Archaeologist Austen Henry Layard’s unusual classical education

December 2, 2012

in Archaeology, Biographies, Classical Education, Home schooling, Unschooling


Austen Henry Layard‘s was a famous 19th century archaeologist and author of the classic book “Nineveh and its Remains” that described his discovery of ancient Babylonian palaces following excavations around Nimrud. In Dr. Brian Fagan‘s introduction to Nineveh and its Remains, he describes Austen Layard’s very unusual early education, which I think can be credited for his adventurous spirit, creativity and open mind that led to his major archaelogical discoveries:

Austen Henry Layard was born in Paris on March 5, 1817, two years after Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo. His father was a retired civil servant, who suffered from asthma and could not tolerate England’s damp climate. So the family wandered across Europe, moving constantly until they finally settled in Florence. The restless traveling gave young Layard a thirst for new places and adventure, and a passion for art and architecture that endured a lifetime. By age nine, he knew every painting of importance in Florence and the history of every building, including his own home. He learned how to sketch, added Italian to his already fluent French, and had real all Walter Scott’s novels by age thirteen. The romantic stories of the Arabian Nights engrossed him. He wrote in his autobiography: “To them I attribute my love of travel and adventure that took me to the East.”

His education sounds like a model of Classical Education at Home as described by Susan Wise Bauer in “the homeschooler’s bible” The Well-Trained Mind. It is hard to emulate such an education nowadays (unless you live in Italy 🙂 ), but one could certainly try in the summer holidays!

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