Who is your Latinist?

Cambridge District Scout Archive

Correspondence between Rex Hazelwood editor of The Scouter and Professor Patrick Duff, Cambridge University Scout Group, County Secretary etc.

1st Dec 1953   

My dear Rex

            Who is your Latinist?  If I was not sure that the Motto of Lord Somers was too serious a subject for joking, I should think someone was pulling your leg or that of your readers.

            “Prodesse” could not possibly have any connection with “ire, meaning “to go”; nor could “quam conspici” possibly mean “with circumspection.  “Prodesse” means “to be useful”, “to be of service”; “quam” means “than” or “rather than”; and “conspici” means “to be seen” or perhaps “to be conspicuous”. 

            I have long thought that it was an extremely appropriate motto for Lord Somers and was appalled to see your translation.  I expect you will have letters from hundreds of schoolmasters and Grammar School Scouts; but I rather hope that I may have got in first since not all your readers get the Scouter as early as I do, and some probably read the English before the Latin

Yours ever,                             

The carving, presented to Gilwell and pictured in The Scouter, that initiated the correspondence.

2nd Dec 1953

My dear Patrick

                        I am afraid I just quoted Lord Somers’ motto as it was given to me without checking it which was very foolish of me but I am not a heraldist, my latin is very rusty and I didn’t, I am afraid, even think about it.   

            I have had a letter from Christopher Stead of Keble, Oxford, this morning too.

            Would you give me something that I can quote?  I don’t think your letter would be a great deal of help to the artisan types.  Christopher Stead renders it “unobtrusive service” or “to be useful rather than to be conspicuous.” 

            What I would like to do I think is to quote your letter and his if you write me another one for publication.

Yours ever                                          

4th Dec 1953   

My dear Rex  

            Thanks for your letter of the2nd December. I hope you will pitch into whoever led you astray. I enclose a letter which may be suitable for the publication and has at least the merit of brevity.  I see that you generally put something under the signatures of your correspondents and you can describe me as “Senior Treasurer, Cambridge University Scout Group” or as “County Secretary, Cambridge” or as “Regius Professor of Civil Law, Cambridge”; but I should think it would be best to just put Trinity College, Cambridge under my name.  Any comments on the appropriateness of the motto to Lord Somers should come from you rather than me, since I knew him only at a distance.  The only time I was to have had an interview with him, my taxi failed to come and i missed my train from Cambridge to London.

            When a motto is in the infinitive, it is always a little difficult to make convincing English of it.  For the words I have put in brackets you might substitute an imperative such as “Prefer” or “Strive” but it is not worth bothering about.  Christopher Stead and I seem to be substantially agreed.  I did not know he had gone to Keble.

Yours ever                                          

Below is the brief letter enclosed by Patrick Duff

4th Dec 1953   

Dear Editor

            May I point out a mistake in your description of Lord Somers’s Arms?  The Latin motto does not mean “Proceed with Circumspection” but “(It is better) to be useful than to be conspicuous”.


I am delighted by the precision of Professor Duff, his assumption that hundreds would spot it, and write to the Editor, and the concern for the inappropriate nature of the motto given to Lord Somers.  Professor Duff did not use his academic title in his Scouting work.

Patrick Duff resigned his role in 1975 after 50 years. He had been awarded the Silver Wolf in 1961.

JWR Archivist Mar 2020