Much has been written of late years in the course of educational discussions as to the value of classical studies in education. As the best authorities are not yet in agreement among themselves it would be obviously out of place to add anything here on the subject. But the controversy principally belongs to classics in boys’ schools; as to the study of Latin by girls, and in particular to its position in Catholic schools, there is perhaps something yet to be said.
In non-Catholic schools for girls Latin has not, even now, a great hold. It is studied for certain examinations, but except for the few students whose life takes a professional turn it scarcely outlives the school-room. Girl students at universities cannot compete on equal terms with men in a classical course, and the fact is very generally acknowledged by their choosing another. Except in the rarest instances—let us not be afraid to own it—our Latin is that of amateurs, brilliant amateurs perhaps, but unmistakable. Latin, for girls, is a source of delight, a beautiful enrichment of their mental life, most precious in itself and in its influence, but it is not a living power, nor a familiar instrument, nor a great discipline; it is deficient in hardness and closeness of grain, so that it cannot take polish; it is apt to betray by unexpected transgressions the want of that long, detailed, severe training which alone can make classical scholarship. It is usually a little tremulous, not quite sure of itself, and indeed its best adornment is generally the sobriety induced by an overshadowing sense of paternal correction and solicitude always present to check rashness and desultoriness, and make it at least “gang warily” with a finger on its lip; and their attainments in Latin are, at the best, receptively rather than actively of value.
In Catholic girls’ schools, however, the elements of Latin are almost necessity. It is wanting in courtesy, it is almost uncouth for us to grow up without any knowledge of the language of Holy Church. It is almost impossible for educated Catholics to have right taste in devotion, the “love and relish” of the most excellent things, without some knowledge of our great liturgical prayers and hymns in the original. We never can really know them if we only hear them halting and plunging and splashing through translations, wasting their strength in many words as they must unavoidably do in English, and at best only reaching an approximation to the sense. The use of them in the original is discipline and devotion in one, and it strengthens the Catholic historical hold on the past, with a sense of nearness, when we dwell with some understanding on the very words which have been sung in the Church subsisting in all ages and teaching all nations. This is our birthright, but it is not truly ours unless we can in some degree make use of what we own.