Christopher Stray, The Living Word: W. H. D. Rouse and the Crisis of Classics in Edwardian England. London: Bristol Classical Press, 1992. Pp. v + 89, incl. 5 figures. ISBN 1-85399-262-3. Pounds sterling 5.95.
University of Natal, Durban
Christopher Stray’s study of W. H. D. Rouse recalls for current readers the life and times of a notable classicist of an earlier generation. Stray’s title reflects his view of Rouse’s driving compulsion, a reaction against the unrealistic grind of rote-learned grammar and a commitment to the appreciation of Greek and Latin as living, usable languages: Rouse’s pupils learnt not only to read, but to converse in Latin. Stray implies repeatedly (though without substantiating the idea from Rouse’s writings or the reminiscences of those who knew him) that the religious fervour presumably inherited by this son of Baptist missionary parents was redirected into proselytising for the Direct Method; the book ends with an acknowledgement of the debt of modern Classics teaching ‘to Rouse and his gospel of the living word.’
Rouse had a distinguished career at Cambridge, taking firsts in both parts of the Classical Tripos, and was a Sanskrit scholar as well as a classicist. After a six-year fellowship at Christ’s College, he became a schoolmaster and eventually headmaster of the Perse School, Cambridge, which he took over at a time of financial crisis and put on a sound footing. His educational credo included a firm belief in the need for the involvement of both hand and eye; outside the classics curriculum, he pressed for the teaching of natural sciences by observation, and the learning of crafts. With his friend T. E. Page he became one of the founding editors of the Loeb Classical Library, and was still actively involved in translation work throughout his retirement. (In a letter quoted on pp. 67-68 Dorothy Sayers says his translations of Greek tragedies ‘are very pleasant to read and contain many lines of quite remarkable beauty,’ but takes him to task for some ‘expressions with which any actor would have difficulty.’) In 1911 Rouse was instrumental in starting a highly successful series of Summer Schools for teachers, followed by the establishment of the Association for the Reform of Latin Teaching in 1913; later he was to make gramophone records on the pronunciation of Greek, and a Latin course, for Linguaphone.
Stray has produced a carefully researched and meticulously documented study of Rouse’s teaching life. Biographical details serve only to provide the framework for the account of his ‘secular mission’ and of ‘its relationship to the crisis of classical studies in late Victorian and Edwardian England’ (p. 7). In consequence the account lacks something of the personal warmth that might have turned Rouse into a character for the reader, rather than a phenomenon; anecdotes and personal reminiscences are few, and are often relegated to the footnotes. Only in the final chapter, dealing with Rouse’s retirement activities, does the book really come to life, and then it is more through the irreverent vigour of Ezra Pound’s epistolary expletives than through real personal insight into Rouse himself. Perhaps Rouse’s commitment to the ‘living word’ (and his known aversion to paperwork) meant that he came across more vividly in spoken contact than in his writing, though Stray refers to numerous pamphlets, articles and the like promoting his teaching method and educational ideals. At any rate, the book tends to be pedestrian, abounding in passages like ‘Amid such disappointments, Rouse was cheered by the successful careers of two of his ex-pupils, Frank Lockwood and Cyril Peckett. Both became headmasters, and both carried on and adapted the Direct Method for the next generation’: dry, factual cataloguing, not quickened by any ‘living word’ on the subject from Rouse himself or Lockwood or Peckett, or any-one who knew them.
A few computer-generated gremlins have escaped the proof-reader. The chapter heading ‘Early Life’ recurs twice in subsequent chapters (pp.45 and 57). Some opening quotation marks are printed in reverse, as in notes 135, 146. On p.42, n.96 should be numbered 97, and on p.68, ‘spech’ should read ‘speech’.