An Interest in the Classics Both Slight and Obscene

E.M. Forster, Maurice, Chp. 21:

“Maurice had no use for Greece. His interest in the classics had been slight and obscene, and had vanished when he loved Clive. The stories of Harmodius and Aristogeiton, of Phaedrus, of the Theban Band were well enough for those whose hearts were empty, but no substitute for life. That Clive should occasionally prefer them puzzled him. In Italy, which he liked well enough in spite of the food and the frescoes, he had refused to cross to the yet holier land beyond the Adriatic. ‘It sounds out of repair,’ was his argument. ‘A heap of old stones without any paint on.'”

Harmodius and Aristogeiton

Hatred in the Academy

Recollections of the Table Talk of Samuel Rogers, to which is added Porsoniana:

‘Porson had no very high opinion of Parr, and could not endure his metaphysics. One evening, Parr was beginning a regular harangue on the origin of evil, when Porson stopped him short by asking “what was the use of it?” Porson, who shrunk on all occasions from praise of himself, was only annoyed by the eulogies which Parr lavished upon him in print. When Parr published the remarks on Combe’s Statement, in which Porson is termed “a giant in literature,” &c., Porson said, “How should Dr. Parr be able to take the measure of a giant?”

Parr was evidently afraid of Porson, of his intellectual powers. I might say too that Horne Tooke had a dread of Porson; but it was only the dread of being insulted by some rude speech from Porson in his drunkenness. Porson thought highly both of Tooke’s natural endowments and of his acquirements.” I have learned many valuable things from Tooke,”was what he frequently said; “yet I don’t always believe Tooke’s assertions,” was sometimes his remark. (I knew Parr intimately. I once dined at Dilly’s with Parr, Priestley, Cumberland, and some other distinguished people. Cumberland, who belonged to the family of the Blandishes, bepraised Priestley to his face, and after he had left the party, spoke of him very disparagingly. This excited Parr’s extremest wrath. When I met him a few days after, he said, “Only think of Mr. Cumberland! that he should have presumed to talk be fore me, before me, sir, in such terms of my friend Dr. Priestley ! Pray, sir, let Mr. Dilly know my opinion of Mr. Cumberland, that his ignorance is equalled only by his impertinence, and that both are exceeded by his malice.” Parr hated Dr. Horsley to such a degree that he never mentioned him by any other name than the fiend. Parr once said to Barker, “You have read a great deal, you have thought very little, and you know nothing.”)’

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Porson’s Bad Copies of Good Books

Recollections of the Table Talk of Samuel Richards, to which is added Porsoniana:

“The time he wasted in writing notes on the margins of books I mean, in writing them with such beauty of penmanship that they rivalled print was truly lamentable. And yet he used those very books most cruelly, whether they were his own, or belonging to others: he would let them lie about his room, covered with dust and all sorts of dirt. He said that ‘he possessed more bad copies of good books than any private gentleman in England.'”

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Greek Fondness for Birds

John Ruskin, Praeterita:

“And at last, because I was so fond of the Doctor, and he had the reputation (in Walworth) of being a good scholar, my father thought he might pleasantly initiate me in Greek, such initiation having been already too long deferred. The Doctor, it afterwards turned out, knew little more of Greek than the letters, and declensions of nouns; but he wrote the letters prettily, and had an accurate and sensitive ear for rhythm. He began me with the odes of Anacreon, and made me scan both them and my Virgil thoroughly, sometimes, by way of interlude, reciting bits of Shakespeare to me with force and propriety. The Anacreontic metre entirely pleased me, nor less the Anacreontic sentiment. I learned half the odes by heart merely to please myself, and learned with certainty, what in later study of Greek art it has proved extremely advantageous to me to know, that the Greeks liked doves, swallows, and roses just as well as I did.”

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No More Compulsory Latin & Greek

From Benjamin Rush’s commonplace book*

“Habit continues after what occasioned it ceases. Latin and Greek [were] useful to monks when all knowledge [was] shut up in them. Not so now. As well might continue the spade since the invention of the plough, or skins and fig leaves since the discovery of silk, cotton, and woolen clothing… Dead languages [are] less necessary now than formerly. All that is available in them [is] diffused through other and modern books… As medicine and law cannot be learned by all, but are necessary to all, why [can] not the dead languages [be] confined like medicine and law to certain persons only? Teaching dead languages [is] irritating to the tempers of Schoolmasters. [There should be] No ears pulled, no swearing, no calling [students] beasts for ignorance or dullness of apprehension in teaching other things.”

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*Cited in The Founders and the Classics by Carl J. Richard

Her Greek Has Made All Her Celebrity

Frances Burney, The Diary and Letters of Madame D’Arblay

‘Streatham, Sunday, June 13. After church we all strolled the grounds, and the topic of our discourse was Miss Streatfield. Mrs. Thrale asserted that she had a power of captivation that was irresistible; that her beauty, joined to her softness, her caressing manners, her tearful eyes, and alluring looks, would insinuate her into the heart of any man she thought worth attacking.

Sir Philip declared himself of a totally different opinion, and quoted Dr. Johnson against her, who had told him that, taking away her Greek, she was as ignorant as a butterfly.

Mr. Seward declared her Greek was all against her, with him, for that, instead of reading Pope, Swift, or “The Spectator”—books from which she might derive useful knowledge and improvement—it had led her to devote all her reading time to the first eight books of Homer.

“But,” said Mrs. Thrale, “her Greek, you must own, has made all her celebrity:—you would have heard no more of her than of any other pretty girl, but for that.”

“What I object to,” said Sir Philip, “is her avowed preference for this parson. Surely it is very indelicate in any lady to let all the world know with whom she is in love!”

“The parson,” said the severe Mr. Seward, “I suppose, spoke first,—or she would as soon have been in love with you, or with me!”

You will easily believe I gave him no pleasant look.’

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A Lesson in Tyrannical Civility

Epistles of Phalaris, No. 11 – To Megacles:

“I have sent you some horses outfitted for the race, and I have ordered Teukros to give you money. If you should need anything else, don’t hesitate to write. There is no request so great that I would not gladly grant it to you.”

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Καὶ τοὺς ἵππους ἐκπέπομφά σοι κεκοσμημένους ἐπὶ τὸν ἀγῶνα καὶ τὰ χρήματα δοῦναι Τεύκρῳ προστέταχα. κἂν ἄλλου του δέῃ, μὴ κατόκνει γράφειν· οὐδὲν γὰρ οὕτως ἔσται μέγα τῶν αἰτημάτων, ὃ μὴ πάντως αἰτησαμένῳ χαριούμεθα.