This testimonial by George Lord, a highly motivated eighteen-year-old who had just gained a place at Cambridge to read Classics having just achieved an A* in his Latin A-level, is possibly the most important testimonial sent to me. In it he examines in detail the radical – radical beyond exaggeration – difference between the way he had been taught Latin at school (using the Cambridge Latin Course), and the way he was then taught it by me. It is a must-read.
I was taught Latin as an extra-curricular activity for eighteen months using the Cambridge Latin Course, a range of five brightly-coloured books that consist of stories written in Latin and requiring translation, and growing increasingly difficult as the course progresses. The stated aim is to ease a pupil into Latin gradually, developing vocabulary and grammar whilst keeping it interesting with the stories that the pupil translates. In terms of interest, it does not fail. The stories are educational and often witty: I recall in particular when the (very small) class burst into fits of giggles at “ancilla Grumionem delectat” (“The slave-girl pleases Grumio”). This style of teaching, namely allowing the class to take it in turns to translate the next line of the text, was sufficient for the first year. Then we reached Book 2 of the Cambridge Latin Course and it became blindingly obvious that I had learnt very little Latin indeed.
Joe Weeks, July 2014
‘As a modern GCSE student (of fifteen years of age), I consider current English lessons to be mediocre at best. One spends hours poring over a poem, not to investigate its structure, parse its sentences or seek out an errant comma, but to determine its writer’s opinion of, say, war (as if that matters at all), and then compare it to that of a totally different writer who was born 200 years later. This, to me, is not English. It is philosophy, and useless philosophy at that.
‘Though one of a poet’s many skills (and definitely one of his most important) is to have great ideas so that what he writes is worth reading, his chief responsibility is to write those ideas down with exquisite comprehensibility, clarity and conciseness (though this often takes second place when the context of the poem demands it). Above all, he must be able to communicate his message in the most beautiful and engaging way possible. English lessons do not teach this, but Mr. Gwynne’s little book more than makes up for the shortfall, and has quickly become the most valuable book on language in my collection.
‘One thing I particularly like about Mr. Gwynne’s style is his prescriptiveness. Nothing annoys me more than to be indecisively told, upon looking up the right way to, say, employ punctuation in the presence of quotation marks, that “either way is acceptable” or “you can do this if you like”. Mr. Gwynne realises people’s desire to be told the right way to go about a task, and completely fulfils that wish in every chapter.
‘To aid his readers, Mr. Gwynne includes a (shrewdly shortened) copy of Strunk’s “The Elements of Style”, which instructs on how to put your new-found grammar skills to use in writing. In addition to this, he is always available to contact with matters regarding his books or language in general.
‘In conclusion, this little book achieves the rare feat of enabling the reader both to flick through in search of a particular rule and to peruse it with delight from cover to cover. For anyone wishing to improve his English, and, as Mr. Gwynne proclaims (and explains), in doing so make himself a happier person in general, look no further than the English language’s comprehensive and compact instruction manual, “Gwynne’s Grammar”!’
Khush James, August 2012
“In short, studying under Mr. Gwynne’s guidance and direction has made me not only a better student and a more organised thinker and linguist, but it has also been utterly enjoyable; thoroughly learning accidence until I could do it in my sleep has a strangely satisfying effect, and when I read any text in Latin, it feels as if I am fulfilling my potential in a way that no guesswork can allow me to do. I learnt more Latin part-time with Mr. Gwynne than I did full-time in a year at school, and Mr. Gwynne promises the same effect to anyone who takes the time to thoroughly try out his methods and erase any bad habits that they may previously have learnt. Mr. Gwynne’s lessons have also been academically and personally enriching from a more all-round point of view as well, as not only are they lessons purely linguistic in nature, but he is always keen to offer well-informed opinions on topics ranging from classical philosophy to Einstein’s theories of relativity. If you want to enrich yourself, fulfill your potential and reach new heights of academia whilst having fun, I can recommend nobody higher than Mr. N. M. Gwynne.”
This is only one paragraph in a wonderfully well-written and interesting testimonial by a sixteen-year-old schoolboy. For the full testimonial, click here. The information it gives is so important and illuminating that you may wish to print it out to read it at your leisure.
Dexter Ball, September 2011
“..We had much the same situation with a couple of the children three or four years ago, poor attitudes, sloppy handwriting, poor thinking habits. These problems were solved substantially by changing the atmosphere in the classroom to the old 1930’s style of Mr. Gwynne. In fact when we arrived in Switzerland after about eight months of that teaching in California, both Peregrine and Caroline got the highest marks, higher marks than any of the Swiss children, in a major test given by the authorities comparing them to all the other students in our local town there, Schwändi.”
Dexter Ball, September 2011
“Mr. Gwynne has been the single biggest influence on our children’s education. I oftentimes refer to ‘The Gwynne Method’…”
Jonathan and Katy Barker, May 2012
“Nevile Gwynne has been teaching my two eldest children, Minna , aged twelve and Claude, aged nine, since September 2010. He teaches them Latin and English grammar, using old fashioned teaching methods, and they have both made tremendous progress. He has been instrumental in helping us to change our complete perspective with regard to our children’s education. We began by having early morning classes before school and we soon realized that our children were capable of so much more. Mr Gwynne requires our children to be punctual, to be smart, to sit up and pay attention. Tremendous care was taken in going back to the beginning and learning how to hold a pen correctly and how to form each letter correctly. He requires them to concentrate, to be methodical, and above all be accurate in all that they do. They soon realized that learning is serious business and that switching off was no longer an option. We have come to realize that in spite of the modern age one can live better by adopting many of these old fashioned methods.
“After several months of his tuition we decided to remove the children from their school and spend a year and a half home educating them. They will return to school in September 2012 as very different children with much improved prospects. Mr Gwynne’s strictly traditional teaching is wonderfully refreshing as well as effective and we cannot recommend his services highly enough.”
Tom Hodgkinson, March 2010
“Henry’s teacher said he was the best pupil she has had in ten years: ‘he listens, he concentrates, you tell him something, he learns it.’ So thanks to you for helping him to do those things.”
Sally Agarwal, October 2009
“Stanley is benefiting enormously from the Latin lessons. His school work is improving but, more importantly, so is his confidence.”
Mr. and Mrs. A. Wenham, April 2012
“In just over four weeks Henry has begun to understand and remember more Latin grammar and how to use it, than he had learnt at school in a whole year, with his Latin master commenting on the fact that his work is now of excellent quality. Because of this his confidence is growing daily. We are so very pleased! Many thanks.”
Many thanks – a great book!
Dear Mr Gwynne,
A long story this but I will zoom through this as fast as possible.
Although at Primary school I came across parts of speech (doing words, naming words and so on), going to a ‘comp’ in the 1970’s the first explicit encounter with grammar I had was in French where our teacher tried to explain that just as “I work” was a derivative of the same verb as “You work” and so on, “I am” was the same verb as “You are”. Such obvious nonsense as anyone can see they are different words.
Despite this and via a technical degree I actually ended up doing a research degree (at Birmingham Uni) on dictionary construction and idioms.
Moving on and propelled by a love of the classics (ie Greek and Roman writing) and an interest in the Romans (ie history) I decided eventually to have a try at learning Latin.
I picked up a seond hand copy of the Cambridge Latin Course and worked through it Now let me say I enjoyed it immensely and after some concerted effort (a few mins a day, a bit like learning a musical instrument) I started to get to grips with the way it worked. However about 3/4 through the book I started to get bogged down as the increased declensions and conjugations just kept coming at me. The problem is as you get further rinto it these things are explained less and less.
So I came across your book on the web via an Amazon review and decided to try it. Having seen one of your You-tube videos the one thing that really gelled with me is the comment that the Cambridge method teaches kids to guess the meaning of things. This is key because I realised I was doing this myself – ie extrapolating the true meaing of a phrase by translating from the stem and the context.
Anyway – I now have a little yellow book and am working though. I have been stuck on Chapter 9 for a while as I have not had the time to commit various things to memory but those issues have gone and I am off on it again.
Many thanks – a great book. I hope it gets the notice and circulation it deserves
An E-Mail from a reader in Chicago
If I may, I am in love. With you. I just started reading Gwynne’s Grammar and had to force myself to put it down to send you this e-mail. I intended to seek out your e-mail address before I even finished the Preface, was excited to find at the end of the Preface that you had provided it, and then could not put the book down to e-mail you until Nature intervened and forced me to take a break.
You are my hero. I have become somewhat of a legend (or pain in the arse, depending on those with whom you speak) because I am such a stickler about grammar. Ilove the English language and never more so when reading it as it should be written. I have inevitably become the editor-in-residence anywhere I have worked because I cannot bear the thought that something leaves the office that is less than grammatically perfect (or as perfect as I can make it). I have revised every template I could get my hands on, and there is nothing I enjoy hearing more than “Would you mind reviewing this and revising as you see fit?” I know the drafters groan, but I also believe (hope?) that they must (or at least should) be grateful for making them look better than they did before I got my hands on their work.
My dream job is editing full-time but, in the meantime, I am able to get a great deal experience fixing the work of my colleagues*. While I am always frustrated when I first review their work (due to its quality, or lack thereof), I am simultaneously glad that it gives me the opportunity to hone my craft.
I am only on page 12 but I thank you in advance for this book. I am traveling to London and Berlin next week and I am looking forward to bringing it with me; I anticipate that I will be on (at least) my third reading by that time; that is high praise given that I rarely read anything more than once since my recall of the first reading takes the fun out of subsequent readings. I can sense already that I will be going back to GG again and again.
Thank you also for the suggestions for Further Reading; I anticipate that I will be keeping Amazon quite busy.
*Not all of my colleagues are horrible writers; some are quite good.
Your newest fan,
PS I could not agree more with your discussion on punctuation starting on page xxx of the Preface. I noticed the placement of quotation marks before I even reached that section and was surprised; after reading your explanation I understood, although part of me wishes you had stood your ground.
PPS In case you were wondering how I found out about GG, there was a review in the Wall Street Journal last week; I immediately ordered it (with expedited delivery).
An E-Mail from a lawyer in Cape Town titled, “A serendipitous arrival” :
Dear Mr Gwynne,
I thought that you should be pleased to know that – serendipitously – I recently arrived early for a consultation with a senior counsel, my senior, with whom I was working on a matter. He is a fine barrister (we call ourselves advocates, here in South Africa) and well known for good common sense and an excellent sense of humour. Across his table sat another fine barrister, his friend, an epicure, who also dabbles in publishing literature that may be regarded as Afrikana.
The two are notorious for being easily distracted from pressing legal matters by the joys of banter, and joshing, and the relating of anecdotes that abound in our profession and country.
The second barrister, you must imagine, is a large man, made larger by years of enjoying the product of his own – and others’ – culinary skills.
In his large hand lay a small book, mauve in colour, and which I later discovered had your name printed on it.
He was reading, as I recall, nine consecutive premises, with a twinkle in his eye, explaining why good grammar, and a mastery of vocabulary, could lead to better decisions and, with time, to an improvement of civilization.
So infallible did the logic seem to me, and knowing the importance of grammar to the art of persuading, one might say a pillar upon which our profession depends, I took myself at lunchtime today to our local bookshop. There I was able to purchase your last little book in stock.
And so it is that with the last rays of wintery sunshine receding over Lion’s Rump, I sit in my chambers, with the work of the week behind me, reading with fascination, and awe, your little mauve book.
With kind regards,
M D Edmunds,