A private joke

December 19 2006

I will [relate] a trivial incident which I witnessed myself at a meeting of the Board of Studies in History of a prominent and cosmopolitan Western university. We were considering the subjects for theses that were being offered by candidates for higher degrees, and I had fallen into a stupor as I listened to one title after another being recited and approved. Some of the subjects offered and accepted for research bore upon the minutiae of administration in the Kingdom of England and in one or two other parochial states of the Western World in the Middle Ages; others related to the diplomacy of the Western Balance of Power in more recent times. Suddenly I was roused by hearing the Secretary read out a proposal to investigate the social and political conditions of India in the age of the Guptas, and my mind immediately began to work. More light on one of those universal states that stand out as landmarks in the histories of civilizations; a study of the age in which Hellenism was finally expelled from the Indic World and in which the Buddha became a prophet without honour in his own country? Here at last was something on our agenda that might make our meeting worth while. This train of thought, which went through my mind in a flash, was cut short by a titter which ran round the Board. “May we ask the Secretary to read that name again?” said a member on my left; and, at the repetition of the word “Guptas”, the titter turned to loud laughter. I found that I was laughing, too – at the laughter of my colleagues – and, glancing round the room, I caught the eye of an Orientalist, sitting opposite. Silently we signalled to each other that we were enjoying a private joke of our own.

The Scholars

A Study of History, Vol I, OUP, 1934

4 Responses to “A private joke”


  1. […] quoted, in posts called The distraction of Mommsen, The silence of Acton, A changing library, A private joke and The wood for the […]


  2. […] The headmistress from Changsha September 17, 2008 Anglo-Saxon attitudes A private joke […]

  3. davidderrick Says:

    Whether the decline of Buddhism really began under the Guptas is questionable.


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