BMCR 2006.06.26

Bradley’s Arnold Latin Prose Composition. Foreword and Updates by Donald E. Sprague

, , , Bradley's Arnold Latin prose composition. Bradley's Arnold.. Wauconda, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 2006. vi, 450 pages ; 23 cm. ISBN 0865165955 $29.00.

This updated edition of Bradley’s Arnold Latin Prose Composition makes a few modest but beneficial changes to a much-used textbook that was last revised in 1938. Much more that might be updated has been preserved. Although the quality of a revised edition always depends on what is not revised as well as on the revisions, users of this book must weigh to a greater degree than is usual what the editor retains and transmits in the same form as he received it.

Bradley’s Arnold is an institution with a noble, almost two-hundred-year history. Thomas Kerchever Arnold, rector of Lyndon, first published his Latin Prose Composition in 1839. It was already in its sixth London edition only five years later. In 1846 that edition was revised, abridged, and printed in New York and Philadelphia by Jesse Ames Spencer (1816-1898). In 1884 it was again revised in England as Aids to Writing Latin Prose Composition by George Granville Bradley (1821-1903) of Rugby, later Master of University College, Oxford, and Dean of Westminster Abbey. That book, from then on known as Bradley’s Arnold, was further revised in 1938 by Sir James Frederick Mountford (1897-1979), Professor of Latin at Liverpool. It was reissued in the Mountford version seventeen times between 1940 and 1967 and often since then until the present revision in 2005 by Donald E. Sprague. To complete a course in Latin composition using this text is to gain membership in a society that many secondary school and university students in English-speaking countries once shared. The text always intended to guide students to a level of competency and maturity of expression that was once the hallmark of any person educated in the classical tradition. It does so by guiding students from elementary rules of agreement through many forms of subordination, to the precise use of the Latin cases, then on to more complex subordination. The latest version still presents all the topics, even if most courses in Latin composition do not cover all the chapters.

Sprague admits that he viewed the task “daunting” and that he undertook the updating “with due reverence” (iii). He carries out his stated aim of “maintaining the integrity of Arnold’s text while updating it for the modern student” (iii) in two ways. The first is simply to print the book with larger type and more white space. That is the most tangible updating achieved. Other changes in format were perhaps considered but rejected. The old Arnold text, for example, included new key vocabulary with each chapter. The Mountford edition, which Sprague follows, presents only a cumulative vocabulary index. A list of new vocabulary accompanying each chapter, however, can help fix groups of words and phrases in the memory as individual chapters are studied. In the book’s present form most students will need to refer frequently to the back of the book as each sentence is translated.

Sprague’s second form of updating pertains to discrepancies between British and American spelling, the use of auxiliary verbs, and grammatical terms. He is sparing in making changes in this area. He changes some but not all British modals. British spellings also remain, e.g., ‘shewed,’ ‘labour,’ etc. They are not troublesome. Where Mountford had combined two chapters under a single heading when the topics were closely related, Sprague now gives separate headings that generally repeat the same phrase. Thus, “V. VI. Accusative and Infinitive, Oratio Obliqua” has become V. Accusative with Infinitive, Oratio Obliqua (Indirect Discourse); VI. Accusative with Infinitive” (v-vi). Also, “nomenclature like ‘indirect discourse’ and ‘purpose clause,’ more common to the American student, stands side by side with Arnold’s original terms oratio obliqua, ‘final clause'” (iii-iv). Apart from those changes, and the addition of ‘result clause’ to’consecutive clause’ in titles, Sprague has retained Mountford’s headings.

The more serious and potentially more daunting challenge of updating the language of the English-to-Latin exercises themselves has not been undertaken. The English exercise sentences are reprinted mostly intact even when they contain dated phrases or circumlocutions. In the 1930s even Mountford seemed to recognize that a phrase like nihil agere, toward which students were being directed from the English ‘lose our labour,’ was both clearer in English and closer to the actual Latin phrase if presented as ‘effect nothing.’ Sprague keeps ‘lose our labour,’ for nihil agere, along with ‘write you word’ instead of ‘write to you’ for scribere ad te, and ‘I blush,’ instead of ‘it shames or embarrasses me’ for me pudet. Detours like those, however, and ‘what will be the issue’ for quo evasura sit teach that Roman writers often used verbs in subordinate clauses instead of abstract nouns. This of course serves the essential lesson, that good translation is the transmission of ideas and is not about substituting a word in one language for a word in another. But often the need first to translate English circumlocutions into more direct English is tangential to the aim of learning and appreciating the Latin toward which students are being guided. The new edition, for example, keeps the predecessor’s phrasing even where the Latin is simpler and more like today’s English usage. Many a teacher and student, however, indulge and even enjoy the courtly detours ‘to dash over’ ( infundi) ‘to quit life’ ( mori) ‘the whole world’ ( omnes) ‘I would fain’ ( velim), and the continuation of ‘trifling’ where levis, and ‘gallant’ where fortis are meant. The above-mentioned examples are all subsumed under what Sprague calls “the patina of the English school boy” (iv), which, along with traditional masculine pronouns, he ackowledges he did not “purge” (iv). But the cumulative effect of all the minor non-revisions will cause some readers to ask whether Bradley’s Arnold would be even more valuable for new generations if the idiom of its exercises were updated.

Fundamental to any reader’s assessment of the future value of this text, which users mainly inherit unchanged, is a method that teaches Latin composition, first, entirely from English, and, secondly, entirely toward model sentences from Cicero. There is much to commend this method, especially in our time of impoverished expression in English and a widespread disdain for standards of correctness. Even when Arnold’s text was revised for the first time in the mid-nineteenth century, Spencer knew there was an alternative approach but defended the superiority of teaching English-speaking students through English “to the common mode of giving all the Latin words in the Latin order.” Spencer rightly noted that working from English to Latin, the student must pay attention to meaning and study the ways Roman Latin and modern English differ in the expression of ideas, especially “in regard to the choice as the collocation of words and sentences”.1 The “common mode” of teaching composition from Latin models exclusively and bypassing any other language is still the basis of some new texts, like the Tunberg and Minkova Readings and Exercises in Latin Prose Composition. There students convert Latin sentences written in the passive voice, for example, to active voice, or compose complex sentences out of several shorter sentences by subordination. The authors believe that students “acquire the ability to compose Latin more rapidly and effectively than those who are asked to convert thoughts communicated in another language into Latin words and phrases.”2 Their approach has the limitation of providing the Latin vocabulary with each sentence, but does not force students to unravel English idioms before composing correctly in Latin.

The new Bradley’s Arnold also preserves its predecessors’ modeling on the Latin of Cicero’s speeches. Arnold cited Cicero on almost every page. Bradley removed most of the explicit citations of Cicero but kept his subject matter and phrasing as the single model. The new version preserves this focus and many teachers approve. Some, however, accept the Ciceronian norm as justified by history and essential to the needs of beginners in Latin composition, but prefer to base their exercises in composition on more broadly representative, and more interesting, Latin readings. The sixteenth century became the age of doctrinaire Ciceronianism. But Lorenzo Valla preferred Quintilian. Erasmus ridiculed those afflicted with excessive devotion to Ciceronian style. While some humanists themselves regarded the grammar and vocabulary Cicero used as the epitome of Latinity, others retained the essential grammatical structure but broadened the vocabulary to include words and expressions that entered the languages during the centuries after Cicero and the late Republic, such as the many borrowings from Greek that Christian writers introduced. The early Christian rhetoricians Tertullian, Lactantius, Augustine, Minucius Felix were some of the most outstanding Latinists ever. Postclassical writers adopted medieval Latin words and phrases, or invented new words, when the classical norm did not serve a new context. Even attempts on the part of Renaissance scholars to produce Ciceronian prose produced widely differing results. Cicero himself recognized and used various styles. A language lives as long as it remains adaptable.

None of that postclassical history of Latin has ever made its way into Bradley’s Arnold, although it provides a richer experience of Latinity than other texts that work from English exercises, like the North and Hillard Latin Prose Composition.3 When I teach from Bradley’s Arnold to upper-level undergraduates, I supplement it with exercises in variation similar to the Minkova-Tunberg exercise based on, for example, Erasmus’ De copia which asks students to provide alternate constructions of a basic idea. Students invariably find these supplements a welcome alternative to writing toward a single sentence form. The limitations notwithstanding, Bradley’s Arnold remains perhaps the best single text for reinforcing the rules of Ciceronian Latin. Students at all levels will be grateful to Donald Sprague and the Bolchazy-Carducci publishers for keeping it readily available.


1. Thomas Kerchever Arnold, A Practical Introduction to Latin Prose Composition, revised by J. A. Spencer (New York, Philadelphia: Appleton, 1846), viii.

2. Milena Minkova and Terence Tunberg, Readings and Exercises in Latin Prose Composition from Antiquity to the Renaissance (Newburyport, Mass.: Focus Press, 2004), v.

3. M. A. North and A. E. Hillard, Latin Prose Composition for Schools, Focus Edition, (Newburyport, Mass., 1999).