'In company with Sallust, Cicero, Tacitus, and Livy, you will learn wisdom and virtue. You will see them represented with all the charms which language and imagination can exhibit, and vice and folly painted in all their deformity and horror. You will ever remember that all the end of study is to make you a good man and a useful citizen.' John Adams to John Quincy Adams.
When the last sound of my mother's departing wheels had died away, the Headmaster invited me to hand over any money I had in my possession. I produced my three half-crowns,; which were duly entered in a book, and I was told that, from time to time there would be a "shop" at the school with all sorts of things which one would like to have, and that I could choose what I liked up to the limit of the seven and sixpence. Then we quitted the Headmaster's parlour and the comfortable private side of the house/and entered the more bleak apartments reserved for the instruction and accommodation of the pupils. I was taken into a Form Room and told to sit at a desk. All the other boys were out of doors, and I was alone with the Form Master. He produced a thin greeny-brown covered book filled with words in different types of print.
"You have never done any Latin before, have you?" he said.
" No, sir."
"This is a Latin grammar." He opened it at a well-thumbed page. " You must learn this," he said, pointing to a number of words in a frame of lines. " I will come back in half an hour and see what you know."
Behold me then on a gloomy evening, with an aching heart, seated in front of the First Declension.
Mensa - a table
Mensa - O table
Mensam - a table
Mensae - of a table
Mensae - to or for a table
Mensa - by, with or from a table
What on earth did it mean? Where was the sense in it? It seemed absolute rigmarole to me. However, there was one thing I could always do: I could learn by heart. And I thereupon proceeded, as far as my private sorrows would allow, to memorize the acrostic-looking task which had been set me.
In due course the Master returned.
"Have you learnt it?" he asked.
"I think I can say it, sir," I replied; and I gabbled it off.
He seemed so satisfied with this that I was emboldened to ask a question.
"What does it mean, sir?"
"It means what it says. Mensa, a table. Mensa is a noun of the First Declension. There are five declensions. You have learnt the singular of the First Declension."
"But," I repeated," what does it mean?"
"Mensa means a table," he answered.
"Then why does mensa also mean O table," I enquired, "and what does O table mean?"
"Mensa, O table, is the vocative case," he replied.
"But why O table?" I persisted in genuine curiosity.
"O table – you would use that in addressing a table, in invoking a table." And then seeing he was not carrying me with him, "You would use it in speaking to a table."
"But I never do," I blurted out in honest amazement.
"If you are impertinent, you will be punished, and punished, let me tell you, very severely," was his conclusive rejoinder.
Such was my first introduction to the classics from which, I have been told, many of our cleverest men have derived so much solace and profit. Churchill, A Roving Commission: My Early Life
'Naturally I am biased in favor of boys learning English. I would make them all learn English: and then I would let the clever ones learn Latin as an honour, and Greek as a treat.' Churchill, A Roving Commission: My Early Life.
“It seemed to me that a regard for the classics, while admirable, could easily coexist with a beastly nature.” The Tale of Murasaki, (2000), 85.
Writing in response to the threat to close the Departments of Classics and Philosophy at Royal Holloway, London:
“It grieves me beyond measure to think that Royal Holloway believes it can dispense with its Classics and Philosophy departments and still claim status as a significant institution of higher learning. If it wants to change from education to vocation, then fine. But let no one be surprised when generation after generation emerge like robots, dedicated and adapted to one set of tools, while the liberating power of an educated mind, able to turn itself to any enquiry and master any discipline is denied them. You might as well tell the world that the Dorchester has decided against cooking and will be dispensing vitamin tablets to all its guests from now on. Fatuous, tragic, the falsest of false economies. I can hear the Houyhnhnms’ dying shivers as the Yahoos surge forward, knuckles grazing the ground.”
'Nor can I do better, in conclusion, than impress upon you the study of Greek literature, which not only elevates above the vulgar herd but leads not infrequently to positions of considerable emolument.' Christmas sermon, Christ Church, Oxford.
'My early Catholicism led to my fascination with Latin studies and English literature. These studies in these two course were gobbled up by me and I became an ardent lover of English, Latin and Greek literature, both modern and classical. My studies of literature futher strengthened my hatred of all forms of oppression, persecution and obscurantism. The action of tyrants as portrayed in various literary works also made me hate tyranny and institutionalised oppression.'
"For classical learning I have ever been a zealous advocate."--Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Cooper, 1814. ME 14:200.
"When we advert that the ancient classical languages are considered as the foundation preparatory for all the sciences; that we have always had schools scattered over the country for teaching these languages, which often were the ultimate term of education; that these languages are entered on at the age of nine or ten years, at which age parents would be unwilling to send their children from every part of the State to a central and distant university, and when we observe that... there are to be a plurality of them, we may well conclude that the Greek and Latin are the objects of these colleges... and that they are intended as the portico of entry to the university." --Thomas Jefferson to Wilson C. Nicholas, 1816. ME 14:452
"To whom are these [classical languages] useful? Certainly not to all men. There are conditions of life to which they must be forever estranged, and there are epochs of life, too, after which the endeavor to attain them would be a great misemployment of time. Their acquisition should be the occupation of our early years only, when the memory is susceptible of deep and lasting impressions, and reason and judgment not yet strong enough for abstract speculations." --Thomas Jefferson to John Brazier, 1819. ME 15:209
"[The Latin and Greek] languages... constitute the basis of good education, and are indispensable to fill up the character of a 'well-educated man.'" --Thomas Jefferson: Virginia Board of Visitors Minutes, 1824. ME 19:444.
'The public education... we divide into three grades: 1. Primary schools, in which are taught reading, writing, and common arithmetic, to every infant of the State, male and female. 2. Intermediate schools, in which an education is given proper for artificers and the middle vocations of life; in grammar, for example, general history, logarithms, arithmetic, plane trigonometry, mensuration, the use of the globes, navigation, the mechanical principles, the elements of natural philosophy, and, as a preparation for the University, the Greek and Latin languages. 3. An University, in which these and all other useful sciences shall be taught in their highest degree; the expenses of these institutions are defrayed partly by the public, and partly by the individuals profiting of them.' --Thomas Jefferson to A. Coray, 1823. ME 15:487.
"[As to] the extent to which classical learning should be carried in our country... The utilities we derive from the remains of the Greek and Latin languages are, first, as models of pure taste in writing. To these we are certainly indebted for the rational and chaste style of modern composition which so much distinguishes the nations to whom these languages are familiar... Second. Among the values of classical learning, I estimate the luxury of reading the Greek and Roman authors in all the beauties of their originals. And why should not this innocent and elegant luxury take its preeminent stand ahead of all those addressed merely to the sense?... Third. A third value is in the stores of real science deposited and transmitted us in these languages, to wit: in history, ethics, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, natural history, etc." --Thomas Jefferson to John Brazier, 1819. ME 15:208
"[Greece was] the first of civilized nations [which] presented example of what man should be." --Thomas Jefferson to A. Coray, 1823. ME 15:481
"I think the Greeks and Romans have left us the present models which exist of fine composition, whether we examine them as works of reason, or of style and fancy; and to them we probably owe these characteristics of modern composition. I know of no composition of any other ancient people which merits the least regard as a model for its matter or style. To all this I add, that to read the Latin and Greek authors in their original is a sublime luxury; and I deem luxury in science to be at least as justifiable as in architecture, painting, gardening, or the other arts." --Thomas Jefferson to Joseph Priestly, 1800. ME 10:146
"It may be truly said that the classical languages are a solid basis for most, and an ornament to all the sciences." --Thomas Jefferson to John Brazier, 1819. ME 15:211
"I make it a rule never to read translations where I can read the original." --Thomas Jefferson to Edmund Randolph, 1794. ME 9:280 "Indeed, no translation can be [an adequate representation of the excellences of the original]." --Thomas Jefferson to A. L. C. Destutt de Tracy, 1811. ME 13:14
"I have not, however, carried so far as [some] do my ideas of the importance of a hypercritical knowledge of the Latin and Greek languages. I have believed it sufficient to possess a substantial understanding of their authors." --Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Cooper, 1814. ME 14:200
'In general, I am of opinion, that till the age of about sixteen, we are best employed on languages; Latin, Greek; French, and Spanish, or such of them as we can... Of the languages I have mentioned, I think Greek the least useful.' Thomas Jefferson to J. W. Eppes, 1787. ME 6:190
'To read Latin and Greek authors in their original, is a sublime luxury. I thank on my knees him who directed my early education for having put into my possession this rich source of delight; and I would not exchange it for anything which I could then have acquired, and have not since acquired.'
'It's economically illiterate. A degree in Classics or Philosophy can be as valuable as anything else.'
'Hardly any lawful price would seem to me too high for what I have gained by being made to learn Latin and Greek.'
'Latin and Greek are not dead languages. They have merely ceased to be mortal.'
"I doubt whether classical education ever has been or can be successfully carried out without corporal punishment."
'I now entered the first class of what today would be called the gymnasium for classical languages [Greek and Latin]…In retrospect it seems to me that an education in Greek and Latin antiquity created a mental attitude that resisted seduction by a totalitarian ideology.' Memoirs.
'I will say at once, quite firmly, that the best grounding for education is the Latin grammar. I say this not because Latin is traditional and medieval, but simply because even a rudimentary knowledge of Latin cuts down the labor and pains of learning almost any other subject by at least 50 percent.' National Review.