Posted by Dennis » 2 Comments »
Gandhi, writing in his autobiography about his time in England and his efforts to pursue literary studies in addition to law, opted for the London Matriculation at the suggestion of a friend. He was glad for the experience and the challenge without a high cost, ‘But’, he said, ‘the syllabus frightened me’:
Latin and a modern language were compulsory! How was I to manage Latin? But the friend entered a strong plea for it: ‘Latin is very valuable to lawyers. Knowledge of Latin is very useful in understanding law-books. And one paper in Roman Law is entirely in Latin. Besides a knowledge of Latin means greater command over the English language.’ I went home and I decided to learn Latin, no matter how difficult it might be.
These are, of course, among the most familiar promotional slogans among Latin teachers’ arsenals, and they were enough to win over Gandhi. But how did Gandhi fare?
He says he just didn’t have the time to digest all that he had ambitiously placed before himself: ‘The result was that I was ploughed in Latin. I was sorry but did not lose heart. I had acquired a taste for Latin…’. He made another go of it and did pass the London Matriculation.
But it went further. He understood the bar examinations to be a joke, which many could pass with exceedingly high marks ‘scrambling through notes’ in just weeks (in the case of Roman Law) or months (in the case of Common Law). ‘Question papers were easy and examiners were generous,’ he said, and added that the examinations ‘could not be felt as a difficulty’:
But I succeeded in turning them into one. I felt that I should read all the text-books. It was a fraud, I though, not to read these books. I invested much money in them. I decided to read Roman Law in Latin. The Latin which I had acquired in the London Matriculation stood me in good stead. And all this reading was not without its value later on in South Africa, where Roman Dutch is the common law. The reading of Justinian, therefore, helped me a great deal in understanding the South African law.
He had complained of his own command of the English language, and it’s reasonable to assume that Latin helped. When he later applied for a job as an English teacher to supplement his income in Bombay he was turned down. To his defense he said, ‘But I have passed the London Matriculation with Latin as my second language.’ The principal replied, ‘Yes, but we want a graduate.’
That sounds very much like a qualified Latinist being told, ‘yes, but we want you to jump through the hoops of OUR state’s licensing board, not another’s.’