-ciples by which literary merit is judged, is a knowledge of the Henriade more practical that a knowledge of the Iliad? How is the former to qualify its possessor to act in the literary world in a manner more advantageous than the latter? Do we find that by critics of eminence, Voltaire as a poet has a higher place assigned him than Homer, or that they consider him as a model to be more carefully studied and imitated? Or to make the inquiry more general, in order to understand the true spirit and genius of English literature,—which is of the greatest practical use, the literature of France, or the literature of Greece and Rome? The most superficial acquaintance with the principal authors in our language, is sufficient to excite wonder, that such questions should be seriously asked.
If the new course proposed, considered as an introduction to a knowledge of general literature, is altogether inferior to the old, and far less practical in its character,—it will be found not less deficient for the purposes of mental discipline. To acquire the knowledge of any of the modern languages of Europe, is chiefly an effort of memory. The general structure of these languages is much the same as that of our own. The few idiomatical differences, are made familiar with little labor, nor is there the same necessity of accurate comparison and discrimination, as in studying the classic writers of Greece and Rome. To establish this truth, let a page of Voltaire be compared with a page of Tacitus.
Nor is this course of education which excludes ancient literature, less objectionable as the foundation of professional study. The student who has limited himself to French, Italian and Spanish, is very imperfectly prepared to commence a course of either divinity or law. He knows less of the literature of his own country, than if he had been educated in the old method, the faculties of his mind have been brought into less vigorous exercise, and the sources of the knowledge which he is now to acquire, are less accessible. If it is said, that the course of exclusive modern literature is intended for those who are not designed for professional life, the reply is, that the number of those who obtain a liberal education, without at first deciding whether they shall be professional men or not, is far from inconsiderable. Many, who originally suppose their minds determined on this subject, alter their determinations from circumstances, which they could not foresee. Adopt the course proposed, and many would enter upon it, merely from novelty, more from a persuasion, that it would be attended with less labor; and the consequence would be, that the college, so far as this cause should operate, would be the means of lowering the professional character of our country. But here it will be asked, Is the literature of the modern nations of Europe to form no part of a course of liberal education? Is not modern literature a subject of discussion as well as ancient? Undoubtedly it is, and facilities for acquiring the more popular languages of Europe should be afforded in our public institutions. The claims of the modern languages are questioned only when they are proposed as substitutes for the ancient, not when they are recommended on their own merits. If modern literature is valuable, it should be studied in that way, which leads most directly to a thorough understanding of it, and this way lies through the literature of the ancients. If the languages and literature of Italy, France and Spain, beyond what is merely superficial, is an object with the student, they should be acquired through the Latin; nor is there reason to doubt, so far as experience affords the means of judging, that this is the most expeditious mode of acquiring a familiarity with the languages in question. To begin with the modern languages in a course of education, is to reverse the order of nature.
Modern languages, with most of our students, are studied, and will continue to be studied, as an accomplishment, rather than as a necessary acquisition. Those likewise who spend time in learning to speak the modern languages, soon lose their knowledge, unless they live where these languages are in constant use; nor can there be a doubt, that students do as generally neglect their French, Italian and Spanish, in after life, except when these languages are retained by the course of business, as they neglect their Latin and Greek. This is especially true in professional life, where the demand for a knowledge of the modern languages, in comparison with the ancient, is altogether inconsiderable. To suppose the modern languages more practical than the ancient, to the great body of our students, because the former are now spoken in some parts of the world, is an obvious fallacy. The proper question is,—what course of discipline affords the best mental culture, leads to the most thorough knowledge of our own literature, and lays the best foundation for professional study. The ancient languages have here a de-cided advantage. If the elements of modern languages are acquired by our students in connection with the established collegiate course, and abundant facilities for this purpose, have for a long time, been afforded, further acquisitions will be easily made, where circumstances render them important and useful. From the graduates of this college, who have visited Europe, complaints have sometimes been heard, that their classical attainments were too small for the literature of the old world; but none are recollected to have expressed regret, that they had cultivated ancient learning while here, however much time they might have devoted to this subject. On the contrary, those who have excelled in classical literature, and have likewise acquired a competent knowledge of some one modern European language besides the English, have found themselves the best qualified to make a full use of their new advantages. Deficiencies in modern literature are easily and rapidly supplied, where the mind has had a proper previous discipline, deficiencies in ancient literature are supplied tardily, and in most instances, imperfectly.
A sort of middle course, has, indeed, been proposed by some, by which students for admission to college are required to have some elementary knowledge of Latin and Greek, but after they are once admitted, the ancient languages are to be thrown aside, and modern languages alone attended to. Or students, on their admission to college, are to have their option, whether to pursue this new course, or the one long established. Both parties start in this case, it is said, from the same point, and like travellers to the capital of the Union, take different roads, but at last, that is, when they graduate, all come together again, before their final separation to the various occupations of life.
But this project is liable to the objection, that students who should discontinue the study of Latin and Greek on their admission to college, would know just enough of these languages to undervalue and hate them. These would be the persons to proclaim on every side the worthlessness of ancient literature, that they had learned the Latin and Greek languages, and had derived no benefit from them, that they had even forgotten all they ever knew. All which, with the exception of their over estimate of their former knowledge, would be, as respects themselves, the exact truth. Besides, these persons, thus educated for the purposes of real life, would in ma-ny instances after graduating, find it practically convenient to set up as instructors in these worthless languages. With few, or rather no qualifications, for the office they would assume, the cause of instruction must necessarily suffer under their management. The college, if ancient learning is to be retained at all as a part of its course, as it must rely on its graduates to instruct in the preparatory schools, would be the first sufferer from this improved system, and thus be made to minister to its own destruction.
It is besides a matter of some curiosity to know, what is intended, by the final union of students who take these different paths. That they would find, at the end of their course, that they had all acquired the same education, is certainly not the meaning, as this contradicts the original hypothesis. The only union manifest is this, that they would all be admitted to a degree. They would unite in receiving their diplomas. If to obtain the honors of college, as they are called, was the great object of an education, this improvement in the old collegiate course might be considered as real. But if the substance and not the shadow, if the thing signified and not the sign only are aimed at,—the question is still open for consideration,—whether these different roads would not lead those who travel them, to entirely different regions.
Manifest, however, as is the fallacy of substituting a diploma for an education, this scheme might not improbably be approved of by a portion of the community, and a temporary popularity follow the change. Nor is there reason to believe, that this is the limit of improvements on the old modes of literary travelling.
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Such, then, being the value of ancient literature, both as respects the general estimation in which it is held in the literary world, and its intrinsic merits,—if the college should confer degrees upon students for their attainments in modern literature only, it would be to declare that to be a liberal education, which the world will not acknowledge to deserve the name,—and which those who shall receive degrees in this way, will soon find, is not what it is called. A liberal education, whatever course the college should adopt, would without doubt continue to be, what it long has been. Ancient literature is too deeply inwrought into the whole system of the modern literature of Europe to be so easily laid aside. The college ought not to presume upon its influence, nor to set itself up in any manner as a dictator. If it should pursue a course very different from that which the present state of literature demands; if it should confer its honors according to a rule which is not sanctioned by literary men, the faculty see nothing to expect for favoring such innovations, but that they will be considered visionaries in education, ignorant of its true design and objects, and unfit for their places. The ultimate consequence, it is not difficult to predict. The college would be distrusted by the public, and its reputation would be irrecoverably lost.
Another plan for improving on the collegiate system, is,—to confer degrees on those only who have finished the present established course,—but to allow other students, who do not aim at the honors of the college, to attend on the instruction of the classes as far as they shall choose. This scheme, it is supposed, has a manifest superiority over all others. It will satisfy the wishes of those who are pleased with the old system, and open the advantages of the college to such as from their circumstances wish for a partial education. That an education may be partial, and still useful, is not denied. Such an education must, after all, be that which is acquired by the great body of the community. That the means of such an education should be abundant, that the encouragement to it should be every way adequate to the object, all acknowledge. The only question is, whether two schemes of education, so diverse, can be properly united in the same seminary. The objections to such an union in this college are obvious and great.
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In colleges differently constituted from this, such a union might be unobjectionable; here, certainly, both classes of students would only injure each other.
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But with respect to all proposals of this kind, the inquiry should be, is there such a demand on the part of the public for these changes as to make it imperative on the college to adopt them in any of the forms in which they have been presented? That there are complaints of the old system of collegiate education in some of the public journals, that individuals are clamorous on this subject, and consider every thing old as of course wrong, and everything new as of course right, is admitted. But that the great body of the supporters of this college, those to whom it is to look for countenance and patronage, are to be numbered in the ranks of these innovators, no reason appears for believing. By persevering in the course of conferring degrees, on those only who have been thoroughly disciplined in both ancient and modern learning, the college has much to expect, and nothing to fear, but by deserting the high-road which it has so long travelled, and wandering in lanes and bye-paths, it would trifle with its prosperity, and put at hazard the very means of its support and existence.
After these general remarks on the question which has been postponed, it may not be thought irrelevant to the subject, to notice briefly a topic, which, of late, is almost invariably introduced whenever the present state of our colleges is discussed. Allusion is here made to the charge reiterated in so many forms, that colleges, even in this country, are places where abuses are cherished, where antiquated notions and habits are retained long after they are discarded by all the world besides, and especially, that, here all improvement is opposed, and as far as possible excluded.
One writer, who may be thought to speak authoritatively on this point, says, “the course of public instruction remains, after the lapse of two centuries, nearly the same.” “The system of European education has been transferred, with little variation, to our American colleges. And, whatever may be the state of things there, I hesitate not to say, that in this country, important improvements are necessary.” Another writer, after stating that our systems of education were derived from the European institutions, and that, at first, they were ill adapted to the peculiar character of this country, goes on to say, “The same systems, however, with slight alterations, have been brought down to the present day, and now reign in our public seminaries,—while the general circumstances of the country have become totally changed.” And again, “Is it wise to endeavor to qualify a youth for exertion and usefulness in the United States, by methods designed to form ecclesiastics under the monarchies of the old world?”
From such representations as these, the impression is left on the minds of many, that our colleges, are, in every important respect, what they were when originally instituted, that the last persons to make improvements in education, are those to whom education is a business, and particularly, that those who instruct in colleges, surpass all others in stupidity, and are content to be forever grinding in the same mill, with their eyes fixed on the path in which they are constantly moving the same round. It is unnecessary here to go into a general defence of our colleges,—a few statements respecting this college will be sufficient. What Yale College was in its infancy we are told, in part, in Chandler’s Life of Dr. Johnson, the first President of King’s College, New York. Dr. Johnson graduated in 1714, and his biographer probably derived his information respecting the college, as it was at that time, from Dr. Johnson himself. “For many years,” says Dr. Chandler, “the utmost that was generally attempted, at the college, in classical learning, was to construe five or six of Tully’s orations, as many books of Virgil, and part only of the Greek Testament, with some chapters of the Hebrew Psalter. Common arithmetic, and a little surveying, were the ne plus ultra of mathematical acquirements. The logic, metaphysics, and ethics that were then taught, were entangled in the scholastic cobwebs of a few paltry systems, that would now be laid by as proper food for worms. Indeed, at the time when Mr. Johnson took his Bachelor’s degree, the students had heard of a certain new and strange philosophy, that was in vogue in England, and the names Descartes, Boyle, Locke, and Newton, had reached them, but they were not suffered to think that any valuable improvements were to be expected from philosophical innovations, &c.”
From the peculiar prejudices of this writer, some of his representations are to be received with important deductions, but that his account of the college, at the time Dr. Johnson was an undergraduate, so far as it respects the extent of the course of study, is substantially correct, appears from other evidence altogether independent. Dr. Benjamin Lord of Norwich in this state, in the year 1784, being then ninety years old, wrote to President Stiles an account of the college, as it was when he was a student. Dr. Lord graduated the same year as Dr. Johnson, that is, in 1714. In his letter he says, “Books of the languages and sciences recited in my time, were Tully and Virgil, Burgersdicius’ and Ramus’ Logic, Pierson’s Manuscript of Physics, &c. We recited the Greek Testament, knew not Homer, &c., recited the Psalms in Hebrew. We recited Ames’ Medulla on Saturdays, and also his cases of Conscience sometimes. As for Mathematics, we studied and recited little more than the rudiments, some of the plainest things in them;—our advantages in that day, were too low, for any to rise high in any branch of literature,” &c. Surely it will not be maintained by any one, who has the least knowledge of the subject, and who has no sinister object in view, that from 1714 to 1828, only “slight alterations” have been made in the system of education in this college. So far is this from being true, that new departments have been added, and the course of languages, mathematics, physics, and indeed every branch, has been greatly enlarged. It is now impossible to trace the successive changes with exactness. It is obviously implied in the language of Dr. Chandler, who was himself a graduate of the college, that great improvements had been made even in his time. It is well known, that the study of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy, was greatly advanced during the Presidency of President Clap. Attention to English composition and oratory was much increased about the year 1770, and in subsequent years. Within the last thirty years, the changes which have been introduced, both into the course of study, and the mode of instruction, are within the recollection of members of the faculty and of the corporation. By what appears to be a wise provision in our laws, the selection of text-books, the mode of instruction, the course of the examinations, and many of the most important details in the practical concerns of the college, are left to the judgment and discretion of the faculty, the corporation having at all times the right of revision. No question has engaged the attention of the faculty more constantly, than how the course of education in the college might be improved, and rendered more practically useful. Free communications have at all times been held between the faculty and the corporation, on subjects connected with the instruction of the college. When the aid of the corporation has been thought necessary, it has been asked, and by this course of proceeding, the interests of the institution have been regularly advanced. No remark is more frequently made by those, who visit the college after the absence of some years, than that changes have been made for the better, and those who make the fullest investigation, are the most ready to approve what they find. The charge, therefore, that the college is stationary, that no efforts are made to accommodate it to the wants of the age, that all exertions are for the purpose of perpetuating abuses, and that the college is much the same as it was at the time of its foundation, are wholly gratuitous. The changes in the country, during the last century, have not been greater than the changes in the college. These remarks have been limited to Yale College, as its history is here best known; no doubt, other colleges alluded to in the above quotations, might defend themselves with equal success.
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In a report, in which so many interests of the college are brought into view, and in which it is deemed proper that some of its internal regulations should be stated and defended, it may be justly expected by the committee, that some notice should be taken of certain statements lately made respecting all our colleges by a writer, who from his situation might be believed fully acquainted with the real state of facts, and to have weighed with some care the import of his declarations. Ordinary mistakes or misrepresentations should pass unheeded, but, in the present instance, silence might be interpreted as an admission, that charges of very grave import have been correctly preferred. This is the apology, if any is necessary, for making two of these charges the subject of remark.
According to this writer, “the public examinations at most of our places of education, except West Point, have been miserable farces, which have imposed on nobody, not even on the students subjected to them.” “It is idle,” he says, to think of hurrying, in a single day, through the examination of sixty young men in the studies of a year,” &c. Though the gentlemen of the committee may be aware how little applicable this censure is to the examinations of this college, yet it may not be improper to state with some particularity, how these examinations are in fact conducted. If they are really farces, it is time that a reform should commence. Each of our classes is examined twice a year. At the close of the year, the three lower classes are examined in the studies of the year, each of them in two divisions. Somewhat more than a day is assigned to each class, and as each class is examined in two divisions, the time is the same as if each class was examined in a body about two days and a half. At the close of the month of April of each year, the three lower classes are examined in all their studies from the time of their admission to college. The time is extended; in other respects, the examinations are the same as before. In April, the senior class is examined in the studies of the senior year to that time, and the mode of the examination is the same as of the other classes. In July the Seniors are examined for their degrees. They are examined in two divisions, and on the whole college course. For a number of years past, this examination has extended through not less than three days, and sometimes three days and a half, at the rate generally of eight hours a day. As the class is in two divisions, this is the same as an examination of six or seven days for the whole class together. All examinations in the languages are ad aperturam libri, and in no study, does any understanding exist between the examiner and the examined as to the course which the examination is to take. It is very seldom, that any student is absent from the examination of his class, and never, especially from the examination for degrees, except for very urgent reasons. Whenever individuals are absent, they are always examined afterwards, and more particularly, than they could have been, at the regular time. For absence, therefore, there is no inducement. It should be added, that during the examination for degrees, the ordinary instruction in the college is uninterrupted; and during the other examinations, the interruption is only partial. If all this is a miserable farce, it would be interesting to know what would be a reality. If it is in fact a farce, it has not been suspected either by those who examine, or by those who are examined, or they have not rightly apprehended the meaning of the term. That these examinations can admit of no improvement, is not pretended. Any suggestions from the committee or the corporation on this subject will be received with all possible attention. It ought, however, to be distinctly stated, that, in the opinion of the faculty, the examinations of the classes, as now conducted, are a powerful incentive to study, and afford the means, especially in connection with other opportunities, of forming a satisfactory opinion of the attainments of each individual student.
The other charge, which, on the present occasion, appears to demand notice, is, that in none of our colleges is there any thorough teaching. “The most that an instructor now undertakes,” says this writer, “in our colleges, is, to ascertain from day to day, whether the young men who are assembled in his presence, have probably studied the lesson prescribed to them. There his duty stops.” And again—“Not one of our colleges is a place for thorough teaching, and not one of the better class of them does half of what it might do, by bringing the minds of its instructors to act directly and vigorously on the minds of its pupils, and thus to encourage, enable and compel them to learn what they ought to learn, and what they easily might learn.” That the faculty of this college have always fallen upon the best methods of instructing, or, in all cases, have done the utmost which it has been in their power to do, they will not say; but to the assertion, that all they undertake “is to ascertain from day to day, whether the young men assembled in their presence have probably studied the lesson prescribed to them,” they would oppose an unqualified denial. The most abundant pains are taken to explain and enforce the principles of every branch of learning to which the students are required to attend, not only when they are assembled in classes, but often, as they need assistance, individually. If the faculty know what is meant by “bringing the minds of the instructors to act directly and vigorously on the minds of their pupils,” they think they should fail in their duty to themselves and to the institution, if they did not assure the committee, that, in their belief, something very much like it exists here.
The writer goes on to ask, “Who in this country, by means here offered him, has been enabled to make himself a good Greek scholar? Who has been taught thoroughly to read, write, and speak Latin? Nay, who has been taught any thing at our colleges with the thoroughness that will enable him to go safely and directly onward to distinction in the department he has thus entered, without returning to lay anew the foundations for his success?” That the students of this college learn every thing in the several branches here taught, which it is desirable to know, is not maintained. Their instructors are very far from laying claim to such attainments themselves, nor have they known or heard of any set of instructors, either at home or abroad, whose just pretensions rise so high. That in classical literature, particularly, all is not accomplished which in other circumstances might be hoped for, is not denied. That this branch of the collegiate course is gradually improving, amidst all the discouragements under which it labors—discouragements which originate chiefly from without, that many scholars leave the college each year so well versed in the Greek and Roman classics as to perceive and relish their beauties, and to be able and disposed to make future advances in the same department, and that all who graduate derive from their classical knowledge important aid in their professional studies, and in their other pursuits, is what we believe. That in every department, our students are taught with that thoroughness which enables them, with proper exertions—a condition so far as we know, presupposed in every country—“to go safely and directly onward to distinction in the department they have thus entered, without returning to lay anew the foundations for their success”—there is no higher evidence to be produced, than general notoriety, and to this the appeal is made.
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[As the two parts of this report were written independently of each other, a few of the same topics were considered in both. These topics have been retained in the second part, so far only as they were introduced in a somewhat different connection.]
REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE OF THE CORPORATION.
To the Corporation of Yale College —
The Committee appointed “to enquire into the expediency of so altering the regular course of instruction in this college, as to leave out of said course the study of the dead languages substituting therefor other studies, and either requiring a competent knowledge of those languages as a condition of admittance into the college, or providing instruction in the same for such as shall choose to study them after admittance,” respectfully report;—
That aware of the magnitude of the proposition presented to them, and its direct bearing upon the interests and reputation of the college, looking as it does to a fundamental change in its organization and laws, and involving a radical departure from the original object of its establishment, the committee deemed it advisable to refer the subject to the faculty of the college with a request that their views, in regard to the matter, resulting from long experience and careful observation in the business of instruction, might be fully explained, and their objections to the proposed innovation adduced and discussed.
The committee are much gratified that the faculty, in the document herewith submitted, have taken a comprehensive view of the whole course of instruction, and developed the elements of a liberal education and the principles by which it should be regulated and administered, exhibiting forcibly the intimate connexion which classical literature has with other learning and the sciences, and the facilities afforded by its preliminary study in their attainment.
The ability with which the subject has been discussed, by the faculty, relieves the committee from a high degree of responsibility.
This paper having fully and ably exhibited the considerations which ought to be weighed and regarded in forming a decision upon the contemplated measure, it may be considered that, by its presentation, the committee have fulfilled the trust confided to them. It is hoped, nevertheless, the importance of the measure will be considered a sufficient apology for briefly detailing the grounds of their opposition to a scheme calculated in their judgment fatally to affect the prosperity of the college.
In the universities of Europe, as well continental as insular, a thorough knowledge of the ancient languages seems to be universally deemed an important prerequisite to the attainment of very considerable success and reputation in either of the learned professions, while ignorance of those languages, constitutes an obstacle to literary distinction, seldom surmounted.
The learned world long ago settled this matter, and subsequent events and experience have confirmed their decision. By the estimation in which classical literature is held in any community, its advancement in civilization and general learning may be satisfactorily ascertained. On this subject in Europe, a concurrent opinion and practice appear to prevail among men of distinguished learning, or of professional, or political eminence, and in our own country, it is presumed, there is not great diversity of sentiment, in the same class.
It must, indeed, be admitted, that in France, immediately preceding and during the revolution, the learned languages were neglected.
But that example, neither by its literary or moral results, can demand our imitation. What have been the effects of that neglect upon the literature of that country? Notwithstanding highly important improvements and discoveries have there been made in some of the sciences and arts, and the mineral and geological kingdoms have been penetrated and explored with untiring zeal, and matchless ability, and the arts of war brought to great perfection, her literary fame is eclipsed. In literature, Germany has left her far behind, and the effect upon the learned professions, and the statesmen of France, is already perceived.
If, with the enlightened opinions and settled practice of one portion of Europe, and the disastrous experience of the other before us, we consign classical literature to a secondary place or inferior rank in the course of instruction, and even admit and graduate students, as it is proposed to do, without the slightest knowledge of the ancient languages, may we not expect that the high literary reputation which this institution has hitherto maintained will be essentially impaired? Indeed this college would probably, at no distant day, sink into a mere academy, while its degrees, being no longer evidence of great literary and scientific attainments, would become valueless. The standard of scholarship would not only be lowered here, but we should become directly accessary to the depression of the present literary character of our country.
On the contrary, we are the people, the genius of whose government and institutions more especially and imperiously than any other, demands that the field of classical learning be industriously and thoroughly explored and cultivated, and its richest productions gathered. The models of ancient literature, which are put into the hands of the young student, can hardly fail to imbue his mind with the principles of liberty, to inspire the liveliest patriotism, and to excite to noble and generous action, and are therefore peculiarly adapted to the American youth. To appreciate justly the character of the ancients, the thorough study and accurate knowledge of their classics, in the language of the originals, are indispensable, as the simplicity, energy, and striking peculiarities of these pristine exemplars of freedom which are forcibly and beautifully displayed in their models of classic literature, are scarcely more discoverable in ordinary, or even the most faithful translations, than are the warmth, animation, and intellectual illumination of the living, active and intelligent being, in the sculptured imitation of statuary.
While classic literature is pursued in other civilized, and Christian countries, with constantly increasing avidity, every measure having a tendency to depreciate the value and importance, or to discourage the pursuit of high classic attainments, in our own country, should be resisted, and no reasonable effort should be omitted to enhance the estimation in which education shall be held by the great body of the community.
Let the value of a collegiate education be reduced and the diffusion of intelligence among the people would be checked, the general standard of intellectual and moral worth lowered, and our civil and religious liberty jeoparded, by ultimately disqualifying our citizens for the exercise of the right and privilege of self-government.
Interwoven therefore, as the measure under consideration is, with the structure of our invaluable institutions, endangering their durability; and tending as it does to discourage, by undervaluing what has hitherto been deemed an important branch of learning, and involving a departure from the well and long established opinions and practice of the learned and wise, the committee would for these reasons alone, pronounce its adoption a most hazardous experiment.
The committee, however, do not rest their opposition to the proposed plan solely on the considerations already suggested. The thorough study of the ancient languages, particularly the Latin and Greek, not only before but subsequently to an admission into college, they are fully satisfied, is, in many respects decidedly and positively useful to the pupil. In the intellectual discipline of youth, the importance of the study of those languages, in their opinion, cannot be reasonably denied, and will hardly be questioned by many whose judgments are guided by the light of experience. Such study carries the young pupil back to the earliest era in the history of mental efforts, lays open to him the most simple and original operations of the mind and acquaints him with its brilliant and unrivalled productions. It stimulates to industry and severe and faithful application, by proving to the student that the mines of learning can be penetrated only by unceasing exertion, while it admonishes him of the inutility and fate of genius when unaided by deep and laborious research. The student’s memory is thus rendered retentive, his recollection quick, and his power of critical discrimination more accurate. Beginning with language in its primitive simplicity and tracing its progress to its present state, the student can hardly fail to improve his taste and to enlarge his capacity to think, and to communicate thought.
The acquaintance with the elements of language and the mythology, as well as the chronology and geography of the ancients, which he derives from their classics, naturally excites in the mind of the student, an ardent desire of knowledge, while his imagination is fired by their poetry and eloquence. The heroic exploits they celebrate may indeed arouse his ambition, but their wisdom of their precepts will enlighten and guide his judgment, and temper his ardor, directing him to the fields of science, with the hope of obtaining valued, but bloodless trophies, in the conflicts of mind. Having access to the depositories of the earliest and most splendid results of mental labors, he seizes the refined treasures of antiquity, and pursuing the operations of gifted intellects, in later times, his mind becomes well stored with knowledge, and he is fitted not only for intercourse with the learned throughout the world, but for general usefulness.
It is urged that the dead languages are not necessary nor used in the intercourse and business of life even by the scholar, and that the time spent in acquiring them is, as to all practical results, lost. But the committee do not consider this objection well founded. Who would consent to part with the mental discipline the study of algebra imposes, or direct the student to lay aside Euclid because the perfect arrangement of the signs of the one, or the problems and demonstrations of the other, may not be directly and practically useful to men of business? These exercises give vigor to the mind, generate a habit of close and connected thought, and prepare the student for the successful use of the materials he may have derived from miscellaneous learning. But the reasons for dispensing with the study of classical literature are not more cogent, resting as they do, on the inadmissible postulate, that the student should be confined to merely practical learning.
The study of Greek as a branch of elementary education, not only discloses the degree of perfection to which language was early carried and its susceptibility to almost mathematical precision, as a means of communication, but, at the same time, brings the student to the contemplation, and to an intimate knowledge of a most extraordinary and unexampled people, whose intellectual history exhibits unrivalled success, and must continue through the progress of time to be an object of intense and augmenting interest. If for no other reason, as the means of cultivating a knowledge of the philosophy and powers of language, and improving taste, and style, the ancient languages should be early, faithfully and perseveringly studied.
The utility of classical literature to the learned professions however, presents a further and in the opinion of the committee, a strong motive for its holding a prominent place in the course of collegiate studies. High respectability without its aid, may indeed be attained, as it has been, by lawyers of extraordinary mental endowments, but such, it is presumed, will generally be found to lament their inability to command the rich illustrations and embellishments, which the scholar copiously draws from classic learning. The deep and intimate knowledge of human character too, so essential to the lawyer and the statesman, can be most effectually attained by exploring and developing the springs of human action, in all ages. By the various comparisons thus instituted, the indispensible qualification of a lawyer, a statesman, or a judge, sound and discriminating judgment, may be greatly improved, if not actually acquired. This inestimable characteristic of wisdom, is not formed by casual and superficial views of men and things. They ought to be studied, investigated and scanned industriously, deeply, carefully and minutely through all the developments of history up to the ancient classics, in their original language, by him who desires distinction as a jurist or a statesman.
To high attainments and extended usefulness in physic and surgery, the importance of a knowledge of the Latin and Greek languages will hardly be denied, when it is recollected that a great portion of the language of those arts, even in their present advanced state, has a classic origin.
Without classical literature, the Divine will experience serious embarrassment in a profession of tremendous responsibility and infinite moment. The ancient languages having been made the organs of communicating revealed religion to man, the originals must be considered the standard of accuracy and truth, and the only safe resort to explain and remove difficulties and doubts too often occasioned by translations either ignorantly or wilfully erroneous.
In a matter of such deep concern, what teacher will be disposed to forego any available means of ascertaining the truth? As by biblical criticism, controversies involving eternal interests are often determined, faithfulness to the souls of men imposes an imperative obligation to read and know the Scriptures in their original simplicity and purity.
Indeed to dilate on this point cannot be necessary, as ignorance of classical learning and the safest means of explaining the oracles of truth, in this profession, must be generally deplored. If then we desire, in accordance with the example and intentions of the Fathers and Patrons of this Institution, to know and communicate the truth in its simplicity, beauty and force, the ancient languages will here become the objects of more intense pursuit, and augmented patronage. The single consideration that divine truth was communicated to man in the ancient languages, ought to put this question to rest, and give to them perpetuity. Besides, classical literature, while it opens the most copious sources of illustration and explanation, enables him who has made proficiency in it, with the more effect, to press the performance of duty.
It has been urged that if the study of the ancient languages shall no longer be required as a preliminary of admission into the college, or as a part of its regular course of studies, the time of the student may be usefully employed in acquiring a knowledge of his own and other modern languages. But so intimately is the English connected with, so directly is it derived from, compounded of and built upon the ancient languages, that, to the thorough knowledge of it, the study of those languages is indispensable. Indeed, these languages may be considered the basis of most of the modern.
That the modern languages most extensively spoken should be learned, both by students who expect to be called abroad, either by business or in pursuit of science, and by those who seek literary distinction, the committee willingly concede. But the readiest way to acquire the modern languages in general use, is to become well versed in the ancient, from which they are derived.
By a competent understanding of Latin, it is generally admitted, the progress of the student in French, is much facilitated. The committee therefore, are satisfied, that in the more advanced periods of collegiate life, when the student shall have made sufficient progress in the ancient classics, the French may be studied without any derangement of the established system, and with great advantage as a parallel course. Even the French, however, in their judgment should not be substituted for the classics, either as a condition of admission, or in the regular course of study, or as a test of scholarship. The committee do not deem it an equivalent course. The Spanish and Italian are so easily acquired by one who is versed in Latin, that they may well be considered as appendages to it, and need not in the opinion of the committee, be included in a systematic course of collegiate studies, where this language is taught; much less are they entitled to precedence. The present regulation which allows the students to study French and Spanish at their option, the committee deem judicious and proper, and they are of opinion that suitable facilities should be continued to all who may signify their desire to study those languages, when properly advanced in the ancient.
The considerations briefly adverted to, in the necessarily rapid view which they have taken of the subject referred to them, have brought the committee to the conclusion that is inexpedient so to alter the regular course of instruction, at this college, as to leave out of the same, the study of the ancient languages.
Fully convinced of the importance of the thorough study, and an accurate knowledge of the ancient languages, and believing that much misconception regarding their utility has arisen from the fact that they have been but partially studied and acquired, the committee have seen with approbation, that within the last twenty-five years those languages have here received increased attention, and that the classical and other attainments required as a qualification for admittance into the college, have been considerably augmented. The effect of such augmentation has evidently been to elevate the character of the institution, and the standard of scholarship. The period of academic preparation having been prolonged, and consequently the age, at which students will ordinarily apply for admittance extended, they are enabled the more successfully to pursue the studies requiring maturity of intellect, and further to advance in learning and science.
Approving highly the course which has hitherto been pursued, the committee entertain the opinion that the terms of admission may very properly, be gradually raised so as ultimately to render necessary, as a condition of admission, much greater acquirements, especially in the classics, than the laws of the college at present prescribe. The committee, however, do not deem it advisable that the corporation should act on this subject, until they shall have availed themselves of the information and experience of the Faculty, and received from them a specific recommendation.
Yale College, September 9th, 1828.
© Robert J. O’Hara 2000–2014