A Practical Grammar of the Latin Language/Preface

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The preparation of a text-book for the study of the Latin, similar to that edited by me, some twelve years ago, on the German, has since that time been repeatedly suggested to me by various persons interested in the progress of education. Years however elapsed before I could even think of entering on such a task, partly on account of other time-absorbing occupations, partly because I felt, in common with many others, some hesitation to undertake the somewhat delicate part of treating a so-called dead language like a living organism, yet in vogue as an element of national existence. It was not until after I had completed what I considered myself bound to render, as professor of a modern language in the city of New York, that I could give the question a serious consideration; and in the winter of 1854, after my secession from the University of that city, some of my leisure hours were devoted to the collection and construction of exercises similar to those contained in my edition of Ollendorff's German Method.

These tentatives, which were commenced for recreation merely, and without any direct reference to publication, were some months after again suspended and postponed indefinitely. I had, however, proceeded far enough to convince myself perfectly of the feasibility of the plan, and felt assured, that, if the student in this practical pursuit of a new language would find a pleasure at all commensurate with the satisfaction I myself experienced in my attempts to explore and point out the road to him, my task would prove a promising and successful one.

It was under this conviction, that, in the spring of 1856, I again took up my papers, and resolved to begin the work in earnest. I accordingly revised and enlarged upon what I had already collected, until my materials amounted to ten fascicles of phrases and exercises, of about the extent of those contained in my edition of Ollendorff's German Method. Soon after, I concluded an arrangement for the publication of a complete practical Grammar of the Latin upon the basis of these preliminary studies, and after many months of new researches both into the theory and practice of the language, the final result has been the volume now offered to the inspection of the public.

But although it was intended that the book should upon the whole pursue the course indicated by the methods on modern languages now almost exclusively in vogue, and to make constant repetition and the perpetual construction of connected sentences and phrases from English into the language to be acquired the chief exercise of the student, yet I could not make up my mind to surrender system to mere empirical practice to the extent to which this is done by Mr. Ollendorff. My aim was rather to sacrifice nothing of the theory, to leave no point of grammar unexplained or unconnected, but to make the student advance with equal pace from practice to theory, and from theory to practice, until he makes himself the master and conscious possessor of the entire structure of the language, as far at least as this can be effected by a Grammar.

I have therefore commenced with the simplest elements, and with exercises which a child even could comprehend and learn from repetition or dictation. As the course advances, and the rules of construction come gradually more and more into requisition, the syntax commences, of which I have prefixed connected portions to each lesson, to be committed either entirely or in part, as the student progresses with his exercises. I have thus succeeded in incorporating by degrees a complete syntax of the language, to the rules of which perpetual reference is made in subsequent parts of the book, and with which the student must become familiar before he can reach the end of the volume. In regard to the etymology, I have naturally treated the declension of substantives, adjectives, and pronouns in the first lessons. These, with the practice given, are soon completely in the power of the learner. But the doctrine of the gender of substantives, the declension of Greek nouns, the derivation of adjectives and adverbs, &c., which would only have embarrassed and retarded the student in the beginning, are deferred until nearly the close of the book. With the verbs I have proceeded in a similar manner. I first give only the present tense active, then in another lesson the passive, and in a third the present of deponent verbs. A general outline of the formation of tenses follows, in Lesson XXVIII., from which the student is referred to the paradigms of conjugation on pages 664–665, which may be read and committed, as in ordinary Grammars; but in the regular order of the book, he learns and applies only one tense at a time, on which he practises until he is fit for another, and so on to the end.

I have retained the division into Lessons, as the most suitable arrangement for a book of this description. A strict separation of the etymology and syntax, and a connected scientific treatment of the principles of grammar, however desirable in themselves, would have destroyed the characteristic feature of the method, which begins with sentences instead of isolated vocables, and thus applies the simpler principles of construction at the very outset. It is however by no means intended that those divisions called Lessons should be the task invariably assigned to the student. The judgment of the teacher must in all cases determine the proper pensum of the learner, according to the capacity or proficiency of the latter, and that may sometimes be more, and perhaps oftener less, than the pensum of the book, which is not unfrequently considerably longer than the average lessons in similar manuals on modern languages.

In the use of the book care should be taken to keep the main design steadily in view, which is the writing and memorizing of the exercises appended to each lesson. In these the student applies directly the principles already acquired, and undergoes as it were a daily self-examination on what has gone before. Hence it is much more important that he should properly attend to those, than that he should be kept too long upon the mere mechanical committing of barren lists of words, or of rules which, without application, always remain a dead letter in the memory.

Much benefit can be derived from the guidance of the instructor, whose aid in reading over the advance lesson, in explaining and removing difficulties, in separating the essential points from those of minor importance, will not fail to contribute greatly to the encouragement and rapid progress of his studiosi. As in many lessons of the book the principles advanced are far from being exhausted in the exercises at the end, the teacher or scholar can easily expand them by adding others similar to those given,—a practice which cannot be too strongly recommended.

To insure a correct pronunciation, I give directions at the very beginning for the accentuation of Latin words, and in the examples preceding the exercises, as well as in those given under the principal rules, the use of the accent is practically exhibited. To enable the student to accent according to the rules set forth in the first lesson, the quantity of all the words given in the vocabularies, as well as of those declined or conjugated, is indicated with almost lexicographical minuteness. In this respect I have rendered what I think is found in no other Grammar of the Latin, and am persuaded that this system, without which we can scarcely conceive of a correct pronunciation, will commend itself to the approbation of all competent to judge upon the subject.

As many of the exercises relate to the familiar talk of daily inters course, it has sometimes become necessary to designate objects either entirely unknown to the Ancients, or known under a different form. The words employed for this purpose are either modern, as coffea, tabacum, bibliopegus (bookbinder), or else genuine Latin terms, but employed in a sense somewhat different from that in which they occur in classical Latinity, as, for example, calceus for our "shoe," pileus for our "hat," speculum for our "looking-glass," &c. To prevent misunderstanding or confusion on this subject, all the words of this description are marked, as modern or applied to objects of modern life, with an asterisk before them; e. g. *coffea, *pileus, &c.

I have one word to add with reference to the syntax. This important part of grammar has been treated much more comprehensively than one might suppose from its somewhat disjointed appearance. The subject of agreement, the syntax of the oblique cases, the use of the infinitive, the somewhat complicated doctrine of the subjunctive, and other equally important topics, are developed as fully as in many Grammars of larger size or greater pretensions, and it is hoped that on this point nothing of any moment will be found omitted. All the rules and remarks are illustrated by numerous examples carefully selected from the classical authors of antiquity. The examples under the rules are separated from the rest of the book by a different arrangement, the Latin on the right and the English on the left, while in the general oral exercises this order is inverted. The book is thus expected to carry its own authority in itself, and to justify the imitative combinations and constructions adopted in the exercises. The doctrine of questions is fully developed and elucidated in Lesson LXXXV.; the order or arrangement of words and sentences, in Lesson XCVII. Both these lessons the teacher will do well to consult before he sets his students to work.

In the elaboration of this volume, I have availed myself of the best authorities which a long acquaintance with the philology of modern Germany had made familiar to me. On the etymology I have freely used Zumpt; on the syntax, the somewhat larger and completer manuals of Ramshorn and Krüger. On the orthography of words, and on the subject of quantity, I am chiefly indebted to the last edition of Dr. Georges' Lateinisch-Deutsches Hand-Wörterbuch (Leipsic, 1855). On the use of the particles I have, besides the authorities already mentioned, examined a number of other sources, especially the original treatise of Tursellinus. For correct Latin equivalents for the English terms and constructions employed in the book, I have diligently consulted the German-Latin Lexicons of Scheller, Kraft, and especially the more recent work of Georges. On doubtful or difficult points I have also had an opportunity to consult the more comprehensive works of Freund, Facciolati and Forcellini, and several others. From these authorities I have, however, adopted nothing but what I could justify by classical examples and analogies, and I have given no Latin equivalents for English terms or phrases, without testing them by comparing all the connections in which they are recorded as occurring in the classical writers. The subject of questions and answers I myself examined by a careful reading of the comedies of Terence, from which I had made numerous extracts before I was in possession of the sources from which I afterwards derived what I have advanced upon this point in Lesson LXXXV.

I have thus had rather a redundancy than a lack of materials on the majority of topics connected with the theory of grammar, while on the practical application of many principles, I was more than once forced to the reading of my Terence or my Cicero in order to obtain the desired light.—In this connection I have publicly to express my obligations to several gentlemen of Cambridge for their politeness in extending to me the privileges of their valuable University Library, to which I am indebted for several of my authorities.

I submit now the result of my somewhat protracted and by no means trivial labors to the candor and enlightened judgment of the classical scholars of America. As to the plan I have pursued, although it aims at nothing short of a radical change in the teaching of the language, I scarcely feel as if it needed an apology. The plan of learning a language by writing it, is not only the surest, but the only, road to its complete acquisition. Methods analogous to this, though unrecorded, must have been employed by those who have used, and who to some extent still use, the Latin as a medium of written communication, and not unfrequently with an elegance that reminds us of the Ancients. Let the reader think of an Erasmus, of Ficinus, of the learned family Stephanus, of Calvin, and other luminaries of the age of the revival of letters and of the Reformation, of others who have since reflected light and strength from the manly literature of ancient Rome. I think experience will prove, that the labor of acquisition, if not easier, will at any rate be more attractive and remunerative, with the method here proposed, which makes the student assist as it were in the production of his Latin, instead of forcing him to lay up barren lists of words or unproductive rules.

I have in conclusion to add, however, that the course here pointed out does not by any means pretend to be the ultimate goal of the journey to be pursued. No method in the shape of grammar, or manual of any kind, can teach completely any language, ancient or modern. It can only be acquired by familiarity with those written monuments, which are at once the flowers and conservatories of the idioms, in which they breathe a life immortal. Of these the Romans have left us many of imperishable excellence, to which we must ever point as the most perfect exponents of their language, as the armories of the Roman mind. And these are yet to add wholesome vigor to the intellect of youth, and consolation to the failing strength of age.

G. J. Adler

Boston, February, 1858.