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Title: On the Art of Writing - Lectures delivered in the University of Cambridge 1913-1914
Author: Quiller-Couch, Arthur Thomas, Sir, 1863-1944
Language: English
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ON THE ART OF WRITING



CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS
C.F. CLAY, Manager
London: FETTER LANE, E.C.
Edinburgh: 100 PRINCES STREET.



Bombay, Calcutta and Madras: MACMILLAN & CO. LTD.
Toronto: J.M. DENT AND SONS, LTD.
Tokyo: THE MARUZEN-KABUSHIKI-KAISHA.


Copyrighted in the United States of America by
G.P. PUTNAM'S SONS,
2, 4 AND 6, WEST 45TH STREET, NEW YORK CITY.


All rights reserved



ON THE ART OF WRITING

LECTURES DELIVERED IN THE
UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE
1913-1914

BY

SIR ARTHUR QUILLER-COUCH, M.A.
Fellow of Jesus College
King Edward VII Professor of English Literature



Cambridge: at the University Press
1917


First Edition 1916
Reprinted 1916,1917



TO JOHN HAY LOBBAN



PREFACE


By recasting these lectures I might with pains have turned them into a
smooth treatise. But I prefer to leave them (bating a very few
corrections and additions) as they were delivered. If, as the reader will
all too easily detect, they abound no less in repetitions than in
arguments dropped and left at loose ends--the whole bewraying a man
called unexpectedly to a post where in the act of adapting himself, of
learning that he might teach, he had often to adjourn his main purpose
and skirmish with difficulties--they will be the truer to life; and so
may experimentally enforce their preaching, that the Art of Writing is a
living business.

Bearing this in mind, the reader will perhaps excuse certain small
vivacities, sallies that meet fools with their folly, masking the main
attack. _That_, we will see, is serious enough; and others will carry it
on, though my effort come to naught.

It amounts to this--Literature is not a mere Science, to be studied; but
an Art, to be practised. Great as is our own literature, we must consider
it as a legacy to be improved. Any nation that potters with any glory of
its past, as a thing dead and done for, is to that extent renegade. If
that be granted, not all our pride in a Shakespeare can excuse the
relaxation of an effort--however vain and hopeless--to better him, or
some part of him. If, with all our native exemplars to give us courage,
we persist in striving to write well, we can easily resign to other
nations all the secondary fame to be picked up by commentators.

Recent history has strengthened, with passion and scorn, the faith in
which I wrote the following pages.

ARTHUR QUILLER-COUCH
November 1915



CONTENTS



LECTURE

I     INAUGURAL

II    THE PRACTICE OF WRITING

III   ON THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN VERSE AND PROSE

IV    ON THE CAPITAL DIFFICULTY OF VERSE

V     INTERLUDE: ON JARGON

VI    ON THE CAPITAL DIFFICULTY OF PROSE

VII   SOME PRINCIPLES REAFFIRMED

VIII  ON THE LINEAGE OF ENGLISH LITERATURE (I)

IX    ON THE LINEAGE OF ENGLISH LITERATURE (II)

X     ENGLISH LITERATURE IN OUR UNIVERSITIES (I)

XI    ENGLISH LITERATURE IN OUR UNIVERSITIES (II)

XII   ON STYLE


      INDEX



LECTURE I.

INAUGURAL

Wednesday, January 29, 1913


In all the long quarrel set between philosophy and poetry I know of
nothing finer, as of nothing more pathetically hopeless, than Plato's
return upon himself in his last dialogue 'The Laws.' There are who find
that dialogue (left unrevised) insufferably dull, as no doubt it is
without form and garrulous. But I think they will read it with a new
tolerance, may-be even with a touch of feeling, if upon second thoughts
they recognise in its twisting and turnings, its prolixities and
repetitions, the scruples of an old man who, knowing that his time in
this world is short, would not go out of it pretending to know more than
he does, and even in matters concerning which he was once very sure has
come to divine that, after all, as Renan says, 'La Verité consiste dans
les nuances.' Certainly 'the mind's dark cottage battered and decayed'
does in that last dialogue admit some wonderful flashes,

     From Heaven descended to the low-roofed house
     Of Socrates,

or rather to that noble 'banquet-hall deserted' which aforetime had
entertained Socrates.

Suffer me, Mr Vice-Chancellor and Gentlemen, before reaching my text, to
remind you of the characteristically beautiful setting. The place is
Crete, and the three interlocutors--Cleinias a Cretan, Megillus a
Lacedaemonian, and an Athenian stranger--have joined company on a
pilgrimage to the cave and shrine of Zeus, from whom Minos, first
lawgiver of the island, had reputedly derived not only his parentage but
much parental instruction. Now the day being hot, even scorching, and the
road from Cnossus to the Sacred Cave a long one, our three pilgrims, who
have foregathered as elderly men, take it at their leisure, and propose
to beguile it with talk upon Minos and his laws. 'Yes, and on the way,'
promises the Cretan, 'we shall come to cypress-groves exceedingly tall
and fair, and to green meadows, where we may repose ourselves and
converse.' 'Good,' assents the Athenian. 'Ay, very good indeed, and
better still when we arrive at them. Let us push on.'

So they proceed. I have said that all three are elderly men; that is, men
who have had their opportunities, earned their wages, and so nearly
earned their discharge that now, looking back on life, they can afford to
see Man for what he really is--at his best a noble plaything for the
gods. Yet they look forward, too, a little wistfully. They are of the
world, after all, and nowise so tired of it, albeit disillusioned, as to
have lost interest in the game or in the young who will carry it on. So
Minos and his laws soon get left behind, and the talk (as so often
befalls with Plato) is of the perfect citizen and how to train him--of
education, in short; and so, as ever with Plato, we are back at length
upon the old question which he could never get out of his way--What to do
with the poets?

It scarcely needs to be said that the Athenian has taken hold of the
conversation, and that the others are as wax in his hands. 'O Athenian
stranger,' Cleinias addresses him--'inhabitant of Attica I will not call
you, for you seem to deserve rather the name of Athene herself, because
you go back to first principles.' Thus complimented, the stranger lets
himself go. Yet somehow he would seem to have lost speculative nerve.

It was all very well in the 'Republic,' the ideal State, to be bold and
declare for banishing poetry altogether. But elderly men have given up
pursuing ideals; they have 'seen too many leaders of revolt.' Our
Athenian is driving now at practice (as we say), at a well-governed State
realisable on earth; and after all it is hard to chase out the poets,
especially if you yourself happen to be something of a poet at heart.
Hear, then, the terms on which, after allowing that comedies may be
performed, but only by slaves and hirelings, he proceeds to allow serious
poetry.

  And if any of the serious poets, as they are termed, who write tragedy,
  come to us and say--'O strangers, may we go to your city and country,
  or may we not, and shall we bring with us our poetry? What is your will
  about these matters?'--how shall we answer the divine men? I think that
  our answer should be as follows:--

  'Best of strangers,' we will say to them, 'we also, according to our
  ability, are tragic poets, and our tragedy is the best and noblest: for
  our whole state is an imitation of the best and noblest life.... You are
  poets and we are poets, both makers of the same strains, rivals and
  antagonists in the noblest of dramas, which true law alone can perfect,
  as our hope is. Do not then suppose that we shall all in a moment allow
  you to erect your stage in the Agora, and introduce the fair voices of
  your actors, speaking above our own, and permit you to harangue our
  women and children and the common people in language other than our
  own, and very often the opposite of our own. For a State would be mad
  which gave you this license, until the magistrates had determined
  whether your poetry might be recited and was fit for publication or
  not. Wherefore, O ye sons and scions of the softer Muses! first of all
  show your songs to the Magistrates and let them compare them with our
  own, and if they are the same or better, we will give you a chorus; but
  if not, then, my friends, we cannot.'

Lame conclusion! Impotent compromise! How little applicable, at all
events, to our Commonwealth! though, to be sure (you may say) we possess
a relic of it in His Majesty's Licenser of Plays. As you know, there has
been so much heated talk of late over the composition of the County
Magistracy; yet I give you a countryman's word, Sir, that I have heard
many names proposed for the Commission of the Peace, and on many grounds,
but never one on the ground that its owner had a conservative taste in
verse!

Nevertheless, as Plato saw, we must deal with these poets somehow. It is
possible (though not, I think, likely) that in the ideal State there
would be no Literature, as it is certain there would be no Professors of
it; but since its invention men have never been able to rid themselves of
it for any length of time. _Tamen usque recurrit._ They may forbid
Apollo, but still he comes leading his choir, the Nine:--

  [Greek: Akletos men egoge menoimi ken es de kaleunton
  Tharsesas Moisaisi snu amepeaisin ikoiman.]

And he may challenge us English boldly! For since Chaucer, at any rate,
he and his train have never been [Greek: akletoi] to us--least of all
here in Cambridge.

Nay, we know that he should be welcome. Cardinal Newman, proposing the
idea of a University to the Roman Catholics of Dublin, lamented that the
English language had not, like the Greek, 'some definite words to
express, simply and generally, intellectual proficiency or perfection,
such as "health," as used with reference to the animal frame, and
"virtue," with reference to our moral nature.' Well, it is a reproach to
us that we do not possess the term: and perhaps again a reproach to us
that our attempts at it--the word 'culture' for instance--have been apt
to take on some soil of controversy, some connotative damage from
over-preaching on the one hand and impatience on the other. But we do
earnestly desire the thing. We do prize that grace of intellect which
sets So-and-so in our view as 'a scholar and a gentleman.' We do wish as
many sons of this University as may be to carry forth that lifelong stamp
from her precincts; and--this is my point--from our notion of such a man
the touch of literary grace cannot be excluded. I put to you for a test
Lucian's description of his friend Demonax--

  His way was like other people's; he mounted no high horse; he was just
  a man and a citizen. He indulged in no Socratic irony. But his
  discourse was full of Attic grace; those who heard it went away neither
  disgusted by servility, nor repelled by ill-tempered censure, but on
  the contrary lifted out of themselves by charity, and encouraged to
  more orderly, contented, hopeful lives.

I put it to you, Sir, that Lucian needs not to say another word, but we
know that Demonax had loved letters, and partly by aid of them had
arrived at being such a man. No; by consent of all, Literature is a nurse
of noble natures, and right reading makes a full man in a sense even
better than Bacon's; not replete, but complete rather, to the pattern for
which Heaven designed him. In this conviction, in this hope, public
spirited men endow Chairs in our Universities, sure that Literature is a
good thing if only we can bring it to operate on young minds.

That he has in him some power to guide such operation a man must believe
before accepting such a Chair as this. And now, Sir, the terrible moment
is come when your [Greek: xenos] must render some account--I will not say
of himself, for that cannot be attempted--but of his business here. Well,
first let me plead that while you have been infinitely kind to the
stranger, feasting him and casting a gown over him, one thing not all
your kindness has been able to do. With precedents, with traditions such
as other Professors enjoy, you could not furnish him. The Chair is a new
one, or almost new, and for the present would seem to float in the void,
like Mahomet's coffin. Wherefore, being one who (in my Lord Chief Justice
Crewe's phrase) would 'take hold of a twig or twine-thread to uphold it';
being also prone (with Bacon) to believe that 'the counsels to which Time
hath not been called, Time will not ratify'; I do assure you that, had
any legacy of guidance been discovered among the papers left by my
predecessor, it would have been eagerly welcomed and as piously honoured.
O, trust me, Sir!--if any design for this Chair of English Literature had
been left by Dr Verrall, it is not I who would be setting up any new
stage in your agora! But in his papers--most kindly searched for me by
Mrs Verrall--no such design can be found. He was, in truth, a stricken
man when he came to the Chair, and of what he would have built we can
only be sure that, had it been this or had it been that, it would
infallibly have borne the impress of one of the most beautiful minds of
our generation. The gods saw otherwise; and for me, following him, I came
to a trench and stretched my hands to a shade.

For me, then, if you put questions concerning the work of this Chair, I
must take example from the artist in Don Quixote, who being asked what he
was painting, answered modestly, 'That is as it may turn out.' The course
is uncharted, and for sailing directions I have but these words of your
Ordinance:

     It shall be the duty of the Professor to deliver courses of lectures
     on English Literature from the age of Chaucer onwards, and otherwise
     to promote, so far as may be in his power, the study in the
     University of the subject of English Literature.

And I never even knew that English Literature had a 'subject'; or,
rather, supposed it to have several! To resume:

     The Professor shall treat this subject on literary and critical
     rather than on philological and linguistic lines:

--a proviso which at any rate cuts off a cantle, large in itself, if not
comparatively, of the new Professor's ignorance. But I ask you to note
the phrase 'to promote, so far as may be in his power, the study'--not,
you will observe, 'to teach'; for this absolves me from raising at the
start a question of some delicacy for me, as Green launched his
"Prolegomena to Ethics" upon the remark that 'an author who seeks to gain
general confidence scarcely goes the right way to work when he begins
with asking whether there really is such a subject as that of which he
proposes to treat.' In spite of--mark, pray, that I say _in spite
of_--the activity of many learned Professors, some doubt does lurk in
the public mind if, after all, English Literature can, in any ordinary
sense, be taught, and if the attempts to teach it do not, after all,
justify (as Wisdom is so often justified of her grandparents) the
silence sapience of those old benefactors who abstained from endowing
any such Chairs.

But that the study of English Literature can be promoted in young minds
by an elder one, that their zeal may be encouraged, their tastes
directed, their vision cleared, quickened, enlarged--this, I take it, no
man of experience will deny. Nay, since our two oldest Universities have
a habit of marking one another with interest--an interest, indeed,
sometimes heightened by nervousness--I may point out that all this has
been done of late years, and eminently done, by a Cambridge man you gave
to Oxford. This, then, Mr Vice-Chancellor--this or something like this,
Gentlemen--is to be my task if I have the good fortune to win your
confidence.

Let me, then, lay down two or three principles by which I propose to be
guided. (1) For the first principle of all I put to you that in studying
any work of genius we should begin by taking it _absolutely_; that is to
say, with minds intent on discovering just what the author's mind
intended; this being at once the obvious approach to its meaning (its
[Greek: to ti en einai], the 'thing it was to be'), and the merest duty
of politeness we owe to the great man addressing us. We should lay our
minds open to what he wishes to tell, and if what he has to tell be noble
and high and beautiful, we should surrender and let soak our minds in it.

Pray understand that in claiming, even insisting upon, the first place
for this _absolute_ study of a great work I use no disrespect towards
those learned scholars whose labours will help you, Gentlemen, to enjoy
it afterwards in other ways and from other aspects; since I hold there is
no surer sign of intellectual ill-breeding than to speak, even to feel,
slightingly of any knowledge oneself does not happen to possess. Still
less do I aim to persuade you that anyone should be able to earn a
Cambridge degree by the process (to borrow Macaulay's phrase) of reading
our great authors 'with his feet on the hob,' a posture I have not even
tried, to recommend it for a contemplative man's recreation. These
editors not only set us the priceless example of learning for learning's
sake: but even in practice they clear our texts for us, and
afterwards--when we go more minutely into our author's acquaintance,
wishing to learn all we can about him--by increasing our knowledge of
detail they enchance our delight. Nay, with certain early writers--say
Chaucer or Dunbar, as with certain highly allusive ones--Bacon, or
Milton, or Sir Thomas Browne--some apparatus must be supplied from the
start. But on the whole I think it a fair contention that such helps to
studying an author are secondary and subsidiary; that, for example, with
any author who by consent is less of his age than for all time, to study
the relation he bore to his age may be important indeed, and even highly
important, yet must in the nature of things be of secondary importance,
not of the first.

But let us examine this principle a little more attentively--for it is
the palmary one. As I conceive it, that understanding of literature which
we desire in our Euphues, our gracefully-minded youth, will include
knowledge in varying degree, yet is itself something distinct from
knowledge. Let us illustrate this upon Poetry, which the most of us will
allow to be the highest form of literary expression, if not of all
artistic expression. Of all the testimony paid to Poetry, none commands
better witness than this--that, as Johnson said of Gray's Elegy 'it
abounds with images which find a mirror in every mind, and with
sentiments to which every heart returns an echo.' When George Eliot said,
'I never before met with so many of my own feelings expressed just as I
should like them,' she but repeated of Wordsworth (in homelier, more
familiar fashion) what Johnson said of Gray; and the same testimony lies
implicit in Emerson's fine remark that 'Universal history, the poets, the
romancers'--all good writers, in short--'do not anywhere make us feel
that we intrude, that this is for our betters. Rather it is true that, in
their greatest strokes, there we feel most at home.' The mass of
evidence, of which these are samples, may be summarised thus:--As we
dwell here between two mysteries, of a soul within and an ordered
Universe without, so among us are granted to dwell certain men of more
delicate intellectual fibre than their fellows--men whose minds have, as
it were, filaments to intercept, apprehend, conduct, translate home to us
stray messages between these two mysteries, as modern telegraphy has
learnt to search out, snatch, gather home human messages astray over
waste waters of the Ocean.

If, then, the ordinary man be done this service by the poet, that (as Dr
Johnson defines it) 'he feels what he remembers to have felt before, but
he feels it _with a great increase of sensibility_'; or even if, though
the message be unfamiliar, it suggests to us, in Wordsworth's phrase, to
'feel that we are greater than we know,' I submit that we respond to it
less by anything that usually passes for knowledge, than by an
improvement of sensibility, a tuning up of the mind to the poet's pitch;
so that the man we are proud to send forth from our Schools will be
remarkable less for something he can take out of his wallet and exhibit
for knowledge, than for _being_ something, and that 'something,' a man of
unmistakable intellectual breeding, whose trained judgment we can trust
to choose the better and reject the worse.

But since this refining of the critical judgment happens to be less easy
of practice than the memorising of much that passes for knowledge--of
what happened to Harriet or what Blake said to the soldier--and far less
easy to examine on, the pedagogic mind (which I implore you not to
suppose me confusing with the scholarly) for avoidance of trouble tends
all the while to dodge or obfuscate what is essential, piling up
accidents and irrelevancies before it until its very face is hidden. And
we should be the more watchful not to confuse the pedagogic mind with the
scholarly since it is from the scholar that the pedagogue pretends to
derive his sanction; ransacking the great genuine commentators--be it a
Skeat or a Masson or (may I add for old reverence' sake?) an Aldis
Wright--fetching home bits of erudition, _non sua poma_, and announcing
'This _must_ be the true Sion, for we found it in a wood.'

Hence a swarm of little school books pullulates annually, all upside down
and wrong from beginning to end; and hence a worse evil afflicts us, that
the English schoolboy starts with a false perspective of any given
masterpiece, his pedagogue urging, obtruding lesser things upon his
vision until what is really important, the poem or the play itself, is
seen in distorted glimpses, if not quite blocked out of view.

This same temptation--to remove a work of art from the category for which
the author designed it into another where it can be more conveniently
studied--reaches even above the schoolmaster to assail some very eminent
critics. I cite an example from a book of which I shall hereafter have to
speak with gratitude as I shall always name it with respect--"The History
of English Poetry," by Dr Courthope, sometime Professor of Poetry at
Oxford. In his fourth volume, and in his estimate of Fletcher as a
dramatist, I find this passage:--

     But the crucial test of a play's quality is only applied when it is
     read. So long as the illusion of the stage gives credit to the
     action, and the words and gestures of the actor impose themselves on
     the imagination of the spectator, the latter will pass over a
     thousand imperfections, which reveal themselves to the reader, who,
     as he has to satisfy himself with the drama of silent images, will
     nor be content if this or that in any way fall short of his
     conception of truth and nature,

--which seems equivalent to saying that the crucial test of the frieze of
the Parthenon is its adaptability to an apartment in Bloomsbury. So long
as the illusion of the Acropolis gave credit to Pheidias' design, and the
sunlight of Attica imposed its delicate intended shadows edging the
reliefs, the countrymen of Pericles might be tricked; but the visitor to
the British Museum, as he has to satisfy himself with what happens
indoors in the atmosphere of the West Central Postal Division of London,
will not be content if Pheidias in any way fall short of _his_ conception
of truth and nature. Yet Fletcher (I take it) constructed his plays as
plays; the illusion of the stage, the persuasiveness of the actor's
voice, were conditions for which he wrought, and on which he had a right
to rely; and, in short, any critic behaves uncritically who, distrusting
his imagination to recreate the play as a play, elects to consider it in
the category of something else.

In sum, if the great authors never oppress us with airs of condescension,
but, like the great lords they are, put the meanest of us at our ease in
their presence, I see no reason why we should pay to any commentator a
servility not demanded by his master.

My next two principles may be more briefly stated.

(2) I propose next, then, that since our investigations will deal largely
with style, that curiously personal thing; and since (as I have said)
they cannot in their nature be readily brought to rule-of-thumb tests,
and may therefore so easily be suspected of evading all tests, of being
mere dilettantism; I propose (I say) that my pupils and I rebuke this
suspicion by constantly aiming at the concrete, at the study of such
definite beauties as we can see presented in print under our eyes; always
seeking the author's intention, but eschewing, for the present at any
rate, all general definitions and theories, through the sieve of which
the particular achievement of genius is so apt to slip. And having
excluded them at first in prudence, I make little doubt we shall go on to
exclude them in pride. Definitions, formulæ (some would add, creeds) have
their use in any society in that they restrain the ordinary
unintellectual man from making himself a public nuisance with his private
opinions. But they go a very little way in helping the man who has a real
sense of prose or verse. In other words, they are good discipline for
some thyrsus-bearers, but the initiated have little use for them. As
Thomas à Kempis 'would rather feel compunction than understand the
definition thereof,' so the initiated man will say of the 'Grand Style,'
for example--'Why define it for me?' When Viola says simply:

     I am all the daughters of my father's house,
     And all the brothers too,

or Macbeth demands of the Doctor

     Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased,
     Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow..?

or Hamlet greets Ophelia, reading her Book of Hours, with

     Nymph, in thy orisons
     Be all my sins remembered!

or when Milton tells of his dead friend how

     Together both, ere the high lawns appear'd
     Under the opening eyelids of the morn,
     We drove afield,

or describes the battalions of Heaven

     On they move
     Indissolubly firm: nor obvious hill,
     Nor strait'ning vale, nor wood, nor stream divide
     Their perfect ranks,

or when Gray exalts the great commonplace

     The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
     And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
     Awaits alike th' inevitable hour;
     The paths of glory lead but to the grave,

or when Keats casually drops us such a line as

     The journey homeward to habitual self,

or, to come down to our own times and to a living poet, when I open on a
page of William Watson and read

     O ancient streams, O far descended woods,
     Full of the fluttering of melodious souls!...

'why then (will say the initiated one), why worry me with any definition
of the Grand Style in English, when here, and here, and again here--in
all these lines, simple or intense or exquisite or solemn--I recognise
and feel the _thing_?'

Indeed, Sir, the long and the short of the argument lie just here.
Literature is not an abstract Science, to which exact definitions can be
applied. It is an Art rather, the success of which depends on personal
persuasiveness, on the author's skill to give as on ours to receive.

(3) For our third principle I will ask you to go back with me to Plato's
wayfarers, whom we have left so long under the cypresses; and loth as we
must be to lay hands on our father Parmenides, I feel we must treat the
gifted Athenian stranger to a little manhandling. For did you not
observe--though Greek was a living language and to his metropolitan mind
the only language--how envious he showed himself to seal up the well, or
allow it to trickle only under permit of a public analyst: to treat all
innovation as suspect, even as, a hundred odd years ago, the Lyrical
Ballads were suspect?

But the very hope of this Chair, Sir (as I conceive it), relies on the
courage of the young. As Literature is an Art and therefore not to be
pondered only, but practised, so ours is a living language and therefore
to be kept alive, supple, active in all honourable use. The orator can
yet sway men, the poet ravish them, the dramatist fill their lungs with
salutary laughter or purge their emotions by pity or terror.
The  historian 'superinduces upon events the charm of order.'
The novelist--well, even the novelist has his uses; and I would warn you
against despising any form of art which is alive and pliant in the hands
of men. For my part, I believe, bearing in mind Mr. Barrie's "Peter Pan"
and the old bottles he renovated to hold that joyous wine, that even
Musical Comedy, in the hands of a master, might become a thing of
beauty. Of the Novel, at any rate--whether we like it or not--we have to
admit that it does hold a commanding position in the literature of our
times, and to consider how far Mr. Lascelles Abercrombie was right the
other day when he claimed, on the first page of his brilliant study of
Thomas Hardy, that 'the right to such a position is not to be disputed;
for here, as elsewhere, the right to a position is no more than the
power to maintain it.' You may agree with that or you may not; you may
or may not deplore the forms that literature is choosing now-a-days; but
there is no gainsaying that it is still very much alive. And I would say
to you, Gentlemen, 'Believe, and be glad that Literature and the English
tongue are both alive.' Carlyle, in his explosive way, once demanded of
his countrymen, 'Shakespeare or India? If you had to surrender one to
retain the other, which would you choose?' Well, our Indian Empire is
yet in the making, while the works of Shakespeare are complete and
purchasable in whole calf; so the alternatives are scarcely _in pari
materia_; and moreover let us not be in a hurry to meet trouble half
way. But in English Literature, which, like India, is still in the
making, you have at once an Empire and an Emprise. In that alone you
have inherited something greater than Sparta. Let us strive, each in his
little way, to adorn it.

But here at the close of my hour, the double argument, that Literature is
an Art and English a living tongue, has led me right up to a fourth
principle, the plunge into which (though I foresaw it from the first) all
the coward in me rejoices at having to defer to another lecture. I
conclude then, Gentlemen, by answering two suspicions, which very likely
have been shaping themselves in your minds. In the first place, you will
say, 'It is all very well for this man to talk about "cultivating an
increased sensibility," and the like; but we know what that leads to--to
quackery, to aesthetic chatter: "Isn't this pretty? Don't you admire
that?"' Well, I am not greatly frightened. To begin with, when we come to
particular criticism I shall endeavour to exchange it with you in plain
terms; a manner which (to quote Mr Robert Bridges' "Essay on Keats") 'I
prefer, because by obliging the lecturer to say definitely what he means,
it makes his mistakes easy to point out, and in this way the true
business of criticism is advanced.' But I have a second safeguard, more
to be trusted: that here in Cambridge, with all her traditions of austere
scholarship, anyone who indulges in loose distinct talk will be quickly
recalled to his tether. Though at the time Athene be not kind enough to
descend from heaven and pluck him backward by the hair, yet the very
_genius loci_ will walk home with him from the lecture room, whispering
monitions, cruel to be kind.

'But,' you will say alternatively, 'if we avoid loose talk on these
matters we are embarking on a mighty difficult business.' Why, to be sure
we are; and that, I hope, will be half the enjoyment. After all, we have
a number of critics among whose methods we may search for help--from the
Persian monarch who, having to adjudicate upon two poems, caused the one
to be read to him, and at once, without ado, awarded the prize to the
other, up to the great Frenchman whom I shall finally invoke to sustain
my hope of building something; that is if you, Gentlemen, will be content
to accept me less as a Professor than as an Elder Brother.

The Frenchman is Sainte-Beuve, and I pay a debt, perhaps appropriately
here, by quoting him as translated by the friend of mine, now dead, who
first invited me to Cambridge and taught me to admire her--one Arthur
John Butler, sometime a Fellow of Trinity, and later a great pioneer
among Englishmen in the study of Dante. Thus while you listen to the
appeal of Sainte-Beuve, I can hear beneath it a more intimate voice, not
for the first time, encouraging me.

Sainte-Beuve then--_si magna licet componere parvis_--is delivering an
Inaugural Lecture in the École Normale, the date being April 12th, 1858.
'Gentlemen,' he begins, 'I have written a good deal in the last thirty
years; that is, I have scattered myself a good deal; so that I need to
gather myself together, in order that my words may come before you with
all the more freedom and confidence.' That is his opening; and he ends:--

     As time goes on, you will make me believe that I can for my part be
     of some good to you: and with the generosity of your age you will
     repay me, in this feeling alone, far more than I shall be able to
     give you in intellectual freedom, in literary thought.  If in one
     sense I bestow on you some of my experience, you will requite me,
     and in a more profitable manner, by the sight of your ardour for
     what is noble: you will accustom me to turn oftener and more
     willingly towards the future in your company. You will teach me
     again to hope.



LECTURE II.

THE PRACTICE OF WRITING.

Wednesday, February 12


We found, Gentlemen, towards the close of our first lecture, that the
argument had drawn us, as by a double chain, up to the edge of a bold
leap, over which I deferred asking you to take the plunge with me. Yet
the plunge must be taken, and to-day I see nothing for it but to harden
our hearts.

Well, then, I propose to you that, English Literature being (as we
agreed) an Art, with a living and therefore improvable language for its
medium or vehicle, a part--and no small part--of our business is _to
practise it._ Yes, I seriously propose to you that here in Cambridge we
_practise writing_: that we practise it not only for our own improvement,
but to make, or at least try to make, appropriate, perspicuous, accurate,
persuasive writing a recognisable hall-mark of anything turned out by our
English School. By all means let us study the great writers of the past
for their own sakes; but let us study them for our guidance; that we, in
our turn, having (it is to be hoped) something to say in our span of
time, say it worthily, not dwindling out the large utterance of
Shakespeare or of Burke. Portraits of other great ones look down on you
in your college halls: but while you are young and sit at the brief
feast, what avails their serene gaze if it do not lift up your hearts and
movingly persuade you to match your manhood to its inheritance?

I protest, Gentlemen, that if our eyes had not been sealed, as with wax,
by the pedagogues of whom I spoke a fortnight ago, this one habit of
regarding our own literature as a _hortus siccus_, this our neglect to
practise good writing as the constant auxiliary of an Englishman's
liberal education, would be amazing to you seated here to-day as it will
be starkly incredible to the future historian of our times. Tell me,
pray; if it concerned _Painting_--an art in which Englishmen boast a
record far briefer, far less distinguished--what would you think of a
similar acquiescence in the past, a like haste to presume the dissolution
of aptitude and to close accounts, a like precipitancy to divorce us from
the past, to rob the future of hope and even the present of lively
interest? Consider, for reproof of these null men, the Discourses
addressed (in a pedantic age, too) by Sir Joshua Reynolds to the Members
and Students of the Royal Academy. He has (as you might expect) enough to
say of Tintoretto, of Titian, of Caracci, and of the duty of studying
their work with patience, with humility. But why does he exhort his
hearers to con them?--Why, because he is all the time _driving at
practice_. Hear how he opens his second Discourse (his first to the
Students). After congratulating the prize-winners of 1769, he desires 'to
lead them into such a course of study as may render their future progress
answerable to their past improvement'; and the great man goes on:--

     I flatter myself that from the long experience I have had, and the
     necessary assiduity with which I have pursued these studies in which
     like you I have been engaged, I shall be acquitted of vanity in
     offering some hints to your consideration. They are indeed in a
     great degree founded upon my own mistakes in the same pursuit....

Mark the noble modesty of that! To resume--

     In speaking to you of the Theory of the Art, I shall only consider
     it as it has relation to the method of your studies.

And then he proceeds to preach the Old Masters.--But how?--why?--to what
end? Does he recite lists of names, dates, with formulae concerning
styles? He does nothing of the sort.  Does he recommend his old masters
for copying, then?--for mere imitation? Not a bit of it!--he comes down
like a hammer on copying. Then for what, in fine, will he have them
studied? Listen:--

     The more extensive your acquaintance is with the works of those who
     have excelled, the more extensive will be your powers of invention.

Yes, of _invention_, your power to make something new:

     --and what may appear still more like a paradox, _the more original
     will be your conceptions_.

There spake Sir Joshua Reynolds: and I call that the voice of a true
Elder Brother. He, standing face to face with the young, thought of the
old masters mainly as spiritual begetters of practice. And will anyone in
this room tell me that what Reynolds said of painting is not to-day, for
us, applicable to writing?

We accept it of Greek and Latin. An old Sixth Form master once said to
me, 'You may give up Latin Verse for this term, if you will: but I warn
you, no one can be a real scholar who does not constantly practise
verse.' He was mistaken, belike. I hold, for my part, that in our Public
Schools, we give up a quite disproportionate amount of time to
'composition' (of Latin Prose especially) and starve the boys' reading
thereby.  But at any rate we do give up a large share of the time to it.
Then if we insist on this way with the tongues of Homer and Virgil, why
do we avoid it with the tongue of Shakespeare, our own living tongue? I
answer by quoting one of the simplest wisest sayings of Don Quixote
(Gentlemen, you will easily, as time goes on, and we better our
acquaintance, discover my favourite authors):--

     The great Homer wrote not in Latin, for he was a Greek; and Virgil
     wrote not in Greek, because he was a Latin. In brief, all the
     ancient poets wrote in the tongue which they sucked in with their
     mother's milk, nor did they go forth to seek for strange ones to
     express the greatness of their conceptions: and, this being so, it
     should be a reason for the fashion to extend to all nations.

Does the difference, then, perchance lie in ourselves? Will you tell me,
'Oh, painting is a special art, whereas anyone can write prose passably
well'? Can he, indeed?... Can _you,_ sir? Nay, believe me, you are either
an archangel or a very bourgeois gentleman indeed if you admit to having
spoken English prose all your life without knowing it.

Indeed, when we try to speak prose without having practised it the result
is apt to be worse than our own vernacular. How often have I heard some
worthy fellow addressing a public audience!--say a Parliamentary
candidate who believes himself a Liberal Home Ruler, and for the moment
is addressing himself to meet some criticism of the financial proposals
of a Home Rule Bill. His own vernacular would be somewhat as follows:--

     Oh, rot! Give the Irish their heads and they'll run straight enough.
     Look at the Boers, don't you know. Not half such a decent sort as
     the Irish. Look at Irish horses, too. Eh? What?

But this, he is conscious, would hardly suit the occasion. He therefore
amends it thus:--

     Mr Chairman--er--as regards the financial proposals of His Majesty's
     Government, I am of the deliberate--er--opinion that our national
     security--I may say, our Imperial security--our security as--er--a
     governing people--lies in trusting the Irish as we did in the--er
     --case of the Boers--H'm Mr Gladstone, Mr Chairman--Mr Chairman, Mr
     Gladstone----

and so on. You perceive that the style is actually worse than in the
sample quoted before; it has become flabby whereas that other was at any
rate nervous? But now suppose that, having practised it, our candidate
was able to speak like this:--

  'But what (says the Financier) is peace to us without money? Your plan
  gives us no revenue.' No? But it does--for it secures to the subject
  the power of Refusal, the first of all Revenues. Experience is a cheat,
  and fact is a liar, if this power in the subject of proportioning his
  grant, or of not granting at all, has not been found the richest mine
  of Revenue ever discovered by the skill or by the fortune of man. It
  does not indeed vote you 152,750 pounds 11 shillings 2 3/4 pence, nor
  any other paltry limited sum--but it gives you the strong box itself,
  the fund, the bank, from whence only revenues can arise among a people
  sensible of freedom: _Positâ luditur arcâ_.... Is this principle to be
  true in England, and false everywhere else? Is it not true in Ireland?
  Has it not hitherto been true in the Colonies? Why should you presume
  that in any country a body duly constituted for any function will
  neglect to perform its duty and abdicate its trust? Such a presumption
  would go against all Governments in all nations. But in truth this
  dread of penury of supply, from a free assembly, has no foundation in
  nature. For first, observe that, besides the desire which all men have
  naturally of supporting the honour of their own Government, that sense
  of dignity, and that security to property, which ever attend freedom,
  have a tendency to increase the stock of a free community. Most may be
  taken where most is accumulated. And what is the soil or climate where
  experience has not uniformly proved that the voluntary flow of
  heaped-up plenty, bursting from the weight of its own luxuriance, has
  ever run with a more copious stream of revenue than could be squeezed
  from the dry husks of oppressed indigence by the straining of all the
  politic machinery in the world?

That, whether you agree or disagree with its doctrine, is great prose.
That is Burke. 'O Athenian stranger,' said the Cretan I quoted in my
first lecture,--'inhabitant of Attica I will not call you, since you
deserve the name of Athene herself, because you go back to first
principles!'

But, you may object, 'Burke is talking like a book, and I have no wish to
talk like a book.' Well, as a fact, Burke is here at the culmen of a long
sustained argument, and his language has soared with it, as his way
was--logic and emotion lifting him together as upon two balanced majestic
wings. But you are shy of such heights? Very well again, and all credit
to your modesty! Yet at least (I appeal to that same modesty) when you
talk or write, you would wish to _observe the occasion_; to say what you
have to say without impertinence or ill-timed excess. You would not
harangue a drawing-room or a subcommittee, or be facetious at a funeral,
or play the skeleton at a banquet: for in all such conduct you would be
mixing up things that differ. Be cheerful, then: for this desire of yours
to be appropriate is really the root of the matter. Nor do I ask you to
accept this on my sole word, but will cite you the most respectable
witnesses. Take, for instance, a critic who should be old enough to
impress you--Dionysius of Halicarnassus. After enumerating the qualities
which lend charm and nobility to style, he closes the list with
'appropriateness, which all these need':--

     As there is a charming diction, so there is another that is noble;
     as there is a polished rhythm, so there is another that is
     dignified; as variety adds grace in one passage, so in another it
     adds fulness; _and as for appropriation, it will prove the chief
     source of beauty, or else of nothing at all_.

Or listen to Cicero, how he sets appropriateness in the very heart of his
teaching, as the master secret:--

     Is erit eloquens qui poterit parva summisse, modica temperate, magna
     graviter dicere.... Qui ad id quodcunque decebit poterit accommodare
     orationem. Quod quum statuerit, tum, ut quidque erit dicendum, ita
     dicet, nec satura jejune, nec grandia minute, nec item contra, sed
     erit rebus ipsis par et aequalis oratio.

     'Whatever his theme he will speak as becomes it; neither meagrely
     where it is copious, nor meanly where it is ample, nor in _this_ way
     where it demands _that_; but keeping his speech level with the
     actual subject and adequate to it.'

I might quote another great man, Quintilian, to you on the first
importance of this appropriateness, or 'propriety'; of speaking not only
to the purpose but _becomingly_--though the two as (he rightly says) are
often enough one and the same thing. But I will pass on to what has ever
seemed, since I found it in one of Jowett's 'Introductions' to Plato, the
best definition known to me of good style in literature:--

     The perfection of style is variety in unity, freedom, ease,
     clearness, the power of saying anything, and of striking any note in
     the scale of human feelings, without impropriety.

You see, O my modest friend! that your gamut needs not to be very wide,
to begin with. The point is that within it you learn to play becomingly.

Now I started by proposing that we try together to make appropriate,
perspicuous, accurate, persuasive writing a hall-mark of anything turned
out by our English School here, and I would add (growing somewhat
hardier) a hall-mark of all Cambridge style so far as our English School
can influence it. I chose these four epithets _accurate, perspicuous,
persuasive, appropriate_, with some care, of course as my duty was; and
will assume that by this time we are agreed to desire _appropriateness_.
Now for the other three:--

_Perspicuity._--I shall waste no words on the need of this: since the
first aim of speech is to be understood. The more clearly you write the
more easily and surely you will be understood. I propose to demonstrate
to you further, in a minute or so, that the more clearly you write the
more clearly you will understand yourself. But a sufficient reason has
been given in ten words why you should desire perspicuity.

_Accuracy._--Did I not remind myself in my first lecture, that Cambridge
is the home of accurate scholarship? Surely no Cambridge man would
willingly be a sloven in speech, oral or written? Surely here, if
anywhere, should be acknowledged of all what Newman says of the classics,
that 'a certain unaffected neatness and propriety and grace of diction
may be required of any author, for the same reason that a certain
attention to dress is expected of every gentleman.' After all, what are
the chief differentiae between man and the brute creation but that he
clothes himself, that he cooks his food, that he uses articulate speech?
Let us cherish and improve all these distinctions.

But shall we now look more carefully into these twin questions of
perspicuity and accuracy: for I think pursuing them, we may almost reach
the philosophic kernel of good writing. I quoted Newman playfully a
moment ago. I am going to quote him in strong earnest. And here let me
say that of all the books written in these hundred years there is perhaps
none you can more profitably thumb and ponder than that volume of his in
which, under the title of "The Idea of a University," he collected nine
discourses addressed to the Roman Catholics of Dublin with some lectures
delivered to the Catholic University there. It is fragmentary, because
its themes were occasional. It has missed to be appraised at its true
worth, partly no doubt by reason of the colour it derives from a religion
still unpopular in England. But in fact it may be read without offence by
the strictest Protestant; and the book is so wise--so eminently wise--as
to deserve being bound by the young student of literature for a frontlet
on his brow and a talisman on his writing wrist.

Now you will find much pretty swordsmanship in its pages, but nothing
more trenchant than the passage in which Newman assails and puts to rout
the Persian host of infidels--I regret to say, for the most part Men of
Science--who would persuade us that good writing, that style, is
something extrinsic to the subject, a kind of ornamentation laid on to
tickle the taste, a study for the _dilettante_, but beneath the notice of
_their_ stern and masculine minds.

Such a view, as he justly points out, belongs rather to the Oriental mind
than to our civilisation: it reminds him of the way young gentlemen go to
work in the East when they would engage in correspondence with the object
of their affection. The enamoured one cannot write a sentence himself:
_he_ is the specialist in passion (for the moment); but thought and words
are two things to him, and for words he must go to another specialist,
the professional letter-writer. Thus there is a division of labour.

  The man of words, duly instructed, dips the pen of desire in the ink of
  devotedness and proceeds to spread it over the page of desolation. Then
  the nightingale of affection is heard to warble to the rose of
  loveliness, while the breeze of anxiety plays around the brow of
  expectation. That is what the Easterns are said to consider fine
  writing; and it seems pretty much the idea of the school of critics to
  which I have been referring.

Now hear this fine passage:--

  Thought and speech are inseparable from each other. Matter and
  expression are parts of one; style is a thinking out into language.
  That is what I have been laying down, and this is literature; not
  _things_, but the verbal symbols of things; not on the other hand mere
  _words_; but thoughts expressed in language. Call to mind, gentlemen,
  the meaning of the Greek word which expresses this special prerogative
  of man over the feeble intelligence of the lower animals. It is called
  Logos; what does Logos mean? it stands both for _reason_ and for
  _speech_, and it is difficult to say which it means more properly. It
  means both at once: why? because really they cannot be divided.... When
  we can separate light and illumination, life and motion, the convex and
  the concave of a curve, then will it be possible for thought to tread
  speech under foot and to hope to do without it--then will it be
  conceivable that the vigorous and fertile intellect should renounce its
  own double, its instrument of expression and the channel of its
  speculations and emotions.

'As if,' he exclaims finely, 'language were the hired servant, the mere
mistress of reason, and not the lawful wife in her own house!'

If you need further argument (but what serves it to slay the slain?) let
me remind you that you cannot use the briefest, the humblest process of
thought, cannot so much as resolve to take your bath hot or cold, or
decide what to order for breakfast, without forecasting it to yourself in
some form of words. Words are, in fine, the only currency in which we can
exchange thought even with ourselves. Does it not follow, then, that the
more accurately we use words the closer definition we shall give to our
thoughts? Does it not follow that by drilling ourselves to write
perspicuously we train our minds to clarify their thought? Does it not
follow that some practice in the deft use of words, with its
correspondent defining of thought, may well be ancillary even to the
study of Natural Science in a University?

But I have another word for our men of science. It was inevitable,
perhaps, that Latin--so long the Universal Language--should cease in time
to be that in which scientific works were written. It was impossible,
perhaps, to substitute, by consent, some equally neat and austere modern
language, such as French. But when it became an accepted custom for each
nation to use its own language in scientific treatises, it certainly was
not foreseen that men of science would soon be making discoveries at a
rate which left their skill in words outstripped; that having to invent
their terms as they went along, yet being careless and contemptuous of a
science in which they have no training, they would bombast out our
dictionaries with monstrously invented words that not only would have
made Quintilian stare and gasp, but would affront the decently literate
of any age.

After all, and though we must sigh and acquiesce in the building of
Babel, we have some right to examine the bricks. I was waiting, the other
day, in a doctor's anteroom, and picked up one of those books--it was a
work on pathology--so thoughtfully left lying in such places; to persuade
us, no doubt, to bear the ills we have rather than fly to others capable
of being illustrated. I found myself engaged in following the manoeuvres
of certain well-meaning bacilli generically described as 'Antibodies.' I
do not accuse the author (who seemed to be a learned man) of having
invented this abominable term: apparently it passed current among
physiologists and he had accepted it for honest coin. I found it, later
on, in Webster's invaluable dictionary: Etymology, 'anti' up against
'body', some noxious 'foreign body' inside your body or mine.

Now gin a body meet a body for our protection and in this gallant spirit,
need a body reward him with this hybrid label? Gratitude apart, I say
that for our own self-respect, whilst we retain any sense of intellectual
pedigree, 'antibody' is no word to throw at a friendly bacillus. Is it
consonant with the high dignity of science to make her talk like a cheap
showman advertising a 'picture-drome'? The man who eats peas with his
knife can at least claim a historical throwback to the days when forks
had but two prongs and the spoons had been removed with the soup. But
'antibody' has no such respectable derivation. It is, in fact, a
barbarism, and a mongrel at that. The man who uses it debases the
currency of learning: and I suggest to you that it is one of the many
functions of a great University to maintain the standard of that
currency, to guard the _jus et norma loquendi_, to protect us from such
hasty fellows or, rather, to suppeditate them in their haste.

Let me revert to our list of the qualities necessary to good writing, and
come to the last--_Persuasiveness_; of which you may say, indeed, that it
embraces the whole--not only the qualities of propriety, perspicuity,
accuracy, we have been considering, but many another, such as harmony,
order, sublimity, beauty of diction; all in short that--writing being an
art, not a science, and therefore so personal a thing--may be summed up
under the word _Charm_. Who, at any rate, does not seek after Persuasion?
It is the aim of all the arts and, I suppose, of all exposition of the
sciences; nay, of all useful exchange of converse in our daily life. It
is what Velasquez attempts in a picture, Euclid in a proposition, the
Prime Minister at the Treasury box, the journalist in a leading article,
our Vicar in his sermon. Persuasion, as Matthew Arnold once said, is the
only true intellectual process. The mere cult of it occupied many of the
best intellects of the ancients, such as Longinus and Quintilian, whose
writings have been preserved to us just because they were prized. Nor can
I imagine an earthly gift more covetable by you, Gentlemen, than that of
persuading your fellows to listen to your views and attend to what you
have at heart.

Suppose, sir, that you wish to become a journalist? Well, and why not? Is
it a small thing to desire the power of influencing day by day to better
citizenship an unguessed number of men, using the best thought and
applying it in the best language at your command?... Or are you, perhaps,
overawed by the printed book? On that, too, I might have a good deal to
say; but for the moment would keep the question as practical as I can.

Well, it is sometimes said that Oxford men make better journalists than
Cambridge men, and some attribute this to the discipline of their great
School of _Literae Humaniores_, which obliges them to bring up a weekly
essay to their tutor, who discusses it. Cambridge men retort that all
Oxford men are journalists, and throw, of course, some accent of scorn on
the word. But may I urge--and remember please that my credit is pledged
to _you_ now--may I urge that this is not a wholly convincing answer?
For, to begin with, Oxford men have not changed their natures since
leaving school, but are, by process upon lines not widely divergent from
your own, much the same pleasant sensible fellows you remember. And,
next, if you truly despise journalism, why then despise it, have done
with it and leave it alone. But I pray you, do not despise it if you mean
to practise it, though it be but as a step to something better. For while
the ways of art are hard at the best, they will break you if you go
unsustained by belief in what you are trying to do.

In asking you to practise the written word, I began with such
low but necessary things as propriety, perspicuity, accuracy.
But _persuasion_--the highest form of persuasion at any rate--cannot be
achieved without a sense of beauty. And now I shoot a second rapid--_I
want you to practise verse, and to practise it assiduously_.... I am
quite serious. Let me remind you that, if there ever was an ancient
state of which we of Great Britain have great right and should have
greater ambition to claim ourselves the spiritual heirs, that state was
Imperial Rome. And of the Romans (whom you will allow to have been a
practical people) nothing is more certain than the value they set upon
acquiring verse. To them it was not only (as Dr Johnson said of Greek)
'like old lace--you can never have too much of it.' They cultivated it
with a straight eye to national improvement. Among them, as a scholar
reminded us the other day, you find 'an educational system deliberately
and steadily directed towards the development of poetical talent. They
were not a people of whom we can say, as we can of the Greeks, that they
were born to art and literature.... The characteristic Roman triumphs
are the triumphs of a material civilisation.' Rome's rôle in the world
was 'the absorption of outlying genius.' Themselves an unimaginative
race with a language not too tractable to poetry, they made great
poetry, and they made it of patient set purpose, of hard practice. I
shall revert to this and maybe amplify reasons in another lecture. For
the moment I content myself with stating the fact that no nation ever
believed in poetry so deeply as the Romans.

Perpend this then, and do not too hastily deride my plea that you should
practise verse-writing. I know most of the objections, though I may not
remember all. _Mediocribus esse poetis_, etc.--that summarises most of
them: yet of an infliction of much bad verse from you, if I am prepared
to endure it, why should anyone else complain? I say that the youth of a
University ought to practise verse-writing; and will try to bring this
home to you by an argument convincing to me, though I have never seen it
in print.

What are the great poetical names of the last hundred years or so?
Coleridge, Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, Landor, Keats, Tennyson, Browning,
Arnold, Morris, Rossetti, Swinburne--we may stop there. Of these all but
Keats, Browning, Rossetti were University men; and of these three Keats,
who died young, cut off in his prime, was the only one not fairly
well-to-do. It may seem a brutal thing to say, and it is a sad thing to
say: but, as a matter of hard fact, the theory that poetical genius
bloweth where it listeth, and equally in poor and rich, holds little
truth. As a matter of hard fact, nine out of those twelve were
University men: which means that somehow or other they procured the
means to get the best education England can give. As a matter of hard
fact, of the remaining three you know that Browning was well-to-do, and
I challenge you that, if he had not been well-to-do, he would no more
have attained to writing "Saul" or "The Ring and the Book" than Ruskin
would have attained to writing "Modern Painters" if his father had not
dealt prosperously in business. Rossetti had a small private income;
and, moreover, he painted. There remains but Keats; whom Atropos slew
young, as she slew John Clare in a madhouse, and James Thomson by the
laudanum he took to drug disappointment. These are dreadful facts, but
let us face them. It is--however dishonouring to us as a nation--certain
that, by some fault in our commonwealth, the poor poet has not in these
days, nor has had for two hundred years, a dog's chance. Believe me--and
I have spent a great part of the last ten years in watching some 320
Elementary Schools--we may prate of democracy, but actually a poor child
in England has little more hope than had the son of an Athenian slave to
be emancipated into that intellectual freedom of which great writings
are born.

What do I argue from this? I argue that until we can bring more
intellectual freedom into our State, more 'joy in widest commonalty
spread,' upon you, a few favoured ones, rests an obligation to see that
the springs of English poetry do not fail. I put it to you that of this
glory of our birth and state _you_ are the temporary stewards. I put it
to the University, considered as a dispenser of intellectual light, that
to treat English poetry as though it had died with Tennyson and your
lecturers had but to compose the features of a corpse, is to abnegate
high hope for the sake of a barren convenience. I put it to the Colleges,
considered as disciplinary bodies, that the old way of letting Coleridge
slip, chasing forth Shelley, is, after all, not the wisest way. Recollect
that in Poesy as in every other human business, the more there are who
practise it the greater will be the chance of _someone's_ reaching
perfection. It is the impetus of the undistinguished host that flings
forward a Diomed or a Hector. And when you point with pride to Milton's
and those other mulberry trees in your Academe, bethink you 'What poets
are they shading to-day? Or are their leaves but feeding worms to spin
gowns to drape Doctors of Letters?'

In the life of Benvenuto Cellini you will find this passage worth your
pondering.--He is telling how, while giving the last touches to his
Perseus in the great square of Florence, he and his workmen inhabited a
shed built around the statue. He goes on:--

  The folk kept on attaching sonnets to the posts of the door....I believe
  that, on the day when I opened it for a few hours to the public, more
  than twenty were nailed up, all of them overflowing with the highest
  panegyrics. Afterwards, when I once more shut it off from view,
  everyone brought sonnets, with Latin and Greek verses: for the
  University of Pisa was then in vacation, and all the doctors and
  scholars kept vying with each other who could produce the best.

I may not live to see the doctors and scholars of this University thus
employing the Long Vacation; as perhaps we shall wait some time for
another Perseus to excite them to it. But I do ask you to consider that
the Perseus was not entirely cause nor the sonnets entirely effect; that
the age when men are eager about great work is the age when great work
gets itself done; nor need it disturb us that most of the sonnets were,
likely enough, very bad ones--in Charles Lamb's phrase, very like what
Petrarch might have written if Petrarch had been born a fool. It is the
impetus that I ask of you: the will to try.

Lastly, Gentlemen, do not set me down as one who girds at your
preoccupation, up here, with bodily games; for, indeed, I hold
'gymnastic' to be necessary as 'music' (using both words in the Greek
sense) for the training of such youths as we desire to send forth from
Cambridge. But I plead that they should be balanced, as they were in the
perfect young knight with whose words I will conclude to-day:--

     Having this day my horse, my hand, my lance
     Guided so well that I obtained the prize,
     Both by the judgment of the English eyes
     And of some sent by that sweet enemy France;
     Horsemen my skill in horsemanship advance,
     Town-folk my strength, a daintier judge applies
     His praise to sleight which from good use doth rise;
     Some lucky wits impute it but to chance;
     Others, because of both sides I do take
     My blood from them who did excel in this,
     Think Nature me a man-at-arms did make.
     How far they shot awry! the true cause is,
     Stella looked on; and from her heavenly face
     Sent forth the beams which made so fair my race.

'Untrue,' you say? Well, there is truth of emotion as well as of fact;
and who is there among you but would fain be able not only to win such a
guerdon but to lay it in such wise at your lady's feet?

That then was Philip Sidney, called the peerless one of his age; and
perhaps no Englishman ever lived more graciously or, having used life,
made a better end. But you have seen this morning's newspaper: you have
read of Captain Scott and his comrades, and in particular of the death of
Captain Oates; and you know that the breed of Sidney is not extinct.
Gentlemen, let us keep our language noble: for we still have heroes to
commemorate![1]


[Footnote 1: The date of the above lecture was Wednesday, February 12th,
1913, the date on which our morning newspapers printed the first
telegrams giving particulars of the fate of Captain Scott's heroic
conquest of the South Pole, and still more glorious, though defeated,
return. The first brief message concerning Captain Oates, ran as
follows:--

'From the records found in the tent where the bodies were discovered it
appeared that Captain Oates's feet and hands were badly frost-bitten,
and, although he struggled on heroically, his comrades knew on March 16
that his end was approaching. He had borne intense suffering for weeks
without complaint, and he did not give up hope to the very end.

"He was a brave soul. He slept through the night hoping not to wake; but
he awoke in the morning.

"It was blowing a blizzard. Oates said: 'I am just going outside, and I
may be some time.' He went out into the blizzard, and we have not seen
him since.

"We knew that Oates was walking to his death, but though we tried to
dissuade him, we knew it was the act of a brave man and an English
gentleman."']



LECTURE III.

ON THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN VERSE AND PROSE

Wednesday, February 26


You will forgive me, Gentlemen, that having in my second lecture
encouraged you to the practice of verse as well as of prose, I seize the
very next opportunity to warn you against confusing the two, which differ
on some points essentially, and always so as to demand separate rules--or
rather (since I am shy of the word 'rules') a different concept of what
the writer should aim at and what avoid. But you must, pray, understand
that what follows will be more useful to the tiro in prose than to the
tiro in verse; for while even a lecturer may help you to avoid writing
prose in the manner of Milton, only the gods--and they hardly--can cure a
versifier of being prosaic.

We started upon a promise to do without scientific definitions; and in
drawing some distinctions to-day between verse and prose I shall use only
a few rough ones; good, as I hope, so far as they go; not to be found
contrary to your scientific ones, if ever, under another teacher you
attain to them; yet for the moment used only as guides to practice, and
pretending to be no more.

Thus I go some way--though by no means all the way--towards defining
literature when I remind you that its very name (_litterae_--letters)
implies the written rather than the spoken word; that, for example,
however closely they approximate one to the other as we trace them back,
and even though we trace them back to identical beginnings, the
Writer--the Man of Letters--does to-day differ from the Orator. There was
a time, as you know, when the poet and the historian had no less than the
orator, and in the most literal sense, to 'get a hearing.' Nay, he got it
with more pains: for the orator had his senate-house or his law-court
provided, whereas Thespis jogged to fairs in a cart, and the Muse of
History, like any street acrobat, had to collect her own crowd. Herodotus
in search of a public packed his history in a portmanteau, carted it to
Olympia, found a favourable 'pitch,' as we should say, and wooed an
audience to him much as on a racecourse nowadays do those philanthropic
gentlemen who ply a dubious trade with three half-crowns and a gold
chain. It would cost us an effort to imagine the late Bishop Stubbs thus
trying his fortune with a bag full of select Charters at Queen's Club or
at Kempton Park, and exerting his lungs to retrieve a crowd that showed
some disposition to edge off towards the ring or the rails.

The historian's conditions have improved; and like any other sensible man
he has advanced his claim with them, and revised his method. He writes
nowadays with his eye on the printed book. He may or may not be a dull
fellow: being a dull fellow, he may or may not be aware of it; but at
least he knows that, if you lay him upside down on your knee, you can on
awaking pick him up, resume your absorption, and even turn back some
pages to discover just where or why your interest flagged: whereas a
Hellene who deserted Herodotus, having a bet on the Pentathlon, not only
missed what he missed but missed it for life.

The invention of print, of course, has made all, or almost all, the
difference.

I do not forget that the printed book--the written word--presupposes a
speaking voice, and must ever have at its back some sense in us of the
speaking voice. But in writing prose nowadays, while always recollecting
that prose has its origin in speech--even as it behoves us to recollect
that Homer intoned the Iliad to the harp and Sappho plucked her passion
from the lyre--we have to take things as they are. Except Burns, Heine,
Béranger (with Moore, if you will), and you will find it hard to compile
in all the lyrical poetry of the last 150 years a list of half a dozen
first-class or even second-class bards who wrote primarily to be sung. It
may help you to estimate how far lyrical verse has travelled from its
origins if you will but remind yourselves that a _sonnet_ and a _sonata_
were once the same thing, and that a _ballad_ meant a song accompanied by
dancing--the word _ballata_ having been specialised down, on the one line
to the _ballet_, in which Mademoiselle Genée or the Russian performers
will dance for our delight, using no words at all; on the other to "Sir
Patrick Spens" or "Clerk Saunders," 'ballads' to which no one in his
senses would dream of pointing a toe.

Thus with Verse the written (or printed) word has pretty thoroughly
ousted the speaking voice and its auxiliaries--the pipe, the lute, the
tabor, the chorus with its dance movements and swaying of the body; and
in a quieter way much the same thing is happening to prose. In the Drama,
to be sure, we still write (or we should) for the actors, reckon upon
their intonations, their gestures, lay account with the tears in the
heroine's eyes and her visible beauty: though even in the Drama to-day
you may detect a tendency to substitute dialectic for action and
paragraphs for the [Greek: Stichomuthia], the sharp outcries of passion
in its give-and-take. Again we still--some of us--deliver sermons from
pulpits and orations in Parliament or upon public platforms. Yet I am
told that the vogue of the sermon is passing; and (by journalists) that
the leading article has largely superseded it. On that point I can offer
you no personal evidence; but of civil oratory I am very sure that the
whole pitch has been sensibly lowered since the day of Chatham, Burke,
Sheridan; since the day of Brougham and Canning; nay, ever since the day
of Bright, Gladstone, Disraeli. Burke, as everyone knows, once brought
down a Brummagem dagger and cast it on the floor of the House. Lord
Chancellor Brougham in a peroration once knelt to the assembled peers,
'_Here the noble lord inclined his knee to the Woolsack_' is, if I
remember, the stage direction in Hansard. Gentlemen, though in the course
of destiny one or another of you may be called upon to speak daggers to
the Treasury Bench, I feel sure you will use none; while, as for Lord
Brougham's genuflexions, we may agree that to emulate them would cost
Lord Haldane an effort. These and even far less flagrant or flamboyant
tricks of virtuosity have gone quite out of fashion. You could hardly
revive them to-day and keep that propriety to which I exhorted you a
fortnight ago. They would be out of tune; they would grate upon the
nerves; they would offend against the whole style of modern oratory,
which steadily tends to lower its key, to use the note of quiet
business-like exposition, to adopt more and more the style of written
prose.

Let me help your sense of this change, by a further illustration. Burke,
as we know, was never shy of declaiming--even of declaiming in a
torrent--when he stood up to speak: but almost as little was he shy of
it when he sat down to write. If you turn to his "Letters on the
Regicide Peace" --no raw compositions, but penned in his latter days and
closing, or almost closing, upon that tenderest of farewells to his
country--

     In this good old House, where everything at least is well aired, I
     shall be content to put up my fatigued horses and here take a bed
     for the long night that begins to darken upon me--

if, I say, you turn to these "Letters on the Regicide Peace" and consult
the title-page, you will find them ostensibly addressed to 'a Member of
the present Parliament'; and the opening paragraphs assume that Burke and
his correspondent are in general agreement. But skim the pages and your
eyes will be arrested again and again by sentences like these:--

     The calculation of profit in all such wars is false. On balancing
     the account of such wars, ten thousand hogsheads of sugar are
     purchased at ten thousand times their price--the blood of man should
     never be shed but to redeem the blood of man. It is well shed for
     our family, for our friends, for our God, for our country, for our
     kind. The rest is vanity; the rest is crime.

Magnificent, truly! But your ear has doubtless detected the blank
verse--three iambic lines:--

     Are purchased at ten thousand times their price...
     Be shed but to redeem the blood of man...
     The rest is vanity; the rest is crime.

Again Burke catches your eye by rhetorical inversions:--

     But too often different is rational conjecture from melancholy fact,

     Well is it known that ambition can creep as well as soar,

by repetitions:--

     Never, no never, did Nature say one thing and Wisdom say another ...
     Algiers is not near; Algiers is not powerful; Algiers is not our
     neighbour; Algiers is not infectious.  Algiers, whatever it may be,
     is an old creation; and we have good data to calculate all the
     mischief to be apprehended from it. When I find Algiers transferred
     to Calais, I will tell you what I think of that point--

by quick staccato utterances, such as:--

     And is this example nothing? It is everything. Example is the school
     of mankind, and they will learn at no other--

or

     Our dignity? That is gone. I shall say no more about it. Light lie
     the earth on the ashes of English pride!

I say that the eye or ear, caught by such tropes, must (if it be
critical) recognise them at once as _rhetoric_, as the spoken word
masquerading under guise of the written. Burke may pretend to be seated,
penning a letter to a worthy man who will read it in his slippers: but
actually Burke is up and pacing his library at Beaconsfield, now striding
from fire-place to window with hands clasped under his coat tails, anon
pausing to fling out an arm with some familiar accustomed gesture in a
House of Commons that knows him no more, towards a Front Bench peopled by
shades. In fine the pretence is Cicero writing to Atticus, but the style
is Cicero denouncing Catiline.

As such it is not for your imitation. Burke happened to be a genius, with
a swoop and range of mind, as of language to interpret it, with a gift to
enchant, a power to strike and astound, which together make him, to my
thinking, the man in our literature most nearly comparable with
Shakespeare. Others may be more to your taste; you may love others
better: but no other two leave you so hopeless of discovering _how it is
done_. Yet not for this reason only would I warn you against imitating
either. For like all great artists they accepted their conditions and
wrought for them, and those conditions have changed. When Jacques wished
to recite to an Elizabethan audience that

     All the world's a stage,
     And all the men and women merely players--

or Hamlet to soliloquise

     To be, or not to be: that is the question--

the one did not stretch himself under a property oak, nor did the other
cast himself back in a chair and dangle his legs. They both advanced
boldly from the stage, down a narrow platform provided for such
recitations and for that purpose built boldly forward into the
auditorium, struck an attitude, declaimed the purple passage, and
returned, covered with applause, to continue the action of the play. This
was the theatrical convention; this the audience expected and understood;
for this Shakespeare wrote. Similarly, though the device must have been
wearing thin even in 1795-6, Burke cast a familiar epistle into language
proper to be addressed to Mr Speaker of the House of Commons. Shakespeare
wrote, as Burke wrote, for his audience; and their glory is that they
have outlasted the conditions they observed. Yet it was by observing them
that they gained the world's ear. Let us, who are less than they, beware
of scorning to belong to our own time.

For my part I have a great hankering to see English Literature feeling
back through these old modes to its origins. I think, for example, that
if we studied to write verse that could really be sung, or if we were
more studious to write prose that could be read aloud with pleasure to
the ear, we should be opening the pores to the ancient sap; since the
roots are always the roots, and we can only reinvigorate our growth
through them.

Unhappily, however, I cannot preach this just yet; for we are aiming at
practice, and at Cambridge (they tell me) while you speak well, you write
less expertly. A contributor to "The Cambridge Review," a fortnight ago,
lamented this at length: so you will not set the aspersion down to me,
nor blame me if these early lectures too officiously offer a kind of
'First Aid': that, while all the time eager to descant on the
_affinities_ of speech and writing, I dwell first on their _differences_;
or that, in speaking of Burke, an author I adore only 'on this side
idolatry,' I first present him in some aspects for your avoidance.
Similarly I adore the prose of Sir Thomas Browne, yet should no more
commend it to you for instant imitation than I could encourage you to
walk with a feather in your cap and a sword under your gown. Let us
observe proprieties.

To return to Burke.--At his most flagrant, in these "Letters on the
Regicide Peace," he boldly raids Shakespeare. You are all, I doubt not,
conversant with the Prologue to "Henry the Fifth":--

     O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
     The brightest heaven of invention!
     A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
     And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
     Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
     Assume the port of Mars: and at his heels,
     Leash'd in like hounds, should Famine, Sword and Fire
     Crouch for employment.

Well, this passage Burke, assuming his correspondent to be familiar with
it, boldly claps into prose and inserts into a long diatribe against Pitt
for having tamely submitted to the rebuffs of the French Directory. Thus
it becomes:--

  On that day it was thought he would have assumed the port of Mars: that
  he would bid to be brought forth from their hideous Kennel (where his
  scrupulous tenderness had too long immured them) those impatient dogs
  of War, whose fierce regards affright even the minister of vengeance
  that feeds them; that he would let them loose in Famine, Plagues and
  Death, upon a guilty race to whose frame and to all whose habit, Order,
  Peace, Religion and Virtue, are alien and abhorrent.

Now Shakespeare is but apologising for the shortcomings of his'
play-house, whereas Burke is denouncing his country's shame and
prophesying disaster to Europe. Yet do you not feel with me that while
Shakespeare, using great words on the lowlier subject, contrives to make
them appropriate, with Burke, writing on the loftier subject, the same or
similar words have become tumid, turgid?

Why? I am sure that the difference lies not in the two men: nor is it all
the secret, or even half the secret, that Burke is mixing up the spoken
with the written word, using the one while pretending to use the other.
That has carried us some way; but now let us take an important step
farther. The root of the matter lies in certain essential differences
between verse and prose. We will keep, if you please, to our rough
practical definitions. Literature--the written word--is a permanent
record of memorable speech; a record, at any rate, intended to be
permanent. We set a thing down in ink--we print it in a book--because we
feel it to be memorable, to be worth preserving. But to set this
memorable speech down we must choose one of two forms, verse or prose;
and I define verse to be a record in metre and rhythm, prose to be a
record which, dispensing with metre (abhorring it indeed), uses rhythm
laxly, preferring it to be various and unconstrained, so always that it
convey a certain pleasure to the ear.

You observe that I avoid the term Poetry, over which the critics have
waged, and still are waging, a war that promises to be endless. Is Walt
Whitman a poet? Is the Song of Songs (which is not Solomon's)--is the
Book of Job--are the Psalms--all of these as rendered in our Authorised
Version of Holy Writ--are all of these poetry? Well 'yes,' if you want my
opinion; and again 'yes,' I am sure. But truly on this field, though
scores of great men have fought across it--Sidney, Shelley, Coleridge,
Scaliger (I pour the names on you at random), Johnson, Wordsworth, the
two Schlegels, Aristotle with Twining his translator, Corneille, Goethe,
Warton, Whately, Hazlitt, Emerson, Hegel, Gummere--but our axles grow
hot. Let us put on the brake: for in practice the dispute comes to very
little: since literature is an art and treats scientific definitions as
J. K. Stephen recommended. From them

     It finds out what it cannot do,
     And then it goes and does it.

I am journeying, say, in the West of England. I cross a bridge over a
stream dividing Devon from Cornwall. These two counties, each beautiful
in its way, are quite unlike in their beauty: yet nothing happened as I
stepped across the brook, and for a mile or two or even ten I am aware of
no change. Sooner or later that change will break upon the mind and I
shall be startled, awaking suddenly to a land of altered features. But at
what turn of the road this will happen, just how long the small
multiplied impressions will take to break into surmise, into
conviction--that nobody can tell. So it is with poetry and prose. They
are different realms, but between them lies a debatable land which a De
Quincey or a Whitman or a Paul Fort or a Marinetti may attempt. I advise
you who are beginners to keep well one side or other of the frontier,
remembering that there is plenty of room and what happened to Tupper.

If we restrict ourselves to the terms 'verse' and 'prose,' we shall find
the line much easier to draw. Verse is memorable speech set down in metre
with strict rhythms; prose is memorable speech set down without
constraint of metre and in rhythms both lax and various--so lax, so
various, that until quite recently no real attempt has been made to
reduce them to rule. I doubt, for my part, if they can ever be reduced to
rule; and after a perusal of Professor Saintsbury's latest work, "A
History of English Prose Rhythm," I am left doubting. I commend this book
to you as one that clears up large patches of forest. No one has yet so
well explained what our prose writers, generation after generation, have
tried to do with prose: and he has, by the way, furnished us with a
capital anthology--or, as he puts it, with 'divers delectable draughts of
example.' But the road still waits to be driven. Seeking practical
guidance--help for our present purpose--I note first that many a passage
he scans in one way may as readily be scanned in another; that when he
has finished with one and can say proudly with Wordsworth:--

     I've measured it from side to side,
     'Tis three feet long and two feet wide,

we still have a sensation of coming out (our good master with us) by that
same door wherein we went; and I cannot as yet after arduous trial
discover much profit in his table of feet--Paeons, Dochmiacs, Antispasts,
Proceleusmatics and the rest--an Antispast being but an iamb followed by
a trochee, and Proceleusmatic but two pyrrhics, or four consecutive short
syllables--when I reflect that, your possible number of syllables being
as many as five to a foot, you may label them (as Aristotle would say)
until you come to infinity, where desire fails, without getting nearer
any rule of application.

Let us respect a genuine effort of learning, though we may not detect its
immediate profit. In particular let us respect whatever Professor
Saintsbury writes, who has done such splendid work upon English
verse-prosody. I daresay he would retort upon my impatience grandly
enough, quoting Walt Whitman:--

I am the teacher of athletes;
He that by me spreads a wider breast than my own
  proves the width of my own;
He most honours my style who learns under it to destroy the
  teacher.

His speculations may lead to much in time; though for the present they
yield us small instruction in the path we seek.

It is time we harked back to our own sign-posts. Verse is written in
metre and strict rhythm; prose, without metre and with the freest
possible rhythm. That distinction seems simple enough, but it carries
consequences very far from simple. Let me give you an illustration taken
almost at hazard from Milton, from the Second Book of "Paradise
Regained":--

     Up to a hill anon his steps he reared
     From whose high top to ken the prospect round,
     If cottage were in view, sheep-cote or herd;
     But cottage, herd, or sheep-cote, none he saw.

These few lines are verse, are obviously verse with the accent of poetry;
while as obviously they are mere narrative and tell us of the simplest
possible incident--how Christ climbed a hill to learn what could be seen
from the top. Yet observe, line for line and almost word for word, how
strangely they differ from prose. Mark the inversions: 'Up to a hill anon
his steps he reared,' 'But cottage, herd, or sheep-cote, none he saw.'
Mark next the diction--'his steps he reared.' In prose we should not rear
our steps up the Gog-magog hills, or even more Alpine fastnesses; nor,
arrived at the top, should we 'ken' the prospect round; we might 'con,'
but should more probably 'survey' it. Even 'anon' is a tricky word in
prose, though I deliberately palmed it off on you a few minutes ago. Mark
thirdly the varied repetition, 'if cottage were in view, sheep-cote or
herd--but cottage, herd, or sheep-cote, none he saw.' Lastly compare the
whole with such an account as you or I or Cluvienus would write in plain
prose:--

     Thereupon he climbed a hill on the chance that the view from its
     summit might disclose some sign of human habitation--a herd, a
     sheep-cote, a cottage perhaps. But he could see nothing of the sort.

But you will ask, '_Why_ should verse and prose employ diction so
different? _Why_ should the one invert the order of words in a fashion
not permitted to the other?' and I shall endeavour to answer these
questions together with a third which, I dare say, you have sometimes
been minded to put when you have been told--and truthfully told--by your
manuals and histories, that when a nation of men starts making literature
it invariably starts on the difficult emprise of verse, and goes on to
prose as by an afterthought. Why should men start upon the more difficult
form and proceed to the easier? It is not their usual way. In learning to
skate, for instance, they do not cut figures before practising loose and
easy propulsion.

The answer is fairly simple. Literature (once more) is a record of
memorable speech; it preserves in words a record of such thoughts or of
such deeds as we deem worth preserving. Now if you will imagine yourself
a very primitive man, lacking paper or parchment; or a slightly less
primitive, but very poor, man to whom the price of parchment and ink is
prohibitive; you have two ways of going to work. You can carve your words
upon trees or stones (a laborious process) or you can commit them to
memory and carry them about in your head; which is cheaper and handier.
For an illustration, you find it useful, anticipating the tax-collector,
to know how many days there are in the current month. But further you
find it a nuisance and a ruinous waste of time to run off to the tribal
tree or monolith whenever the calculation comes up; so you invent a
formula, and you cast that formula into _verse_ for the simple reason
that verse, with its tags, alliterations, beat of syllables, jingle of
rhymes (however your tribe has chosen to invent it), has a knack, not
possessed by prose, of sticking in your head. You do not say, 'Quick thy
tablets, memory! Let me see--January has 31 days, February 28 days, March
31 days, April 30 days.' You invent a verse:--

     Thirty days hath September,
     April, June and November...

Nay, it has been whispered to me, Gentlemen, that in this University some
such process of memorising in verse has been applied by bold bad
irreverently-minded men even to the "Evidences" of our cherished Paley.

This, you will say, is mere verse, and not yet within measurable distance
of poetry. But wait! The men who said the more memorable things, or sang
them--the men who recounted deeds and genealogies of heroes, plagues and
famines, assassinations, escapes from captivity, wanderings and conquests
of the clan, all the 'old, unhappy, far-off things and battles long
ago'--the men who sang these things for their living, for a supper, a
bed in the great hall, and something in their wallet to carry them on to
the next lordship--these were gentlemen, scôps, bards, minstrels (call
them how you will), a professional class who had great need of a full
repertory in a land swarming with petty chieftains, and to adapt their
strains to the particular hall of entertainment. It would never do, for
example, to flatter the prowess of the Billings in the house of the
Hoppings, their hereditary foes, or to bore the Wokings (who lived where
the crematorium now is) with the complicated genealogy of the Tootings:
for this would have been to miss that appropriateness which I preached
to you in my second lecture as a preliminary rule of good writing. Nay,
when the Billings intermarried with the Tootings--when the Billings took
to cooing, so to speak--a hasty blend of excerpts would be required for
the "Epithalamium." So it was all a highly difficult business, needing
adaptability, a quick wit, a goodly stock of songs, a retentive memory
and every artifice to assist it. Take "Widsith," for example, the
'far-travelled man.' He begins:--

     Widsith spake: he unlocked his word-hoard.

So he had a hoard of words, you see: and he must have needed them, for he
goes on:--

     Forthon ic maeg singan and secgan spell,
     Maenan fore mengo in meoduhealle,
     Hu me cynegode cystum dohten.
     Ic waes mid Hunum and mid Hreth-gotum,
     Mid Sweom and mid Geatum, and mid Suth-Denum.
     Mid Wenlum ic waes and mid Waernum and mid Wicingum.
     Mid Gefthum ic waes and mid Winedum....

   (Therefore I can sing and tell a tale, recount in the Mead Hall, how
   men of high race gave rich gifts to me. I was with Huns and with Hreth
   Goths, with the Swedes, and with the Geats, and with the South Danes;
   I was with the Wenlas, and with the Waernas, and with the Vikings; I
   was with the Gefthas and with the Winedae....)

and so on for a full dozen lines. I say that the memory of such men must
have needed every artifice to help it: and the chief artifice to their
hand was one which also delighted the ears of their listeners. They sang
or intoned to the harp.

There you get it, Gentlemen. I have purposely, skimming a wide subject,
discarded much ballast; but you may read and scan and read again, and
always you must come back to this, that the first poets sang their words
to the harp or to some such instrument: and just there lies the secret
why poetry differs from prose. The moment you introduce music you let in
emotion with all its sway upon speech. From that moment you change
everything, down to the order of the words--the _natural_ order of the
words: and (remember this) though the harp be superseded, the voice never
forgets it. You may take up a Barrack Room Ballad of Kipling's, and it is
there, though you affect to despise it for a banjo or concertina:--

     Ford--ford--ford of Kabul river...

'Bang, whang, whang goes the drum, tootle-te-tootle the fife.' From the
moment men introduced music they made verse a thing essentially separate
from prose, from its natural key of emotion to its natural ordering of
words. Do not for one moment imagine that when Milton writes:--

     But cottage, herd, or sheep-cote, none he saw.

or

     Of man's first disobedience and the fruit
     Of that forbidden tree...

--where you must seek down five lines before you come to the verb, and
then find it in the imperative mood--do not suppose for a moment that he
is here fantastically shifting words, inverting phrases out of their
natural order. For, as St Paul might say, there is a natural order of
prose and there is a natural order of verse. The natural order of prose
is:--

     I was born in the year 1632, in the City of York, of a good family,
     though not of that county; my father being a foreigner of Bremen,
     who settled first in Hull.--[_Defoe._]

or

     Further I avow to your Highness that with these eyes I have beheld
     the person of William Wooton, B.D., who has written a good sizeable
     volume against a friend of your Governor (from whom, alas! he must
     therefore look for little favour) in a most gentlemanly style,
     adorned with the utmost politeness and civility.--[_Swift._]

The natural order of poetry is:--

                     Thus with the year
     Seasons return, but not to me returns
     Day, or the sweet approach of Ev'n or Morn,
     Or sight of vernal bloom, or Summer's Rose,
     Or flocks, or herds, or human face divine.

or

     But cottage, herd, or sheep-cote, none he saw.

and this basal difference you must have clear in your minds before, in
dealing with prose or verse, you can practise either with profit or read
either with intelligent delight.



LECTURE IV.

ON THE CAPITAL DIFFICULTY OF VERSE

Thursday, April 17


In our last lecture, Gentlemen, we discussed the difference between
verse, or metrical writing, and prose. We traced that difference (as you
will remember) to Music--to the harp, the lyre, the dance, the chorus,
all those first necessary accompaniments which verse never quite forgets;
and we concluded that, as Music ever introduces emotion, which is indeed
her proper and only means of persuading, so the natural language of verse
will be keyed higher than the natural language of prose; will be keyed
higher throughout and even for its most ordinary purposes--as for
example, to tell us that So-and-so sailed to Troy with so many ships.

I grant you that our steps to this conclusion were lightly and rapidly
taken: yet the stepping-stones are historically firm. Verse does precede
prose in literature; verse does start with musical accompaniment; musical
accompaniment does introduce emotion; and emotion does introduce an order
of its own into speech. I grant you that we have travelled far from the
days when a prose-writer, Herodotus, labelled the books of his history by
the names of the nine Muses. I grant you that if you go to the Vatican
and there study the statues of the Muses (noble, but of no early date)
you may note that Calliope, Muse of the Epic--unlike her sisters Euterpe,
Erato, Thalia--holds for symbol no instrument of music, but a stylus and
a tablet. Yet the earlier Calliope, the Calliope of Homer, was a Muse of
Song.

     [Greek: Menin aeide, Thea--]

'Had I a thousand tongues, a thousand hands.'--For what purpose does the
poet wish for a thousand tongues, but to sing? for what purpose a
thousand hands, but to pluck the wires? not to dip a thousand pens in a
thousand inkpots.

I doubt, in fine, if your most learned studies will discover much amiss
with the frontier we drew between verse and prose, cursorily though we
ran its line. Nor am I daunted on comparing it with Coleridge's more
philosophical one, which you will find in the "Biographia Literaria"
(c. XVIII)--

     And first for the origin of metre. This I would trace to the balance
     in the mind effected by that spontaneous effort which strives to
     hold in check the workings of passion. It might be easily explained
     likewise in what manner this salutary antagonism is assisted by the
     very state which it counteracts, and how this balance of antagonism
     becomes organised into metre (in the usual acceptation of that term)
     by a supervening act of the will and judgment consciously and for
     the foreseen purpose of pleasure.

I will not swear to understand precisely what Coleridge means here,
though I believe that I do. But at any rate, and on the principle that of
two hypotheses, each in itself adequate, we should choose the simpler, I
suggest in all modesty that we shall do better with our own than with
Coleridge's, which has the further disadvantage of being scarcely
amenable to positive evidence. We can say with historical warrant that
Sappho struck the lyre, and argue therefrom, still within close range of
correction, that her singing responded to the instrument: whereas to
assert that Sappho's mind 'was balanced by a spontaneous effort which
strove to hold in check the workings of passion' is to say something for
which positive evidence will be less handily found, whether to contradict
or to support.

Yet if you choose to prefer Coleridge's explanation, no great harm will
be done: since Coleridge, who may be presumed to have understood it,
promptly goes on to deduce that,

     as the elements of metre owe their existence to a state of increased
     excitement, so the metre itself should be accompanied by the natural
     language of excitement.

which is precisely where we found ourselves, save that where Coleridge
uses the word 'excitement' we used the word 'emotion.'

Shall we employ an illustration before proceeding?--some sentence easily
handled, some commonplace of the moralist, some copybook maxim, I care
not what. 'Contentment breeds Happiness'--That is a proposition with
which you can hardly quarrel; sententious, sedate, obviously true;
provoking delirious advocacy as little as controversial heat; in short a
very fair touchstone. Now hear how the lyric treats it, in these lines of
Dekker--

  Art thou poor, yet hast thou golden slumbers?
     O sweet content!
  Art thou rich, yet is thy mind perplex'd?
     O punishment!
  Dost thou laugh to see how fools are vex'd
  To add to golden numbers golden numbers?
     O sweet content! O sweet, O sweet content!
  Work apace, apace, apace, apace;
  Honest labour wears a lovely face;
     Then hey, nonny nonny--hey, nonny nonny!

  Canst drink the waters of the crystal spring?
     O sweet content!
  Swim'st thou in wealth, yet sink'st in thine own tears?
     O punishment!
  Then he that patiently want's burden bears
  No burden bears, but is a king, a king!
     O sweet content! O sweet, O sweet content!
  Work apace, apace, apace, apace;
  Honest labour wears a lovely face;
     Then hey, nonny nonny--hey, nonny nonny!

There, in lines obviously written for music, you have our sedate
sentence, 'Contentment breeds Happiness,' converted to mere emotion. Note
(to use Coleridge's word) the 'excitement' of it. There are but two plain
indicative sentences in the two stanzas--(1) 'Honest labour wears a
lovely face' (used as a refrain), and (2) 'Then he that patiently want's
burden bears no burden bears, but is a king, a king!' (heightened
emotionally by inversion and double repetition). Mark throughout how
broken is the utterance; antithetical question answered by exclamations:
both doubled and made more antithetical in the second stanza: with
cunning reduplicated inversions to follow, and each stanza wound up by an
outburst of emotional nonsense--'hey, nonny nonny--hey, nonny nonny!'--as
a man might skip or whistle to himself for want of thought.

Now (still keeping to our same subject of Contentment) let us _prosify_
the lyrical order of language down to the lowest pitch to which genius
has been able to reduce it and still make noble verse. You have all read
Wordsworth's famous Introduction to the "Lyrical Ballads," and you know
that Wordsworth's was a genius working on a theory that the languages of
verse and of prose are identical. You know, too, I dare say, into what
banalities that theory over and over again betrayed him: banalities such
as--

  His widowed mother, for a second mate
  Espoused the teacher of the village school:
  Who on her offspring zealously bestowed
  Needful instruction.

--and the rest. Nevertheless Wordsworth was a genius; and genius working
persistently on a narrow theory will now and again 'bring it off' (as
they say). So he, amid the flat waste of his later compositions, did
undoubtedly 'bring it off' in the following sonnet:--

  These times strike monied worldlings with dismay:
     Ev'n rich men, brave by nature, taint the air
     With words of apprehension and despair;
  While tens of thousands, thinking on the affray,
  Men unto whom sufficient for the day
     And minds not stinted or untill'd are given,
     Sound healthy children of the God of Heaven,
  Are cheerful as the rising sun in May.
  What do we gather hence but firmer faith
     That every gift of noble origin
  Is breath'd upon by Hope's perpetual breath;
     That Virtue and the faculties within
     Are vital; and that riches are akin
  To fear, to change, to cowardice, and death?

Here, I grant, are no repetitions, no inversions. The sentences, though
metrical, run straightforwardly, verb following subject, object verb, as
in strict prose. In short here you have verse reduced to the order and
structure of prose as nearly as a man of genius, working on a set theory,
could reduce it while yet maintaining its proper emotional key. But first
let me say that you will find very few like instances of success even in
Wordsworth; and few indeed to set against innumerable passages wherein
either his verse defies his theory and triumphs, or succumbs to it and,
succumbing, either drops sheer to bathos or spreads itself over dead
flats of commonplace. Let me tell you next that the instances you will
find in other poets are so few and so far between as to be negligible;
and lastly that even such verse as the above has only to be compared with
a passage of prose and its emotional pitch is at once betrayed. Take
this, for example, from Jeremy Taylor:--

  Since all the evil in the world consists in the disagreeing between the
  object and the appetite, as when a man hath what he desires not, or
  desires what he hath not, or desires amiss, he that compares his spirit
  to the present accident hath variety of instance for his virtue, but
  none to trouble him, because his desires enlarge not beyond his present
  fortune: and a wise man is placed in a variety of chances, like the
  nave or centre of a wheel in the midst of all the circumvolutions and
  changes of posture, without violence or change, save that it turns
  gently in compliance with its changed parts, and is indifferent which
  part is up, and which is down; for there is some virtue or other to be
  exercised whatever happens--either patience or thanksgiving, love or
  fear, moderation or humility, charity or contentedness.

Or, take this from Samuel Johnson:--

  The fountain of contentment must spring up in the mind; and he who has
  so little knowledge of human nature as to seek happiness by changing
  anything but his own disposition, will waste his life in fruitless
  efforts and multiply the griefs which he purposes to remove.

Now, to be frank, I do not call that first passage very good prose. Like
much of Jeremy Taylor's writing it is prose tricked out with the
trappings and odds-and-ends of verse. It starts off, for example, with a
brace of heroics--'Since all the evil in the world consists'...'between
the object and the appetite.' You may say, further, that the simile of
the wheel, though proper enough to prose, is poetical too: that Homer
might have used it ('As in a wheel the rim turns violently, while the
nave, though it turns also, yet seems to be at rest'--something of that
sort). Nevertheless you will agree with me that, in exchanging
Wordsworth for Taylor and Johnson, we have relaxed something with the
metre, something that the metre kept taut; and this something we
discover to be the emotional pitch.

But let me give you another illustration, supplied (I dare say quite
unconsciously) by one who combined a genuine love of verse--in which,
however, he was no adept--with a sure instinct for beautiful prose.
Contentment was a favourite theme with Isaak Walton: "The Compleat
Angler" is packed with praise of it: and in "The Compleat Angler" occurs
this well-known passage:--

  But, master, first let me tell you, that very hour which you were
  absent from me, I sat down under a willow tree by the waterside, and
  considered what you had told me of the owner of that pleasant meadow in
  which you then had left me; that he had a plentiful estate, and not a
  heart to think so; that he had at this time many law-suits depending,
  and that they both damped his mirth and took up so much of his time and
  thoughts that he had no leisure to take the sweet content that I, who
  pretended no title to them, took in his fields: for I could there sit
  quietly; and looking on the water, see some fishes sport themselves in
  the silver streams, others leaping at flies of several shapes and
  colours; looking on the hills, I could behold them spotted with woods
  and groves; looking down the meadows, could see, here a boy gathering
  lilies and lady-smocks, and there a girl cropping culverlocks and
  cowslips, all to make garlands suitable to this present month of May.
  These and many other field-flowers so perfumed the air that I thought
  that very meadow like that field in Sicily of which Diodorus speaks,
  where the perfumes arising from the place make all dogs that hunt in it
  to fall off and lose their hottest scent. I say, as I thus sat, joying
  in my own happy condition, and pitying this poor rich man that owned
  this and many other pleasant groves and meadows about me, I did
  thankfully remember what my Saviour said, that the meek possess the
  earth; or rather they enjoy what the others possess and enjoy not; for
  Anglers and meek quiet-spirited men are free from those high, those
  restless thoughts which corrode the sweets of life; and they, and they
  only can say as the poet has happily exprest it:

     'Hail, blest estate of lowliness!
     Happy enjoyments of such minds
     As, rich in self-contentedness,
     Can, like the reeds in roughest winds,
     By yielding make that blow but small
     At which proud oaks and cedars fall.'

There you have a passage of felicitous prose culminating in a stanza of
trite and fifth-rate verse. Yes, Walton's instinct is sound; for he is
keying up the pitch; and verse, even when mediocre in quality, has its
pitch naturally set above that of prose. So, if you will turn to your
Walton and read the page following this passage, you will see that, still
by a sure instinct, he proceeds from this scrap of reflective verse to a
mere rollicking 'catch':

     Man's life is but vain, for 'tis subject to pain
     And sorrow, and short as a bubble;
     'Tis a hodge-podge of business and money and care,
     And care, and money and trouble...

--which is even worse rubbish, and yet a step upwards in emotion because
Venator actually sings it to music. 'Ay marry, sir, this is music
indeed,' approves Brother Peter; 'this cheers the heart.'

In this and the preceding lecture, Gentlemen, I have enforced at some
length the opinion that to understand the many essential differences
between verse and prose we must constantly bear in mind that verse, being
metrical, keeps the character originally imposed on it by musical
accompaniment and must always, however far the remove, be referred back
to its origin and to the emotion which music excites.

Mr George Bernard Shaw having to commit his novel "Cashel Byron's
Profession" to paper in a hurry, chose to cast it in blank verse as being
more easily and readily written so: a performance which brilliantly
illuminates a half-truth. Verse--or at any rate, unrhymed iambic
verse--is easier to write than prose, if you care to leave out the
emotion which makes verse characteristic and worth writing. I have
little doubt that, had he chosen to attempt it, Mr Shaw would have found
his story still more ductile in the metre of "Hiawatha." But the
experiment proves nothing: or no more than that, all fine art costing
labour, it may cost less if burlesqued in a category not its own.

Let me take an example from a work with which you are all familiar--"The
Student's Handbook to the University and Colleges of Cambridge." On
p. 405 we read:--

  The Medieval and Modern Languages Tripos is divided into ten sections,
  A, A2, B, C, D, E, F, G, H and I. A student may take either one or two
  sections at the end of his second year of residence, and either one or
  two more sections at the end of his third or fourth year of residence;
  or he may take two sections at the end of his third year only. Thus
  this Tripos can be treated either as a divided or as an undivided
  Tripos at the option of the candidate.

Now I do not hold that up to you for a model of prose. Still, lucidity
rather than emotion being its aim, I doubt not that the composer spent
pains on it; more pains than it would have cost him to convey his
information metrically, thus:--

     There is a Tripos that aspires to blend
     The Medieval and the Modern tongues
     In one red burial (Sing Heavenly Muse!)
     Divided into sections A, A2,
     B, C, D, E, F, G and H and I.
     A student may take either one or two
     (With some restrictions mention'd in a footnote)
     At th' expiration of his second year:
     Or of his third, or of his fourth again
     Take one or two; or of his third alone
     Take two together. Thus this tripos is
     (Like nothing in the Athanasian Creed)
     Divisible or indivisible
     At the option of the candidate--Gadzooks!

This method has even some advantage over the method of prose in that it
is more easily memorised; but it has, as you will admit, the one fatal
flaw that it imports emotion into a theme which does not properly admit
of emotion, and that so it offends against our first rule of
writing--that it should be appropriate.

Now if you accept the argument so far as we have led it--that verse is by
nature more emotional than prose--certain consequences would seem to
follow: of which the first is that while the capital difficulty of verse
consists in saying ordinary things the capital difficulty of prose
consists in saying extraordinary things; that while with verse, keyed for
high moments, the trouble is to manage the intervals, with prose the
trouble is to manage the high moments.

Let us dwell awhile on this difference, for it is important. You remember
my quoting to you in my last lecture these lines of Milton's:--

     Up to a hill anon his steps he reared
     From whose high top to ken the prospect round,
     If cottage were in view, sheep-cote or herd;
     But cottage, herd, or sheep-cote, none he saw.

We agreed that these were good lines, with the accent of poetry: but we
allowed it to be a highly exalted way of telling how So-and-so climbed a
hill for a better view but found none. Now obviously this exaltation does
not arise immediately out of the action described (which is as ordinary
as it well could be), but is _derivative_. It borrows its wings, its
impetus, from a previous high moment, from the emotion proper to that
moment, from the speech proper to that emotion: and these sustain us
across to the next height as with the glide of an aeroplane. Your own
sense will tell you at once that the passage would be merely bombastic if
the poet were starting to set forth how So-and-so climbed a hill for the
view--just that, and nothing else: as your own sense tells you that the
swoop is from one height to another. For if bathos lay ahead, if Milton
had but to relate how the Duke of York, with twenty thousand men,
'marched up a hill and then marched down again,' he certainly would not
use diction such as:--

     Up to a hill anon his steps he reared.

Even as it is, I think we must all detect a certain artificiality in the
passage, and confess to some relief when Satan is introduced to us, ten
lines lower down, to revivify the story. For let us note that, in the
nature of things, the more adorned and involved our style (and Milton's
is both ornate and involved) the more difficulty we must find with these
flat pedestrian intervals. Milton may 'bring it off,' largely through
knowing how to dodge the interval and contrive that it shall at any rate
be brief: but, as Bagehot noted, when we come to Tennyson and find
Tennyson in "Enoch Arden" informing us of a fish-jowter, that:--

     Enoch's white horse, and Enoch's ocean-spoil
     In ocean-smelling osier--

(_i.e._ in a fish-basket)

                    --and his face
     Rough-reddened with a thousand winter gales,
     Not only to the market town were known,
     But in the leafy lanes beyond the down
     Far as the portal-warding lion-whelp
     And peacock yewtree of the lonely Hall
     Whose Friday fare was Enoch's ministering,

why, then we feel that the vehicle is altogether too pompous for its
load, and those who make speech too pompous for its content commit,
albeit in varying degrees, the error of Defoe's religious lady who,
seeing a bottle of over-ripe beer explode and cork and froth fly up to
the ceiling, cried out, 'O, the wonders of Omnipotent Power!' The poet
who commends fresh fish to us as 'ocean-spoil' can cast no stone at his
brother who writes of them as 'the finny denizens of the deep,' or even
at his cousin the journalist, who exalts the oyster into a 'succulent
bivalve'--

     The feathered tribes on pinions cleave the air;
     Not so the mackerel, and, still less, the bear!

I believe this difficulty, which verse, by nature and origin emotional,
encounters in dealing with ordinary unemotional narrative, to lie as a
technical reason at the bottom of Horace's advice to the writer of Epic
to plunge _in medias res_, thus avoiding flat preparative and catching at
once a high wind which shall carry him hereafter across dull levels and
intervals. I believe that it lay--though whether consciously or not he
scarcely tells us--at the bottom of Matthew Arnold's mind when, selecting
certain qualities for which to praise Homer, he chose, for the very
first, Homer's _rapidity_. 'First,' he says, 'Homer is eminently rapid;
and,' he adds justly, 'to this rapidity the elaborate movement of
Miltonic blank verse is alien.'

Now until one studies writing as an art, trying to discover what this or
that form of it accomplishes with ease and what with difficulty, and why
verse can do one thing and prose another, Arnold's choice of _rapidity_
to put in the forefront of Homer's merits may seem merely capricious.
'Homer (we say) has other great qualities. Arnold himself indicates
Homer's simplicity, directness, nobility. Surely either one of these
should be mentioned before rapidity, in itself not comparable as a virtue
with either?'

But when we see that the difficulty of verse-narrative lies just _here_;
that the epic poet who is rapid has met, and has overcome, the capital
difficulty of his form, then we begin to do justice not only to Arnold as
a critic but (which is of far higher moment) to Homer as a craftsman.

The genius of Homer in this matter is in fact something daemonic. He
seems to shirk nothing: and the effect of this upon critics is
bewildering. The acutest of them are left wondering how on earth an
ordinary tale--say of how some mariners beached ship, stowed sail, walked
ashore and cooked their dinner--can be made so poetical. They are
inclined to divide the credit between the poet and his fortunate age--'a
time' suggests Pater 'in which one could hardly have spoken at all
without ideal effect, or the sailors pulled down their boat without
making a picture "in the great style" against a sky charged with
marvels.'

Well, the object of these lectures is not to explain genius. Just here it
is rather to state a difficulty; to admit that, once in history, genius
overcame it; yet warn you how rare in the tale of poetical achievement is
such a success. Homer, indeed, stands first, if not unmatched, among
poets in this technical triumph over the capital disability of
annihilating flat passages. I omit Shakespeare and the dramatists;
because they have only to give a stage direction 'Enter Cassius, looking
lean,' and Cassius comes in looking leaner than nature; whereas Homer has
in his narrative to walk Hector or Thersites on to the scene, describe
him, walk him off. I grant the rapidity of Dante. It is amazing; and we
may yield him all the credit for choosing (it was his genius that chose
it) a subject which allowed of the very highest rapidity; since Hell,
Purgatory and Paradise, though they differ in other respects, have this
in common, that they are populous and the inhabitants of each so
compendiously shepherded together that the visitor can turn from one
person to another without loss of time. But Homer does not escort us
around a menagerie in which we can move expeditiously from one cage to
another. He proposes at least, both in the "Iliad" and in the "Odyssey,"
to unfold a story; and he _seems_ to unfold it so artlessly that we
linger on the most pedestrian intervals while he tells us, for example,
what the heroes ate and how they cooked it. A modern writer would serve
us a far better dinner. Homer brings us to his with our appetite all the
keener for having waited and watched the spitting and roasting.

I would point out to you what art this genius conceals; how cunning is
this apparent simplicity: and for this purpose let me take Homer at the
extreme of his difficulty--when he has to describe a long sea-voyage.

Some years ago, in his last Oxford lectures, Mr Froude lamented that no
poet in this country had arisen to write a national epic of the great
Elizabethan seamen, to culminate (I suppose) as his History culminated,
in the defeat of the Armada: and one of our younger poets; Mr Alfred
Noyes, acting on this hint has since given us an epic poem on "Drake," in
twelve books. But Froude probably overlooked, as Mr Noyes has not
overcome, this difficulty of the flat interval which, while ever the
bugbear of Epic, is magnified tenfold when our action takes place on the
sea. For whereas the verse should be rapid and the high moments frequent,
the business of seafaring is undeniably monotonous, as the intervals
between port and port, sea-fight and sea-fight, must be long and lazy.
Matters move more briskly in an occasional gale; but even a gale lasts,
and must be ridden out; and the process of riding to a gale of wind:--

     For ever climbing up the climbing wave

--your ship taking one wave much as she takes another--is in its nature
monotonous. Nay, you have only to read Falconer's "Shipwreck" to discover
how much of dulness may lie enwrapped, to discharge itself, even in a
first-class tempest. Courses, reckonings, trimmings of canvas--these
occur in real life and amuse the simple mariner at the time. But to the
reader, if he be a landsman, their repetition in narrative may easily
become intolerable; and when we get down to the 'trades,' even the seaman
sets his sail for a long spell of weather and goes to sleep. In short you
cannot upon the wide Atlantic push action and reaction to and fro as upon
the plains of windy Troy: nor could any but a superhuman genius make
sustained poetry (say) out of Nelson's untiring pursuit of Villeneuve,
which none the less was one of the most heroic feats in history.

This difficulty, inherent in navigation as a subject for the Epic Muse,
has, I think, been very shrewdly detected and hit off in a parody of Mr
Noyes' poem by a young friend of mine, Mr Wilfred Blair:--

     Meanwhile the wind had changed, and Francis Drake
     Put down the helm and drove against the seas--
     Once more the wind changed, and the simple seaman,
     Full fraught with weather wisdom, once again
     Put down the helm and so drove on--_et cetera_.

Now Homer actually has performed this feat which we declare to be next to
impossible. He actually does convey Odysseus from Troy to Ithaca, by a
ten years' voyage too; he actually has narrated that voyage to us in
plain straightforward words; and, what is more, he actually has made a
superb epic of it. Yes, but when you come to dissect the Odyssey, what
amazing artifice is found under that apparently straightforward
tale!--eight years of the ten sliced out, to start with, and
magnificently presented to Circe

     Where that Aeaean isle forgets the main

--and (one may add), so forgetting, avoids the technical difficulties
connected therewith.

Note the space given to Telemachus and his active search for the lost
hero: note too how the mass of Odysseus' seafaring adventures is
condensed into a reported speech--a traveller's tale at the court of
Alcinoüs. Virgil borrowed this trick, you remember; and I dare to swear
that had it fallen to Homer to attempt the impossible saga of Nelson's
pursuit after Villeneuve he would have achieved it triumphantly--by means
of a tale told in the first person by a survivor to Lady Hamilton. Note,
again, how boldly (being free to deal with an itinerary of which his
audience knew nothing but surmised that it comprehended a vast deal of
the marvellous, spaced at irregular distances) Homer works in a shipwreck
or a miracle wherever the action threatens to flag. Lessing, as you know,
devoted several pages of the "Laoköon" to the shield of Achilles; to
Homer's craft in depicting it as it grew under Hephaestus' hammer: so
that we are intrigued by the process of manufacture instead of being
wearied by a description of the ready-made article; so also (if one may
presume to add anything to Lessing) that we are cunningly flattered in a
sense that the shield is being made for _us._ Well, that is one artifice
out of many: but if you would gauge at all Homer's resource and subtlety
in technique I recommend you to analyse the first twelve books of
the "Odyssey" and count for yourselves the device by which the
poet--[Greek: polutropos] as was never his hero--evades or hurries over
each flat interval as he happens upon it.

     These things, Ulysses,
     The wise bards also
     Behold and sing.
     But O, what labour!
     O Prince, what pain!

You may be thinking, Gentlemen, that I take up a disproportionate amount
of your time on such technical matters at these. But literature being an
art (forgive the reiteration!) and therefore to be practised, I want us
to be seeking all the time _how it is done_; to hunt out the principles
on which the great artists wrought; to face, to rationalise, the
difficulties by which they were confronted, and learn how they overcame
the particular obstacle. Surely even for mere criticism, apart from
practice, we shall equip ourselves better by seeking, so far as we may,
how the thing is done than by standing at gaze before this or that
masterpiece and murmuring 'Isn't that beautiful! How in the world, now...!'

I am told that these lectures are criticised as tending to make you
conceited: to encourage in you a belief that you can do things, when it
were better that you merely admired. Well I would not dishearten you by
telling to what a shred of conceit, even of hope, a man can be reduced
after twenty-odd years of the discipline. But I can, and do, affirm that
the farther you penetrate in these discoveries the more sacred the
ultimate mystery will become for you: that the better you understand the
great authors as exemplars of practice, the more certainly you will
realise what is the condescension of the gods.

Next time, then, we will attempt an enquiry into the capital difficulty
of Prose.



LECTURE V.

INTERLUDE: ON JARGON

Thursday, May 1


We parted, Gentlemen, upon a promise to discuss the capital difficulty of
Prose, as we have discussed the capital difficulty of Verse. But,
although we shall come to it, on second thoughts I ask leave to break the
order of my argument and to interpose some words upon a kind of writing
which, from a superficial likeness, commonly passes for prose in these
days, and by lazy folk is commonly written for prose, yet actually is not
prose at all; my excuse being the simple practical one that, by first
clearing this sham prose out of the way, we shall the better deal with
honest prose when we come to it. The proper difficulties of prose will
remain: but we shall be agreed in understanding what it is, or at any
rate what it is not, that we talk about. I remember to have heard
somewhere of a religious body in the United States of America which had
reason to suspect one of its churches of accepting Spiritual consolation
from a coloured preacher--an offence against the laws of the Synod--and
despatched a Disciplinary Committee with power to act; and of the
Committee's returning to report itself unable to take any action under
its terms of reference, for that while a person undoubtedly coloured had
undoubtedly occupied the pulpit and had audibly spoken from it in the
Committee's presence, the performance could be brought within no
definition of preaching known or discoverable. So it is with that
infirmity of speech--that flux, that determination of words to the mouth,
or to the pen--which, though it be familiar to you in parliamentary
debates, in newspapers, and as the staple language of Blue Books,
Committees, Official Reports, I take leave to introduce to you as prose
which is not prose and under its real name of Jargon.

You must not confuse this Jargon with what is called Journalese. The two
overlap, indeed, and have a knack of assimilating each other's vices. But
Jargon finds, maybe, the most of its votaries among good douce people who
have never written to or for a newspaper in their life, who would never
talk of 'adverse climatic conditions' when they mean 'bad weather'; who
have never trifled with verbs such as 'obsess,' 'recrudesce,' 'envisage,'
'adumbrate,' or with phrases such as 'the psychological moment,' 'the
true inwardness,' 'it gives furiously to think.' It dallies with
Latinity--'sub silentio,' 'de die in diem,' 'cui bono?' (always in the
sense, unsuspected by Cicero, of 'What is the profit?')--but not for the
sake of style. Your journalist at the worst is an artist in his way: he
daubs paint of this kind upon the lily with a professional zeal; the more
flagrant (or, to use his own word, arresting) the pigment, the happier is
his soul. Like the Babu he is trying all the while to embellish our poor
language, to make it more floriferous, more poetical--like the Babu for
example who, reporting his mother's death, wrote, 'Regret to inform you,
the hand that rocked the cradle has kicked the bucket.'

_There_ is metaphor: _there_ is ornament: _there_ is a sense of poetry,
though as yet groping in a world unrealised. No such gusto marks--no such
zeal, artistic or professional, animates--the practitioners of Jargon,
who are, most of them (I repeat), douce respectable persons. Caution is
its father: the instinct to save everything and especially trouble: its
mother, Indolence. It looks precise, but it is not. It is, in these
times, _safe_: a thousand men have said it before and not one to your
knowledge had been prosecuted for it. And so, like respectability in
Chicago, Jargon stalks unchecked in our midst. It is becoming the
language of Parliament: it has become the medium through which Boards of
Government, County Councils, Syndicates, Committees, Commercial Firms,
express the processes as well as the conclusions of their thought and so
voice the reason of their being.

Has a Minister to say 'No' in the House of Commons? Some men are
constitutionally incapable of saying no: but the Minister conveys it
thus--'The answer to the question is in the negative.' That means 'no.'
Can you discover it to mean anything less, or anything more except that
the speaker is a pompous person?--which was no part of the information
demanded.

That is Jargon, and it happens to be accurate. But as a rule Jargon is by
no means accurate, its method being to walk circumspectly around its
target; and its faith, that having done so it has either hit the
bull's-eye or at least achieved something equivalent, and safer.

Thus the Clerk of a Board of Guardians will minute that--

     In the case of John Jenkins deceased the coffin provided was of the
     usual character.

Now this is not accurate. 'In the case of John Jenkins deceased,' for
whom a coffin was supplied, it is wholly superfluous to tell us that he
is deceased. But actually John Jenkins never had more than one case, and
that was the coffin. The Clerk says he had two,--a coffin in a case: but
I suspect the Clerk to be mistaken, and I am sure he errs in telling us
that the coffin was of the usual character: for coffins have no
character, usual or unusual.

For another example (I shall not tell you whence derived)--

  In the case of every candidate who is placed in the first class [So you
  see the lucky fellow gets a case as well as a first-class. He might be
  a stuffed animal: perhaps he is] In the case of every candidate who is
  placed in the first class the class-list will show by some convenient
  mark (1) the Section or Sections for proficiency in which he is placed
  in the first class and (2) the Section or Sections (if any) in which he
  has passed with special distinction.

'The Section or Sections (if any)'--But, how, if they are not any, could
they be indicated by a mark however convenient?

     The Examiners will have regard to the style and method of the
     candidate's answers, and will give credit for excellence _in these
     respects_.

Have you begun to detect the two main vices of Jargon? The first is that
it uses circumlocution rather than short straight speech. It says 'In the
case of John Jenkins deceased, the coffin' when it means 'John Jenkins's
coffin': and its yea is not yea, neither is its nay nay: but its answer
is in the affirmative or in the negative, as the foolish and superfluous
'case' may be. The second vice is that it habitually chooses vague woolly
abstract nouns rather than concrete ones. I shall have something to say
by-and-by about the concrete noun, and how you should ever be struggling
for it whether in prose or in verse. For the moment I content myself with
advising you, if you would write masculine English, never to forget the
old tag of your Latin Grammar--

     Masculine will only be
     Things that you can touch and see.

But since these lectures are meant to be a course in First Aid to
writing, I will content myself with one or two extremely rough rules: yet
I shall be disappointed if you do not find them serviceable.

The first is:--Whenever in your reading you come across one of these
words, _case, instance, character, nature, condition, persuasion,
degree_--whenever in writing your pen betrays you to one or another of
them--pull yourself up and take thought. If it be 'case' (I choose it as
Jargon's dearest child--'in Heaven yclept Metonomy') turn to the
dictionary, if you will, and seek out what meaning can be derived from
_casus_, its Latin ancestor: then try how, with a little trouble, you can
extricate yourself from that case. The odds are, you will feel like a
butterfly who has discarded his chrysalis.

Here are some specimens to try your hand on--

     (1) All those tears which inundated Lord Hugh Cecil's head were
     dry in the case of Mr Harold Cox.

Poor Mr Cox! left gasping in his aquarium!

     (2) [From a cigar-merchant] In any case, let us send you a case
     on approval.

     (3) It is contended that Consols have fallen in consequence:
     but such is by no means the case.

'Such,' by the way, is another spoilt child of Jargon, especially in
Committee's Rules--'Co-opted members may be eligible as such; such
members to continue to serve for such time as'--and so on.

     (4) Even in the purely Celtic areas, only in two or three cases
     do the Bishops bear Celtic names.

For 'cases' read 'dioceses.'

     _Instance._ In most instances the players were below their form.

But what were they playing at? Instances?

     _Character--Nature._ There can be no doubt that the accident was
     caused through the dangerous nature of the spot, the hidden
     character of the by-road, and the utter absence of any warning
     or danger signal.

Mark the foggy wording of it all! And yet the man hit something and broke
his neck! Contrast that explanation with the verdict of a coroner's jury
in the West of England on a drowned postman--'We find that deceased met
his death by an act of God, caused by sudden overflowing of the river
Walkhan and helped out by the scandalous neglect of the way-wardens.'

     The Aintree course is notoriously of a trying nature.

     On account of its light character, purity and age, Usher's whiskey
     is a whiskey that will agree with you.

     _Order._ The mésalliance was of a pronounced order.

     _Condition._ He was conveyed to his place of residence in an
     intoxicated condition.

'He was carried home drunk.'

     _Quality and Section._ Mr ----, exhibiting no less than five works,
     all of a superior quality, figures prominently in the oil section.

This was written of an exhibition of pictures.

     _Degree._ A singular degree of rarity prevails in the earlier
     editions of this romance.

That is Jargon. In prose it runs simply 'The earlier editions of this
romance are rare'--or 'are very rare'--or even (if you believe what I take
leave to doubt), 'are singularly rare'; which should mean that they are
rarer than the editions of any other work in the world.

Now what I ask you to consider about these quotations is that in each the
writer was using Jargon to shirk prose, palming off periphrases upon us
when with a little trouble he could have gone straight to the point. 'A
singular degree of rarity prevails,' 'the accident was caused through the
dangerous nature of the spot,' 'but such is by no means the case.' We may
not be capable of much; but we can all write better than that, if we take
a little trouble. In place of, 'the Aintree course is of a trying nature'
we can surely say 'Aintree is a trying course' or 'the Aintree course is
a trying one'--just that and nothing more.

Next, having trained yourself to keep a look-out for these worst
offenders (and you will be surprised to find how quickly you get into the
way of it), proceed to push your suspicions out among the whole cloudy
host of abstract terms. 'How excellent a thing is sleep,' sighed Sancho
Panza; 'it wraps a man round like a cloak'--an excellent example, by the
way, of how to say a thing concretely: a Jargoneer would have said that
'among the beneficent qualities of sleep its capacity for withdrawing the
human consciousness from the contemplation of immediate circumstances may
perhaps be accounted not the least remarkable.' How vile a thing--shall
we say?--is the abstract noun! It wraps a man's thoughts round like
cotton wool.

Here is a pretty little nest of specimens, found in "The Times" newspaper
by Messrs. H. W. and F. G. Fowler, authors of that capital little book
"The King's English":--

     One of the most important reforms mentioned in the rescript is the
     unification of the organisation of judicial institutions and the
     guarantee for all the tribunals of the independence necessary for
     securing to all classes of the community equality before the law.

I do not dwell on the cacophony; but, to convey a straightforward piece
of news, might not the Editor of "The Times" as well employ a man to
write:--

     One of the most important reforms is that of the Courts, which need
     a uniform system and to be made independent. In this way only can
     men be assured that all are equal before the law.

I think he might.

A day or two ago the musical critic of the "Standard" wrote this:--

               MR LAMOND IN BEETHOVEN

  Mr Frederick Lamond, the Scottish pianist, as an interpreter of
  Beethoven has few rivals. At his second recital of the composer's works
  at Bechstein Hall on Saturday afternoon he again displayed a complete
  sympathy and understanding of his material that extracted the very
  essence of aesthetic and musical value from each selection he
  undertook. The delightful intimacy of his playing and his unusual force
  of individual expression are invaluable assets, which, allied to his
  technical brilliancy, enable him to achieve an artistic triumph. The
  two lengthy Variations in E flat major (Op. 35) and in D major, the
  latter on the Turkish March from 'The Ruins of Athens,' when included
  in the same programme, require a master hand to provide continuity of
  interest. _To say that Mr Lamond successfully avoided moments that
  might at times, in these works, have inclined to comparative
  disinterestedness, would be but a moderate way of expressing the
  remarkable fascination with which his versatile playing endowed them_,
  but _at the same time_ two of the sonatas given included a similar form
  of composition, and no matter how intellectually brilliant may be the
  interpretation, the extravagant use of a certain mode is bound in time
  to become somewhat ineffective. In the Three Sonatas, the E major (Op.
  109), the A major (Op. 2), No. 2, and the C minor (Op. 111), Mr Lamond
  signalised his perfect insight into the composer's varying moods.

Will you not agree with me that here is no writing, here is no prose,
here is not even English, but merely a flux of words to the pen?

Here again is a string, a concatenation--say, rather, a tiara--of gems of
purest ray serene from the dark unfathomed caves of a Scottish
newspaper:--

  The Chinese viewpoint, as indicated in this letter, may not be without
  interest to your readers, because it evidently is suggestive of more
  than an academic attempt to explain an unpleasant aspect of things
  which, if allowed to materialise, might suddenly culminate in disaster
  resembling the Chang-Sha riots. It also ventures to illustrate
  incidents having their inception in recent premature endeavours to
  accelerate the development of Protestant missions in China; but we
  would hope for the sake of the interests involved that what my
  correspondent describes as 'the irresponsible ruffian element' may be
  known by their various religious designations only within very
  restricted areas.

Well, the Chinese have given it up, poor fellows! and are asking the
Christians--as to-day's newspapers inform us--to pray for them. Do you
wonder? But that is, or was, the Chinese 'viewpoint,'--and what a
willow-pattern viewpoint! Observe its delicacy. It does not venture to
interest or be interesting; merely 'to be not without interest.' But it
does 'venture to illustrate incidents'--which, for a viewpoint, is brave
enough: and this illustration 'is suggestive of something more than an
academic attempt to explain an unpleasant aspect of things which, if
allowed to materialise, might suddenly culminate.' What materialises? The
unpleasant aspect? or the things? Grammar says the 'things,' 'things
which if allowed to materialise.' But things are materialised already,
and as a condition of their being things. It must be the aspect, then,
that materialises. But, if so, it is also the aspect that culminates, and
an aspect, however unpleasant, can hardly do that, or at worst cannot
culminate in anything resembling the Chang-Sha riots.... I give it up.

Let us turn to another trick of Jargon: the trick of Elegant Variation,
so rampant in the Sporting Press that there, without needing to attend
these lectures, the Undergraduate detects it for laughter:--

     Hayward and C. B. Fry now faced the bowling; which apparently had
     no terrors for the Surrey crack. The old Oxonian, however,
     took some time in settling to work....

Yes, you all recognise it and laugh at it. But why do you practise it in
your Essays? An undergraduate brings me an essay on Byron. In an essay on
Byron, Byron is (or ought to be) mentioned many times. I expect, nay
exact, that Bryon shall be mentioned again and again. But my
undergraduate has a blushing sense that to call Byron Byron twice on one
page is indelicate. So Byron, after starting bravely as Byron, in the
second sentence turns into 'that great but unequal poet' and
thenceforward I have as much trouble with Byron as ever Telemachus with
Proteus to hold and pin him back to his proper self. Half-way down the
page he becomes 'the gloomy master of Newstead': overleaf he is
reincarnated into 'the meteoric darling of society': and so proceeds
through successive avatars--'this arch-rebel,' 'the author of Childe
Harold,' 'the apostle of scorn,' 'the ex-Harrovian, proud, but abnormally
sensitive of his club-foot,' 'the martyr of Missolonghi,' 'the
pageant-monger of a bleeding heart.' Now this again is Jargon. It does
not, as most Jargon does, come of laziness; but it comes of timidity,
which is worse. In literature as in life he makes himself felt who not
only calls a spade a spade but has the pluck to double spades and
re-double.

For another rule--just as rough and ready, but just as useful: Train your
suspicions to bristle up whenever you come upon 'as regards,' 'with
regard to,' 'in respect of,' 'in connection with,' 'according as to
whether,' and the like. They are all dodges of Jargon, circumlocutions
for evading this or that simple statement: and I say that it is not
enough to avoid them nine times out of ten, or nine-and-ninety times out
of a hundred. You should never use them. That is positive enough, I hope?
Though I cannot admire his style, I admire the man who wrote to me, 'Re
Tennyson--your remarks anent his "In Memoriam" make me sick': for though
re is not a preposition of the first water, and 'anent' has enjoyed its
day, the finish crowned the work. But here are a few specimens far, very
far, worse:--

     The special difficulty in Professor Minocelsi's case [our old friend
     'case' again] arose _in connexion with_ the view he holds _relative
     to_ the historical value of the opening pages of Genesis.

That is Jargon. In prose, even taking the miserable sentence as it stands
constructed, we should write 'the difficulty arose over the views he
holds about the historical value,' etc.

From a popular novelist:--

     I was entirely indifferent _as to_ the results of the game, caring
     nothing at all _as to_ whether _I had losses or gains_--

Cut out the first 'as' in 'as to,' and the second 'as to' altogether, and
the sentence begins to be prose--'I was indifferent to the results of the
game, caring nothing whether I had losses or gains.'

But why, like Dogberry, have 'had losses'? Why not simply 'lose.' Let us
try again. 'I was entirely indifferent to the results of the game, caring
nothing at all whether I won or lost.'

Still the sentence remains absurd: for the second clause but repeats the
first without adding one jot. For if you care not at all whether you win
or lose, you must be entirely indifferent to the results of the game. So
why not say 'I was careless if I won or lost,' and have done with it?

     A man of simple and charming character, he was fitly _associated
     with_ the distinction of the Order of Merit.

I take this gem with some others from a collection made three years ago,
by the "Oxford Magazine"; and I hope you admire it as one beyond price.
'He was associated with the distinction of the Order of Merit' means 'he
was given the Order of Merit.' If the members of that Order make a
society then he was associated with them; but you cannot associate a man
with a distinction. The inventor of such fine writing would doubtless
have answered Canning's Needy Knife-grinder with:--

     I associate thee with sixpence! I will see thee in another
     association first!

But let us close our _florilegium_ and attempt to illustrate Jargon by
the converse method of taking a famous piece of English (say Hamlet's
soliloquy) and remoulding a few lines of it in this fashion:--

  To be, or the contrary? Whether the former or the latter be preferable
  would seem to admit of some difference of opinion; the answer in the
  present case being of an affirmative or of a negative character
  according as to whether one elects on the one hand to mentally suffer
  the disfavour of fortune, albeit in an extreme degree, or on the other
  to boldly envisage adverse conditions in the prospect of eventually
  bringing them to a conclusion. The condition of sleep is similar to, if
  not indistinguishable from, that of death; and with the addition of
  finality the former might be considered identical with the latter: so
  that in this connection it might be argued with regard to sleep that,
  could the addition be effected, a termination would be put to the
  endurance of a multiplicity of inconveniences, not to mention a number
  of downright evils incidental to our fallen humanity, and thus a
  consummation achieved of a most gratifying nature.

That is Jargon: and to write Jargon is to be perpetually shuffling around
in the fog and cotton-wool of abstract terms; to be for ever hearkening,
like Ibsen's Peer Gynt, to the voice of the Boyg exhorting you to
circumvent the difficulty, to beat the air because it is easier than to
flesh your sword in the thing. The first virtue, the touchstone of a
masculine style, is its use of the active verb and the concrete noun.
When you write in the active voice, 'They gave him a silver teapot,' you
write as a man. When you write 'He was made the recipient of a silver
teapot,' you write jargon. But at the beginning set even higher store on
the concrete noun. Somebody--I think it was FitzGerald--once posited the
question 'What would have become of Christianity if Jeremy Bentham had
had the writing of the Parables?' Without pursuing that dreadful enquiry
I ask you to note how carefully the Parables--those exquisite short
stories--speak only of 'things which you can touch and see'--'A sower
went forth to sow,' 'The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a
woman took,'--and not the Parables only, but the Sermon on the Mount and
almost every verse of the Gospel. The Gospel does not, like my young
essayist, fear to repeat a word, if the word be good. The Gospel says
'Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's'--not 'Render unto
Caesar the things that appertain to that potentate.' The Gospel does not
say 'Consider the growth of the lilies,' or even 'Consider how the lilies
grow.' It says, 'Consider the lilies, how they grow.'

Or take Shakespeare. I wager you that no writer of English so constantly
chooses the concrete word, in phrase after phrase forcing you to touch
and see. No writer so insistently teaches the general through the
particular. He does it even in "Venus and Adonis" (as Professor Wendell,
of Harvard, pointed out in a brilliant little monograph on Shakespeare,
published some ten years ago). Read any page of "Venus and Adonis" side
by side with any page of Marlowe's "Hero and Leander" and you cannot but
mark the contrast: in Shakespeare the definite, particular, visualised
image, in Marlowe the beautiful generalisation, the abstract term, the
thing seen at a literary remove. Take the two openings, both of which
start out with the sunrise. Marlowe begins:--

  Now had the Morn espied her lover's steeds:
  Whereat she starts, puts on her purple weeds,
  And, red for anger that he stay'd so long,
  All headlong throws herself the clouds among.

Shakespeare wastes no words on Aurora and her feelings, but gets to his
hero and to business without ado:--

  Even as the sun with purple-colour'd face--
(You have the sun visualised at once),
  Even as the sun with purple-colour'd face
  Had ta'en his last leave of the weeping morn,
  Rose-cheek'd Adonis hied him to the chase;
  Hunting he loved, but love he laugh'd to scorn.

When Shakespeare has to describe a horse, mark how definite he is:--

  Round-hoof'd, short-jointed, fetlocks shag and long,
  Broad breast, full eye, small head and nostril wide,
  High crest, short ears, straight legs and passing strong;
  Thin mane, thick tail, broad buttock, tender hide.

Or again, in a casual simile, how definite:--

     Upon this promise did he raise his chin,
     Like a dive-dipper peering through a wave,
     Which, being look'd on, ducks as quickly in.

Or take, if you will, Marlowe's description of Hero's first meeting
Leander:--

     It lies not in our power to love or hate,
     For will in us is over-ruled by fate...,

and set against it Shakespeare's description of Venus' last meeting with
Adonis, as she came on him lying in his blood:--

     Or as a snail whose tender horns being hit
     Shrinks backward in his shelly cave with pain,
     And there, all smother'd up, in shade doth sit,
     Long after fearing to creep forth again;
       So, at his bloody view--

I do not deny Marlowe's lines (if you will study the whole passage) to be
lovely. You may even judge Shakespeare's to be crude by comparison. But
you cannot help noting that whereas Marlowe steadily deals in abstract,
nebulous terms, Shakespeare constantly uses concrete ones, which later on
he learned to pack into verse, such as:--

     Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleeve of care.

Is it unfair to instance Marlowe, who died young? Then let us take
Webster for the comparison; Webster, a man of genius or of something very
like it, and commonly praised by the critics for his mastery over
definite, detailed, and what I may call _solidified sensation_. Let us
take this admired passage from his "Duchess of Malfy":--

  _Ferdinand._  How doth our sister Duchess bear herself
                In her imprisonment?

  _Basola._                         Nobly: I'll describe her.
                She's sad as one long used to 't, and she seems
                Rather to welcome the end of misery
                Than shun it: a behaviour so noble
                As gives a majesty to adversity
(Note the abstract terms.)
                You may discern the shape of loveliness
                More perfect in her tears than in her smiles;
                She will muse for hours together; and her silence
(Here we first come on the concrete: and beautiful it is.)
                Methinks expresseth more than if she spake.

Now set against this the well-known passage from "Twelfth Night" where
the Duke asks and Viola answers a question about someone unknown to him
and invented by her--a mere phantasm, in short: yet note how much more
definite is the language:--

_Viola._        My father had a daughter lov'd a man;
                As it might be, perhaps, were I a woman,
                _I_ should your lordship.

_Duke._                         And what's her history?

_Viola._        A blank, my lord. She never told her love,
                But let concealment, like a worm i' the bud,
                Feed on her damask cheek; she pined in thought,
                And with a green and yellow melancholy
                She sat like Patience on a monument
                Smiling at grief. Was not this love indeed?

Observe (apart from the dramatic skill of it) how, when Shakespeare _has_
to use the abstract noun 'concealment,' on an instant it turns into a
visible worm 'feeding' on the visible rose; how, having to use a second
abstract word 'patience,' at once he solidifies it in tangible stone.

Turning to prose, you may easily assure yourselves that men who have
written learnedly on the art agree in treating our maxim--to prefer the
concrete term to the abstract, the particular to the general, the
definite to the vague--as a canon of rhetoric. Whately has much to say on
it. The late Mr E. J. Payne, in one of his admirable prefaces to Burke
(prefaces too little known and valued, as too often happens to
scholarship hidden away in a schoolbook), illustrated the maxim by
setting a passage from Burke's speech "On Conciliation with America"
alongside a passage of like purport from Lord Brougham's "Inquiry into
the Policy of the European Powers." Here is the deadly parallel:--

BURKE.

  In large bodies the circulation of power must be less vigorous at the
  extremities. Nature has said it. The Turk cannot govern Ægypt and
  Arabia and Curdistan as he governs Thrace; nor has he the same dominion
  in Crimea and Algiers which he has at Brusa and Smyrna. Despotism
  itself is obliged to truck and huckster. The Sultan gets such obedience
  as he can. He governs with a loose rein, that he may govern at all; and
  the whole of the force and vigour of his authority in his centre is
  derived from a prudent relaxation in all his borders.

BROUGHAM.

  In all the despotisms of the East, it has been observed that the
  further any part of the empire is removed from the capital, the more do
  its inhabitants enjoy some sort of rights and privileges: the more
  inefficacious is the power of the monarch; and the more feeble and
  easily decayed is the organisation of the government.

You perceive that Brougham has transferred Burke's thought to his own
page: but will you not also perceive how pitiably, by dissolving Burke's
vivid particulars into smooth generalities, he has enervated its hold on
the mind?

'This particularising style,' comments Mr Payne, 'is the essence of
Poetry; and in Prose it is impossible not to be struck with the energy it
produces. Brougham's passage is excellent in its way: but it pales before
the flashing lights of Burke's sentences. The best instances of this
energy of style, he adds, are to be found in the classical writers of the
seventeenth century. 'When South says, "An Aristotle was but the rubbish
of an Adam, and Athens but the rudiments of Paradise," he communicates
more effectually the notion of the difference between the intellect of
fallen and of unfallen humanity than in all the philosophy of his sermons
put together.'

You may agree with me, or you may not, that South in this passage is
expounding trash; but you will agree with Mr Payne and me that he uttered
it vividly.

Let me quote to you, as a final example of this vivid style of writing, a
passage from Dr John Donne far beyond and above anything that ever lay
within South's compass:--

  The ashes of an Oak in the Chimney are no epitaph of that Oak, to tell
  me how high or how large that was; it tells me not what flocks it
  sheltered while it stood, nor what men it hurt when it fell. The dust
  of great persons' graves is speechless, too; it says nothing, it
  distinguishes nothing. As soon the dust of a wretch whom thou wouldest
  not, as of a prince whom thou couldest not look upon will trouble thine
  eyes if the wind blow it thither; and when a whirle-wind hath blown the
  dust of the Churchyard into the Church, and the man sweeps out the dust
  of the Church into the Churchyard, who will undertake to sift those
  dusts again and to pronounce, This is the Patrician, this is the noble
  flowre [flour], this the yeomanly, this the Plebeian bran? So is the
  death of Iesabel (Iesabel was a Queen) expressed. They shall not say
  _This is Iesabel_; not only not wonder that it is, nor pity that it
  should be; but they shall not say, they shall not know, _This is
  Iesabel._

Carlyle noted of Goethe, 'his emblematic intellect, his never-failing
tendency to transform into _shape_, into _life_, the feeling that may
dwell in him. Everything has form, has visual excellence: the poet's
imagination bodies forth the forms of things unseen, and his pen turns
them into shape.'

Perpend this, Gentlemen, and maybe you will not hereafter set it down to
my reproach that I wasted an hour of a May morning in a denunciation of
Jargon, and in exhorting you upon a technical matter at first sight so
trivial as the choice between abstract and definite words.

A lesson about writing your language may go deeper than language; for
language (as in a former lecture I tried to preach to you) is your
reason, your [Greek: logos]. So long as you prefer abstract words, which
express other men's summarised concepts of things, to concrete ones which
as near as can be reached to things themselves and are the first-hand
material for your thoughts, you will remain, at the best, writers at
second-hand. If your language be Jargon, your intellect, if not your
whole character, will almost certainly correspond. Where your mind should
go straight, it will dodge: the difficulties it should approach with a
fair front and grip with a firm hand it will be seeking to evade or
circumvent. For the Style is the Man, and where a man's treasure is there
his heart, and his brain, and his writing, will be also.



LECTURE VI.

ON THE CAPITAL DIFFICULTY OF PROSE

Thursday, May 15


To-day, Gentlemen, leaving the Vanity Fair of Jargon behind us, we have
to essay a difficult country; of which, though fairly confident of his
compass-bearings, your guide confesses, that wide tracts lie outside his
knowledge--outside of anything that can properly be called his knowledge.
I feel indeed somewhat as Gideon must have felt when he divided his host
on the slopes of Mount Gilead, warning back all who were afraid. In
asking the remnant to follow as attentively as they can, I promise only
that, if Heaven carry us safely across, we shall have 'broken the back'
of the desert.

In my last lecture but one, then,--and before our small interlude with
Jargon--the argument had carried us, more or less neatly, up to this
point: that the capital difficulty of verse consisted in saying ordinary
unemotional things, of bridging the flat intervals between high moments.
This point, I believe, we made effectively enough.

Now, for logical neatness, we should be able to oppose a corresponding
point, that the capital difficulty of prose consists in saying
extraordinary things, in running it up from its proper level to these
high emotional, musical, moments. And mightily convenient that would be,
Gentlemen, if I were here to help you to answer scientific questions
about prose and verse instead of helping you, in what small degree I can,
to write. But in Literature (which, let me remind you yet once again, is
an art) you cannot classify as in a science.

Pray attend while I impress on you this most necessary warning. In
studying literature, and still more in studying to write it, distrust all
classification! All classifying of literature intrudes 'science' upon an
art, and is artificially 'scientific'; a trick of pedants, that they may
make it the easier to examine you on things with which no man should have
any earthly concern, as I am sure he will never have a heavenly one.
Beetles, minerals, gases, may be classified; and to have them classified
is not only convenient but a genuine advance of knowledge. But if you had
to _make_ a beetle, as men are making poetry, how much would
classification help? To classify in a science is necessary for the
purpose of that science: to classify when you come to art is at the best
an expedient, useful to some critics and to a multitude of examiners. It
serves the art-critic to talk about Tuscan, Flemish, Pre-Raphaelite,
schools of painting. The expressions are handy, and we know more or less
what they intend. Just so handily it may serve us to talk about
'Renaissance poets,' 'the Elizabethans,' 'the Augustan age.' But such
terms at best cannot be scientific, precise, determinate, as for examples
the terms 'inorganic,' 'mammal,' 'univalve,' 'Old Red Sandstone' are
scientific, precise, determinate. An animal is either a mammal or it is
not: you cannot say as assuredly that a man is or is not an Elizabethan.
We call Shakespeare an Elizabethan and the greatest of Elizabethans,
though as a fact he wrote his most famous plays when Elizabeth was dead.
Shirley was but seven years old when Elizabeth died; yet (if
'Elizabethan' have any meaning but a chronological one) Shirley belongs
to the Elizabethan firmament, albeit but as a pale star low on the
horizon: whereas Donne--a post-Elizabethan if ever there was one--had by
1603 reached his thirtieth year and written almost every line of those
wonderful lyrics which for a good sixty years gave the dominant note to
Jacobean and Caroline poetry.

In treating of an art we classify for handiness, not for purposes of
exact knowledge; and man (_improbus homo_) with his wicked inventions is
for ever making fools of our formulae. Be consoled--and, if you are wise,
thank Heaven--that genius uses our best-laid logic to explode it.

Be consoled, at any rate, on finding that after deciding the capital
difficulty of prose to lie in saying extraordinary things, in running up
to the high emotional moments, the prose-writers explode and blow our
admirable conclusions to ruins.

You see, we gave them the chance to astonish us when we defined prose as
'a record of human thought, dispensing with metre and using rhythm
laxly.' When you give genius leave to use something laxly, at its will,
genius will pretty surely get the better of you.

Observe, now, following the story of English prose, what has happened.
Its difficulty--the inherent, the native disability of prose--is to
handle the high emotional moments which more properly belong to verse.
Well, we strike into the line of our prose-writers, say as early as
Malory. We come on this; of the Passing of Arthur:--

  'My time hieth fast,' said the king. Therefore said Arthur unto Sir
  Bedivere, 'Take thou Excalibur my good sword, and go with it to yonder
  water side; and when thou comest there I charge thee throw my sword in
  that water and come again and tell me what there thou seest.' 'My
  lord,' said Bedivere, 'Your commandment shall be done; and lightly
  bring you word again.' So Sir Bedivere departed, and by the way he
  beheld that noble sword, that the pommel and the haft was all of
  precious stones, and then he said to himself, 'If I throw this rich
  sword in the water, thereof shall never come good, but harm and loss.'
  And then Sir Bedivere hid Excaliber under a tree. And so, as soon as he
  might, he came again unto the king, and said he had been at the water
  and had thrown the sword into the water, 'What saw thou there?' said
  the king, 'Sir,' he said, 'I saw nothing but waves and winds.'

Now I might say a dozen things of this and of the whole passage that
follows, down to Arthur's last words. Specially might I speak to you of
the music of its monosyllables--'"What sawest you there?" said the king...
"Do as well as thou mayest; for in me is no trust for to trust in. For I
will into the Vale of Avilion, to heal me of my grievous wound. And if
thou hear never more of me, pray for my soul."' But, before making
comment at all, I shall quote you another passage; this from Lord
Berners' translation of Froissart, of the death of Robert Bruce:--

  It fortuned that King Robert of Scotland was right sore aged and
  feeble: for he was greatly charged with the great sickness, so that
  there was no way for him but death. And when he felt that his end drew
  near, he sent for such barons and lords of his realm as he trusted
  best, and shewed them how there was no remedy with him, but he must
  needs leave this transitory life.... Then he called to him the gentle
  knight, Sir William Douglas, and said before all the lords, 'Sir
  William, my dear friend, ye know well that I have had much ado in my
  days to uphold and sustain the right of this realm; and when I had most
  ado I made a solemn vow, the which as yet I have not accomplished,
  whereof I am right sorry; the which was, if I might achieve and make an
  end of all my wars, so that I might once have brought this realm in
  rest and peace, then I promised in my mind to have gone and warred on
  Christ's enemies, adversaries to our holy Christian faith. To this
  purpose mine heart hath ever intended, but our Lord would not consent
  thereto... And sith it is so that my body can not go, nor achieve that my
  heart desireth, I will send the heart instead of the body, to
  accomplish mine avow... I will, that as soon as I am trespassed out of
  this world, that ye take my heart out of my body, and embalm it, and
  take of my treasure as ye shall think sufficient for that enterprise,
  both for yourself and such company as ye will take with you, and
  present my heart to the Holy Sepulchre, whereas our Lord lay, seeing my
  body can not come there. And take with you such company and purveyance
  as shall be appertaining to your estate. And, wheresoever ye come, let
  it be known how ye carry with you the heart of King Robert of Scotland,
  at his instance and desire to be presented to the Holy Sepulchre.' Then
  all the lords, that heard these words, wept for pity.

There, in the fifteenth century and early in the sixteenth, you have
Malory and Berners writing beautiful English prose; prose the emotion of
which (I dare to say) you must recognise if you have ears to hear. So you
see that already our English prose not only achieves the 'high moment,'
but seems to obey it rather and be lifted by it, until we ask ourselves,
'Who could help writing nobly, having to tell how King Arthur died or how
the Bruce?' Yes, but I bid you observe that Malory and Berners are both
relating what, however noble, is quite simple, quite straightforward. It
is when prose attempts to _philosophise_, to _express thoughts_ as well
as to relate simple sayings and doings--it is then that the trouble
begins. When Malory has to philosophise death, to _think_ about it, this
is as far as he attains:--

  'Ah, Sir Lancelot,' said he, 'thou wert head of all Christian Knights!
  And now I dare say,' said Sir Ector, 'that, Sir Lancelot, there thou
  liest, thou were never matched of none earthly hands; and thou were the
  curtiest knight that ever bare shield: and thou were the truest friend
  to thy lover that ever strood horse, and thou were the truest lover of
  a sinful man that ever loved woman; and thou were the kindest man that
  ever strooke with sword; and thou were the goodliest person that ever
  came among press of knights; and thou were the meekest man and gentlest
  that ever sat in hall among ladies; and thou were the sternest Knight
  to thy mortal foe that ever put spear in the rest.'

Beautiful again, I grant! But note you that, eloquent as he can be on the
virtues of his dead friend, when Sir Ector comes to the thought of death
itself all he can accomplish is, 'And now I dare say that, Sir Lancelot,
there thou liest.'

Let us make a leap in time and contrast this with Tyndale and the
translators of our Bible, how they are able to make St Paul speak of
death:--

     So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this
     mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass
     the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O
     death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

There you have something clean beyond what Malory or Berners could
compass: there you have a different kind of high moment--a high moment of
philosophising: there you have emotion impregnated with thought. It was
necessary that our English verse even after Chaucer, our English prose
after Malory and Berners, should overcome this most difficult gap (which
stands for a real intellectual difference) if it aspired to be what
to-day it is--a language of the first class, comparable with Greek and
certainly no whit inferior to Latin or French.

        *        *        *        *        *

Let us leave prose for a moment, and see how Verse threw its bridge over
the gap. If you would hear the note of Chaucer at its deepest, you will
find it in the famous exquisite lines of the Prioress' Prologue:--

     O moder mayde! O maydë moder fre!
     O bush unbrent, brenning in Moyses' sight!

in the complaint of Troilus, in the rapture of Griselda restored to her
children:--

     O tendre, O dere, O yongë children myne,
     Your woful moder wendë stedfastly
     That cruel houndës or some foul vermyne
     Hadde eten you; but God of his mercy
     And your benignë fader tendrely
     Hath doon you kept...

You will find a note quite as sincere in many a carol, many a ballad, of
that time:--

     He came al so still
     There his mother was,
     As dew in April
     That falleth on the grass.

     He came al so still
     To his mother's bour,
     As dew in April
     That falleth on the flour.

     He came al so still
     There his mother lay,
     As dew in April
     That falleth on the spray.

     Mother and maiden
     Was never none but she;
     Well may such a lady
     Goddes mother be.

You get the most emotional note of the Ballad in such a stanza
as this, from "The Nut-Brown Maid":--

     Though it be sung of old and young
       That I should be to blame,
     Their's be the charge that speak so large
       In hurting of my name;
     For I will prove that faithful love
       It is devoid of shame;
     In your distress and heaviness
       To part with you the same:
     And sure all tho that do not so
       True lovers are they none:
     For, in my mind, of all mankind
       I love but you alone.

All these notes, again, you will admit to be exquisite: but they gush
straight from the unsophisticated heart: they are nowise deep save in
innocent emotion: they are not _thoughtful_. So when Barbour breaks out
in praise of Freedom, he cries

     A! Fredome is a noble thing!

And that is really as far as he gets. He goes on

     Fredome mayse man to hafe liking.

(Freedom makes man to choose what he likes; that is, makes him free)

     Fredome all solace to man giffis,
     He livis at ese that frely livis!
     A noble hart may haif nane ese,
     Na ellys nocht that may him plese,
     Gif fredome fail'th: for fre liking
     Is yharnit ouer all othir thing...

--and so on for many lines; all saying the same thing, that man yearns
for Freedom and is glad when he gets it, because then he is free; all
hammering out the same observed fact, but all knocking vainly on the door
of thought, which never opens to explain what Freedom _is_.

Now let us take a leap as we did with prose, and 'taking off' from the
Nut-Brown Maid's artless confession,

     in my mind, of all mankind
     I love but you alone,

let us alight on a sonnet of Shakespeare's--

     Thy bosom is endearéd with all hearts
      Which I by lacking have supposéd dead:
     And there reigns Love, and all Love's loving parts,
      And all those friends which I thought buriéd.
     How many a holy and obsequious tear
      Hath dear religious love stolen from mine eye
     As interest of the dead!--which now appear
      But things removed, that hidden in thee lie.
     Thou art the grave where buried love doth live,
      Hung with the trophies of my lovers gone,
     Who all their parts of me to thee did give;
       That due of many now is mine alone:
       Their images I loved I view in thee,
       And thou, all they, hast all the all of me.

What a new way of talking about love! Not a happier way--there is less of
heart's-ease in these doubts, delicacies, subtleties--but how much more
thoughtful! How has our Nut-Brown Maid eaten of the tree of knowledge!

Well, there happened a Shakespeare, to do this for English Verse: and
Shakespeare was a miracle which I cheerfully leave others to rationalise
for you, having, for my own part and so far as I have fared in life,
found more profit in a capacity for simple wonder.

But I can tell you how the path was made straight to that miracle. The
shock of the New Learning upon Europe awoke men and unsealed men's
eyes--unsealed the eyes of Englishmen in particular--to discover a
literature, and the finest in the world, which _habitually philosophised
life_: a literature which, whether in a chorus of Sophocles or a talk
reported by Plato, or in a ribald page of Aristophanes or in a knotty
chapter of Thucydides, was in one guise or another for ever asking _Why?_
'What is man doing here, and why is he doing it?' 'What is his purpose?
his destiny?' 'How stands he towards those unseen powers--call them the
gods, or whatever you will--that guide and thwart, provoke, madden,
control him so mysteriously?' 'What are these things we call good and
evil, life, love, death?'

These are questions which, once raised, haunt Man until he finds an
answer--some sort of answer to satisfy him. Englishmen, hitherto content
with the Church's answers but now aware of this great literature which
answered so differently--and having other reasons to suspect what the
Church said and did--grew aware that their literature had been as a child
at play. It had never philosophised good and evil, life, love or death:
it had no literary forms for doing this; it had not even the vocabulary.
So our ancestors saw that to catch up their lee-way--to make their report
worthy of this wonderful, alluring discovery--new literary forms had to
be invented--new, that is, in English: the sonnet, the drama, the verse
in which the actors were to declaim, the essay, the invented tale. Then,
for the vocabulary, obviously our fathers had either to go to Greek,
which had invented the A.B.C. of philosophising; or to seek in the other
languages which were already ahead of English in adapting that alphabet;
or to give our English Words new contents, new connotations, new
meanings; or lastly, to do all three together.

Well, it was done; and in verse very fortunately done; thanks of course
to many men, but thanks to two especially--to Sir Thomas Wyat, who led
our poets to Italy, to study and adopt the forms in which Italy had cast
its classical heritage; and to Marlowe, who impressed blank verse upon
the drama. Of Marlowe I shall say nothing; for with what he achieved you
are familiar enough. Of Wyat I may speak at length to you, one of these
days; but here, to prepare you for what I hope to prove--that Wyat is one
of the heroes of our literature--I will give you three brief reasons why
we should honour his memory:--

(1) He led the way. On the value of that service I shall content myself
with quoting a passage from Newman:--

  When a language has been cultivated in any particular department of
  thought, and so far as it has been generally perfected, an existing
  want has been supplied, and there is no need for further workmen. In
  its earliest times, while it is yet unformed, to write in it at all is
  almost a work of genius. It is like crossing a country before roads are
  made communicating between place and place. The authors of that age
  deserve to be Classics both because of what they do and because they
  can do it. It requires the courage and force of great talent to compose
  in the language at all; and the composition, when effected, makes a
  permanent impression on it.

This Wyat did. He was a pioneer and opened up a new country to
Englishmen. But he did more.

(2) Secondly, he had the instinct to perceive that the lyric, if it would
philosophise life, love, and the rest, must boldly introduce the personal
note: since in fact when man asks questions about his fortune or destiny
he asks them most effectively in the first person. 'What am _I_ doing?
Why are _we_ mortal? Why do _I_ love _thee_?'

This again Wyat did: and again he did more.

For (3) thirdly--and because of this I am surest of his genius--again and
again, using new thoughts in unfamiliar forms, he wrought out the result
in language so direct, economical, natural, easy, that I know to this day
no one who can better Wyat's best in combining straight speech with
melodious cadence. Take the lines _Is it possible?_--

     Is it possible?
     For to turn so oft;
  To bring that lowest that was most aloft:
  And to fall highest, yet to light soft?
     Is it possible?

     All is possible!
     Whoso list believe;
  Trust therefore first, and after preve;
  As men wed ladies by licence and leave,
     All is possible!

or again--

     Forget not! O forget not this!--
     How long ago hath been, and is,
     The mind that never meant amiss:
           Forget not yet!

or again (can personal note go straighter?)--

     And wilt thou leave me thus?
     Say nay, say nay, for shame!
     To save thee from the blame
     --Of all my grief and grame.
     And wilt thou leave me thus?
           Say nay! say nay!

(Say 'nay,' say 'nay'; and don't say, 'the answer is in the negative.')

No: I have yet to mention the straightest, most natural of them all, and
will read it to you in full--

     What should I say?
     Since Faith is dead
     And Truth away
       From you is fled?
       Should I be led
         With doubleness?
         Nay! nay! mistress.

     I promised you
     And you promised me
     To be as true
       As I would be:
       But since I see
         Your double heart,
         Farewell my part!

     Thought for to take
     Is not my mind;
     But to forsake
       One so unkind;
       And as I find,
         So will I trust,
         Farewell, unjust!

     Can ye say nay
     But that you said
     That I alway
       Should be obeyed?
       And--thus betrayed
         Or that I wist!
         Farewell, unkist!

I observe it noted on p. 169 of Volume iii of "The Cambridge History of
English Literature" that Wyat 'was a pioneer and perfection was not to be
expected of him. He has been described as a man stumbling over obstacles,
continually falling but always pressing forward.' I know not to what
wiseacre we owe that pronouncement: but what do you think of it, after
the lyric I have just quoted? I observe, further, on p. 23 of the same
volume of the same work, that the Rev. T. M. Lindsay, D.D., Principal of
the Glasgow College of the United Free Church of Scotland, informs us of
Wilson's "Arte of Rhetorique" that

  there is little or no originality in the volume, save, perhaps, the
  author's condemnation of the use of French and Italian phrases and
  idioms, which he complains are 'counterfeiting the kinges Englishe.'
  The warnings of Wilson will not seem untimely if to be remembered that
  the earlier English poets of the period--Sir Thomas Wyatt the elder,
  and the Earl of Surrey--drew their inspiration from Petrarch and
  Ariosto, that their earlier attempts at poetry were translations from
  Italian sonnets, and that their maturer efforts were imitations of the
  sweet and stately measures and style of Italian poesie. The polish
  which men like Wyatt and Surrey were praised for giving to our 'rude
  and homely manner of vulgar poesie' might have led to some
  degeneration.

Might it, indeed? As another Dominie would have said, 'Pro-digious.'

      (Thought for to take
      Is not my mind;
      But to forsake

This Principal of the Glasgow College of the United Free Church of
Scotland--

      Farewell unkiss'd!)

But I have lingered too long with this favourite poet of mine and left
myself room only to hand you the thread by following which you will come
to the melodious philosophising of Shakespeare's Sonnets--

     Let me not to the marriage of true Minds
       Admit impediment. Love is not love
     Which alters where it alteration finds
       Or bends with the remover to remove.

Note the Latin words 'impediment,' 'alteration,' 'remove.' We are using
the language of philosophy here or, rather, the 'universal language,'
which had taken over the legacy of Greek. You may trace the use of it
growing as, for example, you trace it through the Elizabethan song-books:
and then (as I said) comes Shakespeare, and with Shakespeare the miracle.

The education of Prose was more difficult, and went through more violent
convulsions. I suppose that the most of us--if, after reading a quantity
of Elizabethan prose, we had the courage to tell plain truth, undaunted
by the name of a great epoch--would confess to finding the mass of it
clotted in sense as well as unmusical in sound, a disappointment almost
intolerable after the simple melodious clarity of Malory and Berners. I,
at any rate, must own that the most of Elizabethan prose pleases me
little; and I speak not of Elizabethan prose at its worst, of such stuff
as disgraced the already disgraceful Martin Marprelate Controversy, but
of such as a really ingenious and ingenuous man like Thomas Nashe could
write at his average. For a sample:--

  English Seneca read by candle-light yields many good sentences such as
  'Blood is a beggar' and so forth; and if you entreat him fair on a
  frosty morning, he will afford you whole Hamlets, I should say handfuls
  of tragical speeches.... Sufficeth them [that is, modern followers of
  Seneca] to bodge up a blank verse with if's and and's, and others,
  while for recreation after their candle-stuff, having starched their
  beards most curiously, to make a peripatetical path into the inner
  parts of the city, and spend two or three hours in turning over the
  French _Doudie_, where they attract more infection in one minute than
  they can do eloquence all the days of their life by conversing with any
  authors of like argument.

This may be worth studying historically, to understand the difficulties
our prose had to encounter and overcome. But no one would seriously
propose it as a model for those who would write well, which is our
present business. I have called it 'clotted.' It is, to use a word of the
time, 'farced' with conceits; it needs straining.

Its one merit consists in this, that it is struggling, fumbling, to say
something: that is, to _make_ something. It is not, like modern Jargon,
trying to dodge something. English prose, in short, just here is passing
through a period of puberty, of green sickness: and, looking at it
historically, we may own that its throes are commensurate with the
stature of the grown man to be.

These throes tear it every way. On the one hand we have Ascham,
pendantically enough, apologising that he writes in the English tongue
(yet with a sure instinct he does it):--

  If any man would blame me, either for taking such a matter in hand, or
  else for writing it in the English tongue, this answer I may make him,
  that what the best of the realm think it honest for them to use, I, one
  of the meanest sort, ought not to suppose it vile for me to write... And
  as for the Latin or Greek tongue, everything is so excellently done in
  them that none can do better. In the English tongue, contrary,
  everything in a manner so meanly, both for the matter and the handling,
  that no man can do worse.

On the other hand you have Euphuism with its antithetical tricks and
poises, taking all prose by storm for a time: Euphuism, to be revived two
hundred years later, and find a new avatar in the Johnsonian balance;
Euphuism, dead now, yet alive enough in its day.

For all these writers were alive: and I tell you it is an inspiriting
thing to be alive and trying to write English. All these authors were
alive and trying to _do_ something. Unconsciously for the most part they
were striving to philosophise the vocabulary of English prose and find a
rhythm for its periods.

And then, as already had happened to our Verse, to our Prose too there
befel a miracle.

You will not ask me 'What miracle?' I mean, of course, the Authorised
Version of the Bible.

I grant you, to be sure, that the path to the Authorised Version was made
straight by previous translators, notably by William Tyndale. I grant you
that Tyndale was a man of genius, and Wyclif before him a man of genius.
I grant you that the forty-seven men who produced the Authorised Version
worked in the main upon Tyndale's version, taking that for their basis.
Nay, if you choose to say that Tyndale was a miracle in himself, I
cheerfully grant you that as well. But, in a lecture one must not
multiply miracles _praeter necessitatem_; and when Tyndale has been
granted you have yet to face the miracle that forty-seven men--not one of
them known, outside of this performance, for any superlative talent--sat
in committee and almost consistently, over a vast extent of
work--improved upon what Genius had done. I give you the word of an old
committee-man that this is not the way of committees--that only by
miracle is it the way of any committee. Doubtless the forty-seven were
all good men and godly: but doubtless also good and godly were the Dean
and Chapter who dealt with Alfred Steven's tomb of the Duke of Wellington
in St Paul's Cathedral; and you know what _they_ did. Individual genius
such as Tyndale's or even Shakespeare's, though we cannot explain it, we
may admit as occurring somehow, and not incredibly, in the course of
nature. But that a large committee of forty-seven should have gone
steadily through the great mass of Holy Writ, seldom interfering with
genius, yet, when interfering, seldom missing to improve: that a
committee of forty-seven should have captured (or even, let us say,
should have retained and improved) a rhythm so personal, so constant,
that our Bible has the voice of one author speaking through its many
mouths: that, Gentlemen, is a wonder before which I can only stand humble
and aghast.

Does it or does it not strike you as queer that the people who set you
'courses of study' in English Literature never include the Authorised
Version, which not only intrinsically but historically is out and away
the greatest book of English Prose. Perhaps they can pay you the silent
compliment of supposing that you are perfectly acquainted with it?... I
wonder. It seems as if they thought the Martin Marprelate Controversy,
for example, more important somehow.

  'So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this
   mortal shall have put on immortality...'

  'Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it:
  if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it
  would utterly be contemned.'

  'The king's daughter is all glorious within: her clothing is of
  wrought gold.'

  'Thine eyes shall see the King in his beauty: they shall behold the
  land that is very far off.'

  'And a man shall be as an hiding-place from the wind, and a covert
  from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow
  of a great rock in a weary land.'

When a nation has achieved this manner of diction, those rhythms for its
dearest beliefs, a literature is surely established. Just there I find
the effective miracle, making the blind to see, the lame to leap. Wyclif,
Tyndale, Coverdale and others before the forty-seven had wrought. The
Authorised Version, setting a seal on all, set a seal on our national
style, thinking and speaking. It has cadences homely and sublime, yet so
harmonises them that the voice is always one. Simple men--holy and humble
men of heart like Isaak Walton or Bunyan--have their lips touched and
speak to the homelier tune. Proud men, scholars,--Milton, Sir Thomas
Browne--practice the rolling Latin sentence; but upon the rhythms of our
Bible they, too, fall back. 'The great mutations of the world are acted,
or time may be too short for our designs.' 'Acquaint thyself with the
Choragium of the stars.' 'There is nothing immortal but immortality.' The
precise man Addison cannot excel one parable in brevity or in heavenly
clarity: the two parts of Johnson's antithesis come to no more than this
'Our Lord has gone up to the sound of a trump: with the sound of a trump
our Lord has gone up.' The Bible controls its enemy Gibbon as surely as
it haunts the curious music of a light sentence of Thackeray's. It is in
everything we see, hear, feel, because it is in us, in our blood.

What madman, then, will say 'Thus or thus far shalt thou go' to a prose
thus invented and thus with its free rhythms, after three hundred years,
working on the imagination of Englishmen? Or who shall determine its
range, whether of thought or of music? You have received it by
inheritance, Gentlemen: it is yours, freely yours--to direct your words
through life as well as your hearts.



LECTURE VII

SOME PRINCIPLES REAFFIRMED

Thursday, May 29


Let me begin to-day, Gentlemen, with a footnote to my last lecture. It
ended, as you may remember, upon an earnest appeal to you, if you would
write good English, to study the Authorised Version of the Scriptures; to
learn from it, moreover, how by mastering _rhythm_, our Prose overcame
the capital difficulty of Prose and attuned itself to rival its twin
instrument, Verse; compassing almost equally with Verse man's thought
however sublime, his emotion however profound.

Now in the course of my remarks I happened--maybe a little
incautiously--to call the Authorised Version a 'miracle'; using that
word in a colloquial sense, in which no doubt you accepted it; meaning
no more than that the thing passed my understanding. I have allowed that
the famous forty-seven owed an immense deal to earlier translators--to
the Bishops, to Tyndale, to the Wyclif Version, as themselves allowed it
eagerly in their preface:--

  Truly (good Christian reader) wee never thought from the beginning that
  we should needs to make a new Translation, nor yet to make of a bad one
  a good one ... but to make a good one better, or out of many good ones
  one principall good one, not justly to be excepted against: that hath
  bene our indeavour, that our marke.

(See [Footnote 1] at the end of this lecture.)

Nevertheless the Authorised Version astounds me, as I believe it will
astound you when you compare it with earlier translations. Aristotle (it
has been said) invented Chance to cover the astonishing fact that there
were certain phenomena for which he found himself wholly unable to
account. Just so, if one may compare very small things with very great, I
spoke of the Authorised Version as a 'miracle.' It was, it remains,
marvellous to me.

Should these deciduous discourses ever come to be pressed within the
leaves of a book, I believe their general meaning will be as clear to
readers as I hope it is to you who give me so much pleasure by pursuing
them--almost (shall I say?) like Wordsworth's Kitten with those other
falling leaves:--

     That almost I could repine
     That your transports are not mine.

But meanwhile certain writers in the newspapers are assuming that by this
word 'miracle' I meant to suggest to you a something like plenary
inspiration at once supernatural and so authoritative that it were
sacrilege now to alter their text by one jot or tittle.

Believe me, I intended nothing of the sort: for that, in my plain
opinion, would be to make a fetish of the book. One of these days I hope
to discuss with you what inspiration is: with what accuracy--with what
meaning, if any--we can say of a poet that he is inspired; questions
which have puzzled many wise men from Plato downwards.

But certainly I never dreamt of claiming plenary inspiration for the
forty-seven. Nay, if you will have it, they now and again wrote stark
nonsense. Remember that I used this very same word 'miracle' of
Shakespeare, meaning again that the total Shakespeare quite outpasses my
comprehension; yet Shakespeare, too, on occasion talks stark nonsense, or
at any rate stark bombast. He never blotted a line--'I would he had
blotted a thousand' says Ben Jonson: and Ben Jonson was right.
Shakespeare could have blotted out two or three thousand lines: he was
great enough to afford it. Somewhere Matthew Arnold supposes us as
challenging Shakespeare over this and that weak or bombastic passage, and
Shakespeare answering with his tolerant smile, that no doubt we were
right, but after all, 'Did it greatly matter?'

So we offer no real derogation to the forty-seven in asserting that here
and there they wrote nonsense. They could afford it. But we do stultify
criticism if, adoring the grand total of wisdom and beauty, we prostrate
ourselves indiscriminately before what is good and what is bad, what is
sublime sense and what is nonsense, and forbid any reviser to put forth a
hand to the ark.

The most of us Christians go to church on Christmas Day, and there we
listen to this from Isaiah, chapter ix, verses 1-7:--

     Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation,
     when at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the
     land of Naphtali, and afterwards did more grievously afflict her
     by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations.

     The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they
     that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the
     light shined.

     Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy: they
     joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men
     rejoice when they divide the spoil.

     For thou hast broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his
     shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, as in the day of Midian.

     For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and
     garments rolled in blood: but this shall be with burning and fuel
     of fire.

     For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.

The forty-seven keep their majestic rhythm. But have you ever, sitting in
church on a Christmas morning, asked yourself what it all means, or if it
mean anything more than a sing-song according somehow with the holly and
ivy around the pillars? _'Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not
increased the joy: they joy before thee according to the joy in
harvest,'_ But why--if the joy be not increased? _'For every battle of
the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood: but
this shall be with burning and fuel of fire.'_ Granted the rhythmical
antithesis, where is the real antithesis, the difference, the
improvement? If a battle there must be, how is burning better than
garments rolled in blood? And, in fine, what is it all about? Now let us
turn to the Revised Version:--

     But there shall be no gloom to her that was in anguish. In the
     former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the
     land of Naphtali, but in the latter time hath he made it glorious,
     by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

     The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they
     that dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the
     light shined. Thou hast multiplied the nation, thou hast
     increased their joy: they joy before thee according to the joy in
     harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.

     For the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the
     rod of his oppressor, thou hast broken as in the day of Midian.

     For all the armour of the armed man in the tumult, and the
     garments rolled in blood, shall even be for burning, for fuel of
     fire.

     For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the
     government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be
     called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father,
     Prince of Peace.

I say (knowing no Hebrew, merely assuming our Revisers to be at least no
worse scholars than the forty-seven) that here, with the old cadences
kept so far as possible, we are given sense in place of nonsense: and I
ask you to come to the Revised Version with a fair mind. I myself came to
it with some prejudice; in complete ignorance of Hebrew, and with no more
than the usual amount of Hellenistic Greek. I grant at once that the
Revised New Testament was a literary fiasco; largely due (if gossip may
be trusted) to trouble with the Greek Aorist, and an unwise decision--in
my opinion the most gratuitously unwise a translator can take--to use one
and the same English word, always and in every connotation, as
representing one and the same Greek word: for in any two languages few
words are precisely equivalent. A fiasco at any rate the Revised New
Testament was, deserving in a dozen ways and in a thousand passages the
scorn which Professor Saintsbury has recently heaped on it. But I protest
against the injustice of treating the two Revisions--of the New Testament
and of the Old--as a single work, and saddling the whole with the sins of
a part. For two years I spent half-an-hour daily in reading the
Authorised and Revised Versions side by side, marking as I went, and in
this way worked through the whole--Old Testament, Apocrypha, New
Testament. I came to it (as I have said) with some prejudice; but I
closed the books on a conviction, which my notes sustain for me, that the
Revisers of the Old Testament performed their task delicately,
scrupulously, on the whole with great good judgment; that the critic does
a wrong who brings them under his indiscriminate censure; that on the
whole they have clarified the sense of the Authorised Version while
respecting its consecrated rhythms; and that--to name an example, that
you may test my words and judge for yourselves--the solemn splendour of
that most wonderful poem, the story of Job, [Greek: dialampei], 'shines
through' the new translation as it never shone through the old.

          *          *          *          *          *

And now Gentlemen (as George Herbert said on a famous occasion), let us
tune our instruments.

Before discussing with you another and highly important question of style
in writing, I will ask you to look back for a few moments on the road we
have travelled.

We have agreed that our writing should be _appropriate_: that it should
fit the occasion; that it should rise and fall with the subject, be grave
where that is serious, where it is light not afraid of what Stevenson in
"The Wrong Box" calls 'a little judicious levity.' If your writing
observe these precepts, it will be well-mannered writing.

To be sure, much in addition will depend on yourself--on what you are or
have made yourself, since in writing the style can never be separated
from the man. But neither can it in the practice of virtue: yet, though
men differ in character, I do not observe that moralists forbear from
laying down general rules of excellence. Now if you will recall our
further conclusion, that writing to be good must be persuasive (since
persuasion is the only true intellectual process), and will test this by
a passage of Newman's I am presently to quote to you, from his famous
'definition of a gentleman,' I think you will guess pretty accurately the
general law of excellence I would have you, as Cambridge men, tribally
and particularly obey.

Newman says of a gentleman that among other things:

  He is never mean or little in his disputes, never takes unfair
  advantage, never mistakes personalities or sharp sayings for arguments,
  or insinuates evil which he dare not say out.... If he engages in
  controversy of any kind, his disciplined intellect preserves him from
  the blundering discourtesy of better perhaps, but less educated minds;
  who, like blunt weapons, tear and hack instead of cutting clean, who
  mistake the point in argument, waste their strength on trifles,
  misconceive their adversary, and leave the question more involved than
  they found it. He may be right or wrong in his opinion: but he is too
  clear-sighted to be unjust. He is simple as he is forcible, and as
  brief as he is decisive.

Enough for the moment on this subject: but commit these words to your
hearts, and you will not only triumph in newspaper controversy. You will
do better: you will avoid it.

To proceed.--We found further that our writing should be _accurate_:
because language expresses thought--is, indeed, the only expression of
thought--and if we lack the skill to speak precisely, our thought will
remain confused, ill-defined. The editor of a mining paper in Denver,
U.S.A., boldly the other day laid down this law, that niceties of
language were mere 'frills': all a man needed was to 'get there,' that
is, to say what he wished in his own way. But just here, we found, lies
the mischief. You will not get there by hammering away on your own
untutored impulse. You must first be your own reader, chiselling out the
thought definitely for yourself: and, after that, must carve out the
intaglio yet more sharply and neatly, if you would impress its image
accurately upon the wax of other men's minds. We found that even for Men
of Science this neat clean carving of words was a very necessary
accomplishment. As Sir James Barrie once observed, 'The Man of Science
appears to be the only man who has something to say, just now--and the
only man who does not know how to say it.' But the trouble by no means
ends with Science. Our poets--those gifted strangely prehensile men who,
as I said in my first lecture, seem to be born with filaments by which
they apprehend, and along which they conduct, the half-secrets of life to
us ordinary mortals--our poets would appear to be scamping artistic
labour, neglecting to reduce the vague impressions to the clearly cut
image which is, after all, what helps. It may be a triumph that they have
taught modern French poetry to be suggestive. I think it would be more
profitable could they learn from France--that nation of fine workmen--to
be definite.

But about 'getting there'--I ask you to remember Wolfe, with the seal of
his fate on him, stepping into his bateau on the dark St. Lawrence River
and quoting as they tided him over:--

     The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
     And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
     Await alike th' inevitable hour;
     The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

'I had rather have written those lines,' said Wolfe, 'than conquer
Canada.' That is how our forefathers valued noble writing. The Denver
editor holds that you may write as you please so long as you get there.
Well, Wolfe got there: and so, in Wolfe's opinion, did Gray: but perhaps
to Wolfe and Gray, and to the Denver editor, 'there' happened to mean two
different places. Wolfe got to the Heights of Abraham.

Further, it was against this loose adaptation of words to thought and to
things that we protested in our interpolated lecture on Jargon, which is
not so much bad writing as the avoidance of writing. The man who employs
Jargon does not get 'there' at all, even in a raw rough pioneering
fashion: he just walks around 'there' in the ambient tracks of others.
Let me fly as high as I can and quote you two recent achievements by
Cabinet Ministers, as reported in the Press:--(1) 'Mr McKenna's reasons
for releasing from Holloway Prison Miss Lenton while on remand charged
_in connexion with_ (sweet phrase!) the firing of the tea pavilion in Kew
Gardens are given in a letter which he has _caused to be forwarded_ to a
correspondent who inquired _as to_ the circumstances of the release. The
letter says "I am desired by the Home Secretary to say that Lilian Lenton
was reported by the medical officer at Holloway Prison to be in a state
of collapse and in imminent danger of death _consequent upon_ her refusal
to take food. Three courses were open--(1) To leave her to die; (2) To
attempt to feed her forcibly, which the medical officer advised would
probably entail death in her existing condition: (3) To release her. The
Home Secretary adopted the last course."'

'Would probably entail death in her existing condition'! Will anyone tell
me how Mr McKenna or anyone else could kill, or (as he prefers to put it)
entail death upon, Miss Lenton in a non-existing condition?

(2) Next take the Chancellor of the Exchequer. As we know, the Chancellor
of the Exchequer can use incisive speech when he chooses. On May 8th as
reported in next day's "Morning Post," Mr Lloyd George, answering a
question, delivered himself of this to an attentive Senate:--

  With regard to Mr Noel Buxton's questions, I cannot answer for an
  enquiry which is _of a private and confidential character_, for
  although I am associated with it I am not associated with it as a
  Minister of the Crown.... Those enquiries are of a very careful
  systematic and scientific character, and are being conducted by the
  ablest investigators in this country, some of whom have reputations
  of international character. I am glad to think that the
  investigation is of a most impartial character.

It must be a comforting thought, that an inquiry of a private and
confidential character is also of a very systematic and scientific
character, and besides being of a most impartial character, is conducted
by men of international character--whatever that may happen to mean. What
_is_ an international character, and what would you give for one?

We found that this way of talking, while pretending to be something
pontifical, is really not prose at all, nor reputable speech at all, but
Jargon; nor is the offence to be excused by pleading, as I have heard it
pleaded, that Mr Lloyd George was not using his own phraseology but
quoting from a paper supplied him by some permanent official of the
Treasury: since we select our civil servants among men of decent
education and their salaries warrant our stipulating that they shall be
able, at least, to speak and write their mother tongue.

We laid down certain rules to help us in the way of straight
Prose:--

(1) _Always always prefer the concrete word to the abstract._

(2) _Almost always prefer the direct word to the circumlocution._

(3) _Generally, use transitive verbs, that strike their object; and use
them in the active voice, eschewing the stationary passive, with its
little auxiliary its's and was's, and its participles getting into the
light of your adjectives, which should be few. For, as a rough law, by
his use of the straight verb and by his economy of adjectives you can
tell a man's style, if it be masculine or neuter, writing or
'composition.'_

The authors of that capital handbook "The King's English," which I have
already recommended to you, add two rules:--

(4) _Prefer the short word to the long._
(5) _Prefer the Saxon word to the Romance._

But these two precepts you would have to modify by so long a string of
exceptions that I do not commend them to you. In fact I think them false
in theory and likely to be fatal in practice. For, as my last lecture
tried to show, you no sooner begin to philosophise things instead of
merely telling a tale of them than you must go to the Mediterranean
languages: because in these man first learnt to discuss his 'why' and
'how,' and these languages yet guard the vocabulary.

Lastly, we saw how, by experimenting with rhythm, our prose 'broke its
birth's invidious bar' and learnt to scale the forbidden heights.

Now by attending to the few plain rules given above you may train
yourselves to write sound, straightforward, work-a-day English. But if
you would write melodious English, I fear the gods will require of you
what they ought to have given you at birth--something of an ear. Yet the
most of us have ears, of sorts; and I believe that, though we can only
acquire it by assiduous practice, the most of us can wonderfully improve
our talent of the ear.

If you will possess yourselves of a copy of Quintilian or borrow one from
any library (Bohn's translation will do) and turn to his 9th book, you
will find a hundred ways indicated, illustrated, classified, in which a
writer or speaker can vary his Style, modulate it, lift or depress it,
regulate its balance.

All these rules, separately worth studying, if taken together may easily
bewilder and dishearten you. Let me choose just two, and try to hearten
you by showing that, even with these two only, you can go a long way.

Take the use of right emphasis. What Quintilian says of right
emphasis--or the most important thing he says--is this:--

  There is sometimes an extraordinary force in some particular word,
  which, if it be placed in no very conspicuous position in the middle
  part of a sentence, is likely to escape the attention of the hearer
  and to be obscured by the words surrounding it; but if it be put at
  the end of the sentence is urged upon the reader's sense and
  imprinted on his mind.

That seems obvious enough, for English use as well as for Latin. 'The
wages of sin is Death'--anyone can see how much more emphatic that is
than 'Death is the wages of sin.' But let your minds work on this matter
of emphasis, and discover how emphasis has always its right point
somewhere, though it be not at all necessarily at the end of the
sentence. Take a sentence in which the strong words actually repeat
themselves for emphasis:--

     Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city.

Our first impulse would be to place the emphasis at the end:--

     Babylon, that great city, is fallen, is fallen.

The Latin puts it at the beginning:--

     Cecidit, cecidit, Babylonia illa magna.
     Fallen, fallen, is Babylon, that great city.

The forty-seven preserved the 'falling close' so exquisite in the Latin;
the emphasis, already secured by repetition, they accentuated by
lengthening the pause. I would urge on you that in every sentence there
is just a right point of emphasis which you must train your ears to
detect. So your writing will acquire not only emphasis, but balance, and
you will instinctively avoid such an ill-emphasised sentence as this,
which, not naming the author, I will quote for your delectation:--

  'Are Japanese Aprils always as lovely as this?' asked the man in the
  light tweed suit of two others in immaculate flannels with crimson
  sashes round their waists and puggarees folded in cunning plaits
  round their broad Terai hats.

Explore, next, what (though critics have strangely neglected it) to my
mind stands the first, or almost the first, secret of beautiful writing
in English, whether in prose or in verse; I mean that inter-play of
vowel-sounds in which no language can match us. We have so many vowel
sounds indeed, and so few vowels to express them, that the foreigner,
mistaking our modesty, complains against God's plenty. We alone, for
example, sound by a natural vowel that noble _I_, which other nations can
only compass by diphthongs. Let us consider that vowel for a moment or
two and mark how it leads off the dance of the Graces, its sisters:--

     Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the
     Lord is risen upon thee.

Mark how expressively it drops to the solemn vowel 'O,' and
anon how expressively it reasserts itself to express rearisen
delight:--

  Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is
  risen upon thee. For behold the darkness shall cover the earth, and
  gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and
  his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to
  thy light, and Kings to the brightness of thy rising.

Take another passage in which the first lift of this _I_ vowel yields to
its graver sisters as though the sound sank into the very heart of the
sense.

  I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, 'Father,
  I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more
  worthy to be called thy son.'

'And am no more worthy to be called thy son.' Mark the deep O's. 'For
this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' 'O my
son, my son Absalom'--observe the I and O how they interchime, until the O
of sorrow tolls the lighter note down:--

     O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would God I had died
     for thee, O Absolom, my son, my son!

Or take this lyric, by admission one of the loveliest written in this
present age, and mark here too how the vowels play and ring and chime and
toll.

  I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
    And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
  Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
    And live alone in the bee-loud glade.[2]
  And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping
       slow,
    Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket
       sings;
  There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
    And evening full of the linnet's wings.
  I will arise and go now, for always night and day
    I hear lake-water lapping, with low sounds by the shore;
  While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
    I hear it in the deep heart's core.

I think if you will but open your ears to this beautiful vowel-play which
runs through all the best of our prose and poetry, whether you ever learn
to master it or not, you will have acquired a new delight, and one
various enough to last you though you live to a very old age.

All this of which I am speaking is Art: and Literature being an Art, do
you not see how personal a thing it is--how it cannot escape being
personal? No two men (unless they talk Jargon) say the same thing in the
same way. As is a man's imagination, as is his character, as is the
harmony in himself, as is his ear, as is his skill, so and not otherwise
he will speak, so and not otherwise than they can respond to that
imagination, that character, that order of his intellect, that harmony of
his soul, his hearers will hear him. Let me conclude with this great
passage from Newman which I beg you, having heard it, to ponder:--

     If then the power of speech is as great as any that can be named,
     --if the origin of language is by many philosophers considered
     nothing short of divine--if by means of words the secrets of the
     heart are brought to light, pain of soul is relieved, hidden grief
     is carried off, sympathy conveyed, experience recorded, and wisdom
     perpetuated,--if by great authors the many are drawn up into unity,
     national character is fixed, a people speaks, the past and the
     future, the East and the West are brought into communication with
     each other,--if such men are, in a word, the spokesmen and the
     prophets of the human family--it will not answer to make light of
     Literature or to neglect its study: rather we may be sure that, in
     proportion as we master it in whatever language, and imbibe its
     spirit, we shall ourselves become in our own measure the ministers
     of like benefits to others--be they many or few, be they in the
     obscurer or the more distinguished walks of life--who are united to
     us by social ties, and are within the sphere of our personal
     influence.



[Footnote 1: I append the following specimen translations of the famous
passage in St Paul's "First Epistle to the Corinthians" xv. 51 sqq. I
choose this because (1) it is an important passage; (2) it touches a high
moment of philosophising; (3) the comparison seems to me to represent
with great fairness to Tyndale the extent of the forty-seven's debt to
him; (4) it shows that they meant exactly what they said in their
Preface; and (5) it illustrates, towards the close, their genius for
improvement. From the Greek, Wyclif translates:--

     Lo, I seie to you pryvyte of holi thingis | and alle we schulen rise
     agen | but not alle we schuln be chaungid | in a moment in the
     twynkelynge of an yë, in the last trumpe | for the trumpe schal
     sowne: and deed men schulen rise agen with out corrupcion, and we
     schuln be changid | for it bihoveth this corruptible thing to clothe
     uncorropcion and this deedly thing to putte aweye undeedlynesse. But
     whanne this deedli thing schal clothe undeedlynesse | thanne schal
     the word be don that is written | deeth is sopun up in victorie |
     deeth, where is thi victorie? deeth, where is thi pricke?

Tyndale:--

     Beholde I shewe you a mystery. We shall not all slepe: but we shall
     all be chaunged | and that in a moment | and in the twinclinge of an
     eye | at the sounde of the last trompe. For the trompe shall blowe,
     and the deed shall ryse incorruptible and we shalbe chaunged. For
     this corruptible must put on incorruptibilite: and this mortall must
     put on immortalite. When this corruptible hath put on
     incorruptibilite | and this mortall hath put on immortalite: than
     shalbe brought to pass the saying that is written, 'Deeth is
     consumed in to victory.' Deeth, where is thy stynge? Hell, where is
     thy victory?

The Authorised Version:--

     Behold, I shew you a mystery; we shall not all sleepe, but wee shall
     all be changed, in a moment, in the twinckling of an eye, at the
     last trumpe, (for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be
     raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed). For this corruptible
     must put on incorruption, and this mortall must put on immortalitie.
     So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this
     mortall shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to
     passe the saying that is written, 'Death is swallowed up in
     victory.' O Death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy
     victory?]


[Footnote 2:         I E O : I O E
                     I O : E OU A
           'As musing slow, I hail    ('as m_u_sing sl_o_w _I_ ha_i_l)
           Thy genial loved return.'  (Th_y_ g_e_nial l_o_ved ret_u_rn.')
               COLLINS, "Ode to Evening."]



LECTURE VIII.

ON THE LINEAGE OF ENGLISH LITERATURE (I)

Wednesday, October 22


You may think it strange, Gentlemen, that of a course of ten lectures
which aim to treat English Literature as an affair of practice, I should
propose to spend two in discussing our literary lineage: a man's lineage
and geniture being reckoned, as a rule, among the things he cannot be
reasonably asked to amend. But since of high breeding is begotten (as
most of us believe) a disposition to high thoughts, high deeds; since to
have it and be modestly conscious of it is to carry within us a faithful
monitor persuading us to whatsoever in conduct is gentle, honourable, of
good repute, and so silently dissuading us from base thoughts, low ends,
ignoble gains; seeing, moreover, that a man will often do more to match
his father's virtue than he would to improve himself; I shall endeavour,
in this and my next lecture, to scour that spur of ancestry and present
it to you as so bright and sharp an incentive that you, who read English
Literature and practise writing here in Cambridge, shall not pass out
from her insensible of the dignity of your studies, or without pride or
remorse according as you have interpreted in practice the motto,
_Noblesse oblige_.

          'Tis wisdom, and that high,
     For men to use their fortune reverently
     Even in youth.

Let me add that, just as a knowledge of his family failings will help one
man in economising his estate, or warn another to shun for his health the
pleasures of the table, so some knowledge of our lineage in letters may
put us, as Englishmen, on the watch for certain national defects (for
such we have), on our guard against certain sins which too easily beset
us. Nay, this watchfulness may well reach down from matters of great
moment to seeming trifles. It is good for us to recognise with Wordsworth
that

     We must be free or die, who speak the tongue
     That Shakespeare spake; the faith and morals hold
     Which Milton held. In everything we are sprung
     Of Earth's first blood, have titles manifold.

But, though less important, it is good also to recognise that, as sons of
Cambridge, we equally offend against her breeding when in our scientific
writings we allow ourselves to talk of a microbe as an 'antibody.'

Now, because a great deal of what I have to say this morning, if not
heretical, will yet run contrary to the vogue and practice of the Schools
for these thirty years, I will take the leap into my subject over a
greater man's back and ask you to listen with particular attention to the
following long passage from a writer whose opinion you may challenge, but
whose authority to speak as a master of English prose no one in this room
will deny.

  When (says Cardinal Newman) we survey the stream of human affairs for
  the last three thousand years, we find it to run thus:--At first sight
  there is so much fluctuation, agitation, ebbing and flowing, that we
  may despair to discern any law in its movements, taking the earth as
  its bed and mankind as its contents; but on looking more closely and
  attentively we shall discern, in spite of the heterogeneous materials
  and the various histories and fortunes which are found in the race of
  man during the long period I have mentioned, a certain formation amid
  the chaos--one and one only,--and extending, though not over the whole
  earth, yet through a very considerable portion of it. Man is a social
  being and can hardly exist without society, and in matter of fact
  societies have ever existed all over the habitable earth. The greater
  part of these associations have been political or religious, and have
  been comparatively limited in extent and temporary. They have been
  formed and dissolved by the force of accidents, or by inevitable
  circumstances; and when we have enumerated them one by one we have made
  of them all that can be made. But there is one remarkable association
  which attracts the attention of the philosopher, not political nor
  religious--or at least only partially and not essentially such--which
  began in the earliest times and grew with each succeeding age till it
  reached its complete development, and then continued on, vigorous and
  unwearied, and still remains as definite and as firm as ever it was.
  Its bond is a _common civilisation_: and though there are other
  civilisations in the world, as there are other societies, yet _this_
  civilisation, together with the society which is its creation and its
  home, is so distinctive and luminous in its character, so imperial in
  its extent, so imposing in its duration, and so utterly without rival
  on the face of the earth, that the association may fitly assume to
  itself the title of 'Human Society,' and _its_ civilisation the
  abstract term 'Civilisation.'

  There are indeed great outlying portions of mankind which are not,
  perhaps never have been, included in this Human Society; still they are
  outlying portions and nothing else, fragmentary, unsociable, solitary
  and unmeaning, protesting and revolting against the grand central
  formation of which I am speaking, but not uniting with each other into
  a second whole. I am not denying, of course, the civilisation of the
  Chinese, for instance, though it be not our civilisation; but it is a
  huge, stationary, unattractive, morose civilisation. Nor do I deny a
  civilisation to the Hindoos, nor to the ancient Mexicans, nor to the
  Saracens, nor (in a certain sense) to the Turks; but each of these
  races has its own civilisation, as separate from one another as from
  ours.

  I do not see how they can be all brought under one idea....

  Gentlemen, let me here observe that I am not entering upon the question
  of races, or upon their history. I have nothing to do with ethnology; I
  take things as I find them on the surface of history and am but
  classifying phenomena. Looking, then, at the countries which surround
  the Mediterranean Sea as a whole, I see them to be from time
  immemorial, the seat of an association of intellect and mind such as to
  deserve to be called the Intellect and the Mind of the Human Kind.
  Starting as it does, and advancing from certain centres, till their
  respective influences intersect and conflict, and then at length
  intermingle and combine, a common Thought has been generated, and a
  common Civilisation defined and established. Egypt is one such starting
  point, Syria, another, Greece a third, Italy a fourth and North Africa
  a fifth--afterwards France and Spain. As time goes on, and as
  colonisation and conquest work their changes, we see a great
  association of nations formed, of which the Roman Empire is the
  maturity and the most intelligible expression: an association, however,
  not political but mental, based on the same intellectual ideas and
  advancing by common intellectual methods.... In its earliest age it
  included far more of the Eastern world than it has since; in these
  later times it has taken into its compass a new hemisphere; in the
  Middle Ages it lost Africa, Egypt and Syria, and extended itself to
  Germany, Scandinavia and the British Isles. At one time its territory
  was flooded by strange and barbarous races, but the existing
  civilisation was vigorous enough to vivify what threatened to stifle
  it, and to assimilate to the old social forms what came to expel them:
  and thus the civilisation of modern times remains what it was of old;
  not Chinese, or Hindoo, or Mexican, or Saracen ... but the lineal
  descendant, or rather the continuation--_mutatis mutandis_--of the
  civilisation which began in Palestine and Greece.

To omit, then, all minor debts such as what of arithmetic, what of
astronomy, what of geography, we owe to the Saracen, from Palestine we
derive the faith of Europe shared (in the language of the Bidding Prayer)
by all Christian people dispersed throughout the world; as to Greece we
owe the rudiments of our Western art, philosophy, letters; and not only
the rudiments but the continuing inspiration, so that--though entirely
superseded in worship, as even in the Athens of Pericles they were
worshipped only by an easy, urbane, more than half humorous
tolerance--Apollo and the Muses, Zeus and the great ones of Olympus,
Hermes and Hephaestus, Athene in her armour, with her vanquisher the
foam-born irresistible Aphrodite, these remain the authentic gods of our
literature, beside whom the gods of northern Europe--Odin, Thor,
Freya--are strangers, unhomely, uncanny as the shadows of unfamiliar
furniture on the walls of an inn. Sprung though great numbers of us are
from the loins of Northmen, it is in these gracious deities of the South
that we find the familiar and the real, as from the heroes of the
sister-island, Cucullain and Concobar, we turn to Hercules, to Perseus,
to Bellerophon, even to actual men of history, saying 'Give us Leonidas,
give us Horatius, give us Regulus. These are the mighty ones we
understand, and from whom, in a direct line of tradition, we understand
Harry of Agincourt, Philip Sidney and our Nelson.'

Now since, of the Mediterranean peoples, the Hebrews discovered the
Unseen God whom the body of Western civilisation has learnt to worship;
since the Greeks invented art, philosophy, letters; since Rome found and
developed the idea of imperial government, of imperial colonies as
superseding merely fissiparous ones, of settling where she conquered
(_ubi Romanus vicit ibi habitat_) and so extending with Government that
system of law which Europe still obeys; we cannot be surprised that
Israel, Greece, Rome--each in turn--set store on a pure ancestry. Though
Christ be the veritable Son of God, his ancestry must be traced back
through his supposed father Joseph to the stem of Jesse, and so to
Abraham, father of the race. Again, as jealously as the Evangelist
claimed Jesus for a Hebrew of the Hebrews, so, if you will turn to the
"Menexenus" of Plato in the Oration of Aspasia over the dead who perished
in battle, you hear her claim that 'No Pelopes nor Cadmians, nor
Egyptians, nor Dauni, nor the rest of the crowd of born foreigners dwell
with us; but ours is the land of pure Hellenes, free from admixture.'
These proud Athenians, as you know, wore brooches in the shape of golden
grasshoppers, to signify that they were [Greek: autochthones], children
of Attica, sprung direct from her soil. And so, again, the true Roman,
while enlarging Rome's citizenship over Asia, Africa, Gaul, to our remote
Britain, insisted, even in days of the later Empire, on his pure descent
from Æneas and Romulus--

     Unde Remnes et Quirites proque prole posterum
     Romuli matrem crearet et nepotem Cæsarem.

  With the Ramnes, Quirites, together ancestrally proud as they drew
  From Romulus down to our Cæsar-last, best of that blood, of that threw.

Here is a boast that we English must be content to forgo. We may wear a
rose on St George's day, if we are clever enough to grow one. The Welsh,
I dare say, have less difficulty with the leek. But April the 23rd is not
a time of roses that we can pluck them as we pass, nor can we claim St
George as a compatriot--_Cappadocius nostras_. We have, to be sure, a few
legendary heroes, of whom King Arthur and Robin Hood are (I suppose) the
greatest; but, save in some Celtic corners of the land, we have few
fairies, and these no great matter; while, as for tutelary gods, our
springs, our wells, our groves, cliffs, mountain-sides, either never
possessed them or possess them no longer. Not of our landscape did it
happen that

     The lonely mountains o'er,
     And the resounding shore,
     A voice of weeping heard, and loud lament;
     From haunted spring and dale
     Edg'd with poplar pale,
     The parting Genius is with sighing sent.

--for the sufficient reason that no tutelary gods of importance were ever
here to be dispersed.

Let me press this home upon you by an illustration which I choose with
the double purpose of enforcing my argument and sending you to make
acquaintance (if you have not already made it) with one of the loveliest
poems written in our time.

In one of Pliny's letters you will find a very pleasant description of
the source of the Clitumnus, a small Umbrian river which, springing from
a rock in a grove of cypresses, descends into the Tinia, a tributary of
the Tiber. 'Have you ever,' writes Pliny to his friend Romanus--

  Have you ever seen the source of the Clitumnus? I suppose not, as I
  never heard you mention it. Let me advise you to go there at once. I
  have just visited it and am sorry that I put off my visit so long. At
  the foot of a little hill, covered with old and shady cypress trees, a
  spring gushes and bursts into a number of streamlets of various size.
  Breaking, so to speak, forth from its imprisonment, it expands into a
  broad basin, so clear and transparent that you may count the pebbles
  and little pieces of money which are thrown into it. From this point
  the force and weight of the water, rather than the slope of the ground,
  hurry it onward. What was a mere spring becomes a noble river, broad
  enough to allow vessels to pass each other as they sail with or against
  the stream. The current is so strong, though the ground is level, that
  barges of beam, as they go down, require no assistance of oars; while
  to go up is as much as can be done with oars and long poles.... The banks
  are clothed with abundant ash and poplar, so distinctly reflected in
  the transparent waters that they seem to be growing at the bottom of
  the river and can be counted with ease. The water is as cold as snow
  and as pure in colour. Hard by the spring stands an ancient and
  venerable temple with a statue of the river-god Clitumnus, clothed in
  the customary robe of state. The Oracles here delivered attest the
  presence of the deity. Close in the precinct stand several little
  chapels dedicated to particular gods, each of whom owns his distinctive
  name and special worship, and is the tutelary deity of a runlet. For
  beside the principal spring, which is, as it were, the parent of all
  the rest, there are several smaller ones which have their distinct
  sources but unite their waters with the Clitumnus, over which a bridge
  is thrown, separating the sacred part of the river from that which is
  open to general use. Above the bridge you may only go in a boat; below
  it, you may swim. The people of the town of Hispallum, to whom Augustus
  gave this place, furnish baths and lodgings at the public expense.
  There are several small dwelling-houses on the banks, in specially
  picturesque situations, and they stand quite close to the waterside. In
  short, everything in the neighbourhood will give you pleasure. You may
  also amuse yourself with numberless inscriptions on the pillars and
  walls, celebrating the praises of the stream and of its tutelary god.
  Many of these you will admire, and some will make you laugh. But no!
  You are too well cultivated to laugh at such things. Farewell.

Clitumnus still gushes from its rocks among the cypresses, as in Pliny's
day. The god has gone from his temple, on the frieze of which you may
read this later inscription--'_Deus Angelorum, qui fecit Resurrectionem._'
After many centuries and almost in our day, by the brain of Cavour and
the sword of Garibaldi, he has made a resurrection for Italy. As part of
that resurrection (for no nation can live and be great without its poet)
was born a true poet, Carducci. He visited the bountiful, everlasting
source, and of what did he sing? Possess yourselves, as for a shilling
you may, of his Ode "Alle fonte del Clitumno," and read: for few nobler
poems have adorned our time. He sang of the weeping willow, the ilex,
ivy, cypress and the presence of the god still immanent among them. He
sang of Umbria, of the ensigns of Rome, of Hannibal swooping down over
the Alps; he sang of the nuptials of Janus and Comesena, progenitors of
the Italian people; of nymphs, naiads, and the moonlight dances of
Oreads; of flocks descending to the river at dusk, of the homestead, the
bare-footed mother, the clinging child, the father, clad in goat-skins,
guiding the ox-wagon; and he ends on the very note of Virgil's famous
apostrophe

     _Sed neque Medorum silvae, ditissima terra..._

with an invocation of Italy--Italy, mother of bullocks for agriculture,
of wild colts for battle, mother of corn and of the vine, Roman mother of
enduring laws and mediaeval mother of illustrious arts. The mountains,
woods and waters of green Umbria applaud the song, and across their
applause is heard the whistle of the railway train bearing promise of new
industries and a new national life.

     E tu, pia madre di giovenchi invitti
     a franger glebe e rintegrar maggesi
     e d' annitrenti in guerra aspri polledri,
     Italia madre,

     madre di biade e viti e leggi eterne
     ed incliti arti a raddolcir la vita
     salve! a te i canti de l' antica lode
     io rinovello.

     Plaudono i monti al carme e i boschi e l' acque
     de l' Umbria verde: in faccia a noi fumando
     ed anelando nuove industrie in corsa
     fischia il vapore.

     And thou, O pious mother of unvanquished
     Bullocks to break glebe, to restore the fallow,
     And of fierce colts for neighing in the battle:
     Italy, mother,

     Mother of corn and vines and of eternal
     Laws and illustrious arts the life to sweeten,
     Hail, hail, all hail! The song of ancient praises
     Renew I to thee!

     The mountains, woods and waters of green Umbria
     Applaud the song: and here before us fuming
     And longing for new industries, a-racing
     Whistles the white steam.

(I quote from a translation by Mr E.J. Watson, recently published by
Messrs J.W. Arrowsmith, of Bristol.)

I put it to you, Gentlemen, that, worthy as are the glories of England to
be sung, this note of Carducci's we cannot decently or honestly strike.
Great lives have been bled away into Tweed and Avon: great spirits have
been oared down the Thames to Traitor's Gate and the Tower. Deeds done on
the Cam have found their way into history. But I once traced the Avon to
its source under Naseby battlefield, and found it issuing from the
fragments of a stucco swan. No god mounts guard over the head-water of
the Thames; and the only Englishman who boldly claims a divine descent is
(I understand) an impostor who runs an Agapemone. In short we are a mixed
race, and our literature is derivative. Let us confine our pride to those
virtues, not few, which are honestly ours. A Roman noble, even to-day,
has some excuse for reckoning a god in his ancestry, or at least a wolf
among its wet-nurses: but of us English even those who came over with
William the Norman have the son of a tanner's daughter for escort. I very
well remember that, the other day, writers who vindicated our hereditary
House of Lords against a certain Parliament Act commonly did so on the
ground that since the Reform Bill of 1832, by inclusion of all that was
eminent in politics, war and commerce, the Peerage had been so changed as
to know itself no longer for the same thing. That is our practical way.

At all events, the men who made our literature had never a doubt, as they
were careless to dissimulate, that they were conquering our tongue to
bring it into the great European comity, the civilisation of Greece and
Rome. An Elizabethan writer, for example, would begin almost as with a
formula by begging to be forgiven that he has sought to render the divine
accent of Plato, the sugared music of Ovid, into our uncouth and
barbarous tongue. There may have been some mock-modesty in this, but it
rested on a base of belief. Much of the glory of English Literature was
achieved by men who, with the splendour of the Renaissance in their eyes,
supposed themselves to be working all the while upon pale and borrowed
shadows.

Let us pass the enthusiasms of days when 'bliss was it in that dawn to be
alive' and come down to Alexander Pope and the Age of Reason. Pope at one
time proposed to write a History of English Poetry, and the draft scheme
of that History has been preserved. How does it begin? Why thus:--

                         ERA I.

1. School of Provence     Chaucer's Visions. _Romaunt of the Rose._
                          _Piers Plowman._ Tales from Boccace. Gower.

2. School of Chaucer      Lydgate.
                          T. Occleve.
                          Walt. de Mapes (a bad error, that!).
                          Skelton.

3. School of Petrarch     E. of Surrey.
                          Sir Thomas Wyatt.
                          Sir Philip Sidney.
                          G. Gascoyn.

4. School of Dante        Lord Buckhurst's _Induction. Gorboduc._
                          Original of Good Tragedy. Seneca his model.

--and so on. The scheme after Pope's death came into the hands of Gray,
who for a time was fired with the notion of writing the History in
collaboration with his friend Mason. Knowing Gray's congenital
self-distrust, you will not be surprised that in the end he declined the
task and handed it over to Warton. But, says Mant in his Life of Warton,
'their design'--that is, Gray's design with Mason--'was to introduce
specimens of the Proveçal poetry, and of the Scaldic, British and Saxon,
as preliminary to what first deserved to be called English poetry, about
the time of Chaucer, from whence their history properly so called was to
commence.' A letter of Gray's on the whole subject, addressed to Warton,
is extant, and you may read it in Dr Courthope's "History of English
Poetry."

Few in this room are old enough to remember the shock of awed surmise
which fell upon young minds presented, in the late 'seventies or early
'eighties of the last century, with Freeman's "Norman Conquest" or
Green's "Short History of the English People"; in which as through paring
clouds of darkness, we beheld our ancestry, literary as well as
political, radiantly legitimised; though not, to be sure, in the England
that we knew--but far away in Sleswick, happy Sleswick! 'Its pleasant
pastures, its black-timbered homesteads, its prim little townships
looking down on inlets of purple water, were then but a wild waste of
heather and sand, girt along the coast with sunless woodland, broken here
and there with meadows which crept down to the marshes and to the sea.'
But what of that? There--surely there, in Sleswick--had been discovered
for us our august mother's marriage lines; and if the most of that bright
assurance came out of an old political skit, the "Germania" of Tacitus,
who recked at the time? For along followed Mr Stopford Brooke with an
admirable little Primer published at one shilling, to instruct the
meanest of us in our common father's actual name--Beowulf.

     _Beowulf_ is an old English Epic.... There is not one word about our
     England in the poem.... The whole poem, pagan as it is, is English
     to its very root. It is sacred to us; our Genesis, the book of
     our origins.

Now I am not only incompetent to discuss with you the more recondite
beauties of "Beowulf" but providentially forbidden the attempt by the
conditions laid down for this Chair. I gather--and my own perusal of the
poem and of much writing about it confirms the belief--that it has been
largely over-praised by some critics, who have thus naturally provoked
others to underrate it. Such things happen. I note, but without
subscribing to it, the opinion of Vigfússon and York Powell, the learned
editors of the "Corpus Poeticum Boreale," that in the "Beowulf" we have
'an epic completely metamorphosed in form, blown out with long-winded
empty repetitions and comments by a book poet, so that one must be
careful not to take it as a type of the old poetry,' and I seem to hear
as from the grave the very voice of my old friend the younger editor in
that unfaltering pronouncement. But on the whole I rather incline to
accept the cautious surmise of Professor W. P. Ker that 'a reasonable
view of the merit of Beowulf is not impossible, though rash enthusiasm
may have made too much of it; while a correct and sober taste may have
too contemptuously refused to attend to Grendel and the Firedrake,' and
to leave it at that. I speak very cautiously because the manner of the
late Professor Freeman, in especial, had a knack of provoking in gentle
breasts a resentment which the mind in its frailty too easily converted
to a prejudice against his matter: while to men trained to admire
Thucydides and Tacitus and acquainted with Lucian's 'Way to Write
History' ([Greek: Pos dei istorian suggraphein]) his loud insistence that
the art was not an art but a science, and moreover recently invented by
Bishop Stubbs, was a perpetual irritant.

But to return to "Beowulf"--You have just heard the opinions of scholars
whose names you must respect. I, who construe Anglo-Saxon with
difficulty, must admit the poem to contain many fine, even noble,
passages. Take for example Hrothgar's lament for Æschere:--

     Hróthgar mathelode, helm Scyldinga:
     'Ne frin thú æfter sælum; sorh is geniwod
     Denigea leódum; deád is Æschere,
     Yrmenláfes yldra bróthor,
     Mín rún-wita, ond min ræd-bora;
     Eaxl-gestealla, thonne we on orlege
     Hafelan wéredon, thonne hniton fethan,
     Eoferas cnysedan: swylc scolde eorl wesan
     Ætheling ær-gód, swylc Æschere wæs.'

   (Hrothgar spake, helm of the Scyldings: 'Ask not after good tidings.
   Sorrow is renewed among the Dane-folk. Dead is Æschere, Yrmenlaf's
   elder brother, who read me rune and bore me rede; comrade at shoulder
   when we fended our heads in war and the boar-helms rang. Even so
   should we each be an atheling passing good, as Æschere was.')

This is simple, manly, dignified. It avoids the besetting sin of the
Anglo-Saxon gleeman--the pretentious trick of calling things 'out of
their right names' for the sake of literary effect (as if e.g. the sea
could be improved by being phrased into 'the seals' domain'). Its
Anglo-Saxon _staccato_, so tiresome in sustained narrative, here happens
to suit the broken utterance of mourning. In short, it exhibits the
Anglo-Saxon Muse at her best, not at her customary. But set beside it a
passage in which Homer tells of a fallen warrior--at haphazard, as it
were, a single corpse chosen from the press of battle--

     [Greek: polla de chermadia megal aspidas estuphelixam
             marnamenon amph auton o d en strophaliggi konies
             keito megas megalosti, lelasmenos ipposunaom.]

Can you--can anyone--compare the two passages and miss to see that they
belong to two different kingdoms of poetry? I lay no stress here on
'architectonics.' I waive that the "Iliad" is a well-knit epic and the
story of "Beowulf" a shapeless monstrosity. I ask you but to note the
difference of note, of accent, of mere music. And I have quoted you but a
passage of the habitual Homer. To assure yourselves that he can rise even
from this habitual height to express the extreme of majesty and of human
anguish in poetry which betrays no false note, no strain upon the store
of emotion man may own with self-respect and exhibit without derogation
of dignity, turn to the last book of the "Iliad" and read of Priam
raising to his lips the hand that has murdered his son. I say confidently
that no one unable to distinguish this, as poetry, from the very best of
"Beowulf" is fit to engage upon business as a literary critic.

In "Beowulf" then, as an imported poem, let us allow much barbarian
merit. It came of dubious ancestry, and it had no progeny. The pretence
that our glorious literature derives its lineage from "Beowulf" is in
vulgar phrase 'a put up job'; a falsehood grafted upon our text-books by
Teutonic and Teutonising professors who can bring less evidence for it
than will cover a threepenny-piece. Its run for something like that
money, in small educational manuals, has been in its way a triumph of
pedagogic _réclame_.

Our rude forefathers--the author of "The Rape of the Lock" and of the
"Elegy written in a Country Churchyard"--knew nothing of the Exeter and
Vercelli Books, nothing of the Ruthwell Cross. But they were poets,
practitioners of our literature in the true line of descent, and they
knew certain things which all such artists know by instinct. So, before
our historians of thirty-odd years ago started to make Chaucer and
Beowulf one, these rude forefathers made them two. 'Nor am I confident
they erred.' Rather I am confident, and hope in succeeding lectures to
convince you, that, venerable as Anglo-Saxon is, and worthy to be studied
as the mother of our vernacular speech (as for a dozen other reasons
which my friend Professor Chadwick will give you), its value is
historical rather than literary, since from it our Literature
is not descended. Let me repeat it in words that admit of no
misunderstanding--_From Anglo-Saxon Prose, from Anglo-Saxon Poetry our
living Prose and Poetry have, save linguistically, no derivation_. I
shall attempt to demonstrate that, whether or not Anglo-Saxon
literature, such as it was, died of inherent weakness, die it did, and
of its collapse the "Vision of Piers Plowman" may be regarded as the
last dying spasm. I shall attempt to convince you that Chaucer did not
inherit any secret from Caedmon or Cynewulf, but deserves his old title,
'Father of English Poetry,' because through Dante, through Boccaccio,
through the lays and songs of Provence, he explored back to the
Mediterranean, and opened for Englishmen a commerce in the true
intellectual mart of Europe. I shall attempt to heap proof on you that
whatever the agency--whether through Wyat or Spenser, Marlowe or
Shakespeare, or Donne, or Milton, or Dryden, or Pope, or Johnson, or
even Wordsworth--always our literature has obeyed, however
unconsciously, the precept _Antiquam exquirite matrem_, 'Seek back to
the ancient mother'; always it has recreated itself, has kept itself
pure and strong, by harking back to bathe in those native--yes,
_native_--Mediterranean springs.

Do not presume me to be right in this. Rather, if you will, presume me to
be wrong until the evidence is laid out for your judgment. But at least
understand to-day how profoundly a man, holding that view, must deplore
the whole course of academical literary study during these thirty years
or so, and how distrust what he holds to be its basal fallacies.

For, literature being written in language, yet being something quite
distinct, and the development of our language having been fairly
continuous, while the literature of our nation exhibits a false start--a
break, silence, repentance, then a renewal on right glorious lines--our
students of literature have been drilled to follow the specious
continuance while ignoring the actual break, and so to commit the one
most fatal error in any study; that of mistaking the inessential for the
essential.

As I tried to persuade you in my Inaugural Lecture, our first duty to
Literature is to study it absolutely, to understand, in Aristotelian
phrase, its [Greek: to ti en einae]; what it _is_ and what it _means_. If
that be our quest, and the height of it be realised, it is nothing to
us--or almost nothing--to know of a certain alleged poet of the fifteenth
century, that he helped us over a local or temporary disturbance in our
vowel-endings. It is everything to have acquired and to possess such a
norm of Poetry within us that we know whether or not what he wrote was
POETRY.

Do not think this easy. The study of right literary criticism is much
more difficult than the false path usually trodden; so difficult, indeed,
that you may easily count the men who have attempted to grasp the great
rules and apply them to writing as an art to be practised. But the names
include some very great ones--Aristotle, Horace, Quintilian, Corneille,
Boileau, Dryden, Johnson, Lessing, Coleridge, Goethe, Sainte-Beuve,
Arnold: and the study, though it may not find its pattern in our time, is
not unworthy to be proposed for another attempt before a great
University.



LECTURE IX.

ON THE LINEAGE OF ENGLISH LITERATURE (II)

Wednesday, November 5


Some of you whose avocations call them, from time to time, to Newmarket
may have noted, at a little distance out from Cambridge, a by-road
advertised as leading to Quy and Swaffham. It also leads to the site of
an old Roman villa; but you need not interrupt your business to visit
this, since the best thing discovered there--a piece of tessellated
pavement--has been removed and deposited in the Geological Museum here in
Downing Street, where you may study it very conveniently. It is not at
all a first-class specimen of its kind: not to be compared, for example,
with the wonderful pavement at Dorchester, or with that (measuring 35
feet by 20) of the great villa unearthed, a hundred years ago, at
Stonesfield in Oxfordshire: but I take it as the handiest, and am going
to build a small conjecture upon it, or rather a small suggestion of a
guess. Remember there is no harm in guessing so long as we do not pretend
our guess-work to be something else.

I will ask you to consider first that in these pavements, laid bare for
us as 'the whistling rustic tends his plough,' we have work dating
somewhere between the first and fifth centuries, work of unchallengeable
beauty, work of a beauty certainly not rivalled until we come to the
Norman builders of five or six hundred years later. I want you to let
your minds dwell on these long stretches of time--four hundred years or
so of Roman occupation (counting, not from Cæsar's raids, but from the
serious invasion of 43 A.D. under Aulus Plautius, say to some while after
the famous letter of Honorius, calling home the legions). You may safely
put it at four hundred years, and then count six hundred as the space
before the Normans arrive--a thousand years altogether, or but a
fraction--one short generation--less than the interval of time that
separates us from King Alfred. In the great Cathedral of Winchester
(where sleep, by the way, two gentle writers specially beloved, Isaak
Walton and Jane Austen) above the choir-screen to the south, you may see
a line of painted chests, of which the inscription on one tells you that
it holds what was mortal of King Canute.

     Here are sands, ignoble things,
     Dropp'd from the ruin'd sides of Kings.

But if you walk around to the north of the altar you will find yourself
treading on tiles not so very far short of twice that antiquity.
Gentlemen, do not think that I would ever speak lightly of our lineage:
only let us make as certain as we may what that lineage is.

I want you to-day to understand just what such a pavement as that
preserved for your inspection in Downing Street meant to the man who saw
it laid and owned it these fifteen hundred years--more or less--ago. _Ubi
Romanus vicit, ibi habitat_--'where the Roman has conquered, there he
settles': but whether he conquered or settled he carried these small
tiles, these _tessellæ_, as religiously as ever Rachel stole her
teraphin. 'Wherever his feet went there went the tessellated pavement for
them to stand on. Even generals on foreign service carried in panniers on
muleback the little coloured cubes or _tessellæ_ for laying down a
pavement in each camping-place, to be taken up again when they moved
forward. In England the same sweet emblems of the younger gods of poetic
legend, of love, youth, plenty, and all their happy naturalism, are found
constantly repeated.'[1] I am quoting these sentences from a local
historian, but you see how these relics have a knack of inspiring prose
at once scholarly and imaginative, as (for a more famous instance) the
urns disinterred at Walsingham once inspired Sir Thomas Browne's. To
continue and adapt the quotation--

  Bacchus with his wild rout, Orpheus playing to a spell-bound audience,
  Apollo singing to the lyre, Venus in Mars' embrace, Neptune with a host
  of seamen, scollops, and trumpets, Narcissus by the fountain, Jove and
  Ganymede, Leda and the swan, wood-nymphs and naiads, satyrs and fauns,
  masks, hautboys, cornucopiæ, flowers and baskets of golden fruit--what
  touches of home they must have seemed to these old dwellers in the
  Cambridgeshire wilds!

Yes, touches of home! For the owner of this villa (you may conceive) is
the grandson or even great-great-grandson of the colonist who first built
it, following in the wake of the legionaries. The family has prospered
and our man is now a considerable landowner. He was born in Britain: his
children have been born here: and here he lives a comfortable,
well-to-do, out-of-door life, in its essentials I daresay not so very
unlike the life of an English country squire to-day. Instead of chasing
foxes or hares he hunts the wolf and the wild boar; but the sport is
good and he returns with an appetite. He has added a summer parlour to
the house, with a northern aspect and no heating-flues: for the old
parlour he has enlarged the præfurnium, and through the long winter
evenings sits far better warmed than many a master of a modern
country-house. A belt of trees on the brow of the rise protects him from
the worst winds, and to the south his daughters have planted violet-beds
which will breathe odorously in the spring. He has rebuilt and enlarged
the slave-quarters and outhouses, replaced the stucco pillars around the
atrium with a colonnade of polished stone, and, where stucco remains,
has repainted it in fresh colours. He knows that there are no gaps or
weak spots in his stockade fence--wood is always cheap. In a word he has
improved the estate; is modestly proud of it; and will be content, like
the old Athenian, to leave his patrimony not worse but something better
than he found it.

Sensible men--and the Romans were eminently that--as a rule contrive to
live decently, or, at least, tolerably. What struck Arthur Young more
than anything else in his travels through France on the very eve of the
Revolution seems to have been the general good-tempered happiness of the
French gentry on their estates. We may moralise of the Roman colonists as
of the French proprietors that 'unconscious of their doom the little
victims played'; but we have no right to throw back on them the shadow of
what was to come or to cloud the picture of a useful, peaceable, maybe
more than moderately happy life, with our later knowledge of disaster
mercifully hidden from it.

Although our colonist and his family have all been born in Britain, are
happy enough here on the whole, and talk without more than half meaning
it, and to amuse themselves with speculations half-wistful, of daring the
tremendous journey and setting eyes on Rome some day, their pride is to
belong to her, to Rome, the imperial City, the city afar: their windows
open back towards her as Daniel's did towards Jerusalem--_Urbs quam
dicunt Roman--the_ City. Along the great road, hard by, her imperial writ
runs. They have never subscribed to the vow of Ruth, 'Thy people shall be
my people and thy God my God.' They dwell under the Pax Romana, not
merely protected by it but as _citizens_. Theirs are the ancestral
deities portrayed on that unfading pavement in the very centre of the
villa--Apollo and Daphne, Bacchus and Ariadne--

     For ever warm and still to be enjoyed,
     For ever panting, and for ever young.

Parcels come to them, forwarded from the near military station; come by
those trade-routes, mysterious to us, concerning which a most
illuminating book waits to be written by somebody. There are parcels of
seeds--useful vegetables and potherbs, helichryse (marigold as we call
them now) for the flower garden, for the colonnade even roses with real
Italian earth damp about their roots. There are parcels of books,
too--rolls rather, or tablets--wherein the family reads about Rome; of
its wealth, the uproar of its traffic, the innumerable chimneys smoking,
_fumum et opes strepitumque_. For they are always reading of Rome;
feeling themselves, as they read, to belong to it, to be neither savage
nor even rustic, but by birthright _of the city_, urbane; and what these
exiles read is of how Horace met a bore on the Sacred Road (which would
correspond, more or less, with our Piccadilly)--

     Along the Sacred Road I strolled one day
     Deep in some bagatelle (you know my way)
     When up comes one whose face I scarcely knew--
     'The dearest of dear fellows! how d'ye do?'
     --He grasped my hand. 'Well, thanks! The same to you?'

--or of how Horace apologises for protracting a summer jaunt to his
country seat:--

     Five days I told you at my farm I'd stay,
     And lo! the whole of August I'm away.
     Well but, Maecenas, you would have me live,
     And, were I sick, my absence you'd forgive.
     So let me crave indulgence for the fear
     Of falling ill at this bad time of year.
     When, thanks to early figs and sultry heat,
     The undertaker figures with his suite;
     When fathers all and fond mammas grow pale
     At what may happen to their young heirs male,
     And courts and levees, town-bred mortals' ills,
     Bring fevers on, and break the seals of wills.

                    (Conington's translation.)

Consider those lines; then consider how long it took the inhabitants
of this island--the cultured ones who count as readers or
writers--to recapture just that note of urbanity. Other things
our forefathers --Britons, Saxons, Normans, Dutch or French
refugees--discovered by the way; worthier things if you will; but not
until the eighteenth century do you find just that note recaptured; the
note of easy confidence that our London had become what Rome had been,
the Capital city. You begin to meet it in Dryden; with Addison it is
fairly established. Pass a few years, and with Samuel Johnson it is
taken for granted. His _London_ is Juvenal's Rome, and the same satire
applies to one as applied to the other. But against the urbane lines
written by one Horace some while before Juvenal let us set a passage
from another Horace--Horace Walpole, seventeen hundred years later and
some little while ahead of Johnson. He, like our Roman colonist, is a
settler in a new country, Twickenham; and like Flaccus he loves to
escape from town life.

                          TWICKENHAM, June 8th, 1747.

   To the Hon. H. S. CONWAY.

   You perceive by my date that I am got into a new camp, and have left
   my tub at Windsor. It is a little plaything-house that I got out of
   Mrs Chevenix's shop, and the prettiest bauble you ever saw. It is set
   in enamelled meadows with filagree hedges:

       A small Euphrates through the place is roll'd,
       And little finches wave their wings of gold.

   Two delightful roads; that you would call dusty, supply me continually
   with coaches and chaises: barges as solemn as Barons of the Exchequer
   move under my window; Richmond Hill and Ham Walks bound my prospect;
   but, thank God! the Thames is between me and the Duchess of
   Queensberry. Dowagers as plenty as flounders inhabit all around, and
   Pope's ghost is just now skimming under my window by the most poetical
   moonlight.... The Chevenixes had tricked it out for themselves; up two
   pairs of stairs is what they call Mr Chevenix's library, furnished
   with three maps, one shelf, a bust of Sir Isaac Newton and a lame
   telescope without any glasses. Lord John Sackville _predeceased_ me
   here and instituted certain games called _cricketalia_, which has been
   celebrated this very evening in honour of him in a neighbouring
   meadow.

   You will think I have removed my philosophy from Windsor with my
   tea-things hither; for I am writing to you in all tranquility while a
   Parliament is bursting about my ears. You know it is going to be
   dissolved.... They say the Prince has taken up two hundred thousand
   pounds, to carry elections which he won't carry--he had much better
   have saved it to buy the Parliament after it is chosen.

There you have Horatio Walpole, the man-about-town, almost precisely
echoing Horatius Flaccus, the man-about-town; and this (if you will bring
your minds to it) is just the sort of passage a Roman colonist in Britain
would open upon, out of his parcel of new books, and read, _and
understand_, some eighteen hundred years ago.

What became of it all?--of that easy colonial life, of the men and women
who trod those tessellated pavements? 'Wiped out,' say the historians,
knowing nothing, merely guessing: for you may with small trouble assure
yourselves that the fifth and sixth centuries in the story of this island
are a blind spot, concerning which one man's guess may be as good as
another's. 'Wiped out,' they will commonly agree; for while, as I warned
you in another lecture, the pedantic mind, faced with a difficulty, tends
to remove it conveniently into a category to which it does not belong,
still more prone is the pedantic mind to remove it out of existence
altogether. So 'wiped out' is the theory; and upon it a sympathetic
imagination can invent what sorrowful pictures it will of departing
legions, the last little cloud of dust down the highway, the lovers by
the gate watching it, not comprehending; the peaceful homestead in the
background, ripe for doom--and what-not.

Or, stay! There is another theory to which the late Professor Freeman
inclined (if so sturdy a figure could be said to incline), laying stress
on a passage in Gildas, that the Romans in Britain, faced by the Saxon
invader, got together their money, and bolted away into Gaul. 'The Romans
that were in Britain gathered together their gold-hoard, hid part in the
ground and carried the rest over to Gaul,' writes Gildas. 'The hiding in
the ground,' says Freeman, 'is of course a guess to explain the frequent
finding of Roman coins'--which indeed it _does_ explain better than the
guess that they were carried away, and perhaps better than the
schoolboy's suggestion that during their occupation of Britain the Romans
spent most of their time in dropping money about. Likely enough, large
numbers of the colonists did gather up what they could and flee before
the approaching storm; but by no means all, I think. For (since, where
all is uncertain, we must reason from what is probable of human nature)
in the first place men with large estates do not behave in that way
before a danger which creeps upon them little by little, as this Saxon
danger did. These colonists could not dig up their fields and carry them
over to Gaul. They did not keep banking accounts; and in the course of
four hundred years their main wealth had certainly been sunk in the land.
They could not carry away their villas. We know that many of them did not
carry away the _tessellæ_ for which (as we have seen) they had so
peculiar a veneration; for these remain. Secondly, if the colonists left
Britain in a mass, when in the middle of the sixth century we find
Belisarius offering the Goths to trade Britain for Sicily, as being 'much
larger and this long time subservient to Roman rule,'[2] we must suppose
either (as Freeman appears to suppose) that Belisarius did not know what
he was offering, or that he was attempting a gigantic 'bluff,' or lastly
that he really was offering an exchange not flatly derisory; of which
three possible suppositions I prefer the last as the likeliest. Nor am I
the less inclined to choose it, because these very English historians go
on to clear the ground in a like convenient way of the Celtic
inhabitants, exterminating them as they exterminated the Romans,
with a wave of the hand, quite in the fashion of Mr Podsnap. 'This is
un-English: therefore for me it merely ceases to exist.'

'_Probable extirpation of the Celtic inhabitants_' jots down Freeman in
his margin, and proceeds to write:

   In short, though the literal extirpation of a nation is an
   impossibility, there is every reason to believe that the Celtic
   inhabitants of those parts of Britain which had become English at the
   end of the sixth century had been as nearly extinguished as a nation
   could be. The women doubtless would be largely spared, but as far as
   the male sex is concerned we may feel sure that death, emigration, or
   personal slavery were the only alternatives which the vanquished found
   at the hands of our fathers.

Upon this passage, if brought to me in an undergraduate essay, I should
have much to say. The style, with its abstract nouns ('the literal
extirpation of a nation is an impossibility'), its padding and
periphrasis ('there is every reason to believe' ... 'as far as the male
sex is concerned we may feel sure') betrays the loose thought. It begins
with 'in short' and proceeds to be long-winded. It commits what even
schoolboys know to be a solecism by inviting us to consider three
'alternatives'; and what can I say of 'the women doubtless would be
largely spared,' save that besides scanning in iambics it says what
Freeman never meant and what no-one outside of an Aristophanic comedy
could ever suggest? 'The women doubtless would be largely spared'! It
reminds me of the young lady in Cornwall who, asked by her vicar if she
had been confirmed, admitted blushingly that 'she had reason to believe,
partially so.'

'The women doubtless would be largely spared'!--But I thank the Professor
for teaching me that phrase, because it tries to convey just what I am
driving at. The Jutes, Angles, Saxons, did not extirpate the Britons,
whatever you may hold concerning the Romans. For, once again, men do not
behave in that way, and certainly will not when a live slave is worth
money. Secondly, the very horror with which men spoke, centuries after,
of Anderida quite plainly indicates that such a wholesale massacre was
exceptional, monstrous. If not exceptional, monstrous, why should this
particular slaughter have lingered so ineffaceably in their memories?
Finally,--and to be as curt as the question deserves--the Celtic Briton
in the island was not exterminated and never came near to being
exterminated: but on the contrary, remains equipollent with the Saxon in
our blood, and perhaps equipollent with that mysterious race we call
Iberian, which came before either and endures in this island to-day, as
anyone travelling it with eyes in his head can see. Pict, Dane, Norman,
Frisian, Huguenot French--these and others come in. If mixture of blood
be a shame, we have purchased at the price of that shame the glory of
catholicism; and I know of nothing more false in science or more actively
poisonous in politics or in the arts than the assumption that we belong
as a race to the Teutonic family.

Dane, Norman, Frisian, French Huguenot--they all come in. And will you
refuse a hearing when I claim that the Roman came in too? Bethink you how
deeply Rome engraved itself on this island and its features. Bethink you
that, as human nature is, no conquering race ever lived or could
live--even in garrison--among a tributary one without begetting children
on it. Bethink you yet further of Freeman's admission that in the
wholesale (and quite hypothetical) general massacre 'the women doubtless
would be largely spared'; and you advance nearer to my point. I see a
people which for four hundred years was permeated by Rome. If you insist
on its being a Teutonic people (which I flatly deny) then you have one
which _alone of Teutonic peoples_ has inherited the Roman gift of
consolidating conquest, of colonising in the wake of its armies; of
driving the road, bridging the ford, bringing the lawless under its
sense of law. I see that this nation of ours concurrently, when it seeks
back to what alone can inspire and glorify these activities, seeks back,
not to any supposed native North, but south to the Middle Sea of our
civilisation and steadily to Italy, which we understand far more easily
than France--though France has helped us times and again. Putting these
things together, I retort upon the ethnologists--for I come from the
West of England, where we suffer incredible things from them--_'Semper
ego auditor tantum?'_ I hazard that the most important thing in our
blood is that purple drop of the imperial murex we derive from Rome.

You must, of course, take this for nothing more than it pretends to be--a
conjecture, a suggestion. I will follow it up with two statements of
fact, neither doubtful nor disputable.

The first is, that when English poetry awoke, long after the Conquest
(or, as I should prefer to put it, after the Crusades) it awoke a new
thing; in its vocabulary as much like Anglo-Saxon poetry as ever you
will, but in metre, rhythm, lilt--and more, in style, feeling,
imaginative play--and yet more again, in knowledge of what it aimed to
be, in the essentials, in the qualities that make Poetry Poetry--as
different from Anglo-Saxon poetry as cheese is from chalk, and as much
more nutritious. Listen to this--

     Bytuene Mershe ant Averil
     When spray biginnith to spring,
     The lutel foul hath hire wyl
     On hire lud to synge:
     Ich libbe in love-longinge
     For semlokest of alle thynge,
     He may me blisse bringe,
     Icham in hire bandoun.
       An hendy hap ichabbe y-hent,
       Ichot from hevene it is me sent,
       From alle wymmen my love is lent,
         And lyht on Alisoun.

Here you have alliteration in plenty; you even have what some hold to be
the pattern of Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse (though in practice
disregarded, may be, as often as not), the chosen initial used twice in
the first line and once at least in the second:

     From alle wymmen my _l_ove is _l_ent,
       And _l_yht on A_l_isoun.

But if a man cannot see a difference infinitely deeper than any
similarity between this song of Alison and the old Anglo-Saxon verse--_a
difference of nature_--I must despair of his literary sense.

What has happened? Well, in Normandy, too, and in another tongue, men are
singing much the same thing in the same way:

     A la fontenelle
     Qui sort seur l'araine,
     Trouvai pastorella
     Qui n'iert pas vilaine...
       Merci, merci, douce Marote,
       N'oçiez pas vostre ami doux,

and this Norman and the Englishman were singing to a new tune, which was
yet an old tune re-set to Europe by the Provence, the Roman Province; by
the troubadours--Pons de Capdeuil, Bernard de Ventadour, Bertrand de
Born, Pierre Vidal, and the rest, with William of Poitou, William of
Poitiers. Read and compare; you will perceive that the note then set
persists and has never perished. Take Giraud de Borneil--

     Bel companhos, si dormetz o velhatz
     Non dortmatz plus, qu'el jorn es apropchatz--

and set it beside a lyric of our day, written without a thought of Giraud
de Borneil--

     Heigh! Brother mine, art a-waking or a-sleeping:
     Mind'st thou the merry moon a many summers fled?
     Mind'st thou the green and the dancing and the leaping?
     Mind'st thou the haycocks and the moon above them creeping?...

Or take Bernard de Ventadour's--

     Quand erba vertz, e fuelha par
     E'l flor brotonon per verjan,
     E'l rossinhols autet e clar
     Leva sa votz e mov son chan,
     Joy ai de luy, e joy ai de la flor,
     Joy ai de me, e de me dons maior.

Why, it runs straight off into English verse--

     When grass is green and leaves appear
     With flowers in bud the meads among,
     And nightingale aloft and clear
     Lifts up his voice and pricks his song,
     Joy, joy have I in song and flower,
     Joy in myself, and in my lady more.

And that may be doggerel; yet what is it but

     It was a lover and his lass,
     With a hey and a ho and a hey nonino,
     That o'er the green cornfield did pass
     In the spring-time, the only pretty ring-time--

or

     When daffodils begin to peer,
     With heigh! the doxy over the dale,
     Why then comes in the sweet o' the year;
     For the red blood reigns in the winter's pale.

Nay, flatter the Anglo-Saxon tradition by picking its very best--and I
suppose it hard to find better than the much-admired opening of Piers
Plowman, in which that tradition shot up like the flame of a dying
candle:

     Bote in a Mayes Morwnynge--on Malverne hulles
     Me bi-fel a ferly--a Feyrie me thouhte;
     I was weori of wandringe--and wente me to reste
     Under a brod banke--bi a Bourne syde,
     And as I lay and leonede--and lokede on the watres,
     I slumberde in a slepynge--hit sownede so murie.

This is good, solid stuff, no doubt: but tame, inert, if not actually
lifeless. As M. Jusserand says of Anglo-Saxon poetry in general, it is
like the river Saône--one doubts which way it flows. How tame in
comparison with this, for example!--

     In somer, when the shawes be sheyne,
     And leves be large and long,
     Hit is full mery in feyre foreste
     To here the foulys song:

     To se the dere draw to the dale
     And leve the hilles hee,
     And shadow hem in the leves grene
     Under the grene-wode tre.

     Hit befel on Whitsontide,
     Erly in a May mornyng,
     The Son up feyre can shyne,
     And the briddis mery can syng.

     'This is a mery mornyng,' said litell John,
     'Be Hym that dyed on tre;
     A more mery man than I am one
     Lyves not in Cristianté.

     'Pluk up thi hert, my dere mayster,'
     Litull John can sey,
     'And thynk hit is a full fayre tyme
     In a mornyng of May.'

There is no doubting which way _that_ flows! And this vivacity, this new
beat of the heart of poetry, is common to Chaucer and the humblest
ballad-maker; it pulses through any book of lyrics printed yesterday, and
it came straight to us out of Provence, the Roman Province. It was the
Provençal Troubadour who, like the Prince in the fairy tale, broke
through the hedge of briers and kissed Beauty awake again.


You will urge that he wakened Poetry not in England alone but all over
Europe, in Dante before our Chaucer, in the trouvères and minnesingers as
well as in our ballad-writers. To that I might easily retort, 'So much
the better for Europe, and the more of it the merrier, to win their way
into the great comity.' But here I put in my second assertion, that we
English have had above all nations lying wide of the Mediterranean, the
instinct to refresh and renew ourselves at Mediterranean wells; that
again and again our writers--our poets especially--have sought them as
the hart panteth after the water-brooks. If you accept this assertion,
and if you believe as well that our literature, surpassing Rome's, may
vie with that of Athens--if you believe that a literature which includes
Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Pope, Wordsworth, Shelley--the Authorised
Version of Holy Writ, with Browne, Bunyan, Swift, Addison, Johnson,
Arnold, Newman--has entered the circle to take its seat with the first--
why then, heartily believing this with you, I leave you to find some
better explanation than mine if you can.

But what I content myself with asserting here you can scarcely deny.
Chaucer's initial and enormous debt to Dante and Boccaccio stands in as
little dispute as Dunbar's to Chaucer. On that favourite poet of mine,
Sir Thomas Wyat, I descanted in a former lecture. He is one of your
glories here, having entered St. John's College at the age of twelve
(which must have been precocious even for those days.) Anthony Wood
asserts that after finishing his course here, he proceeded to Cardinal
Wolsey's new College at Oxford; but, as Christchurch was not founded
until 1524, and Wyat, still precocious, had married a wife two years
before that, the statement (to quote Dr Courthope) 'seems no better
founded than many others advanced by that patriotic but not very
scrupulous author.' It is more to the point that he went travelling, and
brought home from France, Italy, afterwards Spain--always from Latin
altars--the flame of lyrical poetry to England; the flame of the
Petrarchists, caught from the Troubadours, clarified (so to speak) by the
salt of humane letters. On what our Elizabethan literature owes to the
Classical revival hundreds of volumes have been written and hundreds more
will be written; I will but remind you of what Spencer talked about with
Gabriel Harvey, what Daniel disputed with Campion; that Marlowe tried to
re-incarnate Machiavelli, that Jonson was a sworn Latinist and the 'tribe
of Ben' a classical tribe; while, as for Shakespeare, go and reckon the
proportion of Italian and Roman names in his _dramatis personæ_. Of
Donne's debt to France, Italy, Rome, Greece, you may read much in
Professor Grierson's great edition, and I daresay Professor Grierson
would be the first to allow that all has not yet been computed. You know
how Milton prepared himself to be a poet. Have you realised that, in
those somewhat strangely constructed sonnets of his, Milton was
deliberately modelling upon the "Horatian Ode," as his confrère, Andrew
Marvell, was avowedly attempting the like in his famous Horation Ode on
Cromwell's Return from Ireland; so that if Cromwell had returned (like Mr
Quilp), walked in and caught his pair of Latin Secretaries scribbling
verse, one at either end of the office table, both might colourably have
pleaded that they were, after all, writing Latin. Waller's task in poetry
was to labour true classical polish where Cowley laboured sham-classical
form. Put together Dryden's various Prefaces and you will find them one
solid monument to his classical faith. Of Pope, Gray, Collins, you will
not ask me to speak. What is salt in Cowper you can taste only when you
have detected that by a stroke of madness he missed, or barely missed,
being our true English Horace, that almost more nearly than the rest he
hit what the rest had been seeking. Then, of the 'romantic revival'--
enemy of false classicism, not of classicism--bethink you what, in his
few great years, Wordsworth owed directly to France of the early
Revolution; what Keats drew forth out of Lemprière: and again bethink you
how Tennyson wrought upon Theocritus, Virgil, Catullus; upon what Arnold
constantly shaped his verse; how Browning returned ever upon Italy to
inspire his best and correct his worse.

Of Anglo-Saxon prose I know little indeed, but enough of the world to
feel reasonably sure that if it contained any single masterpiece--or
anything that could be paraded as a masterpiece--we should have heard
enough about it long before now. It was invented by King Alfred for
excellent political reasons; but, like other ready-made political
inventions in this country, it refused to thrive. I think it can be
demonstrated, that the true line of intellectual descent in prose lies
through Bede (who wrote in Latin, the 'universal language'), and not
through the Blickling Homilies, or, Ælfric, or the Saxon Chronicle. And I
am sure that Freeman is perversely wrong when he laments as a 'great
mistake' that the first Christian missionaries from Rome did not teach
their converts to pray and give praise in the vernacular. The vernacular
being what it was, these men did better to teach the religion of the
civilised world--_orbis terrarum_--in the language of the civilised
world. I am not thinking of its efficiency for spreading the faith; but
neither is Freeman; and, for that, we must allow these old missionaries
to have known their own business. I am thinking only of how this 'great
mistake' affected our literature; and if you will read Professor
Saintsbury's "History of English Prose Rhythm" (pioneer work, which yet
wonderfully succeeds in illustrating what our prose-writers from time to
time were trying to do); if you will study the Psalms in the Authorised
Version; if you will consider what Milton, Clarendon, Sir Thomas Browne,
were aiming at; what Addison, Gibbon, Johnson; what Landor, Thackeray,
Newman, Arnold, Pater; I doubt not your rising from the perusal convinced
that our nation, in this storehouse of Latin to refresh and replenish its
most sacred thoughts, has enjoyed a continuous blessing: that the Latin
of the Vulgate and the Offices has been a background giving depth and, as
the painters say, 'value' to nine-tenths of our serious writing.

And now, since this and the previous lecture run something counter to a
great deal of that teaching in English Literature which nowadays passes
most acceptably, let me avoid offence, so far as may be, by defining one
or two things I am _not_ trying to do.

I am not persuading you to despise your linguistic descent. English is
English--our language; and all its history to be venerated by us.

I am not persuading you to despise linguistic study. _All_ learning is
venerable.

I am not persuading you to behave like Ascham, and turn English prose
into pedantic Latin; nor would I have you doubt that in the set quarrel
between Campion, who wished to divert English verse into strict classical
channels, and Daniel, who vindicated our free English way (derived from
Latin through the Provençal), Daniel was on the whole, right, Campion on
the whole, wrong: though I believe that both ways yet lie open, and we
may learn, if we study them intelligently, a hundred things from the old
classical metres.

I do not ask you to forget what there is of the Northmen in your blood.
If I desired this, I could not worship William Morris as I do, among the
later poets.

I do not ask you to doubt that the barbarian invaders from the north,
with their myths and legends, brought new and most necessary blood of
imagination into the literary material--for the time almost exhausted--of
Greece and Rome.

Nevertheless, I do contend that when Britain (or, if you prefer it,
Sleswick)

     When Sleswick first at Heaven's command
     Arose from out the azure main,

she differed from Aphrodite, that other foam-born, in sundry important
features of ear, of lip, of eye.

Lastly, if vehement assertions on the one side have driven me into too
vehement dissent on the other, I crave pardon; not for the dissent but
for the vehemence, as sinning against the very principle I would hold up
to your admiration--the old Greek principle of avoiding excess.



But I _do_ commend the patient study of Greek and Latin authors--in the
original or in translation--to all of you who would write English; and
for three reasons.

(1) In the first place they will correct your insularity of mind; or,
rather, will teach you to forget it. The Anglo-Saxon, it has been noted,
ever left an empty space around his houses; and that, no doubt, is good
for a house. It is not so good for the mind.

(2) Secondly, we have a tribal habit, confirmed by Protestant meditation
upon a Hebraic religion, of confining our literary enjoyment to the
written word and frowning down the drama, the song, the dance. A fairly
attentive study of modern lyrical verse has persuaded me that this
exclusiveness may be carried too far, and threatens to be deadening. 'I
will sing and give praise,' says the Scripture, 'with the best member
that I have'--meaning the tongue. But the old Greek was an 'all-round
man' as we say. He sought to praise and give thanks with all his members,
and to tune each to perfection. I think his way worth your considering.

(3) Lastly, and chiefly, I commend these classical authors to you because
they, in the European civilisation which we all inherit, conserve the
norm of literature; the steady grip on the essential; the clean outline
at which in verse or in prose--in epic, drama, history, or philosophical
treatise--a writer should aim.

So sure am I of this, and of its importance to those who think of
writing, that were this University to limit me to three texts on which to
preach English Literature to you, I should choose the Bible in our
Authorised Version, Shakespeare, and Homer (though it were but in a prose
translation). Two of these lie outside my marked province. Only one of
them finds a place in your English school. But Homer, who comes neither
within my map, nor within the ambit of the Tripos, would--because he most
evidently holds the norm, the essence, the secret of all--rank first of
the three for my purpose.


[Footnote 1: From "A History of Oxfordshire," by Mr J. Meade Falkner,
author of Murray's excellent Handbook of Oxfordshire.]



LECTURE X.

ENGLISH LITERATURE IN OUR UNIVERSITIES (I)

Wednesday, November 19


All lectures are too long. Towards the close of my last, Gentlemen, I let
fall a sentence which, heard by you in a moment of exhausted or languid
interest, has since, like enough, escaped your memory even if it earned
passing attention. So let me repeat it, for a fresh start.

Having quoted to you the words of our Holy Writ, 'I will sing and give
praise with the best member that I have,' I added 'But the old Greek was
an "all-round" man; he sought to praise and give thanks with all his
members, and to tune each to perfection.' Now a great many instructive
lectures might be written on that text: nevertheless you may think it a
strange one, and obscure, for the discourse on 'English Literature in our
Universities' which, according to promise, I must now attempt.

The term 'an all-round man' may easily mislead you unless you take it
with the rest of the sentence and particularly with the words 'praise and
give thanks.' Praise whom? Give thanks to whom? To _whom_ did our Greek
train all his members to render adoration?

Why, to the gods--his gods: to Zeus, Apollo, Aphrodite; and from them
down to the lesser guardian deities of the hearth, the field, the
farmstead. We modern men suffer a double temptation to misunderstand, by
belittling, the reverence in which Hellas and Rome held their gods. To
start with, our religion has superseded theirs. We approach the Olympians
with no bent towards venerating them; with minds easy, detached, to which
a great deal of their theology--the amativeness of Zeus for example--must
needs seem broadly comic, and a great deal of it not only comic but
childish. We are encouraged in this, moreover, when we read such writers
as Aristophanes and Lucian, and observe how they poked fun at the gods.
We assume--so modern he seems--Aristophanes' attitude towards his
immortals to be ours; that when, for example, Prometheus walks on to the
stage under an umbrella, to hide himself from the gaze of all-seeing
Zeus, the Athenian audience laughed just as we laugh who have read
Voltaire. Believe me, they laughed quite differently; believe me,
Aristophanes and Voltaire had remarkably different minds and worked on
utterly different backgrounds. Believe me, you will understand
Aristophanes only less than you will understand Æschylus himself if you
confuse Aristophanes' mockery of Olympus with modern mockery. But, if you
will not take my word for it, let me quote what Professor Gilbert Murray
said, the other day, speaking before the English Association on Greek
poetry, how constantly connected it is with religion:

   'All thoughts, all passions, all desires' ... In our Art it is true, no
   doubt, that they are 'the ministers of love'; in Greek they are as a
   whole the ministers of religion, and this is what in a curious degree
   makes Greek poetry matter, makes it relevant. There is a sense in each
   song of a relation to the whole of things, and it was apt to be
   expressed with the whole body, or, one may say, the whole being.[1]

To a Greek, in short, his gods mattered enormously; and to a Roman. To a
Roman they continued to matter enormously, down to the end. Do you
remember that tessellated pavement with its emblems and images of the
younger gods? and how I told you that a Roman general on foreign service
would carry the little cubes in panniers on mule-back, to be laid down
for his feet at the next camping place? Will you suggest that he did this
because they were pretty? You know that practical men--conquering
generals--don't behave in that way. He did it because they were sacred;
because, like most practical men, he was religious, and his gods must go
with him. They filled his literature: for why? He believed himself to be
sprung from their loins. Where would Latin literature be, for example, if
you could cut Venus out of it? Consider Lucretius' grand invocation:

     Æneadum genetrix, hominum divumque voluptas,
     Alma Venus!

Consider the part Virgil makes her play as moving spirit of his whole
great poem. So follow her down to the days of the later Empire and open
the "Pervigilium Veneris" and discover her, under the name of Dione,
still the eternal Aphrodite sprung from the foam amid the churning hooves
of the sea-horses--_inter et bipedes equos_:--

  Time was that a rain-cloud begat her, impregning the heave of the deep,
  'Twixt hooves of sea-horses a-scatter, stampeding the dolphins as
      sheep.
  Lo! arose of that bridal Dione, rainbow'd and besprent of its dew!
  _Now learn ye to love who loved never--now ye who have loved, love
      anew!_
  Her favour it was fill'd the sails of the Trojan for Latium bound,
  Her favour that won her Æneas a bride on Laurentian ground,
  And anon from the cloister inveigled the Virgin, the Vestal, to Mars;
  As her wit by the wild Sabine rape recreated her Rome for its wars
  With the Ramnes, Quirites, together ancestrally proud as they drew
  From Romulus down to our Cæsar--last, best of that blood, of that thew.
  _Now learn ye to love who loved never--now ye who have loved, love
      anew!_

'Last, best of that blood'--her blood, _fusa Paphies de cruore_, and the
blood of Teucer, _revocato a sanguine Teucri_, 'of that thew'--the thew
of Tros and of Mars. Of these and no less than these our Roman believed
himself the son and inheritor.

If we grasp this, that the old literature was packed with the old
religion, and not only packed with it but permeated by it, we have within
our ten fingers the secret of the 'Dark Ages,' the real reason why the
Christian Fathers fought down literature and almost prevailed to the
point of stamping it out. They hated it, not as literature; or at any
rate, not to begin with; nor, to begin with, because it happened to be
voluptuous and they austere: but they hated it because it held in its
very texture, not to be separated, a religion over which they had hardly
triumphed, a religion actively inimical to that of Christ, inimical to
truth; so that for the sake of truth and in the name of Christ they had
to fight it, accepting no compromise, yielding no quarter, foreseeing no
issue save that one of the twain--Jupiter or Christ, Deus Optimus Maximus
or the carpenter's son of Nazareth--must go under.

It all ended in compromise, to be sure; as all struggles must between
adversaries so tremendous. To-day, in Dr Smith's "Classical Dictionary,"
Origen rubs shoulders with Orpheus and Orcus; Tertullian reposes cheek by
jowl with Terpsichore. But we are not concerned, here, with what happened
in the end. We are concerned with what these forthright Christian
fighters had in their minds--to trample out the old literature _because_
of the false religion. Milton understood this, and was thinking of it
when he wrote of the effect of Christ's Nativity--

     The Oracles are dumb;
     No voice or hideous hum
     Runs through the archèd roof in words deceiving.
     Apollo from his shrine
     Can no more divine,
     With hollow shriek the steep of Delphos leaving.
     No mighty trance, or breathèd spell
     Inspires the pale-eyed Priest from the prophetic cell.

     The lonely mountains o'er,
     And the resounding shore,
     A voice of weeping heard, and loud lament;
     From haunted spring, and dale
     Edg'd with poplar pale,
     The parting Genius is with sighing sent;
     With flower-inwoven tresses torn
     The Nymphs in twilight shade of tangled thickets mourn.

as Swinburne understands and expresses it in his "Hymn to Proserpine,"
supposed to be chanted by a Roman of the 'old profession' on the morrow
of Constantine's proclaiming the Christian faith--

   O Gods dethroned and deceased, cast forth, wiped out in a day!
   From your wrath is the world released, redeem'd from your chains,
       men say.
   New Gods are crown'd in the city; their flowers have broken your rods;
   They are merciful, clothed with pity, the young compassionate Gods.
   But for me their new device is barren, the days are bare;
   Things long past over suffice, and men forgotten that were...
   Wilt thou yet take all, Galilean? but these thou shalt not take,
   The laurel, the palms and the paean, the breasts of the nymphs in
       the brake;
   Thou hast conquer'd, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from
       thy breath;
   We have drunken of things Lethean, and fed on the fullness of death.

'Thou hast conquer'd, O pale Galilean!' However the struggle might sway
in this or that other part of the field, Literature had to be beaten to
her knees, and still beaten flat until the breath left her body. You will
not be surprised that the heavy hand of these Christian fathers fell
first upon the Theatre: for the actor in Rome was by legal definition an
'infamous' man, even as in England until the other day he was by legal
definition a vagabond and liable to whipping. The policy of religious
reformers has ever been to close the theatres, as our Puritans did in
1642; and a recent pronouncement by the Bishop of Kensington would seem
to show that the instinct survives to this day. Queen Elizabeth--like her
brother, King Edward VI--signalized the opening of a new reign by
inhibiting stage-plays; and I invite you to share with me the pensive
speculation, 'How much of English Literature, had she not relented, would
exist to-day for a King Edward VII Professor to talk about?' Certainly
the works of Shakespeare would not; and that seems to me a thought so
impressive as to deserve the attention of Bishops as well as of Kings.

Apart from this instinct the Christian Fathers, it would appear, had
plenty of provocation. For the actors, who had jested with the Old
Religion on a ground of accepted understanding--much as a good husband
(if you will permit the simile) may gently tease his wife, not loving her
one whit the less, taught by affection to play without offending--had
mocked at the New Religion in a very different way: savagely, as enemies,
holding up to ridicule the Church's most sacred mysteries. Tertullian, in
an uncompromising treatise "De Spectaculis," denounces stage-plays root
and branch; tells of a demon who entered into a woman in a theatre and on
being exorcised pleaded that the mistake might well be excused, since he
had found her in his own demesne. Christians should avoid these shows and
await the greatest _spectaculum_ of all--the Last Judgment. 'Then,' he
promises genially, 'will be the time to listen to the tragedians, whose
lamentations will be more poignant, for their proper pain. Then will the
comedians turn and twist in capers rendered nimbler than ever by the
sting of the fire that is not quenched.' By 400 A.D. Augustine cries
triumphantly that the theatres are falling--the very walls of them
tumbling--throughout the Empire. _'Per omnes paene civitates cadunt
theatra ... cadunt et fora vel moenia in quibus demonia colebantur'_; the
very walls within which these devilments were practised. But the fury is
unabated and goes on stamping down the embers. In the eighth century our
own Alcuin (as the school of Freeman would affectionately call him) is no
less fierce. All plays are anathema to him, and he even disapproves of
dancing bears--though not, it would appear, of bad puns: _'nec tibi sit
ursorum saltantium cura, sed clericorum psallentium.'_[2]

The banning of _all_ literature you will find harder to understand; nay
impossible, I believe, unless you accept the explanation I gave you. Yet
there it is, an historical fact. 'What hath it profited posterity--_quid
posteritas emolumenti tulit,_' wrote Sulpicius Severus, about 400 A.D.,
'to read of Hector's fighting or Socrates' philosophising?' Pope Gregory
the Great--St Gregory, who sent us the Roman missionaries--made no bones
about it at all. '_Quoniam non cognovi literaturam,_' he quoted
approvingly from the 70th Psalm, '_introibo in potentias Domini_':
'Because I know nothing of literature I shall enter into the strength of
the Lord.' 'The praises of Christ cannot be uttered in the same tongue as
those of Jove,' writes this same Gregory to Desiderius, Archbishop of
Vienne, who had been rash enough to introduce some of his young men to
the ancient authors, with no worse purpose than to teach them a little
grammar. Yet no one was prouder than this Pope of the historical Rome
which he had inherited. Alcuin, again, forbade the reading of Virgil in
the monastery over which he presided: it would sully his disciples'
imagination. 'How is this, _Virgilian!_' he cried out upon one taken in
the damnable act,--'that without my knowledge and against my order thou
hast taken to studying Virgil?' To put a stop to this unhallowed
indulgence the clergy solemnly taught that Virgil was a wizard.

To us, long used as we are to the innocent gaieties of the Classical
Tripos, these measures to discourage the study of Virgil may appear
drastic, as the mental attitude of Gregory and Alcuin towards the Latin
hexameter (so closely resembling that of Byron towards the waltz) not far
removed from foolishness. But there you have in its quiddity the
mediaeval mind: and the point I now put to you is, that _out of this soil
our Universities grew._

We, who claim Oxford and Cambridge for our nursing mothers, have of all
men least excuse to forget it. A man of Leyden, of Louvain, of Liepzig,
of Berlin, may be pardoned that he passes it by. More than a hundred
years ago Salamanca had the most of her stones torn down to make defences
against Wellington's cannon. Paris, greatest of all, has kept her renown;
but you shall search the slums of the Latin Quarter in vain for the sixty
or seventy Colleges that, before the close of the fifteenth century, had
arisen to adorn her, the intellectual Queen of Europe. In Bologna, the
ancient and stately, almost alone among the continental Universities,
survive a few relics of the old collegiate system--the College of Spain,
harbouring some five or six students, and a little house founded for
Flemings in 1650: and in Bologna the system never attained to real
importance.

But in England where, great as London is, the national mind has always
harked to the country for the graces of life, so that we seem by instinct
to see it as only desirable in a green setting, our Universities, planted
by the same instinct on lawns watered by pastoral streams, have suffered
so little and received as much from the years that now we can hardly
conceive of Oxford or Cambridge as ruined save by 'the unimaginable touch
of Time.' Of all the secular Colleges bequeathed to Oxford, she has lost
not one; while Cambridge (I believe) has parted only with Cavendish. Some
have been subsumed into newer foundations; but always the process has
been one of merging, of blending, of justifying the new bottle by the old
wine. The vengeance of civil war--always very much of a family affair in
England--has dealt tenderly with Oxford and Cambridge; the more
calculating malignity of Royal Commissions not harshly on the whole.
University reformers may accuse both Oxford and Cambridge of

     Annihilating all that's made
     To a green thought in a green shade:

but with those sour men we have nothing here to do: like Isaak Walton's
milkmaid we will not 'load our minds with any fears of many things that
will never be.'

But, as they stand, Oxford and Cambridge--so amazingly alike while they
play at differences, and both so amazingly unlike anything else in the
wide world--do by a hundred daily reminders connect us with the Middle
Age, or, if you prefer Arnold's phrase, whisper its lost enchantments.
The cloister, the grave grace in hall, the chapel bell, the men hurrying
into their surplices or to lectures 'with the wind in their gowns,' the
staircase, the nest of chambers within the oak--all these softly
reverberate over our life here, as from belfries, the mediaeval mind.

And that mediaeval mind actively hated (of partial acquaintance or by
anticipation) almost everything we now study! Between it and us, except
these memorials, nothing survives to-day but the dreadful temptation to
learn, the dreadful instinct in men, as they grow older and wiser, to
trust learning after all and endow it--that, and the confidence of a
steady stream of youth.

The Universities, then, sprang out of mediaeval life, out of the
mediaeval mind; and the mediaeval mind had for centuries been taught to
abominate literature. I would not exaggerate or darken the 'Dark Ages'
for you by throwing too much bitumen into the picture. I know that at the
beginning there had been a school of Origen which advocated the study of
Greek poetry and philosophy, as well as the school of Tertullian which
condemned it. There is evidence that the 'humanities' were cultivated
here and there and after a fashion behind Gregory's august back. I grant
that, while in Alcuin's cloister (and Alcuin, remember, became a sort of
Imperial Director of Studies in Charlemagne's court) the wretched monk
who loved Virgil had to study him with an illicit candle, to copy him
with numbed fingers in a corner of the bitter-cold cloister, on the other
hand many beautiful manuscripts preserved to us bear witness of cloisters
where literature was tolerated if not officially honoured. I would not
have you so uncritical as to blame the Church or its clergy for what
happened; as I would have you remember that if the Church killed
literature, she--and, one may say, she alone--kept it alive.

Yet, and after all these reservations, it remains true that Literature
had gone down disastrously. Even philosophy, unless you count the pale
work of Boethius--_real_ philosophy had so nearly perished that men
possessed no more of Aristotle than a fragment of his Logic, and '_the_
Philosopher' had to creep back into Western Europe through translations
from the Arabic! But this is the point I wish to make clear.--Philosophy
came back in the great intellectual revival of the twelfth century;
Literature did not. Literature's hour had not come. Men had to catch up
on a dreadful leeway of ignorance. The form did not matter as yet: they
wanted science--to know. I should say, rather, that as yet form _seemed_
not to matter: for in fact form always matters: the personal always
matters: and you cannot explain the vast crowds Abelard drew to Paris
save by the fascination in the man, the fire communicated by the living
voice. Moreover (as in a previous lecture I tried to prove) you cannot
divorce accurate thought from accurate speech; but for accuracy, even for
hair-splitting accuracy, of speech the Universities had the definitions
of the Schoolmen. In literature they had yet to discover a concern.
Literature was a thing of the past, inanimate. Nowhere in Europe could it
be felt even to breathe. To borrow a beautiful phrase of Wordsworth's,
men numbered it among 'things silently gone out of mind or things
violently destroyed.'

Nobody quite knows how these Universities began. Least of all can anybody
tell how Oxford and Cambridge began. In Bede, for instance--that is, in
England as the eighth century opens--we see scholarship already moving
towards the _thing_, treading with sure instinct towards the light.
Though a hundred historians have quoted it, I doubt if a feeling man who
loves scholarship can read the famous letter of Cuthbert describing
Bede's end and not come nigh to tears.

And Bede's story contains no less wonder than beauty, when you consider
how the fame of this holy and humble man of heart, who never left his
cloisters at Jarrow, spread over Europe, so that, though it sound
incredible, our Northumbria narrowly missed in its day to become the
pole-star of Western culture. But he was a disinterested genius, and his
pupil, Alcuin, a pushing dull man and a born reactionary; so that, while
Alcuin scored the personal success and went off to teach in the court of
Charlemagne, the great chance was lost.

No one knows when the great Universities were founded, or precisely out
of what schools they grew; and you may derive amusement from the
historians when they start to explain how Oxford and Cambridge in
particular came to be chosen for sites. My own conjecture, that they were
chosen for the extraordinary salubrity of their climates, has met (I
regret to say) with derision, and may be set down to the caprice of one
who ever inclines to think the weather good where he is happy. Our own
learned historian, indeed--Mr J. Bass Mullinger--devotes some closely
reasoned pages to proving that Cambridge was chosen as the unlikeliest
spot in the world, and is driven to quote the learned Poggio's opinion
that the unhealthiness of a locality recommended it as a place of
education for youth; as Plato, knowing naught of Christianity, but gifted
with a soul naturally Christian, '_had selected a noisome spot for his
Academe, in order that the mind might be strengthened by the weakness of
the body._' So difficult still it is for the modern mind to interpret the
mediaeval!

Most likely these Universities grew as a tree grows from a seed blown by
chance of the wind. It seems easy enough to understand why Paris, that
great city, should have possessed a great University; yet I surmise the
processes at Oxford and Cambridge to have been only a little less
fortuitous. The schools of Remigius and of William of Champeaux (we will
say) have given Paris a certain prestige, when Abelard, a pupil of
William's, springs into fame and draws a horde of students from all over
Europe to sit at his feet. These 'nations' of young men have to be
organised, brought under some sort of discipline, if only to make the
citizens' lives endurable: and lo! the thing is done. In like manner
Irnerius at Bologna, Vacarius at Oxford, and at Cambridge some innominate
teacher, 'of importance,' as Browning would put it, 'in his day,'
possibly set the ball rolling; or again it is suggested that a body of
scholars dissatisfied with Oxford (such dissatisfaction has been known
even in historical times) migrated hither--a laborious journey, even
nowadays--and that so

     A brighter Hellas rears its mountains
     From waves serener far!

These young or nascent bodies had a trick of breaking away after this
fashion. For reasons no longer obvious they hankered specially towards
Stamford or Northampton. Until quite recently, within living memory, all
candidates for a Mastership of Arts at Oxford had to promise never to
lecture at Stamford. A flood here in 1520, which swept away Garret Hostel
Bridge, put Cambridge in like mind and started a prophecy (to which you
may find allusion in the fourth book of "The Faerie Queene") that both
Universities would meet in the end, and kiss, at Stamford. Each in turn
broke away for Northampton, and the worthy Fuller (a Northamptonshire
man) has recorded his wonder that so eligible a spot was not finally
chosen.

I have mentioned a flood: but the immediate causes of the migrations or
attempted migrations were not usually respectable enough to rank with any
such act of God. They started as a rule with some Town and Gown row, or
some bloody affray between scholars of the North and of the South.
Without diminishing your sense of the real fervour for learning which
drew young men from the remotest parts of Europe to these centres, but
having for my immediate object to make clear to you that, whatever these
young men sought, it was not literature, I wish you first to have in your
minds a vivid picture of what a University town was like, and what its
students were like during the greater part of the 12th and 13th
centuries; that is to say, after the first enthusiasm had died down, when
Oxford or Cambridge had organised itself into a _Studium Generale_, or
_Universitas_ (which, of course, has nothing to do with Universality,
whether of teaching or of frequenting, but simply means a Society.
_Universitas_ = all of us).

To begin with, the town was of wood, often on fire in places; with the
alleviation of frequent winter floods, which in return, in the words of a
modern poet, would 'leave a lot of little things behind them.' It
requires but a small effort of the imagination in Cambridge to picture
the streets as narrow, dark, almost meeting overhead in gables out of
which the house slops would be discharged after casual warning down into
a central gutter. That these narrow streets were populous with students
remains certain, however much discount we allow on contemporary bills of
reckoning. And the crowd was noisy. Men have always been ingenious in
their ways of celebrating academical success. Pythagoras, for example,
sacrificed an ox on solving the theorem numbered 47 in the first book of
Euclid; and even to-day a Professor in his solitary lodge may be
encouraged to believe now and then, from certain evidences in the sky,
that the spirit of Pythagoras is not dead but translated.

But of the mediaeval University the lawlessness, though well attested,
can scarcely be conceived. When in the streets 'nation' drew the knife
upon 'nation,' 'town' upon 'gown'; when the city bell started to answer
the clang of St. Mary's; horrible deeds were done. I pass over massacres,
tumults such as the famous one of St Scholastica's Day at Oxford, and
choose one at a decent distance (yet entirely typical) exhumed from the
annals of the University of Toulouse, in the year 1332. In that year

  Five brothers of the noble family de la Penne lived together in a
  Hospicium at Toulouse as students of the Civil and Canon Law. One of
  them was Provost of a Monastery, another Archdeacon of Albi, another an
  Archpriest, another Canon of Toledo. A bastard son of their father,
  named Peter, lived with them as squire to the Canon. On Easter Day,
  Peter, with another squire of the household named Aimery Béranger and
  other students, having dined at a tavern, were dancing with women,
  singing, shouting, and beating 'metallic vessels and iron culinary
  instruments' in the street before their masters' house. The Provost and
  the Archpriest were sympathetically watching the jovial scene from a
  window, until it was disturbed by the appearance of a Capitoul and his
  officers, who summoned some of the party to surrender the prohibited
  arms which they were wearing. '_Ben Senhor, non fassat_' was the
  impudent reply. The Capitoul attempted to arrest one of the offenders;
  whereupon the ecclesiastical party made a combined attack upon the
  official. Aimery Béranger struck him in the face with a poignard,
  cutting off his nose and part of his chin and lips, and knocking out or
  breaking no less than eleven teeth. The surgeons deposed that if he
  recovered (he eventually did recover) he would never be able to speak
  intelligibly. One of the watch was killed outright by Peter de la
  Penne. That night the murderer slept, just as if nothing had happened,
  in the house of his ecclesiastical masters.  The whole household,
  masters and servants alike, were, however, surprised by the other
  Capitouls and a crowd of 200 citizens, and led off to prison, and the
  house is alleged to have been pillaged. The Archbishop's Official
  demanded their surrender. In the case of the superior ecclesiastics
  this, after a short delay, was granted. But Aimery, who dressed like a
  layman in 'divided and striped clothes' and wore a long beard, they
  refused to treat as a clerk, though it was afterwards alleged that the
  tonsure was plainly discernible upon his head until it was shaved by
  order of the Capitouls. Aimery was put to the torture, admitted his
  crime, and was sentenced to death. The sentence was carried out by
  hanging, after he had had his hand cut off on the scene of the crime,
  and been dragged by horses to the place of execution. The Capitouls
  were then excommunicated by the Official, and the ecclesiastical side
  of the quarrel was eventually transferred to the Roman Court. Before
  the Parlement of Paris the University complained of the violation of
  the Royal privilege exempting scholars' servants from the ordinary
  tribunals. The Capitouls were imprisoned, and after long litigation
  sentenced to pay enormous damages to the ruffian's family and erect a
  chapel for the good of his soul. The city was condemned for a time to
  the forfeiture of all its privileges. The body was cut down from the
  gibbet on which it had been hanging for three years, and accorded a
  solemn funeral. Four Capitouls bore the pall, and all fathers of
  families were required to walk in the procession. When they came to the
  Schools, the citizens solemnly begged pardon of the University, and the
  cortège was joined by 3000 scholars. Finally, it cost the city 15,000
  livres tournois or more to regain their civic privileges.[3]

The late Mr Cecil Rhodes once summarized all Fellows of Colleges as
children in matters of finance. Be that as it may, you will find nothing
more constant in history than the talent of the Universities for
extracting money or money's worth out of a riot. Time (I speak as a
parent) has scarcely blunted that faculty; and still--since where young
men congregate, noise there must be--our Universities like Wordsworth's
Happy Warrior

     turn their necessity to glorious gain.

These were the excesses of young 'bloods,' and their servants: but with
them mingled scholars not less ferocious in their habits because almost
desperately poor. You all know, I dare say, that very poor scholars would
be granted licences to beg by the Chancellor. The sleeve of this gown in
which I address you represents the purse or pocket of a Master of Arts,
and may hint to you by its amplitude how many crusts he was prepared to
receive from the charitable.

Now, choosing to ignore (because it has been challenged as overpainted) a
picture of penury endured by the scholars of St John's College in this
University, let me tell you two stories, one well attested, the other
fiction if you will, but both agreeable as testifying to the spirit of
youth which, ever blowing upon their sacred embers, has kept Oxford and
Cambridge perennially alive.

My first is of three scholars so poor that they possessed but one 'cappa'
and gown between them. They took it in turns therefore, and when one went
to lecture the other two kept to their lodgings. I invite you even to
reflect on the joy of the lucky one, in a winter lecture room, dark, with
unglazed windows, as he listened and shuffled his feet for warmth in the
straw of the floor. [No one, by the way, can understand the incessant
harping of our early poets upon May-time and the return of summer until
he has pictured to himself the dark and cold discomfort of a
Middle-English winter.] These three poor scholars fed habitually on
bread, with soup and a little wine, tasting meat only on Sundays and
feasts of the Church. Yet one of them, Richard of Chichester, who lived
to become a saint, _saepe retulit quod nunquam in vita sua tam jucundam,
tam delectabilem duxerat vitam_--that never had he lived so jollily, so
delectably.

That is youth, youth blessed by friendship. Now for my second story,
which is also of youth and friendship.--

Two poor scholars, who had with pains become Masters of Arts and saved
their pence to purchase the coveted garb, on the afternoon of their
admission took a country walk in it, together flaunting their new finery.
But, the day being gusty, on their return across the bridge, a puff of
wind caught the _biretta_ of one and blew it into the river. The loss was
irrecoverable, since neither could swim. The poor fellow looked at his
friend. His friend looked at him. 'Between us two,' he said, 'it is all
or naught,' and cast his own cap to float and sink with the other down
stream.

You will never begin to understand literature until you understand
something of life. These young men, your forerunners, understood
something of life while as yet completely careless of literature. After
the impulse of Abelard and others had died down, the mass of students
betook themselves to the Universities, no doubt, for quite ordinary,
mercenary reasons. The University led to the Church, and the Church, in
England at any rate, was the door to professional life.

Nearly all the civil servants of the Crown--I am here quoting freely--the
diplomatists, the secretaries or advisers of great nobles, the
physicians, the architects, at one time the secular law-givers, all
through the Middle Ages the then large tribe of ecclesiastical lawyers,
were ecclesiastics.... Clerkship did not necessarily involve even minor
orders. But as it was cheaper to a King or a Bishop or a temporal magnate
to reward his physician, his legal adviser, his secretary, or his agent
by a Canonry or a Rectory than by large salaries, the average student of
Paris or Oxford or Cambridge looked toward the Church as the 'main
chance' as we say, and small blame to him! He never at any rate looked
towards Literature: nor did the Universities, wise in their generation,
encourage him to do anything of the sort.

You may realise, Gentlemen, how tardily, even in later and more
enlightened times, the study of Literature has crept its way into
official Cambridge, if you will take down your "University Calendar" and
study the list of Professorships there set forth in order of foundation.
It begins in 1502 with the Lady Margaret's Chair of Divinity, founded by
the mother of Henry VII. Five Regius Professorships follow: of Divinity,
Civil Law, Physic, Hebrew, Greek, all of 1540. So Greek comes in upon the
flush of the Renaissance; and the Calendar bravely, yet not committing
itself to a date, heads with Erasmus the noble roll which concludes (as
may it long conclude) with Henry Jackson. But Greek comes in last of the
five. Close on a hundred years elapse before the foundation of the next
chair--it is of Arabic; and more than a hundred before we arrive at
Mathematics. So Sir William Hamilton was not without historical excuse
when he declared the study of Mathematics to be no part of the business
of this University! Then follow Moral Philosophy (1683), Music (1684),
Chemistry (1702), Astronomy (1704), Anatomy (1707), Modern History and
more Arabic, with Botany (1724), Geology (1727), closely followed by Mr
Hulse's Christian Advocate, more Astronomy (1749), more Divinity (1777),
Experimental Philosophy (1783): then in the nineteenth century more Law,
more Medicine, Mineralogy, Archaeology, Political Economy, Pure
Mathematics, Comparative Anatomy, Sanskrit and yet again more Law, before
we arrive in 1869 at a Chair of Latin. Faint yet pursuing, we have yet to
pass chairs of Fine Art (belated), Experimental Physics, Applied
Mechanics, Anglo-Saxon, Animal Morphology, Surgery, Physiology,
Pathology, Ecclesiastical History, Chinese, more Divinity, Mental
Philosophy, Ancient History, Agriculture, Biology, Agricultural Botany,
more Biology, Astrophysics, and German, before arriving in 1910 at a
Chair of English Literature which by this time I have not breath to
defend.

The enumeration has, I hope, been instructive. If it has also plunged you
in gloom, to that atmosphere (as the clock warns me) for a fortnight I
must leave you: with a promise, however, in another lecture to cheer you,
if it may be, with some broken gleams of hope.


[Footnote 1: "What English Poetry may still learn from Greek": a paper
read before the English Association on Nov. 17, 1911.]

[Footnote 2: See Mr E. K. Chambers' "Mediaeval Stage", Dr Courthope's
"History of English Poetry," and Professor W. P. Ker's "The Dark Ages".]

[Footnote 3: Rashdall, "The Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages",
vol. ii, p. 684, from documents printed in Fournier's collection.]



LECTURE XI.

ENGLISH LITERATURE IN OUR UNIVERSITIES nglish Literature in Our
Universities (II)

Wednesday, December 3


We broke off, Gentlemen, upon the somewhat painful conclusion that our
Universities were not founded for the study of literature, and tardily
admitted it. The dates of our three literary chairs in Cambridge--I speak
of our Western literature only, and omit Arabic, Sanskrit, and
Chinese--clenched that conclusion for us. Greek in 1540, Latin not until
1869, English but three years ago--from the lesson of these intervals
there is no getting away.

Now I do not propose to dwell on the Renaissance and how Greek came in:
for a number of writers in our time have been busy with the Renaissance,
and have--I was going to say 'over-written the subject,' but no--it is
better to say that they have focussed the period so as to distort the
general perspective at the cost of other periods which have earned less
attention; the twelfth century, for example. At any rate their efforts,
with the amount they claim of your reading, absolve me from doing more
than remind you that the Renaissance brought in the study of Greek, and
Greek necessarily brought in the study of literature: since no man can
read what the Greeks wrote and not have his eyes unsealed to what I have
called a norm of human expression; a guide to conduct, a standard to
correct our efforts, whether in poetry, or in philosophy, or in art. For
the rest, I need only quote to you Gibbon's magnificent saying, that the
Greek language gave a soul to the objects of sense and a body to the
abstractions of metaphysics. [May I add, in parenthesis, that, while no
believer in compulsory Greek, holding, indeed, that you can hardly
reconcile learning with compulsion, and still more hardly force them to
be compatibles, I subscribe with all my heart to Bagehot's shrewd saying,
'while a knowledge of Greek and Latin is not necessary to a writer of
English, he should at least have a firm conviction that those two
languages existed.']

But, assuming you to know something of the Renaissance, and how it
brought Greek into Oxford and Cambridge, I find that in the course of the
argument two things fall to be said, and both to be said with some
emphasis.

In the first place, without officially acknowledging their native tongue
or its literature, our two Universities had no sooner acquired Greek than
their members became immensely interested in English. Take, for one
witness out of many, Gabriel Harvey, Fellow of Pembroke Hall. His letters
to Edmund Spenser have been preserved, as you know. Now Gabriel Harvey
was a man whom few will praise, and very few could have loved. Few will
quarrel with Dr Courthope's description of him as 'a person of
considerable intellectual force, but intolerably arrogant and conceited,
and with a taste vitiated by all the affectations of Italian humanism,'
or deny that 'his tone in his published correspondence with Spenser is
that of an intellectual bully.'[1] None will refuse him the title of fool
for attempting to mislead Spenser into writing hexameters. But all you
can urge against Gabriel Harvey, on this count or that or the other, but
accumulates proof that this donnish man was all the while giving
thought--giving even ferocious thought--to the business of making
an English Literature.

Let me adduce more pleasing evidence. At or about Christmas, in the year
1597, there was enacted here in Cambridge, in the hall of St John's
College, a play called "The Pilgrimage to Parnassus," a skittish work,
having for subject the 'discontent of scholars'; the misery attending
those who, unsupported by a private purse, would follow after Apollo and
the Nine. No one knows the author's name: but he had a wit which has kept
something of its salt to this day, and in Christmas, 1597, it took
Cambridge by storm. The public demanded a sequel, and "The Return from
Parnassus" made its appearance on the following Christmas (again in St
John's College hall); to be followed by a "Second Part of the Return from
Parnassus," the author's overflow of wit, three years later. Of the
popularity of the first and second plays--"The Pilgrimage" and "The
Return, Part I"--we have good evidence in the prologue to "The Return,
Part II," where the author makes Momus say, before an audience which knew
the truth:

   "The Pilgrimage to Parnassus" and "The Returne from Parnassus" have
   stood the honest Stagekeepers in many a crowne's expense for linckes
   and vizards: purchased many a Sophister a knocke with a clubbe:
   hindred the butler's box, and emptied the Colledge barrells; and now,
   unlesse you have heard the former, you may returne home as wise as you
   came: for this last is the last part of The Returne from Parnassus;
   that is, the last time that the Author's wit will turne upon the toe
   in this vaine.

In other words, these plays had set everybody in Cambridge agog, had been
acted by link-light, had led to brawls--either between literary factions
or through offensive personal allusions to which we have lost all
clue--had swept into the box-office much money usually spent on Christmas
gambling, and had set up an inappeasable thirst for College ale. The
point for us is that (in 1597-1601) they abound in topical allusions to
the London theatres: that Shakespeare is obviously just as much a concern
to these young men of Cambridge as Mr Shaw (say) is to our young men
to-day, and an allusion to him is dropped in confidence that it will be
aptly taken. For instance, one of the characters, Gullio, will have some
love-verses recited to him 'in two or three diverse veins, in Chaucer's,
Gower's and Spenser's and Mr Shakespeare's.' Having listened to Chaucer,
he cries, 'Tush! Chaucer is a foole'; but coming to some lines of Mr
Shakespeare's "Venus and Adonis," he cries, 'Ey, marry, Sir! these have
some life in them! Let this duncified world esteeme of Spenser and
Chaucer, I'le worship sweet Mr Shakespeare, and to honoure him I will lay
his "Venus and Adonis" under my pillowe.' For another allusion--'Few of
the University pen plaies well,' says the actor Kempe in Part II of the
"Returne"; 'they smell too much of that writer _Ovid_ and that writer
_Metamorphosis_, and talke too much of Proserpina and Jupiter. Why here's
our fellow _Shakespeare_ puts them all downe, ay and _Ben Jonson_, too.'
Here you have Cambridge assembling at Christmas-tide to laugh at
well-understood hits upon the theatrical taste of London. Here you have,
to make Cambridge laugh, three farcical quasi-Aristophanic plays all
hinging on the tribulations of scholars who depart to pursue literature
for a livelihood. For a piece of definite corroborative evidence you have
a statute of Queens' College (quoted by Mr Bass Mullinger) which directs
that 'any student refusing to take part in the acting of a comedy or
tragedy in the College and absenting himself from the performance,
contrary to the injunctions of the President, shall be expelled from the
Society'--which seems drastic. And on top of all this, you have evidence
enough and to spare of the part played in Elizabethan drama by the
'University Wits.' Why, Marlowe (of Corpus Christi) may be held to have
invented its form--blank verse; Ben Jonson (of St John's) to have carried
it on past its meridian and through its decline, into the masque. Both
Universities claim Lyly and Chapman. Marston, Peel, Massinger, hailed
from Oxford. But Greene and Nashe were of Cambridge--of St John's both,
and Day of Caius. They sought to London, and there (for tragic truth
underlay that Christmas comedy of "The Pilgrimage of Parnassus") many of
them came to bitter ends: but before reaching their sordid personal
ruin--and let the deaths of Marlowe and Greene be remembered--they built
the Elizabethan drama, as some of them lived to add its last ornaments.
We know what, meanwhile, Spenser had done. I think it scarcely needs
further proof that Cambridge, towards the end of the sixteenth century,
was fermenting with a desire to read, criticise, yes and write, English
literature, albeit officially the University recognised no such thing.

There remains a second question--How happened it that Cambridge, after
admitting Greek, took more than three hundred years to establish a Chair
of Latin, and that a Chair of English is, so to speak, a mushroom (call
it not toadstool!) of yesterday? Why simply enough. Latin continued to be
the working language of Science. In Latin Bacon naturally composed his
"Novum Organum" and indeed almost all his scientific and philosophical
work, although a central figure of his age among English prose-writers.
In Latin, in the eighteenth century, Newton wrote his "Principia": and I
suppose that of no two books written by Englishmen before the close of
that century, or indeed before Darwin's "Origin of Species," can it be
less extravagantly said than of the "Novum Organum" and the "Principia"
that they shook the world. Now, without forgetting our Classical Tripos
(founded in 1822), as without forgetting the great names of Bentley and
Porson, we may observe it as generally true, that whenever and wherever
large numbers of scientific men use a particular language as their
working instrument, they have a disposition to look askance on its
refinements; to be jealous of its literary professors; to accuse these of
treating as an end in itself what is properly a means. Like the Denver
editor I quoted to you in a previous lecture, these scientific workers
want to 'get there' in a hurry, forgetting that (to use another
Americanism) the sharper the chisel the more ice it is likely to cut. You
may observe this disposition--this suspicion of 'literature,' this thinly
veiled contempt--in many a scientific man to-day; though because his
language has changed from Latin to English, it is English he now chooses
to cheapen. Well, we cannot help it, perhaps. Perhaps he cannot help it.
It is human nature. We must go on persuading him, not losing our tempers.

None the less we should not shut our eyes to the fact that while a
language is the working instrument of scientific men there will always be
a number of them to decry any study of it for its beauty, and even any
study of it for the sake of accuracy--its beauty and its accuracy being
indeed scarcely distinguishable.

I fear, Gentlemen, you may go on from this to the dreadful conclusion
that the date 1869, when Cambridge at length came to possess a Chair of
Latin, marks definitely the hour at which Latin closed its eyes and
became a dead language; that you may proceed to a yet more dreadful
application of this to the Chair of English founded in 1910: and that
henceforward (to misquote what Mr Max Beerbohm once wickedly said of
Walter Pater) you will be apt to regard Professor Housman and me as two
widowers engaged, while the undertaker waits, in composing the features
of our belovèds.

But (to speak seriously) that is what I stand here to controvert: and I
derive no small encouragement when--as has more than once happened--A, a
scientific man, comes to me and complains that he for his part cannot
understand B, another scientific man, 'because the fellow can't express
himself.' And the need to study precision in writing has grown far more
instant since men of science have abandoned the 'universal language' and
taken to writing in their own tongues. Let us, while not on the whole
regretting the change, at least recognise some dangers, some possible
disadvantages. I will confine myself to English, considered as a
substitute for Latin. In Latin you have a language which may be thin in
its vocabulary and inelastic for modern use; but a language which at all
events compels a man to clear his thought and communicate it to other men
precisely.

     Thoughts hardly to be packed
     Into the narrow act

--may be all impossible of compression into the Latin speech. In English,
on the other hand, you have a language which by its very copiousness and
elasticity tempts you to believe that you can do without packing, without
compression, arrangement, order; that, with the Denver editor, all you
need is to 'get there'--though it be with all your intellectual
belongings in a jumble, overflowing the portmanteau. Rather I preach to
you that having proudly inherited English with its _copia fandi_, you
should keep your estate in order by constantly applying to it that _jus
et norma loquendi_ of which, if you seek to the great models, you will
likewise find yourselves inheritors.

'But,' it is sometimes urged, 'why not leave this new study of English to
the younger Universities now being set up all over the country?' 'Ours is
an age of specialising. Let these newcomers have something--what better
than English?--to specialise upon.'

I might respond by asking if the fame of Cambridge would stand where it
stands to-day had she followed a like counsel concerning other studies
and, resting upon Mathematics, given over this or that branch of Natural
Science to be grasped by new hands. What of Electricity, for example? Or
what of Physiology? Yes, and among the unnatural sciences, what of
Political Economy? But I will use a more philosophical argument.

Some years ago I happened on a collection of Bulgarian proverbs of which
my memory retains but two, yet each an abiding joy. In a lecture on
English Literature in our Universities you will certainly not miss to
apply the first, which runs, 'Many an ass has entered Jerusalem.'

The application of the second may elude you for a moment. It voices the
impatience of an honest Bulgar who has been worried overmuch to subscribe
to what, in this England of ours, we call Church Purposes; and it runs,
'All these two-penny saints will be the ruin of the Church.'

Now far be it from me to apply the term 'two-penny saint' to any existing
University. To avoid the accusation I hereby solemnly declare my deep
conviction that every single University at this moment in England,
Scotland, Wales or Ireland has reasons--strong in all, in some
overwhelmingly strong--for its existence. That is plainly said, I hope?
Yet I do maintain that if we go on multiplying Universities we shall not
increase the joy; that the reign of two-penny saints lies not far off
and will soon lie within measurable distance; and that it will be
a pestilent reign. As we saw in out last lecture the word
'University'--_Universitas_--had, in its origin, nothing to do with
Universality: it meant no more than a Society, organised (as it
happened) to promote learning. But words, like institutions, often rise
above their beginnings, and in time acquire a proud secondary
connotation. For an instance let me give you the beautiful Wykehamist
motto _Manners Makyeth Man_, wherein 'manners' originally meant no more
than 'morals.' So there has grown around our two great Universities of
Oxford and Cambridge a connotation (secondary, if you will, but valuable
above price) of universality; of standing like great beacons of light,
to attract the young wings of all who would seek learning for their
sustenance. Thousands have singed, thousands have burned themselves, no
doubt: but what thousands of thousands have caught the sacred fire into
their souls as they passed through and passed out, to carry it, to drop
it, still as from wings, upon waste places of the world! Think of
country vicarages, of Australian or Himalayan outposts, where men have
nourished out lives of duty upon the fire of three transient, priceless
years. Think of the generations of children to whom their fathers'
lives, prosaic enough, could always be re-illumined if someone let fall
the word 'Oxford' or 'Cambridge,' so that they themselves came to
surmise an aura about the name as of a land very far off; and then say
if the ineffable spell of those two words do not lie somewhere in the
conflux of generous youth with its rivalries and clash of minds, ere it
disperses, generation after generation, to the duller business of life.
Would you have your mother University, Gentlemen, undecorated by some
true study of your mother-English?

I think not, having been there, and known such thoughts as you will carry
away, and having been against expectation called back to report them.

     And sometimes I remember days of old
     When fellowship seem'd not so far to seek,
     And all the world and I seem'd far less cold,
     And at the rainbow's foot lay surely gold,
     And hope was strong, and life itself not weak.

My purpose here (and I cannot too often recur to it) is to wean your
minds from hankering after false Germanic standards and persuade you, or
at least point out to you, in what direction that true study lies if you
are men enough to take up your inheritance and believe in it as a glory
to be improved.

Neither Oxford nor Cambridge nor any University on earth can study
English Literature truthfully or worthily, or even at all profitably,
unless by studying it in the category for which Heaven, or Nature (call
the ultimate cause what you will), intended it; or, to put the assertion
more concretely, in any other category than that for which the particular
author--be his name Chaucer or Chesterton, Shakespeare or Shaw--designed
it; as neither can Oxford nor Cambridge nor any University study English
Literature, to understand it, unless by bracing itself to consider a
living art. Origins, roots, all the gropings towards light--let these be
granted as accessories; let those who search in them be granted all
honour, all respect. It is only when they preach or teach these
preliminaries, these accessories, to be more important than Literature
itself--it is only when they, owing all their excuse in life to the
established daylight, din upon us that the precedent darkness claims
precedence in honour, that one is driven to utter upon them this
dialogue, in monosyllables:

     _And God said, 'Let there be light': and there was light.
     'Oh, thank you, Sir,' said the Bat and the Owl; 'then we are off!'_

I grant you, Gentlemen, that there must always inhere a difficulty in
correlating for the purposes of a Tripos a study of Literature itself
with a study of these accessories; the thing itself being _naturally_ so
much more difficult: being so difficult indeed that (to take literary
criticism alone and leave for a moment the actual practice of writing
out of the question) though some of the first intellects in the
world--Aristotle, Longinus, Quintilian, Boileau, Dryden, Lessing, Goethe,
Coleridge, Sainte-Beuve--have broken into parcels of that territory, the
mass of it remains unexplored, and nobody as yet has found courage to
reduce the reports of these great explorers to any system; so that a very
eminent person indeed found it easy to write to me the other day, 'The
principles of Criticism? What are they? Who made them?' To this I could
only answer that I did not know Who made them; but that Aristotle,
Dryden, Lessing, had, as it was credibly reported, discovered five or, it
might be, six. And this difficulty of appraising literature absolutely
inheres in your study of it from the beginning. No one can have set a
General Paper on Literature and examined on it, setting it and marking
the written answers, alongside of papers about language, inflexions and
the rest, without having borne in upon him that _here_ the student finds
his difficulty. While in a paper set about inflexions, etc., a pupil with
a moderately retentive memory will easily obtain sixty or seventy per
cent. of the total marks, in a paper on the book or play considered
critically an examiner, even after setting his paper with a view to some
certain inferiority of average, has to be lenient before he can award
fifty, forty, or even thirty per cent. of the total.

You will find a somewhat illuminating passage--illuminating, that is, if
you choose to interpret and apply it to our subject--in Lucian's "True
History," where the veracious traveller, who tells the tale, affirms that
he visited Hades among other places, and had some conversation with
Homer, among its many inhabitants--

   Before many days had passed, I accosted the poet Homer, when we were
   both disengaged, and asked him, among other things, where he came
   from; it was still a burning question with us, I explained. He said he
   was aware that some derived him from Chios, others from Smyrna, and
   others again from Colophon; but in fact he was a Babylonian, generally
   known not as Homer but as Tigranes; but when later in life he was
   given as a homer or hostage to the Greeks, that name clung to him.
   Another of my questions was about the so-called spurious books; had he
   written them or not? He said that they were all genuine: so I now knew
   what to think of the critics Zenodotus and Aristarchus and all their
   lucubrations. Having got a categorical answer on that point, I tried
   him next on his reason for starting the "Iliad" with the wrath of
   Achilles. He said he had no exquisite reason; it just came into his
   head that way.

Even so diverse are the questions that may be asked concerning any great
work of art. But to discover its full intent is always the most difficult
task of all. That task, however, and nothing less difficult, will always
be the one worthiest of a great University.

On that, and on that alone, Gentlemen, do I base all claims for our
School of English Literature. And yet in conclusion I will ask you,
reminding yourselves how fortunate is your lot in Cambridge, to think of
fellow-Englishmen far less fortunate.

Years ago I took some pains to examine the examination papers set by a
renowned Examining Body and I found this--'I humbly solicit' (to use a
phrase of Lucian's) 'my hearers' incredulity'--that in a paper set upon
three Acts of "Hamlet"--three Acts of "Hamlet"!--the first question
started with 'G.tt. p..cha' 'Al..g.tor' and invited the candidate to fill
in the missing letters correctly. Now I was morally certain that the
words 'gutta-percha' and 'alligator' did not occur in the first three
Acts of "Hamlet"; but having carefully re-read them I invited this
examining body to explain itself. The answer I got was that, to
understand Shakespeare, a student must first understand the English
Language! Some of you on leaving Cambridge will go out--a company of
Christian folk dispersed throughout the world--to tell English children
of English Literature. Such are the pedagogic fetters you will have to
knock off their young minds before they can stand and walk.

Gentlemen, on a day early in this term I sought the mound which is the
old Castle of Cambridge. Access to it, as perhaps you know, lies through
the precincts of the County Prison. An iron railing encloses the mound,
having a small gate, for the key of which a notice-board advised me to
ring the prison bell. I rang. A very courteous gaoler answered the bell
and opened the gate, which stands just against his wicket. I thanked him,
but could not forbear asking 'Why do they keep this gate closed?' 'I
don't know, sir,' he answered, 'but I suppose if they didn't the children
might get in and play.'

So with his answer I went up the hill and from the top saw Cambridge
spread at my feet; Magdalene below me, and the bridge which--poor product
as it is of the municipal taste--has given its name to so many bridges
all over the world; the river on its long ambit to Chesterton; the tower
of St John's, and beyond it the unpretentious but more beautiful tower of
Jesus College. To my right the magnificent chine of King's College Chapel
made its own horizon above the yellowing elms. I looked down on the
streets--the narrow streets--the very streets which, a fortnight ago, I
tried to people for you with that mediaeval throng which has passed as we
shall pass. Still in my ear the gaoler's answer repeated itself--_'I
suppose, if they didn't keep it locked, the children might get in and
play'_: and a broken echo seemed to take it up, in words that for a while
had no more coherence than the scattered jangle of bells in the town
below. But as I turned to leave, they chimed into an articulate sentence
and the voice was the voice of Francis Bacon--_Regnum Scientiae ut regnum
Coeli non nisi sub persona infantis intratur.--Into the Kingdom of
Knowledge, as into the Kingdom of Heaven, whoso would enter must become
as a little child._


[Footnote 1: "Cambridge History of English Literature", vol. iii, p. 213.]



LECTURE XII.

ON STYLE

Wednesday, January 28, 1914


Should Providence, Gentlemen, destine any one of you to write books for
his living, he will find experimentally true what I here promise him,
that few pleasures sooner cloy than reading what the reviewers say. This
promise I hand on with the better confidence since it was endorsed for me
once in conversation by that eminently good man the late Henry Sidgwick;
who added, however, 'Perhaps I ought to make a single exception. There
was a critic who called one of my books "epoch-making." Being anonymous,
he would have been hard to find and thank, perhaps; but I ought to have
made the effort.'

May I follow up this experience of his with one of my own, as a preface
or brief apology for this lecture? Short-lived as is the author's joy in
his critics, far-spent as may be his hope of fame, mournful his consent
with Sir Thomas Browne that 'there is nothing immortal but immortality,'
he cannot hide from certain sanguine men of business, who in England call
themselves 'Press-Cutting Agencies,' in America 'Press-Clipping Bureaux,'
and, as each successive child of his invention comes to birth,
unbecomingly presume in him an almost virginal trepidation. 'Your book,'
they write falsely, 'is exciting much comment. May we collect and send
you notices of it appearing in the World's Press? We submit a specimen
cutting with our terms; and are, dear Sir,' etc.

Now, although steadily unresponsive to this wile, I am sometimes guilty
of taking the enclosed specimen review and thrusting it for preservation
among the scarcely less deciduous leaves of the book it was written to
appraise. So it happened that having this vacation, to dust--not to
read--a line of obsolete or obsolescent works on a shelf, I happened on a
review signed by no smaller a man than Mr Gilbert Chesterton and
informing the world that the author of my obsolete book was full of good
stories as a kindly uncle, but had a careless or impatient way of
stopping short and leaving his readers to guess what they most wanted to
know: that, reaching the last chapter, or what he chose to make the last
chapter, instead of winding up and telling 'how everybody lived ever
after,' he (so to speak) slid you off his avuncular knee with a blessing
and the remark that nine o'clock was striking and all good children
should be in their beds.

That criticism has haunted me during the vacation. Looking back on a
course of lectures which I deemed to be accomplished; correcting them in
print; revising them with all the nervousness of a beginner; I have
seemed to hear you complain--'He has exhorted us to write accurately,
appropriately; to eschew Jargon; to be bold and essay Verse. He has
insisted that Literature is a living art, to be practised. But just what
we most needed he has not told. At the final doorway to the secret he
turned his back and left us. Accuracy, propriety, perspicuity--these we
may achieve. But where has he helped us to write with beauty, with charm,
with distinction? Where has he given us rules for what is called _Style_
in short?--having attained which an author may count himself set up in
business.'

Thus, Gentlemen, with my mind's ear I heard you reproaching me. I beg you
to accept what follows for my apology.

To begin with, let me plead that you have been told of one or two things
which Style is _not_; which have little or nothing to do with Style,
though sometimes vulgarly mistaken for it. Style, for example, is
not--can never be--extraneous Ornament. You remember, may be, the Persian
lover whom I quoted to you out of Newman: how to convey his passion he
sought a professional letter-writer and purchased a vocabulary charged
with ornament, wherewith to attract the fair one as with a basket of
jewels. Well, in this extraneous, professional, purchased ornamentation,
you have something which Style is not: and if you here require a
practical rule of me, I will present you with this: 'Whenever you feel an
impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it
--whole-heartedly--and delete it before sending your manuscript to press.
_Murder your darlings._'

But let me plead further that you have not been left altogether without
clue to the secret of what Style is. That you must master the secret for
yourselves lay implicit in our bargain, and you were never promised that
a writer's training would be easy. Yet a clue was certainly put in your
hands when, having insisted that Literature is a living art, I added that
therefore it must be personal and of its essence personal.

This goes very deep: it conditions all our criticism of art. Yet it
conceals no mystery. You may see its meaning most easily and clearly,
perhaps, by contrasting Science and Art at their two extremes--say Pure
Mathematics with Acting. Science as a rule deals with things, Art with
man's thought and emotion about things. In Pure Mathematics things are
rarefied into ideas, numbers, concepts, but still farther and farther
away from the individual man. Two and two make four, and fourpence is not
ninepence (or at any rate four is not nine) whether Alcibiades or Cleon
keep the tally. In Acting on the other hand almost everything depends on
personal interpretation--on the gesture, the walk, the gaze, the tone of
a Siddons, the _rusé_ smile of a Coquelin, the exquisite, vibrant
intonation of a Bernhardt. 'English Art?' exclaimed Whistler, 'there is
no such thing! Art is art and mathematics is mathematics.' Whistler
erred. Precisely because Art is Art, and Mathematics is Mathematics and a
Science, Art being Art can be English or French; and, more than this,
must be the personal expression of an Englishman or a Frenchman, as a
'Constable' differs from a 'Corot' and a 'Whistler' from both. Surely I
need not labour this. But what is true of the extremes of Art and Science
is true also, though sometimes less recognisably true, of the mean: and
where they meet and seem to conflict (as in History) the impact is that
of the personal or individual mind upon universal truth, and the question
becomes whether what happened in the Sicilian Expedition, or at the trial
of Charles I, can be set forth naked as an alegebraical sum, serene in
its certainty, indifferent to opinion, uncoloured in the telling as in
the hearing by sympathy or dislike, by passion or by character. I doubt,
while we should strive in history as in all things to be fair, if history
can be written in that colourless way, to interest men in human doings. I
am sure that nothing which lies further towards imaginative, creative,
Art can be written in that way.

It follows then that Literature, being by its nature personal, must be by
its nature almost infinitely various. 'Two persons cannot be the authors
of the sounds which strike our ear; and as they cannot be speaking one
and the same speech, neither can they be writing one and the same lecture
or discourse.' _Quot homines tot sententiae._ You may translate that, if
you will, 'Every man of us constructs his sentence differently'; and if
there be indeed any quarrel between Literature and Science (as I never
can see why there should be), I for one will readily grant Science all
her cold superiority, her ease in Sion with universal facts, so it be
mine to serve among the multifarious race who have to adjust, as best
they may, Science's cold conclusions (and much else) to the brotherly
give-and-take of human life.

_Quicquid agunt homines, votum, timor, ira, voluptas..._ Is it possible,
Gentlemen, that you can have read one, two, three or more of the
acknowledged masterpieces of literature without having it borne in on you
that they are great because they are alive, and traffic not with cold
celestial certainties, but with men's hopes, aspirations, doubts, loves,
hates, breakings of the heart; the glory and vanity of human endeavour,
the transience of beauty, the capricious uncertain lease on which you and
I hold life, the dark coast to which we inevitably steer; all that amuses
or vexes, all that gladdens, saddens, maddens us men and women on this
brief and mutable traject which yet must be home for a while, the
anchorage of our hearts? For an instance:--

     Here lies a most beautiful lady,
     Light of step and heart was she:
     I think she was the most beautiful lady
     That ever was in the West Country.
     But beauty vanishes, beauty passes,
     However rare, rare it be;
     And when I crumble who shall remember
     That lady of the West Country?

                 (Walter de la Mare.)

Or take a critic--a literary critic--such as Samuel Johnson, of whom we
are used to think as of a man artificial in phrase and pedantic in
judgment. He lives, and why? Because, if you test his criticism, he never
saw literature but as a part of life, nor would allow in literature what
was false to life, as he saw it. He could be wrong-headed, perverse;
could damn Milton because he hated Milton's politics; on any question of
passion or prejudice could make injustice his daily food. But he could
not, even in a friend's epitaph, let pass a phrase (however well turned)
which struck him as empty of life or false to it. All Boswell testifies
to this: and this is why Samuel Johnson survives.

Now let me carry this contention--that all Literature is personal and
therefore various--into a field much exploited by the pedant, and fenced
about with many notice-boards and public warnings. _'Neologisms not
allowed here,' 'All persons using slang, or trespassing in pursuit of
originality....'_

Well, I answer these notice-boards by saying that, literature being
personal, and men various--and even the "Oxford English Dictionary" being
no Canonical book--man's use or defiance of the dictionary depends for
its justification on nothing but his success: adding that, since it takes
all kinds to make a world, or a literature, his success will probably
depend on the occasion. A few months ago I found myself seated at a
bump-supper next to a cheerful youth who, towards the close, suggested
thoughtfully, as I arose to make a speech, that, the bonfire (which of
course he called the 'bonner') being due at nine-thirty o'clock, there
was little more than bare time left for 'langers and godders.' It cost
me, who think slowly, some seconds to interpret that by 'langers' he
meant 'Auld Lang Syne' and by 'godders' 'God Save the King.' I thought at
the time, and still think, and will maintain against any schoolmaster,
that the neologisms of my young neighbour, though not to be recommended
for essays or sermons, did admirably suit the time, place, and occasion.

Seeing that in human discourse, infinitely varied as it is, so much must
ever depend on _who_ speaks, and to _whom_, in what mood and upon what
occasion; and seeing that Literature must needs take account of all
manner of writers, audiences, moods, occasions; I hold it a sin against
the light to put up a warning against any word that comes to us in the
fair way of use and wont (as 'wire,' for instance, for a telegram), even
as surely as we should warn off hybrids or deliberately pedantic
impostors, such as 'antibody' and 'picture-drome'; and that, generally,
it is better to err on the side of liberty than on the side of the
censor: since by the manumitting of new words we infuse new blood into a
tongue of which (or we have learnt nothing from Shakespeare's audacity)
our first pride should be that it is flexible, alive, capable of
responding to new demands of man's untiring quest after knowledge and
experience. Not because it was an ugly thing did I denounce Jargon to
you, the other day: but because it was a dead thing, leading no-whither,
meaning naught. There is _wickedness_ in human speech, sometimes. You
will detect it all the better for having ruled out what is _naughty_.

Let us err, then, if we err, on the side of liberty. I came, the other
day, upon this passage in Mr Frank Harris's study of 'The Man
Shakespeare':--

   In the last hundred years the language of Molière has grown fourfold;
   the slang of the studios and the gutter and the laboratory, of the
   engineering school and the dissecting table, has been ransacked for
   special terms to enrich and strengthen the language in order that it
   may deal easily with the new thoughts. French is now a superb
   instrument, while English is positively poorer than it was in the time
   of Shakespeare, thanks to the prudery of our illiterate middle
   class.[1]

Well, let us not lose our heads over this, any more than over other
prophecies of our national decadence. The "Oxford English Dictionary" has
not yet unfolded the last of its coils, which yet are ample enough to
enfold us in seven words for every three an active man can grapple with.
Yet the warning has point, and a particular point, for those who aspire
to write poetry: as Francis Thompson has noted in his Essay on Shelley:--

   Theoretically, of course, one ought always to try for the best word.
   But practically, the habit of excessive care in word-selection
   frequently results in loss of spontaneity; and, still worse, the habit
   of always taking the best word too easily becomes the habit of always
   taking the most ornate word, the word most removed from ordinary
   speech. In consequence of this, poetic diction has become latterly a
   kaleidoscope, and one's chief curiosity is as to the precise
   combinations into which the pieces will be shifted. There is, in fact,
   a certain band of words, the Praetorian cohorts of Poetry, whose
   prescriptive aid is invoked by every aspirant to the poetic purple....
   Against these it is time some banner should be raised.... It is at any
   rate curious to note that the literary revolution against the despotic
   diction of Pope seems issuing, like political revolutions, in a
   despotism of his own making;

and he adds a note that this is the more surprising to him because so
many Victorian poets were prose-writers as well.

   Now, according to our theory, the practice of prose should maintain
   fresh and comprehensive a poet's diction, should save him from falling
   into the hands of an exclusive coterie of poetic words. It should
   react upon his metrical vocabulary to its beneficial expansion, by
   taking him outside his aristocratic circle of language, and keeping
   him in touch with the great commonalty, the proletariat of speech. For
   it is with words as with men: constant intermarriage within the limits
   of a patrician clan begets effete refinement; and to reinvigorate the
   stock, its veins must be replenished from hardy plebeian blood.

In diction, then, let us acquire all the store we can, rejecting no coin
for its minting but only if its metal be base. So shall we bring out of
our treasuries new things and old.

Diction, however, is but a part of Style, and perhaps not the most
important part. So I revert to the larger question, 'What is Style? What
its [Greek: to ti en einai], its essence, the law of its being?'

Now, as I sat down to write this lecture, memory evoked a scene and with
the scene a chance word of boyish slang, both of which may seem to you
irrelevant until, or unless, I can make you feel how they hold for me the
heart of the matter.

I once happened to be standing in a corner of a ball-room when there
entered the most beautiful girl these eyes have ever seen or now--since
they grow dull--ever will see. It was, I believe, her first ball, and by
some freak or in some premonition she wore black: and not pearls--which,
I am told, maidens are wont to wear on these occasions--but one crescent
of diamonds in her black hair. _Et vera incessu patuit dea._ Here, I say,
was absolute beauty. It startled.

     I think she was the most beautiful lady
     That ever was in the West Country.
     But beauty vanishes, beauty passes....

She died a year or two later. She may have been too beautiful to live
long. I have a thought that she may also have been too good.

For I saw her with the crowd about her: I saw led up and presented among
others the man who was to be, for a few months, her husband: and then, as
the men bowed, pencilling on their programmes, over their shoulders I saw
her eyes travel to an awkward young naval cadet (Do you remember Crossjay
in Meredith's "The Egoist"? It was just such a boy) who sat abashed and
glowering sulkily beside me on the far bench. Promptly with a laugh, she
advanced, claimed him, and swept him off into the first waltz.

When it was over he came back, a trifle flushed, and I felicitated him;
my remark (which I forget) being no doubt 'just the sort of banality, you
know, one does come out with'--as maybe that the British Navy kept its
old knack of cutting out. But he looked at me almost in tears and
blurted, 'It isn't her beauty, sir. You saw? It's--it's--my God, it's the
_style_!'

Now you may think that a somewhat cheap, or at any rate inadequate, cry
of the heart in my young seaman; as you may think it inadequate in me,
and moreover a trifle capricious, to assure you (as I do) that the first
and last secret of a good Style consists in thinking with the heart as
well as with the head.

But let us philosophise a little. You have been told, I daresay often
enough, that the business of writing demands _two_--the author and the
reader. Add to this what is equally obvious, that the obligation of
courtesy rests first with the author, who invites the séance, and
commonly charges for it. What follows, but that in speaking or writing we
have an obligation to put ourselves into the hearer's or reader's place?
It is _his_ comfort, _his_ convenience, we have to consult. To _express_
ourselves is a very small part of the business: very small and almost
unimportant as compared with _impressing_ ourselves: the aim of the whole
process being to persuade.

All reading demands an effort. The energy, the good-will which a reader
brings to the book is, and must be, partly expended in the labour of
reading, marking, learning, inwardly digesting what the author means. The
more difficulties, then, we authors obtrude on him by obscure or careless
writing, the more we blunt the edge of his attention: so that if only in
our own interest--though I had rather keep it on the ground of
courtesy--we should study to anticipate his comfort.

But let me go a little deeper. You all know that a great part of
Lessing's argument in his "Laoköon", on the essentials of Literature as
opposed to Pictorial Art or Sculpture, depends on this--that in Pictorial
Art or in Sculpture the eye sees, the mind apprehends, the whole in a
moment of time, with the correspondent disadvantage that this moment of
time is fixed and stationary; whereas in writing, whether in prose or in
verse, we can only produce our effect by a series of successive small
impressions, dripping our meaning (so to speak) into the reader's
mind--with the correspondent advantage, in point of vivacity, that our
picture keeps moving all the while. Now obviously this throws a greater
strain on his patience whom we address. Man at the best is a
narrow-mouthed bottle. Through the conduit of speech he can utter--as
you, my hearers, can receive--only one word at a time. In writing (as my
old friend Professor Minto used to say) you are as a commander filing out
his battalion through a narrow gate that allows only one man at a time to
pass; and your reader, as he receives the troops, has to re-form and
reconstruct them. No matter how large or how involved the subject, it can
be communicated only in that way. You see, then, what an obligation we
owe to him of order and arrangement; and why, apart from felicities and
curiosities of diction, the old rhetoricians laid such stress upon order
and arrangement as duties we owe to those who honour us with their
attention. '_La clarté,_' says a French writer, '_est la politesse._'
[Greek: Charisi kai sapheneia thue], recommends Lucian. Pay your
sacrifice to the Graces, and to [Greek: sapheneia]--Clarity--first among
the Graces.

What am I urging? 'That Style in writing is much the same thing as good
manners in other human intercourse?' Well, and why not? At all events we
have reached a point where Buffon's often-quoted saying that 'Style is
the man himself' touches and coincides with William of Wykeham's old
motto that 'Manners makyth Man': and before you condemn my doctrine as
inadequate listen to this from Coventry Patmore, still bearing in mind
that a writer's main object is to _impress_ his thought or vision upon
his hearer.

'There is nothing comparable _for moral force_ to the charm of truly
noble manners....'

I grant you, to be sure, that the claim to possess a Style must be
conceded to many writers--Carlyle is one--who take no care to put
listeners at their ease, but rely rather on native force of genius to
shock and astound. Nor will I grudge them your admiration. But I do say
that, as more and more you grow to value truth and the modest grace of
truth, it is less and less to such writers that you will turn: and I say
even more confidently that the qualities of Style we allow them are not
the qualities we should seek as a norm, for they one and all offend
against Art's true maxim of avoiding excess.

And this brings me to the two great _paradoxes_ of Style. For the first
(1),--although Style is so curiously personal and individual, and
although men are so variously built that no two in the world carry away
the same impressions from a show, there is always a norm somewhere; in
literature and art, as in morality. Yes, even in man's most terrific,
most potent inventions--when, for example, in "Hamlet" or in "Lear"
Shakespeare seems to be breaking up the solid earth under our feet--there
is always some point and standard of sanity--a Kent or an Horatio--to
which all enormities and passionate errors may be referred; to which the
agitated mind of the spectator settles back as upon its centre of
gravity, its pivot of repose.

(2) The second paradox, though it is equally true, you may find a little
subtler. Yet it but applies to Art the simple truth of the Gospel, that
he who would save his soul must first lose it. Though personality
pervades Style and cannot be escaped, the first sin against Style as
against good Manners is to obtrude or exploit personality. The very
greatest work in Literature--the "Iliad," the "Odyssey," the
"Purgatorio," "The Tempest," "Paradise Lost," the "Republic," "Don
Quixote"--is all

           Seraphically free
     From taint of personality.

And Flaubert, that gladiator among artists, held that, at its highest,
literary art could be carried into pure science. 'I believe,' said he,
'that great art is scientific and impersonal. You should by an
intellectual effort transport yourself into characters, not draw _them_
into _yourself_. That at least is the method.' On the other hand, says
Goethe, 'We should endeavour to use words that correspond as closely as
possible with what we feel, see, think, imagine, experience, and reason.
It is an endeavour we cannot evade and must daily renew.' I call
Flaubert's the better counsel, even though I have spent a part of this
lecture in attempting to prove it impossible. It at least is noble,
encouraging us to what is difficult. The shrewder Goethe encourages us to
exploit ourselves to the top of our bent. I think Flaubert would have hit
the mark if for 'impersonal' he had substituted 'disinterested.'

For--believe me, Gentlemen--so far as Handel stands above Chopin, as
Velasquez above Greuze, even so far stand the great masculine objective
writers above all who appeal to you by parade of personality or private
sentiment.

Mention of these great masculine 'objective' writers brings me to my last
word: which is, 'Steep yourselves in _them_: habitually bring all to the
test of _them_: for while you cannot escape the fate of all style, which
is to be personal, the more of catholic manhood you inherit from those
great loins the more you will assuredly beget.'

This then is Style. As technically manifested in Literature it is the
power to touch with ease, grace, precision, any note in the gamut of
human thought or emotion.

But essentially it resembles good manners. It comes of endeavouring to
understand others, of thinking for them rather than for yourself--of
thinking, that is, with the heart as well as the head. It gives rather
than receives; it is nobly careless of thanks or applause, not being fed
by these but rather sustained and continually refreshed by an inward
loyalty to the best. Yet, like 'character' it has its altar within; to
that retires for counsel, from that fetches its illumination, to ray
outwards. Cultivate, Gentlemen, that habit of withdrawing to be advised
by the best. So, says Fénelon, 'you will find yourself infinitely
quieter, your words will be fewer and more effectual; and while you make
less ado, what you do will be more profitable.'


[Footnote 1: 'An oration,' says Quintilian, 'may find room for almost any
word saving a few indecent ones (_quae sunt parum verecunda_).' He adds
that writers of the Old Comedy were often commended even for these: 'but
it is enough for us to mind our present business--_sed nobis nostrum opus
intueri sat est._']



INDEX


Abelard 203, 205, 212
Abercrombie, Lascelles 18
Addison, Joseph 124, 172
Alcuin 199, 200, 204, 205
Alfred, King 186
Aristophanes 192
Aristotle 128, 203, 227
Arnold, Matthew 35, 76, 139, 186, 202
"Arte of Rhetorique," Wilson's 118
Ascham, Roger 121, 188
Augustine 199

Bacon, Lord 6, 7, 10, 220, 231
Bagehot, Walter 216
"Ballata" 45
Barbour, John 112
Barrie, Sir James Matthew 17, 135
Bede 204
Beerbohm, Max 222
Belisarius 175
Bentham, Jeremy 97
"Beowulf" 159-165
Béranger, Pierre-Jean de 45
Berners, Lord 108-110,120
Bible, The:
   Authorised Version 53, 97, 110, 122 et seq., 141, 143, 190
   Revised Version 131-133
Blair, Wilfred 80
Blake, William 12
Boccaccio 184
Boethius 203
Bologna, University of 200-1, 206
Borneil, Giraud de 181
Boswell, James 238
Bridges, Robert 19
Brooke, the Rev. Stopford A. 159
Brougham, Ld 47, 101
Browne, Sir Thomas 10, 51, 124, 168, 232
Browning, Robert 39, 186
Buffon 245
Bunyan, John 124
Burke, Edmund 27, 28, 46, 47-52, 101
Burns, Robert 45
Butler, Arthur John 20

Caedmon 163
Cambridge 201 _et seqq._
Campion, Thomas 185, 188
Carducci, Giosué 154-5
Carlyle, Thomas 18, 103, 245
Cellini, Benvenuto 41
Cervantes 7, 25
Chadwick, Professor H. M. 163
Chair of English Literature, University Ordinance 7
Chambers, E. K. 199
Champeaux, William of 205
Chaucer, Geoffrey 10, 110-111, 163, 183, 184, 219
Chesterton, Gilbert K. 233
Chichester, Richard of 211
Cicero 28, 49
Clare, John 39
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor 41, 64, 65
Conington, John 171-2
Courthope, W. J. 13, 158, 184, 199
Coverdale, Miles 124
Cowley, Abraham 185
Cowper, William 186
Crewe, Ld Chief Justice 7
Cynewulf 163

Daniel, Samuel 185, 188
Dante 77, 184
Darwin, Charles 221
Defoe, Daniel 61, 75.
Dekker, Thomas 65
De La Mare, Walter 237
De Quincey, Thomas 54
Desiderius, Archbishop 199
Dionysius of Halicarnassus 28
Donne, John 102, 106, 185
Dryden, John 172, 186, 227
"Duchess of Malfy," Webster's 99
Dunbar 10

'Eliot, George' 11
Emerson, Ralph Waldo 11

Falconer, William 79
Falkner, J. Meade 168-9
Fénelon 248
FitzGerald, Edward 97
Flaubert, Gustave 247
Fletcher, John 13
Fowler, W. H. and F. G. 90, 137
Freeman, Professor E. A. 158, 160, 174-179, 186
"Froissart," Berners' 108
Froude, James Anthony 78
Fuller, Thomas 206

Gibbon, Edward 124, 216
Gildas 175
Goethe 103, 247
Gray, Thomas 11, 16, 136, 157-8, 162
Green, J. R. 158
Green, T. H. 8
Gregory the Great, Pope 199
Grierson, Professor H. J. C. 185

Hamilton, Sir William 213
Hardy, Thomas 18
Harris, Frank 240
Harvey, Gabriel 185, 216-7
Heine, Heinrich 45
Herbert, George 133
"Hero and Leander," Marlowe's 98
Herodotus 44, 63
Homer 25, 64, 69, 76-78, 80, 81, 161, 190, 228
Horace 171-2
Housman, Professor A. E. 222

Ibsen 96
Irnerius 206
Isaiah 130-133

Jackson, Dr Henry 213
Johnson, Samuel 11, 37, 69, 121, 172, 238
Jonson, Ben 129, 146, 185, 219, 220
Jowett, Benjamin 29
Jusserand, J. J. 182
Juvenal, 172

Keats, John 16, 39, 186
Kempis, Thomas à 15
Ker, Professor W. P. 160, 199
Kipling, Rudyard 61

Lamb, Charles 41
Lessing 81, 227, 244
Lindsay, the Rev. T. M., D.D. 118
Lloyd George, the Right Hon. David 137-8
Lucian 6, 160, 192, 228, 245
Lucretius 193

Malory, Sir Thomas 107-110, 120
Marlowe, Christopher 98-9, 185, 220
Marvell, Andrew 185
Mason, William 157
Masson, David 12
McKenna, the Right Hon. Reginald 137-8
Meredith, George 243, 247
Milton, John 1, 10, 16, 43, 56-62, 74-76, 124, 152, 185, 195, 238
Minto, Professor William 245
Moore, Thomas 45
Morris, William 188
Mullinger, J. Bass 205, 219
Murray, Professor Gilbert 193

Nashe, Thomas 120
Newman, Cardinal 5, 30, 31-2, 115, 134, 144, 147, 234
Newton, Sir Isaac 221
Noyes, Alfred 78
"Nut-Brown Maid, The" 111

Oates, Captain 42
Origen 195, 202
Oxford 201 _et seq._

Paris, University of 200, 205
Pater, Walter 77, 222
Patmore, Coventry 245
Payne, E. J. 100-103
"Pervigilium Veneris" 151, 194
Pheidias 14
Philosophy and Poetry 1
Piers Plowman 163, 182
"Pilgrimage to Parnassus, The" 217-220
Plato 1-4, 150, 205
Pliny 152-3
Podsnap (_see_ Freeman)
Poggio 205
Pope, Alexander 157, 162
Powell, F. York 159
Provençal Song 181-183
Pythagoras 208

Quintilian 29, 140, 240

Raleigh, Professor Sir Walter 9
Rashdall, Hastings 208-213
Remigius 206
Renan 1
Reynolds, Sir Joshua 23-25

Sainte-Beuve, Charles Augustus 20
Saintsbury, Prof. George 55, 56, 187
Salamanca, University of 200
Scott, The Antarctic Expedition 42
Severus, Sulpicius 199
Shakespeare, William 15, 41, 50, 51-2, 97-100, 113, 129, 185,
   190, 197, 219, 229, 246
Shaw, George Bernard 72
Shelley 40
Shirley, James 106
Sidgwick, Henry 232
Sidney, Sir Philip 41-2
Skeat, Walter W. 12
"Sonata" 45
South, Robert 102
Spenser, Edmund 185, 206, 217, 219
Stevenson, Robert Louis 133
Stubbs, Bishop W. 44
'Student's Handbook, The' 72-3
Swift, Jonathan 61
Swinburne, Algernon 196

Taylor, Jeremy 68-9
Tennyson, Lord 75, 186
Tertullian 195, 198, 202
Thackeray, William Makepeace 124
Thompson, Francis 241
Thomson, James 39
Toulouse, University of 208
Tyndale, William 122, 126, 127

Vacarius 206
Ventadour, Bernard de 181
"Venus and Adonis" 98-9
Verrall, Dr A. W. 7
Vigfússon, Gudbrand 159
Virgil 25, 80, 194, 200
Voltaire 192

Waller, Edmund 85
Walpole, Horatio 173
Walton, Isaak 70-1, 124, 201
Warton, Thomas 158
Watson, E. J. 155
Watson, William 16
Webster, John 99
Wendell, Barrett 97
Whistler, James McNeill 236
Whitman, Walt 53, 56
"Widsith" 60
Wolfe, General 134
Wood, Anthony 184
Wordsworth, William 11, 12, 55, 67, 68, 129, 146, 186, 204, 210
Wright, Aldis 12
Wyat, Sir Thomas 115-118, 184
Wyclif, John 124, 127

Yeats, William Butler 143
Young, Arthur 171



Cambridge:
Printed by J. B. Peace, M.A.,
at the University Press.





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