Page images
PDF
EPUB

few of his cotemporaries equalled him in vigour of understanding or in extent of knowledge; and when he spoke in public, he always commanded attention, not by the splendor of his eloquence, but the superior weight and force of his observations*.

The first Earl of CHATHAM and the first Lord HOLLAND have the farther honor of having left behind them in their respective families two sons, WILLIAM Pitt, and CHARLES Fox, wilo, with EDMUND BURKE, may be said to have formed the oratorical Triumvirate of the present reign. These also are dead; but their speeches will be preserved as long as our language ; and if we had no other specimens of British eloquence, would alone be sufficient to place it on a level with the most admired productions of antiquity.

After the decease of those three great orators, I see many still in our Senate, who rise far above mediocrity, yet very few, indeed, who come up to, or even approach the same degree of excellence. To these few I cannot help addressing Cicero's beautiful exhortation to Brutus, after the death of HORTENSIUS. I hope they will feel some part of its force and pertinency even in my humble attempt to preserve its spirit, though the change of circumstances and character has rendered some alterations necessary. In this hope only, I presume to say to them “ As you now seem to have been left the sole guardians of an orphan eloquence, let me conjure you to cherish her with a generous fidelity : discourage the addresses of her worthless and impertinent suitors : preserve her pure and unblemished in all her virgin charms; and secure her, to the utmost of your ability, from the lawless violence of every ruffian.”

I still feel some confidence that genuine oratory will not be suffered to languish amongst us.

We have many advantages almost peculiar to our country, arising out of

See BELSHAM's History of Great Britain, vol. ü. book v.

the very form of our constitution and government : we have also before us some of the brightest models in every species of composition, as well as some of the best

preservatives from those corruptions of literature which marked the fall of other nations : but we unhappily retain in our systems of public and private education too much of the old spirit of dry maxims, abstracted rules, unentertaining precepts, and such other perplexing details as are much more likely to impede than to assist the efforts of youth, and in many instances to give them a disgust to solid learning, which may continue in their maturer years. Instead of adhering to so absurd a plan, which ought long since to have been exploded ;-instead of Treatises of Grammar, of Rhetoric, of Logic, let us put into the hands of boys, as soon as they have learned to read, the most simple and elegant illustrations of all three in the works of the authors above recommended. By adopting this method, the powers of the mind would be gradually unfolded; the fancy impressed with beautiful images; the memory agreeably exercised ; the easy and natural exertions of genius charmed forth by curiosity and emulation ; and, what ought to be considered as of the utmost importance, such a habit of cheerfulness imperceptibly formed in the growing man as must make him happy in himself, and engage him to contribute to the happiness of others.

But though I cannot help considering the style and the intricacies of most of the elementary books, still in general use, as a very improper introduction to the study of poetry and eloquence, yet it would be running into the opposite extreme to reject the aid of all rules, or to deem familiar explanations of the grand principles of composition unnecessary and injurious. What I contend for is, that an attentive perusal of good examples should always go before precepts, and that boys should be made feel the beauties of language, before we attempted to give them clear ideas of the principles on which those beauties de

pended, or of the combined efforts of nature and art which produced them. Such a procedure will render the study of Grammar, of Rhetoric, and even of Logic as easy and pleasant as it is now tiresome and forbidding. I shall here beg leave to introduce a few remarks on what appears to me essential in each of them, and on the best method of making them subservient to the formation of the accomplished orator.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

It requires no small degree of courage to oppose the established practice of Grammar-schools, those venerable seminaries of learning, to which the nation is indebted for many of its greatest ornaments. It may also be deemed ungrateful in me to find fault with the course of instruction, upon which my own little pretensions to learning are founded. But one must be partial to a culpable extreme, not to see and confess, that there are some practices continued in those schools, unavoidable perhaps in their original institution, but which the revolutions that have since taken place in literature render it highly necessary to reform. What I shall at present beg leave to specify is the custom of making boys enter upon Latin Grammar at the very opening of their scholastic career, a custom which (not to mention the great disadvantages that must arise from an early neglect of the mother-tongue, and from committing to memory at the most susceptible period of life words without ideas, and jargon without meaning) has been found inimical to the prevalence of all taste for any farther literary pursuits, which are thus rendered at the entrance peculiarly difficult and disgusting. The principles of language, it may be said, in whatever manner they are taught, cannot but appear somewhat dry and unentertaining to the young student: but even admitting this to be true, it must be allowed that his progress will be rendered infinitely pleasanter, and his improvement much more accelerated, by having those principles unfolded and exemplified in his native tongue, than in a language with which he is unacquainted.

The late bishop of London (Dr. LOWTH) has placed this matter is so striking a point of view, and supported the propriety of grounding boys in English Grammar, previously to any further advances, by arguments which carry with them such irresistible conviction, that I cannot avoid transcribing a few of his remarks on a subject of so much importance.

“ A good foundation in the general principles of Grammar is, in the first place, necessary for all those who are initiated in a learned education; and for all others likewise, who shall have occasion to furnish themselves with the knowledge of modern languages. Universal Grammar cannot be taught abstractedly: it must be done with reference to some language already known, in which the terms are to be explained, and the rules exemplified. The learner is supposed to be unacquainted with all but his native tongue ; and in what other, consistently with reason and common sense, can you go about to explain it to him? When he has a competent knowledge of the main principles of Grammar in general, exemplified in his own language, he then will apply himself with great advantage to the study of any other. To enter at once upon the science of Grammar, and the study of a foreign language, is to encounter two difficulties together, each of which would be much lessened by being taken separately, and in its proper order. For these plain reasons, a competent grammatical knowledge of our own language is the true foundation upon which all literature, properly so called, ought to be raised. If this method were adopted in our schools ; if children were first taught the common principles of Grammar, by some short and clear system of English Grammar, which, happily by its simplicity and facility, is perhaps fitter than any other for such a purpose, they would have some notion of what they were going about when they should enter into the Latin Grammar, and would hardly be engaged so many years as they now

« EelmineJätka »