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  • Latin for Empire:Kipling's "Regulus" as a Classics Class for the Ruling Classes
  • Judith A. Plotz (bio)

Kipling's "Regulus" (1908), a late addition to Stalky and Co., is, among other things, a treatise on the uses of classical education.1 In the last paragraphs of the tale, King, the classics master, and Hartopp, the chemistry master, are "sparring" about curriculum—"classical versus modern as usual" (179). But a sudden allusive Roman yell outside the window—"'Night, Regulus" (179)—suggests to King that the classics have prevailed: "You see. It sticks. A little of it sticks among the barbarians" (179). King's "barbarian" boys, in training to become the legionnaires of New Rome as they cram for the British Army exam, are touched by their classical training that so adhesively persisted in British public schools of the Victorian period.

This Romanizing moment is of considerable interest to the student of imperialism and culture. Though "Regulus" is but a single story, it clearly links the themes of rulership and education and offers us an opening into the imperial uses of the Victorian Latin curriculum. Indeed, the very title "Regulus" signals a preoccupation with rule and Latinity; regulus is a diminutive of rex and means 'petty king' or 'prince.' Rex itself and all its cognates come from the verb rego, regere, "to mark boundaries, to guide, direct, govern." The style of Latin teaching represented in "Regulus" bears a close resemblance to Latin as taught in at least two late nineteenth-century British public schools for future servants of empire: Kipling's own school, United Services College (USC), and the Rugby School. The schools were very different in their class constituencies—Rugby was a distinctly elite, upper-middle-class establishment;2 USC was an establishment of the hard-pressed, military middle class. They were different too in their curricular philosophies; Rugby exemplifies the nineteenth-century conservative educational tradition, and USC shows the reformist tradition. As different as they were, however, the elite Rugby and the middle-class USC shared an imperial mission, an ethic of service, and a classical curriculum. Because that mission, ethic, and curriculum are all [End Page 152] demonstrated and tested in "Regulus," the story has a certain exemplary value as a depiction of the uses of classical education in an imperial age.

Both schools frankly accepted a clear and influential imperial mission; both prepared the rulers, the administrations, the enforcers of the rules of empire, the reguli. The mission of the USC, not an elite public school, was to prepare boys for the army and to do it cheaply: "It was largely a caste-school—some seventy-five per cent of us had been born outside England and hoped to follow their fathers in the army" (Kipling, Something of Myself 26). The headmaster, Cormell Price, had taught at Haileybury, a public school descended from the "East India College," which for the 50 years between 1809 and 1859 had trained young men first for the East India Company and, from 1855, for the Indian Civil Service (Mason 1: 280). Price's express mission at Westward Ho! was to prepare his charges to meet the rigors of the new competitive army examination, instituted in 1871. On this examination, Latin was privileged, as Winston Churchill recalled to his cost: "Two thousand marks were given for Latin. I might perhaps get 400!" (25). Looking abroad from the privileged precincts of Rugby, Thomas Arnold also assumed that his students would go forth to administer an imperial world. The upper-middle-class graduates of Rugby whom he trained would be "a scattering over the whole habitable world" (Bamford 146). They would suffuse throughout the world an Anglo-Saxon spirit, "that mighty spirit by which we have delivered Europe" (qtd. in Williamson 193). As exemplars of a strong race, they would help the weak races to tear down their "vast fabric of evil" and replace it with "a more noble and lasting temple of good" (193). Just as many of Price's students went on to the army, principally in India, many of Arnold's students left England to administer educational institutions throughout the empire.3

The schools are also similar in offering the historian...


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