On Saturday morning, as we waited in line outside of the National Archives, I had an opportunity to express my thanks to Reggie for the way in which his summer course in 2005 changed my life and put me on the path to a career in teaching Latin. As the weekend wore on and I heard more of the stories of the conference participants, I realized that any temptation I had had to think of myself as being unique in owing (in large part) my path in life to this man was altogether misguided. He gave (and continues to give in Milwaukee) the gift of the language to so many of us: not the elements of the language, which most who studied with him, especially during the summers in Rome, already had, nor his style in the classroom, which I think none but he could pull off, but the love of the active use of the language combined with a deep commitment to philological precision.
When in 2004 I wrote to Reginald to apply to his course, I was convinced that I would have to write to him in Latin or else face immediate rejection. I must have read somewhere that he was a proponent of the active use of Latin and so I also anticipated that most of his teaching would be in Latin. As it turned out, while Reginald was very keen on the active use of Latin in instruction, frequently asking us how this or that would be expressed in Latin, his classroom was not conducted in Latin.
Perhaps this owes to what he told us, with his characteristic classroom indelicacy of diction, during the weekend gathering: “Any idiot can speak Latin; but it’s reading Latin, friends, that you’ll find hard.” I myself do not share this view; I think that to speak, write, and aurally comprehend Latin is no easy task and that active use should have a prominent place in the ideal Latin classroom. Still, when I speak in Latin, I work with the stock of grammar and vocabulary already stored up in my head. In contrast, when I read a challenging text, I roll up my sleeves to go to work with grammars and lexicons to identify the unrecognized grammar or vocabulary, thus growing in my knowledge of the language. This is what Reginald does so well: he demands that his students have constant recourse to Lewis & Short and Gildersleeve & Lodge. Because he is completely committed to philology, his method is thus conservative, despite his reputation as an iconoclast who speaks Latin, introduces students to texts outside of the classical canon, and eschews the traditional grammatical vocabulary.
To my mind, a love of the language that cannot but express itself in speaking and writing joined to a zeal for grammatical and lexical precision is the perfect combination. I saw this in Reginald Foster in 2005 and I saw it again too briefly this past weekend. He has my deepest gratitude for his inspirational teaching. Ad multos annos!