"The Grand, Old, Fortifying Classical Curriculum"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Matthew Arnold, caught in the Victorian world of shifting values, believed firmly in the continuity of human experience and, above all, in the transcendent emotional values transmitted to his generation by the Christian ideals which had prevailed in the centuries past. Thus, as a patient mediator between the old and the new, he devoted himself to the articulation of the values of the past in language that would be contemporary and meaningful. Between 1866 and 1870 he contributed a series of humorous epistles to the Pall-Mall Gazette which, along with the essay My Countrymen, previously appearing in Cornhill Magazine, was published as Friendship's Garland. Expressive of the same social and ethical doctrines as the earlier Culture and Anarchy, this essay sets forth with light mockery the "Conversations, Letters, and Opinions of the late Arminius, Baron von Thunder-Ten-Tronckh" concerning his observations on the English scene. At one point Arminius questions the training and intelligence of two magistrates, "Viscount Lumpington" and "Reverend Esau Hittall," the latter recommended highly by his uncle, a prelate:

. . . "But I want to know what his nephew learnt [in his education]," interrupted Arminius, "and what Lord Lumpington learnt at Eton." "They followed," said I, "the grand, old, fortifying classical curriculum." "Did they know anything when they left?" asked Arminius. "I have seen some longs and shorts of Hittall's," said I, "about the Calydonian Boar, which were not bad. But you surely don't need me to tell you, Arminius, that it is rather in training and bracing the mind for future acquisition,–a course of mental gymnastics we call it,–than in teaching any set thing, that the classical curriculum is so valuable. . . . But for my part I have always thought that their both getting their degree at last with flying colours, after three weeks of a famous coach for fast men, four nights without going to bed, and an incredible consumption of wet towels, strong cigars, and brandy-and-water, was one of the most astonishing feats of mental gymnastics I ever heard of."