English and the English: A 19th Century Socio-Political Dimension
Even after English being introduced as a subject by UCL the top varsities of England were very reluctant to offer it as a subject for its pupils for decades. Oxford gave its way on 1894 and Cambridge opened its gates even late, by 1911. Like we saw in yesterday’s article, in brief, of the course content that kept literature at bay, merely used to quote as examples. All our attempts to find the person behind the birth of English literature course, like one we know of today, would lead us to one man.
Though King’s college of London began to teach English literature from 1831, it was only by 1840 it went on a revamp, after Fredrick Denison Maurice joined the college as Professor. He was an intellectual and reformist, shared the thought and aspirations of the college that aimed at educating everyone without discriminations of any kind. Getting into his ideas and beliefs would lead us to a cross section of the British society of that era.
Every society in any country of the world is divided only on the economic basis, every other are nothing more than other forms of this. The aristocrats and the rich always want to ensure their control over the rest of the society. The needed both the middle class and the low class to run their world. Law enforcements, moralities insisted, rules devised and many such have the one core agenda; to keep the system without disrupting this socio-economical hierarchy. Religion was enough to tame the middle class, for always the attendance of the lower class was very poor to the churches. The lower class was left all to itself, even by religion, to guide them. They were and are the work force of the society.
F.D. Maurice regarded literature as the peculiar property of the middle class that mirrors the soul of it. The rich according to him always found them as a glorious and privileged part of the international elite community, therefore fancied less about literature. On the other hand the poor had no time to offered and appreciate the aesthetics of literature, for they had literally no time to spend beyond their engagement on winning their daily bread. Therefore he believed the best an apt lot was the middle class. But wouldn’t the idea of educating middle class backfire on the rich? If so then how would’ve they allowed it to actualize?
Religion began to lose its grip on the Brits by the early 19th century, the quest for science and the aura of it eclipsing religion more than ever before. Hence decline in the status of religion, the binding factor by far; there was a void bubble that grew larger and larger. English literature, in many ways, could be considered as a better replacement for religion to serve as a society’s binding factor. Something is always essential for reinstating the nationalism in any country and Maurice considered it to be language and literature for Britain.
Learning literature a member of the middle class might feel proud about his class representation in the literary works and would have something to find in common between him and the rich, the language. He would never complaint about his fellow rich commuting in his luxury coach, while he still walks on foot. He would forever live in his blissful literary paradise. With the poor who can’t afford to spend time on all this, there is always law enforcement to keep them watched. So learning literature was never thought would harm by any mean, challenging the social order. But learning literature later proved to be a wise weapon for exhibition of ideas especially by members of the rich.
The analysis done here only root from F.D. Maurice and all of them are not necessarily his perceptions. He was in fact the pioneer of the literary criticism theory- liberal humanism.