D.J. Palmer, The Rise of English Studies (1965)These excerpts mounted as part of the History of English Studies Page (Rita Raley)
III AN EDUCATION FOR THE INDUSTRIAL CLASSES
The history of formal education is not a thing per se which stands alone; underlying important developments in the academic world there are always complex changes in society itself I have tried to show how the promotion of English studies in the two London colleges was the result of a complex interaction between the spirits of Utilitarianism and Evangelicalism; but when we turn from schools and universities to more informal kinds of education, the flux and pressure of social conditions impinge even further upon our attention. The nineteenth century was a great age of educational expansion, in which the various threads of development are not easily detached from that vast web of social, economic, and intellectual change called the Industrial Revolution. The fact remains that during this time an increasing proportion of the population became literate, and that from certain influential quarters they were encouraged to read English literature of the past, as well as, sometimes as an antidote for, the more ephemeral and perhaps corrupting reading-matter of their own time. There are historians who regard the Industrial Revolution as a misleading term for processes that were operating as early as the sixteenth century, but certainly these processes accelerated rapidly towards the end of the eighteenth century, and, what is equally important, those living in the early nineteenth century were themselves acutely aware of far-reaching changes affecting a traditional stability in English society.
The spread of literacy was not dependent on the regular forms of education, but was fostered mainly by a combination of philanthropy and self-help. What distinguishes the movement for popular education is its concern, not with children, but with adults. Many children of the humbler classes had been taught their letters, and some useful employment, in the charity schools and dames' schools of the eighteenth century, though how long they subsequently maintained their precarious grasp on literacy is open to question. The ability to read and write without difficulty requires regular practice, and the nature of their lives rendered literacy a superfluous attainment for many of these children. A new departure, however, is marked by the spread of Sunday schools for all ages, after Robert Raikes opened his school in Gloucester in 1780, and by the Adult School movement which began at the turn of the century. There must have been a genuine demand for literacy in those men who sought instruction after the long and arduous working-hours then common. And here again we find that the religious and utilitarian attitudes converged in furthering universal literacy.
On the one hand was the Protestant emphasis on the private conscience, which placed special importance upon the ability to read the Bible for oneself. Many of the Christian philanthropists, indeed, had confined their educational energies to this sole end, and could not be persuaded that there was any necessity to teach writing as well. Perhaps, too, at one time, utilitarian reason was on their side: literacy is not an end in itself Matthew Arnold's observation, that 'No man, who knows nothing else, knows even his Bible', would have seemed rank heresy to these early zealots, if indeed the remark was altogether a truism when it was written in 1869. The Methodist Revival, however, was more liberal in fostering popular reading tastes, without descending to secularism. Charles Wesley published popular editions of the more edifying and pious classics of English literature, and enabled his followers to supplement their Bibles with Bunyan and Milton. The Pilgrim's Progress (1743) was followed in 1763 by An Extract from 'Paradise Lost' with Notes ; Wesley adapted the epic poem for unlearned readers by removing some 2,000 lines of the more abstruse classical references, supplying brief explanations of the difficult words, and marking with asterisks those passages which he thought 'peculiarly excellent' and recommended for memorizing. In his desire to bring sweetness and light to those whose lives were brutalized or spiritually impoverished by the economic conditions of society, Wesley was a forerunner of many later missionaries of culture in industrial England. The attitude became secularized, even to the point where Arnold could foresee literature as a substitute for religion, but in its essence the notion persisted that somehow literature could be used as a humanizing agency to counteract the soul destroying evils of a rapidly changing society. To the Evangelical Knox, in a passage I have already cited, it seemed that the 'mercantile classes' would derive most benefit from 'polite literature', which would 'liberalize their minds, and prevent that narrowness which is too often a consequence of . . . the pursuits of lucre'. Similar sentiments could be attributed to teachers of literature throughout the century, except that the mercantile classes are replaced as objects of welfare by the industrial artisans, and instead of the pursuits of lucre, the corrupting influences become the oppressive conditions in mines and factories and cities, and the dangerous political extremism that was bred there.
On the other hand the spread of literacy, and the beginnings of adult education, were also prompted by more practical considerations. What Joseph Priestley had written for the middle classes was becoming equally true for their social inferiors: 'the situation of things is vastly different from what it was two or three centuries ago . . . the objects of human attention are prodigiously multiplied'. One aspect of the social and economic changes was the increased complexity of life, in which the new social relationships, and the new scientific principles affecting the daily lives of more and more people, depended on the printed word. Literacy became necessary in order to understand all but the most immediate facts of existence.
This utilitarian approach to adult education was embodied in the foundation of the Mechanics' Institutes. Beginning with the London Mechanics' Institute, founded in 1823 with Brougham's influential support, similar institutes were soon established all over the country, especially in the industrial areas. There were twenty in existence by the end of 1824, and another seventy came into being during the following year: by 1850, there were over 500 of them. The original purpose of the Mechanics' Institutes was to give working men an understanding of the scientific principles underlying their new mechanical trades. But from the beginning the appetite for useful knowledge, and for self-improvement, took other forms as well. Much to the alarm of those observers who feared the popularity of Tom Paine's ideas and the spread of democratic revolution after the Napoleonic Wars, there was a persistent demand for classes in 'political economy', while scientific instruction often languished because the mechanics lacked the necessary elementary education to enable them to benefit from anything more advanced. Thus the institutes were regarded by some as hotbeds of sedition, while others thought that giving education to working men was the only way of averting revolution. And in this respect, the Mechanics' Institutes played an important part in the development of English studies, for most of them included lectures on English literature in their programmes, and through their libraries they enabled many members to develop the reading habit and to make some acquaintance with the national literature.
In their subsequent history, the character of these institutions varied from one place to another. Some failed to attract manual workers, and became more generally 'cultural', sometimes offering little more than entertainment. Some on the other hand were important and serious centres of adult education, eventually, as at Nottingham and Leicester, handing on the torch to new 'civic' universities. The London Mechanics' Institute itself was renamed Birkbeck College, after the man who had first inspired the movement, and was incorporated in London University in the 1870'S. 'They have established the right of the people to culture', wrote James Hole in The History and Management of Literary, Scientific, and Mechanics' Institutions , an essay which won the Prize of the Society of Arts in 1853. But Hole was severely critical of their dilettante tendencies, and deplored their failure to provide a systematic education. 'The action of our Institutes', he complained, 'has been all in the direction of reading, while study has had to take care of itself.' He regarded with suspicion the popularity of their libraries, and remarked rather sourly on 'the small demand for instructive works as compared with those whose principal aim is amusement'. His statistics, from a sample of forty-three institutes, show that while the number of scientific lectures had dwindled since the I830's to a third of the total lectures, those on literature had increased to more than half of the total. And he observed with some justice of these literature lectures that though 'highly valuable as an intellectual pastime for a leisure hour, the positive acquisitions can be but small'. Among the most popular lecturers who visited these institutes were Charles Dickens, Cowden Clarke, and Charles and Fanny Kemble with their Shakespearean readings. Literature was not treated very academically in the Mechanics' Institutes, but surely it is not altogether a matter for regret that the artisans managed to resist those, whether of utilitarian or evangelical turn of mind, who tried to instill the notion that reading literature was a profitable study, a means of self-improvement, and forgot its appeal first and foremost as a pleasure and amusement.
A characteristic example of this untrained but real enthusiasm for the 'classics' occurs in the Chartist Thomas Cooper. Cooper, like other serious-minded artisans, was a self-educated man, and after the days of Chartism, he made several tours to lecture in these institutes, on literary topics as well as on politics. In his autobiography he recounted his youthful discovery of English literature:
Blair's 'Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres was another book that I analysed very closely and laboriously, being determined on acquiring a thorough judgment of style and literary excellence. All this practice seemed to destroy the desire of composing poetry of my own. Milton's verse seemed to overawe me, as I committed it to memory, and repeated it daily; and the perfection of his music, as well as the gigantic stature of his intellect, were fully perceived by my mind. The wondrous knowledge of the heart unfolded by Shakespeare, made me shrink into insignificance; while the sweetness, the marvelous power of expression and grandeur of his poetry seemed to transport me, at times, out of the vulgar world of circumstances in which I lived bodily.Much of the teaching of English literature in adult education was teaching by inspiration, concerned merely to encourage the reading of great authors of the past. Perhaps it still is, often enough. But if to describe this as the study of English literature is to make too high a claim for it, it is nevertheless an important part of the development of English studies. For the popularity of these informal lectures on literature, from the Mechanics' Institutes to the university extension classes, eventually impinged directly on the movement to establish English studies in the curricula of the two ancient universities.
James Hole conceded in his Essay that lectures on literature to mechanics would make them less open to corruption by the abundance of cheap sensational fiction then coming into circulation. Charles Knight, the publisher to Brougham's Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, was also anxious about the poisonous effects of 'railway fiction'. Like William and Robert Chambers earlier in the century, end John Cassell a little later, he used his press to help the newly literate classes to educate themselves, and his Penny Cyclopaedia came out in weekly numbers between 1833 and 1844. In the 1840's and 1850's Knight brought out nearly a dozen different editions of Shakespeare. The trade in reprints of 'classical' English literature had begun towards the end of the previous century, when John Bell, John Cooke, and John Harrison enterprisingly published the poets, dramatists, essayists, and novelists in cheap numbers. Bell's Shakespeare appeared in 1774, his Poets of Great Britain Complete from Chaucer to Churchill in 109 volumes at 1s. 6d. each from 1776 (comprehensive, if not actually 'complete'), and his British Theatre in twenty-one volumes at 6d. each in the same year. John Harrison's Novelist's Magazine began in 1780, while Cooke's sixpenny weekly numbers were the boyhood reading of Leigh Hunt, Hazlitt, and John Clare. In the I820'5, Whittingham, Limbrid, Sharpe, and Dove undertook more such reprints, of which one of the best-remembered, the Aldine Edition of British Poets , was first brought out by William Pickering in 1829, at 5s. a volume. The coming of the steam-driven press and machine-made paper in the 'thirties and 'forties, with the increasing demand for reading matter, lowered printing costs, and in 1861 the paper duty was finally repealed. In the second half of the century, Chandos Classics sold 3,500,000 volumes between 1868 and 1884, and a quarter of a million of Kent's Miniature Library of the Poets were bought in five years; Blackwood's Universal Library of Standard Authors (1872) and Moxon's Popular Poets (1879) are only another two of the more familiar among a proliferation of uniform editions and series of English classics. The student of English literature would not have found his material hard to come by, though the production of textbooks specially annotated for schools and for examination purposes is a different aspect of the subject which I shall leave for the next chapter.
A venture in adult education rather different from that of the Mechanics' Institutes was the Working Men's College. Growing from evening classes and lectures given by a group of philanthropical professors from King's College in 1852 (when F. D. Maurice lectured on 'The Historical Plays of Shakespeare'), the college was officially opened in 1854. Although Maurice became the first Principal and his spirit pervaded the college, the initial inspiration was derived from a similar experiment in adult education, begun in the north of England twelve years before. The People's College in Sheffield was founded in 1842 by a nonconformist minister, Robert Slater Bayley; he believed that the object of popular education was the acquisition of 'sound moral and mental habits', more immediately to combat the dangerous doctrines of Chartism. This kind of philanthropy appealed to the Christian Socialists: it was an idealism after their own hearts. But they also admired the self-supporting and mutually assisting basis of the People's College, and it served as their model in planning the Working Men's College. In an essay recollecting Maurice's part in founding the college, his surviving colleague J. Llewelyn Davies later tabled the four principles underlying the institution:
1. That every man was a spiritual being, whether he knew it or not. Order and relation were more important than equality.This is a spirit in radical contrast to the practical utilitarian motives which led to the establishment of the Mechanics' Institutes. When in 1853 Maurice was dismissed from King's College, for refusing to believe in eternal damnation, he was at liberty to devote himself to popular education. His lectures show that he tried to bring out of literature the same moral and quasi religious principles that were embodied in the practical life of the Working Men's College. Literature offered contact with great minds, and a bond of fellowship between men regardless of class or epoch. This is a special extension of Romanticism in the direction of Christian Socialism, and Maurice refers to the poet in terms that recall Wordsworth and Shelley: 'He is not, then, a more special man than we are; he is more of a common man. The human sympathies have been more awakened in him than in us.' Addressing the college in 1863, Maurice evaluated two kinds of knowledge, the factual and the spiritual, in the distinction between 'acquisition' and 'illumination'. He would have subscribed to the view expressed by H. J. Rose in his sermon some forty years previously, that 'we can make no progress to loftier knowledge except by a proportionate elevation of being'. As a teacher of literature, in fact, Maurice illustrates the continuity of the evangelical belief in the humanizing moral power of literature. Unlike Thomas Dale, however, he made no attempt at judicial criticism, his main endeavour being simply to arouse the enthusiasm of these working men for great literature, and he therefore preferred
that best of kind of criticism which delights to draw forth the sense and beauty of a book, and is able to do so because the heart of the critic is in sympathy with the heart of the writer.Since very little bad literature finds its way into academic syllabuses, this adaptation of the romantic spirit becomes a sensible pragmatic approach to the subject. The teaching of literature is inseparable from the teaching of criticism, surely, but while we have to deal with the literature of six centuries or more, limited sympathies are at the least a severe handicap.
Maurice was impatient of anything that came between the reader and the author, and placed little value on details of scholarship. Lecturing on Paradise Lost , he advised his audience:
Read it thus, and you will need no critics to tell you about its sublimity, or to classify it with books to which it has probably very little resemblance. It will come to you with its own evidence and power, as the voice of a man, but a voice which can make the deepest mind of a grand age of English history intelligible to our age; a voice which can teach us how all ages are united in Him who is, and was, and is to come. That seems to me the way of reading 'Paradise Lost'; and therefore it is that I said that the passages which exhibit to us the poet's personal sorrows and consolations arc no episodes in it, but give us the key to its inmost meaning.What Maurice thought of F. J. Fumivall, his colleague in the Working Men's College, has not come down to us, apart from the conflicts over Furnivall's secular Sundays, when he took the students for long country rambles. Furnivall taught English grammar in the college, and lectured on poetry from Chaucer to Tennyson. He was not a Christian, and had been a student at University College before matriculating at Cambridge in 1842. His approach to literature was very different from that of Maurice, and much of his rather athletic energy was expended in treating those minutiae of fact for which Maurice had little time. Industriously editing and publishing medieval Arthurian romances, in 1864 he was prominent in the foundation of the Early English Texts Society. He had a positive genius for founding societies, in fact, and these activities must have taken much of his attention from his teaching duties. In 1868, at the suggestion of Henry Bradshaw, he founded the Chaucer Society, followed by the Ballad Society. He went on to establish the New Shakespeare Society (he was adamant about the spelling) in 1873, 'to determine the succession of his plays'. This project, on the German model, laid stress on metrical tests, and provoked the ridicule of Swinburne, whose aesthetic sensibilities were outraged by the application of statistics to poetry. His satire on 'The Newest Shakespeare Society' appeared in the Examiner for April 1876, but Furnivall gave as good as he received, referring to his antagonist as 'Pigsbrook', and there followed an acrimonious 'flyting' which scarcely added to the dignity of either party.
The Working Men's College was not the only educational enterprise set on foot by Maurice: it was the second. As Tennyson's Princess (1847) reminds US, a lively issue of the day was the question of education for women, and in 1848 Maurice and a few colleagues from King's College championed the cause and founded the Queen's College for Women. English literature has always been regarded, for good or evil, as a subject peculiarly fitted for the education of women, and as that movement gathered force in the second half of the century, so English studies were carried with it to the very doors of the ancient universities. How interesting, therefore, to find Charles Kingsley, in his introductory lecture as Professor of English at Queen's College, explaining (perhaps a little too rapturously) how the study of English literature would equip women for their special role in life:
Such a course of history would quicken women's inborn personal interest in the actors of this life-drama, and be quickened by it in return, as indeed it ought: for it is thus that God intended woman to look instinctively at the world. Would to God that she would teach us men to look at it thus likewise. Would to God that she would in these days claim and fulfill to the uttermost her vocation as the priestess of charity! -- that woman's heart would help deliver man from bondage to his own tyrannous and all-too-exclusive brain-from our idolatry of mere dead laws and printed books-from our daily sin of looking at men, not as our struggling and suffering brothers, but as mere symbols of certain formulae, incarnations of sets of opinions, wheels in some iron liberty-grinding or Christianity-spinning machine, which we miscall society, or civilisation, or, worst misnomer of all, the Church!It is doubtful whether many of the women who since Kingsley's time have become distinguished scholars of English literature made their mark chiefly as priestesses of charity; nevertheless English studies were greatly influenced by the less utilitarian, but not for that reason less academic, spirit of women's education.
In that introductory lecture, Kingsley spoke of literature as 'the autobiography of a nation', and Maurice similarly expressed the view that 'we cannot safely separate our literary pursuits, even our literary recreations, from the history and life of our nation'. The main emphasis in this moral, evangelical approach to literature is upon reading, upon the value of making contact with the great imaginations of the past; the old rhetorical connection of reading with writing had almost disappeared by the middle of the century. When the Romantics invested literature with a particular kind of authority, as a criticism and corrective of scientific rationalism, they consequently tended to isolate its function as a culture of the feelings; the attitude is typified in John Stuart Mill's tribute to the healing powers of Wordsworth's poetry, after the mental crisis of his early maturity, an episode of his Autobiography which is so central to an understanding of the nineteenth century. This attitude is closely related to the idea of literature as 'culture' in a wider sense: the literature of the past is called in to redress the balance of the present. However inadequately it was articulated, there was a widespread feeling that the spiritual and physical conditions of the industrial revolution impoverished the cultural lives of a large class of people, that they had been cut off from their traditional past, and that therefore they needed to be given new means of establishing connections with a national cultural heritage. Thus it was the historical approach to literature which eventually emerged, and the missionaries of adult education were particularly concerned with the industrial classes. But within formal education, too, a belief in the educational value of English literature, independent of studies in language or composition, was rapidly gaining ground. In that same year of revolutions, when Queen's College was founded, and when Kingsley pronounced literature to be the autobiography of a nation, A. J. Scott entered his plea in University College for the historical approach to English literature. When, some years before, Coleridge had envisaged the role of his National Church, 'at the fountainhead of the humanities, to preserve the stores and to guard the treasures of past civilization, and thus to bind the present with the past', he formulated an idea which was to give impetus and shaping spirit to English studies, both as part of a general education, and as an academic discipline on its own merits.
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THE MUSE IN CHAINS
It was not of course left to the nineteenth century to discover that literature serves a moral purpose, though Romantic critical theories, being psychological rather than rhetorical, redefined the relations between literature and life by promoting literature to the level of life. Poetry was not only about experience, it was experience itself: so, for example, Wordsworth in The Prelude hoped that his poetry would have 'a Power like one of Nature's'. When the Romantics discussed the moral function of literature, it was not the subject matter which engaged them, as often as the intrinsic nature of poetry, and the way it operated on the imagination. Shelley's famous simile, that 'Poetry strengthens the faculty which is the organ of the moral nature of man, in the same manner as exercise strengthens a limb', illustrates this new approach to literature, which lent itself readily to the psychological theories of education current in the nineteenth century. When education meant mind-training, and the subjects of the curriculum were 'instruments' to this end, literature had an obvious role as a culture of the feelings. Language, according to the same theory, had a similar but more astringent disciplinary value. Which literature and which language were in this respect secondary considerations, and seemed to depend on the accidents of tradition and social privilege. So Thomas Arnold observed, 'The study of language seems to me as if it was given for the very purpose of forming the human mind in youth; and the Greek and Latin languages ... seem the very instruments by which this is to be effected'.
In the last chapter I tried to show why the study of English literature was fostered by those most concerned with the social and moral evils of the Industrial Revolution, and how there arose an awareness of the cultural heritage embodied in the national literature. Literature was affiliated to the historical sense, and this attitude was reflected in the study of classical literature too. Dean Stanley, who was well qualified to judge, called Dr. Arnold 'the first Englishman who drew attention in the public schools to the historical, political, and philosophical value of philology and of the ancient writers, as distinguished from the mere verbal criticism and elegant scholarship of the last century'. Surprising though it is in one sense to find a common bond between the very different cultural atmospheres of adult education and the public schools, nevertheless behind both Dr. Arnold's reform of classical studies and the ideals of missionaries of culture for the industrial classes, there lay the revolution in historiography associated in particular with the new German school. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, historians became aware, not merely of states and empires, but of civilizations and cultures. Voltaire illustrated his age's consciousness of its own climactic position in the development of European culture from 'medieval barbarism', while the study of antiquity began to draw upon hitherto disregarded sources, and with such scholars as Winckelmann, Wolf, Niebuhr, and Otfried Muller, the discoveries of archaeology, the evidences of the plastic arts and of literary traditions, stimulated a new approach to the life of the past. Hence in turn arose the new German school of philology, which soon revived and dominated the study of early English literature. This new historical and organic awareness of society was the immediate condition alike of a revivified approach to classical studies and of a social philosophy such as Coleridge's, 'to bind the present with the past'.
In the traditional orthodox forms of education, therefore, enthusiasm for classical literature, particularly the Greek, paralleled the moral and 'cultural' status of English literature in the rise of a new industrial democracy. It was said of John Young, Professor of Greek at Glasgow University from 1774 to 1821, that 'nothing could be more captivating than the eloquence with which he treated of the liberty, the literature and the glory of ancient Greece, while tears of enthusiasm rolled down his cheek'. No less spirited was his opposite number in Edinburgh, Andrew Dalzel; according to his former pupil Lord Cockburn, 'he inspired us with a vague but sincere ambition of literature, and with delicious dreams of virtue and poetry'. Classics was given a new lease of life as a cultural education, and when in 1864 the Clarendon Commission reported on the nine public schools, they endorsed the continued supremacy of Latin and Greek with the view that there should be 'some one principal branch of study, invested with a recognized, and, if possible, a traditional importance, to which the principal weight should be assigned'. Indeed, when Dr. Kennedy of Shrewsbury School was asked by the commissioners if he were satisfied with his pupils' knowledge of English literature, he replied that he had not the time to give to the subject, and that to teach English would fritter away his power. Not all the headmasters were so minded, however, and there were some like Arnold who believed firmly in the value of English essay-writing, and set passages of English poetry for exercises in translation. Some of the old classical grammar schools had in fact enlarged their curricula, and at Christ's Hospital in 1790 Coleridge had found in James Boyer a master who encouraged him to study English literature: 'he made us read Shakespeare and Milton as lessons; and they were the lessons, too, which required most time and trouble to bring up, so as to escape his censure'. But the direct study of English in these schools is really of secondary importance to their approach to Classics, since the philosophy of a classical education was now evolving in such a way that it could be applied equally well to English studies, social traditions and mere prejudice apart.
When the Schools Enquiry Commission, otherwise known as the Taunton Commission, published their report in 1868, they revealed that nearly half of the endowed grammar schools were no longer teaching any Latin or Greek, and they endorsed the suggestion of the Rev. G. G. Bradley, Headmaster of Marlborough School, that modern subjects should be fostered in schools of a lower social status. In a letter to the Commission, Bradley had suggested that in such schools
above all I would give unusual weight to the teaching of the English language, literature, and history, to the attempt to humanize and refine a boy's mind by trying early to familiarize him with English poetry, and to inspire him with a taste for the best authors whom I could place before him. A school which should succeed to any large extent in doing this might afford to omit from its curriculum many branches of knowledge which arc in themselves desirable.Such recommendations were echoed by an essay on 'The Teaching of English' which appeared in 1867, in a collection of Essays on a Liberal Education edited by F. W. Farrar (better remembered as the author of Eric, or Little by Little ). The essay was contributed by J. W. Hales, who in that same year became Professor of English at Bedford College for Women (founded in 1849), a post he was to hold for twenty-three years. Hales attacked the entrenchment of Classics in schools, while 'English is an unknown tongue in England', and argued in terms reminiscent of those used by Joseph Priestley a century before him:
You divorce peremptorily his studies and his daily life, so that he cannot discern any sign of association between them.... In schools whose pupils are not destined to proceed from there to a university, or to a life of studious leisure and opportunity, English should, I think, be made the prominent linguistic and literary study.Hales was seeking to dislodge Classics from their position at the centre of orthodox education, a position which he thought English should now occupy. This concept of 'a principal branch of study', in the words of the Clarendon Report, of a subject which would serve not as a specialist training but as the centre-piece of a general education, was the ground on which Classics and English studies were henceforth to confront each other in the prolonged controversy that is still far from extinct today.
In 1861 the Newcastle Commission on the state of popular education had recommended that student teachers should study English language and literature 'just as the Greek and Latin Classics are read in superior public schools'. Here, too, the official conclusions were closely anticipated by proposals published elsewhere: in October 1860 the newly-founded Macmillan's Magazine printed an article 'On the Use of English Classical Literature in the Work of Education', by the Rev. H. G. Robinson, a training college teacher. Like Hales, Robinson attacked the dominance of classical studies, and argued that a study of English grammar, instead of Latin or Greek, was no less exacting as a discipline, and yet 'not so remote from the realities of life', while striking idioms and expressions of English authors could be 'treasured up' for use in composition, after the method of learning classical languages. Robinson combined these rather old-fashioned utilitarian and rhetorical approaches with a belief in the moral and cultural importance of literature:
It is, however, in connection with what is called 'middle-class education' that the claims of English literature may be most effectively urged. In that literature, properly handled, we have a most valuable agency for the moral and intellectual culture of the professional classes. By means of that literature it seems to me that we might act very beneficially on the national mind, and do much to refine and invigorate the national character.... The student will learn to appreciate the temper with which great minds approach the consideration of great questions; he will discover that truth is many-sided, that it is not identical or merely coextensive with individual opinion, and that the world is a good deal wider than his own set, party or class. And such a lesson the middle classes of this country greatly need. They are generally honest in their opinions, but in too many cases they arc narrow.
The great problem was how to convert the Philistines without making Barbarians of them: evidently the study of English literature had to be something more than merely a home-made version of the expensive classical education.
When three Royal Commissions within a decade showed a marked interest in the study of English, it was fast becoming an institution. And if Classics offered a ready model for organizing their poor relation, English studies were also being licked into shape by that invention of Victorian educators, the examination system. In 1855 a commission including Macaulay and Benjamin Jowett was set up to advise the Civil Service of the East India Company upon competitive entrance to the service; they recommended a written examination in a wide range of subjects, in which English was to be allotted the major proportion of possible marks:
Foremost among these subjects we place our own language and literature. One or more themes for English composition ought to be proposed. Two papers of questions ought to be set. One of these ought to be so framed as to enable the candidates to show their knowledge of the history and constitution of our country; the other ought to be so framed as to enable them to show the extent of their knowledge of our poets, wits, and philosophers.Those who were to take British rule overseas took with them also the British way of life, and their cultural heritage. This Civil Service examination had enormous influence on the schools, where candidates had to be prepared for the prescribed subjects. In 1867 the Taunton Commission heard G. W. Dasent explain how he examined such candidates in English literature:
I should take forty or fifty passages, selected from what I call fair authors-Shakespeare, Milton, Pope, and some of the later writers, Sir Walter Scott and Tennyson. I have set this question over and over again. 'Here is a passage. State where it comes from, explain any peculiarities of English in it, and state the context so far as you are able to do so.' If you set fifty passages, if the candidates are at all instructed, you will find that they answer it in various degrees. I remember an Irishman answering forty-five out of fifty right. I am sure I do not know how he did it.... If six or ten are answered it would be quite enough to show a considerable acquaintance with English literature.In its effects on teaching, nothing could have been more directly calculated to produce a mechanical grind of deadening fact and superficial understanding. Ironically, it was Dasent who had for a while succeeded F. D. Maurice as Professor of English Literature and History at King's College; from his evidence to the commission, he seems to have denied all that Maurice regarded as the sweetness and light of literature as a cultural education.
Matthew Arnold himself had been dismayed by the illiberal tendencies of the examination system, when in 1852, during his first year as a schools inspector, he reported on pupil-teachers:
I have been much struck in examining them towards the close of their apprenticeship, when they are generally at least eighteen years old, with the utter disproportion between the great amount of positive information and the low degree of mental culture and intelligence which they exhibit.Queen's Scholarships for pupil-teachers were instituted in 1846, the Indian Civil Service examinations began in I855, and the Oxford and Cambridge Local Examinations in I858: English literature was an important subject in each of them. When the incorporeal University of London had been licensed in 1836, its general degree comprised four parts: Mathematics and Natural Philosophy; Chemistry, Animal Physiology, Vegetable Physiology, Structural Botany; Classics; and Logic and Moral Philosophy. The matriculation requirements included a qualification in English language, however, and in 1859 the first B.A. examination in English was held; we can see from the questions set in subsequent years that a memory for facts and the reiteration of the most elementary judgments were at a premium:
Describe briefly the plot of Gorboduc .In 1871, shortly after Forster's Education Act had encouraged the expansion of elementary education, Matthew Arnold complained of the neglect of English in these schools:
What is comprised under the word literature is in itself the greatest power available in education; of this power it is not too much to say that in our elementary schools at present no use is made at all.Perhaps as a result of this criticism, during the following year English literature was recognized as a class subject in the upper three grades of elementary schools. But the requirements were very mechanical; according to their age, pupils had to learn by heart 100, 200, or 300 lines of poetry, and to be able to explain the meaning and any allusions in the passage.
The proliferation in mid-century of examinations in English literature created a market for textbooks. Manuals and cyclopaedias of literary history were common, particularly of the crammer type, giving a chronological series of facts and dates, with potted biographies of the principal authors, and 'illustrations' in the form of selected passages from which the student could derive a hasty first-hand impression of the literature itself When literary criticism was attempted, the compiler either was reduced to vague generalizations that could be vaguely imitated, or resorted to quotation from a recognized authority, usually Hallam or Lord Macaulay. Two of the earliest of these outlines were, however, better than many successors: in 1844 there first appeared Robert Chambers's Cyclopaedia of English Literature , which in later editions has drawn upon the contributions of distinguished scholars, and in the same year Charles Knight published G. C. Craik's Sketches of Literature and Learning in England . But the misplaced pedantry and unimaginative approach which too often characterized these manuals can be sampled in a passage from Joseph Payne's Studies in English Poetry , an anthology for schools published in 1845; Payne is here elucidating Hamlet's famous soliloquy:
'Sea of troubles'-Pope proposed to alter this into 'a siege of troubles', upon which Mr. Knight, in his pictorial edition, remarks, 'surely the metaphor of sea to denote an overwhelming Hood of troubles, is highly beautiful'. This is unquestionable. The difficulty however lies in the expression 'to take arms against a sea', which, strictly speaking, presents an incongruous image. If we consider the words 'a sea' as unemphatic, and merely used for 'a host' or great number, the whole will be harmonised.Often alongside the desiccated literary history were purple-passages in the Romantic manner, like this paragraph from a Scottish textbook of 1853, William Spalding's History of English Literature:
Spenser's eye dwelt, with fond and untiring admiration, on the gorgeous scenery which covered the elfin-land of knighthood and romance: present realities passed before him unseen, or were remembered only to be woven insensibly into the gossamer-tissue of fantasy; and, lost in his life-long dream of antique grandeur and ideal loveliness, he was blind to all the phenomena of that renovated world, which was rising around him out of the ancient chaos.These excerpts suggest that the ability to blend scholarship and literary judgement, as in the best kind of modern academic writing, took some time to evolve; the authors of these early textbooks went back to the available modes of literary discussion, and either adopted the tone of a Hazlitt or lapsed into the heavy editorial manner of a textual commentary. Austin Dobson's Civil Service Handbook of English Literature , which appeared in 1874, did not differ appreciably in conception or quality from its predecessors. But in view of the kind of examinations for which these books were designed, they probably served their purpose well enough.
More successful and important, on the whole, were the texts edited and annotated for students by specially-commissioned scholars. The Macmillan brothers were amongst the first in this field, with their 'Golden Treasury' series and 'Globe' editions. For this firm W. G. Clark and W. Aldis Wright commemorated the tercentenary of Shakespeare's birth by producing the 'Globe' Shakespeare in 1864, a text of the canon which is still in general usage for most purposes of convenient reference. Aldis Wright, who succeeded Clark as Librarian of Trinity College, Cambridge, in particular established new standards of accurate scholarship: in his own authoritative words, 'Ignorance and conceit are the fruitful parents of conjectural emendation'. His edition of Bacon's Essays for the 'Golden Treasury' series in 1862 anticipated the 'new bibliography' of the twentieth century by indicating the possible existence of variations between different copies of the same edition of an Elizabethan text. The presses of the ancient universities, too, helped to supply the increasing demand for students' editions: the Clarendon Press series began in 1866, and the Pitt Press series in 1875. By 1887, Low's Educational Catalogue listed some 280 school editions of English literature, exclusive of Shakespeare.
No one was more industrious in this field than Henry Morley, whose First Sketch of English Literature sold over 30,000 copies between 1873 and 1898. In 1883 he was invited by Routledge & Son to edit a new series of shilling volumes, to be known as Morley's Universal Library , and sixty-three monthly volumes were produced during the next five years. Meanwhile Cassells secured his services in 1885 to re-edit their National Library, a cheap weekly series.
To Henry Morley belongs the distinction of being the first to devote an academic career in England solely to English studies, if we except Masson, whose last thirty years were spent in Scotland. For nearly forty years Morley held university posts connected with the teaching of English literature: with him English studies became fully processional, and by the end of his career we are almost in the modern period. His successor at University College in 1889 was W. P. Ker, and in the year of his death, 1894, the Oxford English School was established. Morley's career is worth recounting, not only because it spans the last half of the century, but also because in his prodigious and varied activity he crossed most of the paths we have been following through the period.
[A few pages of institutional history omitted]
By the 1880's, then, English studies were in a curious state. They were expanding rapidly, but the expansion was only lateral, within the lower levels of the academic hierarchy. And, as is often the case with hasty developments, the foundations were ramshackle and lacked proper co- ordination. The study of English literature was attached on the one hand to history, which gave it a framework of scholarship and knowledge about literature; on the other hand, it took its informing spirit from Classics, as an instrument of cultural education on a parallel but much broader social plane. Moreover the old ties between 'literature' and 'language' survived the waning of rhetorical studies by including within their scope Old English, as a study both historical and, like Classics, philological. English studies were in a state of flux, not that there was anything disastrous in these multiple and sometimes conflicting influences. On the contrary, they greatly enriched and stimulated the subject, and have continued to do so. But the principal danger was a lack of balance, a flux in which the real controlling agency was the examination system, which, as Matthew Arnold and after him Walter Raleigh complained, too often stifled the real interest and value of the subject. The function of English studies as part of a general humane education had now to be reconciled with the need for properly-trained teachers: very few of the first professors were themselves trained in English; they were either ministers of religion or recruited from journalism. Later, many of them came into English Studies from Oxford 'Greats', among them A. C. Bradley, Oliver Elton, Ernest de Selincourt, John Nichol at Glasgow, and Churton Collins. The early progress of English studies is reflected in the origins of its teachers. But, if academic standards were to be raised, and they stood in sore need of some improvement, then facilities for further study and research-training were called for. In short, somewhere a School of English had to be created with the necessary authority to realize the true potentialities of the subject and to give a lead to the rest of the country. An academic subject is never at a standstill, it is always moving in one or more directions; to one observer at least it seemed clear that English studies were moving in the wrong direction by the 1880's .
To all appearances, indeed, there is no branch of education in a more flourishing condition or more full of promise for the future. But, unhappily, this is very far from being the case. In spite of its great vogue, and in spite of the time and energy lavished in teaching it, no fact is more certain than that from an educational point of view it is, and from the very first has been, an utter failure. Teachers perceive with perplexity that it attains none of the ends which a subject in itself so full of attraction and interest might be expected to attain. It fails, they complain, to fertilize; it fails to inform; it fails even to awake curiosity. For a dozen youths who derive real benefit from the instruction they get in preparing for an examination in History there are not two who derive the smallest benefit from the instruction they act in preparing for an examination in literature.A crisis was surely imminent; and John Churton Collins, if anyone, was the man to precipitate it.
Department of English
University of California, Santa Barbara