Since most boys will do little more than the Four Year’s Course, it is necessary to ask will they have gained from this: whether the results are worth the effort. The question has two parts: What have they learnt? And What is the effect upon their minds?
In the first place, they have gained some knowledge of Roman history and civilisation, upon which ours is based; and they are thus better enabled to put England in her place in the history of the world. So many subjects have to be dealt with in explaining the Latin texts, that a body of knowledge grows up unnoticed, becoming ever more complete as its gaps are filled: history, antiquity, topography, mythology all come in. The Roman remains in our own country, and the contents of of its museums, serve to make the past more real. Then again, they touch directly on the mind and thought of the Roman, by tasting, not much it is true, but enough to serve, of the great works of ancient lliterature. Cicero, Caesar, Tacitus, Livy, Virgil, Horace, Catullus, Martial, are more than names to them; and they have learnt enough t go further if they wish. And they often do wish, although we hear of it only by accident; as I did, when a boy left to go into Vickers Maxim’s firm, and sent home for his Horace. Virgil and Horace are not yet, it is true, a part of their lives if they leave school at 16, as they were a real part of our fathers’ lives, when Pitt and Fox, Peel and Gladstone, knewthem by heart, and Nimrod would always carry a Horace in his pocket on a hunting expedition;but since their reading has given them pleasure, they have been touched by Virgil’s tender feeling, and moved by Horace’s love of country, or tickled by his genial cynicism, and the time will often come when they will apply to the same sources for more. Again, they have gained a real mastery of a language quite unlike their own, which they can understand when they read it, and readily use to express their own thoughts; and there is no better way of making thought clear, and cutting away all accidental excrescences, of seeing the essence under the form, than to express the thoughtin a wholly different language. It is true that the beauties of style will not yet be fully within their understanding; but they can and do feel more than they understand, and literary form at least, so often missing in English books they read, is very clear from the first in Latin, when they learn it by the varying order of words, and the neat balance of phrases.
The reaction upon their own minds is no less truly valuable. There is the confidence in their powers which all men gain from being able to do anything well, which they gain from their increasing ease in expressing their minds in Latin. By unconscious suggestion also, they feel that the Romans were men like themselves, having in large measure the same thoughts and feelings to express, although they chose to do it in so odd a way. And lastly, their associations with all this work are pleasant: an important point, when we remember that their study of Latin is one of their highest attainments in matters intellectual. To leave school, as boys so often do, hating everything intellectual, through memories of meaningless drudgery, is a great misfortune both private and public. But boys properly taught have no memories of meaningless drudgery. They have memories of hard work, but it had a very clear meaning; and hard work done with a will is no unpleasant thing to remember. If they only thought of Virgil as not a bad sort, that would be something to the good; but most of them gain a real respect for the authors they read, as men who have pleased them, and have shown that they could do their work neatly and well. The more intelligent gain far more than that.
These results are definite, and they can never be taken away; while the time spent upon them is a little more than one-sixth of the school hours for less than one-third of their school life. And besides these is the practical benefit, that they are able with less difficulty to learn any language derived from Latin - French, Italian, Spanish, or Portuguese.