Evaporated Greek

George Eliot, Daniel Deronda (XVI):

Sir Hugo appeared not to notice anything peculiar in Daniel’s manner, and presently went on with his usual chatty liveliness.

“I am glad you have done some good reading outside your classics, and have got a grip of French and German. The truth is, unless a man can get the prestige and income of a Don and write donnish books, it’s hardly worth while for him to make a Greek and Latin machine of himself and be able to spin you out pages of the Greek dramatists at any verse you’ll give him as a cue. That’s all very fine, but in practical life nobody does give you the cue for pages of Greek. In fact, it’s a nicety of conversation which I would have you attend to—much quotation of any sort, even in English is bad. It tends to choke ordinary remark. One couldn’t carry on life comfortably without a little blindness to the fact that everything had been said better than we can put it ourselves. But talking of Dons, I have seen Dons make a capital figure in society; and occasionally he can shoot you down a cart-load of learning in the right place, which will tell in politics. Such men are wanted; and if you have any turn for being a Don, I say nothing against it.”

“I think there’s not much chance of that. Quicksett and Puller are both stronger than I am. I hope you will not be much disappointed if I don’t come out with high honors.”

“No, no. I should like you to do yourself credit, but for God’s sake don’t come out as a superior expensive kind of idiot, like young Brecon, who got a Double First, and has been learning to knit braces ever since. What I wish you to get is a passport in life. I don’t go against our university system: we want a little disinterested culture to make head against cotton and capital, especially in the House. My Greek has all evaporated; if I had to construe a verse on a sudden, I should get an apoplectic fit. But it formed my taste. I dare say my English is the better for it.”

George Eliot – author of Middlemarch - The British Library

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