"The Latest Decalogue" by Arthur Hugh Clough

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In the mid-nineteenth century, Arthur Hugh Clough wrote a poem entitle “The Latest Decalogue” in which he criticises the Victorians, specifically the contrast between the impression they gave of themselves, and their true morality. He uses form, language and tone in various ways to express this idea about the Victorian period, and makes his stance on the matter clear. The poem's subject matter is hinted at very early on, in the title itself; “The Latest Decalogue” is a very fitting title for the poem, as it hints at the fact that the poem is a Victorian take on the ten commandments, taking into account new social ideals. The poem itself is made up of the ten commandments, each followed by a hasty amendment ironically excusing Victorian behaviour. However, while this may be their apparent function, their true function is to expose the Victorians for the hypocrites they are by revealing the discrepancy between their supposed morals (for example “Bear not false witness;” (l. 17)) and their actions (“let the lie | Have time on its own wings to fly:” (l. 17-18)) which, relative to these morals, could well be described as debauchery. By using the English of the Authorised Version (Early Modern English) to evoke a modern phenomenon Clough is effectively using old language to convey a new message, illustrative of religious hypocrisy, this is representative of the Victorians; they hide their modern selves below a traditional outer shell. We see this throughout the poem, however a clear example is “At church on Sunday to attend | Will serve to keep the world thy friend:” (l. 8-9) where the poet uses Early modern English, an older version of English, to express the idea (however satirically) that Victorians should go to church every... ... middle of paper ... ...o convey his ideas on the Victorians and their attitude towards religion and money. “The Latest Decalogue” is both a parody of the ten commandments, and a satire on the Victorian period and its hypocrisy. This poem depicts a perversion of Christianity due to the decadence of organised faith, being a natural phenomenon in a modern and scientific world; revealing how Christianity plays a increasingly small role in everyday life during the Victorian period, as it is gradually replaced by evolution and other scientific ideas, as well as social Darwinism which lead the Victorians to strive towards the ideal of the self-made-man. The idea about the Victorian period which Clough expresses through “The Latest Decalogue” is that of money and science having usurped the place of religion in society, while religion is hypocritically kept for the sake of keeping up appearances.
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