The Classical Heritage and Its Beneficiaries

The Classical Heritage and Its Beneficiaries

The Classical Heritage and Its Beneficiaries

The Classical Heritage and Its Beneficiaries

Excerpt

Fifty years ago the classical education still enjoyed an exceptional measure of public esteem. That training in taste and accuracy of thought, that lucid if somewhat factitious understanding of human institutions and human nature, which a close acquaintance with the Greek and Roman authors could give, were considered to fit the young supremely for the conduct of life. Those who had undergone the rigours of the traditional Humanist discipline in school and university were accepted by the majority of their contemporaries as an authoritative élite. The classical student of Edwardian times had reason to feel that he, if any man, possessed the magic key which would unlock the kingdoms of this world.

His modern counterpart is less fortunately placed. Not only have a number of other disciplines -- historical, literary, scientific and technological-taken their place alongside the classical curriculum as its manifest equals in merit, but the struggles that occurred while they made good their claims have left a sad memorial in the shape of a prejudice against Greek and Latin, which philistinism has been quick to use. For if most people are ready to sing the praises of education when their opinion is formally required, the enthusiasm they so easily express too often represents only one aspect of their inner feelings. A manual worker will sometimes educate his children at a great personal sacrifice -- and then mock them for their book-learning. An academic worker will sometimes devote his life to scholarly pursuits and still nourish a barely concealed contempt for all subjects but his own. These are obvious examples of the ambiguity which in some degree characterises the attitude of the majority of human beings towards the acquisition and the advancement of knowledge. A consciously fostered esteem, the product of our liberal traditions, coexists with a latent hostility. Let some particular subject fall out of popular favour, and this hostility, which has its roots in ignorance, finds an immediate release. Its forces are canalised for a frontal attack on the limited sector which is no longer protected by the conventions of public approval.

During recent years it has been the fate of classical studies to suffer from one of these attacks. The original onslaught was launched by the . . .

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