Saturday, July 26, 2014


Learning Greek and Latin, or Not

Edward Bulwer Lytton (1803-1873), England and the English (Paris: A. and W. Galignani, 1833), pp. 170-171:
I see, sir, you yet think Greek and Latin are excellent things, are worth the sacrifice of all else. Well, then, on this ground let us meet you. Your boy will go to Eton to learn Greek and Latin; he will stay there eight years (having previously spent four at a preparatory school), he will come away, at the end of his probation, but what Latin or Greek will he bring with him? Are you a scholar yourself, examine then the average of young men of eighteen; open a page of some author they have not read, have not parrot-like got by heart; open a page in the dialogues of Lucian, in the Thebaid of Statius. Ask the youth, you have selected from the herd, to construe it as you would ask your daughter to construe a page of some French author she has never seen before, a poem of Regnier, or an exposition in the Esprit des Lois. Does he not pause, does he not blush, does he not hesitate, does not his eye wander abroad in search of the accustomed “Crib,” does he not falter out something about lexicons and grammars, and at last throw down the book and tell you he has never learnt that, but as for Virgil or Herodotus, there he is your man! At the end then of eight years, without counting the previous four, your son has not learnt Greek and Latin, and he has learnt nothing else to atone for it.

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