• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming, home schooling, and building our own house. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 18/Grade 12, 16/Grade 11, and 14/Grade 10.

    Contact me at becky(dot)farmschool(at)gmail(dot)com

  • Notable Quotables

    "If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
    William Morris, from his lecture "The Beauty of Life"

    "‘Never look at an ugly thing twice. It is fatally easy to get accustomed to corrupting influences."
    English architect CFA Voysey (1857-1941)

    "The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead."
    Clarence Day

    "Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing."
    Cicero

    "Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend."
    Sir Francis Bacon, "Essays"

    "The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning."
    Gilbert Highet, "The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning"

    "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
    Walter Wriston

    "I'd like to give you a piece of my mind."
    "Oh, I couldn't take the last piece."
    Ginger Rogers to Frances Mercer in "Vivacious Lady" (1938)

    "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."
    Booker T. Washington

    "Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
    Attributed to Groucho Marx in "The Groucho Letters" by Arthur Sheekman

    "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me."
    Alice Roosevelt Longworth

    "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."
    Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
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  • Copyright © 2005-2016 Please do not use any of my words or my personal photographs without my express permission.

Beyond stocking stuffers for Latin lovers

Harry Mount and his new book, Carpe Diem: Put a Little Latin in Your Life, have made a big splash on this side of the pond, and just in time for Christmas.

From the December 10 issue of The New Yorker:

Last Christmas, the British publisher Short Books issued — along with “Doctor, Have You Got a Minute?” and “Ever Dated a Psycho?” — a two-hundred-and-seventy-two-page half memoir, half manual titled Amo, Amas, Amat . . . and All That, intended, according to its author, Harry Mount, “to give you a pleasurable breeze through the main principles of Latin.” The book was small (bathroom- basket ready), sweet (dedicated to the author’s brother and sister, “Mons Maximus et Mons Maxima”), friendly (cover: cartoon Roman in a toga), and irreverent in a way that might appeal to the sort of rara avis (see page 247) driven to hilarity by a story Mount tells about defacing the cover of Kennedy’s Shorter Latin Primer to read Kennedy’s Shortbread Eating Primer. But that avis was not so rara after all: the book turned out to be the Tickle Me Elmo of the belletristic-stocking-stuffer trade, selling more than ninety thousand copies. “Mirabile dictu!” the Independent declared. “Lingua Latina superavit!” Chances are, then, that the relative who gave you Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves in 2004 will probably show up this Christmas with Carpe Diem: Put a Little Latin in Your Life, the American edition of Amo, whose original subtitle — “How to Become a Latin Lover” — was nixed after an acquaintance of Mount’s mistook it for a book of antiquarian sex tips. …

In his book, Mount recasts Kingsley Amis’s idea that bad English speakers fall into two categories—Berks (crass, careless) and Wankers (priggish, overprecise)—saying that Latin readers have a dangerous tendency toward the latter. “People use the Latinate to show off or to be evasive,” Mount explained. “If, using the Anglo-Saxon word, you said, ‘I lied,’ you’d get the sack. Now, if you said, ‘I was economic with the actuality,’ you’d get out of it.”

Mount admits to being something of a Wanker himself, and his book, along with his ridicule of the public education system, has caused a measure of class controversy in the U.K. He began his study of the language as a nine-year-old at a London school called North Bridge House, where Latin was mandatory for boys but not for girls (“a hangover from an old-fashioned gentleman’s education, I suppose”). While he was under the tutelage of the magnificently named Miss Pickersgill, his appreciation of the language blossomed. “Doing Latin was a bit like wearing X-ray specs,” he said. “Everywhere I went, I had the pleasure of knowledge.”

At Oxford, Mount was tapped for the exclusive Bullingdon Club; he enjoys a certain notoriety for having been rolled down a hill in a portable toilet. “It was like coming out of Dracula’s coffin,” he recalled, at a diner near the Met. “I was watching ‘Henry V’ on the plane over—there’s an accepted period of laddish drunkenness in all cultures. The Greeks were keen on wine and sexual misbehavior. There’s a great bit of Plato, often read at weddings, about two halves of the same soul being joined. They always neglect to read the part that says the greatest love of all is between two male halves.”

Mount returned to the subject of his book. “This genre is for people who long to know about difficult things but want them delivered in a jokey, anecdotal way. There’s a tremendous tendency to think the world’s going to the dogs, but there’s an enduring respect for proper things.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a red leather notebook, which he opened to a page filled with schoolboy jottings. He said he loved “Church Going,” the Philip Larkin poem about a young man who will “forever be surprising / A hunger in himself to be more serious.”

Digging a little deeper, from Mr. Mount’s op-ed piece, “A Vote for Latin”, in today’s New York Times:

At first glance, it doesn’t seem tragic that our leaders don’t study Latin anymore. But it is no coincidence that the professionalization of politics — which encourages budding politicians to think of education as mere career preparation — has occurred during an age of weak rhetoric, shifting moral values, clumsy grammar and a terror of historical references and eternal values that the Romans could teach us a thing or two about. As they themselves might have said, “Roma urbs aeterna; Latina lingua aeterna.”*

None of the leading presidential candidates majored in Latin. Hillary Clinton studied political science at Wellesley, as did Barack Obama at Columbia. Rudy Giuliani had a minor brush with the language during four years of theology at Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Brooklyn when he toyed with becoming a priest. But then he went on to major in guess what? Political science.

How things have changed since the founding fathers.

Of the 7,000 books originally in Thomas Jefferson’s library, only a couple of dozen are still at Monticello. The rest were sold off by his descendants, and eventually bought back by the Library of Congress. The best-thumbed of those remaining — on a glassed-in shelf in Jefferson’s study — is a copy of Virgil’s “Aeneid.”

Jefferson started learning Latin and Greek at age 9 at a school in Virginia run by a Scottish clergyman. When he was at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, a Greek grammar book was always by his side. Tacitus and Homer were his favorites.

High school, Jefferson thought, should center on Latin, Greek and French, with grammar and reading exercises, translations into English and the memorizing of famous passages. In 1819, when Jefferson opened the University of Virginia in Charlottesville (built according to classical rules of architecture), he employed only classically trained professors to teach Greek and Roman history.

This pattern of Latin learning continued for more than 150 years. Of the 40 presidents since Jefferson, 31 have studied Latin, many at a high level. James Polk graduated from the University of North Carolina, in 1818, with top honors in math and classics. James Garfield taught Greek and Latin from 1856 to 1857 at what is now Hiram College in Ohio. Teddy Roosevelt studied classics at Harvard.

John F. Kennedy had Latin instruction at not one, but three prep schools. Richard Nixon showed a great aptitude for the language, coming second in the subject at Whittier High School in California in 1930. And George H. W. Bush, a Latin student at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., was a member of the fraternity Auctoritas, Unitas, Veritas (Authority, Unity, Truth).

A particular favorite for Bill Clinton during his four years of Latin at Hot Springs High School in Arkansas was Caesar’s Gallic War.

Following in his father’s footsteps, George W. Bush studied Latin at Phillips Academy (the school’s mottoes: “Non Sibi” or not for self, and “Finis Origine Pendet,” the end depends on the beginning).

But then President Bush was lucky enough to catch the tail end of the American classical tradition. Soon after he left Andover in 1964, the study of Latin in America collapsed. In 1905, 56 percent of American high school students studied Latin. By 1977, a mere 6,000 students took the National Latin Exam.

Recently there have been signs of a revival. The number taking the National Latin Exam in 2005, for instance, shot up to 134,873.

Why is this a good thing? Not all Romans were models of virtue — Caligula’s Latin was pretty good. And not all 134,873 of those Latin students are going to turn into Jeffersons.

But what they gain is a glimpse into the past that provides a fuller, richer view of the present. Know Latin and you discern the Roman layer that lies beneath the skin of the Western world. And you open up 500 years of Western literature (plus an additional thousand years of Latin prose and poetry).

Why not just study all this in English? What do you get from reading the “Aeneid” in the original that you wouldn’t get from Robert Fagles’s fine translation, which came out just last year?

Well, no translation, however fine, can ever sound the way Latin was written to sound. To hear Latin poetry spoken smoothly and quickly is to hear a mellifluous, rat-a-tat-tat language, the rich, distilled, romantic, pure, heady blueprint of its close descendant, Italian.

But also, learning to translate Latin into English and vice versa is a tremendous way to train the mind. I think of translating concise, precise Latin into more expansive, discursive English as like opening up a concertina; you are allowed to inject all sorts of original thought and interpretation.

As much as opening the concertina enlarges your imagination, squeezing it shut — translating English into Latin — sharpens your prose. Because Latin is a dead language, not in a constant state of flux as living languages are, there’s no wriggle room in translating. If you haven’t understood exactly what a particular word means or how a grammatical rule works, you are likely to be, not off, but just plain wrong. There’s nothing like this challenge to teach you how to navigate the reefs and whirlpools of English prose.

With a little Roman history and Latin under your belt, you end up seeing more everywhere, not only in literature and language, but in the classical roots of Federal architecture; the spread of Christianity throughout Western Europe and, in turn, America; and in the American system of senatorial government. The novelist Alan Hollinghurst describes people who know history’s turning points as being able to look at the world as a sequence of rooms: Greece gives way to Rome, Rome to the Byzantine Empire, to the Renaissance, to the British Empire, to America.

You can gain this advantage at any age. Alfred the Great, the ninth-century king of England, who knew how crucial it was to learn Latin to become a civilized leader, took it up in his 30s. Here’s hoping that a new generation of students — and presidents — will likewise recognize that *“if Rome is the eternal city, Latin is the eternal language.”

Poetry Friday: A plea for the classics, for ambitious boys (and girls)

A Plea for the Classics
by Eugene Field (1850-1895)

A Boston gentleman declares,
By all the gods above, below,
That our degenerate sons and heirs
Must let their Greek and Latin go!
Forbid, O Fate, we loud implore,
A dispensation harsh as that;
What! wipe away the sweets of yore;
The dear “Amo, amas, amat”?

The sweetest hour the student knows
Is not when poring over French,
Or twisted in Teutonic throes,
Upon a hard collegiate bench;
‘T is when on roots and kais* and gars**
He feeds his soul and feels it glow,
Or when his mind transcends the stars
With “Zoa mou, sas agapo”!***

So give our bright, ambitious boys
An inkling of these pleasures, too —
A little smattering of the joys
Their dead and buried fathers knew;
And let them sing — while glorying that
Their sires so sang, long years ago —
The songs “Amo, amas, amat,”
And “Zoa mou, sas agapo”!

* “ands”, in Greek
** “fors”, in Greek
*** More Greek (the refrain from Lord Byron’s poem Maid of Athens, “Zoë mou, sas agapo”, or, “My life, I love you”)

* * * *

Known during his brief lifetime as “the children’s poet”, Eugene Field was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1850, the son of lawyer Roswell Martin Field and Frances Reed Field; Roswell M. Field defended the fugitive slave Dred Scott in the first trial of 1853. When Mrs. Field died three years later, Eugene and his brother, Roswell Jr., were sent to Amherst, Massachusetts, to be raised by a cousin and a paternal aunt; of his upbringing there, Field wrote, “It is almost impossible for a man to get rid of his Puritan grandfathers and nobody who has ever had one has ever escaped his Puritan grandmother.” According to his teachers, Eugene was an intelligent boy but more fond of pranks and practical jokes than studying. However, after Eugene’s death, his brother Roswell recalled,

It is in no sense depreciatory of my brother’s attainments in life to say that he gave no evidence of precocity in his studies in childhood. On the contrary he was somewhat slow in development, though this was due not so much to a lack of natural ability — he learned easily and quickly when so disposed — as to a fondness for the hundred diversions which occupy a wide-awake boy’s time.

and

For a few years my brother attended a private school for boys in Amherst; then, at the age of fourteen, he was entrusted to the care of Rev. James Tufts, of Monson, one of those noble instructors of the blessed old school who are passing away from the arena of education in America. By Mr. Tufts he was fitted for college, and from the enthusiasm of this old scholar he caught perhaps the inspiration for the love of the classics which he carried through life. In the fall of 1868 he entered Williams College — the choice was largely accidental — and remained there one year

until the death of their father. Eugene moved to Illinois to attend Knox College, where the college’s Children’s and Young Adult Literature magazine is named Wynken, Blynken and Nod in Field’s honor; according to the magazine’s website, “His independent, free-spirited personality was apparently too much for the conservative college of the 19th century and he left without completing a degree” after one year. Brother Roswell agreed, writing about “the restlessness which was so characteristic of him in youth.” Eugene Field transferred for the final time, also without graduating, to the University of Missouri. After dabbling a bit in acting and the law, he proposed marriage to fourteen-year-old Julia Sutherland Comstock and embarked on a tour of Europe during which he spent his entire $8,000 inheritance from his father; as he told friends upon his return, “I spent six months and my patrimony in France, Italy, Ireland, and England.”

In 1873, he joined the staff of The St. Louis Journal as a reporter and married Miss Comstock, with whom he would have a happy union and eight children. He moved on, as writer and editor, to The St. Joseph Gazette (Missouri), followed by The Kansas City Times and The Denver Tribune. In 1883, he was enticed to join The Chicago Daily News with the promise of writing “exactly what I please on any subject I please”, which turned into his column “Sharps and Flats” (1883-95). Indeed, Field is considered the first newspaper columnist, and one of the most successful.

Eugene Field’s column, along with books such as A Little Book of Western Verse (1889) and Love Songs of Childhood (1894), brought him national fame. In 1892, he and his brother, a journalist and critic, collaborated on a translation from the works of the poet Horace, Echoes from the Sabine Farm (the nickname of Eugene’s Chicago house). Field’s love of the classics and sense of humor led him to write some verses that were most certainly not for children, including “The Truth about Horace“.

Field was further celebrated, and remains known today, for his whimsical children’s verse, including the poems “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod“, “The Ride to Bumpville”, “The Duel“, “The Sugar Plum Tree“, and “Little Boy Blue“. His works for children came out of his fervent belief that the young imagination should be encouraged with fancy and make-believe, and according to all reports Field was an indulgent husband and father, and his home and family life were remarkably happy.

Eugene Field died in his sleep of heart failure in 1895, at the age of 45. In 1902, Mark Twain dedicated a plaque marking the St. Louis, Missouri, house in which Field was born; earlier this year the building was designated a National Historic Landmark. In 1922, a bronze statue in Eugene Field’s memory was erected in Lincoln Park, Chicago, of a winged fairy and two sleeping children (inspired by Field’s poem “The Rock-a-By Lady“. The statue, by American sculptor Edward McCartan, was raised with the help of children in Chicago and across the country.

More of Eugene Field’s poetry can be found online here.

Gina at AmoxCalli has today’s Poetry Friday round-up. Thanks, Gina! Speaking of classics, don’t forget that AmoxCalli has the feature, “Reviewing the Classics of Children’s Literature” — good stuff!

New to me

Sylvia’s Classical Bookworm blog, where the Sidebar Menu includes such tasty treats as “About the Great Books”, “Great Books Online”, “Great Publishers”, “Libraries”, “Reference”, “Reading Guides”, “Reading Groups”, “Book Arts”, “Illuminated Manuscripts”, “Appurtenances”, “Other Good Stuff”, “Art”, “Latin”, and “Just for Fun”. Worth noting that “Appurtenances” includes a link to the Antioch Bookplate Company, whose bookplates have graced my books for more than 30 years and now grace my children’s.

Worth checking the archives for Sylvia’s first posts from December 2004.

Barbarians, paragons, and March and April fools

Just in time for April Fool’s Day, one hopes, The Telegraph‘s education correspondent reported yesterday,

Lessons in Latin and Ancient Greek have been deemed detrimental to the learning of foreign languages in schools.

A secret document sent to Government officials by the Dearing Languages Review, an influential inquiry into language teaching, reveals that Latin and Greek were excluded from the list of languages that schools will be encouraged to study because they are “dead languages” that contribute nothing to “intercultural understanding”.

The document adds that “important as they can be, their inclusion on the same footing as modern languages could actually undermine our attempts to build up national capacity in languages”.

The revelation that Latin and Greek were intentionally excluded by the review comes only days after news that the Ancient History A-level is to be scrapped by the OCR exam board. The review was ordered by the Government last year in response to a steep decline in the number of pupils studying languages for GCSE.

Boris Johnson, the shadow higher education minister, described the assertion that Latin and Greek could undermine attempts to build up languages as the “most stupid thing I have ever heard”.

“I can pick up a newspaper in Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Greece, Brazil and the whole of Latin America and understand the news, basically because I studied Latin,” he said.”

And from The Telegraph‘s leader today, “O tempora, o mores!”,

As we report today, the teaching of Latin has been condemned by the committee reviewing languages in schools, on the asinine grounds that it could “actually undermine our attempts to build up national capacity in languages”. Latin, as everyone except the educationalists on that committee knows, is the foundation of French, Spanish and Italian.

But that was only one of the idiocies emanating from this quarter last week. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers called for the abolition of all testing by schools, and the introduction of lessons in walking.

Verbum sapienti: if the low level of attainment of our school children is a cause for concern, we should be just as worried by their teachers. As their pronouncements last week show, some of them make the barbarians who destroyed the Roman Empire look like paragons of sophisticated civilisation.