This interesting quote speaks to the need for the study of ancient literature in order to secure a sound democracy. But, it is not good ONLY to study the classics. A society needs the trades, commerce and other producers so that the society’s needs are met, and all are happy.
In other words, your community isn’t worth squat with a bunch of pointy-headed intellectuals running around telling each other how smart they are. We need the ditch-diggers, the car-fixers, the grocers, clerks and farmers. Not everyone is going to go to college.
Maybe keeping kids in “…a multitude of bad grammar-schools, where superfluous matters, badly learned, stand in the way of sound instruction in necessary studies” is a bad thing. Maybe we should consider invigorating the general health of our communities by allowing those who are predisposed to the trades and other useful yet not necessarily academic studies, get to it and get on with their lives.
(Any added emphasis is mine.)
It is important that this point should be clearly under-stood. A particular study may be useful to the literature of a people without being appropriate to its social and political wants. If men were to persist in teaching nothing but the literature of the dead languages in a community where everyone is habitually led to make vehement exertions to augment or to maintain his fortune, the result would be a very polished, but a very dangerous set of citizens. For as their social and political condition would give them every day a sense of wants, which their education would never teach them to supply, they would perturb the state, in the name of the Greeks and Romans, instead of enriching it by their productive industry.
It is evident that in democratic communities the interest of individuals as well as the security of the commonwealth demands that the education of the greater number should be scientific, commercial, and industrial rather than literary.
Greek and Latin should not be taught in all the schools; but it is important that those who, by their natural disposition or their fortune, are destined to cultivate letters or prepared to relish them should find schools where a complete knowledge of ancient literature may be acquired and where the true scholar may be formed. A few excellent universities would do more towards the attainment of this object than a multitude of bad grammar-schools, where superfluous matters, badly learned, stand in the way of sound instruction in necessary studies.
All who aspire to literary excellence in democratic nations ought frequently to refresh themselves at the springs of ancient literature; there is no more wholesome medicine for the mind. Not that I hold the literary productions of the ancients to be irreproachable, but I think that they have some special merits, admirably calculated to counterbalance our peculiar defects. They are a prop on the side on which we are in most danger of falling.