Challenges with Scott and Jones’ Latin


By 1911, Scott and Jones had published a twelfth edition of their First Latin Course. In the introduction, under “Notes to Later Editions,” they acknowledge the evolution of the text in response to teacher feedback: in the second edition, typos were corrected and additional exercises were supplied; in the fifth, new sections were included; in the eighth, fine linguistic details were emended; and in the twelfth, the Grammar was expanded. The “Preface,” dated 1901, indicates that the textbook had been in circulation for only a decade—with a dozen iterations pointing to its experimental nature.

The success of the direct method in modern language study greatly inspired the work of Ernest H. Scott and Frank Jones, whom history deems “progressive” classicists. Like many in the reform movement, Scott and Jones sought to revitalize the study of Latin and save valuable time in the classroom—and developed direct method texts as an outworking of their classroom teaching. In publishing their courses, they provided a helpful framework for teachers new to the method, which was essentially a revolution of method for classical language study. Those who adopted the texts had to learn fresh ways of interacting with the language alongside their students: they acquired new pedagogical skills, particularly in conversational Latin, and experimented in their classes as in a laboratory, as they worked out the practical details of the method. This context helps explain why so many editions of the book were published within a relatively short period of time. Regardless, Scott and Jones’ text was positively received. In a 1903 editorial in the Classical Review, the renowned English classicist J. P. Postgate affirms:

Messrs. Scott and Jones’ First Latin Course is not illustrated; but in most other respects it deserves to be praised …. It is clear and practical in its plan and arrangement, the sections (capita) seem to be of the right length and properly graduated in difficulty, the importance of pronunciation is recognized; in a word it appears to be a very ‘teachable’ book (p. 398).

Several book advertisements appearing in 1907 offer this anecdote from the “Head Master of an important Grammar School”:

I am more than delighted with Scott and Jones’s Latin Course. It is one of the most craftsmanlike books that I have ever handled. My raw youngsters now using it may be said to LIKE their Latin lessons.

And Charlotte Mason concurred with her own endorsement:

Of the teaching of Latin grammar, I think I cannot do better than mention a book for beginners that really answers. Children of eight and nine take to this First Latin Course (Scott and Jones) very kindly, and it is a great thing to begin a study with pleasure. It is an open question, however, whether it is desirable to begin Latin at so early an age.

Home Education (1905), p.295

But exactly when Miss Mason adopted Scott and Jones’ Latin book into the P.R.S./P.U.S. programmes is uncertain. The earliest reference confirming its use appears in a couple of undated programmes n. 42 and n. 43, published at AmblesideOnline. I suspect that these may date to around 1905, which, incidentally, is the same year that she publicly endorsed the text as “a book for beginners that really answers,” in a chapter newly-added to the fourth edition of Home Education.

Despite Miss Mason’s enthusiasm for the book, at least one House of Education graduate, whose teacher training had included Latin and Greek, wrote about some difficulties with it. Her letter, published in L’umile Pianta in June 1908 was answered with a response from “A student” the very next month. The issue: she and her students were unable to complete their Latin lessons in the amount of time set. This is interesting because it is precisely the sort of issue that a direct method text was designed to address; and likely, it indicates that early graduates of Mason’s teachers’ college (in the era before Scott and Jones) were taught the classical languages along more traditional lines. This was almost certainly true of the education they had received before coming to Ambleside, and possibly even true while there. When Scott and Jones’ course was adopted into the programmes, it may have been the first time that HoE teachers were trained along the new lines of the direct method. This likelihood speaks to the real challenges of paradigm shift.

The challenge of teaching with Scott and Jones’ book was addressed more formally the following year, when Miss Hilda Fountain presented a practical overview of it at the Fourth Students’ Conference. In her paper, we are guided back to the method—the direct method—as it was outlined by Scott and Jones in their preface to the text (more on this later). The correspondence which preceded it in L’umile Pianta, which I share now below, reveals the practical challenges Ambleside-trained teachers faced in adopting Scott and Jones.


P. R. S. Note.

Class III. — Latin

L’umile Pianta, June 1908: 36

Can anyone give any help in the taking of Class III. (Latin) for beginners? I find it most difficult to do the amount of work set, and take “Scott and Jones” as it is meant to be taken, and as we were told at Ambleside, it ought to be taken. Last term we had 45 exercises–Latin into English, and 28 English into Latin–73 exercises in all. According to the time-table there are about 36 lessons in the term, so that one ought to take two exercises each time, as well as learn the vocabulary for the next lesson. Certainly these are often very short, but then there is the occasional rubbing up of old ones, and of declensions. I tried to get everything done by skipping or hurrying through parts of the “Justenogatis” [sic: I think perhaps “Interrogatio” is meant] and “Viva Voce,” but find that my small child, who began by loving her Latin and talking really well, is disheartened. This term, which is shorter than last, we have only 58 exercises, but they are nearly all much longer.

Suggestions for Saving Time

in Class III. Latin.

L’umile Pianta, July 1908: 23-24

I think the vocabulary should be used more as an aid to the learning of declensions than the learning of words.

My pupil seems incapable of learning anything by heart when consciously doing so, and only remembers by association. If the vocabulary is read over with the teacher, it is likely to be a more or less parrot-like repetition, because there is little to arrest the attention; and the brain seizes upon the rest. To avoid this, I pointed to the word, my pupil pronounces it, and then I make a short sentence, and she supplies the word in the right case. Care must be taken that the phrases are very simple, varied to give practice in all genders, numbers, and cases; and that the word is used in the right connection, because its meaning is to be learnt in this way.

I have found it better to point all the time to the word, that it may be visualized without conscious effort; and for this reason suggest that when there is more than one pupil it would be better to write the words on the blackboard before the class. If the children read them from their books, they would raise their heads to answer before the word had been visualized. Also I find it well to supply the parts of the sentence not containing the new word myself, otherwise the child’s mind is too quickly diverted from the new word to retain it, by the effort of finishing the sentence.

We allow an average of eight minutes per lesson for this. Very often the vocabulary is not finished; but the meaning of unlearnt words can often be found out in the Latin to English exercises by their similarity to words in another language, or by their context. If the meaning is not found out by the child, the word will generally be remembered if told, from the connection in which it is used.

I hope these remarks maybe be of some use, if not altogether original; and in conclusion add that every word visualized, every word learnt without conscious effort, every word “hung on its own peg,” should help to make the road to Latin, if not royal, at least well-paved and easy travelling.

A student.


What are your thoughts?