high weir

January 30, 2009

Sumus quod sumus

Filed under: Uncategorized — jstreed1476 @ 10:06 pm

I’m not alone in my envy of the classical education enjoyed by the Oxbridge set a hundred years ago.

CS Lewis’s tutorials under The Great Knock are surely an impossible standard, even if they were a bit idealized. Still, the notion of an early and thorough immersion in classical languages and literature does appeal.

Then again, there’s this description by Orwell:

He would tap away at one’s skull with his silver pencil, which, in my memory, seems to have been about the size of a banana, and which certainly was heavy enough to raise a bump: or he would pull the short hairs round one’s ears, or, occasionally, reach out under the table and kick one’s shin. On some days nothing seemed to go right, and then it would be ‘ All right, then, I know what you want. You’ve been asking for it the whole morning. Come along, you useless little slacker. Come into the study.’ And then whack, whack, whack, and back one would come, red-wealed and smarting — in later years Sambo had abandoned his riding-crop in favour of a thin rattan cane which hurt very much more — to settle down to work again. This did not happen very often, but I do remember, more than once, being led out of the room in the middle of a Latin sentence, receiving a beating and then going straight ahead with the same sentence, just like that.

This is my favorite part:

It is a mistake to think such methods do not work. They work very well for their special purpose. Indeed, I doubt whether classical education ever has been or can be successfully carried on without corporal punishment. The boys themselves believed in its efficacy. There was a boy named Beacham, with no brains to speak of, but evidently in acute need of a scholarship. Sambo was flogging him towards the goal as one might do with a foundered horse. He went up for a scholarship at Uppingham, came back with a consciousness of having done badly, and a day or two later received a severe beating for idleness. ‘I wish I’d had that caning before I went up for the exam,’ he said sadly — a remark which I felt to be contemptible, but which I perfectly well understood.

This may bear the same relation to reality as Lewis’s passages on lessons with Kirkpatrick.

Honestly, I think that if I had lived in that era and been born to an education somewhere between these extremes, I would have turned out more or less as I am now, i.e. able to recognize a great many things that I might have learned.


1 Comment »

  1. yes, so good, and, at the same time, so many things totally wrong. and, in fixing the wrong things, we almost certainly lose the chance of retaining the good.

    where can i look up more on the Lewis tutorials? (reply in email, please, or copy reply here in email)

    Comment by Sean Meade — January 31, 2009 @ 3:44 pm

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