The Eton Latin Grammar was the standard Latin textbook for schoolboys in the 19th century. It starts with the most basic elements of Latin grammar, presented in tables, and builds up to relatively complex sentences.
The work is an adaptation of three early 16th-century treatises by William Lily (1469-1522), a master at St Paul’s school. By the mid-16th century, these had been combined into one work known as ‘Lily’s Grammar’. Henry VIII, Edward VI and Elizabeth I all endorsed Lily’s Grammar, with Edward VI ordering that no other Latin grammar textbook be used in schools. In the 18th century, Lily’s Grammar underwent a major revision and became The Eton Latin Grammar. This ensured its widespread use throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.
Both the English and the Latin are heavily accented in this edition, as a guide to pronunciation. As the first page of the Preface makes clear, a key aim of this edition of The Eton Latin Grammar is to standardise the pronunciation of Latin.
The Eton Latin Grammar in George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss
Tom Tulliver, like so many 19th-century schoolboys, learns Latin using The Eton Latin Grammar. Some of the pages shown here are those that Tom and Maggie look at together when Maggie visits Tom at Mr Stelling’s (Book II, Ch.I). The sentences that Tom struggles to learn are designed to help him remember particular aspects of Latin grammar.