Gateway to the Classics: Stories from English History, Book I by Alfred J. Church
Stories from English History, Book I by  Alfred J. Church

Caius Valerius and His Grandfather

(Time, A.D. 85)

CAIUS.  It has been a great day at the school, grandfather. The Governor himself came in to see the classes. He heard us recite. Only think! I was chosen to do it in my class, though there are at least six of the boys who are older than I.

GRANDFATHER.  What was the book, and what was the piece? But very likely I have never heard it.

C.  Oh yes! you know it. You have heard me say it again and again. I don't think that there is any piece that I like quite so well. It was the "Shield of Aeneas," out of Virgil.

G.  Well, and how did you get on?

C.  Fairly well, I hope; at least the Governor praised me. He said something kind about my manner, and told me that I had caught the true Roman accent. And when he had gone through all the classes, and we were assembled in the hall, he made a little speech to the teachers and us. He thanked the teachers for their diligence. "You have done all," he said, "that I expected, and more; though," he went on, turning to us, and smiling, "you have had excellent material to work upon." We clapped our hands vigorously at that, as you may suppose. Then came our turn. "I am glad to see so many of you here," he said. "The first year, and, I think, the second, after this school was opened, I could hardly have found a corporal's guard, and now you would more than make a company. I don't want you to cease to be Britons, but I want to make you Romans. As Romans, you have the whole world before you."

G.  Very fine! but for my part, if they would have kept their whole world, and left us our little island, I would have been well content.

C.  But, grandfather, don't you like the Romans, then? I am sure they have done a great deal for us. The school, for instance. Why, they say that there isn't so fine a school in all Gaul. And the Governor—what a fine fellow he is! There is nobody like him.

G.  True, my boy, true. Agricola, as they call him, is a fine fellow. He is the very best Roman I ever saw. And his people have done a great deal for us. Baths, theatres, temples, fine houses, fine clothes, and I don't know what else. What a change from things as they were! Baths indeed! The rivers and lakes were good enough for us; as for theatres, we were quite content with the old man who sat in the chimney corner, and sang to his harp; an oak tree served well enough for a temple; there wasn't a stone house in the whole island, a chief lived under timber, and mud served a common man's turn; while for clothes, skins kept us warm, with a shirt of wool in winter. As for the schools, they are, I confess, the best thing they have brought us yet. In old time only the priests knew anything; now the gate is open. Still, I wish that we in Britain had never seen these strangers from the South.

C.  But, grandfather, this is all very strange. You never talked to me in this way before.

G.  No, my boy, and never shall again. But you are growing up. You are just about to put on the man's gown, are you not?

C.  Yes, three days hence.

G.  Then it is about time that you should hear the story of your country. When you were a child, it was of no use to trouble you; in a few days you will be a man, and ought to have a man's thoughts. Now listen.

First I must tell you something about your family. Up to this time I have purposely kept you in ignorance. Well, you and I are all that are left of it, and I, you must understand, am not your grandfather, as you have been used to call me, but your great-grandfather. Your mother died when you were born, just sixteen years ago; how her father died you will hear in the course of my story. He, you must know, was my eldest son. Well, I was a man of nine lustres, as the Romans put it—and it is, I must own, a convenient way of reckoning—when the Romans first came to our island.

C.  Oh, grandfather, I have always thought that it was many more years than that, far more indeed than the very oldest man in Britain can possibly remember.

G.  True, my boy, you are right in a way; what I meant was, the first time they came to stay.  Of course the other was long before my time, or any one else's that is now alive.

C.  Yes, it was in Julius Caesar's time, the very first of the Roman emperors, and there have been eleven since him, counting the one who is reigning now. Julius—the "Divine Julius" our teacher calls him—wrote about it. We often have a dictation from his book.

G.  Well, I have often heard the whole story from some one who had to do with it, and that was my grandfather.

C.  And can you remember what he told you?

G.  Perfectly; I was about ten years old when he died. He was a very old man, as you may suppose, but quite clear in his mind, and remembering everything that had happened in his youth, though he had no memory for things of yesterday. He could not remember, for instance, the name of the slave who waited on him, nor my name. He would tell the same story over and over again, forgetting that he had told it perhaps an hour before. I heard what I am going to tell you I don't know how many times, and as I have got something of the same kind of memory as he had, now that I am old—not so old as he was, though, by ten years at the least—I can almost remember his very words.

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