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In 1861 Friedrich Max Müller (1823–1900) delivered his famous Lectures On the Science Of Language at the Royal Institution in London. Published the following year, this popular and influential volume provided a classical exposition for a widely accepted and comforting account of the role played by language in the creation and subsequent preservation of new knowledge. This view, based largely on German comparative philology, was embraced by George Eliot and G.H. Lewes even though it bore stiking resemblances to the lexical ideas and practise of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834) and William Whewell (1794–1866), representative figures of an earlier generation of philosophical Idealists – Kantians, admiring commentators on Plato, and both of them powerful defenders of the Anglican Church and Tory traditionalism. There was something about Müller's “great and delightful book” (as George Eliot called it) which appealed to distinguished Victorians of every intellectual stripe. Among the auditors at the Royal Institution were “Germano-Coleridgian” clergymen (Bishop Thirlwall, Dean Stanley F.D. Maurice), poets and philosophers (Tennyson, John Stuart Mill, the Duke of Argyle), and a distinguished group of scientists, headed by Michael Faraday. All were excited and enthusiastic, despite their very different intellectual positions. Linda Dowling suggests why:
Muller's lectures on language … were deeply reassuring. They managed to suggest that even though the new philology had reconstituted language in wholly new terms as a phonetic totality independent of representation and of human control, language somehow remained unchanged in its power to guarantee human identity and value. (“Victorian Oxford” 161)
Rome was central to the Anglo-American imagination; for Isabel Archer “in a world of ruins the ruin of her happiness seemed a less unnatural catastrophe. She rested her weariness upon things that had crumbled for centuries and yet still were upright; she dropped her secret sadness into the silence of lonely places, where its very modern quality detached itself and grew objective.… Small it was, in the large Roman record, and her haunting sense of the continuity of the human lot easily carried her from the less to the greater.” James here records (in the preterit tense) an occurrence which can be recovered from the past definite and replicated in the present and future progressive tenses – Isabel needs only to position herself before the “large Roman record” and the experience of soothing Time, Time as continuum, becomes a possibility once again. This replicable consciousness may be further specified “how it feels when one is in the happening of experiencing Time as the fluid medium of all lived experience.” Rome occasions the consciousness of an alternative time sense, one which might lighten the burden of living within a deterministic temporal dimension where past actions condition present and future actions to such an extent that one feels hopelessly locked into an imprisoning narrative pattern of before and after, cause and effect. James obviously believed that such temporal epiphanies offered root room for the psyche, a possibility of returning to the actual with renewed or composed psychic energies. (Other interpretations were, of course, possible-the complacent and self-satisfied traveller was often troubled by this extension of consciousness.) However interpreted, one finds this shock of recognition everywhere – in Canto 4 of Childe Harold, in The Education of Henry Adams, in Middlemarch and Romola, The Marble Faun, in the verse of all the major poets from Wordsworth and Keats and Shelley through both Brownings, Rogers, and Tennyson, in The Stones of Venice, Dipsychus, Amours de Voyage, and dimly in Rienzi and The Last Days of Pompeii, not to mention Harriet Beecher Stowe's less-than-immortal Agnes of Sorrento.
What was the state of classical Greek studies in early Victorian Britain? The anonymous author of a series of Platonic translations-with-commentaries has this to say in the February 1834 issue of the Monthly Repository:
Considering the almost boundless reputation of the writings of Plato, not only among scholars, but (upon their authority) among nearly all who have any tincture of letters, it is a remarkable fact that, of the great writers of antiquity, there is scarcely one who, in this country at least, is not merely so little understood, but so little read. Our two great ‘seats of learning’ of which no real lover of learning can ever speak but in terms of indignant disgust, bestow attention upon the various branches of classical acquirement in exactly the reverse order to that which would be observed by persons who valued the ancient authors for what is valuable in them: … with the exception of the two dialogues edited by Dr. Routh, we are aware of nothing to facilitate the study of the most gifted of Greek writers which has ever emanated from either of the two impostor-universities of England; and of die young men who have obtained university honours during the past ten years, we are much misinformed if there be six who had even looked into his writings. There are, probably, in this kingdom, not so many as a hundred persons who ever have read Plato, and not so many as twenty who ever do.’
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