The future of Latin


Recently the University of Roehampton announced that it is to close its Classics department. Leaving aside the surprising revelation that such a small and undistinguished seat of learning actually boasted a Classics department, this is part of a trend towards abolishing certain disciplines in the Humanties, principally ( one supposes) due to lack of interest from prospective students. We have also learnt that graduate with degrees in English Literature are now finding it harder than their fellow graduates in most other branches of the Humanities   to secure jobs. In view of this, the ultra-vocationally inclined Sheffield Hallam University, has decided to abolish its department of English Literature. Doubtless, many other Universities that were former polytechnics, will follow suit.

The reassessment of the Classics as an academic discipline worth sticking with has been going on in and outside the Academy for a hundred or more years. Sometimes an insistence on a qualification in Latin seems absurd. When your Jotter was being groomed for Oxford at a State grammar school in Wales by his history master, it was discovered that if he wished to study English, an O level in Latin was the minimum requirement. Because he had switched from the Science stream to the Arts after ‘O’ levels, he had no such qualification, unlike those who had remained in the Arts all their school careers. Had he wished to study English at Cambridge, however, a qualification in Latin was not stipulated, thanks partly to the efforts of people like F. R. Leavis.  In the end, your Jotter opted for Cambridge, but failed to get in, mainly because, unlike those from public schools preparing for Oxbridge, he was not offered special guidance on past exam papers etc. Not that he is bitter in any way!  Continue reading

Edward Balston—the man in love with Eton College

It’s bad enough to learn that nineteen British prime Ministers attended Eton College without learning recently, as I did, that one Eton man was so enamoured of the benefits of a classical education that he seriously suggested that Latin and Greek were the only subjects that should be taught in the classroom.That man was not, incidentally, Boris Johnson, but Edward Balston.

Balston—the son of William, that famous papermaker familiar to all students of palaeography—attended Eton in the 1820s and early 30s and then entered  King’s College, Cambridge in 1836. Awarded the Browne Medal for Latin verse every year from 1836 to 1839, he was unusually elected Fellow of King’s in 1839, two years before he  graduated, though why it took him five years to gain his B.A. is not adequately explained. In 1842 he became a priest.

Balston loved Eton so much that he couldn’t wait to return there. In 1840, before he had even graduated, he became an assistant master at his alma mater. Twenty two years later he was chosen as Head. In July 1862, not long after his appointment, Balston came up before the Clarendon Commission on Education. On hearing his views on the primacy of classics in the classroom Lord Clarendon was appalled:

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