Desmond MacCarthy (1877-1952), "Eton," Experience
(London: Putnam, 1935), pp. 149-156 (at 155-156):
I am again in a large, half-panelled room.
At a raised desk sits a man in a university gown,
and in front of him sprawl between thirty and
forty little hoys: the air hums with innumerable
subdued noises. One of the boys is suddenly called
upon to construe. After a hurried consultation
with his neighbour he stands up with an air of
"O Venus—oh, Venus—regina—queen—Cnidi
Paphique—of Cnidus and Paphus."
"Os, os," interrupts the master mildly.
"Well, go on, go on."
"I can't find the verb," says the small boy—then, suddenly, as though it had been dodging about,
"I've got it! Transfer! transfer—te—thyself—decoram in aedem—to" (his voice quavers interrogatively) "to the ... decorated house?"
"Come, come. You know better than that.
You know what dulce et decorum est pro patria mori
means: It is sweet and fitting to die for one's
"The well-fitted house?" the small boy suggests, smiling to make up for a possible blunder.
The master smiles too: "No, no. The word suggests reverence, something almost sacred. The
adjective together with the noun, the phrase
decoram in aedem really means a 'shrine,' or, if
you like, 'gracious house' would do here. Go on."
The small boy's eyes meanwhile have been fixed
in ahsent-minded wonder on his face.
"Vocantis Glycerae" (should he risk it?)—"of shouting Glycerine." (General titters.)
"If you play the fool you'll sit down and write
out the lesson. Sit down."
"But, sir, vocantis does mean shouting or
"Sit down! I'll go on construing. Follow
carefully and bring me a translation to-morrow.
This is poetry: 'Of Glycera who invokes thee,
multo ture—with much—or perhaps better—with a
wealth of incense. Fervidus tecum puer—with thee
may thy glowing boy.' Who was her glowing
boy?" (General mild astonishment.)
“ Yes, who was the son of Venus?"
"Oh, Cupid," another boy, lolling on hip and
elbow, answers contemptuously.
"Cupid, of course. 'With thee may thy
glowing boy and the Graces and the Nymphs with
unloosened zones'—are you following?—'hasten
hither, and Youth, who lacking thee is not charming.'" Here the master coughs, and ends rather
lamely with "And Mercury."
"Quite a party," says the small boy who has
been made to sit down. (Laughter.)
"You will write out the lesson twice."
"If you speak again you will write it out four
times. Come up for a Yellow Ticket afterwards."
Such were our frontal mass-attacks day after
day, week after week, month after month, year
after year, upon the barrier of that ancient language.
How few of us won through to the scholar's ilex-grove and the placid fields of asphodel!