Modern Reading

  • S. P. Rosenbaum


At the end of the nineteenth century, living or recently deceased authors were apparently not considered appropriate subjects for Cambridge University public lectures, reading societies, or essay prizes. Undergraduate Bloomsbury also favoured the ancients to the moderns in the battle of the books, if one can judge from a literary game that Leonard Woolf, Strachey and Sydney-Turner used to play at Trinity. The game consisted of ranking the world’s great or popular authors in a tripos list. A 1901 honours list, referred to by Leonard Woolf in a letter to Strachey, put Shakespeare and Plato at the very top, and gave them fellowships; the Book of Job was a close third (20.iii.01, pT). A complete 1902 list in Leonard Woolf’s papers at Sussex has no modern authors at all in the first division of the first class, which contained Job, various Greeks, Lucretius, Dante, Heine, and others in addition to the English authors Spenser, Shelley (both of whom won the prize for English poetry), Milton, Browne and Keats. Francis Bacon (first class, second division) won the English essay prize. The list continues through the three divisions of the three classes, down to the ‘ploughed’ modern authors Marie Corelli and Kipling — the poet, not the prose writer. The highest ranked modern author was Robert Browning, placed in the first class, second division.


Literary History English Poetry Modern Author Literary Game Time Literary Supplement 
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Copyright information

© S. P. Rosenbaum 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. P. Rosenbaum
    • 1
  1. 1.TorontoCanada

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