…we can isolate three principal factors which ensured literary study, in particular of English literature, a permanent place in higher education. These are first, the specific needs of the British empire expressed in the regulations for admission to the India Civil Service; second, the various movements for adult education including Mechanics Institutes, Working Men's Colleges, and extension lecturing; third, within this general movement, the specific provisions made for women's education. (61)


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While many of the pressures for the institutionalized study of English literature came 'from below', seeping up from Mechanics Institutes and the newer colleges before conquering the older seats of learning, there had been an important initiative 'from above in the recommendations of the Civil Service of the East India Company report of 1855, which outlined plans under the 1853 India Act to open the most lucrative and prestigious administrative posts in the empire to competitive examination. In drawing up their list of examination papers to be set, the committee appointed to report on this wrote: 'Foremost among these subjects we place our own language and literature', and they accordingly allotted a possible 1,000 marks (equalled only by mathematics) to the section on English literature and history, to enable candidates 'to show the extent of their knowledge of our poets, wits and philosophers'.  The committee also felt that in imparting 'a taste for pleasures not sensual', literature would help the young administrators to resist the dangers of corruption and 'scandalous immorality' to which their power might expose them.


          …. The effects of the 1853 India Act did not hit the universities so directly at first, but they were an important precedent, officially encouraging the study of English literature for the good of the empire. Thomas Babington Macaulay, the guiding hand behind the report's recommendations, had long expounded the case underlying such a literary policy. Speaking on 'The Government of India' in 1833, following his appointment to the Supreme Council of India, he had put this point to the House of Commons:

        Consider too, Sir, how rapidly the public mind of India is advancing, how much attention is already paid by the higher classes of the natives to those intellectual pursuits on the cultivation of which the superiority of the European race principally depends. Surely, in such circumstances, from motives of selfish policy, if from no higher motive, we ought to fill the magistracies of our Eastern Empire with men who may do honour to our country, with men who may represent the best part of the English nation.

Or, as Macaulay rephrased it for his slower listeners, 'To trade with civilised men is infinitely more profitable than to govern savages.” He looked forward, therefore, to the conscious propagation of 'that literature before the light of which impious and cruel superstitions are fast taking flight on the banks of the Ganges ... And, wherever British literature spreads, may it be attended by British virtue and British freedom!' (70-71)