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Latin is Practical

At least, it is if you value thinking. Here’s RM Wenley from the University of Michigan, in an essay called The Nature of Culture Studies.

Ability to write decent Latin prose, with dictionary at elbow, simply cannot be acquired without at the same time inducing the kind of mental organization which at length enables a man to go anywhere and do anything, as a great general phrased it.

He continues by quoting Mr. Shorey of Chicago (Paul, I believe), who insisted quite strongly on the importance of Latin studies for thinking purposes:

I am cynically skeptical about students who cannot understand elementary Latin syntax, but distinguish themselves in mathematics, exact science, or political economy. The student who is really baffled by the elementary logical analysis of language may be a keen observer, a deft mathematician, an artistic genius–he will never be an analytic thinker.

Then Wenley picks up the argument again:

I draw proof from my own experience. The most effective masters of the “positive” sciences known to me personally are invariably the men who have first acquired the mental organziation which the culture studies [i.e. Latin and Greek classics] confer; of this fact they are quite aware themselves. A creed was impressed upon them in these early years; not simply work, and still work, but work in a certain fashion. They gained connective processes; thereafter the rest is, not only easier, but immensely more efficient.

These passages from a speech delivered just prior to 1911 bring to mind Dorothy Sayers fervent defense of Latin in her Lost Tools of Learning essay, where she said,

If I were asked what, of all the things I was ever taught, has been of teh greatest practical use to me, I should have to answer: the Latin Grammar.

Or these words from CS Lewis:

Hardly any lawful price would seem to me too high for what I have gained by being made to learn Latin and Greek.

For myself, I can only say that the best training I have ever received was that time spent with my Greek New Testament in front of me and Young’s Concordance, Vine’s dictionary, Arndt and Gingrich, an analytical lexicon and whatever else I could get my hands on me spread out over my desk, bed, and floor. I wnated to understand the text. Through the intensity of my study, I learned how to think.

But I know only too well, from the taste I received, both how valuable the intellectual training is, and how much I would have benefited from more of it.

There is quite simply no substitute for Latin and Greek studies for people who want trained intellects, mature minds, and practical intellectual skills. Please teach them in your schools, whatever it costs.

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