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 Sunday in order to maintain a respectable reputation, a more recent stance on religion notably held by agnostics and atheists, highlighting the fact that some Victorian atheists still attend church, but in no religious goal. We see this idea again in the form of the poem.
Structure and rhythm both play important however dissimilar roles throughout “The Latest Decalogue”. The first thing the reader may notice are the three stanzas; 12, 8, and 4 lines long. The diminishing length of each stanza reflects the diminishing faith among the Victorians, attributable to many discoveries, inventions, and changing attitudes of the time, but mostly to Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, and similar such scientific advances.
The regular metre (tetrameter), simple rhyme scheme (rhyming couplets), and enjambment, all seen within this couplet “No graven images may be | Worshipped, except the currency.” (l. 3-4) though present throughout, give the poem a musical and gay sound which contrast with its serious subject matter and complement its ironic amendments to ultimately give it a decidedly...