There were also some innovations. Dr. H. Loehry gave a daily demonstration of routine Third Year work with a small class brought from the Priory School, Shrewsbury, and Mr. Peckett used the same class for a demonstration of Beginners' Greek. These two items were very welcome, especially as they helped to extend the hard core of the course which the demonstrations represent. An attempt was also made to concentrate more on the technique of teaching, by giving the circuli a new aim and by leaving time for discussion groups. This, however, was something of a failure, possibly because the leaders of the groups kept to the old ways. Another innovation was the production in English of the Antigone, the play about which Mr. Dale was lecturing. This, in spite of the few rehearsals, was greatly moving.
By way of entertainment there was dancing, " parlour games," chanties, and an earnestly fought cricket match against the boys from the Priory School. In such an attractive place as Cambridge there is no need for organised excursions, but a small party did go to Ely, and, after looking at the great cathedral, inspected the fen drainage works of the ingenious Dutchmen, and had tea at St. Ives, set characteristically among the comfortable, ageless civilisation of that part of England. The last night was enlivened by set pieces of theatrical merriment produced by the boys from the Priory School and other members of the course. These appeared to provoke just as much laughter as the usual Fabulae, without causing numbers of people the embarrassment of hectic rehearsal and a forced appearance on the stage.
At the Annual General Meeting, the Treasurer repeated that though the Association was just paying its way, many more new members are urgently needed to make its position secure. The vexed question of the name of the association was debated at some length, and since no real agreement could be arrived at, the motion to change the name was by leave withdrawn. The name of the Association remains, therefore, The Association for the Reform of Latin Teaching.
Almost certainly the greatest pleasure of all was given by Miss Dorothy Sayer's frank, witty and stimulating lecture. The Association can count itself very lucky in being able to persuade her to give it, and the editor himself is very fortunate in being allowed to publish it (almost in full) in this issue. This issue also contains a report on the chief parts of the course. The only adverse criticism of it that people offered was that they suffered from an embarras de richesse—they could not attend every class they wanted to. The obvious answer to this is, as someone remarked, to come again next year.
It was a fascinating study for those who had never seen the initial stages of Direct
Method teaching to witness Latin being gradually built up from nothing. Mr. Munday
gave five lessons of forty-
Mr. Munday had emphasised that for demonstration purposes the lice would be much faster than in a normal class, and the effect of this was noticeable in the recapitulation, when, as a result of lack of Consolidation, there was some bewilderment and uncertainty,especially when the class was speaking in unison.
Questions of the form, Quid facit ? were next introduced, and the almost spontaneously correct word order in answering questions in the latter half of the week was most impressive. At the start of the fourth period nouns were much better known than verbs. The accusative, first after ad, then as the object, were introduced (is this the better order ?), and this was followed up by a story with video to drive home the accusatives of all objects drawn on the board. The story ended with a vocabulary of abuse worthy of the lowest of the faex romana.
In the final lesson, Nominative and Vocative Plurals were added to the collection of " tails," and in a continuation of the story, the Accusative Plural as well, with the chief uses of the Ablative quickly demonstrated at the end ; but the chief recollection of a triumphant finale is a riotous blaze of ova (artificial) and mala (real).
There could be no doubt in anyone's mind of the direct impact through eye and ear that the week's lessons made on the boys, or of the solid foundation for a grasp of the structure of Latin being laid ab ovo, and I think I am speaking for the entire audience in saying how grateful I felt to Mr. Munday not only for such a lucid demonstration of the mechanics of the method, but also for giving an object lesson in refreshing, vigorous and entertaining teaching.
A most welcome addition to the programme at this year's Summer School was a demonstration
of first lessons in Greek. The alphabet itself and the sounds had, understandably,
been given beforehand, as well as a Greek name to each boy, so that the first act
was for each pupil to write on the board his " name " with aspirates and accents
complete, to pronounce it, and to make a little trial reading of the Greek characters.
Then Mr. Peckett began the skilful application of the principles of Imitation, Repetition,
Association, Induction, to the process of teaching the verb—first a greeting, a command,
then the actions of going and sleeping, in the usual stylised dialogue of master,
pupil and class—and the tense written—all this rather short. Quickly he was setting
out an adjective on the board, using the boys' " names " and their knowledge of Latin
to provoke lucky guesses, commenting on pronunciation, while the class read and copied
the schemes into notebooks. A second adjective followed, and the two types were simply
differentiated, and again a little dialogue of master, pupil and class introduced
three pronouns and the verb " to be." For homework, an adjective and a verb scheme
were set for memorizing, anti the first lesson was over. N those that followed, the
material was the simple and amusing Visit to Hades, from which they had read on the
first day. Now there was pattern reading, individual reading, chorus reading. There
was the explanation of new words and forms by expressive and striking gestures, by
rough blackboard sketches, by reference to Latin, but with a certain flexibility,
so that English was used Without hesitation wherever common-
At suitable stages there was the relief of rendering the story up to date by means of action and dialogue, so that thunder thundered, lightning flashed, and Thrasymachus went down with Hermes to meet Charon and the dead and to hear of the famous obolus, While the class incessantly practised the verbs and the two declensions, prepared to understand enclitics, learned to appreciate piv and 66, and to solve the puzzle of eis Aidov.
This series of lessons showed not only the basic principles of the Win oral method operating in a new sphere, but also how progress could be speeded up to meet a particular case. The boys, just beginning Third Year Latin, already familiar with the technique in the one language, were able to pass rapidly through the first stages, 90 paved(wo quickly replaced non intellego, and it was interesting to note how, with a little guidance, they used the accents to assist pronunciation.
Mr. F. R. Dale led a large group in the study of Sophocles' Anstigone, and in the course of five lectures left barely one aspect of the play altogether untouched. Inevitably, some of the treatment was brief and summary, and the group would have given much for further opportunities to draw upon Mr. Dale's long and intimate knowledge of the play, and his rich store of classical learning. The date of the play's production, in relation to Greek history and to the life of Sophocles, and the outline of the plot and its dramatic construction were given and commented upon, portions of the text were read in Greek, sometimes by Mr. Dale, sometimes assisted by members of the class reading in parts, other portions Mr. Dale read from his own verse translation ; some of the mysteries of the metres of the choral odes were revealed and explained, and the difficulties of their adequate representation in English shown.
The dramatic construction of the Antigone raises many problems why did Antigone bury Polyneices twice, and why did Ismene claim to have done it ? Why is Eurydice introduced into the play at all ? Why did Creon bury the body of Polyneices if the essential ritual had already been completed, and why did he do it before going to release Antigone ? Why was Haemon's body brought back to the palace, but not Antigone's. The discussion of such problems, even if it does not produce the right answers, is stimulating, helpful and interesting, especially when led by a scholar of Mr. Dale's calibre. One suggestion was made at the discussion on the first of these questions, admittedly not original though new to many of the members—that the first burial of Polyneices was, in fact, done by Ismene, as she herself claimed, and that it had been foreshadowed by the words Kpvq)~ U xE06E in v. 86, which are to be taken as double entendre in Dramatic Irony ; bury the body secretly, and thus the shades will be appeased—and what a contrast with Antigone's method, which dooms herself, Haemon and Eurydice to death, and breaks Creon. The arguments against such being the case seemed to outweigh those in favour of it, and Ismene's claim to have done the burying should probably be read as significant of the inconsistency and weakness of her character. But even a false hypothesis often serves to bring out points that might otherwise be overlooked.
The grand climax of Mr. Dale's course was the stage production of the Antigone in his own translation, when one point stood out in crystal clearness. Greek Drama in a good translation can be " put across " with the minimum of props—and how it grips one ! Indeed, that should be the last word on Mr. Dale's lectures. Perhaps one could get many of the points he made from one book or another, but he did what no book could do : he made the drama live as a work of art. The Antigone ceased to be one of the books set for " Advanced " level, on which one has some notes of which one is very proud ; and became vital and literary. One wonders how Mr. Dale has managed to keep it so alive for himself all these years : does one have to be retired so many years to have it so, or is it a secret of his own ? But there was nothing hidden in his ability to bring it all back to life for his class, and many will tackle the play next year with an added zest that can lead only to better teaching.
A large class listened to Mr. Melluish on the teaching of Latin Prose. It is essential to his method that he should also listen to them ; suggestions from all are invited, selected and adapted, and the final version so shapes itself on the blackboard under his guiding hand. He does not normally use any " fair copy " brought down from some height of accomplished scholarship ; the boys have the stimulus and encouragement of building up the accepted rendering by common effort. How well this works at Bec School I have heard examiners emphatically testify.
Mr. Melluish explained his practice in a preliminary talk, and then dealt with three pieces of English in a " double period " each. The first was a rhetorical passage from Burke ; the second, as some sophisticated pupil had discovered, was a translation from Cicero ;the third he had himself composed—" they had recourse to sly hints and veiled suggestions," and so on—quite hard enough. The class thoroughly enjoyed the game of competing for the embodiment of suggestions on the blackboard. With great patience and humour, Mr. Melluish held back his own learning and resourceful skill, but these, of course, played their part as a rendering was reached ; we noticed that he was a little stubborn in retaining some doubtful Latinity in the second piece, but that, of course, was in the Cicero.
The time passed incredibly quickly, and nobody wanted to stop. I believe the exercise
was no less profitable than stimulating and entertaining, though perhaps we got a
little involved at the end of the third piece in a metaphoricality of sea-
Many of us who have watched demonstrations of beginners on other courses, and attended Circuli, have felt we would like to see the oral method in action at a later stage than the beginning ; and here it was, a class of Priory School boys who had just completed two years of Latin, having a normal daily lesson fora week from their usual master, Dr. Loehry. Here were all the tricks of the trade we have met in Circuli, the sequence, Sedete . .. quid iussisti ? . . . quid imperavisti ?, the quick reaction to the call, vel, and many more ; and then we saw the familiar alternatives, Postquam, Publium pulsavit . . . vel . . . cum Publium pulsavisset used to build a third alternative, Publio pulsato . .. and then watched how quickly the boys absorbed the new method into the normal repeated series.
We saw a new consul each day put the date on the board and call his class to order, the quick series of quaestiones to begin the lesson, the rivalry for puncta, the English sentences translated by questions and answers in Latin, the written homework so carefully planned that nearly all the class achieved 16 marks or more out of 20 each time. It was a great help, too, to be able to see this homework when it was passed round after correction. Moreover, an unbeliever (if there could be an unbeliever in an A.R.L.T. audience) could not but have been convinced when, after hearing a passage of translation elucidated in Latin in the normal method of a Circulus, a boy gave an excellent free rendering in English with complete accuracy.
Here was not only a model for would-
The whole series of lessons was all the more enthralling because of Dr. Loehry's lively manner, and the quick banter between master and boys which ensured constant concentration, his cries of Asine ! or 0 di immortales ! and yet his patience with any boy in difficulties and his obvious sympathy and understanding of their personalities, were all delightful.
We are truly grateful to these boys for giving up part of their holidays to do this. It was a very great advantage to have them living on the spot. One could see them not only as infant prodigies, but in their off moments, as perfectly normal boisterous boys. I think all are agreed that it has been a most successful innovation, and we hope that ~a similar class will become a permanent feature of these courses.
Returning from the A.R.L.T. Summer School was like emerging from another world. Even the warm sunlight, which could not have shone more brightly on a Mediterranean people, Ancient or Modern, gave place to the asperity of an English Autumn as soon as we had left Cambridge.
But we had been revivified, not alone by the sunshine which would support us against the rigours of Winter, but by an inspiration which would buoy up our spirits in the coming months of chalk, talk, dejection—and corrections.
For, on this ingeniously conducted course, we had watched demonstrations in which
boys took to the classics, not as to an academic exercise but as to a wholly usable
mode of communication—a language. We had seen the light of the Ablative Absolute
dawn over the darkness of the Time Clause, and had ourselves cultivated, by virtue
of expert leadership, the fine flower of Latin prose on the ivy-
Daily circuli had given rise to almost — and in some cases quite — spontaneous conversation — not to say wit — in Latin and Greek, while reading classes had initiated or confirmed us in the rites of quantity and stress.
On one memorable evening Miss Sayers had taken us rollicking through the chequered
years of her Latin studies, and on another we had been privileged to hear a most
scholarly lecture by Miss Woodward on Latin Phonetics. Nor was the lighter side of
If any doubt had been left in my mind by the end of the week as to the efficacy of
the Direct Method, it would have been dispelled when I heard myself announce my own
arrival at my own front door in (perhaps somewhat dubious but none the less genuine)
Latin. That I could still make out a case for the traditional or modified-
BY DOROTHY SAYERS
HAVING received from your Society an invitation no less courteous than pressing,
I accepted with alacrity the opportunity of coming to speak to you. I stand here
prepared, not, I fear, to increase your information or improve your minds, nor yet
to offer you any very lively entertainment ; but only to pour into your sympathetic
ears the story of my life. It is not a sensational story, nor one calculated to appeal
to the headline writers of the Local Gossip and the Daily Ghoul, eager though they
always are for the personal angle on every subject from the habits of the liver-
Infandum, regina, jubes renovare doloresas the old Latin poet puts it :-
Set si tantus amor cases cognoscere nostros . . . incipiam, or, as a later poet puts
it in a younger Italian tongue :-
FaM come colui the piange e dice.
It is not without deliberate purpose that I have begun with those two notorious tags ; for it is part of the contemporary tragedy that one can no longer call them notorious.
I was born at Oxford, in the fourth year before Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.
My father was at that time Headmaster of the Cathedral Choir School, where it was
part of his duty to instruct small demons with angel-
I do not know whether my father missed his small choristers amid the new duties of a country parish, or whether he was actuated only by a sense of the fitness of things and a regard for his daughter’s intellectual welfare. I know only that I was rising seven when he appeared one morning in the nursery, holding in his hand a shabby black book, which had already seen some service, and addressed to me the following memorable words : ” I think, my dear, that you are now old enough to begin to learn Latin.”
And should the representatives of the Local Gossip and the Daily Ghoul think this matter for a headline : “Began Latin at Six, says Author Sayers,” one would have to rebuke their ignorance.
There was nothing unusual about my father’s action, neither did it argue any remarkable aptitude in me. In those dark ages, half a century ago, before modern educational improvements had set in, that was the age at which one did begin to learn Latin. My father, seeing his offspring approach that age, reacted automatically to the situation. In the absence of little boys, he seized upon such infant material as was at hand, and went to work with the customary tool, which was, in fact, Dr. William Smith’s Principia.
I was by no means unwilling, because it seemed to me that it would be a very fine
thing to learn Latin, and would place me in a position of superiority to my mother,
my aunt, and my nurse—though not to my paternal grandmother, who was an old lady
of parts, and had at least a nodding acquaintance with the language. My father sat
down in the big chair, put his arm round me to restrain me from wriggling and, opening
the book, confronted me with the mysterious formula:-
mensa: a table
Mensa: O table !
mensam : a table
mensae : of a table
mensae : to or for a table
mensa : by, with, or from a table
Presumably at this point he explained that the ancient Romans had had the un-
When we had rendered Exercise I, Part 2, into Latin, my father rose up and went away,
leaving the book with me, and recommending that I should commit the declension of
mensa to memory. This I immediately did, being at that time of life when the committing
to memory of meaningless syllables and inconsequent lists of things is as easy as
From that time on, the Latin lesson became a daily event. I will not pretend that the first fine careless rapture of achievement endured for ever. Dominus, I seem to remember, was well received, though slightly complicated by neuters; and a new and highly satisfactory chant was soon added to the repertory, which went with a noble swing :—
bonus, bona, bonum
bonum, bonam, bonum
boni, bone, boni
and so forth, reaching a fine galumphing crescendo
bonorum, bonarum, bonorum,
before declining into a softly reiterated burden of
bonis, bonis, bonis.
With the Third Declension, the high and austere order of Imperial Rome seemed to
lose grip a little. Irregularities set in : there were nouns like rex, and mus, and
Caput, whose nominatives seemed to have lost their roots, and there was a tiresome
difference of opinion between noun and adjective about the correct termination of
the ablative singular. On the whole, however, the lack of symmetry was atoned for
by a certain whimsicality and coloratura. The Fourth and Fifth Declensions remained
rather exotic : one never got sufficient opportunities for using those fascinating
terminations in -
And here, in passing, let us pray tribute to the memory of A. D. Godley, Public Orator
in Oxford University, when I was an undergraduate, and to that noble poem which begins:-
What is it that roareth thus ?
Can it be a motor-
Yes ! the reek and hideous hum
Indicant motorem bum.
But the motor-
By this time, of, course, the girls, the poets and the roses had upped into the background.
We marched with Caesar, built alls with Balbo, and admired the conduct of Cornelia,
who brought Up her children diligently in order that they might be good citizens.
The mighty forest of syntax opened up its glades to exploration, adorned with its
three monumental trees—the sturdy Accusative and Infinitive, the graceful Ablative
Absolute, and the banyan-
I do not know why the recollection of all this is pleasant to me. Why, for example,
did I in those days greatly prefer Latin to the French, of which I later became a
master? I do not think my father was a particularly inspired teacher ; his methods
would now be called unimaginative and old-
By the time was I thirteen, the French had hauled up hand over fist upon the Latin, and overtaken it. I had a French governess with whom I conversed, and I read Moliere and The Three Musketeers. I was not trained to converse in Latin, and the Augustan age produced no Dumas. This was, I think, a pity.
I was, indeed, introduced to the Latin authors. The day arrived on which, toiling very slowly with a vocabulary, I began to work my way line by line through the episode of Pyramus and Thisbe from the Metamorphoses. After which we embarked, at the same snail’s pace, upon the second book of the Aeneid.
My father’s way with the involutions of the classic hexameter was calculated to lighten
the labour of the student, though I am not sure whether it was the best approach
to the literary beauties of Virgil. Having explained the construction of the verse
and brought me to the point of at least grasping the rhythm of the concluding dactyl
and spondee, he would then kindly take my brief daily portion, tear it word from
word, and rearrange the disjecta membra in the order in which Virgil would have written
them had he been writing simply English prose for use in lower forms. The consequence
is that to this day I find it very difficult to assemble the clauses in any classic
verse, or to decide which adjective belongs to which noun, or to see what principle,
other than the brute necessity of getting the quantities in the right place, governs
the order of the words in line. In the end, of course, these props and crutches were
taken away from me, and I was left to grope my way about the verse for myself ; but
it never seemed more than a kind of jig-
[Miss Sayers lost more than she gained at school, largely owing to the confusion caused in her mind by a change of pronunciation.]
As soon as I took up residence in Oxford, I was sent to a warrior called Mr. Herbert
May, with instructions that I was to be crammed through Smalls. Mr. May lived in
a narrow, semi-
indefatigable seagull, forever winging his way through the clashing rocks of Latin
Prose and Greek Unseen with a fleet of dismal and inexperienced Argonauts thrashing
the seas at his tail. A kindlier and more imperturbable man I ne ver met. In two
terms he accomplished what my school-
I got through Responsions, and that was the end of that. The Degree course allowed
me to do my Mods. in Modern Languages. The Latin I no longer required began to slip
away through the sieve of pre-
Two contacts only remained. I was reading French, and the Old French required for
the Language Papers demanded a minimum acquaintance with the Latin roots, morphology
and syntax. And as a member of the Bach Choir I learned to sing the Latin Mass and
a number of mediaeval hymns and carols. This added yet another pronunciation to my
collection—the ecclesiastical. I had been brought up to say “Pleeni sunt ceeli”;
school had commanded me to say “Playnee soont koilee”; I now sang ” Playnee soont
chaylee.” I had never, and I have never, been able to dissociate the written word
from the spoken sound; if I cannot pronounce I cannot read. With the fragmentation
of the sounds the disintegration of control followed so fast that at this stage in
my career I could scarcely have read ten consecutive Latin words aloud in a consistent
pronunciation and without false quantities, or construed ten consecutive lines. Yet
I believe that it was about this time that a dim glamour which had haunted me all
my childhood, and haunts me to this day, began to shine into my mind like the sun
rising through a mist—the shimmering, spell-
Everybody is, I suppose, either Classic or Gothic by nature. Either you feel in your bones that buildings should be rectangular boxes with lids to them, or you are moved to the marrow by walls that climb and branch, and break into a inflorescence of pinnacles. And however successfully you educate yourself to a just appreciation of the other kind, it will never have the same power to capture you soul and body in your unguarded moments.
In the same way, you either have the austere taste which delights in the delicate
interplay of stress and quantity in the hexameter — only you must remember that nobody
had ever once thought of showing me how that worked — or you have the more (if you
Tuba mirum spargens sonum
Per sepulchra regionum
Coget omnes ante tronum.
Augustine was moved to tears by the sorrows and death of Dido, and with good reason
illa, graves oculos conata attollere, rursus
deficit ; infixum stridet sub pectore volnus.
ter sese attollens cubitoque adnixa levavit :
ter revoluta torn est, oculisque errantibus alto
quaesivit caelo lucem, ingemuitque refierta.
A more plangent and piercing cry goes up from the foot of the Cross
Pro peccatis sui gentis
vidit Jesum in tormentis
et flagellis subditum ;
vidit suum dulcem natura
dum emisit spiritum.
But I want to come back to this later. For the moment I will only have on record that my Latin education ended upon this note. It ended, I say, there, leaving me, after close on twenty years’ teaching, unable to read a single Latin author with ease or fluency, unable to write a line of Latin without gross error, unfamiliar with the style and scope of any Latin author, except as I had taken refuge in English translations, and stammering of speech because by this time all three pronunciations were equally alien and uncertain. And this was a thing that never ought to have happened to me, because I was born with the gift of tongues.
I call this a very lamentable history. Yet there are two things I feel bound to say with all the emphasis I can command. Firstly: if you set aside Classical specialists and the product of those Public Schools which still cling to the great tradition, I, mute and inglorious as I am, and having forgotten nearly all I ever learned, still know more Latin than most young people with whom I come in contact. Secondly: that if I were asked what, of all the things I was ever taught, has been of the greatest practical use to me, I should have to answer: the Latin Grammar.
As to the first point, I can only say that I do not blame the modern methods of teaching Latin: I do not know what they are. The trouble is that the allegedly literate and educated population of this country is no longer composed of public schoolboys and parsons’ daughters, but of a vast mass of young persons who have been turned loose on the world at the age of sixteen, and very many of whom have learnt no Latin at all. And that most of them, and of their parents, and apparently of the persons who decide what educational fodder shall be sponsored by the State, and quite certainly of those who provide the popular literature and journalism which influences their thinking, are under the impression that Latin is a bit of antiquated upper class trimming, of no practical value to anyone.
Which brings me to my second point: the practical uses of Latin. It is not to you
that I need preach a sermon about them: or you would not be at this conference. But
I think that in this utilitarian age those who are concerned to keep Latin in the
school curriculum would be well advised to insist upon them more frequently than
they do. In a correspondence a little time ago in The Daily Telegraph, arguments
about cultural background, class privilege and mental discipline wandered along for
weeks before one correspondent had the wits to up and say that the learning of Latin
had, after all, a certain practical value in the saving of time and labour, even
if that was all one cared about. To you, therefore, and at this point, I will only
say briefly that, in my experience, an early grounding in the Latin Grammar has these
It is the quickest and easiest way to mastery over one’s own language, because it supplies the structure upon which all language is built. I never had any formal instruction in English grammar, nor have I ever felt the need of it, though I find I write more grammatically than most of my juniors. It seems to me that the study of English Grammar in isolation from the inflected origins of language must be quite bewildering. English is a highly sophisticated, highly analytical language, whose forms, syntax and construction can be grasped and handled correctly only by a good deal of hard reasoning, for the inflections are not there to enable one to distinguish automatically one case or one construction from another. To embark on any complex English construction without the Latin Grammar is like trying to find one’s way across country without map or signposts. That is why so few people nowadays can put together an English paragraph without being betrayed into a false concord, a hanging or wrongly attached participle, or a wrong consecution; and why many of them fall back upon writing in a series of short sentences, like a series of gasps, punctuated only by full stops.
Latin is the key to fifty per cent. of our vocabulary—either directly, or through French and other Romance languages. Without some acquaintance with the Latin roots, the meaning of each word have to be learnt and memorised separately — including, of course, that of the new formations with which the sciences are continually presenting us. Incidentally, the vocabulary of the common man becoming more and more restricted, and this is not surprising.
Latin is the key to all the Romance languages directly, and indirectly to all inflected languages.
The sort of argument which continually crops up in correspondence upon the teaching
of Latin is: “Why should children waste time learning a dead language when Spanish
When I wanted to work on Dante, I taught myself to read the Mediaeval Italian in
a very few weeks’ time, with the aid of Latin, the Italian grammar, and the initial
assistance of a crib. To learn to speak and write the modern tongue correctly would
demand tuition and more time — but not much and not long. Old as I am, I would betake
myself to learn Spanish, Portuguese or Provencal with equal ease. But knowing French
would not have helped me very much to read Italian, and I doubt whether, without
the Latin substructure, Italian would help me very far with Portuguese; Although,
of course, the more languages one knows, the easier it is to learn more. It is difficult
to be sure, because it is impossible for me to empty my mind of the Latin, even in
imagination. But I know how very different a task it would be to start upon a language
like Czech or Chinese, which would not open to the Latin key. And I remember, too,
in my own school-
The literature of our own country and of Europe is so studded and punctuated with Latin phrases and classical allusions that without some knowledge of Latin it must be very difficult to make anything of it. Here we are getting away from the uses of grammar to the benefits of background and culture. I will therefore not say very much about it at this point, except to point out that the student of English history or English literature or English law is always encountering the odd tag, the Latin title, the isolated phrase, and that it must be quite maddening to have to stop and look them up every time in a reference book.
There is also the matter of derivation, as distinct from vocabulary. I cannot help feeling that it is wholesome, for example, to know that “civility” has some connection with the civitas; that “justice” is more closely akin to righteousness than to equality; and that there was once some dim and forgotten connection between reality and thought.
But I do not want to dwell too long on these things which, to us, are commonplaces. I will only repeat that this particular set of values is very difficult to put across to those on whom there rests at present the ultimate responsibility for educating the young.
In the time that remains to me, I will rather sort over my own experience and see what it offers in the way of constructive suggestions for the teaching of Latin. I must repeat that I do not know what you are actually doing about this. It will be for you to say whether your practice agrees anywhere with my theory, and, where it does not, whether and why you consider my suggestions impracticable or undesirable.
To begin, then, at the beginning: I am convinced that the age at which I began was the right one. An acquaintance of mine whose boy is just starting life at a Grammar School tells me that the boys there do not begin Latin till they are eleven. I am sure that this is too late. In acquiring the Accidence, everything depends upon getting declensions and conjugations firmly fixed in the memory during the years when the mere learning of anything by rote is a delight rather than a burden. The jingle of ” mensa,, mensa, mensam ” or ” amo, alas, amat ” belongs properly to the same mental age as “Eeny, meeny, miny, mo,” or “This is the house that Jack built.” By the time that the reasoning and arguing faculty is awake, the capacity for assembling sounds by aural memory is awakening, and by the age of puberty it is practically lost. One can, of course, learn by heart at all ages if one earnestly puts one’s mind it — in the sense that one can memorise a thing ad hoc, as an actor memorises a part. But the thing learnt at a later age does not Abide graven upon the very foundations of the memory like the thing learnt in childhood. And the more rational one becomes, the more tedious and difficult it is to learn strings of sounds which are of logically associated.
Abstract nouns in -
Feminina one and all ;
Masculine will only be
Things that you can touch or see,
As curculio, vespertilio,
Pugio, Scipio, and papilio,
With the nouns that number show,
Such as ternio, senio.
The first four lines of that mnemonic make sense, and so do the last two; if I had
not known them from the cradle, I could learn them to-
The love of memorising for memorising’s sake is the hall-
What is, I am sure, a strain and vexation to the young mind is to be compelled to
reason before the time ; just as it is a strain and vexation to have to memorise
after the best time for that kind of thing is past. It is (as Wordsworth rightly
pointed out) extremely unwise to keep bothering a young child with “Why, Edward,
tell me why?” Wait till Edward asks “Why?” before burdening his mind with reasons.
And meanwhile – let him chant ” mensa, mensa, mensam ” at the top of his voice. His
Now, as to the vexed question of pronunciation. I will say here and now that I have
never discovered, nor can I see, any reasonable use or excuse for the ” waynee, weedee,
weekee ” convention. It is not merely that I have a profound sympathy with one of
my friends who says he just cannot believe that Caesar was the kind of man to talk
in that kind of way. Caesar may, indeed, have done so, but what then ? We do not,
except experimentally at the Mermaid Theatre, or in a Third Programme broadcast by
Neville Coghill, insist on pronouncing the English of Shakespeare and Chaucer as
Shakespeare and Chaucer pronounced it. Antiquarian research is useful and enlightening
; but for the general use and enjoyment of literature we adopt other standards. And
if we have succeeded (which is not certain) in discovering the pronunciation used
in the Augustan age, it is probable that that pronunciation did not endure very long—no
pronunciation does. It had certainly gone by the time that the Romance languages
began to issue out of the Latin matrix. And the ” New,” or Antiquarian pronunciation,
has serious disadvantages. It is the remotest of all from the modern English pronunciation,
whether of common words or of proper nouns, and therefore to us the least helpful
for derivations and for feeling the continuity of linguistic development. You cannot
sing it. And it does not link us with our fellow-
If one rejects the Antiquarian school of thought, there remain two other possibilities
for English students. There is the “Old” or “Protestant” usage. This probably began
to be used in this country during the fifteenth century, perhaps partly as an anti-
The ” Old ” pronunciation had, however, two very grave drawbacks. It did not pay
any attention to the intrinsic quantity of vowels. One was brought up to decline
bös, bövis, which made it peculiarly hard to remember that the “o” of bös is in fact
long, and the “o” of bövis short when it came to actually scanning them. This also
greatly increased the difficulty of appreciating the music and pattern of quantitative
verse, let alone, I should imagine, of writing it. If the English people had nobody
but themselves to consider, I should feel strongly inclined to advocate a return
to the “Old” pronunciation, but with a readjustment of the conventional vowel-
quantitative values, pronouncing mater, but pater, löcus, manus, mihi (instead of
mihi) and so on, with all consonant and vowel sounds as in English (e.g., the soft
” c ” and ” g ” before “i” and “e,” and the ” j ” and ” v ” as ” j ” and ” v “).
The only awkwardness that I can see would arise with first and second declension
dative and ablative plurals: mensis would give a false quantity — mensees would introduce
a foreign vowel sound, and mensice might need some getting used to. I am quite sure
that for the average child, for whom it is important not to spend too much time and
trouble (not to mention tears) upon the rudiments, this would be by far the quickest,
easiest, and most generally helpful pronunciation to adopt. [Apologies for omitting
Unfortunately, there would still remain the other very serious drawback, arising
out of the fact that the modern English values of a, e, i and u have developed in
a direction which isolates them completely from the values given to those vowels
on the Continent. The more closely we follow the tradition of assimilating the Latin
to the vernacular, the less possible does it become to restore the use of Latin as
a lingua franca. If it appeared in any way possible so to restore it, then I think
it might be better to plump from the start for the ecclesiastical pronunciation,
which can be understood in every country where Latin Mass is sung, even by those
who do not attend Mass. The ecclesiastical Latin is beautiful, singable, and cosmopolitan;
neither does it demand from English Catholics a divided allegiance. Moreover, although
equally with the ” Antiquarian ” usage, it disguises the connection between the modern
English speech and its Latin roots, yet it links us up with our own history ; for
it is to all intents and purposes the Latin spoken by our own countrymen up to the
time of the great vowel-
But, putting the question of pronunciation aside, and supposing that my own experience in this matter had been less unfortunate, where did my Latin education, starting so well as it did, go wrong? Looking back upon it, I feel sure that the trouble was simply that the whole process was far too slow. Why did the French, which I began by hating, haul up so fast upon the Latin, which I began by loving? For two reasons: I was encouraged — not to say compelled — to speak it every day and for a great part of the day. And, more important still, as soon as I had got a hold of the grammar, it presented me with works of literature which were not only in themselves such as to hold a child’s attention, but which were easy enough to be read fluently and quickly, by pages instead of paragraphs at a time, and were written in the same language which I was learning to speak.
All this was, of course, made easy for me by the fact that I was brought up at home
with a French governess. The problem of learning any language conversationally in
school, with little time and large classes, is a baffling one. You cannot possibly
hope to get the same results as by individual teaching. You can give French lessons
in French to the more advanced forms ; and you can encourage the acting of French
plays. You can, no doubt, do as much for Latin, if the number of periods in the week
allotted to this study allows it, and if everybody’s energies are not taken up by
preparing set books for examinations. You cannot, unhappily, send pupils abroad to
Even without conversation, reading might have stimulated the enthusiasm which leads to ease and fluency. But here was the trouble — I could not get on fast enough. And it is my belief that the classical texts of the Augustan Age are simply far too difficult.
They were difficult even in their own day, in the sense that they were elaborate,
literary, and highly artificial. The language of Cicero was not spoken in the streets,
nor even, I fancy, in the drawing-
It can, of course, be done. It was done—in a more leisured age, and for one sex only
of a privileged professional class, and in schools which concentrated on the teaching
of classical languages and on uncommonly little else. But I doubt if it is the right
way of going about it to-
It is being borne in upon me with more and more force and with every year I live
that the greatest single defect of my own Latin education, and that (I expect) of
many other people, is the almost total neglect of those fifteen Christian centuries.
The great reproach cast up against Latin by those who would drive it altogether from
the schools is that it is a dead language. But if it is dead to-
The extent to which the legend of a sculpturesque classicism has fastened upon the
popular English mind is curious and interesting. I find, for example, that the thing
in my own plays which excites most outrage and contempt — not from scholars, who
know better, but from the average semi-
There is another and profounder sense in which the Augustan Latin is felt to be dead. Our civilisation, such as it is, remains in its living bones a Christian civilisation—and the Augustan Latin was never Christian. Even those who most roundly assert that Christianity is dead bring it to the bar of their inherited Christian values, and by the concentrated rage which they bring to its obsequies proclaim that it is in many ways disconcertingly alive. Nobody is either annoyed or delighted over the assertion that Great Pan is dead and the Olympians only myths. And the language in which Augustine of Hippo fought the Manichees and—later, but without breach of continuity—Aquinas defended Aristotle, and Galileo fought Rome for the movement of the earth, is, if dead, dead with a different deadness from that of a language which officially recognises only the Olympians. To set up a great gap in learning and literature between the days of Augustus and the Renaissance is not true to life or history.
And—to go back to my former point—the mediaeval Latin is much easier than the Classical.
Not all of it ; some of it is very crabbed, and there were always, in every age,
men who tried to conform their living Latin to the Latin of the Augustans. But the
true mediaeval Latin is akin to us, with its simplified construction and modern analytical
syntax. The proof of that is that I, who cannot read a page of Virgil or Cicero or
Horace without the pains of the damned, can read Aquinas without more difficulty
than is involved in understanding what he is talking about. When I read Benvenuto
da Imola on Dante, I can pass from Italian text to Latin commentary and scarcely
notice the change-
And lest you should think I know too little to know what I am talking about, I will quote from the preface of a book which I met with only the other day—after I had decided what I was going to say to you. I wish I had known of its existence earlier : it would have solved half my problems for me. That is H. P. V. Nunn’s Introduction to the Study of Ecclesiastical Latin. He says :
” Much of Classical Latin is highly artificial, not to say unnatural, in its modes
of expression. The authors whose works are most generally read wrote for a fastidious
and highly cultivated society of litterateurs . . . and especially under the early
Empire, they wrote with a view to reading their works to admiring circles of friends,
whose applause they hoped to arouse by some novel or far-
And, having said that those who intend to use his book “should possess at the least
a knowledge of the conjugations of Latin verbs and the declensions of Latin nouns
such as may be got from any primer” — and that was what I had, before I was in my
‘teens, he goes on :-
” The author feels confident from experience that those who begin with the Latin Bible and the easier Eccleciastical authors, will be able to go on to the study of the Classics, if they desire to do so, With far more intelligence and profit than if they had tried to approach them without some previous preparation.”
Well, I had begun to think that, but should have been afraid to say it, because I had never tried it, nor known anybody else who had. But his experience, it seems, confirms my instinct. And, after 11, that is the natural way of learning any language — to begin with more modern and go back to the more ancient, even if the ancient is the more noble and curial.
It is true that many people, if started upon the Mediaevals, would, in this hurried century, never have time to go further. Even so, would half a loaf not be better than no bread? Their training in the Vulgate would not enable them to write like Cicero; hat it would be something to be able to write Vulgate Latin. After all, few of us actually ever succeed in writing like Milton or Dr. Johnson ; but to write like Conan Doyle or Eleanor Farjeon is better than never learning to write at all: a plain, homely prose and a tripping verse have their uses. And the Mediaeval Latin at its worst is seldom ignoble; at its best, it is noble indeed.
At twenty years of age, the old-
But ignorance has seldom prevented anybody from laying down the law about how other people ought to run their jobs, and propose impracticable solutions. So I will proceed to offer a few ” constructive suggestions,” as they say, for getting boys and girls reasonably well Latinised with the least possible waste of time and energy.
Catch ‘em young and get the Accidence into them along with the multiplication-
Throw that dreary man Cicero out of the window, and request the divine Virgil (with
the utmost love and respect) to take a seat along with his fellow-
Choose a pronunciation and stick to it.
Start your youngsters off upon the mediaeval syntax and the easiest and simplest mediaeval texts. (Books ? No, I know there are no books. I will come to that later.) Let the reading go as fast as possible, getting on to long, sustained extracts as soon as may be, and using a crib if necessary (except, of course, for Unseens).
If possible, let them speak Latin in class. Let them write simple proses — not about
Caesar’s Gallic Wars, but about their cats and dogs and what they do at home. Don’t
bother too much about style, so long as they get something down ; and if they ask
what is the Latin for “Skye Terrier” or “motor-
Let them get up their classical myths and general background in English. It would
do no harm to introduce them to Ovid and Virgil in a good translation, if you can
find one. Caesar, if you like (though the girls won’t care much about him). How about
the letters of the Younger Pliny, which cover the link-
When the time comes — that is, when they can read with ease and have a decent vocabulary — let them go on to the Augustans in the original, pointing out that these are works of literature and intended to be enjoyed as such. Pick the really exciting, moving and memorable bits, and let them express themselves freely about the sportsmanship displayed at the Funeral Games in honour of Anchises! This is your moment for wrestling with the quantitative metres, and with the difference between Mediaeval and Classical syntax. It should at worst offer little more difficulty than the difference between modern English and the English of Chaucer.
Now as to books. The trouble is, as you rightly say, that even if you could bear
to teach the Mediaeval Latin, there are no annotated texts. Mr. Nunn’s book, which
I have mentioned, contains a useful guide to syntax, and a number of short extracts
from Christian authors covering the period I have in mind, i.e. from the Vulgate
to the Renaissance. (Post-
Being primarily intended for the use of theological students, Mr. Nunn’s extracts
are rather too exclusively ecclesiastical for our purpose, and need supplementing
by some secular texts. Being myself very ignorant, I asked C. S. Lewis about this,
and here are his suggestions:-
For an intelligible narrative poem, what about a chunk out of Waltharius, by Ekkehard,
of St. Gall (tenth century). See a delight-
For prose : Saxo Grammaticus (give them the Hamlet story) ordanes (vel Jornandes) De Rebus Geticis (lots about Attila) ; regorius Turonensis Historic Francorum ; the anonymous Gesta Francorum ( on the First Crusade); Geoffrey of Monmouth (some Arthurian bit) ; and — if you want to include something of the Renaissance — Kepler’s Somnium, which is the first real instance of ” scientifiction.”
To this list one could add immediately a number of the Mediaeval Latin Lyrics, of
which Helen Waddell has given us a selection (though her translations are rather
loose and over-
If you can get your colleagues in the History and English schools to lend a hand with the game by linking these various authors up with their background, so much the better.
What you would need, in addition to Mr. Nunn’s book, is : (a) A book of exercises, to go with the grammar.
(b) A more extended selection of “Late and Mediaeval Latin Unseens for the use of Middle and Upper Forms,” with vocabulary and annotations.
(c) A series of annotated texts, for reading in extenso. These things do not exist;
but they could be written. Nobody, by the way, need be afraid of setting pupils passages
from the Vulgate, on the grounds that it would be over-
Let me end with the famous heart-
Cur ergo Graecam etiam grammaticam oderam talia cantantem? Nam et Homerus peritus texere tales fabulas, et dulcissime vanes est, et mihi tamen amarus erat puero.
Credo etiam Graecis pueris Virgilius ita sit, cum eum sic discere coguntur, ut ego illum. Videlicet difficultas, difficultas omnio discendae, peregrinae linguae, quasi felle aspergebat omnes suavitates Graecas fabulosarum narrationum. Nulla enim verba illa noveram, et saevis terroribus ac poenis ut nossem instabatur mihi vehementer.
(We have abolished the cruel threats and punishments, but boredom is quite as frustrating.) Nam et Latina aliquando infans nulla noveram; et tamen advertendo didici sine ulla meta et cruciatu, inter etiam blandimenta nutri cum et joca arridentium, et laetitias alludentium.
Didici vero illa sine poenali onere urgentium cum me urgeret cor meum ad parienda concepta sua, quae non possem, nisi aliqua verba didicissem, non a docentibus sed a loquentibus, in quorum et egoauribus parturiebam quidquid sentiebam. Hinc satis elucet majorem habere vim ad discenda ista liberam curiositatem, quam meticulosam necessitatem.