Tuesday, May 09, 2023


Standing Up

D.S. Colman, "Confessio Grammatici," Greece & Rome 7.1 (March, 1960) 72-81 (at 74):
Even to suggest learning by heart is to pronounce oneself old-fashioned. Yet I am not convinced that it is wrong. Its difficulty is easily exaggerated. Boys cheerfully learn vast amounts when they want to act in a play. The Bradfield boys do it pretty well in their stride. And remarkable feats are recorded of the Winchester boys of a century ago. There was a custom then (perhaps it still exists) called 'standing up', which consisted of voluntary repetition of Greek or Latin poetry. More than one example was known of a boy offering the whole Aeneid, and one Henry Butler took up the whole Iliad. Compared with that, to learn a whole tragedy, as J.E.B. Mayor says that he did, is no great undertaking, and he tells us that many of the Salopians of his time were 'masters of the Greek tragedians'. Is that a mere exercise of memory? Or is it the way to make the language a living possession? It will be said that it does nothing to improve or nourish the critical and constructive side of the mind, and perhaps that is true. But it may be replied that it does nothing to prevent such improvement or nourishment, and that it provides the mind with some material upon which to exercise those powers.

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