by Herman Charles Bosman
Apart from purely cultural considerations, there is another reason why our educational authorities must insist on Latin being retained in the curriculum. The study of Latin builds character. If you have Latin throughout your school years, and you have enough of it, you will never, in later life, become decadent – no matter how weak-willed you are naturally, or to what extent your bloodstream is tainted with the various forms of congenital depravity. And no matter how checkered your life may be, a thorough grounding in Latin during the formative years will pull you through every subsequent vicissitude.
The mental effort you have to put into acquiring a mastery of the rules of Latin grammar – prose, syntax, conjugations, declensions, ‘ut’ with the subjunctive, the ablative absolute, indirect statement – all that can only make your mind foursquare and imbue your nature with a purposeful earnestness and impart to your character a quality of granite that will remain inside of you, irrespective of what surface qualities of gaiety and apparent irresponsibility you acquire later on for purely decorative purposes.
The iron introduced into your soul through the weary hours of slogging away at Latin will remain.
That is where, when it comes to character building, Latin is so superior to mathematics. Mathematics teaches you to be slick, the use of ingenuity, to look for quick ways – saying a dozen times so many pennies is the same number of shillings, and using logarithm tables, instead of multiplying out. But there is no nonsense like that about Latin. There is only hard, honest toil. The result when you have studied Latin is that in later life you approach an issue in an honest, stupid, straightforward fashion, which is the right way, in the long run, for approaching any issue. You don’t look for loopholes. Evasions are all right for securing short-range results. Honest stupidity is the only thing that brings you lasting satisfaction – even if it is only for the reason that you are too stupid to know any better.
Penology and education being, for obvious reasons, closely interrelated sciences, it is as well to consider, for a moment, the advisability of introducing the study of Latin as a prison task for our convicts along with the more orthodox activities of packing oakum, sewing mail-bags and breaking stones. The compulsory study of Latin in prisons could go a long way towards reforming our criminal classes. How the convicts would hate those dreary hours of drudgery. Hours spent in the hall with grammars and textbooks, under the supervision of broken-down and retired Latin teachers.
The compulsory study of Latin as a routine part of the hard labour course would lead to the reform of many otherwise incorrigible criminals. ‘The stone-pile was nothing,’ I can imagine a reformed recidivist saying, ‘and I could always do solitary. But that fourth-year Latin class left me a broken man. I am only 52 – and look at me. O tempora, o mores.’
No, Latin is not a dead language. There is a great future for it.