Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.07.10 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.07.10

Nigel Wetters Gourlay, Hillard and Botting's Latin Compendium, second edition.   [Singapore]:  Nigel Wetters Gourlay, 2017.  Pp. 396.  ISBN 9789810952105.  £22.75 (pb).  

Reviewed by Lee T. Pearcy, Bryn Mawr College (

The elementary textbook from which I began to learn Latin in 1961, first published in 1941, is still in print.1 In 1985, when I began teaching at the Episcopal Academy just outside of Philadelphia, the school used an elementary Latin textbook whose first edition had appeared in 1938.2 When that became unavailable, my colleagues and I replaced it with a reprinted textbook from 1885.3 An updated successor of that nineteenth-century volume appeared in the early years of the twenty-first century.4 These are not unusual examples. There cannot be many school subjects where elementary textbooks continue in use, with or without revision, over a span of decades, or even centuries. Plane geometry comes to mind; Euclid’s only rival may be Donatus, Ars Minor, in continuous use for over a millennium, if not longer.5 In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Albert Ernest Hillard (1865–1935), High Master of St. Paul’s School in London, and his colleague Cecil George Botting (1870–1929) published a series of elementary exercise books with titles like Elementary Latin Translation Book or Elementary Latin Exercises. Now Nigel Gourlay has collected and reordered exercises from these volumes, added Latin-English and English-Latin vocabularies, and appended Benjamin Hall Kennedy’s Shorter Revised Latin Primer, which first saw print in 1888.6 Since classics in particular seems content to use elementary textbooks that in other fields would be considered obsolete simply on the basis of their age, Gourlay’s project is not on the face of it quixotic, antiquarian, or eccentric. There is a good chance that this book will find users. The old books work.

Old or new, though, any Latin textbook has to supplement and reinforce the fundamental work that is done in the classroom. Changes in Latin classrooms since Hillard stood at the head of St. Paul’s mean that the virtues of Hillard and Botting’s Latin compendium are harder to appreciate than they were a century ago. Hillard and Botting’s classroom concentrated on translation from Latin to English and from English to Latin, with somewhat greater emphasis given to the latter. Gourlay’s compendium reflects this balance. Sixty-one sections each contain about half a dozen exercises, sometimes preceded by a brief explanation of some point of grammar. Roughly half the exercises consist of single English sentences to be translated into Latin, increasing in difficulty from exercise to exercise. These are followed by exercises in Latin for translation into English; these also move from easy to more difficult, with the first exercise usually consisting of single sentences.

Hillard and Botting’s classroom was also British and Victorian (or Edwardian)—that is, masculine, military, and moral. Consider, for example, Section 32, about halfway through Gourlay’s compendium. After a brief explanation of expressions of time, students meet the following sentences for translation into English; each exercise contains ten sentences, but I give only the first and fifth:

• Exercise 210: 1, The captives will be set free in three days; 5, His father remained at Carthage for three years.

• Exercise 211: 1, On that day the cries of the barbarians were heard in the city; 5, At the sixth hour the army was led back into camp.

• Exercise 212: In the tenth year the enemy were defeated; 5, The fifth legion, which was marching to Carthage, was hindered by a river.

Exercise 213, made up of ten short Latin sentences, follows. Two continuous prose passages of about 125 words each conclude the section: Exercise 214 on Hannibal’s youthful oath to hate the Romans (cf. Polybius 3.11, Livy 35.19), and Exercise 215 on the pharaoh Mycerinus’ attempt to cheat his doom by turning night into day (cf. Herodotus 2.133).

Until the College Board’s 2009 revision of the Advanced Placement Latin Exam marched Caesar and his legions back into American Latin classrooms, Latin students in the U.S.A. did not spend a lot of time thinking about captives, camps, and the cries of barbarians. Even now, textbooks like Bolchazy-Carducci’s Latin for the New Millennium present a richer, more nuanced, and more diverse sampling of the Roman experience and the Latin patrimony than Hillard and Botting could have imagined. How this Roman experience is presented has also changed. In many classrooms “composition,” the practice of turning English into idiomatic Latin, has been supplemented, or even replaced, by “active Latin,” as it is sometimes called: speaking as well as writing the language of the Romans. Both these changes may make teachers who pick up Hillard and Botting’s Latin compendium put it down right away. American teachers may also be put off by one feature of Kennedy’s Shorter Latin Primer: its declension of substantives in the pedagogically convenient but un-Roman order, nominative-accusative-genitive-dative-ablative.

Thus several features of Gourlay’s compendium may make it difficult to appreciate the very real virtues of Hillard and Botting’s pedagogical work. Yet virtues there are, and I conclude by emphasizing them. Syntax is presented in an orderly way, from simple to complex. Because the grammatical explanations focus on how to translate from English to Latin, they emphasize the differences between the two languages and thus touch exactly the places where students are apt to have problems. The exercises are graded in difficulty and reinforce previously presented information. The English-to-Latin sentences use a limited vocabulary, which I estimate at no more than 500 words. The exercises, on the other hand, are copious. Contrast Gourlay’s Section 32, described above, with the presentation of time expressions in a recent British textbook, Latin to GCSE 1.7 In that text, the accusative of duration of time and the ablatives of time when and within which are spread over three units, on pages 54, 122, and 190. Each construction receives between a half and a full page of explanation and a mere five sentences of practice. Ten examples are worth a thousand explanations. Which students are likely to have a better understanding of how time expressions work in Latin—those who spend a concentrated day or two translating Hillard and Botting’s 30 sentences from English into Latin and 10 from Latin into English, or those who work through the 15 Latin sentences of Latin to GCSE at intervals over several weeks? If understanding Latin syntax is a goal for your students, then Nigel Gourlay’s gathering of Hillard and Botting’s century-old pedagogy deserves a place in your classroom.


1.   Ullman, B. et al., Latin for Americans, now in its eighth edition.
2.  Paterson, J., and E. G. Macnaughton, The Approach to Latin (Edinburgh 1938).
3.   Ritchie, F., First Steps in Latin (London 1885; frequently reprinted).
4.   Pearcy, L., M. Allen, T. Kent, et al., New First Steps in Latin (Newburyport, MA. 2005; now Indianapolis, IN: Hackett).
5.   The concluding chapter of H. Ørberg, Lingua Latina secundum naturae rationem explicate (1955 and later) is a verbatim reprint of the Ars Minor.
6.   As Christopher Stray has shown, the Shorter Revised Latin Primer was in fact largely written by Kennedy’s daughters, Marion and Julia; “Who Wrote Kennedy,” Ad Familiares: The Journal of the Friends of Classics 5(1993), ii.
7.   Cullen, H., and J. Taylor, Latin to GCSE 1 (London 2016).

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