1863: Butlerian Jihad on Victorian Schooling
December 17, 2018
15th December 1863, First use of New Zealand’s oldest school building (I doubt that). The building is known as ‘Big School’ and still stands in Christ’s College, Christchurch. Designed by James Fitzgerald, who was also editor of The Press newspaper.
Last year I read ‘Erewhon’. This, Samuel Butler’s, book was first published in The Press earlier in the same year as this building being ready- 1863. I was wondering if Butler’s barbs against academia reflected on Christ’s College or Canterbury College? They are wonderful!
Cynical about Latin!
“Thus 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in a very different state of civilisation to what it is at present, a state which has long since disappeared and been superseded.”
“..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…If the youths chose it for themselves I should have wondered less; but they do not choose it; they have it thrust upon them, and for the most part are disinclined towards it. “
The University has…
“..professorships of Inconsistency and Evasion, in both of which studies the youths are examined before being allowed to proceed to their degree in hypothetics…there is hardly any inconsistency so glaring but they soon learn to defend it, or injunction so clear that they cannot find some pretext for disregarding it.”
Butler also takes a big swipe at a situation that bothers me too, the Victorian’s tendency to declare people who didn’t think like themselves mad and lock them away. New Zealand had lunatic asylums long before much of the needed infrastructure you’d expect to have been top priority. Tells you something about them.
Were these remarks published by Fitz in The Press it surely would have been a scandal, a humiliation to the new schools. However, the university was yet to get off the ground so, no, it wasn’t aimed at them. The satirising instead was directed at Butler’s old life in England, at Cambridge. They didn’t care, just named a room after him!
Still, it seems to have been wise for Butler and Fitzgerald to have kept the author’s name under a pseudonym for the time being. Never mind what Bishop Harper would have said about being called a ‘cashier of the Musical Bank!’
Really good little book. George Orwell liked it too.
*Note: The Butlerian Jihad is how Frank Herbert refereed to such critiques as these- especially toward mechanisation- in his Dune novels.