Meredith Martin, a distinguished academic at Princeton, writes-
It isn’t the centrality of Macaulay’s poems in the late-Victorian canon and their absence in our curriculum today that interests me as much as the way their form – the ballad – came to be coded as a communally felt phenomenon.Coding is important where something can be alluded to but not directly expressed. This may have to do with Sex or a type of politics which is subject to persecution. Macaulay's poems dealt with neither such theme. They were in tune with the dominant political currents of the day and thus the paradigmatic example of literature as a message without a code.
His 'Lays of Ancient Rome' were suitable pabulum for little boys who enjoy mock battles and can picture themselves as Roman heroes as easily as they can step into the roles of Cops & Robbers or Cowboys & Indians. Macaulay was making Latin literature interesting for the kids and thus giving them an incentive to pay attention in class and go on to pass exams and enter paying professions on the basis of academic credentials.
However, Macaulay's poems were not a 'communally felt phenomenon'. Women had little interest in them and the mise en scene was remote from those familiar to the working class. Regional ballads dealing with folk heroes or tales of thwarted love retained currency in the rural tavern and at the Squire's table. But this was as true of India or Italy or anywhere else.
This fabric of a connective, political, and national rhythm begins as a story about a primitive drum, is transformed to a family hearth where stories of the community’s history are told, and then becomes the organized rhythm of the march to war.This sentiment could be expressed in any Indian language and prefaced to a collection of bardic material. However, it could also be used to pick out different theistic traditions and associated with specific castes.
This idea – of a unifying primitive rhythm – began as a universalist claim in the mid-eighteenth century.This idea has always been around. Meter was linked to Music which in turn was linked to region or type of activity. Certain 'raags' & 'maqaams' in Indian or Islamic music are conventionally described in just this way and given a folk origin. But, traditions in this regard long predate the eighteenth century. Indeed, they were prevalent at the time of Confucius or Solon. Thus certain airs and meters might be described as lascivious because of the supposed moral short comings of the people of a certain region, or else as martial or spiritual on a similar basis.
However, this type of learned, second order, work had zero impact on what was popular or how a particular poetic form evolved. Stalin's philosophy of language had the merit of releasing Marxists from having to link changes in the 'superstructure'- e.g. literary fashions- to changes in the substructure. This meant that, for a brief period, Leftist literary theory did not have to be utterly stupid.
Sadly Martin didn't get the memo- vide
By the turn of the nineteenth century and especially after the first reform bill in England, “primitive rhythm” became a poetic function.Primitive rhythm is a poetic function of primitive- or at least 'naively sentimental'- poetry dealing with simple people in a natural landscape. The Romantic movement in England certainly had this feature in the late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Century precisely because Reform in accordance with 'Natural Law' appeared easy. However, Ricardo and Malthus between them showed that Economics had a dismal aspect. Population could grow monstrously while diminishing returns bedeviled the bounty of Nature. Calculation alone was King. Thus, Romanticism and its affectation of 'primitive rhythm' was played out by 1832 because it was clear that such unities as it could forge, dissolved under the pressure of Calculation and the need to Compromise. In subsequent years, Radicalism would itself see a parting of the ways between the idealistic Chartists and the utilitarian Cobdenites with the latter prevailing but only at the cost of turning their coats. By the Eighteen Eighties, many were Unionists and some were clamoring for Imperial Preference.
Martin takes a different view-
This poetic function grew increasingly nationalistic in its aims toward mid-century, and then ended up as at once universalizing and nationalistic at the turn of the twentieth century, depending on the discipline in which it was discussed.Peak nationalism was associated with the Napoleonic Wars. Not even the accession of Napoleon III could revive it. Instead, England & France jointly fought the Crimean War & Cobden cobbled together a trade treaty with the Second Empire.
Peak Victorianism was associated with a merely ornamental 'Poetic function'. The prosperity of its new class of patricians was based on a mastery of the prose of the world. Macaulay, in India, amuses himself by imagining the sort of ballads the ancient Romans might have sung. However, precisely because he was in India, he had to reject Colonel James Tod's romantic view of nationalism which involved ejecting Marathas and Pindaris from Rajput domains. Tod was disgraced and sent back to England. Macaulay, by contrast, eventually left his mark on the Indian polity. To do so, he made a careful distinction between why the bardic, or ballad, tradition was inherently more poetic in its subject matter than the lucubrations of a more refined age, and how that subject matter could be made useful to a commercial civilization in which relationships of trade & exchange superseded ties of blood & custom. Macaulay tells us in the introduction to 'The Lays' that History must acknowledge its debt to the ballad and that poetic truth must be distinguished from historical veracity. Yet, the debt remains. Thus Macaulay is presenting a history in the form in which, according to a popular theory of the time, its first annalists discovered it. He tells us he will be careful to impute no more modern motive to his characters than their context would warrant, and that the manner in which he will render his imagined Ausonian texts will be a compound tribute to Sir Walter Scott, and thus the native English tradition, as well as to the author of the Iliad whose work may plausibly have, in some vernacular form, been familiar to the original balladeers.
Martin takes a different view-
The Lays of Ancient Rome appear in the middle of that story, in 1842, as part of a larger discourse about rhythm and meter.Since Macaulay was a scholarly historian and prominent Whig politician, it is scarcely probable that he would have concerned himself with some obscure coterie of poetasters' 'discourse about rhythm and meter' which his target audience would have been wholly unaware of. Rather, he takes it for granted that Scott had given the canonical expression of the English ballad tradition and that Europe had accepted a certain conception of the Iliad as canonical with respect to the content of that tradition. It was this latter assumption- viz. that the Iliad is thymotic in a puerile manner, rather than truly tragic, which left him vulnerable to Matthew Arnold's criticism that his verses rang of but pinchbeck metal. Homer, Arnold believed, 'is rather to be classed with Milton than with the balladists and Scott; for what he has in common with Milton,— the noble and profound application of ideas to life,— is the most essential part of poetic greatness.' In other words, what Macaulay lacks is a cosmology the more crystalline and aglitter for but enclosed in a tear washed away by a tear. Still, it is good enough for school boys and retaining something of the school boy in one's makeup is sufficient warrant, as the shadows close in, that one has not utterly mislaid one's soul.
Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome, their history and intervention, can teach us a great deal about what rhythm and meter do and mean for a sense of national identification at mid-century.This is nonsense. He tells us he borrows both from Scott. Whether he succeeds or fails is a different matter. His work as a historian, not as a poet, could have meant something for English 'national identification' but completely failed to do so because of his mania for William of Orange and his hostility to the new 'High Church' religiosity which characterized the early Gladstone and the Oxford Movement.
Macaulay gloats, like an American 'booster' of a later age, over the material progress England has made. He is as fond of quoting statistics as the gross bellied Manchester merchants Emerson encountered who would tell the thin Yankee precisely how many bricks had been used in the construction of the new municipal water tower and how this made it superior to St. Mark's Campanile in Venice.
Quite naturally, the rising generation- men as different as Arnold and Tennyson- recoiled from so crass a view of the English character or, indeed, the genius of the English tongue.
Macaulay’s project is to impose a vision of martial action as an accepted universal urge and to meld that vision with the discourse of both poetics and civilization.Macaulay says he is writing of primitive people. Their thymotic urges must give way to culture and refinement and economic progress.
He writes- ' In the following poems the author speaks, not in his own person, but in the persons of ancient minstrels who know only what Roman citizen, born three or four hundred years before the Christian era, may be supposed to have known, and who are in no wise above the passions and prejudices of their age and nation. To these imaginary poets must be ascribed some blunders which are so obvious that is unnecessary to point them out. The real blunder would have been to represent these old poets as deeply versed in general history, and studious of chronological accuracy. To them must also be attributed the illiberal sneers at the Greeks, the furious party spirit, the contempt for the arts of peace, the love of war for its own sake, the ungenerous exultation over the vanquished, which the reader will sometimes observe. To portray a Roman of the age of Camillus or Curius as superior to national antipathies, as mourning over the devastation and slaughter by which empire and triumphs were to be won, as looking on human suffering with the sympathy of Howard, or as treating conquered enemies with the delicacy of the Black Prince, would be to violate all dramatic propriety. The old Romans had some great virtues, fortitude, temperance, veracity, spirit to resist oppression, respect for legitimate authority, fidelity in the observing of contracts, disinterestedness, ardent patriotism; but Christian charity and chivalrous generosity were alike unknown to them.
This is precisely the opposite of Martin's claim. Macaulay isn't saying we have to get rid of Christianity and go back to being savages. Rather, as a historian, he is saying pre-history has poetic truths which are valuable because poetry is valuable. It is dangerous, however, to mistake poetic truth for historical truth and very madness to take any action in this world on that basis.
How does Macaulay’s project in Lays of Ancient Rome advance an argument about ballads, nations, and histories of form that maps onto a larger story about rhythm and community, history and education, and comparative poetics?Martin is mistaken about Macaulay's project. In any case, there is never any 'larger story about rhythm and community'. A.R Rahman might take up a Japanese or West Indian rhythm to rhapsodize a theme which is felt as binding together the Tamil, or wider Indian, community. The BBC might take up Lillibulero as a quintessentially British martial tune, though- no doubt- its own learned musicologists would have already traced it to Ireland or Tartary.
Suppose it were true that a 'larger story' genuinely exists such that a particular rhythm can define a community, then there would be scope for DNA type genealogical research. My own claim to be descended not from African apes, but Antarctic penguins would be proved true and thus I'd get a Doctor's note saying I'm excused doing the washing up.
That larger story is still not large enough, for it ignores, entirely, the basis of all of those theories in a world much wider than the Western one.And which features penguins and dinosaurs.
Sixty-three editions of Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome were published between 1842 and 1939; the poem became prominent at the same time that the English empire created a new literary history of India, thanks, in large part, to Macaulay.Rubbish! The English 'literary history of India' had been accomplished by the end of the Eighteenth Century. That's why peak Orientalism is represented by Southey's 'Curse of Kehama' & Tom Moore's 'Lala Rookh' & Shelley taking inspiration from 'The Empire of the Nairs'.
After that, there was incremental progress both in India and on the Continent but it had nothing to do with Macaulay.
His 1835 ‘Minute on Indian Education’ secured the passage of Bentinck’s Indian Education Act, making English the language of instruction and promoting an English literary tradition as a civilizing ideological force on the subcontinent.The Indians clamored for the thing and were getting it anyway. They just wanted John Company to pay more towards it.
This concept of an English literary tradition was consolidated in the 1830s, before there was a state education system in England. As Gauri Viswanathan has argued, the English literary canon was largely invented in order to subdue and civilize the empire’s Indian subjects.Why believe this crazy theory? Martin lives in the Twenty First Century. She can look up the Wikipedia article on English literature and see for herself that the 'English literary tradition' was consolidated circa 1470 as 'Chancery Standard'. Shakespeare learnt it at School. Milton taught it. The Irish acquired it in the Seventeenth Century and within a couple of generations were achieving distinction in it.
India had already been subdued by the superior solvency of the British which in turn depended upon their Global Naval supremacy. Economics matters. Literary canons don't.
Gauri Vishvanathan may believe her ancestors were uncivilized and required indoctrination in Shakespeare and Milton to suppress their cannibalistic instincts. It may surprise her to know that the vast majority of her caste fellows even now have no great knowledge of the 'English literary tradition'. True, some of them vote for Modi and work in I.T, however this does not mean that they are cannibals.
Just as the literature of Rome civilized primitive England, so too would the literature of England civilize, Macaulay writes, the primitive “Hindoo.”Macaulay's Minute is solely concerned with how a small sum of money set aside by Parliament for education in India should be spent. He makes no pretense that any sizable section of the native population will receive any instruction, under this aegis, whatsoever. The only question was whether teachers of English, rather than Arabic or Sanskrit, should gain preference in employment. The answer was clear. The Indians wanted John Company to pay for English instruction because the Brits actually knew English. The Indians could learn Sanskrit from the neighborhood Purohit or Arabic from the Mullah as they had always done. Indeed, Kayasths had been doing both for centuries. So had some 'niyogi' Brahmans. Having actual English people pay for a type of instruction whose worth they could judge for themselves was a no-brainer. Sadly, when the Indian Education Service was wound up, the standard of English instruction fell. People like Gauri Vishvanathan had no interest in promoting English instruction in India so as to help others whose ancestors were less lucky in this matter. By contrast, China imported a lot of native speakers to teach English with the result that their Economy faces a smaller bottle-neck in this regard. But then, the Chinese are a pragmatic and patriotic people. Indian Leftists whine about the Brits but prefer to do so on a Western campus where they won't be harassed by young people of their own color pleading to be taught sufficient English to make them employable.
The parallel to Rome in Macaulay’s progress narrative for England was evident in his parliamentary speeches in favor of reform and it was the success of these speeches that landed him the job in India to begin with. In his first reform speech, he aligns Roman and British social conflict: had the first reform bill not passed, England would have witnessed a “struggle between the young energy of one class and the ancient privileges of another. Such was the struggle between the Plebeians and the Patricians of Rome.”Republican Rome inspired the American founding fathers. That's why Cincinnati has the name it does. America also had 'Indians'. Does Martin think they were 'subdued and civilized' by indoctrination in 'the English literary tradition'? Of course not! She must know that indigenous Americans who acquired an English education became more, not less, insistent upon their rights.
Just as he worked to fuse India’s sense of itself with England’s history and literature in the “Minute,” so, too, did he simultaneously work to fuse England’s sense of itself with Rome’s history and literature in Lays of Ancient Rome.What work did Macaulay do to 'fuse India's sense of itself'?
The following is often quoted-
it is impossible for us, with our limited means, to attempt to educate the body of the people. We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern, --a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population.
However, Macaulay in a preceding passage had very forcefully explained that this class of Indians already existed.
'There are in this very town natives who are quite competent to discuss political or scientific questions with fluency and precision in the English language. I have heard the very question on which I am now writing discussed by native gentlemen with a liberality and an intelligence which would do credit to any member of the Committee of Public Instruction.'
What is more, unlike the students of Arabic or Sanskrit who demanded a stipend and assurance of future employment in return for applying themselves to these ancient languages, the students of English were happy to pay for the privilege. Furthermore, being obliged by their terms of employment or the requirements of their profession, this class of English speaking natives did indeed contribute to great refinement and enrichment of their vernacular tongues.
Macaulay was in India because his family had fallen on hard times. He needed a lucrative post where he could save money so as to return to British politics not as a hired hack but as a gentleman of independent and assured means.
He uses his 'Lays' to show that he has not become a Nabob with a harem, but rather has been engaged in a literary composition useful to British youth and instructive to the wider public.
Macaulay recollects that the idea for the poems occurred to him while he was stationed “in the jungle at the foot of the Neilgherry hills;” and most of the verses were made “during a dreary sojourn at Ootacamund (Uhtagamund) and a disagreeable voyage in the Bay of Bengal.”Macaulay was a politician. He understood that his readers might suppose he had succumbed to Asiatic luxury and sensuousness in distant Ind. The reference to Jungles and Voyages dispels any such suspicion.
From June 26 to August 31, 1834, Macaulay was stationed at Ootacamund with the Governor General Bentick’s entourage. He left for the hills as soon as he arrived: “I traveled the whole four hundred miles on men’s shoulders. Each palanquin required twelve bearers who were changed every fifteen miles or so. My baggage, though I brought no more than was absolutely necessary, required ten porters.” While stationed, he “read insatiably” the books that those ten porters carried. His classical texts soothed him and reminded him of home; he writes, “[w]hat a blessing it is to love books as I love them, -- to be able to converse with the dead and to live amidst the unreal.” He praised Virgil in one of his many long letters: “I like him best on Italian grounds. I like his localities, his national enthusiasm, his frequent allusions to his country, its history, its antiquities, and its greatness. In this respect he often reminded me of Sir Walter Scott.” Indeed, Macaulay’s Lays were a fusion of Virgil and Scott, an elevation of Scott’s metrical project to the great themes of Roman civilization but in the form of imagined ancient Roman ballads. But why ballads? Scott’s introduction to his two-volume collection Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, first published in 1802 and 1803, gives a compelling history of the ballad that is also a history of England. In Scott’s 1830 introduction to his 1805 Lay of the Last Minstrel he narrates the genesis of his own ballad-writing project – a mashup of Stodart’s recitation of Coleridge’s “Christabel,” in an attempt to avoid what Byron called the “fatal felicity” of the octosyllabic line and “romantic stanza.” Scott’s ballad meter was a structure of verse that “might have the effect of novelty to the public ear, and afford the author an opportunity of varying his measure with the variations of a romantic subject,” by which he means – and demonstrates – largely accentual four-beat lines. The history of metrical theories of the ballad stanza, which I’ll examine in further detail, are related to Macaulay’s project. I’ll argue that Macaulay combined Scott’s metrical project with his own understanding of the highly debated Latin Saturnian meter which, Macaulay argued (via the Danish German historian Barthold Niebuhr) was the authentic primitive verse form of ancient Rome.So far, so good. This is not path-breaking scholarship by any means but it is perfectly sane.
What follows is not-
But Macaulay’s project was not merely about re-creating Roman ballads. Macaulay was arguing that the ballad was the earliest poetry of all primitive civilizations, and by reconstructing and popularizing this history he was also advancing a ballad-theory of civilization.Macaulay says ballads are tribal. Civilization obliterates them. History must not rely on ballads because their truths are poetic not alethic. Socio-Economic conditions have to progress substantially- on the basis of improvements in administration and the widening of commerce- before the qualities and emotions the Romantics most prized could come into existence. A naively sentimental invocation of history can serve a proper poetic, but not a political, end.
The ballad-theory of civilization had been circulating long before Niebuhr first applied it to ancient Rome in his controversial 1812 Romische Geschichte, and long before Macaulay played out Niebuhr’s ballad theories in his Lays. The theory will be familiar to anyone who has read eighteenth-century ballad discourse but also to anyone who has read Derek Attridge’s theories of rhythm, or, for an opposite view, Virginia Jackson’s reading of Longfellow’s own ballad-theory of civilization in “Hiawatha” and Michael Cohen and Susan Stewart’s work on Percy and Child. Cohen writes, “whether mediating ideas of history, culture, nationality, or identity, ballads have been contested property since at least the eighteenth century” (196). What Cohen describes as “the recuperation of history through balladeering,” largely after Percy’s Reliques of Ancient Poetry were published in 1765, “became a paradoxical process of restoring fragmentation . . . – of rendering media transparent” (199). In a letter to a friend, Niebuhr writes: “I am a historian, for I can make a complete picture from separate fragments, and I know where the parts are missing and how to fill them up. No one believes how much of what seems to be lost can be restored.” Historiography and the ballad theory of civilization, then, emerged at the same moment. In addition to historiography, ballad discourse influenced and inspired Friedrich August Wolf’s theories about Homer, the writings of Robert Lowth about Hebrew Poetry, Johann Gottfried Herder’s collection of German folk songs, Biblical criticism, and the creation, in many registers and disciplines, of a never recuperable origin story, spoken or sung, available only in fragments supplemented by the specialist collector’s skill. But ballads were also, crucially and ideally, comparable across national boundaries and borders. Ballads were at once imagined to be the authentic record of a nation’s earliest poets as well as evidence of early songs that appeared at the beginning of every culture. Now collections of fragments, authentic ballads had to be in some way corrupted or faded so that their re-creation could accommodate the nostalgic projection onto the past of a purer form of connected society, via poetry – and this is part of what I mean when I say “the ballad-theory of civilization.”This is a term of art. It means 'the theory that early history is based on bardic material'. It is not a theory of civilization, but rather a historiographical notion long superseded by carbon dating and DNA studies and so forth.
In any case, Niebuhr's ballad-theory was buried, at least for the English, by Mommsen who took Coriolanus as a test case and showed it must be late and Greek influenced.
But another part of the ballad-theory of civilization is that the peripheral is elevated as the primitive and brought into the whole fabric of the nation as an imagined common past of the colonizing nation, and in this instance I specifically mean Scotland and India as England’s peripheries.Why specifically mean something obviously foolish? Scotland borders England. India does not.
Some stupid Professor of English in India may want to pretend otherwise but why should an American?
An imagined innocent past, a purer primitive poetics in the shape or guise of “ballad,” is most familiar as the uncorrupted cadences of the now lost ballads of Scotland but it has powerful implications for India as well.No it doesn't. James Tod was a guy who destroyed his career in India, a decade before Macaulay got there, because he surrendered to the Siren song of the Rajput bard. This led him to wish to promote the Rajput at the expense of the Maratha or Pindari. The thing was a recipe for chaos. It had to be curbed and the Indians could see this for themselves. Bhats and Charans running around creating a nuisance is the last thing we need. By all means, get them to sing about birth control or check dams or whatever. We don't want to lose sleep over a Bhat's curse or a Charan's threat to commit suicide.
For Scott, the periphery is crucially the border – the place where a nation must defend itself against invasion, mark out its territory, record its unique history, and assert its communal identity.Scott was a Lowland Scot- i.e. an English speaker. His linguistic border was to the North.
Much of our knowledge about English ballad discourse, as Katie Trumpener and others have argued, comes from theories of culture appropriated from the periphery. Trumpener writes “English literature, so-called, constitutes itself in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries through the systematic imitation, appropriation, and political neutralization of antiquarian and nationalist literary developments in Scotland, Ireland and Wales.”Trumpener may write what he likes. English literature constituted itself on the basis of the development of Chancery Standard and the Printing Press. It may have recruited itself from its margins, it was not constituted by it.
We might as well say- 'American Cinema, so-called, constitutes itself in the early twentieth century through the systematic imitation, appropriation, and political neutralization of the Cherokee and the Apache.'
In the Indian context, the idea of the “ballad” as a lost origin story meshes with fantasies of a preliterate, mystical, uncivilized power.Rubbish! In India the idea of the ballad is firmly associated with a bardic caste whose institutional memory is post-Puranic. Only the Brahman or Shraman is licensed to speak the origin story which is preserved, not lost at all, in Revealed Scripture.
William Jones, the orientalist, philologer, and translator of Persian poetry posited in a 1786 address to the Asiatick Society, that Sanskrit, Greek, and Latin may have all “sprung from some common source which, perhaps, no longer exists.” The emergence of the Indo-European language theory – all South Asian and European languages and civilizations coming from one spring – becomes a powerful basis, therefore, for Anglophone poetics.Nonsense! I know of no poem in the English language which answers to this description.
Why? Precisely because India was an Imperial possession and England's largest trading partner. Thus nothing about its ancient mythology was not firmly tied to a highly idiographic locale. Emerson in America could gas on about Brahma and Boston could have its Brahmans. England too had one or two eccentrics who'd discover Druids in the Rg Veda and conclude that England itself was 'Shveta Dwipa'. However, these eccentrics gained no popular currency because India was important for wholly commercial and political reasons. By contrast, Germany could dream its dreams in 'Benares on the Rhine' and though Victor Hugo said 'India went and ended up becoming Germany' the India he was referring to was wholly imaginary.
Ballad discourse, treating all these peripheries as primitive sources of power, formed an intellectual constellation with contemporary linguistics, rhetoric, and the burgeoning field of English literary criticism.There may have been a paranoid constellation of this sort, but it was not 'intellectual' at all. Why? If you claimed to have pierced the secrets of Manusmriti, you'd be asked how Mr. Chatterjee of Chowringhee's Estate should be divided up. If you could give an answer that would hold up in Court, then you could make some money. If you couldn't, you'd be dismissed as a fantasist. The safer thing would be to claim to have discovered the secret codex of the fairies.
And it identified primitive groups of people even in modern societies: the child, the uneducated working classes, the rural village-dweller, and the colonial subject, all of whom were not yet touched by Englishness and could be recruited to represent a powerful fantasy of poetic purity.Wonderful! An English child, or agricultural worker, was untouched by 'Englishness'. Thus, if you wanted to know about inheritance laws in Coorg, you didn't have to crack a book. You could just ask the baby or the guy mowing your lawn. Being untouched by 'Englishness', they- no doubt- would possess 'poetic purity' and thus easily be able to simulate knowledge of the customs of the warrior clans of a remote part of the world.
Macaulay had some feelings about this. He wanted to replace Indian culture with a constructed, hybrid form of English -- an invented imported past; in the “Minute” he writes: “I have never found one among them [the Hindoos] who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia.”This is not true. He said that Indian languages needed to develop a type of standardized prose, with an expanded vocabulary, such that it could easily convey information regarding Scientific and Technological advances. He noted the pre-existence of an Indian class of intellectuals who were already doing this. He proposed that the Government spend a small sum of money in the manner this class thought best. He did not say that any Indians whatsoever should not learn their own history or language precisely because this would render them unfit for any type of remunerative employment or profession.
By accepting the invented history of English poetry, Macaulay’s education reforms would “form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we governGauri Vishvanathan invented this notion about the 'history of English poetry' in the Eighties. Do Indians consider her a smart person? No. They think she was a cretin who managed to play the race card and get a cushy berth in a worthless Department of a University which, however, is good for STEM subjects.
– a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect.Macaulay is speaking of Brahmos, like Raja Ramohan Roy- who had died during a visit to England- who was well known to Unitarians and Utilitarians. Indeed, I myself subscribe to a refinement of his dogma- viz. Unitittyarianism- whose credo is 'nipples are many, titty is one'.
To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population.”& that's exactly what happened. Why? It is what happens everywhere as Japan and Turkey and so forth were soon to prove.
Refine, enrich, borrow, render by degrees fit – these words echo and enact the ballad theory of civilization, which becomes a theory of the civilizing power of poetry.No they don't. Rome did become a great civilization. But we know nothing of its ancient ballads precisely because nobody bothered to 'refine, enrich, borrow or otherwise render them fit for anything'. The fate of Etruscan was even worse. It disappeared completely.
Since cannibals can have marvelous poetry, the thing has no civilizing power whatsoever. You actually have to build roads and set up schools and Colleges of Engineering and Medicine and so forth. That is why the American Peace Corps did not concentrate on providing training in prosody to the bards of remote tribes.
This mindset recalls Matthew Arnold’s similar rhetoric in the wake of the second reform bill. As McKelvy rightly asserts, Macaulay transfers the values of reform culture onto the Indian subcontinent. “What the Greek and Latin were to the contemporaries of More and Ascham, our tongue is to the people of India. The literature of England is now more valuable than that of classical antiquity.”But this was true before the Reform Bill was passed. That's why Raja Rammohan Roy already spoke English and quoted Bentham. Incidentally, he also learned Greek and Latin and Hebrew.
Macaulay’s composition of Lays of Ancient Rome while he was a colonial legislator in IndiaHe was not a legislator. India had no Legislature at the time. He was one of four official advisers to the Governor General.
connects England’s obsession with orientalist language and poeticsthat obsession had peaked twenty years previously and then wholly disappeared
with the violent endgame of the ballad-theory of civilization – the civilized is always predicated on the fantasy of the uncivilized, imaginary primitive past.Sheer balderdash! Civilization is always predicated upon a secure transport infrastructure supporting burgeoning Trade and Exchange based upon the division of Labor and the institutions of Civil Society. It has nothing to do with fantasies.
The Lays both assert and reveal the fantasy that a poetic form – in this case the ballad stanza – gives form to that unruly and wild historical projection of the “uncivilized” which is at the heart of the ballad theory of civilization.To assert something is also to reveal it- unless it is already known. Martin says Macaulay's Lays reveals a fantasy- in other words something nonsensical.
What is the nonsense the Lays reveal? It is that the ballad stanza is connected to a notion of the 'uncivilized'.
But everybody already knew that Coleridge and Scott and so on were perfectly civilized. Nobody thought that a guy writing a ballad was likely to turn into a cannibal.
Is it plausible that Macaulay- a smart guy- would bother to write a book to 'assert and reveal' anything so foolish?
Why not write a book revealing that rhyming cat with mat won't cause pussykins to come and sit on the hearthrug?
The fantasy of the uncivilized and poetry’s role in the civilized nation’s unity appears throughout the period.So what? Many other fantasies also existed- like finding fairies at the bottom of your garden or discovering the fount of eternal youth or the staff of Merlin or Solomon.
Late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century grammars borrow from and inform debates about the centrality of the ballad to a nation’s sense of its present and its connection to a universal preliterate past.If there were indeed any such debates, they were wholly inconsequential. On the other hand debates about Economic or Political or Scientific matters did have consequences. But that remains true to this day. Martin and her fellow pedants are ignored by everybody. In consequence, they have gotten a little cracked in the head.
Thus, after a sane enough account of the 'ballad theory', Martin feels obliged to talk nonsense about India- a country she evidently knows nothing about.
But that is not the only story I want to tell. The unanswered question of the ballad form, the abstract notion of its primitive nature, permeates both this scene and Macaulay’s notion of civilizing India through English poetry.Macaulay had lived in India. He knew that there was as little prospect of getting the vast mass of Indians to learn English poetry as there was of getting the vast mass of English children to learn Greek verse. It was a different matter that a select few learn these difficult tongues and then contribute to the vernacular language in a manner that would fit the purposes of pedagogy.
The obvious objection to using Government funds to teach a select few better English was that they would become centers of opposition to British Rule- of the existence of which, to be truthful, only a small percentage of Indian people were aware.
Macaulay forestalls this objection by pointing to loyal English speaking compradors who were visible in every Presidency.
Why does Martin believe that Macaulay was a cretin who thought it feasible that two hundred million people could be taught a foreign language on a budget of one lakh?
If a hybrid of the primitive and the civilized could produce Hellenic culture from the martial patriotism of ancient Rome to the refinement of the Greeks, then some combination of secular mysticism and Englishness could perfectly civilize India.Does Martin really not know that Rome conquered a lot of territory and built roads and drained marshes and suppressed piracy and that this enabled commerce to burgeon and wealth to accumulate?
It is wealth and security which 'civilizes' a people. Macaulay was a sound enough economist. He would have been regarded as a lunatic if he claimed that learning a particular type of poetry could magically transform a country's Economic position or guarantee its National Security. His people knew all too well that they needed Armadas and Artillery and Canals and Railways in order to continue to enjoy peace and prosperity.
Martin ends her essay by admitting that she has been talking nonsense. But why did she do so? The answer is she believes her colleagues believe that there is some magic associated with poetic forms. Careful reading of Macaulay shows this is a foolish fantasy.
Ballad discourse and imperial discourse are intertwined through this question of poetic form based not on a stanza or a syllable count, but on an abstract notion of the primitive mind, the peasant, the savage, the working class child. Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome operates as a bridge between late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century romantic ideas of poetry, imagined primitive communities and fragmentary history, and later revivals of these ideas. By the turn of the twentieth-century, when these poems are re-animated as an emblem of England’s imperial might after the Sepoy revolt and are swept into what I’ve elsewhere called the “military metrical complex,” they become merely another emblem of England’s blindness. But this narrower notion of the national ballad erases their complicated and expansive pre-history, and erases what Macaulay demonstrated: that the lay is always a fantasy form, that the ballad doesn’t have a folk, that the idea of a stable ballad stanza form is an abstraction of actual verse history. By ignoring the history of this poem’s creation we miss the discourses that Macaulay so carefully considered as he assembled these imaginary fragments into immensely popular and influential poems. Ignoring Macaulay’s Lays and the discourse around them, then, allows us to keep intact that powerful fantasy of poetic purity (often in the guise of preliterate universalism masquerading as rhythm). I have been arguing that such fantasies are what we now call poetic form.
In other words, Martin, poor dear, ended up in a University Department populated entirely by cretins who have absurd beliefs. Instead of saying 'Shut up, you idiots! You are talking utter nonsense!' she feels obliged to pander to her colleagues ludicrous fantasies before, at the very end of a long essay, gently chiding them by saying- 'guys, try reading Macaulay for yourself. You'll see that 'poetic forms' don't matter at all. The thing is a pure fantasy. Go have a shower or a nice cup of tea and stop frothing at the mouth. We may be obliged to write nonsense, but we don't have to believe the nonsense we write. '