Monday, July 02, 2018

'The Studies of History and Literature'

Ralph Earle, Life at the U.S. Naval Academy: The Making of the American Naval Officer, “With an Introduction by Franklin D. Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy” (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1917):

“The first two years are occupied chiefly with the obtaining and the standardizing of the necessary general education required; the plebe who has already covered the scope of his first year and used the text-books of the course is fortunate, and such a one will find life much easier. This general education is very necessary and that an officer should be able to use good English has been best expressed by John Paul Jones, the fourth classman being required to paste in the front of his English note-book this sentence of his:

“‘None other than a gentleman, as well as a seaman both in theory and practice, is qualified to support the character of a commissioned officer in the Navy; nor is any man fit to command a ship of war who is not also capable of communicating his ideas on paper in language that becomes his rank.’ (John Paul Jones, letter to the Marine Board, 1777)

“The English Department further models its course with a view to forming military character by developing the personality and individuality of the midshipman distinctly along the lines of what is known as the humanities that can be taught by the studies of history and literature. The books read are chosen for the effect they will have upon the mind and character; as a result such books as biographies of Nelson and Farragut, and Carlyle’s Heroes and Hero Worship are found in use at the Academy.”

[The excerpt is taken from Chap. II, “The Candidate.” Its epigraph is by Admiral David Farragut of “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” fame: “I believe in celerity.”]

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