Classics Transformed: Schools, Universities, and Society in England, 1830-1960

By Christopher Stray | Go to book overview

3
Transmitting the Message:
The Dynamics of Closure and Solidarity

The cultural and social authority of classics rested both on the power of its messages, and on the effectiveness with which these were transmitted. This chapter begins by focusing on the three major institutional media through which classics was transmitted in schools and universities: curriculum, examinations, and textbooks.


Curriculum

The learning of Latin and Greek by peer-groups of boys in boarding schools led to a shared knowledge of classics which underpinned the self-images and solidarity of educated adults.1 In some cases, it also led to an intense individual commitment to the formative, and transformative power of classics. More commonly, however, it was simply the pervasive scholastic content of everyday life. This was especially true of Latin, which in the first half of the nineteenth century was still the language of learning: even of learning Latin. Given the domination of the Victorian public-school curriculum by classics, it is perhaps surprising that so little attention has been paid to it—even allowing for the ideological agendas mentioned in my Introduction. But the way it has been taken for granted by historians in a sense reflects the experience of the schoolboys for whom it was simply the pervasive subject of formal learning. Its pervasiveness in a way made it invisible. It also made it part of the social life of the school, an everyday routine to be endured, but not, in the lower forms—and often not after that for many pupils— something to be thought about. It was just what one had to do; and was so often taught entirely through grind and repetition that the occasional discovery of enjoyment or literary appreciation at the hands of a gifted sixth-form teacher seems to have come as a distinct surprise

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1
The standard account remains M. L. Clarke, Classical Education in Britain 1500-1900 ( Cambridge: CUP, 1959), 74-97.

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