"Make A Virtue Of Necessity"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Quintilian expresses his views on teaching literature, rhetoric and oratory. In Book I he discusses elementary education and the necessity of teaching such great poets as Homer and Virgil early, even if the pupils are not able to understand fully; the boys will reread these authors "for the love of letters and the value of reading are not confined to one's schooldays but end only with life." In teaching literature, the teacher should analyze the parts of speech, the poetic meter of prose as well as of poetry. "To make virtue of necessity," is proverbial. It is used by Chaucer: Troilus and Criseyde (1372-1386), Book IV, l. 1586; by Rabelais: Works, Book V, chapter 23 (1552); by Robert Burton: Anatomy of Melancholy, Part III, Sec. 3, Memb. 4, Subsect. I (1621-1651). Quintilian uses the proverb in this context: In studying the works of the poets, the teacher

. . . will point out what words are barbarous, what improperly used, and what are contrary to the laws of language. He will not do this by way of censuring the poets for such peculiarities, for poets are usually the servants of their metres and are allowed such license that faults are given other names when they occur in poetry: for we style them metaplasms, schematisms and schemata, as I have said, and make a virtue of necessity.