Sunday, January 01, 2012


Jane Welsh Learns Latin

Geraldine Jewsbury, quoted in Thomas Carlyle, Reminiscences, ed. Charles Eliot Norton (London: Macmillan and Co., 1887), I, 55, 57 (on Jane Welsh Carlyle):
She was anxious to learn lessons like a boy; and, when a very little thing, she asked her father to let her 'learn Latin like a boy.' Her mother did not wish her to learn so much; her father always tried to push her forwards; there was a division of opinion on the subject. Jeannie went to one of the town scholars in Haddington and made him teach her a noun of the first declension ('Penna, a pen,' I think it was). Armed with this, she watched her opportunity; instead of going to bed, she crept under the table, and was concealed by the cover. In a pause of conversation, a little voice was heard, 'Penna, a pen; pennae, of a pen;' etc., and as there was a pause of surprise, she crept out, and went up to her father saying, 'I want to learn Latin; please let me be a boy.' Of course she had her own way in the matter.


She made great progress in Latin, and was in Virgil when nine years old. She always loved her doll; but when she got into Virgil she thought it shame to care for a doll. On her tenth birthday she built a funeral pile of lead pencils and sticks of cinnamon, and poured some sort of perfume over all, to represent a funeral pile. She then recited the speech of Dido, stabbed her doll and let out all the sawdust; after which she consumed her to ashes, and then burst into a passion of tears.

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