02. Preparation for the bar
[Editor's Note : As the Bar examinations did not require much study, Gandhiji did not feel pressed for time. He therefore thought that he should not only be called to the Bar, but have some literary degree as well. He inquired about the Oxford and Cambridge University courses but gave up the idea of going to either of these places as it would have meant greater expense and a much longer stay in England than he was prepared for. Ultimately he decided to study for the London Matriculation. It appears, however, that from 1888 to 1889, Gandhiji had enrolled himself as a student in the University College, London, for recently the University College, London has proudly claimed Gandhiji as one of its 18th Century distinguished alumni. The alumni department of the college dug back its archives and found an old card index box containing a small yellowing index card in which is handwritten Gandhiji's name and dates of attendances. It is now established that Gandhiji from 1888 to 1889 was enrolled as a student in the University College, London for courses in Indian law and jurisprudence.1] I knew that Bar examinations did not require much study, and I therefore did not feel pressed for time. My weak English was a perpetual worry to me. Mr. (afterwards Sir Frederic) Lely's words, 'Graduate first and then come to me,' still rang in my ears. I should, I thought, not only be called to the Bar, but have some literary degree as well. I inquired about the Oxford and Cambridge University courses, consulted a few friends, and found that, if I elected to go to either of these places, that would mean greater expense and a much longer stay in England than I was prepared for. A friend suggested that, if I really wanted to have the satisfaction of taking a difficult examination, I should pass the London Matriculation. It meant a good deal of labour and much addition to my stock of general knowledge, without any extra expense worth the name. I welcomed the suggestion. But the syllabus frightened me. Latin and a modern language were compulsory! How was I to manage Latin? But the friend entered a strong plea for it: 'Latin is very valuable to lawyers. Knowledge of Latin is very useful in understanding law-books. And one paper in Roman Law is entirely in Latin. Besides a knowledge of Latin means greater command over the English language.' It went home and I decided to learn Latin, no matter how difficult it might be. French I had already begun, so I thought that should be the modern language. I joined a private Matriculation class. Examinations were held every six months and I had only five months at my disposal. It was an almost impossible task for me. But the aspirant after being an English gentleman chose to convert himself into a serious student. I framed my own time-table to the minute; but neither my intelligence nor memory promised to enable me to tackle Latin and French besides other subjects within the given period. The result was that I was ploughed in Latin. I was sorry but did not lose heart. I had acquired a taste for Latin, also I thought my French would be all the better for another trial and I would select a new subject in the science group. Chemistry which was my subject in science had no attraction for want of experiments, whereas it ought to have been a deeply interesting study. It was one of the compulsory subjects in India and so I had selected it for the London Matriculation. This time, however, I chose Heat and Light instead, of Chemistry. It was said to be easy and I found it to be so. . . .This was also a period of intensive study. Plain living saved me plenty of time and I passed my examination.
An Autobiography, (1959), pp. 38-39
1 See column entitled 'out of court', Times of India, 28-10-2001 by Soli S. Sorabjee.