I have purposely exhibited “The Tempest” at its least tractable. Who will deny that as a whole it can be made intelligible even to very young children by the simple process of reading it with them intelligently? or that the mysteries such a reading leaves unexplained are of the sort to fascinate a child’s mind and allure it? But if this be granted, I have established my contention that the Humanities should not be treated as a mere crown and ornament of education; that they should inform every part of it, from the beginning, in every school of the realm: that whether a child have more education or less education, what he has can be, and should be, a ‘liberal education’ throughout.
Matthew Arnold, as every one knows, used to preach the use of these masterpieces as prophylactics of taste. I would I could make you feel that they are even more necessary to us.
The reason why?—The reason is that every child born in these Islands is born into a democracy which, apart from home affairs, stands committed to a high responsibility for the future welfare and good governance of Europe. For three centuries or so it has held rule over vast stretches of the earth’s surface and many millions of strange peoples: while its obligations towards the general civilisation of Europe, if not intermittent, have been tightened or relaxed, now here, now there, by policy, by commerce, by dynastic alliances, by sudden revulsions or sympathies. But this War will leave us bound to Europe as we never have been: and, whether we like it or not, no less inextricably bound to foe than to friend. Therefore, I say, it has become important, and in a far higher degree than it ever was before the War, that our countrymen grow up with a sense of what I may call the soul of Europe. And nowhere but in literature (which is `memorable speech’)—or at any rate, nowhere so well as in literature—can they find this sense.
There was, as we have seen, a time in Europe, extending over many centuries, when mankind dwelt under the preoccupation of making literature, and still making more of it. The 5th century B.C. in Athens was such a time; and if you will you may envy, as we all admire, the men of an age when to write at all was tantamount to asserting genius; the men who, in Newman’s words, `deserve to be Classics, both because of what they do and because they can do it.’ If you envy—while you envy—at least remember that these things often paid their price; that the “Phaedo,” for example, was bought for us by the death of Socrates. Pass Athens and come to Alexandria: still men are accumulating books and the material for books; threshing out the Classics into commentaries and grammars, garnering books in great libraries.