Front Page Titles (by Subject) ESSAY ON THE COMPARATIVE ADVANTAGES OF THE STUDY OF ANCIENT AND MODERN LANGUAGES. ( Written at the Age of Sixteen. ) - The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 8 (Physics and Politics, Currency Monopoly, and Essays)
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ESSAY ON THE COMPARATIVE ADVANTAGES OF THE STUDY OF ANCIENT AND MODERN LANGUAGES. ( Written at the Age of Sixteen. ) - Walter Bagehot, The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 8 (Physics and Politics, Currency Monopoly, and Essays) 
The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, ed. Mrs. Russell Barrington. The Works in Nine Volumes. The Life in One Volume. (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1915). Vol. 8.
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ESSAY ON THE COMPARATIVE ADVANTAGES OF THE STUDY OF ANCIENT AND MODERN LANGUAGES.
The question, whether Ancient or Modern Languages are best adapted for our Study, considered with regard to the education of youth, possesses considerable practical importance. This is peculiarly the case at this time, when the recent formation of a new University conducted on less exclusive principles and a more extended plan than Oxford and Cambridge, will oblige these venerable institutions to include in their course of Study , subjects now beyond its limits, and to give up enough of their time-hallowed but now obsolete customs, to enable them to keep up with the Spirit of the age.
Before entering on this subject, it may not be amiss to enquire, what in this respect was the condition of the Ancients themselves, and whether they had any peculiar features, which may be derived from the circumstances, in which with respect to this they were placed.
The Greeks are an example of a nation rising to a high place in the scale of literature, without any acquaintance with writers in any tongue save their own. This singular fact formed at once their highest excellence by stamping on all their productions the mark of true genius, originality; and also gave rise to the greatest defect in the Greek mind, verbal quibbling and their great tendency to mistake similarity of expression for real resemblance. With the Romans the case was extremely different. Their standard of literature was partially lowered by too close imitation of their Greek instructors; and therefore with greater refinement of expression, they are very much their inferiors in that vigour which is the peculiar characteristic of original thought. We have not indeed any specimens of the old Saturnian verse; which, although undoubtedly harsh, might perhaps have atoned in part for this defect, by the vigorous conceptions it contained; and we know certainly from Horace, that in the Augustan age there was a great tendency to prefer these early and home-grown flowers, to the rich exotics which the bards of that period produced.
says Horace speaking of Ennius and the fathers of Roman song; and it must be remembered, that this was no transient impression but that it continued in full force through the best period of the Empire although exposed to the virulent satires of later bards. But be this as it may, the Æneid of Virgil is certainly a close imitation of the Iliad and Odyssey of Homer; and the best phrases in the odes of Horace are merely translations from Simonides and the other eminent lyric poets of Greece.
The Greeks then were a nation almost entirely destitute of acquaintance with foreign literature; and the Romans, a people whose writings were considerably impaired by imitation. And hence it may be concluded that a total disregard of foreign languages has a decidedly bad effect on the mind of a nation; and that a too close attention to one language has a tendency to upset original invention.
The case of our forefathers is another and far worse instance of excessive imitation; this however, was probably unavoidable. When the thick gloom which had hung over the regions of literature during the Middle Ages began to clear away, the only sources whence the requisite light could come was the Greek and Roman languages. Our ancestors studied them deeply, particularly the Latin, and perceiving the barrenness of their mother tongue in words to the literary ideas, and also with a view to make the resemblance of their writings closer to their elegant models, they adopted the Latin language, and but for Chaucer and our earlier bards, there might for a very considerable period have existed no English literature properly so called at all; but, for the cultivation of poetry, original invention is requisite; men never can become poets by mere imitation; and instead of imitating the style of the classic poets, these rugged bards struck out a line for themselves. They expressed their homely ideas in their native tongue—rugged and unharmonious, it was without doubt at that time; but still it was well calculated to express the forcible but unpolished truths which they sought to inculcate. They have at least the praise of originality, which poems in a dead language must always want; and in reading the simple descriptions of English life and manners which their writings contain, it should be recollected that if Chaucer had not formed our language, our annals would never have been graced by the names of a Milton, a Byron, or a Shakespeare.
The Reformation, and its parent the invention of printing, also produced great effects on the European languages. Luther throughout the whole of his undaunted struggle with the papacy published his tracts in German; and his opponents, rather than leave him in possession of the field, were forced to do the same. The course of events in the other reformed nations was precisely similar; and thus a necessity arose for engrafting on modern language terms expressive of literary ideas. This want was supplied in different ways; but in most cases, as in English and French, by deriving words from the Latin and Greek, or, as in German, by compounding words from the original elements of the language. From the era of the Reformation, modern literature has gradually arisen, although the learned hesitated to give up the use of Latin, and thus open to the mass of the people those stores of information which had before been their exclusive property. The diversity of national character, and other casual circumstances, modified in each state the development of these general causes.
Thus has arisen the difference of the prominent features which characterise the writings of the several states of Europe. At the commencement of the revival of learning, as has been seen, Latin was a kind of universal language to the learned men of Europe. This it has in a great measure ceased to be, and no other can arise entirely to supply its place in this respect; but the nearest approach made to it is by the French language. This tongue although the compositions it contains are neither so valuable nor so numerous as those which ornament the literature of some other European nations, is peculiarly adapted to conversation; and from this circumstance, and also from the influential position of France on the Continent, it is extensively known throughout the whole of Europe. Hence French is an indispensable acquisition to all who intend to travel beyond the bounds of their own land, and also to hold verbal intercourse with the learned of other nations.
The German contains the most voluminous literature which at present exists, so much so indeed, that a large proportion of the well informed among them are Authors, and the works of each generally extend to a considerable size. Their prose literature is generally devoted to commentaries on ancient writings, and the history of past ages; one reason for this may perhaps be, that their Government has prohibited all those discussions on events, occurring at the present time, which comprise so large a proportion of the British writings. Their poets are also voluminous, but contain great originality of thought combined with grace of expression. Schiller has been styled the most classic dramatist of modern times, and though he is inferior to Shakespeare in that original vigour of thought which is the prominent characteristic of that great dramatist, he excels him in taste and delicacy.
The Italian literature is almost entirely composed of poets, and most of these flourished two centuries ago; nor has the language received any improvement since their time, and the greater part of their modern productions are imitations of these old bards.
Nothing need to be said about the advantages of studying our native literature, and our language, with the three which have been briefly mentioned, are the chief literary languages of Europe. The books written in Russian and other northern tongues, are chiefly translated from French and English works; although the first of these contains some works of considerable reputation on various branches of scientific enquiry, which are indeed the only subjects on which the strict surveillance of their rulers over the press allows the national mind to exert its unshackled energies. These last mentioned languages then are little worth the trouble of learning, except to those who are going to travel in the North, or have other reasons of a casual nature for their acquisition.
Among the reasons for learning the modern languages, the first and most obvious one is that of communicating with foreigners easily. From what has been said of French as a universal language, it will be seen, that this is almost the only one which it is necessary to learn for this purpose. Another advantage is the insight which several modern tongues give into the roots of our own; in which respect the German is peculiarly important as a kindred tongue to the English; and the Norwegian still more so, as more closely connected with the old Saxon from which all are derived. A competent knowledge of French to all who wish to travel on the Continent, and an extensive acquaintance with German, is desirable for the learned, and is every day becoming more and more so, and a knowledge of Italian is a polite accomplishment which may be learned with considerable advantage; while the other languages are of no importance, except to those who intend residing in the countries where they are spoken.
After this short summary of the advantages attending the acquisition of modern languages, it will be necessary to take a brief review of the most prominent of those which arise from the study of classics.
The first and most important is the one which results from their effects on the youthful mind. It is in youth that most men must lay in the greater part of those stores of information which are in these days required to join with usefulness in society. Studious men must always be rare, and the short intervals which those who are engaged in active life can snatch for study and relaxation, will scarcely suffice for doing more than keeping up a knowledge with the course of passing events. Youth too, is the season of life in which the mind requires to be disciplined, and the intellectual faculties enlarged. What can be better for this than the study of classics; than extending our ideas by an acquaintance with the sublime works of antiquity, with the productions of those master minds which were our instructors in civilisation? Would not this be a sufficient reason for spending our time in acquiring them, even if, as is sometimes alleged, they are of no use in after life? But this is not the case—classical literature is always alluded to as a subject with which every well-educated man is supposed to be familiar; and they are of great service in giving the mind that polish without which it is impossible to give or receive pleasure in society, and what can compensate for the loss which they experience who are unable to study the writers of antiquity in their original languages? Translations only shine with a reflected light—and in proportion as this light is more or less bright, they present a more or less vivid image of the source whence they derive their borrowed splendour, and to which at best they bear but a pale and shadowy resemblance. But independent of these considerations of the effects of a classical education on the mind, another reason for it is the great assistance which it gives in studying modern languages; in most of which, but especially in French, a classic element has gradually blended with the original root divided from the northern barbarians who overthrew the Roman empire. The terms used in every branch of scientific enquiry are derived from the Greek and Latin, and without a knowledge of these, the meaning of such words will be liable to be constantly forgotten, or at best indistinctly remembered: while their significations are obvious on mere inspection to those who have a competent acquaintance with their primitives in the classic languages.
In the earlier portion of this Essay, those evils were exemplified, which accrued to the Greeks from a total neglect of every language but their own, and also those to which the Romans subjected themselves, by a too extensive study of one language; and in how much more aggravated form our forefathers experienced them, in consequence of their slavish imitation, and boundless admiration of the ancients. It has also been seen, that from the several reasons which render each of the modern languages in different ways important, that in these days to be unacquainted with them is a great hindrance to the scholar, and to all persons who either intend to travel in foreign lands, or to extend their knowledge to the literature of other nations. But reasons at least equally strong have been alleged to show that the classics are essential to every educated person, alike for their intrinsic elegance, and also for their extensive utility as a groundwork for other pursuits. And hence it may be finally inferred that too great application to the study of either is extremely prejudicial; but that a judicious mean between the two extremes of slavish imitation and total neglect is by far the most desirable course which mankind even in these days pursue. And this course of proceeding is so much the more desirable, as the study of several languages is likely to correct the evils and disadvantages which infallibly result from too close attention to one, however beautiful and elegant that one may be. But it must be remembered that the pursuits of foreign or ancient literature are at best but of secondary importance, and that an ignorance of the best writers of our own language is a neglect which cannot be excused by any acquaintance, no matter how extensive, with the productions of other lands, or older times.
[Page 233, line 8,]for Study, read Study
[Page 235, line 7,] delete comma after unharmonious
[Page 236, line 7 from end,]for need read needs