Wednesday, October 17, 2018


Classics versus Mathematics

Cecil Torr (1857-1928), Small Talk at Wreyland: Second Series (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1921), pp. 77-78:
Looking back on my eight years of Harrow and Cambridge and judging them by results, I find that Classics have supplied me with a mass of interesting and amusing facts to think about, whereas Mathematics only taught me how to think on abstract things. Hardly any Mathematics linger in my mind. Sometimes, when I am going to sleep, I think of Space and wonder whether it is circumnavigated by the curves that go away to Negative Infinity and come back again from Positive Infinity, as if the two Infinities met. Sometimes I snap at people for saying Two and Two make Four as if it were an axiom, instead of being a result attained by rigid proof. And I sometimes lose my temper when they talk of what would happen if there were a Fourth Dimension. I tell them they can get a Fourth Dimension by putting Tetrahedrals for Cartesians, and it makes no more difference than putting Centigrade for Fahrenheit and thereby getting 15° of cold instead of 5° of heat.

Until I went to Harrow, I had a tutor at home, and he taught me to read Virgil as anyone reads Dante, not stopping over every word to consider it as grammar. But this did not assist me there. "Optative Future used where Indicative Future would be required in Direct Oration." That is my note on Aeschylos, Persae, 360. I remember that my mind was far away at Athens, watching the gusts of passion sweep across the audience when the play recalled the battle they had fought at Salamis seven years before. And my mind came back to Harrow with a jerk at hearing the suave voice of Dr Butler addressing me by name, repeating this, and recommending me to note it down.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

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