Thursday, February 05, 2015


Richard Shilleto (1809-1876)

W.E. Heitland (1847-1935), After Many Years: A Tale of Experiences & Impressions Gathered in the Course of an Obscure Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1926; rpt. 2013), pp. 129-130:
But I had some coaching, one Term indeed with Shilleto, at that time the leading Classical teacher.

It may be not wholly uninteresting to describe the proceedings at No 1 Scrope Terrace, for it may safely be said that we shall not see you their like again. My experience was perhaps somewhat abnormally grotesque, for I could only get an evening hour, the last of his long laborious day. For many years he had led a most exhausting life, coaching single pupils from 9 am to 8 or 9 pm, with short intervals for meals. His habits had told upon an originally tough constitution, and he looked older than his real age. He did not smoke, but took snuff freely. Several snuff-boxes were about the room, presents from old pupils, but he could never lay his hand on them when wanted, so generally drew his pinch from a large tinfoil packet that stood in the middle of the table. On each such occasion, he needed a handkerchief and that speedily. It was somewhere on the floor, among the books with which the whole room was littered. In the search for it he was apt to catch his foot in a book and sneeze prematurely; I have known him get an awkward fall in the attempt. Found and used, the handkerchief was dropped on the floor again in the line of traffic as he wandered to and fro. It was understood that during the day he drank a quantity of tea: at night, when I saw him, a pint pot of beer stood handy on a pedestal. When it was low ebb in this vessel, he placed it in a pigeon-hole close to the door, and rang the bell. Soon a stealthy hand withdrew it and put it back refilled. So much liquid refreshment entailed other embarrassing phenomena. Among these various doings the work went on. Criticism of an exercise consisted chiefly in telling you what you had done wrong and what you had better have written; that is what would have been sound Latin or Greek according to the usages of the language (particularly Greek) recognized by scholars. He spoke with authority, and the outpouring of references (by chapter section or line), without opening a book, simply took your breath away. If you turned them out afterwards, lo they were correct. Truly an astounding feat of memory. In his own kind he was unrivalled, and other teachers bowed before the first scholar in England. But whether it would have been well to enjoy a great deal of this instruction may be doubted.
Oscar Browning (1837-1923), Memories of Sixty Years at Eton, Cambridge, and Elsewhere (London: John Lane, 1910), p. 43:
In October, 1858, Richard Claverhouse Jebb came up to Cambridge, a purely Celtic genius, like a flame of fire....He was a marvellous scholar, in some respects the best that our country has ever produced. His faculty lay in a perfect manipulation of the Greek, Latin and English languages, so that he could turn any English into faultless Greek or Latin, and any Latin or Greek into eloquent and forcible English. In these exploits Monro stands near him, but does not surpass him. It is said that when he took his first Latin verses to Shilleto, the great coach reluctantly admitted that Jebb could write Latin verses, but he wished to see his prose. When the prose arrived, equally good, he said, "He can write Latin, but let us see his Greek." When Jebb's Greek came, still better than the Latin, Shilleto knew not what to say, but he never praised him, he preferred pupils whose faults he was able to correct.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson, who adds, "These magic pigeon-holes should be installed in every home. And where should a pint pot of foaming ale better rest than on a pedestal?"

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