By C. Hagerman
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Extra info for Britain's Imperial Muse: The Classics, Imperialism, and the Indian Empire, 1784-1914
It explains the habit among Britain’s elites of comparing themselves to the ancient Greeks and Romans. When combined with specific knowledge of antiquity – even the limited knowledge acquired by Stalky & Co. – it explains their ability to find in antiquity inspirational exemplars and cautionary tales applicable to themselves and their world, including the empire. This process finds no clearer expression than in the early career of that ‘most superior person’, George Nathaniel Curzon. On the eve of his investiture as Viceroy of India, Curzon gave a speech to a meeting of old-Etonians.
They betray the classics’ pervasiveness in schoolboy culture, even at a school with an unusually intense focus on non-classical subject matter. For some students at least, the classical studies were more than a meaningless grind, they were a living, breathing part of school culture. 111 Bristed’s account of Cambridge Classical Education and Britain’s Imperial Elite 25 in the 1840s certainly gives the impression that a significant fraction of students were seriously engaged and working at what he considered a high level.
But, as Stephen Medcalf has admirably shown, Kipling’s later work was laden with Horatian and other classical allusions. 164 His hated classical education had made an impression on him. 165 The story begins with a fifth-form classics lesson conducted by the housemaster, King, in a manner that initially appears to conform to our worst images of the grammar-grind. In turn boys are asked to stand and translate lines from Horace’s ode on the fate of the Roman hero, Regulus, while enduring King’s scathing and often ad hominem criticism.
Britain's Imperial Muse: The Classics, Imperialism, and the Indian Empire, 1784-1914 by C. Hagerman