Dabney’s Classical Education

R.L. Dabney, regardless of whether you agree with him in matter of the South and slavery, was an omni-competent man, someone who excelled in whatever he put his hands to. While God-given gifts have priority, his classical training certainly seems to have prepared him for his far-reaching intellectual prowess.

His biographer writes: “It is worthy of remark in passing that his studies at this period of his life seem to have covered no great number of topics, but that they were extensive in the classics. Two advantages naturally follow from this: concentration of energies along a few lines enabled him to put more force out along those lines, and accomplish relatively great things in those studies; he was also preserved from falling into the habit of skimming over the surface of things,” (Thomas Cary Johnson, The Life and Letters of Robert Lewis Dabney, 28).

This is further evidence that less is more. Classical education, historically, did not try to cram a plethora of subjects into a student’s head, but rather gave him the tools of learning. Then, he could branch out into any area desired and excel in it. For more on this, see previous posts on Tracy Lee Simons’ provoking book, Climbing Parnassus.


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