BMCR 1996.07.18

1996.7.18, Jocelyn, ed., Aspects of 19c British Classical Scholarship

, , Aspects of nineteenth-century British classical scholarship : eleven essays. Liverpool classical papers, no. 5. Liverpool: Liverpool Classical Monthly, 1996. 166 pages : illustrations ; 30 cm.. ISBN 9781871245509. $45.00.

This collection of eleven papers was originally presented at a conference at the University of Liverpool in August 1990. Six deal with individual scholars of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; two with Classics in the pioneering situations of Australia, and the Queen’s College Galway, Ireland; one with nineteenth-century English translations; one with the “sociology of English classical scholarship”; while one (by the late C.O. Brink) is a defence of views previously published in English Classical Scholarship: Historical Reflections on Bentley, Porson, and Housman (Cambridge and New York, 1986). There is no rationalizing introduction, but the editor uses the opening section (pp. 89-95) of his own paper on W.M. Lindsay to survey the theme of the conference, and to pass remarks on some of the other papers.

Nineteenth-century Britain saw “Classics” emerge from its association with general or “liberal” education, and expand to establish the sub-disciplines by which today’s fragmented profession defines itself. But in the same period other disciplines in the humanities and social sciences (as we might now call them) also emerged to compete with, and eventually eclipse, the dominant status that Classics had held in the elitist quarters of the British educational system. Aspects throws valuable, if largely indirect, light on this process of evolution.

C.A. Stray’s paper (ch. 2) “Scholars and Gentlemen: towards a Sociology of English Classical Scholarship” is the one paper that addresses this phenomenon directly. 1 Its core (pp. 17-25) is a fascinating survey of the classical periodicals of 19th. century England, which reveals the slow process by which that country caught up with Germany in establishing learned journals. But these data are also placed in a challenging analytical context. Stray first (pp. 13-17) raises the question of how the study of Classics in England can be undertaken with reference to its historical and social context in a way that responds to the evolution of the social sciences in this century. He then (pp. 25-27) uses the emergence of scholarly journals as a backdrop to some reflections on the resistance of English classicists to the more scientific Zeitgeist that such journals, particularly when serving as outlets for archaeology or systematic philology, foreshadowed. He concludes (p. 27), not surprisingly, that the history of classical scholarship “is too important to be left to classical scholars; but it cannot be written without them.” The force of Stray’s claim can be appreciated from some of his other articles, perhaps unfamiliar to many classicists, in particular “From Monopoly to Marginality: Classics in English Education since 1800,” pp. 19-51 in Social Histories of the Secondary Curriculum: Subjects for Study (Studies in Curriculum History 1), ed. I Goodson (London and Philadelphia, 1985), and “Culture or Discipline? The Redefinition of Classical Education,” pp. 10-48 in The Development of the Secondary Curriculum, ed. M.H. Price (London etc., 1986). Stray’s book-length study of Classics in nineteenth-century England, forthcoming at the Cambridge University Press, will provide a wider exposure for his original analyses.

Of the six biographical studies, the longest, by H.D. Jocelyn on W.M. Lindsay (ch. 9; at pp. 99-135), offers a wealth of information, and evaluates thoroughly the prolific publications of this major Scottish Latinist. Christopher Collard’s paper on F.A. Paley (ch. 7), a Cambridge scholar who was professionally marginalized because of his conversion to Catholicism, deals in detail with the scholarly quality of his editorial work on Aeschylus and Euripides, and sets it in the context of a life that was an heroic struggle for survival. Paley (see pp. 74-75) understandably resented the failure of fellows at Oxford and Cambridge colleges to put their leisure to good scholarly use.

That leisure decreased significantly in the later nineteenth century, as tutorial teaching within such colleges became more intensive. A possible victim of this development is the subject of W. Geoffery Arnott’s “Walter Headlam: Achiever or Non-Achiever?” (ch. 11). Building on his discussion at La Filologia Greca e Latina nel Secolo XX, II (Pisa 1984), p. 594, Arnott wonders why Headlam failed to complete the three editions that he initiated before his death in 1908 at the age of forty-two. 2 He suggests (at p. 156) that this product of the County Durham gentry might have regarded the efficient methods of Germanic scholarship as beneath him. (Perhaps he had also read John William Donaldson’s analysis of the German “philologer” at Classical Scholarship and Classical Learning [Cambridge and London, 1856], pp. 156-167.) But security of tenure as a Cambridge fellow, and a feeling that “Classics formed part of the style of the English gentleman” (to quote Stray, p. 26), may also have been impediments. Headlam’s A Book of Greek Verse (Cambridge 1907), with compositions that beguiled Wilamowitz (see Sandys, A History of Classical Scholarship III, p. 485), demonstrated a skill that was certainly part of the style of some English scholars at a time when, as Stray, loc. cit., notes, that style was being challenged by “scientific scholarship”.

But is it really fair to criticize Headlam for not completing his work as expeditiously as did better-organized German contemporaries? In his inaugural in 1929 ( The Future of Greek Studies [Cambridge, 1929], p. 11) D.S. Robertson was confident that the wide-ranging Headlam would have completed his edition of Aeschylus. What Arnott censoriously regards (p. 154) as “flitting like a bee” from one topic to another, Robertson, with all due allowance for the occasion, could reasonably interpret as the act of “mobilizing in distant theatres many of the forces which would ultimately have converged, with incalculable effect, on his central study of the poetry of Aeschylus.” So although Arnott acknowledges Headlam’s philological skills and literary sensitivity (pp. 157-159), his verdict on this sadly truncated career may not be entirely fair.

Ch. 6, “George Cornewall Lewis and the Credibility of Early Roman History”, by the late John Pinsent, resurrects the sceptical views about the survival of the Annales Maximi held by an amateur scholar who was comparable to, though not the equal of, George Grote. Pinsent’s paper is admirable for its close engagement with a specific problematik, and its comparison between Lewis’s views and those of modern scholars. Welcome among the broader surveys offered in some of this collection’s other biographical papers, it shows how classical scholars can effectively contribute on their own terms to the history of their subject.

Elizabeth M. Craik’s “Lewis Campbell” (ch. 8) is a comprehensive survey that might inspire more detailed reevaluation of this Scottish Oxonian’s scholarly achievements. Certainly Campbell’s work in the 1860s on three late and difficult Platonic dialogues ( Theaetetus, Sophist, and Politicus) is significant not only for its use of stylometry, but for helping establish a modern English tradition in the intensive study of this part of the Platonic corpus, one developed at Cambridge in the later nineteenth century by W.H. Thompson, Henry Jackson, Richard Archer-Hind, and R.G. Bury, and continued in the twentieth by Hackforth and Cornford.

Finally, P.G. Naiditch, in a focussed analysis, “‘The Slashing Style Which All Know and Few Applaud’: The Invective of A.E. Housman” (ch. 10), demonstrates more effectively than heretofore that Housman did not prepare barbs and invective in advance of their polemical use. It also sensitively and plausibly places Housman’s “slashing” in a social and psychological context.

The two papers on Classics in Australia and Galway by Arthur Keaveney (“Classics in a ‘Godless College’: Galway in the 19th. Century,” ch. 3), and D.S. Barrett (spelt “Barratt” at the head of p. 48) (“Some Australian Classical Scholars of the 19th. century,” ch. 4) are anecdotally rich surveys that extend into the early twentieth century. (Barrett’s sometimes overlaps with, yet ignores, H.D. Jocelyn’s more analytical essay “Australia-New Zealand: Greek and Latin Philology,”, La Filologia Greca e Latina, I, pp. 543-578.) We learn, for example, of the Marxist George Thomson’s phase (1931-34) as translator, editor, and teacher in the Gaelic language, and of Sydney’s bibulous and adulterous Christopher Brennan (d. 1932). But how did Classics survive when parasitic upon the style and procedures of metropolitan centres? And to what extent did immigrants, or foreign-educated natives, mould syllabi, or programs, to their imported standards? These specific questions go unanswered.

Two interesting points arise from Keaveny’s paper. (1) His account (pp. 30-32) of D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson, Professor of Greek at Galway 1864-1902, and father of the authority on Greek birds and fishes, may one day be of some service to E.R. Dodds’s biographer, since Dodds’s father studied with the elder Thompson; see Dodds, Missing Persons (Oxford, 1977), p. 1. (Keaveney does elsewhere in his article [p. 37] mention Dodds, but only as deploring George Thompson’s exile in Galway, a comment for which the inexcusably omitted reference is Dodds ed., Journal and Letters of Stephen MacKennna [London, 1936], p. 84.) (2) The Platonic scholarship of Thomas Maguire, who held a chair in Latin at Galway from 1869-1880, is listed but not discussed at p. 34. It in fact belongs to a trend among George Grote’s contemporaries to attack from an idealist standpoint his reading of Plato; see K. Demetriou, “The Development of Platonic Studies in Britain and the Role of the Utilitarians,”Utilitas 8 (1996) 15-27, especially at p. 34 with n. 37. Maguire was also criticized by Henry Sidgwick (review of Maguire’s Essays on the Platonic Ethics at Cambridge University Reporter, 1 March 1871, p. 224) for treating the Platonic corpus as a systematic whole rather than in the developmental terms favoured by Grote.

H. MacL. Currie’s paper (“English Translations of the Classics in the 19th. century,” ch. 5) will particularly interest those who remember the Bohn translations, since it offers (pp. 51-52) an account of Henry George Bohn (1796-1884), first-generation German immigrant and energetic entrepreneur. Currie perhaps tries to survey too much material, yet he might have noted the literal translations of Plato’s Gorgias and Phaedo by the Cambridge scholar Edward Meredith Cope (1818-1873). These anticipated some more recent versions of Greek philosophical texts, such as the late Montgomery Furth’s “Eek” version of Aristotle, Metaphysics VII-X (Hackett: Indianapolis, 1985). (Cope was a strong advocate of translation over composition in the Cambridge examination system, contrasting its creativity with the imitative procedures involved notably in verse composition; see his “fly-sheet” [i.e., pamphlet] of 18 May 1866 [at Camb. Univ. Archives CUR 28.7] pp. 1-2).

Jocelyn (pp. 89-95) (more briefly Brink p. 8) draw attention to the terminology (including “Classics” itself) 3 used in nineteenth-century Britain to describe scholarly and pedagogical activity. This is a topic meriting further investigation, and I conclude with some supplementary comments on it.

“Scholarship” in the later decades of the nineteenth century, as Jocelyn shows, normally meant the close study of Latin and Greek texts without reference to their subject-matter. But such “knowledge of subject matter” was contrasted, particularly at Cambridge, with a variety of phrases all describing the intensive study of language (sometimes called “hard reading”) designed to develop skills in translation, and in prose and verse composition. These included, in addition to “scholarship”, “pure philology”, “pure scholarship” (see Jocelyn p. 91, n. 6 on Oxonian use), or later in the century “pure Classics”. But pace Jocelyn (p. 90 n. 4), “elegant scholarship”, and related expressions, served, as far as I can see, only to describe, and often deprecate, composition, mostly verse composition. See, for example, Parliamentary Papers, 1852-53, XLIV.1 [1559], Evidence [to the Royal Commissioners investigating Cambridge], pp. 284, 287, and 299; E.M. Cope, fly-sheet of 20 October 1858 (Camb. Univ. Archives, CUR 28.7), to which Jocelyn refers; F.A. Paley’s fly-sheet of 1868 (same collection) where verse composition is called “a pleasing and elegant accomplishment”; and H. Sidgwick, MacMillan’s Magazine XV (Nov. 1866-Apr. 1867) 471, who ridiculed verse composition as “an elegant relaxation.”

“Knowledge of subject matter” was sometimes resented at Cambridge because it was held to require “cramming”, that is, the uncritical memorization of factual information (“soft reading”?).

In 1868 the Regius Professor of Greek at Cambridge, Benjamin Hall Kennedy, urged “the maintenance of a philological Tripos, unswamped by ‘cram'”, to which Richard Claverhouse Jebb (his eventual successor) responded with ridicule, arguing that in that case “cram” must mean “everything which is not composition or translation.” (See Cambridge University Gazette, 18 November 1868, pp. 29-30.) The tensions detectable in such debates may in part explain why, as British classicists became more professionalized, the term “research” paradoxically became rather suspect. Thus John Burnet in 1904 urged that “pure scholarship must be ranked above what is called ‘research’ in the universities” in an essay (“Form and Matter in Classical Teaching,”Essays and Addresses [London 1929], at p. 34) that E.R. Dodds cited in his Oxford inaugural of 1936 in recommending that “scholarship” be the result of a slow development, and “young men not become technicians before they have had time to become humanists” ( Humanism and Technique in Greek Studies [Oxford 1936], pp. 7-8). For Dodds “humanism” was a crucial accretion to the debate; it served, as it had for Gilbert Murray before him, to identify a form of scholarship that could rise above “technical research” to offer an account of “man as thinker, as artist, as social and moral being” (Dodds, op. cit. pp. 3-4; cf. his Missing Persons, pp. 127 and 172). In the 1960s Dodds (whose inaugural was reprinted at Arion 1st. ser. 7 [1968] 5-20) had his position restated in the U.S.A.; see the late William Arrowsmith’s recently reprinted essay of 1966, “The Shame of the Graduate Schools: A Plea for a New American Scholar,”Arion 3rd. ser. 2 (1992-93) 159-176, with its passionate disquiet about “research” producing “facts” without any “criticism”, or “general civilized discourse”. Arrowsmith’s polemic, despite its wider scope and far different flavour, thus had antecedents in some British debates about Classics.

Aspects is equipped with a useful, if selective, index of names and subjects (pp. 163-166), and is well proof-read. Despite the editor’s scepticism (p. 135) regarding the value of such colloquia, anyone interested in the history of classical scholarship will welcome a volume that, with varying degrees of success, advances the cause of a still relatively neglected area of study.

  • [1] The biographical studies mostly evaluate individual scholarly achievements in literary studies (philosophy and archaeology are apologetically [p. iii] omitted); from history only early Roman history is represented (Ch. 6). Brink (at p. 7) strongly rejects (in response to C.A. Stray’s review of his book at LCM 13.6 [1988] 85-90) the significance of sociology (or psychology) for the interpretation of “high scholarship”. This mandarin position typifies the neglect in Aspects of “lower” scholarship, if Classics in the English public (i.e. private) schools may be so described. This is a regrettable lacuna, since in nineteenth century Britain there was an overlap between the style and content of pedagogy in Classics at the university and pre-university levels. The wish to create a wider gulf between them motivated in part curricular reform in the universities. [2] Arnott (p. 153) claims (without citing any sources) that Headlam died after spending the last full day of his life (Friday June 19, 1908) in London watching a cricket match. Yet Rupert Brooke, a Cambridge student at the time, states that Headlam was “in King’s [College], about, as usual” on that day, and went to London “Friday evening”; see G. Keynes ed., The Letters of Rupert Brooke (London, 1968), p. 132. Brooke is arguably more credible on this point than Headlam’s brother Cecil, whose memoir, Walter Headlam: his Letters and Poems (London, 1910) (at p. 159), Arnott, despite his avowed (p. 156) and justified lack of respect for this work, would seem to have followed. But perhaps Arnott is relying on other evidence, which this reviewer would have appreciated his citing. [3] Jocelyn (p. 90 n. 2) reports his impression that in the Cambridge debates of the later nineteenth century “Classics” without an article was used as a plural (or count) noun and referred to books. My impression is that “Classics” and “classics”, both with and without the definite article, were used indiscriminately from at least the 1830s to refer to the texts of classical literature. “Classics” could, however, also be a singular collective noun (or mass term), meaning “classical literature”; see, for example, H. Sidgwick, “The Theory of Classical Education,” in F.W. Farrar ed., Essays on a Liberal Education [London, 1867] p. 128: [education involves] “imparting as much [not ‘as many’] classics as possible”. At Cambridge in the 1860s debate raged over whether “Classics” identified only verbal “scholarship”, or whether it could also embrace subject-matter. Henry Sidgwick, in a fly-sheet of late 1866, “On the Classical Tripos” ( Camb. Univ. Archives 28.7.27), rejected (p. 2) as “unnatural” a colleague’s claim that the study of the content of ancient philosophy was alien to “Classics”. Later when “Classics” came, as it inevitably did, to include the study of the content of all areas of ancient literature, it would also readily embrace sub-disciplines less dependent on textual evidence.