Thursday, May 12, 2016


All One Man Can Do for Another

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), "A Letter to Michael's Schoolmaster," Explorations (London: Macmillan, 1962), pp. 320-321:
Dear Sir,
    My son is now between nine and ten and should begin Greek at once and be taught by the Berlitz method that he may read as soon as possible that most exciting of all stories, the Odyssey, from that landing in Ithaca to the end. Grammar should come when the need comes. As he grows older he will read to me the great lyric poets and I will talk to him about Plato. Do not teach him one word of Latin. The Roman people were the classic decadence, their literature form without matter. They destroyed Milton, the French seventeenth and our own eighteenth century, and our schoolmasters even to-day read Greek with Latin eyes. Greece, could we but approach it with eyes as young as its own, might renew our youth. Teach him mathematics as thoroughly as his capacity permits. I know that Bertrand Russell must, seeing that he is such a featherhead, be wrong about everything, but as I have no mathematics I cannot prove it. I do not want my son to be as helpless. Do not teach him one word of geography. He has lived on the Alps, crossed a number of rivers and when he is fifteen I shall urge him to climb the Sugar Loaf. Do not teach him a word of history. I shall take him to Shakespeare's history plays, if a commercialised theatre permit, and give him all the historical novels of Dumas, and if he cannot pick up the rest he is a fool. Don't teach him one word of science, he can get all he wants in the newspapers and in any case it is no job for a gentleman. If you teach him Greek and mathematics and do not let him forget the French and German he already knows you will do for him all one man can do for another. If he wants to learn Irish after he is well founded in Greek, let him—it will clear his eyes of the Latin miasma. If you will not do what I say, whether the curriculum or your own will restrain, and my son comes from school a smatterer like his father, may your soul lie chained on the Red Sea bottom.
Thanks to Ian Jackson, who writes:
It's a passage reprinted from Pages from a Diary Written in Nineteen Hundred and Thirty (Dublin, Cuala Press, 1944). A new passage, dated September 13th begins on page 322, so what you have here is everything, and may be dated to September 12th.
Related post: I Don't Want To Die An Idiot.

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