I am reading Thoreau’s essay on walking.
From a recent exhibit at the Morgan Library, I learned that Thoreau, who some moderns may think of as a sort of proto hippie, was very studious and had a very good education in classical and modern languages.
In the walking essay, Thoreau uses the Latin phrase ambulator nascitur, non fit.
After a moment’s hesitation, the meaning came to me: the walker is born, not made.
A curious person as he goes through life acquires all sorts of knowledge. Someone once remarked to me that it is very pleasurable to be able every now and then to USE those scraps of learning.
It was pleasurable to me to think I have retained a little bit of my high school Latin from over 50 years ago, including present passive verb endings.
Back in my high school days I was in a bus station in Boston once, using the men’s room. Some French sailors wearing funny hats with tassels were there too. They were in high spirits. They were teasing one another, joking and laughing. They couldn’t stop laughing. One jest led to another.
They noticed me and seemed friendly. We exchanged glances. I thought, I’m taking French. I can come up with something to say to them. I said, “Vous êtes de la marine française?” They nodded with smiles and seemed to be pleasantly surprised that an American teenager was speaking French to them.
It was very edifying to actually be using the French I had been learning out of a textbook.
–Roger W. Smith
September 30, 2017