Mr. Crawley’s Greek

From Anthony Trollope’s Last Chronicle of Barset

“Then there was a younger daughter, Jane, still at home, who passed her life between her mother’s work-table and her father’s Greek, mending linen and learning to scan iambics,—for Mr. Crawley in his early days had been a ripe scholar.”

[…]

“But beneath the hands of Mr. Crawley it always stood open; and with the exception of the small space at which he wrote, was covered with dog’s-eared books, from nearly all of which the covers had disappeared. There were there two odd volumes of Euripides, a Greek Testament, an Odyssey, a duodecimo Pindar, and a miniature Anacreon. There was half a Horace,—the two first books of the Odes at the beginning, and the De Arte Poetica at the end having disappeared. There was a little bit of a volume of Cicero, and there were Cæsar’s Commentaries, in two volumes, so stoutly bound that they had defied the combined ill-usage of time and the Crawley family. All these were piled upon the secretary, with many others,—odd volumes of sermons and the like; but the Greek and Latin lay at the top, and showed signs of most frequent use.”

[…]

“And he had Greek at his fingers’ ends,—as his daughter knew very well. And even to this day he would sometimes recite to them English poetry, lines after lines, stanzas upon stanzas, in a sweet low melancholy voice, on long winter evenings when occasionally the burden of his troubles would be lighter to him than was usual. Books in Latin and in French he read with as much ease as in English, and took delight in such as came to him, when he would condescend to accept such loans from the deanery. And there was at times a lightness of heart about the man. In the course of the last winter he had translated into Greek irregular verse the very noble ballad of Lord Bateman, maintaining the rhythm and the rhyme, and had repeated it with uncouth glee till his daughter knew it all by heart. And when there had come to him a five-pound note from some admiring magazine editor as the price of the same,—still through the dean’s hands,—he had brightened up his heart and had thought for an hour or two that even yet the world would smile upon him. His wife knew well that he was not mad; but yet she knew that there were dark moments with him, in which his mind was so much astray that he could not justly be called to account as to what he might remember and what he might forget. How would it be possible to explain all this to a judge and jury, so that they might neither say that he was dishonest, nor yet that he was mad?”

[…]

“Early on the following morning she contrived to let him know that she was about to send a neighbour’s son over with a note to Mr. Walker, fearing to urge him further to change his mind; but hoping that he might express his purpose of doing so when he heard that the letter was to be sent; but he took no notice whatever of her words. At this moment he was reading Greek with his daughter, or rather rebuking her because she could not be induced to read Greek.”

One thought on “Mr. Crawley’s Greek

  1. I love how humane that first passage is, because the Classics are a never-failing source of pleasure. I think my own favourite is probably Athenaeus. I was given Macrobius’ Saturnalia for my birthday, and Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius.

    The Loeb series are a joy – Latin does not end in 476 AD, any more than Greek does.

Leave a Reply to James Cancel reply