Mary Beard’s generous farewell gift

Those with a smattering of schoolboy Latin will recall the mock sentence, ‘Caesar aderat forti, was he sick? You bet’, writes Rev David Clarke

Monday, 17th May 2021, 8:32 am
Mary Beard

A riff on the principal parts of a Latin verb may also spring to mind; ‘Fleo, flere, itchy, scratchum’.

The ancient tongue is taught in a diminishing number of schools in our time, as ‘woke’ educationists bemoan the time wasted on learning a dead language, even though so many of our English words have roots in the languages of the ancient world, Latin and Classical Greek.

However, one eminent historian of the ancient world is intent on reversing that trend.

Professor Dame Mary Baird, she of the long grey tresses, is approaching her retirement and has made an eye-catching decision.

Having taught Classics (Latin and Greek) at Cambridge for forty years, she is due to retire in 2022, and has decided to mark the event by a generous donation of £80,000.

That sum will pay the £10,000- a- year living costs of two students from minority-ethnic groups and low-income homes for the full period of their undergraduate careers.

The Professor, who found unlikely fame in recent years as a television presenter, says that her gift is just a ‘payback’ for all that studies of the classical world has given her. Typically, the bursary will be known as the Joyce Reynolds Award, in honour of one of her own Classics tutors.

Mary’s gesture is particularly refreshing in a society where so many seem intent on acquiring more and more.

After vacating the highest offices, so many supposed ‘servants of the people’ become obsessed with reinforcing their bank balance. Examples are numerous. Think Blair and Cameron or Clinton and Obama, and a few nearer home.

Generosity is one of the qualities which lifts us nearer to the divine.

Scrooge, remember, was ‘a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching covetous, old sinner’, a symbol of humankind at its worst. On the other hand, God is the giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1;17), someone who gives to all, without finding fault’ (James 1;5). He loves a ‘cheerful giver’ (2 Corinthians 9;7).

An American industrialist said, ‘I will say nothing as to the difficulty or ease with which one can acquire money, or education, or practical wisdom, or a fine personality, but I am bound to add that whichever of them you or I may have, it is fatal to keep it to oneself’.

Andrew Carnegie, whose millions were gained by dubious industrial practices, at least tried to make amends, by giving away almost his entire fortune and creating free libraries throughout the English-speaking world.

He summarised his attitude by saying, ‘He who dies rich, dies thus disgraced’.

Yes, generosity might sometimes be misplaced, but would it not be better occasionally to be found to have given £10 to a rogue than refuse a coin to a deserving cause? Strive to be in that company.