Nobody wants an embarrassing ancestor. What to do, then, with the Victorians in writing the history of the teaching of English in universities? Many have solved this problem by mounting arguments that propel the reader swiftly past the second half of the century—“nothing to see here, folks”—en route from Romanticism to Leavisism and New Criticism, with a quick nod to Matthew Arnold. This essay works against this habit, introducing and analyzing the intellectual legacy of the idealist philosopher T. H. Green, whose life and work inspired generations of liberal-thinking students and colleagues in the humanities in Britain and its colonies during the last two decades of the nineteenth century and the first two of the twentieth. But the decline in idealism’s credibility and visibility has led to its erasure from histories of the discipline of English. In considering Green and his intellectual circle, which included Algernon Swinburne, Walter Pater, and John Addington Symonds, the essay opens up the sometimes surprising ways in which intellectually innovative discussions about literature might occur within the walls of the university, albeit outside the strictures of the curriculum.

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