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usually assigned for excluding English Grammar from forming a part of instruction in Classical schools, I shall take leave to make a few observations on the subject.
First. By associating with individuals accustomed to express themselves tolerably well, the ear does, indeed, become so cultivated as to enable us to avoid committing any glaring solecism. But this mode, however valuable as an auxiliary, will never, of itself, enable us to acquire a correct knowledge of orthography, etymology, the government of words, punctuation, and the numerous peculiarities of combination comprised under the term Grammar. Besides, every boy learning Latin does not enjoy the opportunity of hearing only correct language. Be this, however, as it may, let a person desirous of ascertaining the correctness of our statement, place the Exercises attached to this work in the hands of one who has never received any instruction in English Grammar, and require him to rectify the sentences contained in that volume. The result will prove the truth of our remarks.
Secondly. On the subject of translation, it must be obvious, that no one can render elegant Latin or Greek into corresponding English, unless he possesses a knowledge of those flexions, peculiarities, and combinations of words which constitute correct and elegant English diction. And what plan does common sense suggest as the most effectual mode of acquiring this knowledge, but by the earnest study of that work which professes to treat on these subjects ?
Thirdly. With respect to Themes. In a theme, three things are required; namely, matter, arrangement, and expression. It is, therefore, evident, that theme-writing, or, in other words, original composition, can be advantageous only when the pupil is in some degree advanced in his studies. Persons who are at all acquainted with this subject, well know that it requires a very gradual
procedure, and that the difficulties with which a pupil has to contend in this part of his education are so great, as to render it necessary to propose as few things at once as possible. If the pupil be deficient in grammatical knowledge when he commences original composition, the teacher's attention, instead of being directed to the thought and arrangement, will be occupied solely in pointing out the violations of grammar and style.
But, if a knowledge of Latin and Greek does induce a habit of correct English diction, how comes it to pass that the writings of many distinguished classical scholars of the last century are lamentably deficient in grammatical accuracy? Dr. Bentley is a well-known instance. Nor will it be difficult to point out numerous violations of grammar in the pages of Addison and Şwift. Who, in these days, would admire, as specimens of graceful composition, the once reputed elegant pages of Locke, Barrow, and Tillotson? Yet these men had, in addition to their classical attainments, frequented the best company, and had attended, as far as the low state of grammatical knowledge would then allow, to correctness of expression. Without, however, dwelling on the past, let us see what are the consequences of this neglect of English Grammar and English Composition in our own times. Several individuals might be mentioned, capable not only of appreciating the merits of the best authors in Classical Literature, but of writing Latin, if not Greek, with great correctness, and yet these very individuals cannot express themselves either with ease or accuracy in their own language. But of what avail, I would ask, so far as modern life is concerned, is a proficiency in writing Latin prose and Greek verse, if unaccompanied by correctness, perspicuity, and ease in English composition ? Few will be inclined to relish; or are even competent to understand such accomplishments, while all can understand and appreciate a correct and elegant English style,
These remarks are made, neither from a spirit of in vective, nor from a wish to underrate Classical learning, as I am myself much engaged in teaching this branch. My sole intention is, to urge the necessity of an early attention to English Grammar, in Classical, as well as in mere English schools; for, unless a pupil is early instructed in the principles, peculiarities, and structure, of his own language, he will rarely afterwards become so familiar with them as to apply them with accuracy and facility. When arrived at manhood, we do not willingly submit to the, perhaps, necessary drudgery of committing dry Rules to memory; and, unless they be rendered familiar to the mind, we shall either not attempt composition at all, or be indaced to pay that attention to grammatical Rules which should be given to the subject itself.
But it is now no longer a question, whether or not English Grammar shall form a branch of early study; reason, experience, and popular conviction, have decided upon its utility. The various Societies formed for the diffusion of religious and literary knowledge, have powerfully contributed to render it an object of increasing cultivation. In addition to these considerations, the late great parliamentary measure, by extending the elective franchise to many towns ormerly not possessed of that privilege, has given such a stimulus to composition and public speaking, as to render it imperative on every gentleman to acquire, along with a knowledge of the Classics, a correct and graceful English diction.
Though several eminent scholars had, at various times, endeavoured to draw the attention of the English to the cultivation of their own language, yet, till the publication of Dr. Lowth's small Introduction, the grammatical study of our language formed no part of the ordinary method of instruction. Subsequent to that period, however, attention has, except only in our large public schools, been paid to this important subject; and the change that has taken place, both in our written and oral language, has evidenced the decided advantages resulting from such a plan.
Of such utility and importance was the knowledge of English Grammar in the estimation of those well-known classical scholars, Johnson, Beattie, Priestley, Campbell, Lowth, and Harris, and so strong was their conviction of the utter worthlessness of the objections made against its general cultivation, that they endeavoured to systemize its Rules and elucidate its Principles. The same may be said of Drs. Crombie and Webster. The research and discrimination of Dr. Crombie, in particular, have contributed much to extend the boundaries of grammatical knowledge. To these writers, and also to Whately, Blair, and the indefatigable Murray, I am under great obligations.
The Grammar of Mr. Murray obtained, till recently, a greater share of popularity than any other publication on the same subject; and not without reason. For, in this work, Mr. M. has embodied the Principles and Rules which were deduced by the most celebrated grammarians preceding him, and, by arranging the whole in a better order, has produced a compendium decidedly superior to every other of the kind that existed before its appearance. Notwithstanding the querulous detraction of Webster, justice demands this tribute to the industry and generally good judgment of Lindley Murray.
Several later writers have endeavoured to improve upon Mr. Murray's plan, by avoiding the detail of his larger Grammar, and the brevity of his Abridgment. But these gentlemen, with few exceptions, seem to have mistaken the proper intention of a Grammar. By furnishing the student with a few leading principles, they imagined that they were rendering him an essential service. The various anomalies of the language, however important the knowledge of them may be, are totally unnoticed. Works of
this kind may render some little service to those whose time and circumstances are necessarily limited; but an individual will be grievously disappointed, if he imagine that, by such means, he can ever obtain a thorough knowledge of the grammatical structure of our language. A Grammar, to be really valuable, must be comprehensive, a guide in difficult
, as well as in easy cases ; because, if, in such instances, the grammar affords us no assistance, what can supply its place ? Nor are the works in question calculated to form proper introductions to larger treatises; because, when once a particular arrangement and phraseology are become familiar to the mind, we find a difficulty in studying another work on the same subject, dissimilar in its arrangement and expression.
Though Mr. Murray's Grammar deserves the encomium just passed, yet, I had long been impressed with a conviction, that it was far from being incapable of improvement, either as it respects the 'matter, arrangement, or general manner of elucidation; when, about the year 1824, I commenced, along with a valued friend, a systematic course of English Literature; and, to ascertain more clearly to what extent I was warranted in my opinion respecting Murray, we adopted his work as our standard for English Grammar. In our reading, we noted every anomaly of flexion and peculiarity of expression which was not explained by Murray. After we had proceeded for some time in this manner, our comments became so numerous as to show that Murray was not only very defective, but, in some instances, erroneous.
To obviate some difficulties which had arisen, we were induced to study the “ Diversions of Purley,” by Horne Tooke. Here, we expected the solution of all our doubts, and, consequently, we entered upon our task with considerable zest. This work, however, contributed to unsettle our minds more than ever - our expectations were not realized ; and though, in some instances, we admired the