Carmody wrote:How does one set about learning Classical Chinese (文言文) ?
Just saw your post here. (I rarely come down the top two forums, General Language and Practical Questions... I wonder how common my behaviour is.)
The way one does it with other old languages: textbooks, bilingual readers, plenty of learning of the target cultures... The latter point can be particularly involved, since learning an old language may well mean familiarizing yourself with more than one century of people and events.
It is possible to learn it using only English resources, but I'm just going to mention you'll be really missing out on the generally better resources available in Mandarin. In particular, Mandarin has better resources that can be accessed for free online, whether it's dictionaries, blogs discussing literature or history, books or parts of books in bilingual form (Classical + Mandarin), or forum questions people have asked about specific passages.
A textbook that seemed good to me was Rouzer's A New Practical Primer of Literary Chinese. As an autodidact, the answer key is essential though, but the one in the book only goes up to unit 10. For the rest, consult the relevant threads on Chinese Forums (the ones entitled with "NPPLC"), or ask a new question there in the chapter threads if they haven't addressed your doubt already. I have heard a bunch of good things about Bryan Norden's Classical Chinese for Everyone, especially in approachability, but I haven't read it.
I found Naiying Yuan et al.'s Classical Chinese: A Basic Reader really nice (although expensive), especially because of its very varied short passages, plus every passage is given with a Mandarin and an English translation. Although honestly, you can find most every famous old text on the Chinese Text Project, so if you can find an English translation of something, you can check the Chinese text there as a makeshift bilingual reader.
For grammars, there's Pulleyblank's Outline of Chinese Grammar. It assumes you know enough Classical Chinese to understand the examples, sometimes long, being given only an English translation (they're not word-for-word glosses). Archie Barnes et al.'s grammar is nicer (with simpler examples), and covers a few things Pulleyblank doesn't, but overall covers less.
For dictionaries, there's no better options in English than Kroll's A Student's Dictionary of Classical and Medieval Chinese (available for purchase in print and also on Pleco). I also used to recommend John Cikoski's Lexicon in the same space, but I just found its legal availability from University of Massachussets has been depressingly taken down (it consists of a group of PDFs). A shame, as when Cikoski was alive, he had it publicly available to be downloaded from his own website... I should try to find out if I can put it up myself...