Vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas.

 @俗人晚星 原书是Peter Barry的Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory,你微博上转的那个片段是出自这本书的第一章Theory before 'theory' – liberal humanism里的第一节The history of English studies。一般来说,我记性绝对没好到看过的书里随便节选个片段再翻译成中文还能一眼看出出处,不过这书作为一本文学理论入门教材确实很不错,而且正好节选的还是开头,看见就想起来了……

简略地概括一下前文,The history of English studies开头说十九世纪二十年代前,英国的高等教育被教会垄断,只有牛津剑桥这两所大学,教授的科目也只有希腊语/拉丁语经典、神学和数学。到了十九世纪二十年代,英国高等教育才迎来了改革。1826年,UCL成立。1828年,UCL开了英语这门课,不过教的是作为一门语言的英语,不是英语文学。1831年,KCL开了英语文学这门课。然后就切入你转的那段了。

In 1840 F. D. Maurice was appointed Professor at King's. He introduced the study of set books, and his inaugural lecture lays down some of the principles of liberal humanism; the study of English literature would serve 'to emancipate us … from the notions and habits which are peculiar to our own age', connecting us instead with 'what is fixed and enduring'. Maurice regarded literature as the peculiar property of the middle class and the expression of their values. For him the middle class represents the essence of Englishness (the aristocracy are part of an international elite, and the poor need to give all their attention to ensuring mere survival) so middle-class education should be peculiarly English, and therefore should centre on English literature. Maurice was well aware of the political dimension of all this. People so educated would feel that they belonged to England, that they had a country. 'Political agitators' may ask what this can mean 'when his neighbour rides in a carriage and he walks on foot', but 'he will feel his nationality to be a reality, in spite of what they say'. In short, learning English will give people a stake in maintaining the political status quo without any redistribution of wealth.


You can see from this that the study of English literature is being seen as a kind of substitute for religion. It was well known that attendance at church below middle-class level was very patchy. The worry was that the lower classes would feel that they had no stake in the country and, having no religion to teach them morality and restraint, they would rebel and something like the French Revolution would take place. The Chartist agitation of the 1830s was thought to be the start of this, and the first English courses are put in place at exactly the same time.

The conventional reading of the origins of the subject of English is that this kind of thinking begins with Matthew Arnold in the 1850s and reaches its height with the publication of the Newbolt Report on the Teaching of English in England in 1921. It is evident from material like Maurice's inaugural lecture that this was happening much earlier. However, I do not accept the simplistic view that the founders of English were motiviated merely by a desire for ideological control. This was undoubtedly one of their motives, but the reality was much more complicated. There was, behind the teaching of early English, a distinctly Victorian mixture of class guilt about social inequalities, a genuine desire to improve things for everybody, a kind of missionary zeal to spread culture and enlightenment, and a self-interested desire to maintain social stability.



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