‘Best-seller’ is of course a relative term in the world of print-on-demand publishing, where we really do manufacture each book for the person who has ordered it. But we have been surprised as well as gratified to see that one of the books in our Classics series, the Key to Arnold’s Latin Prose Composition, by G.G. Bradley, first published in 1882, has shot rapidly into the stratospheric heights of two-digit sales.
‘Arnold’ was Thomas Kerchever Arnold (1800–53), not to be confused with Dr Thomas Arnold (1795–1842) the great reforming headmaster of Rugby School. He produced many language textbooks and grammars for schools, of which the most widely used were his Introductions to Greek (1838) and Latin (1839) Prose Composition. My own copy of the latter is the ninth edition of 1852, formerly owned (in 1854) by one H. G. Elwell. It leaps intimidatingly in medias res with a few pages of ‘tables of reference’ and notes on word order before the exercises begin: translate into Latin, ‘If you and the army are-in-good-health, it is well.’
The declining standards among their pupils of which generations of classics teachers have complained were clearly well advanced by 1881, when G.G. Bradley (1821–1903), another clerical pedagogue, not only revised Arnold to make him more ‘accessible’, but also produced (in 1882) a ‘key’ to the book – i.e. a crib, containing model answers to the exercises. This, as is sternly stated opposite the title page, ‘is supplied to Tutors only, on direct application to the publishers’. One wonders how many hapless children had the necessary five shillings and the ability to forge their teacher’s signature? And one also wonders why our reissue of Bradley’s crib has so far sold many more copies than Arnold’s original? Perhaps someone out there can tell us?