The Why of Classics

THE CLASSICS

From A Grammar of Assent

Cardinal Newman

Let us consider, too, how different young and old are affected by the words of some classic author, such as Homer or Horace. Passages which to a boy are but rhetorical commonplaces, neither better nor worse than a hundred others which any clever writer might supply, which he gets by heart and thinks very fine, and imitates, as he thinks, successfully, in his own flowing versification, at length come home to him, when long years have passed, and he has had experience of life, and pierce him, as if he had never before known them, with their sad earnestness and vivid exactness. Then he comes to understand how it is that lines, the birth of some chance morning or evening at an Ionian festival, or among the Sabine hills, have lasted generation after generation, for thousands of years, with a power over the mind, and a charm, which the current literature of his own day, with all its obvious advantages, is utterly unable to rival. Perhaps this is the reason of the medieval opinion about Virgil, as if a prophet or magician; his single words and phrases, his pathetic half lines, giving utterance, as the voice of Nature herself, to that pain and weariness, yet hope of better things, which is the experience of her children in every time.

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Alexandre Dumas (the younger) listened in silence as his friends discussed the physical attributes of two courtesans. One of the ladies had a magnificent figure, the other a beautiful face. The young men finally turned to Dumas. “Which would you prefer?” they asked. “I would prefer to go out with the second,” replied the writer, “and come home with the first.”

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Published in: on December 9, 2009 at 10:06 AM  Leave a Comment  
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