Here he was wont to sit and read his Horace, and think of the affairs of the world as Horace depicted them. Many a morsel of wisdom he ahd here made his own, and had then endeavoured to think whether the wisdom had in truth been taken home by the poet to his own bosom, or had only been a glitter of the intellect — Mr Whittlestaff, Trollope’s An Old Man’s Love
The words of Mercury are harsh, after the songs of Apollo, Shakespeare, Love’s Labor’s Lost, Act 5, scene 2
Dear friends and readers,
A thread emerged on the Trollope facebook page this morning as important for understanding Trollope as his years in the post office; lack of understanding of the sources of feminism, many widows, interest in debt and suicide, not to omit maps and televisuality: his knowledge of classical stories, people, history, and late love of Latin.
A man on the facebook Trollope page, someone I’m friends with on facebook proper, so to speak (there are different facebook places nowadays), a fellow Renaissance person (loves the poetr too), Graham Christian, told everyone about the Trollope Apollo project: a college teacher had her students read Trollope’s Barsetshire novels looking for classical references and allusions with an eye to writing about how they were used on a website they would create. They found many many. The Barsetshire books are laden with these references, often used comically — if rather externally, e.g., the political satire in Framley Parsonage where the Whigs are the gods, and the Tories the giants. The students had to read these superb books; they had to understand how these allusions were used; they had to work on a website. An incidental effect of all this activity might be they would discover how the materials of Latin classic texts can be relevant to us today.
I’ve known about Trollope’s Apollo since 2006 when she contacted me to ask if I could link the project into my website; I was delighted to do so in several places, and when the thread morphed to ask (among other things) if learning Latin is relevant to useful, I found myself contributing again and again. I found myself agreeing that arguing that we must study X [Latin] because it helps us better understand Y [French] — other such arguments won’t encourage more respect. You have to show students that studying Latin for itself and reading what’s written in Latin is good to do for its own sake — meaningful, fun, absorbing. Like Virgil’s Aeneid is splendid, moving and an anti-war
war poem. Probably the college students are not advanced enough to read the equivalent Latin text to a Trollope novel.
Nonetheless, the teacher seemed to me just the sort of teacher we should have more of. I admired her. And her students’ efforts are touching. At a minimum, now if you want to find a classical allusion in Trollope’s Barsetshire books, now you can. And Apollo is the god of reason, a quality we see too little of in our public media or the public world.
Then someone remembered that Trollope had said the 12 years of his time in school included astonishing wastes of time — as Latin and Greek were so poorly taught as not to have been taught at least to him at all. She said these schools were generally really bad. Trollope’s statement about himself has been shown to be an exaggeration (by who else but R. H. Super? — he loves to rewrite Trollope’s sense of his life), but it is true that Trollope’s knowledge of the language, understanding of classical history and mature use of this material came much later in life. There’s an excellent article on this, which Glenn Shipway cited: Robert Tracy’s “Lana Medicata Fuco: Trollope’s Classicism” (in Trollope: Centenary Essays, ed. John Halperin). I reread it this evening, and hence am putting what I wrote this morning on facebook somewhat altered in the light of what Tracy reminded me of.
It’s so easy to come across horror stories about public school life for boys in the 19th and early 20th century, it’s probably true it was a bad place for many kinds of boys — especially in the areas of the inculcation of bullying, the lack of decent food and accommodations, the wretched way many of the tutors (underpaid, despised) taught. Trollope says his brother literally whipped him and Tom did not deny that. Thackeray is rare truthful person who as an adult conceded the vicious sexual goings-on — I’m not referring to homosexual patterns per se, but the way these were done in an environment which defined them as sinful and ugly. A great novel revealing this is Simon Raven’s Fielding Grey (Raven wrote the scripts for The Pallisers and the first, now wiped out, The Way We Live Now ). As a boy Trollope was accused of some kind of homosexual behavior (or perhaps masterbation) in one school (Sunbury) and the boys who had done it knew he had not, and let him take the rap. He says as of the time of writing he remembers their names.
In one of his books Thackeray writes of wanting to expose all these realities and the indifference to all this of the parents who send boys to such schools — as they knew about it: what they care about is the boy comes into contact with boys of wealthy, well-connected people and makes friendships that could lead to good jobs in later life. (Today people will go into heavy debt to go to schools with such people in them.)
All that said, studies show some boys survived these schools without too much apparent damage and many even did learn to love and read the classics, if not in Latin, in English translation, though sometimes it includes Greek, e.g., Richard Jenkyns’s The Victorians and Ancient Greece. Some went home almost immediately. It depends on the child or young adult. There are many Victorian studies of the influence of the classics on writers and art in that age. Many of the great English poets show this background from Johnson and Thomas Grey to the Edwardians and there’s a whole Latin literature which at least some people read. You can reach it through English translation.
As a genuinely intelligent imaginative young man when Trollope overcame his depression (in Ireland) and slowly worked his way into a social and professional success, he could and did find it in himself in his late years, to turn back, re-teach or teach himself for the first time how to read Latin well and make such texts a source of happiness to himself. While he partly laughs gently at Mr Whittlestaff, he is Mr Whittlestaff. Early on in his writing career, he wrote and published a learned review critiquing his friend Merivale’s History of the Romans under the Empire. After he improved his proficiency (or in improving it) he became fascinated by Caesar, admired the Commentaries and wrote a book on it which he defends in his Autobiography as “a good little book,” readable, one which could inform all people, “old and young,” about Caesar. An early admiration gave way to a sense of the terrible harm such a “great man” can inflict on his society, and he preferred Cicero, the thoughtful friend, and his letters and wrote a portrait of Cicero as a political study (rather like his Palmerston). He was very hurt at the condescending sneers his book attracted from classical scholars. From the references of his early books to classical characters and stories, to having his characters read and enjoy classics, Trollope points out analogies between the ancient world and his own. Tracy says Trollope projected his own character traits onto Cicero and imagines Cicero intensely enjoying London social life in the 19th century.
For myself I like the more thoughtful worked out allusions to classical themes and people of his later books, and it often charms me to read of characters in books loving this or that author. I like to remember John Grey sitting down to read of the French revolution and Alice Vavasour calming herself with Carlyle (!). The ironies of the way Josiah Crawley uses his knowledge of English & Latin classics to buoy up his shattered pride and the witty dialogues between say Plantagenet Palliser and his sons are amusing and touching. Tracy says when Palliser tells his sons “Money ought to have no power of conferring happiness, and certainly cannot drive away sorrow,” he then misquotes a Horatian text in a way that undermines what he said, that Melmotte is Trollope’s late idea of a Caesar type.
One of the Trollope Society yearly lectures (printed in a Trollopiana) is about a less pleasant or admirable side to Trollope’s use of Latin and the classics. To quote a Latin tag or line is to demonstrate you are upper class, went to a public school or had a tutor in Latin. By using Latin, Trollope identifies himself as a gentlemen with other gentlemen. This by implication excludes those who haven’t Latin or haven’t read these books even in translation. It excludes women for the most part too. We can see this use of Latin in the George Housman illustration at the beginning of this blog. Grace Crawley proves her status as gentlewoman by the way she reads and what she reads. That which is used to signify belonging is also used to stigmatize, make coteries. I can’t remember the name of the author of the Trollopiana article, only that it was a London Society lecture and written in deconstructionist jargon; I cannot think it went over very well …
Fast forward to today where the evils of institutionalized bullying and ugly attitudes towards sex are mostly gone (not all), and you can find people who learned to love Latin or profited from it. My personal interest in this area comes in here. My husband loathed his public school; he went there as a day boy and wore a different colored uniform to show he was poor; he was caned 5 times, once for making his “f’s” perversely. A searing memory is how as an 11 year old he and others were made to stand in the pouring rain holding up a salute as some politicians whizzed by in their limousine. But until today he really enjoys and knows about the classical world, reads about it, gets a kick out of jokes and works which burlesque it. He has a lovely polished prose style from his years in public school.
Last night I read aloud a long funny passage from Olivia Manning’s Balkan Trilogy where the central characters put on a play, Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, itself a savage bitter satire on the Trojan characters. The characters each take such pride in playing a particular famous character, and the ones chosen highlight their absurdities as well as the way they are experiencing WW2. Jim laughed and laughed.
My younger daughter, Isobel, loves Latin itself, minored in it in college, could be a Latin teacher if there were positions and she were trained. A friend who has a blog (mirabile dictu she calls it) loves Latin – she majored in college and has written about the Aeneid. Izzy loves Horace and Catullus in the original; she much enjoyed studying Latin history in post-graduate courses at GMU for a couple of years.
My favorite story is of my older daughter, Laura, who took Latin for two years in high school and again preferred it in college to satisfy the then language requirement in college. She was very popular during lunch because she clung to an priceless irreplaceable book we have in our house: a copy of the Aeneid in Latin with an English translation placed in-between the lines in such a way as to unravel (so to speak) the order of the Latin so that it resembles the ordering of English words in sentences. It’s an interlinear Vergil by Hart and Osborne. Laura never let this book out of her sight while others used it.
I’m one of those people who after a couple of years of college Latin could stumble through an advanced exam in medieval Latin (the “that” clauses are all set up in the English manner) like one does a puzzle. I like some Latin very much in translation. I love the Aeneid as translated by Allen Mandelbaum and the Georgics by C. Day Lewis. I really enjoy Pope’s Horatian poems — though I’m told that they are far more Juvenalian than Horatian.
From yon old walnut-tree, a show’r shall fall;
And grapes, long-lingring on my only wall,
And figs, from standard and espalier join:
The dev’l is in you if you cannot dine.
Then chearful healths (your Mistress shall have place)
And, what’s more rare, a Poet shall say Grace.
Fortune not much of humbling me can boast;
Tho’ double tax’d, how little have I lost?
My life’s amusements have been just the same,
Before, and after Standing Armies came.
– 2nd Satire of 2nd Book, Horace “paraphrased by Pope