The Teaching of Latin

The Teaching of Latin

Editor’s Note
by Angela Reed

On a stormy day in 1938, a crowd gathered under a canopy on the grounds of Burgess Hill School in West Sussex (about forty miles south of London) to pay honor to three sisters, the “Misses Goode,” on the occasion of their retirement. There were dignitaries in attendance, religious and educational leaders, founding parents, current and former students too, and the occasion was of such importance that it was reported by the newspaper—and republished shortly thereafter in the Parents’ Review. Who were these Misses Goode? According to the paper, they were educators, beloved by the Burgess Hill community, “who had built up that class until it became one of the most remarkable schools in the country—the P.N.E.U. school.”[1]

The work began in 1906, when Miss Beatrice Goode, then a recent graduate of the House of Education at Ambleside, was invited by a group of parents to found a school in Burgess Hill. She started with a private class of nine students and soon found herself in charge of a burgeoning school, serving as Principal. She was joined a decade into her tenure by her sisters, Miss Patricia and Miss Ada Goode. The three, it was remarked, worked together for over twenty years “in complete accord and closest co-operation.”[2] They were known by their students, affectionately, as Miss Bee, Miss Patty, and Miss Ada.

It is Miss Patty, the “P. S. Goode” of this article, who concerns us here. As Vice-Principal of the Burgess Hill School, she served as head of Dalegarth, the senior boarding house. She taught classes and was remembered in one student’s appreciation letter as a “strong literary influence” who encouraged her students’ creative endeavors in short stories and verse.[3] She was well-educated for a woman of her time, having earned a B.A. degree; and though she did not attend the teacher college at Ambleside like her sister Beatrice, she was nevertheless fully committed to the realization of Charlotte Mason’s educational vision. In a memorial article for the Parents’ Review, she reflects upon the importance of Miss Mason’s work in secondary schools—especially in securing equal educational opportunities for girls as well as boys.[4] This work, branching out from Ambleside through the P.N.E.U., had contributed to the unique position of Burgess Hill School as a leader in educational reform. Miss Patty, in her valedictory address to the crowd that day at Burgess Hill, expressed heartfelt gratitude and an undiminished confidence that those coming after them would continue the work, carrying out the principles of Miss Mason and the traditions that she and her sisters had upheld through many years.[5]

Let us turn now to Latin, the topic of Miss Patty’s paper below, which she presented at the thirty-third annual P.N.E.U. Conference in 1931. How the study of a classical language (an endeavor usually requiring many years of intense study in the great British public schools) could be adapted to the method of instruction developed at the House of Education in Ambleside is indeed a curious matter. It has also proven an investigative challenge, as Miss Mason wrote relatively little on the details of Latin instruction, and published few articles that address the subject directly.[6]

Before entertaining the question: what is the Charlotte Mason approach to Latin?, it is necessary to consider the larger historical context of British education and, in particular, its high standard for “classical culture.” This is, admittedly, a very broad topic and the subject of many books. As such, it deserves a great deal of careful explanation—more than can be provided here. Nevertheless, it will serve for now to trace the outline. Classics, or the study of classical languages and literatures, engages a very long tradition (2,000+ years) and a rich and varied history in education. Over the long stretch of centuries—through the fall of Rome, the seclusion of the middle ages, the high style of the Renaissance, and eventual emigration to the New World—Latin and Greek stood as gatekeepers to an education increasingly few could access. Learning, long tied to religion, had become thoroughly intertwined with class and status, especially within the Victorian system of classical education.

By 1900, British classical schools were devoting anywhere from 40–60% of classroom time to Classics.[7] Though renowned for producing classical scholars, their teaching methods were notoriously grinding, largely analytical, and inefficient, leaving students little time for other studies or hobbies. What was worse—the “average boy” just could not keep pace. In a series of letters to The Times newspaper, published as a pamphlet in 1912, Miss Mason described the problem in this way: “‘Ground he at Grammar,’ sums up every successful school boy’s record … but the ten or twelve years of school life should yield more than this.”[8]

With this pamphlet, entitled “The Basis of National Strength,” she issued an inspiring call for reform that launched a movement: “A Liberal Education for All.”  The way to reform, as she saw it, had far less to do with how much children learned, and everything to do with how they learned. It also recognized the ennobling potential of knowledge and the need for that knowledge to impart “vital thought.”[9] This meant that grind had to go, in the quest for a better method that would be both liberal and efficient:

As for Latin and Greek, the teaching of these and the possibility of getting in any work beyond these is a crucial question; but I think it is open to Public Schoolmasters to discover that, given boys who have read and thought, and who have maintained the habit of almost perfect attention that a child begins with, the necessary amount of work in the Classics may be done in a much shorter time, and that the mind of the pupil is the more alert because it is engaged in handling various subjects.[10]

This was Miss Mason’s vision for students in public schools; for the children served by the teachers-in-training at Ambleside, she was testing out new books and progressive methods, and developing a program of instruction that would present Latin in hearty, appetizing portions upon which all could feast. Then in 1919, relatively late in her career, she asked Miss M. C. Gardner, the Lecturer in Latin at the House of Education, to introduce narration into the teaching of Latin.[11]

A few years later, at the twenty-fourth annual P.N.E.U. Conference in 1922, Miss Gardner reported favorable progress with this method:

Latin is taught in the House of Education by means of narration after each section has been thoroughly studied in grammar, syntax and style. The literature studied increases in difficulty as the pupil advances in grammar, etc. Nothing but good Latin is ever narrated, so the pupil acquires style as well as structure.

… The substance of the passage is usually reproduced, with the phraseology and style of the original, and both students and children learn what is really Latin and realise that it is a language and not a mere grammar.[12]

Encouraged by the “promise” of these results, Miss Mason shared the report in her final volume, affirming narration as the method used for the study of ancient and modern languages alike in the House of Education. In bringing to bear a “hitherto unused power of concentrated attention,” narration was efficient and effective, enabling students to pursue Latin study within the broad feast of a liberal education.[13]

Next we come to the matter of books. Recall that for most of Miss Mason’s career, her method of Latin was in development. The P.N.E.U. programmes show that she assigned many Latin books over the years, some that were dropped as new ones were taken up, and curiously, some that employed opposite methods of approach to the language. For example, while she early on recommended and assigned a progressive, direct method text—A First Latin Course by Scott and Jones[14]—she also assigned a traditional, grammar-translation text to follow it in the second year. It is evident that there were certain challenges to teaching Scott and Jones’ course,[15] and even Miss Gardner acknowledged, “We have with difficulty adapted ordinary grammar books to our requirements.”[16]

After Miss Mason’s death, Miss Gardner continued developing the method for Latin instruction that they had tested at the House of Education. These efforts culminated in a textbook, A Latin Book for Beginners, which illuminates—for us—the practical outworkings of their approach to the language. Upon publication, Miss Gardner’s book was immediately adopted into the Programmes in 1927, with a second volume published and adopted the following year. Further details about this important book will be the subject of a forthcoming article.

And now let us give kind attention to Miss Patty, that we might glean some insights from her experience with Latin at Burgess Hill School. She begins with an overview of the guiding principles, and discusses how these inform the practices of the P.U.S. concerning timing of lessons, management of independent work, use of narration, and introduction of Latin literature. All in all, we find significant ways in which Miss Mason’s method for Latin differed from that of the typical classical school as well as other details that, to my knowledge, have not been enumerated elsewhere. It is with great excitement that we present Miss Goode’s paper to you.

Teaching of Latin in the P.U.S.
Junior and Middle School Forms.
By P. S. Goode
The Parents’ Review, 1931, pp. 390–394

I. The Study of Latin is regarded primarily as an approach to Literature.

II. Latin is shown at once to be a means of expressing thought. Hence complete sentences are used and the habit of narration is practised from the earliest stages.

III. Short periods are given to the subject and there is no burden of home work.

I propose to deal with these points in reverse order. The views which I am going to express on the subject of time will, I am afraid, seem heretical to those classical teachers who are in agreement with the opinion expressed in Section 29 of the Board of Education’s Memorandum on the Teaching of Latin in Secondary Schools. Let us compare the time given to Latin in the P.U.S. with the time recommended in the pamphlet and given in the majority of public secondary schools:—

“The minimum provision for the teaching of Latin should consist of a four years’ course with a time allocation of five teaching periods a week in the first and fourth year, and of four periods a week in the second and third years, together with an allowance of three home lessons throughout the course.”

The time given in the P.U.S. (including preparation) is as follows: Form V., two and a half hours a week (three and three quarter hours if German is not taken); Forms IV. and III., one and three quarter hours a week (two and three quarter if German not taken); Form II., one hour.

More time would be allowed Form V. during the year before School Certificate was taken but the examination ought to be managed without any over-pressure and without giving up the more recreative subjects not actually needed for the examination.

That the long periods given to Latin in so many of our Secondary Schools tend to weary Junior pupils and to make the subject distasteful to many of them is the experience of many teachers. Some of you may perhaps remember an interesting article published some months ago in a well-known educational paper on the question of the teaching of Latin. The writer, who was evidently an enthusiastic and successful teacher, showed how important she felt it to be that her pupils should realise the beauty of Latin Literature. She urged that at a certain point in the school course “the bulk of the time given to the subject should be spent in reading and a minimum only be given to proses. The enormous amount of time spent by the average girl over these is disproportionate to the result obtained.”

At this particular school five forty-minute periods a week were given to Latin for a form of which the average age was twelve, a total of three hours twenty minutes as compared with one and three quarter hours given to Form III. in the P.U.S.

The writer of this article evidently felt the unreasonableness of expecting Latin home work to be done, and arranged for her pupils to do some preparation during school hours, but this was spoken of as an exception to the usual practice.

The question will naturally be asked, “How is it possible to cover the necessary ground in the time allowed in the P.U.S.?”

It is impossible to achieve it if text books are used which have been written on the supposition that the Latin lesson comes into the daily programme. I have myself tried to use excellent text books of this type but without success. To make it possible the work must be more concentrated and a method followed such as that which has been developed with such success by Miss Gardner, Lecturer in Latin at the House of Education, in her Latin Book for Beginners, Parts I. and II.

To the child who uses these books, Latin is a vital thing. To quote from the Foreword written by Professor Lindsay, of the University of St. Andrews:—

“As soon as the pupil has learned the words of a Latin sentence he is taught how to use them for himself in sentences of his own making. Latin becomes for him a real living language. He finds at quite an early stage that he too can express his own ideas in Latin.”

One cannot stress too much the importance also of the habit of close concentration on the part of the pupil, but this concentration can as a rule be given by the average child whose brain has not been dulled by useless “cram.”

May I illustrate by giving you the outline of two short lessons, the first a Grammar and the second a Reading Lesson?

Class IIIB. (Ten to Eleven).

Prep. (ten to fifteen minutes), the declension of a Pronoun.

Class Work: (1) A quick written test on the work prepared (seven minutes); (2) Oral translation of English sentences illustrating the use of the Pronoun; (3) The writing of some of these sentences.

Note.—The burden of written work is reduced to a minimum.

The consideration of a Reading lesson leads us naturally to my second point, the practice of Narration in the teaching of Latin, and let me at once emphasise the point that Narration is used from the earliest stages.

Through Part I. of Miss Gardner’s book a continuous story runs, divided into exercises, which gradually increase in difficulty and introduce illustrations of the new points studied in the preceding Grammar lesson.

A Reading Lesson:—

Prep.: The learning of a vocabulary.

Class Work: (1) Translation of passage with examination of the grammar; (2) Reading of the passage in Latin; (3) Narration, oral or written, or both if the class is large.[*]

It is a mistake to imagine that the path is being made too easy, only those who have tried it know the mental discipline which good narration affords, and the teacher should expect the best to be given, both in preparation and in class work.

The reading lessons in the second and third year are conducted on the same lines but the passages for translation in Part II. are all chosen from Latin authors. The passages are not only of interest in themselves but they are chosen, as in the early stages, to illustrate points of accidence or syntax previously learnt, for example, the Superlatives in Pliny’s The Boy and the Dolphin, and the Participles in Phædrus’ Fable, The Wolf and the Lamb.

It will now be realised by the children to what goal the study of Latin is leading. They are beginning to realise, in some small degree at any rate, what Latin Literature has in store for them.

During this stage they will be introduced to Cæsar, Cicero, Vergil and many other authors, and at its conclusion they should be ready and fit to work intensively at such books as are set for the School Certificate Examination. Their vocabulary work, if it has been thorough, will stand them in good stead when they tackle “unseens.”

I feel sure that the question some of you are asking is this: “Will children trained by this method hold their own in public examinations and rank with those who have studied on more usual lines?”

I should welcome the evidence of others on this matter, for I do not feel able from my own experience alone to answer the question conclusively.

One thing, however, I have no hesitation in saying—the training of which we have been speaking produces girls who can do with credit the Latin papers set in the School Certificate Examination and who go on to the more advanced work needed for College Entrance with freshness and enthusiasm.

Specimens of Written Narration.

M.T.C. Marcello S.D.   Cicero.

Etsi nihil novi ut scriberam habebam. Et tuas litteras incipiebam expectare, vel te ipsum, tamen cum Theophilus proficisceretur, non patui ei nihil litterarum dare. Cura igitur ut venias expectatus negue solum nobis, sed prorsus omnibus.

IVB. Age 15


Procul Baiano a lacu recede, piscator, fuge, ne nocens recedas. Haec undae sacribus piscibus natantur, Dominum norunt, manumque lambunt illam qua nihil est in orbe maius. Quid quod nomen habent, et ad magistri vocem sui quisque venit citatus.

Hoc quandam Libys impius profondo dum praedam calamo tremente ducit, Raptis luminibus, repente caecus, videre piscem captum non potuit.

At tu, cibis simplicibus iactis, recede dum potes, et venerare pisces delicates.

IVB. Age 13.


Insula natura triquetra cuius unum latus est contra Galliam. Huius lateris alter angulus qui est ad Cantium, quo fere omnes ex Gallia naves apelluntur, ad solem orientem.

Hoc pertinet circiter milia passuum quingenta. Alterum vergit ad Hispaniam atque occidentem qua ex parte est Hibernia, dimidio minor, quam Britannia, sed pari spatio trans missus atque ex gallia est in Britanniam.

In hoc medio cursu est insula quae apellatur Mona. Complures minores subiectae insulae existimantur de quibus insulis nonnulli dies continuos XXX Scripserunt, sub bruma esse noctem. Nos nihil de eo percontationibus reperiebamus nisi certis ex aqua mensuris breviores quam noctes in continenti videbamus. Huius est lateris longitudo, ut fert opinio illorum DCC milium.

IVA. Age 15.

Lupus et Agnus.            Phaedrus.

Lupus et agnus ad eundem rivum siti conpulsi venerant, lupus stabat superior, agnus longeque inferior. Latro, causam iurgii intulit; voce improba, “Quare,” inquit, “turbulentam aquam mihi bibenti fecisti,” “Equidem, a te decurrit aqua ad meos haustus,” laniger contra timens, “Qui possum facere quod guereris.” “Ante hos sex menses,” ille inquit, “dixisti mihi male”; “Equidem eram non natus,” “Pater tuus,” inquit, “male dixit mihi.” Atque ita correptum iniusta nece lacerat.

Haec fabula est scripta propter eos qui opprimunt innocentes causis fictis.

IVA. Age 15.

[*] See specimens of written narration which follow later.

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Endnotes for the Editor’s Note

[1] Mid-Sussex Times (Tuesday, July 5th, 1938), p. 9.
[2] “The Burgess Hill P.N.E.U. School,” The Parents’ Review vol. 49 (1938), p. 551.
[3] Ibid., from Josephine Kamm, p. 554.
[4] Goode, P. S. “Secondary Schools,” In Memoriam: A Tribute to Charlotte Mason (2017), pp. 52­–54.
[5] “The Burgess Hill P.N.E.U. School,” The Parents’ Review vol. 49 (1938), p. 552.
[6] Considering what is currently accessible from The Parents’ Review and L’Umile Pianta, more articles may eventually come to light.
[7] Stray, C. (1992). The Living Word: W.H.D. Rouse and the Crisis of Classics in Edwardian England, p. 28.
[8] Mason, C. M. (1989). A Philosophy of Education, pp. 312–13.
[9] Ibid., p. 303.
[10] Ibid., p. 305.
[11] Gardner, M. C. (1929). A Latin Book for Beginners, p. 4.
[12] Gardner, M. C. “Latin,” The Parent’s Review vol. 33 (1922), p. 555.
[13] Mason, C. M. (1989). A Philosophy of Education, p. 213.
[14] Mason, C. M. (1905). Home Education, 4th ed., p. 295.
[15] Reed, A. “Challenges with Scott and Jones’ Latin.” Retrieved 1/25/21.
[16] Gardner, M. C. (1929). A Latin Book for Beginners, p. 4.

Editor’s Note © 2021 Angela Reed

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