Magazine article The Spectator

A Tongue That Still Wags

Magazine article The Spectator

A Tongue That Still Wags

Article excerpt

A tongue that still wags LONG LIVE LATIN by John Gray Canis Press, Little Hollies, Bonnington, Kent TN 25 7AZ, £12.99, pp. 218, ISBN 0954887808 £11.99 (plus £2.25 p&p) 0870 800 4848

Among the unexpected pieces of information in this enjoyable ramble among the picturesque ruins of the Latin language is the name of a good restaurant if you should find yourself at Larroque in Tarn. The advice comes under B, for Bonum vinum laetificat cor hominis, 'good wine cheers the heart of man', an adage written calligraphically on the wall of the Restaurant Le Roucanel. (The thought comes from Psalm 104, though Mr Gray doesn't mention that.)

No great Latinist myself, I was glad to find Long Live Latin to be the welcoming Hampton Court Flower Show of Latin; Chelsea gold medallists might no longer care to walk among such (to them) familiar blooms. But Long Live Latin is no bare seedsman's catalogue.

It has the readability of a diary rather than a dictionary. We discover that John Gray has not wasted the years since he took early retirement from the law (which now, he frequently laments, spurns the use of Latin). Apart from anything else, he has set up the Canis Press, of which Long Live Latin is a well designed publication. Away from home, the Royalty Bar in the Place Georges, Biarritz, reminds him of Ovid's Spectatum veniunt, veniunt spectentur ut ipsae, 'They come to see; they come to be seen themselves'. Not so Mr Gray, homo cui vivere est cogitare, 'a man to whom to live is to think'. Visits to Malta, Paris, Tuscany, all provoke thoughts, even the obituaries page of the Daily Telegraph, where the law lord, Lord Salmon, was described as 'Fortiter in re, suaviter in modo'. Gray quotes Lord Chesterfield's remark on these words, 'I do not know any one rule so unexceptionally useful and necessary in any part of life.'

Even if you think, with Samuel Johnson, that Chesterfield displayed 'the morals of a whore and the manners of a dancing master', you would not dream of extending any such judgment to Gray, who laboured over this book while his wife was on pilgrimage, on horseback, to Santiago de Compostela, leaving him to feed the cat. He finds time to keep up his interest in numismatics and, we gather, to listen to bits of Bach, Mozart and César Franck.

These composers often set pieces of Latin to music, though Gray's knowledge of their liturgical use is sometimes a bit sketchy. …

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