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What Samuel Butler saw: Classics, authorship and Cultural Authority in late Victorian England

  • Tim Whitmarsh (a1)


They are taught what is called the hypothetical language for many of their best years – a language which was originally composed at a time when the country was in a very different state of civilisation to what it is at present, a state which has long since disappeared and been superseded. Many valuable maxims and noble thoughts which were at one time concealed in it have become current in their modern literature, and have been translated over and over again into the language now spoken. Surely then it would seem that the study of the original language should be confined to the few whose instincts led them naturally to pursue it.

But the Erewhonians think differently; the store they set by this hypothetical language can hardly be believed; they will even give any one a maintenance for life if he attains a considerable proficiency in the study of it; nay, they will spend years in learning to translate some of their own good poetry into the hypothetical language – to do so with fluency being the mark of a scholar and a gentleman. Heaven forbid that I should be flippant, but it appeared to me to be a wanton waste of good human energy that men should spend years and years in the perfection of so barren an exercise, when their own civilisation presented problems by the hundred which cried aloud for solution and would have paid the solver handsomely; but people know their own affairs best.



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The Cambridge Classical Journal
  • ISSN: 1750-2705
  • EISSN: 2047-993X
  • URL: /core/journals/cambridge-classical-journal
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