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John Relly Beard and Classical “Self-culture”


“My purpose is to simplify the study of Greek so as to throw open to all who are earnest in the great work of self-culture.”

j r beardAppreciate the lifelong efforts made by the Reverend John Relly Beard to bring classical education to all working people. A passionate Unitarian minister, he opened a school in Salford and later an important college for training Unitarian preachers. He was a crucial force behind the movement for popular education in Lancashire. His father was a Portsmouth small tradesman, with nine children, who were therefore brought up in a degree of poverty.

beard3At a time when other Unitarians feared that training ministers from the lowest classes would harm their cause, Beard never wavered in his zeal for universal educational to the highest level. He wrote the sections on Latin, Greek and English Literature for Cassell’s Popular Educator, Latin Made Easy (1848) and many accessible works on biblical subjects. He demonstrated the true extent of his political radicalism by publishing a biography of the leader of the Haiti slave rebellion Toussaint L’Ouverture, discussed in Edith Hall’s Introduction to Ancient Slavery and Abolition (OUP 2011).


In his Cassell’s Lessons in Greek…Intended Especially for those who are Desirous of Learning Greek without the Assistance of a Master, he is quite explicit about the readership he assumes:

“The wants of such, the want of what may roughly be termed the uneducated, will be carefully borne in mind by me, while I prepare these lessons. Little more than some general acquaintance with grammar, and some general knowledge, shall I take for granted as possessed by my students. My purpose is to simplify the study of Greek so as to throw open to all who are earnest in the great work of self-culture. Nor need any industrious person of ordinary capacity despair of acquiring skill to read the New Testament; and if he pleases, and will persevere, he may go on to an intimate acquaintance with Xenophon, Demosthenes, Thucydides, Homer, and the other Greek classics.”


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