Review of North and Hillard's Latin Prose Composition

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North and Hillard’s Latin Prose Composition has been a schoolroom stalwart for a century, and is currently available both from Focus Publishing and from Duckworth. Its longevity gives some indication as to its usefulness as a guide to the art of translating from English into Latin.

Prose composition is now optional in most examinations, both at school and at university, but attaining the top marks on the alternatives is often rather challenging. Furthermore, regular English-Latin translation creates a much more solid grasp of both accidence and syntax than any amount of Latin-English translation, leaving the pupil with a firmer grasp of the language as a whole, a better bedrock from which to develop fluency in reading, and the ability to translate from Latin-English with confidence even when unknown words appear.

North and Hillard assume that the pupil will already have a firm grasp of Latin accidence before beginning work on Latin Prose Composition and that he is already able “to translate simple sentences (including easy questions and commands) into Latin.” It is also assumed that the pupil will already have grasped “the rules of agreement, the use of the Passive Voice, the simplest uses of Pronouns and Prepositions, and the easiest Case constructions.” A substantial vocabulary is also required.

A general vocabulary is included at the back of the book, but it is not comprehensive. Special vocabularies are also included, each corresponding to a single exercise. Grammatical tables are not included at all. Therefore pupils are advised to have both a dictionary and a primer of Latin grammar to hand when using North and Hillard.

The expository writing is concise, and grammatical points are reinforced by a vast number of exercises, which consist of both isolated sentences and of full paragraphs, which are to be translated from English into Latin.

A companion Key to Latin Prose Composition is available as a separate volume, and gives model answers for each exercise. This companion is highly recommended as a time-saver for teachers, and as a means of checking answers for those attempting to teach themselves Latin prose composition using North and Hillard.

The subject matter of and vocabulary required for the exercises tends to be of a military nature, making this volume particularly well suited to those who enjoy reading the works of Livy and Caesar.