måndag, september 12, 2011

Winston Churchill on schools, empire and war

Fortsatt fascinerad av Churchills prosa. Nedan följer ett par exempel. Det handlar om beskrivningar av hans egen skoltid, tydliga exempel på hans kombination av självsäkerhet, nostalgi och ironisk distans, inte minst när man tänker på att detta är en uppväxtskildring skriven av en person som ser sig som en lämplig ledare för ett globalt imperium. Idag känns de som fönster in i någonting som ter sig som en annan värld.

"'This is a Latin grammar.' He opened it at a well-thumbed page. 'You must learn this,' he said, pointing to a number of words in a frame of lines. 'I will come back in half an hour and see what you know.'
Behold me then on a gloomy evening, with an aching heart, seated in front of the First Declension.
a table
O table
a table
of a table
to or for a table
by, with or from a table
What on earth did it mean? Where was the sense of it? It seemed absolute rigmarole to me. However, there was one thing I could always do: I could learn by heart. And I there upon proceeded, as far as my private sorrows would allow, to memorise the acrostic-looking task which had been set me. In due course the Master returned. 'Have you learnt it?' he asked.
'I think I can say it, sir,' I replied; and I gabbled it off. He seemed so satisfied with this that I was emboldened to ask a question.
'What does it mean, sir?'
'It means what it says. Mensa, a table. Mensa is a noun of the First Declension. There are five declensions. You have learnt the singular of the First Declension.' 'But,' I repeated, 'what does it mean?' 
'Mensa means a table,' he answered.
'Then why does mensa also mean O table,' I enquired, 'and what does O table mean?'
'Mensa, O table, is the vocative case,' he replied.
'But why O table?' I persisted in genuine curiosity.
'O table, you would use that in addressing a table, in
invoking a table.' And then seeing he was not carrying me
with him, 'You would use it in speaking to a table.'
'But I never do,' I blurted out in honest amazement.
'If you are impertinent, you will be punished, and punished, let me tell you, very severely,' was his conclusive rejoinder.
Such was my first introduction to the classics from which, I have been told, many of our cleverest men have derived so much solace and profit.


The greatest pleasure I had in those days was reading. When I was nine and a half my father gave me Treasure Island, and I remember the delight with which I devoured it. My teachers saw me at once backward and precocious, reading books beyond my years and yet at the bottom of the Form. They were offended. They had large resources of compulsion at their disposal, but I was stubborn. Where my reason, imagination or interest were not engaged, I would not or I could not learn. In all the twelve years I was at school no one ever succeeded in making me write a Latin verse or learn any Greek except the alphabet. I do not at all excuse my self for this foolish neglect of opportunities procured at so much expense by my parents and brought so forcibly to myattention by my Preceptors. Perhaps if I had been introduced to the ancients through their history and customs, instead of through their grammar and syntax, I might have had a better record. 


I continued in this unpretentious situation for nearly a year. However; by being so long in the lowest form I gained an immense advantage over the cleverer boys. They all went on to learn Latin and Greek and splendid things like that, But I was taught English, We were considered such dunces that we could learn only English. Mr. Somervell a most delightful man, to whom my debt is great was charged with the duty of teaching the stupidest boys the most dis regarded thing namely, to write mere English. He knew how to do it. He taught it as no one else has ever taught it. Not only did we learn English parsing thoroughly, but we also practised continually English analysis. […] Thus I got into my bones the essential structure of the ordinary British sentence which is a noble thing. And when in after years my schoolfellows who had won prizes and distinction for writing such beautiful Latin poetry and pithy Greek epigrams had to come down again to common English, to earn their living or make their way, I did not feel myself at any disadvantage. Naturally I am biassed in favour of boys learning English. I would make them all learn English: and then I would let the clever ones learn Latin as an honour, and Greek as a treat. But the only thing I would whip them for would be for not knowing English. I would whip them hard for that.


We used also to have lectures from eminent persons on scientific or historical subjects. These made a great impression on me. To have an exciting story told you by someone who is a great authority, especially if he has a magic lantern, is for me the best way of learning. Once I had heard the lecture and had listened with great attention, I could have made a very fair show of delivering it myself. I remember five lectures particu larly to this day. The first by Mr. Bowen, the most celebrated of Harrow masters and the author of many of our finest songs, gave us a thrilling account in popular form of the battle of Waterloo. He gave another lecture on the battle of Sedan which I greatly enjoyed. Some years after wards I found that he had taken it almost literally from Hooper's Sedan one of my colonel's favourite books. It was none the worse for that. [...] There was a lecture about how butterflies protect themselves by their colouring. A nasty tasting butterfly has gaudy colouring to warn the bird not to eat it. A succulent, juicy-tasting butterfly protects him self by making himself exactly like his usual branch or leaf. But this takes them millions of years to do; and in the mean while the more backward ones get eaten and die out. That is why the survivors are marked and coloured as they are. Lastly we had a lecture from Mr. Parkin on Imperial Federation. He told us how at Trafalgar Nelson's signal 'England expects that every man this day will do his duty' ran down the line of battle, and how if we and our Colonies all held together, a day would come when such a signal would run not merely along a line of ships, but along a line of nations. We lived to see this come true, and I was able to remind the aged Mr. Parkin of it, when in the last year of his life he attended some great banquet in celebration of our victorious emergence from the Great War. 
I wonder they do not have these lectures more often. They might well have one every fortnight, and afterwards all the boys should be set to work to write first what they could remember about it, and secondly what they could think about it. Then the masters would soon begin to find out who could pick things up as they went along and make them into something new, and who were the dullards; and the classes of the school would soon get sorted out accordingly. Thus Harrow would not have stultified itself by keep ing me at the bottom of the school, and I should have had a much jollier time.


Ar Sandhurst I had a new start. I was no longer handicapped by past neglect of Latin, French or Mathematics. We had now to learn fresh things and we all started equal. Tactics, Fortification, Topography (mapmaking), Military Law and Military Administration formed the whole curriculum. In addition were Drill, Gymnastics and Riding. No one need play any game unless he wanted to. Discipline was strict and the hours of study and parade were long. One was very tired at the end of the day. I was deeply interested in my work, especially Tactics and Fortification. My father instructed his bookseller Mr. Bain to send me any books I might require for my studies. So I ordered Hamley's Operations of War, Prince Kraft's Letters on Infantry, Cavalry and Artillery, Maine's Infantry Fire Tactics, together with a number of histories dealing with the American Civil, Franco-German and Russo-Turkish wars, which were then our latest and best specimens of wars. I soon had a small military library which invested the regular instruction with some sort of background. I did not much like the drill and indeed figured for several months in the 'Awkward Squad,' formed from those who required special smartening up. [...] We drew con toured maps of all the hills round Camberley, made road reconnaissances in every direction, and set out picket lines and paper plans for advanced guards or rear guards, and even did some very simple tactical schemes. We were never taught anything about bombs or hand-grenades, because of course these weapons were known to be long obsolete. They had gone out of use in the eighteenth century, and would be quite useless in modern war.

(Winston Churchill 1930, angående skoltiden i slutet av 1800-talet) 

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