THE CURRICULUM
OF THE BOSTON LATIN GRAMMAR SCHOOL
(1712)

In 1712 Nathaniel Williams, master of the Boston Latin Grammar School, sent to Nehemiah Hobart, a Senior Fellow at Harvard, the following letter, in which he describes the curriculum pursued by the students at the Boston Latin Grammar School as they prepared for admission to Harvard College:1

1.2.3. The first three years are spent first in Learning by heart & then acc:[ording] to their capacities understanding the Accidence and Nomenclator, in construing & parsing acc:[ording) to the English rules of Syntax, Sententiae Pueriles, Cato & Corderius & Aesops Fables.2

4. The 4th year, or sooner if their capacities allow it, they are entered upon Erasmus to which they are allou'd no English, but are taught to translate it by the help of the Dictionary and Accidence, which English translation of theirs is written down fair by each of them, after the reciting of the lesson, and then brought to the Master for his observation and the correction both as to the Translatio & orthography: This when corrected is carefully reserved till fryday, and then render'd into Latin of the Author exactly instead of the old way of Repitition, and in the afternoon of that day it is (a part of it) varied for them as to mood tense case number &c and given them to translate into Latin, still keeping to the words of the Author. An example of which you have in the paper marked on the backside A [not available]. These continue to read AEsops Fables with ye English translation, the better to help them in the aforesaid translating. They are also now initiated in the Latin grammar, and begin to give the Latin rules in Propr: As in pres: [Propria: As in praesenti] & Syntax in their parsing; and at the latter end of the year enter upon Ovid de Tristibus (which is recited by heart on the usual time fryday afternoon) & upon translating English into Latin, out of mr Garretson's exercises.3

5. The fifth year they are entered upon Tullies Epistles (Still continuing the use of Erasmus in the morning & Ovid de Trist[ibus]: afternoon) the Elegancies of which are remark'd and improv'd in the afternoon of the day they learn it, by translating an English which contains the phrase something altered, and besides recited by heart on the repetition day. Ov[id] Metam[orphoses): is learn'd by these at the latter end of the year, so also Prosodia Scanning & turning & making of verses, & 2 days in the week they continue to turn mr. Gar[retson's) English Ex[ercises) into Latin, w(hen) the afternoons exerc[ise): is ended, and turn a fable into a verse a distich in a day.

6. The sixth year they are entered upon Tullies Offices & Lucius] Flor(us): for the forenoon, continuing the use of Ovid's Metam[orphoses]: in the afternoon, & at the end of the Year they read Virgil: The Elegancies of Tull[ius'=Cicero] Off[ice]): are improved in the afternoon as is aforesaid of Tull[ius']: Epist[les]: & withal given the master in writing when the lesson is recited, & so are the phrases they can discover in Luc[ius] Fl[orus). All of which they have mett with in that week are comprehended in a dialogue on Fryday forenoon, and afternoon they turn a Fable in Lat[in) Verse. Every week these make a Latin Epistle, the last quarter of the Year, when also they begin to learn Greek, & Rhetorick.4

7. The seventh year they read Tullie's Orations & Justin for the Latin and Greek Testam[en]t Isocrates Orat[ions]: Homer & Hesiod for the Greek in the forenoons & Vergil Horace Juvenal & Persius afternoons. As to their exercises after the afternoon lessons are ended they translate mundays & Tuesdays an Engl[ish] Dialogue containing a Praxis upon the Phrases out of Godwin's Roman Antiquities. Wensdays they compose of Praxis on the Elegancies & Pithy sentences in their lesson in Horace in Lat[in] verse. On repetition days, bec[ause] that work is easy, their time is improved in ye Forenoon in makeing Dialogues containing a Praxis upon a Particle out of Mr. Walker, in the afternoon in Turning a Psalm or something Divine into Latin verse. Every fortnight they compose a Theme, & now & then turn a Theme into a Declamation the last quarter of the year.5



1 For a reproduction and discussion of William's text, see Pauline Holmes, A Tercentenary History of the Boston Public Latin School (1635-1935), pp. 258-261; K.B. Murdock, "The Teaching of Latin and Greek at the Boston Latin School in 1712," Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts 27, pp.21-29; John Rexine, "The Boston Latin School Curriculum in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries: A Bicentennial Review," Classical Journal 72 (1976-77), pp. 261-266; and Robert Francis Seybolt, The Public Schools of Colonial Boston 1635-1775 (New York: Arno Press, 1969), pp. 69-71.

2. In the early eighteenth century there were available several Accidences, or grammar books, of which the two most popular were William Lily's Latin Grammar, first published in England in 1509, and its American counterpart, Cheever's Accidence, first formally published in Boston in 1709 with the rather formidable title: A Short Introduction, to the Latin Tongue, for the use of the lower forms in the Latin School, Being the Accidence abridged and compiled in that most easy and accurate method wherein the famous Mr.Ezekiel Cheever taught; and which he found the most advantageous by severnty years experience. Many nomenclators, or dictionaries, were also available at this time. J.A. Comenius'  Orbis Sensualium Pictus, 1658, was, perhaps, the most popular because of its many illustrations. Among the books which included collections of moral maxims were John Brinsley's Sententiae Pueriles (1622), Leonard Culman's Sententiae Pueriles (1658) and J. Hoole's Catonis Disticha de Moribus (1659, 1670, and 1704). There were many editions of Aesop and Corderius in circulation, including the very popular edition of John Clarke, Corderii Colloquiorum Centuria Selecta (1718). All brackets explaining the abbreviations in Williams' text are mine. The parentheses are part of the original text.

3. None of the examples "on backside A," mentioned by Williams, have survived. The most commonly studied essays of Erasmus were his Coloquia familiaria and de Copia Verborum, and his Adagia, for each of which there were many editions in circulation. Propr: As in Pres.: is a reference to William Lily's Propria quae maribus, Quae genus, As in praesenti,Syntaxis, Qui mihi construed, or a series of short essays which were frequently attached to Lily's Latin Grammar. J. Garretson's, English exercises for school-boys to translate into Latin, comprizing all the rules of grammar, and other necessary observations; ascending gradually from the meanest to higher capacities (London, 1683, 1687, 1690, 1698) was another favorite.

4. Lucius Annaeus Florus in the early second century A.D. wrote Epitome Bellorum Omnium Annorum DCC; it is a history of Rome in abbreviated form.

5. Justin's Historia was written in the third century A.D. Thomas Godwin wrote Romanae historiae Anthologiae. An English exposition of the Romane antiquities wherein many Romane and English offices are paralleled and divers obscure phrases explained (London, 1658, 1668, etc.). William Walker wrote Treatise of English particles, showing much of the variety of their significations and uses in English; and how to render them into Latine according to the propriety and elegancy of that language, with a Praxis on the same. (London, 1655, 1663, and 1666).