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Title: Junior Speech of Elijah Benton Withers for the Dialectic Society, 1858: "Are the Classics Worthy of the Attention They Receive in our Modern Colleges?": Electronic Edition.
Author: Withers, Elijah Benton
Funding from the University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill supported the electronic publication of this title.
Text transcribed by Bari Helms
Images scanned by Stephanie Adamson
Text encoded by Elizabeth McAulay
First Edition, 2006
Size of electronic edition: ca. 20K
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2006
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text
The electronic edition is a part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2006-10-23, Elizabeth McAulay finished TEI/XML encoding.
Source(s):
Title of collection: Dialectic Society Records (#40152), University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Title of document: Junior Speech of Elijah Benton Withers for the Dialectic Society, 1858: "Are the Classics Worthy of the Attention They Receive in our Modern Colleges?"
Author: E. B. Withers
Description: 11 pages, 11 page images
Note: Call number 40152 (University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
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Junior Speech of Elijah Benton Withers for the Dialectic Society, 1858: "Are the Classics Worthy of the Attention They Receive in our Modern Colleges?"
Withers, Elijah Benton



[Cover] page
Junior Speech
of
E. B. Withers of 1858
Question Are the classics worthy of the attention they receive in our modern colleges

Page [1]
The History of Language, in as much as it developes the efforts of the human genius and the rise and advancement of its inventions, constitutes an important part of the history of man. In order that we may have a correct knowledge of the one, we must become acquainted with the other: How are we to become acquainted with either, unless it be through the means afforded by the study of the ancient languages.
The questions then arise: are the ancient languages worthy of the attention they receive in our modern Colleges and will the Student ever be compensated for the time bestowed upon them. These are simple yet important questions. Since they so vitally affect the cause of Education, the most important of all other subjects to the American youth, and one in which the fate of the American Republic itself is deeply concerned.
I hope to be able to prove that the student will not only be fully compensated for the time spent in studying these languages

Page [2]
and that the student could not employ his time in a more profitable manner, but that a knowledge of these languages is absolutely necessary in order that we may have a correct knowledge of our own, for the ancient languages are the very base of the modern tongue. the source whence flows all modern languages. the great fountain head from which the various streams of the modern tongue originated: They are emphatically the languages of philosophy and modern sciences.
It is here that we find the most perfect models of history, poetry and eloquence and they can be consulted only by the classical Scholar, for who will say that any translations are correct, that they preserve the beauty as well the purity of its author, that the niceties of style are preserved, and that we can express so vividly by whole lines what the original author did by single words. Besides as long as any one confines his studies solely to his native tongue he cannot understand it perfectly or ascertain

Page [3]
with accuracy its beauties or defects, its poverty or richness, but he, who cultivates other languages besides his own, gains new instruments to increase the stock of his ideas, and opens new roads to the temple of knowledge. he draws his learning from purer sources, converses with with the natives of other times, and surveys the contents of books without the dim and unsteady light translations. Moreover in order that the true sense of a words may be ascertained and that they may strike with their whole force, derivation must lend its aid to definition, it is this which points out the source whence a word springs and the various streams of significations that flow from it. Besides anyone, who wishes to be a perfect master of the Bible, must be more or less familiar with the Greek Language, for it is the language of the New Testament, the language which Christ spoke, and Paul preached, and if our Divines were better versed in the idioms and constructions of the Greek language, we

Page [4]
would witness more unanimity in our different religious denominations and have fewer books filling the shelves of our libraries with discussions on the meaning of simple passages in the bible. Many descriptions in the old and new testament are absolutely unintilligible, unless we have a knowledge of the customs and manners of the ancients, and we have no means of acquiring this knowledge except through the Greeks.
It is true that the walls of Rome have crumbled into the dust and that her present inhabitants are unworthy of the name of their ancestors, yet She still influences the whole civilized world through her laws, for the Romans are the authors of Civil law, no other people have ever carried the law to higher perfection, and the American Lawyer is still proud to be instructed in the nice distinction of private rights by Roman Laws. Besides we have retained innumerable technical phrases in our own laws derived only from the Roman

Page [5]
We cannot correctly understand these phrases nor their laws unless we study the language in which they were originally written.
Let us now consider some of the many objections which have been urged against the study of these languages. It has been said that they are retained in our present course of instruction, not that they are worthy of the attention they received but because the world is such a slave to old ideas, that she will not permit the advocates of a reformation in our course of instruction, to substitute other studies their stead. Such has ever been the cry of innovators, when they fail in their plans, but if they cannot convince mankind of the propriety of their suggestions, after stating the benefits to be derived from them, we are compelled to conclude that their is either faulty or that they are unable to place it in its true light before the people.
And in the case before us we see that their plan has been tried and it has most signally failed, for the modern languages in connection

Page [6]
with the scientific studies now compose a regular course of instruction in our modern colleges. yet they have failed to meet with the success confidently claimed for them by its advocates. and besides this, the very few, who take this course, do it not from any preference but because they are unable to gain the regular classes or have too little energy to exert themselves as much as is required, in order to take a respectable stand in their class.
But it has been said that the study of these languages, narrows and contracts the mind, renders it incapable of great efforts and great ideas and incapacitates it for enlarged views. An argument more remarkable for its originality than for any serious objections against the study of these languages, for the Modern Languages are immediately substituted by the Gentleman as infallible remedies for these defects, yet we know that they are only a corruption of these languages and require much less exertion on the students part

Page [7]
to master them and they are decidedly inferior to the ancient languages in beauty of style, fertility of thought and in the field of imagination.
But it has been urged against the study of these languages, that those who spoke them were heathens, men ignorant of God, but by the study of these languages we see the folly of their Gods and we are enabled to comprehend more clearly the superiority and omnipotence of our own, and moreover every piece of immoral tendency is carefully excluded from our text books.
But have we not atheists in our own language. Men born in a country blessed with the light of the Christian religion, who deny the existence of God and attempt to prove the truth of their assertions by quoting isolated passages of the scriptures without giving the connection and who disseminate their ruinous principles throughout the country in books printed in the only English language. and the men, who write these books are men of character and influence.

Page [8]
So we might with more than equal propriety say that we must not study the English language because forsooth it has produced atheists.
But the cry is "we want practicable men and Education and that the advantages derived from the study of these languages, are, comparatively speaking, of no value. but is it worth nothing to be a highly accomplished and refined scholar. if it is 'tis (and I presume that none will deny) so much is it worth to know the classics for by learning these, we most effectually master our own. Besides the stability of our Republic depends more upon the enlightment of its citizens than upon its wealthy but ignorant misers and Gold seekers. Nor does they study of these languages in any way prevent a man from being an accomplished one in all the affairs of life.
But it has been seriously urged to day against the studies of these Languages that we consult other authorities, such as our Lexicons and Grammars. but this argument (if one which I most seriously doubt)

Page [9]
proves too much. for it proves the inutility of studying any thing, Mathematics, classics, the sciences, and even our own Language, for we study them all by refering to the rules and authorities of others. in truth what is the advantage of studying at all, if we give our attention only to those studies in which we are equals to any one. This argument needs only to be mentioned in order that we may see and understand the fallacy of such reasoning.
After having carefully stated and fairly considered the merits and demerits of this question. We must conclude that the study of the classics accomplishes everything claimed for them and that the objections which have been urged are of no importance whatever, for the gentlemen are unabled to substitute any studies as equivalents and which are equivalents.
While by the study of the classics we know that the Judgement is exercised the taste is refined, the mind is strenghten and trained to habits of accuracy and

Page [10]
untiring labor, knowledge is increased and the memory is stored useful information. In conclusion let us adopt the advice of Horace to the Pasocs and if we do our Alma Mater may well be proud of her children:
"Let classic authors be your delight
Read them by day again by night"