Struggling With the Fetters of an Impossible System

Mark Pattison, Memoirs

“I may take this opportunity of explaining what my position in college as tutor was at this time. At that time there was no subdivision of labour such as is now established in the form of combined lectures. The tutors of each college taught everything that was taught in the college to all its students. Under this monstrous abuse, of which I have written the history several times in other places, a zealous tutor was entirely baffled as to what course to take; if he wanted to make a good lecture on any one classical book, say Herodotus, he must devote an amount of time to his preparation for it which was quite inconsistent with his also doing well the other lectures he had to give — looking over Latin writing, teaching English composition, seeing that men know their divinity, and the vague but heavy duties of personal inspection and advice. I never could let routine be routine, or do anything with any comfort to myself, unless I tried to do it as well as I could. It so happened that among other lectures Herodotus fell to me. I took vast pains with this;  read up everything I could, and after some terms’ apprenticeship and much bungling, became able to give what was for those times a really good lecture. But then to do this it was impossible to keep up equally well with Livy and Sophocles and the Greek Testament, and perhaps another book or two. I had the mortification of sitting there and hearing men translate Sophocles to me unprofitably, as knowing I could not teach them the niceties of Greek erratic idiom. Here I was but struggling with the fetters of an impossible system, though it was not till years after that I came to conceive where it was that the fault lay. I was honestly labouring to make the best I could of my Sparta. But I had other college difficulties to contend with in my colleagues.”

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