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TRANSLATION AT SIGHT
SELECTED AND ARRANGED
BY JAMES S. REID, LL.M.
LATE FELLOW OF CHRIST'S COLLEGE; CLASSICAL LECTURER AT CHRIST'S
THE selection of passages from the Classical authors has been made at the suggestion of several teachers of eminence, in the hope that it may prove a useful instrument of Classical education in Public Schools. My chief desire is to aid and encourage teachers in making what is commonly called "translation at sight part of the regular school-work in Classics. In the few schools where this has been done, the educational results have been excellent. But in many important schools boys are not at all trained in translating passages which have not previously been prepared, while in others such work is only given to boys who are at the end of their school-course, and are studying for various examinations. It is very far from being my intention to further that special preparation for meeting the Examiner, which already occupies too large a space of the school-time; much less to assist that gambling in what are called " tips," and that art of divining the Examiner's thoughts to which the name "cram" (if the word has any meaning at all) may fairly be given. The kind of teaching recommended in this Preface is totally hostile to "cram," and, from the mode in which the selections have been made, this book will almost certainly be found unsuited for irregular and spasmodic study.
A considerable experience as a Teacher, and an unusually large experience as an Examiner, have convinced me that the practice of "translating at sight" ought to be made a regular part of school-work, from the beginning to the end of a school education in Classics. Let me state only a few of the reasons on which I found this opinion.
Few who are acquainted with the system of training in Latin and Greek now prevalent in schools, and who care enough about it to have thought out an opinion, will deny that it has one great defect: it encourages far too much the receptive faculties of the pupil, and develops his thinking powers too little. The bulk of his time is occupied in absorbing the opinions of his teacher, his dictionary, his grammar, and his editors. It may be said that the corrective should be supplied by other studies. But the ordinary Classical student at a Public School has for the most part no other studies but Divinity," History, Modern Languages, and the like, which are pursued more or less according to the pattern set by Classical study, strictly so called. If a remedy is to be found for the educational defect I have noticed, it must be found mainly in the field of Classics itself. It is found to some extent in Composition, and especially in Verse Composition, which ought on this account to be tenaciously retained. But a further advantage is gained if at stated intervals the pupil is required to apply the knowledge he has won in grappling with the difficulties of a passage he has never before seen. The advantages thus to be obtained may be illustrated by a reference to the circumstances of a Mathematical education. Prepared translation has the same place in a Classical education that Book-work has in a Mathematical, while Composition and unprepared translation in Classics train the student's
mind as Problems do in Mathematics; but Composition more resembles the Problem in Mixed, and unprepared translation the Problem in Pure Mathematics.
There can be no doubt that the ordinary school-drill with dictionary and grammar has a great tendency to become dreary and dulling, especially to boys dull by nature. One eminent teacher has professed a not undeserved pity for the schoolboy "with his dictionary under one arm and his grammar under the other, like an ox and an ass unequally yoked together." Now, a lesson in unprepared translation, if judiciously managed by the teacher, will do much to freshen and rouse his class. The lesson should be a class lesson, so that the spirit of emulation may be excited. The class should be allowed to puzzle out all difficulties for themselves, so far as they can, and, where hints are needed to set them on the right path, they should be conveyed by the Socratic method of interrogation. If the piece is one which is unknown to the teacher, and he has the courage to join his pupils in exploring its difficulties, the value of the lesson to the pupils will be greatly enhanced, for they will have an opportunity of observing and imitating the processes by which an advanced scholar's mind increases its knowledge.
In regularly working through the translation of a Classical book with a class, unless it consists of very advanced boys, the teacher is trammelled by the need of dwelling perpetually on points of grammar, syntax, and usage arising out of the author's language. Such work is indispensable, but some of its results, as I have personally observed them in many important examinations, are disastrous. Nothing is commoner than to find boys at the end of a long school course, when set to do a passage they have not before learned, threading their way darkly from word to word, and clause to clause, by grammatical