The enumeration has, I hope, been instructive. If it has also plunged you in gloom, to that atmosphere (as the clock warns me) for a fortnight I must leave you: with a promise, however, in another lecture to cheer you, if it may be, with some broken gleams of hope.
[Footnote 1: “What English Poetry may still learn from Greek”: a paper read before the English Association on Nov. 17, 1911.]
[Footnote 2: See Mr E. K. Chambers’ “Mediaeval Stage”, Dr Courthope’s “History of English Poetry,” and Professor W. P. Ker’s “The Dark Ages".]
[Footnote 3: Rashdall, “The Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages”, vol. ii, p. 684, from documents printed in Fournier’s collection.]
ENGLISH LITERATURE IN OUR UNIVERSITIES nglish Literature in Our Universities (II)
Wednesday, December 3
We broke off, Gentlemen, upon the somewhat painful conclusion that our Universities were not founded for the study of literature, and tardily admitted it. The dates of our three literary chairs in Cambridge—I speak of our Western literature only, and omit Arabic, Sanskrit, and Chinese—clenched that conclusion for us. Greek in 1540, Latin not until 1869, English but three years ago—from the lesson of these intervals there is no getting away.
Now I do not propose to dwell on the Renaissance and how Greek came in: for a number of writers in our time have been busy with the Renaissance, and have—I was going to say ‘over-written the subject,’ but no—it is better to say that they have focussed the period so as to distort the general perspective at the cost of other periods which have earned less attention; the twelfth century, for example. At any rate their efforts, with the amount they claim of your reading, absolve me from doing more than remind you that the Renaissance brought in the study of Greek, and Greek necessarily brought in the study of literature: since no man can read what the Greeks wrote and not have his eyes unsealed to what I have called a norm of human expression; a guide to conduct, a standard to correct our efforts, whether in poetry, or in philosophy, or in art. For the rest, I need only quote to you Gibbon’s magnificent saying, that the Greek language gave a soul to the objects of sense and a body to the abstractions of metaphysics. [May I add, in parenthesis, that, while no believer in compulsory Greek, holding, indeed, that you can hardly reconcile learning with compulsion, and still more hardly force them to be compatibles, I subscribe with all my heart to Bagehot’s shrewd saying, ’while a knowledge of Greek and Latin is not necessary to a writer of English, he should at least have a firm conviction that those two languages existed.’]
But, assuming you to know something of the Renaissance, and how it brought Greek into Oxford and Cambridge, I find that in the course of the argument two things fall to be said, and both to be said with some emphasis.