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Naming a discipline
By late in the 17th century, the plural noun with a definite article, ‘the Classics’, begins, infrequently, to mean both texts written in antiquity by non-Christian ancient authors in Latin and ancient Greek, and the authors of these texts. The 17th-century examples, however, remain few. The earliest we have identified appears when a schoolmaster writes to an implied specialist audience of teachers. His book is a guide to Latin syntax published in 1679, authored by one Jonathan Bankes. The author’s intention was to simplify the famous 16th-century Latin grammar of William Lyly: the full title is Januae clavis [‘Key to the door’] or, Lilly’s syntax explained its elegancy from good authors cleared, its fundamentals compared with the Accidence, and the rules thereof more fitted to the capacity of children. In the preface,
Bankes explains the system he has used for explaining the different types of verb: ‘The Rules ... are explain’d by adding the Pbr/w ... whose variety is shewn, and whose difficulties are cleared by contracted sentences out of the Classics’.22 So there it is, although of course ‘the Classics’ here means authors or books in classical Latin rather than both Latin and Greek.
By 1684, at least in educational contexts, ‘the Classics’ can mean ancient authors or texts including Greek ones as studied by well-to-do junior males. That year, a translation of Eutropius’ Breviarium historiae Romanae was published, and its authorship credited to ‘several young gentlemen privately educated in Hatton-Garden’.23 Hatton Garden was a new residential development off Holborn, with splendid houses, favoured by the rich wishing to flee the squalor of the old city after it had succumbed to a bout of plague in 1665 and been ravaged by the Great Fire of 1666. The Eutropius translation, apparently the first into English, served as an advertisement for their school. It was prefaced by a poem entitled ‘To the ingenious translators’, and praising their efforts, by the Irish poet Nahum Tate (whose adaptations of Shakespearean plays were currently all the rage in London): ‘Auspicious Youths, our Ages Hope, and Pride, / Exalted minds’. Tate praises their teacher while regretting his own less happy experience of reading ancient authors: he had been
by Pedants led astray,
Who at my setting out mistook the way.
With Terms confounded (such their methods were)
Those rules my Cloud, that should have been my Star:
Yet groping forwards through the Classicks went,
Nor wholly of my Labors may repent.
Later in the poem he recommends that they read not only Cicero but Demosthenes.24
The prose preface to this fascinating volume is by the Hatton Garden schoolmaster, Lewis Maidwell (1650-1715), one ofDryden’s correspondents. It is dedicated to John Lowther, 2nd Baronet of Whitehaven in Cumbria, who spent some of the vast income he derived from the coal pits there on sending his two sons to the school. They were amongst the translators.25 Its list of excellent things the boys may find in ancient authors includes material which shows they might expect to study Homer, Plutarch and Dionysius of Halicarnasssus, who is quoted, briefly, in Greek. Maidwell argues that England is lacking a system of education for boys which is making sufficient use of their intellectual potential: if more fathers took their sons’ education seriously, ‘the sleepy Genius of our Nation would rouse itself ... Your nice assistance in Education well imitated, might adorn our Country within itself, and save many the trouble of dry-nursing their Youth abroad’. He specifies France and Italy.26
Yet the impact of French scholarship can be seen at work even in Mr Maidwell’s school for proudly English boys. This translation was published the year after the
Delphin edition of Eutropius, the work of Madame Dacier.27 The 25 Delphin volumes of Latin texts, with Latin commentary by 39 scholars, were commissioned for Louis, le Grand Dauphin, beginning in 1670. The editions were masterminded by the due de Montausier, the dauphin’s governor, and the Jesuit-trained scholar Pierre Daniel Huet, with a team including both Anne Dacier and her husband Andre. They transformed educational practice and intellectual life across Europe.28 One of the authors published early in the series, in 1681, three years before Maidwell’s students’ Eutropius, had been Aulus Gellius himself.2’
The impact of the Delphin series can be seen from a different, comic perspective, in 1712. Richard Steele published a satirical article in the Spectator containing what he claimed were letters he had recently received from two schoolboys. One of them, a 14-year-old, complains that his father, although wealthy, does not think that training in ancient authors will do his son any good, and will not buy him the (expensive) books he needs to further his studies of Latin authors: our teenager laments, ‘All the Boys in the School, but I, have the Classick Authors in usum Delphini, gilt and letter’d on the Back’.30 By 1712, acquisition of the famous French ‘Delphin Classics’ series had become indispensable to what was beginning to be called ‘a classical education’.
They remained so until 1819, despite the launch of rival series,31 when they were superseded by the new series of well over 100 leather-and-gilt volumes of The Latin Writings after the system of the Delphin Classics, with Variorum Notes, masterminded by the entrepeneurial Abraham J. Valpy, who hired editors including George Dyer (see below pp. 169-71). By this time, some regarded the Delphin editions as allowing boys to ‘cheat’ insofar as they contained easier Latin paraphrases in the margins. Valpy used texts from diverse sources, added his own critical apparatus, and combined information from the Delphin editions with updated matter from other series. In Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, Jude Fawley’s attempts to teach himself Classsics draw on Hardy’s own experience as the son of a rural stonemason who struggled to further his classical education while apprenticed to an ecclesiastical architect.32 In chapter 5, Jude is given a decrepit horse and a creaky cart to deliver bread near Marygreen. He sits with a dictionary on his knees, and a crumbling Delphin edition of a Latin author, Caesar, Virgil or Horace, which he could just about afford
because they were superseded, and therefore cheap. But, bad for idle schoolboys, it did so happen that they were passably good for him. The hampered and lonely itinerant conscientiously covered up the marginal readings, and used them merely on points of construction, as he would have used a comrade or tutor who should have happened to be passing by.33
A key agent in shaping the early 18th-century fashion for the classical curriculum, when the Delphin Classics were cutting-edge, was Henry Felton, in his A Dissertation on Reading the Classics, and Forming a Just Style, written in 1709 and published four years later. Felton had been educated at Charterhouse and St.
Edmund Hall, Oxford. He wrote the work as domestic chaplain to the Duke of Rutland, and dedicated the work to his pupil, John, Lord Roos, later the third Duke. It embeds its recommendations for imitating the example of the classic writers not only in style but in the morality of the great men they portrayed and the distinctive new vocabulary surrounding the new 18th-century concept of the gentleman: civility and politeness.34
The book cites the rhetorical handbooks of Cicero, Quintilian, Longinus and Aristotle as its ancient forerunners, but places itself at a particular time and place in its advocacy of the Classics. It celebrates the Duke of Marlborough’s successes in Belgium and France; it talks at length about the need for a new, politer, more civil style of speaking and writing than had prevailed in the Restoration period. It insists that all education needs to be subservient to the duties of the Christian religion, but also that ‘humane’ education can be immeasurably enriched by the study of the Classics:35
Your Lordship will meet with great and wonderful Examples of an irregular and mistaken Virtue in the Greeks and Romans; with many Instances of Greatness of Mind, of unshaken Fidelity, Contempt of human Grandeur, a most passionate Love of their Country, Prodigality of Life, Disdain of Servitude, inviolable Truth, and the most publick disinterested Souls, that ever threw off all Regards in Comparison with their Country’s Good; Your Lordship will discern the Flaws and Blemishes of their farest Actions, see the wrong Apprehensions they had of Virtue, and be able to point them right, and keep them within their proper Bounds. Under this Correction Your Lordship may extract a generous and noble Spirit from the Writings and Histories of the Ancients. And it would in a particular Manner recommend the Classic Authors to your Favour, and they will recommend themselves to Your Approbation.
Felton’s pedagogical handbook was popular for the next 40 years, running into 5 editions and numerous reprints, playing a seminal role in the establishment of the Classics as the polite and refined curriculum for any aspiring gentleman.