19.12.10

A Book Gushing

I wish I could remember where I saw The House of Intellect recommended. I thought perhaps it was on the WTM boards, but a search has not yielded a result when I enclose “House of Intellect” in the necessary quotation marks. So, then, maybe it was on a blog that I follow. If it was one of you reading this, I must say – thank you.

I needed to read this book. It was written in 1959, and yet so much of what Barzun has to say is still topical. In fact, there were times I felt it was eerily prescient.

I appreciated many things about this book, and I felt it gave me much with which to grapple. I want to pick it up and reread it. For those of you who read the recent threads about traditional grammar and structural grammar on the WTM boards, there are a few pages where he takes up the cause of traditional grammar for students in face of linguistic objections. He mentions several times the importance of what he terms the “traditional” curriculum – Latin, of course, and logic, as well as mathematics, memorization, and ancient Greek.

I don’t feel quite adequate of giving the book a proper review, so instead I’ll include a few of the quotes I noted for myself.

“To effect these changes is not a superhuman task if the firmness and rigor that are being preached to the schools exist also in our individual souls. The discipline of hard work in reading, writing, and counting must be matched at home by attention to speech, manners, and thought.” (p253)

“Meanwhile, the simple but difficult arts of paying attention, copying accurately, following an argument, detecting an ambiguity or a false inference, testing guesses by summoning up contrary instances, organizing one’s time and one’s thoughts for study – all these arts, which cannot be taught in the air but only through the difficulties of a defined subject, which cannot be taught in one course or one year, but must be acquired gradually, in dozens of connections. . . ” (p113-114)

"This is the corruption of the pedagogic advice of Montaigne and Rousseau. 'Teach the very young with aid of real things,' they said (like Aristotle earlier), 'let children learn by doing.' They thought of the curriculum and Latin declensions and figures of logic, and wanted a little open-air life and bodily activity to relieve it." (p106)

And, finally, perhaps my favorite quote, especially in light of the post I wrote last week.

“All private and public affairs, moreover, must have unremittingly applied to them to criterion of work. The business of learning must above all others be represented in its true guise as difficult, as demanding effort.” (p254)

The House of Intellect, Jacques Barzun. Still alive today, I would love to sit down and discuss the world with this author.
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"A little rebellion every now and then is a good thing." - Thomas Jefferson