He pioneered the use of the Direct Method of teaching Latin. An account of his life
and work by Christopher Stray, entitled The Living Word: W.H.D.Rouse and the Crisis
of Classics in Edwardian England, was published by Bristol Classical Press in 1992
“Rouse had a distinguished career at Cambridge, taking firsts in both parts of the
Classical Tripos, and was a Sanskrit scholar as well as a classicist. After a six-
M.A. Gosling, University of Natal, Durban.
Rouse published a collection of songs in Greek and Latin which he called 'Chanties.'
The Latin part of his book is now available here.
Here are two pieces by Rouse which explain and illustrate his method. And a further piece in which he justifies the learning of Latin.
... For example, the importance of the order of the words in a Latin sentence is brought home to learners from the very first, and becomes quite natural to them, by means of question and answer. Upon order style depends, and if you are taught to realize the meaning of a Latin sentence as it comes, you will then later realise the meaning of a Latin paragraph as the phrases come, without having to hunt over on the next page for the verb, because in classical languages every phrase tells its tale as it goes and its meaning is absolutely clear. The only thing that has to wait, is the relation of those phrases to the others which follow.
To return to the direct method, a simple reading book is begun early, and then the words are explained so far as possible by Latin words already known, where they cannot be explained by the thing, the act or a picture. It is found in practice that a large vocabulary of words can be built up without using English, and that by and by it becomes possible to explain new things with the old words. Very soon all the explaining is done in Latin, and we are always careful even at the beginning if we use English words to apologise for them by adding anglice or ut aiunt, to keep up the illusion of a Latin world. In the first year in this manner, taking one lesson a day, the whole accidence is gone through, together with the simple sentence. In the second, the compound sentence. In the third year an untouched Latin author is begun—although in the reading book there have been a number of simple poems untouched, such as those of Martial or Catullus which are within the faculty of a beginner. In this third year is begun free composition and the recital of stories. In the fourth year the more formal translation from English into Latin is adopted, and that fourth year nearly ends the Latin course for those who do not take it as a speciality ; they do perhaps two or three Latin lessons a week in their succeeding years, but they do not leam very much new. However, a boy who has passed through that course will have done portions of some of the chief writers, Cicero, perhaps Caesar, Virgil, Tacitus, Horace, some poems of Martial and Catullus.
In the sixth form the staple work is reading aloud. Everything is based on that, and the greatest pains are taken to have it done well, with due observance of quantity and expression. If that be done from the beginning, it is very easy to tell when the reader understands and when he does not. A wrong division of words will show you that he does not, as well as doubtful intonation. I should rather have said when he thinks he understands, because he sometimes does think so wrongly. The master should know by experience, and he must make it his business to know, where in any given author or sentence a boy is likely to make a mistake, and he must guard against that by asking a question. Then having questioned as regards the meaning of a wrongly read passage, if the passage be then rightly read, pass on. There is no need to delay over it.
Details, of course, are missed in this way. It is quite possible that details may be missed even under the current system of teaching. I have known it happen! But I only mention that to show, that we are quite aware of the weak points, and we guard against them.
Then, of course, there are the occasional examinations, which consist largely of translation into English and similar tests. In beginning a new author it is wise to have a good deal translated into English, until you are confident that his style is familiar, and that a reasonable degree of accuracy will be got.
All new work is done in school, and that is a matter which has important results. For one thing, any good point, neat point, is enjoyed very much more. When you have a boy working by himself in his study with a dictionary, perhaps tired, he sees a point; it may interest him ; but when he sees it for the first time in class in the morning when he is fresh, with his master there instead of a dictionary, and with comrades who also see it, the. enjoyment is intensified very much. It is the difference between reading a good joke in Punch in bed and laughing at the ceiling, or reading it with your friends and having a good guffaw together.
Another result is, that nobody is afraid of cribs. No crib can tell a boy what questions I am going to ask him as we read the text. If he chooses to use a translation to revise, it really does him no harm, so long as the translation is good.
Then we ensure the new work being done, and not being done by a company but being done by each ; because although you may not perhaps have thought of it, it is a fact that by the direct method every boy from the very beginning is trained to attention, and that it is possible to tell when the boy is attending and when he is not. They always do attend if they are properly handled.
The first is grammar. You have already heard how that is dealt with, taught after use. I mention it particularly, because you will frequently hear it said, that under the direct method grammar is not taught. It must be taught and must be leamt in the end under every method.The only question is,when, in what degree, and in what place.
The second is composition. Composition in the proper sense means expressing yourself
in the language concerned : not only the narrow sense of translation into Latin and
Greek from English; that is always going on from the very beginning in the class
room, and what is heard by the ear is then repeated by the tongue, written down by
the hand, and seen with the eye, so that there are four senses to reinforce the impression.
I think it is common-
Occasional exercises of translation from English into Latin of catchy sentences, to illustrate constructions, are quite good, so long as they are occasional. No harm is done, and good is done, by this, if they are brought in when the boys know why, and realise that the translating of these sentences helps them. That is quite a different thing from making it the staple of the work.
In the third year the master tells a story, as I have already said, and the boys repeat it, first of all reproducing it almost exactly by imitation, and then embroidering it. If he gives them a sketch, they enlarge upon it. The same may be done with the aid of pictures. Lastly, easy pieces of English, so "cooked" that they will go simply into Latin without much change, are used in the fourth year.
When the boys get into the sixth form, a great gulf has to be bridged. Of course, to jump from that sort of work to the translation of pieces of unaltered English literature, is a very big jump, too big to take at once. The way that we have found useful to bridge this gulf is, at the beginning to set, as a daily exercise, a summary to be written in Latin of the text read that day in the school room. Supposing 250 lines have been read, a summary of that is to be written in Latin prose extending for perhaps a sheet of twenty or thirty lines. The boys are directed to use the words and constructions of the author as far as possible, and to train themselves by degrees to do it from memory. By that means new words are added to the vocabulary, in addition to the learning of new idiom. Afterwards English pieces are given, a few at first and more later, to translate in the usual way.
But I think the most striking effect in this department of the direct method, is
seen in the writing of verses. Verses are done by ear without preliminary exercises.
When the first piece of verse is read, the boys are taught the principles of scansion
and quantity; but after that nothing more is necessary excepting careful reading
aloud, and by the careful reading aloud it is possible to do quite good verses at
the first try. I have kept a large number of these exercises, and I find .that the
very first exercise shows very few, almost no faults, except such as the wrong position
of the accent, or a word of wrong length at the end of a line, faults that have only
to be pointed out to be avoided. The first exercise also shows who has a bad ear
and who has a good ear. There are very few who are unable to write verses, I should
think not one in fifty, although there are not many of them first-
Lastly there is translation into English. Here you must remember there are two sorts of translation, one which is a test, and the other which is an art. The test is used by masters for their own sakes, to discover whether their pupils have understood what they have been reading. When that has been satisfactorily shown, there is no further need to use it at all.
As an art it requires some special consideration. To know how to render a Latin text into English of good style and if possible of a style something resembling the original, wants consideration, but a very few lessons are enough to give the cue to those who are taught to do Latin well by itself and English well by itself. I should also like to add that if boys understand a thing, they never find any difficulty in expressing the meaning. Sometimes the rendering may be a little uncouth, but it is always clear, if they understand it. Muddled expressions and bad style are due to not understanding, and to that pernicious habit of construing—continually shifting the attention from Latin to English—which enables one to talk the most arrant nonsense without realizing it. The most remarkable fact about the direct method is that there never is any nonsense ; you will hardly deny, I think, that it is a common thing in ordinary schools.
Unseen translation does not play a special part in the direct method, because all the work is practically dealing with unseens. I have never found it necessary to do more than a few exercises, in the last term before boys go in for their scholarship, to teach them to do so much in the hour, and also to see whether perhaps there may be some gap in their knowledge that wants to be filled up. In the earlier stages, the translation of unseens is sometimes, but very rarely, used. It is not a useful thing at all, unless the unseen is very much easier than the text that they are in the habit of reading. To do an unseen, and to make a mess of it, is one of the most discouraging things the boy can do.
The method then with the sixth form is very much like that which you would see in
any good French lesson, a lesson on Moliere, we will say, conducted by a Frenchman
in French. Discussion is just as possible in Latin. If the boys are well encouraged
to do their part, it is more like a conversation of intelligent friends over a dinner-
In summing up the facts, I would first of all call attention to the saving of time ; since every lesson is entirely a lesson in Latin, it is obvious that the practice in that language will be very considerably more than if you have the greater part of it expressed in English. If the master chooses, he can bring in anything he wants to practise and stick to it for a week. If at the end of that time it is not pretty well known, I should be very much surprised.
But the most important thing of all is the effect on the temper of the learners. It is not true to say, of course, that whenever boys are happy they are being well taught, but I think it is true to say that if they are not happy, they are not being well taught. I think that a test of good teaching is the temper of the taught. That is why I never can believe that our mathematical friends have got the right way of teaching mathematics (though I do not know what it is) because you hardly ever find a boy who does not hate it. From the very beginning it is a fact, that boys taught under the direct method are happy, and like to do it. First impressions are most important things in teaching, as Quintilian knew, and first impressions are the chief impressions which the boy will carry away with him into life. Instead of thinking of his school work, as he often does, as a series of horrible gloomy tasks, his memories will be of pleasant hours which he thoroughly enjoyed. If you remember that Latin is, for some boys, the highest intellectual exercise he has ever had or ever will have, you will see that these pleasant memories would be transferred to intellectual work. Hence the indirect results are very important.
In conclusion may I just mention the four statements which always meet us when we are discussing the direct method.
The first is that it is morally good for a boy to have to do what he dislikes. I do not know whether it is morally bad for him to have to do what he likes, but that seems to be implied too. Anyhow if the masters who make this statement apply the same rules to themselves, they must either be very gloomy folk or else very immoral.
Secondly comes our old friend mental gymnastic. It is very important that there should be mental gymnastic, but you will get mental gymnastic whenever your mind is exercised, and the difference between meaningless exercises of the mind and the direct method, is the difference between the treadmill, which is excellent for bodily gymnastic, and a morris dance, or a game of football. The game of football is harder work than the treadmill, but it is enjoyed. So the direct method is really harder work than the old method ; the mind is more exercised than by learning a meaningless table, but is not so much wearied.
The third is — and this was put very forcibly at the Headmasters' Conference—that
the current system of teaching classics is fool-
The last thing that is always said, which I have already answered, is that a few
men have a gift for this kind of thing, but the majority of men have not. Of course,
that is quite untrue. The truth is, as I have said, that anyone with intelligence,
who will take trouble, is quite able to do the thing in a first-
M. Salvete, pueri.
P. Salve tu quoque (mixto horrisono fragore).
M. Quid hoc bonist?
P1. Gravedine laboro.
M. Immo tussi, immo pituita.
P2. Immo tonitru!
P3. *Caelo tonantem credidimus lovem regnare, sed idem regnat in naso tuo.
M. Impius es, O Nugipalamloquides tu ! At tu, non debebas foras ire, non oportuit te foras ire, non decuit, non par erat, haud erat aequum.
P3. Paene hexametrum fecisti, magister.
M. Inscius equidem : poeta nascitur, non fit.
P3. Do tibi praemium (dat cartam pictam—risus).
M. Accipio donum amplissimum, et gratias reddo quam maximas : quod felix faustumque sit!
Sed quae est hodiemae recitationis materies?
P3. Titi Livi Liber tricesimus quartus.
P3. "Inter bellorum magnorum aut vix finitorum aut imminentium curas intercessit res parva dictu, sed quae studiis in magnum certamen excesserit. M. Fundanius et L. Valerius tribuni plebi ad plebem tulerunt de Oppia lege abroganda."
P4. Oppia lex quae fuit?
M. Mox audies. Perge.
P3. "Tulerat earn C. Oppius tribunus plebis Q. Fabio T. Sempronio consulibus, in medio ardore Punici belli, ne qua mulier plus semunciam auri naberet, neu vestimento versicolori uteretur, neu iuncto vehiculo in urbe oppidove aut propius inde mille passus nisi sacrorum causa veheretur."
P4. Heu ! quid mulieres dixerunt?
M. Tum quidem nihil, in medio ardore belli; amabant enim patriam magis. Quo autem anno? Invenies in dictionario antiquitatum.
P5. (quaerit). Anno ante Christum ducentesimo quinto decimo.
Sed addit, "vide sumptuarias leges". Quaenam sunt illae?
M. De sumptu, ne quis sumat scilicet, insumat, impendat, expendat, nimium pecuniae in luxuria, nempe vestitu, cibo, vino, et ceteris rebus huiusmodi: ne sumptus faciat.—Sed nonne est aliud quid rogandum?
P6. "Studiis" non liquet. Nonne hic nos studia agitamus?
M. Habes in mente et auribus Anglicum "study", sed cave.
Non est idem "occupy" et "occupo".
P8. Neque "necktie" et "necto" (risus).
M. Bene memoras tu quidem.—Sed ubi amamus aliquid aut odimus, ubi rei operam damus non sine motu animi, studium inest. Verbi gratia, cum petitores suffragia ambiunt petentes, sunt maxima studia hinc illinc.
P6. Intellego. Hi amabant Oppiam, hi oderant. Aliud autem est: "plebi"? Nonne debet esse "plebis"?
M. Licebat utrumque dicere antiqua lingua.
P7. Et "semundam"? An valet dimidiam unciam?
P8. (novus homo). Sed non intellego ne "unciam" quidem.
[Novos nominabanms pueros primi in Sexta anni.]
P9. Unda est fere idem anglice, scilicet "ounce" ; et libra continebat duodedm uncias.
M. Itaque est unda duodedma pars aliarum quoque rerum, ut assis. Quis meminit partes assis?
P10. As, deunx, dextans, dodrans, bes, septunx, semis vel semissis, quincunx, triens, quadrans, sextans, uncia.
M. Et haec valent tantasdem particulas aliarum quoque rerum.
Habent quoque duos alios usus. Numquis scit?
P10. Usus hereditarius alter est, sed nescio alterum.
M. Usus bibentium ! Dicunt enim "uncias bibunt", vel "besses", et cetera, semper pluraliter: scilicet tot cyathos vim ex duodecim. Nonne meministi carminis? "Nam sic bibitur ..."
Omnes. "Nam sic bibitur, nam sic bibitur,
In cenis principum-
M. *Sed quid de hereditate? Quid valet heredem facere totius rei?
P10. *Ex asse facere heredem.
P10. 'Ex semisse.
M. *Unius et dimidii? (risus).
P10 *Fieri non potest.
M. *Sed si fieri posset? (nullum responsum).
P10. *An tu invenisti hoc ex animo?
M. *Non. Meministi "sesquipedalia verba"?
P10 *Memini! intellego! Sed "novi" nostri non intelligunt—sunt sesquiaselli! (risus).
M. Sed quantam excursionem fecimus, quantum de via digressi sumus!
P11. Si non molestumst, licetne aliud interrogare?
M. Licet profecto, immo debes rogare.
P11. Quid sibi volt "iuncto vehiculo"?
M. Equos vehiculo iungunt, inde fit iunctum vehiculum. lam ad Oppiam, precor. Perge, tu.
P13. "Capitolium turba hominum faventium adversantiumque legi complebatur. Matronae nulla nec auctoritate, nec verecundia, nec imperio virorum contineri limine poterant: omnes vias urbis aditusque in forum obsidebant, viros descendentes ad forum orantes, ut florente republica, crescente in dies privata omnium fortuna, matronis quoque pristinum ornatum reddi paterentur. Augebatur haec mulierum frequentia in dies ; nam etiam ex oppidis conciliabulisque conveniebant. lam et consules praetoresque et alios magistratus adire et rogare audebant; ceterum minime exorabilem alterum utique consulem, M. Porcium Catonem, habebant, qui pro lege, quae abrogabatur, ita disseruit."
P13. Id quod etiam nunc faciunt mulieres, ius suffragii petentes!
[Ante bellum enim haec dicebantur, ubi nondum datum est ius suffragi mulieribus.]
M. Ita, etiamque peiora. Nonne se catenis portae curiae constringunt, canuntque magna voce—"Suffragia date mulieribus!" Sed scribetis mihi domi oratiunculam de hac re.— Dic tu breviter quid sit compendium huius loci.
P14. Mulieres tumultum fecerunt, ut pristinus sibi status redderetur, liceretque sibi plus semunciam auri habere, vehiculo iuncto vehi, vestitu versicolore uti : magna erant studia faventium atque adversantium ...
P16. Hoc nomen Porcius ludicrum sonat.
M. Revocat in mentem sane Porcum. Sed nonne sunt apud nos quoque talia in usu? Apud Romanus erat Corvus—erat Scipio Asina—erat Aquila—erant duo Mures, et magnanimi quidem, non ridiculi mures. Multa autem nomina de corporis facie.
P16. Qui lingua titubat.
P17. Sine coma!
M. Naso? Nasica?
P9. Cum longo naso.
M. Varus? (nullum responsum}. Cruribus ita distortis, ut genua alterum alteri appropinquet. Sed perge tu.
P4. (xlii. 4). "Praetoria inde comitia habita ; creati P. Cornelius Scipio et duo Cn. Comelii, Merenda et Blasio, et Cn. Domitius Ahenobarbus, et Sex. Digitius et T. luventius Thalna". (ridet).
M. *Non compos videris esse corporis, nam semper sine causa rides.
P4. *At ecce aliud nomen, Ahenobarbus! ecce aliud, Digitius !
M. *Quot igitur digitos habuit?
P4. *Sex !! (risus). Ita stat in textu !
M. Claudite iam rivos, pueri, sat prata biberunt. Valete.
P. Vale tu quoque.
[Manifestum est hanc scaenam ex duabus compressam esse : sed cui malo? Idem fecit Plautus contaminando.]