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LATIN IN EARNEST
EARLY the following Monday Master Pierson drove to the village book store and purchased for us seven copies of Andrews' Latin Lessons; in fact, he bought the entire stock in hand at the store. It was a week later before we were all provided with books; but meanwhile we studied in pairs, Thomas and Catherine together, Theodora and Ellen, and Addison and myself. Halstead had a book to himself. But here I may as well add, that he gave up Latin after seven or eight days, becoming wholly disgusted with it. "Miserable frothy stuff!" he exclaimed one night, after endeavoring vainly to decline dominus, of the second declension; "I know it never will do a fellow one bit of good."
Joel had already explained to us that the Latin is a dead language, that is to say, an unspoken one.
"It ought to be dead," said Halstead. "And if it's dead, what's the use to study it? If I'm going to study at all, I'll study a living language; I'll study French."
"All right, Halse," replied Joel, laughing; and going to his trunk, he brought out Fasquelle's French Course. "Here's French for you. Take the first lesson for to-morrow."
This pleased Halstead; he thought he was thereby getting the start of the others, and he actually learned a number of lessons, after a manner; but in the end he had quite as much trouble with the living French as with the dead Latin. In fact, he found French pronunciation even frothier than the declension of dominos, and had quite enough of both during the fortnight; so much so that those were his first and last attempts at language studies. Possibly he might have persevered a little better, but for Alfred Batchelder, who did not take Latin and ridiculed the others for doing so whenever he could obtain a hearing. When we were reciting our Latin, he and Halse would sit listening, and try very hard to make a little fun of it. One day they made so much disturbance, that Joel sent them both out of the room. As usual, Alfred was saucy and declared that as this was a private school, he should do as he pleased. To this Joel made no reply at the time. After school was dismissed that night, Alfred continued to talk about it. Still Joel did not reply.
At length, Alfred set off for home, but after going a few steps turned and threw a hard lump of snow at the master, who stood near the house door. Thereupon Joel gave chase and, overhauling him directly, laid him on his back in a snow-drift and scrubbed him with snow till he was very wet and red.
"There, sir!" exclaimed Joel, "I am not doing this as your teacher. This is out of school."
We were all glad of it; even Halstead laughed; but Alfred was so angry that he did not appear at the Old Squire's again. It was a good riddance; at best Alfred was an irredeemable little rowdy, wrong-headed in almost everything. He was far more ill-disposed than Halstead; and the latter was always more rude and unreliable when in his company.
Willis Murch and the Wilbur young folks attended the private school, but did not attempt Latin. They still had work in the Common School Arithmetic and in geography. But with our Latin class Joel tried what he called an experiment. "I want you to put out all your strength and all your time on Latin alone, during this fortnight," he said. "We will have only one exercise besides Latin, and that will not be a lesson, exactly, but it will fit in well with this new study. Every evening we will read an hour and a half from ancient history, and then ask questions about it, all of which I will explain to you as well as I can." His idea was that even in that fortnight, if we devoted our minds wholly to it, he could give us so good a start in Latin that we would be able to translate it without much assistance.
We commenced the declensions of nouns and recited three lessons daily, beginning the translation of the easy sentences, on the second day. Addison, Theodora and Catherine made remarkable progress; they learned all five of the declensions of nouns the first day. The rest of us, who were not so quick, kept pace as best we could. It seemed to me that I had never studied so hard in my whole life. My head fairly sang with musa, musae, musae, musam, musa, musa and gladius, gladii, gladio, gladium, gladie, gladio!
I remember, too, that the first sounds I heard on waking next morning were from Addison who was tramping about our room, declining oratio, orationis, oration, orationem, oratio, oratione; orationes, orationum, orationibus, orationes, orationes, orationibus.
"Doad!" he shouted loud enough to be heard through the wall of the room. "Can you decline lex?" Whereupon, from the other side of the partition wall, arose a confident voice, reciting, — lex, legis, legi, legem, lex, lege, etc. And she had no sooner finished than Ellen chimed in with leo, leonis, leoni, leonem, leo, leone, etc.
Then Joel, hearing the refrain up stairs, raised his droll, falsetto voice and brayed out, Hic, haec, hoc; hujus, hujus, hujus; huic, huic, huic; hunt, hanc, hoc; etc. This was in pronouns, far ahead of us; and we were unable to respond in kind; but Ad shouted, "I'll be there before night!"
While dressing, the whole house resounded to Latin nouns of various declensions in half a dozen different voices, Joel at times displaying his superior acquisitions by conjugating the verbs moneo and rego, to which we all listened in silent admiration!
At length, as we entered the dining-room, to breakfast, a fearful chorus of nouns and verbs arose, declined and conjugated in six different voices. Gram stopped her ears.
"Joel Pierson, this is worse than the tower of Babel!" she exclaimed. "I believe you are all crazy, or soon will be! And I'm sure I shall be," she added, "if you are going on like this long! Is this the way scholars always study Latin?"
"No, Mother," replied Joel. "Students beginning Latin are apt to be very blue and dumpish. Sometimes they scarcely speak all day long; and there is one 'case of suicide on record, but we have got it on the cheerful side, here."
"The noisy side, I should think!" cried Gram. "Do you expect to go on like this a fortnight?" "Yes, Mother, day and night," cried Joel.
Thomas and Catherine reached the schoolroom at eight, the second morning. They came in declining exercitus and dies, of the fourth and fifth declensions. Catherine was ready to begin adjectives. So were Theodora and Addison. Immediately the room resounded to bonus-a-um and felix, felicis, felici, felicem, etc.
That day they three finished pronouns; and the rest of us in the class tagged after them, doing our best to keep up, but succeeding only indifferently. It was a veritable Latin steeple-chase, and no one wished to be the hindmost. I recollect that after reading in Ancient History that evening, we all resumed our study of pronouns and would, I really think, have sat up till midnight, but that Joel went around at ten and resolutely gathering up all the books, sent Thomas and Catherine home, and literally drove us off to bed. He began to be alarmed concerning the demon of study which he had raised in us. We protested that we were not a bit tired; but he blew out the sitting-room lamp and shouted, "School's dismissed!"
Addison went up stairs grumbling, whereupon Joel called after us that he should himself rise at five and kindle a fire in the sitting-room fire-place; and that if any of us wished to rise then and study for an hour or two before breakfast, we could do so.
We were all soundly asleep at five next morning; but the noise made by Joel knocking about in the fireplace with tongs and shovel, waked Addison who turned out in a moment. His movements in turn waked me and I made haste to follow his example. I would gladly have gone to sleep again, but I durst not let the others get ahead of me for an hour. As we went down stairs in the dark, Addison tapped at Theodora's door and said, "Five o'clock."
"Is it?" said she, sleepily. "Seems to me I have but just gone to sleep." She and Ellen soon came down to the sitting-room, however; but Halstead did not appear.
After we were fairly awake it was very cosy and nice, studying there in the sitting-room before the brightly blazing fire. Joel was reading Electra in Greek and had his large lexicon laid open on the table, as also Hadley's Greek grammar. It seemed to me that it would be an age before I should be so far advanced as that. Joel told us that morning that it would require three years to "fit" for college.
"I think I can fit in two years," said Addison.
"You could in a year and a half if you were to go on as you are rushing ahead this week," replied Joel, laughing. "But you will not long hold out, like this."
We began to learn the first conjugation of Latin verbs before the sitting-room fire, that morning, taking amo, of course, as the paradigm; and I recollect that I learned the first four tenses of the indicative mood before breakfast. Addison and Theodora finished the indicative mood, I believe, and began the subjunctive. Hitherto Addison had always been able to outstrip Theodora a little in studies; but in Latin she proved a match for him; he could not surpass her much, if any. When Thomas and Catherine came that morning, after breakfast, we found that they, too, had begun amo, and that Catherine was fully as far on in it as Theodora. Thomas had more difficulty; he and I groaned our troubles to each other in private.
"This will kill me," said Thomas.
"It's killing me," said I. "But I don't want to get left behind."
"I don't," said Thomas. "But aren't you sorry you began?"
"Almost," said I.
"If you are going to teach school here night and day, too, Joel, I guess we shall have to get a new barrel of kerosene," Gram observed at the breakfast table; kerosene was high-priced in those days.
"I don't know but that you will, Mother," replied Joel. "But what is kerosene, when such progress can be made as we are making!"
We entered the second conjugation that forenoon, taking moneo, and also learned all the vocabularies and exercises up to the third conjugation.
It was on this day that poor Halse dropped out altogether. Ned and his sisters, too, missed a number of days, although they did very well, Joel said repeatedly.
Next day we had rego to conjugate, also the irregular verb sum, with six exercises and the first four rules in construction; and the next day, a great and memorable day with the class, we were given the first of Æsop's Fables to translate, or rather the tenth one in our text book. It was the fable of The Fox and the Lion. Vulpes quae nunquam leonem viderat, etc.
How almost insurmountably difficult that fable looked to me, at first sight! Thought I to myself, others may be able to read this, but I never shall! When I saw the hundreds of pages, too, which a student aspiring to enter college must translate and be prepared to pass examinations in, I said, "This is not for me." How many hundreds of young persons have thought the same, at first!
"Turn to your vocabulary," said Joel encouragingly. "Look up each word, and write them down, one after another, then remembering your declensions and conjugations try to put them together, and see what you can get out of it!" Theodora soon hit on the meaning and translated the fable nearly right; but it was a droll story which I got out of it! Thomas, too, grew disheartened and, after a long struggle, made a fictitious translation to the effect that the fox saw the lion poking about a hen-roost so frequently that he grew tired of the spectacle and said to him one morning, if you were not quite so big and yellow, I would address you in low Dutch!
Joel did not approve of this effort. "That sort of thing doesn't count, Thomas," said he. "Better stick to the text."
After much mental travail I got hold of the main points in the fable and then contrived to piece it together, after a fashion. It is always the first effort which costs hard toil. The fable of The Hawk and the Doves (Accipiter et Columbae), which was assigned us next day, came much easier. Joel was very particular that we should not assist each other, and obtained a promise from us each to that effect. "You will never make good, self-respecting Latin students, if you depend on others to make your translations for you!" he exclaimed, with emphasis, and iterated this sentiment nearly every day. "Make up your minds at the outset, too, that you will never use 'ponies.' "
"What's a 'pony?'" a number of us inquired.
Joel laughed. "It is somewhat to your credit that you don't know," said he. "You will find out quite soon enough, if you go to a Latin school, or to college. But as there is neither safety nor merit in ignorance, I will inform you that a 'pony' is a translation, written or printed, which lazy, unprincipled students make use of secretly to get their lessons from, or rather to evade their lessons.
"Ho!" cried Thomas, "that must be jolly!"
"It is so very jolly that I never knew a student, making use of them, who amounted to anything," replied Joel. "It is cheating. It is also unfair to others in the class. But the worst effect of it is always on the one who uses it. It robs him at once of self-respect and self-reliance. I take it upon myself to say boldly that only a sneak will use a 'pony.' If I were reduced to the necessity of using one, I would tell every member of my class of it, in advance, and also my instructor; but there never need be any necessity of using one, where the student has studied honestly and well, to begin with."
On the following day we were given two fables: The Lion and the Kid and The Wolf. Now that we were fairly started and the first hardness and fear of translation were off, I think that I never enjoyed any study, or exercise, so well as looking out the translations of those Latin fables. We sat at tables near the windows and worked away at those involved sentences, glancing up from moment to moment, to see, by the expression on their faces, how the others were getting on. Addison's countenance usually wore a smile of triumph; Catherine would be looking keenly at the page, with now and then a nimble reference to the vocabulary; Theodora would be thoughtfully gazing far over the top of her book, and only when in dire perplexity would give a little restless nibble at her fingernails, — for she was trying hard to break off that childish habit. Thomas was, for the most of the time, twisting and turning and knocking his feet together, with now and then an audible groan. As for myself, the most marked effect that I was aware of, was the manner my hands perspired when I was on difficult passages. I was obliged to keep wiping them, to prevent my fingers from wetting the pages of the book. I tried very hard to keep the matter private; but the others noticed it after a time and nicknamed me "the sweater." In spite of my best efforts, the pages of the reader containing those Fables became much soiled.
After an hour or two of study Ellen would usually go down cellar and fetch a large nappy full of apples: orange apples, blue-pearmains, sponge-russets, jillyflowers, baldwins, Ribston pippins and other varieties, of which there grew not less than thirty in the Old Squire's orchard. As the old gentleman made it a rule to put into the cellar every fall not less than twenty-five barrels, there were apples for all who wanted them, at any time, and no questions asked. Formerly it had been the custom to make six barrels of cider every autumn; but after the Temperance reform began in Maine, cider-mills fell into disrepute, and the more conscientious farmers ceased altogether to sell or make apple cider. The Old Squire was accustomed to say, emphatically, that it was worse than useless to vote for prohibition and then make cider, either to sell, give away, or drink one's self. Nor would he sell his refuse apples to others to make cider from. "Boil 'em for the hogs, boys," he said. "If we are going to have a 'Maine Law,' let's keep it. We might as well make cider ourselves as sell the apples to a man who we know means to make them into cider."
The Old Squire never took any credit to himself for these opinions. It was simply his way. But if all who believe in the national prohibition of intoxicants would take that stand, the reform, in this respect, would be much facilitated. A good citizen will live his principles as well as vote them: such at least were the doctrines the old gentleman tried to instil into our minds, as boys. But of late different ideas are taught.
Supply and Demand have been deified, so to speak, and have taken the consciences of producers under their care. If Demand offers a good price for poison, to be used in making orphans in one or more parts of the country, we are told that Supply need not trouble himself about the orphans, but may produce the poison as fast as possible and get his money for it. That, they say, is "business." The writer makes no pretense of giving advice or instruction on this subject, but none the less ventures to advise all clear-minded boys to think this question out for themselves and not take any interested person's word for it.