In these days of preparation for the resumption of schooling in some form, The Epoch Times has posted an article asking whether parents should be signing up their children for Latin lessons. This is written by Jeff Minick, who opens with this quote from Scott-King’s Modern Europe:
In Evelyn Waugh’s “Scott-King’s Modern Europe,” a school’s headmaster and Scott-King, the classics teacher, discuss the declining enrollment in Latin and Greek classes. The headmaster wishes to do away with the classics: “Parents aren’t interested in producing the ‘complete man’ any more. They want to qualify their boys for the modern world.” He then asks if Scott-King might teach history and economics. He refuses.
“Then what do you intend to do?”
“If you approve, headmaster, I will stay as I am here as long as any boy wants to read the classics. I think it would be very wicked indeed to fit a boy for the modern world.”
“It’s a short-sighted view, Scott-King.”
“There, headmaster, with all respect, I differ from you profoundly. I think it the most long-sighted view it is possible to take.”
Is the headmaster correct? Is there any reason to study Latin today? After all, why spend all that time and energy learning declensions and conjugations and memorizing vocabulary when no one speaks Latin anymore? Cui bono? (To whose good?)
The article goes on to discuss what Minick sees as several reasons why Latin may be a sensible choice of subject for a 21st century student. No doubt, Scott-King himself would have have found them superfluous. Scott-King’s Modern Europe is a novella that initially appeared in Cornhill Magazine (Summer 1947) and as “A Sojourn in Neutralia” in Cosmopolitan (Nov 1947. It was later published as a separate book in Dec 1947 (UK) and Feb 1949 (USA). It is now included in Waugh’s Complete Short Stories.
After the foregoing was posted, a weblog published another review of Scott-King. This is by Philip Spires and opens with this:
Scott-King’s Modern Europe is a short, perhaps over-short novella by Evelyn Waugh. Written in 1946, it visits a fictitious part of Europe largely unknown to its determinedly English protagonist. In 1946 Scott-King had been classical master at Grantchester for twenty-five years, we are told in the tale’s first sentence. This locks the book’s principal character firmly in his place within the English class system, sketches his likely character, with its staid dedication to what has always been and remains “right”, and posits him without doubt in the apolitical conservatism of an ultimately submissive establishment. It’s the kind of England that used to believe that fog at Dover meant that Europe was cut off. Thus Waugh presents him to his undoubtedly sympathetic readers.[…]
After a lively and amusing summary of the plot, the review concludes with this:
Written at the end of the second world war, when perhaps mythically the British had stood alone, the book is perhaps the author’s reflection on events that saw the division of Europe into opposing camps. The territorial integrity of the United Kingdom, and essentially England within it, had been maintained. But those “over there” we’re still foreign and thankfully they weren’t “over here”. Their values weren’t our values, and yet their influence was all-pervading, or at least potentially so. Britain, and the English on the throne within it, we’re still alone, still threatened. This is the culture that is suffused throughout Evelyn Waugh’s little book and it is the assumption that makes its reading now at least poignant. It might even have been written a week ago, based on anyone’s list of presumptions that surrounded the Brexit referendum. Everything that was not an English value is manifest in this non-culture of Neutralia, a nation that needs to invent heroes raised from within the mediocrity of its unrecognized and – even more reprehensible – unrecorded past. How non-English can one get?
Waugh’s humour enlivens the story and his unapologetic Englishness almost renders himself as the principal character. It’s is short enough to be read in an hour, but it’s sentiment and message will resonate very strongly with contemporary readers. In Britain’s current political context, Scott-King’s Modern Europe is a little book with a big message.
The complete text is available at this link.