The Association for Latin Teaching

respice prospice

In Memoriam


Late Headmaster of the Perse School

Cambridge And

Founder of the Association

for the Reform of Latin Teaching

Died 10th February 1950

 I remember Dr. W.H.D. Rouse as a very fine scholar (I could never fault him), a brilliant original teacher, and one who got through an enormous amount of work in publications and reading (he was University Reader in Sanscrit).  

His discovery that classical languages could be taught by the Direct Method caused a sensation, and, reinforced by S.O. Andrew and the Whitgift School, he seemed about to carry all before him when the A.R.L.T. was founded after the great Summer School at Cambridge in 1913.  

That brilliant prospect was clouded by the loss of Paine and Mainwaring in the First World War; but Rouse carried on in Summer Schools from 1919, and he continued to prove that the Direct Method made the dead languages come alive - also, of course, that Greek should be read with a tonic accent.  

He was not good at public relations - he could not get on with Inspectors, who were suspicious and slow, and he weakened the usefulness of his procedure by avoiding public examinations.  He was in general overlooked by the University - dons never went round to the Perse to see what it was all about, though he always welcomed enquirers such as myself.  His old Perseans, Peckett and Lockwood, showed how his ideas worked in their own schools - but great classical scholars never tried to learn from him, dismissing his work as heresy,and never bothering to tackle his working restoration of the tonic accent - without which Greek cannot be read.  Well, we still have the A.R.L.T. and the Priory School.

F.R. Dale


     I first saw Dr. Rouse in March 1910, when I had to read to him at the exam where, with Arthur Heffer, I was elected Foundation Scholar.  We next met in his study, when I gave him my details, and he was delighted to learn that he and my father crossed every morning on their way to work.  Two years later I was in his Greek beginners’ class, where the Greek Boy made us at once at home in Athens, though all else has faded out except immediate acceptance of accents.  For any mistake he corrected orally, the culprit repeated him twice and the class once, after which it was almost impossible to get it wrong.  Next year he took us in his study for advanced Latin syntax, telling us tales of Noctuinus (Eulenspiegel), each instalment stressing, say, Quin and Quominus, or Concessive Clauses, and homework was always to write the story without using any of his sentences,but introducing as often as possible the grammar in question.

In my fifth year I was admitted to the Lower Sixth, which for the first two periods every morning joined the Upper Sixth for rapid reading of Greek on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Latin Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. We happened to start with Olynthiacs and, I believe Odes, and Demosthenes and Horace taxed newcomers taken at the pace of boys about to win Open Scholarships in December, and without a word of English unless demanded of someone suspected of letting go a line not understood.  He like one to be prose and the other poetry, though when he or we had enough of an author, he changed to another he or the class felt requisite for the twenty unseens then set in Cambridge Scholarships.  Sufficient copies of plain texts of all the usual and many less read authors were on the shelves behind us, but we were encouraged to buy second-hand of David or university booksellers.  Overnight he had to write a Compendium or Perioche of the day’s reading, and again ipsissima verba were taboo, but a prose author’s style had to be imitated: Herodotus or Sallust could be fun.  One holiday task I wrote Tacitus Histories Book VI, translating Sir Edward Grey’s White Paper on the Outbreak of War in 1914.  First period on Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons he took the Upper Sixth in harder authors like Juvenal or Pindar, even LXX and Patres Apostolici, Minucius on to Boethius.

Every week we had to learn a score of line, verse or prose, and as with Compendia, no one knew he would be called on publicly, but I got away with learning only “O fons Bandusiae” in all my four years in the Sixth.  I confessed this to him when he came to Oxford to address the Ascham Society, and at once had to repeat it, and for the rest of his life in whatever company we met I had to say it again.  Each week we had a Greek or Latin prose with Verses in the other language, and two unseens the other way round, and third period in the morning we sat in Hall at private work, and were individually called up to his desk for work returned with criticism and his printed fair copy.  I can still hear his stentorian Will-mott! As well as my friend’s plaintive “ I am not EEEZAAARD but Ezzad!”  Next week’s work, also printed as a rule, was carefully chosen for the individual, but occasionally he would say: “Do a leading article into Cicero or Demosthenes”, or “Your favourite Shakespeare passage into Sophocles” or “Milton into Virgil”.  Once fluent in Iambics and Latin Hexameters and lyrics, hendecasyllables and anacreontics, and he was especially pleased with a good epigram in either language or indeed English.  I well remember the son of the Master of Caius producing:

τὸn dnide, nomine  G,

dum condit in urbe epigramma,

heu!  forte covinus

secat.  ille supinus

καὶ nun, ait, emὶ F.

On Quicherat verifying covinus  as a British chariot, “Insere!” Was the royal command to copy in the Album, now in Mr Peckett’s possession.

During the war howlers were fined a penny a time in the Smokes for Soldiers and Sailors box, and one or two of his coppers went in despite his plea “Quod licet Iovi non licet bovi”.  (Sed tu es Bos!” answered Heffer.  “Et tu bos minimus!” said Orbilius.  “Minima!” said I.  “Hef a care!” was final.)  Heffer  once had a surreptitious Iliad Pro Bohno Publico under his desk, and betraying it by a snigger, was commanded to read out  what amused him.  “They sacrificed unto Zeus twain dun beeves.  Scin, Orbili, quid Iovi displicuerit?  They were underdone”.

Rouse would proudly show us his offprints from the Christ’s magazine like the Oxodrinkers’ Papyri, or more serious papers, but his university work was mostly in Sanscrit and Zend, the bases of of his reformed pronunciations, though he spent holidays in a Turkish hajji’s fishing boat in the Aegean carefully noting dialects in forgotten pockets of islands and headlands.  He assumed static standards, so that Cicero spoke like Plautus two centuries earlier or Tacitus one later, and that Greek consonants were untouched by mutation, despite the Parian Marble.  Later he agreed some of my researches but without changing his practice.

Before our world where wrong religion is a root of evil, Rouse in Glebe House boarded Indian princes and French or Brazilian rich men’s sons to work and play together, and next door at Hillel House, Jews and Moslems lived in peaceful understanding.  He took a wartime commission in the Corps, and one morning the boarders cycled ahead of him ventre a terre with the news that he was coming in uniform but wearing his habitual bowler, and the whole school turned out to cheer him puzzled into the playground.  While he put away his bike, we sneaked into the study, where duly entering he disappeared behind a map, demanding the porter.  Naturally, the Pelican cricket critique made much of our unbeatable change bowler.  One morning he did not come, and next day we elicited he had dined and dined at Rugby, where he had been Sixth Form Master, and in the Bletchley train he fell asleep and woke at Euston.  Sympathetic porters showed him the Bletchley train connecting with the last for Cambridge, and he woke at Rugby!

Once he asked me what I was doing at the weekend, and sent me to stay with Miall, emeritus professor of Science at Leeds, who at 98, with his wife at 97, wished to brush up their Latin, and very lively they were.  Like many Edwardian headmasters he had a classical bias, but our scientists ran to J.J. Thompson and others of that stature, with at one time four heads of houses.  A Open Scholar had to ask a half-holiday for the School, and when Bird, then Head Boy, came in for this, there was a chorus of !Avis a dextra!”  But when parents called him from class for an interview, it was !Alia femina!”  Someone short-sighted, now Canon of the Church, obviously beaten by “Ubi vidit vacuam sedem Romuli” in Livy Translation of Romulus, when all else were going on, was told “Anglice!” And gave: “When he saw Romulus sitting on a cow!”  When uproar subsided, “Explica!” - “Vaccam et sedem apponuntur!”

Perhaps my finest experience was reading Virgil to Robert Bridges, with Goronwy Jones doing Homer, but I fear the Laureate’s imitations were spurious.  Caldwell Cook, with the help of Poel and Forbes-Robertson, founded the Perse Players, destined to produce Leslie Howard, Marius Goring and Peter Hall.  Extempore acting in class of tales of Norse gods or Cavalier and Roundhead, followed by the actors writing up their parts at home to be criticised by all next day, was then an innovation.  The best were performed at Speech Day and published.

His school was inspected but once, when he so resented Livingstone’s criticism that he never allowed it again, and recommended failed schoolmasters to become inspectors or, failing that, Directors of Education.  When I went to Priory I had a meal with Livingstone every other year and saw him at other times.  He gave me his offivcial report, and I attempted to implement his constructive suggestions.  Sedeo for “I sit down” made him suspect to scholars, and my surviving notebooks are not always sound, for example, Greek double negatives, and he wholly rejected textual criticism, once going through Jebb’s Sophocles with us to show each emendation due to misconstruction of the text.  But dons joined his staff to practise Direct Method, though W.H.S. Jones realised his limitations and went back to St. Catharine’s, and Louis de Glehn did not survive inspection after Rouse restired.  Appleton tried to introduce Set Books with Sixth, and this failed, but his Latin tea parties at the batchelor masters’ quarters in Lyndewode House, my old dame school, were uproarious.

Rouse roamed the countryside on horseback, and came thus to camp at Hedingham Castle, entertaining us to Little Billee and the like in a thin pipe.  He wrote me a charming letter on my marriage, and was always ready to criticise one’s work, conservatively maybe, for classical scholars tend to regard a thing as right only if it has been done before and accepted.

I tried hard to get him to stop doing Loeb Translations and Homer, and turn to original work, but it wasa too late, and the nearest he came was his fragmentary autobiography in Scenes of Sixth Form Life.  Cecil Sharp was his friend, and Saturday mornings ended with Folk Songs in Hall for the whole school.  Folk dance, morris and sword, were regular, and May Day the troop performed in Letchworth.  Dr Peck of Christ’s still perpetuates this activity.  Miss Dudley Ward the artist taught Sixth Form original art long before it became fashionable and frivolous.

An old man’s memory errs, so was it he or my father who used to repeat Terence? - “Homo sum: humani nihil a mealienum puto”.


Grocourt, 26th June 1967.


All those who have derived refreshment from the annual Summer Schools of the Association for the Reform of Latin Teaching whether as teachers of Latin or merely at human beings - and the number who are prepared to admit either or both is considerable - are in some sense Dr. Rouse’s debtors.  All schools held between 1911 and 1945 included him; only wars prevented them; and as late 1946 he paid a short visit to his last.  The shape and content of these schools, the aims and to some extent even the atmosphere are still influenced by his direction: and most of us try to build a mental picture of the man, feeling slightly jealous of those who knew him.

As a schoolboy I was once discussing P.H. Pearse and his Modh Direach at Scoil Eanna 1908-1916;  “Oh yes”, I was told, “that is what Rouse used to do with Latin”.  At Cambridge both before and after the war, I think, there were Newnham undergraduates going regularly to Histon to learn about Pindar and other subjects.  But my first Summer School, though he was still alive, came after he had ceased to attend.  Later, as editor living knee-deep in backnumbers, browsing, selecting matter to reprint in the Jubilee number, I found the picture filling out.  The snapshots shewn in an album at Summer Schools, the strangely underrated Linguaphone gramaphone records, the obituaries in Latin Teaching June 1950 and in the Pelican, March 1950, all contribute and add to the portrait of a most unusual man who went very much his own way.

There are curious contrasts there: “the greatest headmaster of his time” - Times Educational Supplement; “pioneer as he was at the beginning of the century, in many ways he stayed there.  The changes in educational conditions were never …. Quite real to him” - Latin Teaching, June 1950.  There is sometimes a suggestion of Betjeman’s most poignant poem “The Old Liberals”.  A fascinating article reprinted in the Jubilee number seemed at some points ready to earn him the epithet “Fascist”.  Yet far more frequent hints and his devotion to Pindar might suggest that these two positions would have been equally repugnant to him.  Devotion to Prose and Verse Composition did not mean any slighting of the cultural value of the Classics.  One is tempted to ask when and where it did; but in 1967 this may be included as a contrast.  The four contributions reprinted here, together with the three reprinted in 1963 - a number still available in fair quantity - will give an opportunity for reappraisal.  Many far less interesting men have been the heroes of successful biographies.

Then there are his books.  What a welcome and useful contribution to Latin Teaching would be a rough bibliography of Rouse, with special notes on present or recent availability.  A casual visit to a “paper-back shop” revealed two in recent American reprints: The March Up-Country and a book of Greek legends.  The shortened Iliad and Odyssey and The Argonauts are still in use in Humanities courses.  The Lingua Latina series edited by Rouse, including the Ludi Persici and S.O. Andrew’s invaluable Praeceptor are not difficult to come by second-hand.  I saw a fair selection of these the other day in the “Staffs” Book-shop near Litchfield Cathedral.  Damon, I rather think, is in print - a relic of his Cheltenham days; but the splendid Demonstrations, the Scenes of Sixth Form Life and even the Chanties are difficult.

The influence then is still felt even outside the A.R.L.T.  For instance the steadily rising standards of accuracy in reading competitions is in some sense attributable to Rouse.  Rouse has still one contribution to make.  Though accents are - so rumour has it - about to take a nasty knock with the appearance of Vox Graeca, I would venture to suggest that by 2000 a Greek play without accents will be as rare as a Greek play in the English pronunciation is now.  Who would have thought it possible in the thirties that English pronunciation would so soon become old-fashioned, almost a joke?

John R.C.Richards

Three obtuaries :

F.R. Dale

Bernard Wilmott - Orbilius Remembered

John Richards - “A Living Influence”