Friday, October 11, 2019


Response: Stray on Jenkyns on Stray, Classics in Britain: Scholarship, Education, and Publishing 1800-2000. Response to 2019.09.34

Response by Christopher Stray, Swansea University (

Version at BMCR home site

The best way I can express my gratitude to Richard Jenkyns for his generous and perceptive review of my book is to give him and his (and my) readers clarification on two points where he rightly takes me to task.

1. 'One may doubt, for example, whether the Wordsworth brothers really hoped that their grammar books would encourage religious uniformity (a claim to which no reference is attached) (309). How would that work? The plural of mensa is mensae whether you are Catholic or Methodist.'

The reference I should have attached, and for whose absence I apologise, is Philologia Classica 11 (2016) 98-115. In this article, I quoted Charles Wordsworth's approving reference to his brother Christopher's statement that 'uniformity in grammar is no inconsiderable step towards uniformity in religion' [italics in original]: (Charles Wordsworth, Annals of My Early Life (London, 1891), 186-7. The historical background to this remarkable doctrine is given on the previous page:

As the public school community expanded in the 1830s and preparatory schools were founded, the need for [standard grammars] became apparent: small boys often moved to a different book every time they changed school, and the differences of doctrine were often considerable. In 1840 Roundell Palmer, reviewing thirteen school Greek grammars, took as an example the noun πέλεκυς and pointed out that 'At Charterhouse and King's College it is classified in the third declension, at Westminster in the fourth, at Bromsgrove in the fifth, at Winchester in the seventh, and at Eton in the eighth declension' ([Roundell Palmer],' Greek Grammars for the use of schools', The British Critic, October 1840, 295–334, at p.298.

2. 'One oddity is that Stray twice cites A. P. Herbert's Misleading Cases to illustrate the follies of English law, apparently unaware that these are fictional fantasies: no actual Headmaster of Eton was found guilty of feeding obscenities to his pupils in the form of Greek mythology, nor did any real magistrate recommend a thorough survey of classical literature "in order that our schools and colleges may be made safe for aristocracy."'

I have been aware of the fictional nature of Sir Alan Herbert's gentle satires since I first encountered them half a century ago. Where I erred, perhaps, was in assuming that my readers would also be aware of this; though the title Misleading Cases, itself a nice satire on the standard legal phrase 'leading cases', might have alerted them. Herbert's fame has faded (he died in 1971), but a moment's consultation of his Wikipedia entry would tell the reader of his legal satires, novels, and poetry; and even now one can find him cited, as in a discussion of Liddell and Scott's treatment of obscene vocabulary, which quotes in extenso his poem 'The parts of a woman': Amy Coker, 'Obscenity: a problem for the lexicographer', in C.A. Stray, M.J. Clarke, and J.T. Katz (eds), Liddell and Scott: The History, Methodology and Languages of the World's Leading Lexicon of Ancient Greek (OUP, 2019), 61-81, at p.79.

3. Finally, I should like to comment on Jenkyns' remark that 'Most of the pieces collected in this book are likely to be familiar already to those interested in classical reception.' In fact more than half of them were originally published in books or journals unlikely to be so familiar. The journals, for example, include the Journal of the Printing Historical Society, History of Universities, Victorian Periodicals Review, The Locke Newsletter, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, and Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America. One of the reasons for assembling the book, in fact, was to make these pieces, along with the two chapters previously unpublished, available to students of classical reception.

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