Appreciating the Classics as Literature

“She taught herself Latin, Greek (which seems incredible), Italian, German, mathematics – not, I suppose, very far. She had a command over the range of history, ancient and modern, that I have never known in any one since; and her memory was such that if you called upon her suddenly for aid about some out-of-the-way person, lived he under Charlemagne or was he a member of the Johnsonian circle, it was strange if she could not tell you something. I have known some of the wittiest, the ablest, and the best read men of my time, but I do not exaggerate when I say that this woman at about thirty-five was a match in power and extent of knowledge for any of them. Of course one great field of learning, i.e. the classical lore which an Oxford scholar possesses, she did not possess; but this only because she did not choose to follow it up and become a Madame Dacier. She was wisely content with using Latin and Greek as instruments for making her acquainted with the body, soul, and spirit of ancient literature. This she knew as literature – I can vouch for it – in the year 1847, more extensively than I did.”

[Mark Pattison tells this of one of his cousins, whom he does not explicitly name.]

– Mark Pattison, Memoirs (London: Macmillan and Co. 1885) pp. 224-5

Leave a Reply