[In the following passage from the author's A history of Eton College, 1440-1910 (1911), he quotes at length an anonymous "correspondent, intimately acquainted with Eton affairs" (p. 382), on the curriculum before the 1868 and other reforms, such as the introduction of mathematics. — GPL].
here were three ancient authors well known to Etonians — Homer, Virgil, and Horace. If a boy was in School for eight or ten years, as many Collegers were, he was sure to go through the Iliad once and a half, the Æneid twice; there was no certainty that he would know the Eclogues or the Georgics at all; and of the Odyssey he must needs know, only too familiarly, a few hundred lines which were in the school-book called Poetcs Græci, a book then very meagre and insufficient, but many years afterwards expanded into a valuable, though by no means perfect, anthology of Greek verse. All Horace, except perhaps the Epodes, was read and repeated, subject to expurgation, but it may he doubted whether even superior boys knew the meaning of the Odes accurately. However, these three poets were on the whole as familiarly known as could be reasonably expected, and an Oppidan spending only three years at Eton, and being for half that time under Keate, was pretty sure to read thus much with relish and with advantage. But the late Lord Halifax, who left school in 1818 and went straight to Oxford, had never read a line of Thucydides. The wretched compilation called Scriptores Graci consisted of a lump of Lucian, with a veneer, gradually thickened, of scraps of Herodotus, [382/383] Thucydides, Xenophon, and Plato; so that literally not one first-rate Greek prose writer was really known to the student of 1818. Yet he found himself at Oriel as good a scholar as any man from any other school. Between 1818 and 1834 the Scriptores Graci may have been altered a little, and Hawtrey added to it from time to time. At one period it contained several solid insertions — the first book of the Anabasis, Plato's Euthyphon, and the Menexenus (which was probably accepted as a veracious sketch of Athenian history), but to the last Herodotus and Thucydides were represented in a capricious and unsystematic set of selections, and as late as 1842 a reflective freshman at Cambridge was able to say with truth that he had been taught Greek in school at Eton, but had been left to get his knowledge of Attic Greek out of school. The young man who entered Oriel in 1818, fresh from the Upper Division, had paid for private tuition for three years, but the whole amount of what he had done with two clever tutors was this — with one he had read the Alcestis (a very short and easy play), to the other he had said by heart, on Sundays, the first Satire of Juvenal. We must complete the account of his Greeks studies by adding that he had been in the habit of saying by heart, on Monday morning, to an Assistant Master, some fifteen verses of the Greek Testament, of course without interpretation, or comment. This was probably meant for a religious lesson to be learnt on Sunday.
Turning to Latin prose literature, in Keate's days [1808-34] and down to a very recent time, it was represented by a book called Scriptores Romania, an odd but interesting compilation, bearing up to the last edition the impress of a mind which contemplated not merely elegant scholarship, but the training of young men for a parliamentary career, for it contained a good deal of fine hard Latin about oratory and public virtue, and, though it was wofully inadequate as a thread of beads to illustrate Roman history, it betokened a lofty purpose corresponding to Lord Chatham's ideas, and it was a great relief to the intellect. Nor is it fair to forget that for Sixth Form boys the Scriptores Romania was handsomely supplemented by the 'Speech-Book,' which contained many gems of eloquence; only it was a pity that the young reciters were not taught to construe what they learned by heart. [382-83]
- "A minimum was required" — The Easy-going approach to education at Mid-Victorian Eton
- Collegers and Oppidans
Lyte, H. C. Maxwell, Sir. A history of Eton College, 1440-1910. 4th ed., rev. London: Macmillan, 1911.
Last modified 24 July 2006