Posted by Dennis » 6 Comments »
In some ways I very much agree with the last part of this, even if I can’t make the same claim for my appreciation of Catullus or my command of Latin:
My Latin wasn’t ever much good, so that I have never enjoyed Catullus. I suppose that means that I have never justified the time I spent trying to learn the beastly language? There seem to be ten good Greek books to every Latin one.
–T.E. Lawrence, Letter 550 to C. Day Lewis, 20 December 1934
More can be learned about his background in Latin and his feelings regarding its value and teaching can be gleaned from a letter of 12 September 1912, no. 57, to a Mrs. Rieder on the education of a certain boy:
I was reading (chiefly police news) at four, and learning Latin at 5, and at 17 I was no more forward than the rest of the school, beginning Latin only at 8 1/2. And the most brillisiant people the early forms (except one) all dropped out of sight before they reached the Sixth: and then, after that in the University, it doesn’t make an atom of difference if one is 22 or 19; ….
. . .
And don’t bother about Latin. I take it Noel is more likely to be Modern than Classical in his tastes, and if one doesn’t want to write Latin verse, and knows French, one can read the Latin one needs in a six-month, and other than that he will only have to write Latin prose, which a mechanical stupidity, ground out of a Grammar and Dictionary, and to be handled at will. If he reaches 10 (an extreme age, probably) without Latin, he will merely be set to occupy his French hours in the older language. And a school is such a slow business that a little special training will overtake its standard in no time. Latin is a very important thing: but there are lots of Latin languages, and if he knows one it will make his way very easy for the rest, (e.g. I can read Italian prose, & even poetry not incorrectly: never having learnt them).
Again, I find myself agreeing with some of what he says, about the futility of much of Latin training, of the slowness of schools, etc. Any thoughts from readers on a more minute level? I do find it funny that 10 should seems an extreme age to begin Latin, when we typically begin today at 14-18.