1920s >> 1923 >> no-230-october-1923

A professor on the equality of opportunity

“What are the great poetical names of the last hundred years or so? Coleridge, Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, Landor, Keats, Tennyson, Browning, Arnold, Morris, Rossetti, Swinburne—we may siop there. Of these all but Keats, Browning and Rosetti were university men; and of these three Keats, who died young, cut off in his prime, was the only one not fairly well-to-do. It may seem a brutal thing to say, and it is a sad thing to say; but, as a matter of hard fact, the theory that poetical genius bloweth where it listeth, and equally in poor and rich, holds little truth. As a matter of hard fact nine out of those twelve were university men, which means that somehow or other they procured the means to get the best education England can give. As a matter of hard fact of the remaining three you know that Browning was well-to-do, and I challenge you that, if he had not been well-to-do, he would no more have attained to writing “Saul” or the “Ring and the Book,” than Ruskin would have attained to writing “Modern Painters,” if his father had not dealt prosperously in business. Rossetti had a small private income ; and, moreover, he painted. There remains but Keats, whom Atropos slew young, as he slew John Clare in a madhouse, and James Thompson by the laudanum he took to drug disappointment. These are dreadful facts, but let us face them. It is—however dishonouring to us as a nation—certain that by some fault in our commonwealth the poor poet has not in these days, nor has bad for two hundred years, a dog’s chance. Believe me—and I have spent a great part of the last ten years in watching some 320 Elementary Schools —we may prate of democracy, but actually a poor child in England has little more hope than had the son of an Athenian slave to be emancipated into that intellectual freedom of which great writings are born.”

(Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, “On the Art of Writing,” page 33, 1923 Edition.)

(Socialist Standard, October 1923)

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