As we play’d pretty equally, we thus beat one another into that language.

From Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography:

I had begun in 1733 to study languages; I soon made myself so much a master of the French as to be able to read the books with ease. I then undertook the Italian. An acquaintance, who was also learning it, us’d often to tempt me to play chess with him. Finding this took up too much of the time I had to spare for study, I at length refus’d to play any more, unless on this condition, that the victor in every game should have a right to impose a task, either in parts of the grammar to be got by heart, or in translations, etc., which tasks the vanquish’d was to perform upon honour, before our next meeting. As we play’d pretty equally, we thus beat one another into that language. I afterwards with a little painstaking, acquir’d as much of the Spanish as to read their books also.

I have already mention’d that I had only one year’s instruction in a Latin school, and that when very young, after which I neglected that language entirely. But, when I had attained an acquaintance with the French, Italian, and Spanish, I was surpris’d to find, on looking over a Latin Testament, that I understood so much more of that language than I had imagined, which encouraged me to apply myself again to the study of it, and I met with more success, as those preceding languages had greatly smooth’d my way.

From these circumstances, I have thought that there is some inconsistency in our common mode of teaching languages. We are told that it is proper to begin first with the Latin, and, having acquir’d that, it will be more easy to attain those modern languages which are deriv’d from it; and yet we do not begin with the Greek, in order more easily to acquire the Latin. It is true that, if you can clamber and get to the top of a staircase without using the steps, you will more easily gain them in descending; but certainly, if you begin with the lowest you will with more ease ascend to the top; and I would therefore offer it to the consideration of those who superintend the education of our youth, whether, since many of those who begin with the Latin quit the same after spending some years without having made any great proficiency, and what they have learnt becomes almost useless, so that their time has been lost, it would not have been better to have begun with the French, proceeding to the Italian, etc.; for, tho’, after spending the same time, they should quit the study of languages and never arrive at the Latin, they would, however, have acquired another tongue or two, that, being in modern use, might be serviceable to them in common life.

To his reasoning against beginning with Latin, I’d only counter that starting with a language of middling grammatical complexity prepares you to move both up (Greek) and down (any of the romance ones) while starting with one of relative grammatical simplicity can make upward motion more grating.  When I taught Latin I found the people who came with a base in French or Italian were more frustrated at the case system and the range of verb tenses/constructions than those who came with no language learning background.  It was easier to accept the density of rules as a (frustrating) given when you didn’t have a point for comparison in your pocket.

The editor of the Gutenberg text provides a bonus unsourced footnote from Edward Gibbon – though it seems to me only partially connected to Franklin’s point:

“‘Our seminaries of learning,’ says Gibbon, ‘do not exactly correspond with the precept of a Spartan king, that the child should be instructed in the arts which will be useful to the man; since a finished scholar may emerge from the head of Westminster or Eton, in total ignorance of the business and conversation of English gentlemen in the latter end of the eighteenth century. But these schools may assume the merit of teaching all that they pretend to teach, the Latin and Greek languages.'”

Retaining only the habit of expressing myself in terms of modest diffidence

From Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography. It is a predictable eccentricity of my reading that the only thing on Franklin I’d read to this point was one of Sainte-Beuve’s portraits. And maybe a few exchanges with his friend David Hume. But each day, wisely used, gives room for new amends.

I continu’d this method [of Socratic argumentation] some few years, but gradually left it, retaining only the habit of expressing myself in terms of modest diffidence; never using, when I advanced anything that may possibly be disputed, the words certainly, undoubtedly, or any others that give the air of positiveness to an opinion; but rather say, I conceive or apprehend a thing to be so and so; it appears to me, or I should think it so or so, for such and such reasons; or I imagine it to be so; or it is so, if I am not mistaken. This habit, I believe, has been of great advantage to me when I have had occasion to inculcate my opinions, and persuade men into measures that I have been from time to time engaged in promoting; and, as the chief ends of conversation are to inform or to be informed, to please or to persuade, I wish well-meaning, sensible men would not lessen their power of doing good by a positive, assuming manner, that seldom fails to disgust, tends to create opposition, and to defeat everyone of those purposes for which speech was given to us, to wit, giving or receiving information or pleasure. For, if you would inform, a positive and dogmatical manner in advancing your sentiments may provoke contradiction and prevent a candid attention. If you wish information and improvement from the knowledge of others, and yet at the same time express yourself as firmly fix’d in your present opinions, modest, sensible men, who do not love disputation, will probably leave you undisturbed in the possession of your error. And by such a manner, you can seldom hope to recommend yourself in pleasing your hearers, or to persuade those whose concurrence you desire. Pope says, judiciously:

“Men should be taught as if you taught them not,
And things unknown propos’d as things forgot;”

farther recommending to us

“To speak, tho’ sure, with seeming diffidence.”

And he might have coupled with this line that which he has coupled with another, I think, less properly,

“For want of modesty is want of sense.”

If you ask, Why less properly? I must repeat the lines,

“Immodest words admit of no defense,
For want of modesty is want of sense.”

Now, is not want of sense (where a man is so unfortunate as to want it) some apology for his want of modesty? and would not the lines stand more justly thus?

“Immodest words admit but this defense,
That want of modesty is want of sense.”

This, however, I should submit to better judgments.

The first quote two quotes are from Pope’s An Essay on Criticism (573-74 for the couplet and 567 for the ‘farther’ on single line).  Note that Franklin, consciously or not, has appropriately softened Pope’s must into should.

Learn then what morals critics ought to show,
For ’tis but half a judge’s task, to know.
‘Tis not enough, taste, judgment, learning, join;
In all you speak, let truth and candour shine:
That not alone what to your sense is due,
All may allow; but seek your friendship too.

Be silent always when you doubt your sense;
And speak, though sure, with seeming diffidence:
Some positive, persisting fops we know,
Who, if once wrong, will needs be always so;
But you, with pleasure own your errors past,
And make each day a critic on the last.

‘Tis not enough, your counsel still be true;
Blunt truths more mischief than nice falsehoods do;
Men must be taught as if you taught them not;
And things unknown proposed as things forgot.
Without good breeding, truth is disapprov’d;
That only makes superior sense belov’d.

The second couplet is not actually Pope, though it is apparently commonly misattributed to him.  It belongs to the 4th Earl of Roscommon and the original context appears to have been an objection to filth in poetry.