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The Spike or Victoria University College Review June 1918

On the Fitness of Things

On the Fitness of Things

"Away with him, away with him, he speaks Latin."

—Henry VI.

Have you ever considered the fitness of things? I doubt it. This is the euphemistic way of saying that you have never done so unless perhaps it was on that wonderful night when She promised to meet you at the Post Office—no! I refuse to be poetical—and at home disconsolate on a chair, you sat wondering whether or not you would wear your purple hose. But revenons à nos moutons.

I wish to consider Latin as a compulsory subject in University examinations. In my opinion, not only is it essential to one's career through life, but in some cases it is even necessary. Alonzo Binks, the Soap King, whose son Lancelot has, through his meaningless remarks, a reputable standing for intelligence among members of our circle, attributes his singular success in life to Latin. In his early life he studied it for the law, but it proved such an obstacle that he gave it up and started work in a foundry, where his latent histrionic talent reasserted itself, and he discovered that home-made soap in a picturesque wrapper would revolutionise the market. Another instance in which Latin proved very useful I heard of the other day. In a charitable lecture to the inmates of an asylum on "Electrons and How to Handle Them," the lecturer added great point to some of his remarks by quotations from the dead lauguage, and these were appreciated greatly by the lunatics, with the exception of one poor fellow, who was suffering under the delusion that he was Tiberius Flaccus.

That the beauty of our tongue is not appreciated is a subject of much querulous objection in these days. In the study of Latin the remedy lies. To illustrate this I will quote from a copy of Horace which is nearby. The man who wrote the English version calls himself "Translator," whether to satisfy his conscience or to avoid a harsher sounding word which might shock the public, I do not know; but I think that it was probably for the former reason. This is a copy of one passage: "Him like an oak and page 31 tossed in Etrurian waves. Nor did the Echionian Thebes wielding lofty axes abounding in dusky leaves. No longer can I send messengers—May you drink red wine Marcellus—the sun is below the ocean—for Jupiter hurls his bolts with propitious divinity." Prose seems, after all, to be but poetry with the ideas extracted. Without doubt, you will think that it is a curious phenomenon which makes Latin poetry bring about an appreciation of English prose; but I have been told of many other prodigies, such as teaching the correct pronunciation of French in secondary schools and the tendency in like places to regard the works of Shakespeare as something which could be more fittingly used than as detention or copying books. Still, the fact that I have travelled outside New Zealand seems to give me an unfair advantage over you in these matters.

Thus, when I hear Latin as it is pronounced in the Law Courts, when in the mornings I view our milkman, at peace with the world, jogging along reading the odes of Milton in that expressive language, when, indeed, for want of something better to do, I idly turn over the pages of my doctor's billet-doux to my chemist, I realise that Latin is of vital importance and that everything is destined for us to perceive or not to perceive. Such is the fitness of things, and to put an end to this argument concerning the utility of Latin, I beg to be allowed to quote Cicero when he says that in every dispute we should have recourse rather to the moments of reason than the weight of authorities. Non enim tam authoritatis in disputando, quam rationis momenta quaerenda sunt.