What is represented by the term "the Classics" in this University is a dull joke in the minds of too many of its students. Most of them have memorized and forgotten the slight vocabulary necessary to turn a given amount of Cicero into English and thus distinguish themselves by the degree of Artium Baccalaurcus from their unlearned brethren of the S.B. The pursuit of the Classics as a four-year course of study is definitely exotic and the expression "dead languages," uttered in a tone of contempt, illustrates the depths to which this subject has sunk.
Where the responsibility should be placed for this decline in what was formerly the backbone of education is difficult to determine. Certainly some of it can be attributed to "the tempo of modern life" with its insistence on immediate, practical, marketable qualities. The rapid shift in the last decade from English as the most popular field, through Economics during the great Depression, and now to Government since we have lost faith in unhampered economic forces as a social panacea, illustrates the variable nature of students' desires.
Yet with all due allowance for the social phenomena which condition Harvard and have helped to push the Classics into the virtual limbo in which they now stagnate, all is not right with the department here. A definite charge that they have neglected to make their subject appealing to students must be made against the men who now control its policy. Musty research, benign scholasticism and dull philology are not fulfilling obligations to their subject or to students who might benefit from a more vigorous and timely presentation. That a broader cultural and literary approach might be used is merely one general suggestion. At any rate, if a classical education here is to turn out anything more than unenterprising pedants who will perpetuate the hollow tradition of the Latin requirement, the Classics department must step lively. It must show itself worthy of the comparatively large budget bestowed upon it-which alone indicates the University's realization of the potential importance of the Classics.
(This is the first of two editorials on the Classics at Harvard. The second will be published on Monday).