Wednesday, December 16, 2015


Doubts About the Classics

William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863), "Punch in the East, III: Athens," Punch (January 25, 1845):
I always had my doubts about the classics. When I saw a brute of a schoolmaster, whose mind was as coarse-grained as any ploughboy's in Christendom; whose manners were those of the most insufferable of Heaven's creatures, the English snob trying to turn gentleman; whose lips, when they were not mouthing Greek or grammar, were yelling out the most brutal abuse of poor little cowering gentlemen standing before him: when I saw this kind of man (and the instructors of our youth are selected very frequently indeed out of this favoured class) and heard him roar out praises, and pump himself up into enthusiasm for, certain Greek poetry,—I say I had my doubts about the genuineness of the article. A man may well thump you or call you names because you won't learn—but I never could take to the proffered delicacy; the fingers that offered it were so dirty. Fancy the brutality of a man who began a Greek grammar with 'τύπτω, I thrash!' We were all made to begin it in that way.
On the meaning of snob here see the Oxford English Dictionary, s.v., sense 3.c:
One who meanly or vulgarly admires and seeks to imitate, or associate with, those of superior rank or wealth; one who wishes to be regarded as a person of social importance.

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