Quintilian On The Self-Discipline Of Teaching

Marcus Fabius Quintilianus was born about 35 A.D. at Calagurris. Young Quintilian was sent to Rome for his education and among his teachers were the famous grammaticus Remmius Palaemon, and the rhetorician Domitius Afer. After returning to his native land, he was brought back to Rome in 68 A.D. by Galba, then governor of Hispania Tarraconensis. At Rome he met with great success as a teacher and was the first rhetorician to set up a genuine public school and to receive a salary from the State. He continued to teach for twenty years and had among his pupils the younger Pliny and the two sons of Domitilla, the sister of Domitian.


Quintilian writes: “1. AS SOON therefore as a boy shall have attained such proficiency in his studies as to be able to comprehend what we have called the first precepts of the teachers of rhetoric, he must be put under the professors of that art.
2. Of these professors the morals must first be ascertained, a point of which I proceed to treat in this part of my work, not because I do not think that the same examination is to be made, and with the utmost care, in regard also to other teachers (as indeed I have shown in the preceding book), but because the very age of the pupils makes attention to the matter still more necessary. 3. For boys are consigned to these professors when almost grown up and continue their studies under them even after they are become men. Greater care must in consequence be adopted with regard to them in order that the purity of the master may secure their more tender years from corruption and that his authority deter their bolder age from licentiousness. 4. Nor is it enough that he give, in himself, an example of the strictest morality, unless he regulate also, by severity of discipline, the conduct of those who come to receive his instructions.

Let him adopt, then, above all things, the feelings of a parent towards his pupils and consider that he succeeds to the place of those by whom the children were entrusted to him. 5. Let him neither have vices in himself, nor tolerate them in others. Let his austerity not be stern, nor his affability too easy, lest dislike arise from the one or contempt from the other. Let him discourse frequently on what is honorable and good, for the oftener he admonishes, the more seldom will he have to chastise. Let him not be of an angry temper and yet not a conniver at what ought to be corrected. Let him be plain in his mode of teaching and patient of labor, but rather diligent in exacting tasks than fond of giving them of excessive length. 6. Let him reply readily to those who put questions to him and question of his own accord those who do not. In commending the exercises of his pupils, let him be neither niggardly nor lavish, for the one quality begets dislike of labor and the other self-complacency. 7. In amending what requires correction, let him not be harsh and, least of all, not reproachful, for that very circumstance that some tutors blame as if they hated deters many young men from their proposed course of study. Let him every day say something, and even much, which, when the pupils hear, they may carry away with them, for though he may point out to them in their course of reading plenty of examples for their imitation, yet the living voice, as it is called, feeds the mind more nutritiously, and especially the voice of the teacher, whom his pupils, if they are but rightly instructed, both love and reverence. How much more readily we imitate those whom we like can scarcely be expressed.

9. The liberty of standing up and showing exultation in giving applause, as is done under most teachers, is by no means to be allowed to boys, for the approbation even of young men, when they listen to others, ought to be but temperate. Hence it will result that the pupil will depend on the judgment of the master and will think that he has expressed properly whatever shall have been approved by him. 10. But that most mischievous politeness, as it is now termed, which is shown by students in their praise of each other’s compositions, whatever be their merits, is not only unbecoming and theatrical and foreign to strictly regulated schools, but even a most destructive enemy to study, for care and toil may well appear superfluous when praise is ready for whatever the pupils have produced. 11. Those therefore who listen, as well as he who speaks, ought to watch the countenance of the master, for they will thus discern what is to be approved and what to be condemned; and thus power will be gained from composition, and judgment from being heard. 12. But now, eager and ready, they not only start up at every period, but dart forward and cry out with indecorous transports. The compliment is repaid in kind, and upon such applause depends the fortune of a declamation, and hence result vanity and self-conceit, insomuch that being elated with the tumultuous approbation of their class-fellows, they are inclined, if they receive but little praise from the master, to form an ill opinion of him. 13. But let masters, also, desire to be heard themselves with attention and modesty, for the master ought not to speak to suit the taste of his pupils, but the pupils to suit that of the master. If possible, moreover, his attention should be directed to observe what each pupil commends in his speeches, and for what reason; and he may then rejoice that what he says will give pleasure, not more on his own account than on that of his pupils who judge with correctness.

14. That mere boys should sit mixed with young men, I do not approve; for though such a man as ought to preside over their studies and conduct may keep even the eldest of his pupils under control, yet the more tender ought to be separate from the more mature, and they should all be kept free, not merely from the guilt of licentiousness, but even from the suspicion of it. 15. This point I thought proper briefly to notice; that the master and his school should be clear of gross vice, I do not suppose it necessary to intimate. And if there is any father who would not shrink from flagrant vice in choosing a tutor for his son, let him be assured that all other rules which I am endeavoring to lay down for the benefit of youth are, when this consideration is disregarded, useless to him.

Quintilian’s Institutes of Oratory (Institutio Oratoria), Book 2 – Chapter 2

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