Blogging A-Z L Is For Latin

Watercolor by Grant at age 18 done while he was at West Point.

Education was a interesting thing in antebellum America. Most children didn’t go to school past the eighth grade, but could and did enter college at young ages due to their advanced academics. Children in the fifth grade read at present day college levels and an eighth grade education was comparable to today’s college education in many respects.

Anyone considered cultured knew Latin, Greek, and probably French. Classics were read in schools and in the homes. General Grant, who was a farmer’s son who didn’t do particularly well at West Point aside from two things: he was an expert horseman and studied under the romantic artist Robert Walter Weir. Grant was a talented artist, but few of his paintings survive. At West Point, he fell in love with classic literature.

It was remarkable to me to read so many letters home to loved ones from soldiers where poetry from the likes of Byron and Tennyson were quoted. Soldiers shucked off everything they could on marches, including coats they’d need later, but they often carried little volumes of poetry and bibles.

Lorena is a plantation owner, having inherited it from her father, as well as being a Confederate spy. At the plantation she runs a boarding school for young ladies. The following is a scene from Rain Crow dealing with two of the young students.

Abigail swept into my office like Atropos on her way to a battle, shears in one hand and one small, terrified child in the other. I wondered if she were about to snip Lucille’s life strand in twain. “Yes, Miss Boggs. How may I help?”

“Persephone managed to sneak out of Latin class while I was cutting out some words and Lucille won’t tell me where she went.”

I cleaned the pen nib and laid it aside. “Lucille, what a remarkable child you are. When did you become a seer and take up the dark art of mind reading? Now look deep with your powers and tell us where Persy has gone.” I wriggled my fingers at her.

Her owl-wide eyes relaxed into soft crinkles at the corners and she giggled. “I ain’t no seer, Miss McKenzie. I can’t seer where she is.”

Abigail, who always spoke with her hands, waved the shears about like a drunken swordsman. “Miss McKenzie, we certainly do not need to be teaching children to mock their elders and speaking of dark arts. I swan. Your mother would have fits at the way you carry on.”

“I’m sorry, Miss Boggs. And yes, I’m sure Mother would. Would you mind putting the shears away before we have an accident?” I smiled at Lucille who appeared on the verge of tears again. “I forbid you to dabble in the dark arts and do any seering. Do you have an idea where Persy might be? I know you are her best friend.”

She looked up at Abigail and then at me. “She was hungry.”

I leaned back in my chair. “There. I’m sure she just went to Maisy for a treat and will be back before you return to class.”

Lucille’s black curls shook vigorously. “I don’t think so. She said Latin bored the horse piss out of her. If it—”

“That will be all, Lucille. Miss Boggs, I’ll find Persy and bring her to you.”

Abigail pursed her mouth in fury and snatched up Lucille’s hand. They disappeared as suddenly as they had appeared and I set off in search of my missing student.


  1. You are wonderful with dialog. That is where I feel my writing falls a bit short. I always love the history behind the writing.

    I went to school in London twenty five years ago just before they did away with what they called the Elevensies (exams given at age 11 to determine a child’s next steps academically). My resident hall was next to an a primary school (like our Elementary schools). All of the children by age eleven, spoke three languages, and were far more advanced in their reading and writing than most American college graduates. I thought how sad our standards had fallen so low. My dad told me when he was a boy, even the lowest of Americans could cite the Constitution chapter and verse. It seems as we fix some things in our march through history, we break others.

  2. Julie, you’re always making me wish I’d been born a hundred or so years earlier. What a fascinating time it was. Maybe my great-great grandchildren will be saying the same thing?

  3. John it was a fascinating time. I’m quite sure I’m a person born out of my time. I don’t know about our great-great grandchildren, but possibly.

    Thank you so much for stopping by.

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