The Public Latin School in Boston was established five years after the settlement of the city, and more than a year before the founding of Harvard College.
We learn from the records that "on the 13th of the second moneth, 1635, . . . Att a Generall meeting upon publique notice ... it was . . . generally agreed upon that our brother Philemon Pormort shalbe intreated to become schole-master for the teaching and nourtering of children with us." It seems highly probable that it owes its origin to Reverend John Cotton, the minister of the First Church, who came from Boston, England, in 1633, where there was a similar school established by a grant from Queen Mary in 1554. It was known from the first as the "Free Schoole," receiving its support from the town. We find mention made at an early date of collecting rents on "Deare Island, Long Island, and Spectacle Island, due to the use of ye Schoole."
During the early years of the Revolution the school was under the charge of John Lovell, a stanch loyalist, while his son James, his assistant, was an equally stanch patriot. When the British evacuated Boston in March, 1776, the father, of his own accord, went off to Halifax with them, and the son went as a prisoner. One of the pupils of that day reports that on the morning of the 19th of April, 1775, Master Lovell announced, as he dismissed school: "War's begun, and school's done; deponite libros." Within a very few months after his departure the school was reopened under a new teacher.
Among its many efficient masters it is worthy of note that in each century there has been one who has had a remarkably long connection with the school.
The original building stood on School Street -- hence the name of that street -- in the rear of King's Chapel, near the present Franklin statue. In 1748, by vote of a "tumultuous town-meeting," another building was erected on the other side of the street, where the Parker House now stands. This was replaced by a new structure in 1812, which the school continued to use till its transfer to Bedford Street in 1844. Its removal to the spacious and convenient building on the corner of Dartmouth Street and Warren Avenue occurred in January, 1881.
The object of the school is to prepare boys to enter college, and parents are expected to signify their intention to give their sons a collegiate education. This object, of necessity, shapes its course of study and its character. It is not a finishing school, preparing boys for business life, as do our High Schools, and therefore some studies, pursued in the latter, may profitably be reserved for the more extended opportunities of the college course. It is a preparatory school, pure and simple, aiming to graduate boys who are ready to enter our leading colleges.
From our vicinity to Harvard and our early historical connection with it, our course of study, as arranged by the School Board, has particular reference to that university. Two marked features in the requirements for admission to college, introduced within a few years, should be noticed, -- the increased emphasis laid upon the special study of the English language and literature, and the stress laid upon the student's ability to translate the classics at sight into good English. To meet the first requirement, three hours a week in each class are devoted to the study of English, and this fact should allay the apprehensions of those who fear that the claims of the mother tongue will be sacrificed in favor of the ancient languages and mathematics. To meet the second requirement, the methods of instruction have been changed, with the aim, not so much to secure proficiency in the technicalities of grammar, as to attain readiness in comprehending the meaning of an author, and expressing it in idiomatic English. Past methods of instruction have too often resulted in an accurate and grammatical rendering of good Latin into bad English. To lead students to understand and convey to others the meaning, aim, and spirit of an author; to grasp a language in its literary rather than its literal features; to seize the spirit rather than the letter, is the object of the present methods of instruction.
To reach the end in view, we cannot insist too strongly on the need of an early start and a steady continuance in the course of study as prepared by the School Board. Boys ought to enter the Latin School as soon as they are ready to "pass an examination equivalent to that required for admission to the third class of the Grammar Schools." Under the old system, instructors were agreed that boys ought to commence the study of Latin at an early age. How much more true is this now, when the methods of teaching the classics resemble so closely those employed in teaching the modern languages, in regard to which all are agreed, both in theory and practice, that it is of primary importance to commence early. The forms, phrases, and idioms of a language are acquired much more readily, naturally, and effectively than later in life. Boys ought to take the full course in order to lay thorough foundations, and become well acquainted with the ancient languages and the authors studied. While in exceptional cases the course has been completed in less than six years, it remains true that, for the majority of the boys, steady and long-continued application is necessary. A knowledge of facts and technicalities can be acquired in a comparatively short time by cramming; but a proper appreciation of and acquaintance with the writers of antiquity can only result from a full, well-rounded course of study. Even those who succeed in answering the demands of the colleges after short courses in preparatory schools, feel a lack which subsequent study does not always repair.
1. "History and Aim of the School," Catalogue of the Public Latin School in Boston. Boston, 1894, pages 25-28.