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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
On the Early Practice of Composition
By Quintilian (c. 35–c. 95 A.D.)
 
From the ‘Institutes’: Translation in Bohn’s Library

FROM boys perfection of style can neither be required nor expected; but the fertile genius, fond of noble efforts, and conceiving at times a more than reasonable degree of ardor, is greatly to be preferred. Nor, if there be something of exuberance in a pupil of that age, would it at all displease me. I would even have it an object with teachers themselves to nourish minds that are still tender with more indulgence, and to allow them to be satiated, as it were, with the milk of more liberal studies. The body which mature age may afterwards nerve, may for a time be somewhat plumper than seems desirable,—hence there is hope of strength; while a child that has the outline of all his limbs exact commonly portends weakness in subsequent years. Let that age be daring; invent much, and delight in what it invents, though it be often not sufficiently severe and correct. The remedy for exuberance is easy: barrenness is incurable by any labor. That temper in boys will afford me little hope, in which mental effort is prematurely restrained by judgment. I like what is produced to be extremely copious, profuse even beyond the limits of propriety. Years will greatly reduce superfluity; judgment will smooth away much of it; something will be worn off, as it were, by use, if there be but metal from which something may be hewn and polished off,—and such metal there will be if we do not make the plate too thin at first, so that deep cutting may break it. That I hold such opinions concerning this age, he will be less likely to wonder who shall have read what Cicero says: “I wish fecundity in a young man to give itself full scope.”  1
  Above all, therefore, and especially for boys, a dry master is to be avoided, not less than a dry soil, void of all moisture, for plants that are still tender. Under the influence of such a tutor they at once become dwarfish; looking, as it were, towards the ground, and daring to aspire to nothing above every-day talk. To them leanness is in place of health, and weakness instead of judgment; and while they think it sufficient to be free from fault, they fall into the fault of being free from all merit. Let not even maturity itself, therefore, come too fast; let not the must, while yet in the vat, become mellow; for so it will bear years, and be improved by age.  2
  Nor is it improper for me, moreover, to offer this admonition: that the powers of boys sometimes sink under too great severity in correction; for they despond, and grieve, and at last hate their work,—and what is most prejudicial, while they fear everything they cease to attempt anything. There is a similar conviction in the minds of the cultivators of trees in the country, who think that the knife must not be applied to tender shoots, as they appear to shrink from the steel, and to be unable as yet to bear an incision. A teacher ought therefore to be as agreeable as possible, that remedies which are rough in their own nature may be rendered soothing by gentleness of hand: he ought to praise some parts of his pupils’ performances, to tolerate some, and to alter others, giving his reasons why the alterations are made; and also to make some passages clearer by adding something of his own. It will be of service at times, also, for the master to dictate whole subjects himself, which the pupil may imitate and admire for the present as his own. But if a boy’s composition were so faulty as not to admit of correction, I have found him benefited whenever I told him to write on the same subject again, after it had received fresh treatment from me, observing that “he could do still better”; since study is cheered by nothing more than hope. Different ages, however, are to be corrected in different ways; and work is to be required and amended according to the degree of the pupil’s abilities. I used to say to boys when they attempted anything extravagant or verbose, that “I was satisfied with it for the present; but that a time would come when I should not allow them to produce compositions of such a character.” Thus they were satisfied with their abilities, and yet not led to form a wrong judgment.  3
 
 
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