The Glory of English Prose - Letters to My Grandson
by Stephen Coleridge
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The Glory of English Prose

Letters to my Grandson

The Glory of English Prose Letters to My Grandson

By The Hon. Stephen Coleridge

"The chief glory of every people arises from its authors" Dr. Johnson

G.P. Putnam's Sons New York and London The Knickerbocker Press 1922

1922 by Stephen Coleridge Made in the United States of America


If you have read, gentle reader, the earlier series of Letters to my Grandson on the World about Him, you are to understand that in the interval between those letters and these, Antony has grown to be a boy in the sixth form of his public school.

It has not been any longer necessary therefore to study an extreme simplicity of diction in these letters.

My desire has been to lead him into the most glorious company in the world, in the hope that, having early made friends with the noblest of human aristocracy, he will never afterwards admit to his affection and intimacy anything mean or vulgar.

Many young people who, like Antony, are not at all averse from the study of English writers, stand aghast at the vastness of the what seems so gigantic an enterprise.

In these letters I have acted as pilot for a first voyage through what is to a boy an uncharted sea, after which I hope and believe he will have learned happily to steer for himself among the islands of the blest.








The letters which I wrote "On the world about you" having shown you that throughout all the universe, from the blazing orbs in infinite space to the tiny muscles of an insect's wing, perfect design is everywhere manifest, I hope and trust that you will never believe that so magnificent a process and order can be without a Mind of which it is the visible expression.

The chief object of those letters was to endorse your natural feeling of reverence for the Great First Cause of all things, with the testimony of your reason; and to save you from ever allowing knowledge of how the sap rises in its stalk to lessen your wonder at and admiration of the loveliness of a flower.

I am now going to write to you about the literature of England and show you, if I can, the immense gulf that divides distinguished writing and speech from vulgar writing and speech.

There is nothing so vulgar as an ignorant use of your own language. Every Englishman should show that he respects and honours the glorious language of his country, and will not willingly degrade it with his own pen or tongue.

"We have long preserved our constitution," said Dr. Johnson; "let us make some struggles for our language."

There is no need to be priggish or fantastic in our choice of words or phrases.

Simple old words are just as good as any that can be selected, if you use them in their proper sense and place.

By reading good prose constantly your ear will come to know the harmony of language, and you will find that your taste will unerringly tell you what is good and what is bad in style, without your being able to explain even to yourself the precise quality that distinguishes the good from the bad.

Any Englishman with a love of his country and a reverence for its language can say things in a few words that will find their way straight into our hearts, Antony, and make us all better men. I will tell you a few of such simple sayings that are better than any more laboured writings.

On the 30th of June, 1921, in the Times In Memoriam column there was an entry:—

"To the undying memory of officers, non-commissioned officers and men of the 9th and 10th battalions of the K.O.Y.L.I.[1] who were killed in the attack on Fricourt in the first battle of the Somme"; and below it there were placed these splendid words:—

"Gentlemen, when the barrage lifts."

In February of 1913 news reached England of the death, after reaching the South Pole, of four explorers, Captain Scott, their leader, among them.

Shortly before the end, Captain Oates, a man of fortune who joined the expedition from pure love of adventure, knowing that his helplessness with frozen feet was retarding the desperate march of the others towards their ship, rose up and stumbled out of the tent into a raging blizzard, saying, "I dare say I shall be away some time."

This was greatly said. His body was never found; but the rescue party who afterwards discovered the tent with the others dead in it, put up a cairn in the desolate waste of snow with this inscription:—

"Hereabouts died a very gallant gentleman, Captain L.E.G. Gates, Inniskilling Dragoons, who, on their return from the Pole in March, 1912, willingly walked to his death in a blizzard to try and save his comrades beset with hardship."

All this was done, said, and written, very nobly by all concerned.

In St. Paul's Cathedral there lies a recumbent effigy of General Gordon, who gave his life for the honour of England at Khartoum, and upon it are engraven these words:—

"He gave his strength to the weak, his substance to the poor, his sympathy to the suffering, his heart to God."

Even the concentrated terseness of Latin cannot surpass these examples of the power of the simplest and shortest English sentences to penetrate to the heart.

English can be used, by those who master it as an organ of expression, to convey deep emotion under perfect control, than which nothing is more moving, nothing better calculated to refine the mind, nothing more certain to elevate the character.

Whenever a man has something fine to communicate to his fellow-men he has but to use English without affectation, honestly and simply, and he is in possession of the most splendid vehicle of human thought in the world.

All the truly great writers of English speak with simplicity from their hearts, they all evince a spirit of unaffected reverence, they all teach us to look up and not down, and by the nobility of their works which have penetrated into every home where letters are cultivated, they have done an incalculable service in forming and sustaining the high character of our race.

Clever flippant writers may do a trifling service here and there by ridiculing the pompous and deflating the prigs, but there is no permanence in such work, unless—which is seldom the case—it is totally devoid of personal vanity.

Very little such service is rendered when it emanates from a writer who announces himself as equal if not superior to Shakespeare, and embellishes his lucubrations with parodies of the creeds.

"A Gentleman with a Duster," has in his "Glass of Fashion" shown us that the Society depicted in the books of Colonel Repington and Mrs. Asquith is not the true and great Society that sustains England in its noble station among civilised peoples, and we may be sure that neither do these books in the faintest degree represent the true and living literature of the times. They will pass away and be forgotten as utterly as are the fashion plates and missing-word competitions of ten years ago.

Therefore, Antony, be sure that the famous and living literature of England, that has survived all the shocks of time and changes of modern life, is the best and properest study for a man to fit him for life, to refine his taste, to aggravate his wisdom, and consolidate his character.

Your loving old G.P.

[Footnote 1: King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.]



I alluded, in my first letter to you about English literature, to the necessity of your learning from the beginning the wide distinction between what is good and what is bad style.

I do not know a better instance of a display of the difference between what is fine style and what is not, than may be made by putting side by side almost any sentence from the old authorised translation of the Bible and the same sentence from The Bible in Modern Speech.

I will just put two quotations side by side:—

"Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these."

"Learn a lesson from the wild lilies. Watch their growth. They neither toil nor spin, and yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his magnificence could array himself like one of these."

Here you can feel the perfect harmony and balance of the old version and the miserable commonplaceness of the effort of these misguided modern men.


"Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

This is mauled into:—

"Repent, he said, for the kingdom of the heavens is now close at hand."

These examples are perfectly suited to illustrate the immense difference that separates what is noble and fine in style and what is poor and third rate.

If you recite the old version aloud you cannot escape the harmony and balance of the sentences, and nothing dignified or distinguished can be made of the wretched paraphrases of the two desecrators of the splendid old text.

And, Antony, I would have you know that I, who have spent a long life in precious libraries, loving fine literature with all my heart, have long ago reverenced the old version of the Bible as the granite corner-stone upon which has been built all the noblest English in the world. No narrative in literature has yet surpassed in majesty, simplicity, and passion the story of Joseph and his brethren, beginning at the thirty-seventh and ending with the forty-fifth chapter of Genesis. There is surely nothing more moving and lovely in all the books in the British Museum than the picture of Joseph when he sees his little brother among his brethren:—

"And he lifted up his eyes, and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother's son, and said, Is this your younger brother, of whom ye spake to me? And he said, God be gracious unto thee, my son.

"And Joseph made haste; for his bowels did yearn upon his brother: and he sought where to weep; and he entered into his chamber, and wept there."

The whole of the forty-fifth chapter is touching and beautiful beyond all criticism, transcending all art. To read it is to believe every word of it to be true, and to recognise the sublimity of such a relation.

No narrative of the great Greek writers reaches the heart so directly and poignantly as does this astonishing story. It moves swiftly and surely along from incident to incident till Joseph's loving soul can contain itself no more:—

"Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all of them that stood by him; and he cried, Cause every man to go out from me.

"And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known unto his brethren.

"And he wept aloud: and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard.

"And Joseph said unto his brethren, I am Joseph; doth my father yet live? And he fell upon his brother Benjamin's neck, and wept; and Benjamin wept upon his neck. Moreover he kissed all his brethren and wept upon them.

"And after that his brethren talked with him."

And this wonderful chapter ends thus:—

"And they went up out of Egypt, and came unto the land of Canaan unto Jacob their father, and told him, saying, Joseph is yet alive, and is governor over all the land of Egypt.

"And Jacob's heart fainted, for he believed them not.

"And they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said unto them: and when he saw the wagons which Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of Jacob their father revived:

"And Israel said, It is enough; Joseph my son is yet alive: I will go and see him before I die."

If you read the story of Joseph through from start to finish, you will see that it is a perfect narrative of the life of a man without fault, who suffered much but without resentment, was great of heart in evil days, and, when Fortune placed him in a position of glory and greatness, showed a stainless magnanimity and a brotherly love that nothing could abate. It is the first and most perfect story in literature of the nobility of man's soul, and as such it must remain a treasured and priceless possession to the world's end.

In the short Book of Ruth there lies embalmed in the finest English a very tender love story, set in all the sweet surroundings of the ripening corn, the gathered harvest, and the humble gleaners. Nothing can be more delightful than the direction of Boaz, the great land-owner, to his men, after he had espied Ruth in her beauty gleaning in his fields:—

"And when she was risen up to glean, Boaz commanded his young men, saying, Let her glean even among the sheaves, and reproach her not:

"And let fall also some of the handfuls on purpose for her, and leave them, that she may glean them, and rebuke her not."

This little gem in the books of the Bible inspired Hood to write one of his most perfect lyrics:—

"She stood breast high amid the corn Clasped by the golden light of morn, Like the sweetheart of the sun, Who many a glowing kiss had won.

* * * * *

Thus she stood amid the stocks, Praising God with sweetest looks.

Sure, I said, Heaven did not mean Where I reap thou should'st but glean; Lay thy sheaf adown and come, Share my harvest and my home."

That the Bible was translated into English at the time when the language was spoken and written in its most noble form, by men whose style has never been surpassed in strength combined with simplicity, has been a priceless blessing to the English-speaking race. The land of its birth, once flowing with milk and honey, has been for long centuries a place of barren rocks and arid deserts: Persians and Greeks and Romans and Turks have successively swept over it; the descendants of those who at different times produced its different books are scattered to the ends of the earth; but the English translation has for long years been the head corner-stone in homes innumerable as the sands of the sea in number.

No upheavals of the earth, no fire, pestilence, famine, or slaughter, can ever now blot it out from the ken of men.

When all else is lost we may be sure that the old English version of the Bible will survive. "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away."

Do not think it enough therefore, Antony, to hear it read badly and without intelligence or emotion, in little detached snippets, in church once a week.

Read it for yourself, and learn to rejoice in the perfect balance, harmony, and strength of its noble style.

Your loving old G.P.



I could write you many letters like my last one about the Bible, and perhaps some day I will go back to that wonderful Book and write you some more letters about it; but now I will go on and tell you about some of the great writers of English prose that came after the translation of the Bible.

Those translators were the great founders of the English language, which is probably on the whole the most glorious organ of human expression that the world has yet known.

It blends the classic purity of Greek and the stately severity of Latin with the sanguine passions and noble emotions of our race.

A whole life devoted to its study will not make you or me perfectly familiar with all the splendid passages that have been spoken and written in it. But I shall show in my letters, at least some of the glorious utterances scattered around me here in my library, so that you may recognise, as you ought, the pomp and majesty of the speech of England.

One of the great qualities that was always present in the writings of Englishmen from the time of Elizabeth down to the beginning of the nineteenth century was its restraint.

Those men never became hysterical or lost their perfect self-control.

The deeper the emotion of the writer the more manifest became the noble mastery of himself.

When Sir Walter Ralegh, that glorious son of Devon, from which county you and I, Antony, are proud to have sprung, lay in the Tower of London awaiting his cowardly and shameful execution the next day at the hands of that miserable James I., writing to his beloved wife, with a piece of coal, because they even denied him pen and ink, face to face with death, he yet observed a calm and noble language that is truly magnifical—to use the old Bible word.

"For the rest," he wrote, "when you have travailed and wearied your thoughts on all sorts of worldly cogitations, you shall sit down by sorrow in the end. Teach your son also to serve and fear God while he is young, that the fear of God may grow up in him. Then will God be a Husband unto you and a Father unto him; a Husband and a Father which can never be taken from you.

"I cannot write much. God knows how hardly I stole this time when all sleep; and it is time to separate my thoughts from the world.

"Beg my dead body, which living was denied you; and either lay it at Sherburne, if the land continue, or in Exeter Church by my father and mother. I can write no more. Time and Death call me away.

"The Everlasting, Infinite, Powerful and Inscrutable God, that Almighty God that is goodness itself, mercy itself, the true life and light, keep you and yours, and have mercy on me and teach me to forgive my persecutors and false accusers, and send us to meet in His Glorious Kingdom. My true wife, farewell. Bless my poor boy, pray for me. My true God hold you both in His Arms.

"Written with the dying hand of, sometime thy husband, but now alas! overthrown, yours that was, but now not my own.


Sir Walter Ralegh, long before he came to his untimely end, had written in his great History of the World a wonderful passage about death; it is justly celebrated, and is familiar to all men of letters throughout the world, so I will quote a portion of it for you:—

"The Kings and Princes of the world have always laid before them the actions, but not the ends, of those great ones which preceded them. They are always transported with the glory of the one, but they never mind the misery of the other, till they find the experience in themselves.

"They neglect the advice of God, while they enjoy life, or the hope of it; but they follow the counsel of Death upon the first approach. It is he that puts into man all the wisdom of the world, without speaking a word; which God, with all the Words of His Law, promises and threats, doth not infuse.

"Death which hateth and destroyeth man is believed; God which hath made him and loves him is always deferred. It is, therefore, Death alone that can suddenly make man to know himself. He tells the proud and insolent that they are but abjects, and humbles them at the instant; makes them cry, complain and repent; yea, even to hate their fore-passed happiness.

"He takes account of the rich, and proves him a beggar; a naked beggar which hath interest in nothing but in the gravel that fills his mouth. He holds a glass before the eyes of the most beautiful and makes them see therein their deformity and rottenness, and they acknowledge it.

"O eloquent, just and mighty Death! whom none could advise, thou hast persuaded; what none have dared thou hast done; and whom all the world have flattered, thou only hast cast out of the world and despised; thou hast drawn together all the far-stretched greatness, all the pride, cruelty and ambition of man, and covered it all over with these two narrow words—HIC JACET."

Sir Walter Ralegh was born only a few miles down below Ottery St. Mary, in the same beautiful valley from which you and I, Antony, and the poet have come. The peal of bells in the old church tower at Otterton was given by him to the parish; and when "the lin lan lone of evening-bells" floats across between the hills that guard the river Otter, it should fall upon our ears as an echo of the melody that strikes upon our hearts in Ralegh's words.

Your loving old G.P.



In looking through some very old Acts of Parliament not long ago I was rather surprised to find that in those old times our forefathers drew up their statutes in very stately English.

In our own times Acts of Parliament frequently violate the simplest rules of grammar, and are sometimes so unintelligible as to need the labours of learned judges to find out what they mean!

But it seems that in the great days of Henry VIII. and Elizabeth Acts of Parliament were often written in resounding periods of solemn splendour of which the meaning is perfectly clear.

In the twenty-fourth year of the great Henry, the Act denying and forbidding any jurisdiction of the Pope of Rome in England was passed.

This Act, depriving the Pope of all power in England, marked a turning-point in history.

It is headed with these words:—


"Where by divers sundry old authentic histories and chronicles it is manifestly declared and expressed that this realm of England is an Empire, and so hath been accepted in the world, governed by one supreme head and King having the dignity and royal estate of the imperial crown of the same, unto whom a body politic compact of all sorts and degrees of people, divided in terms and by names of spiritualty and temporalty being bounden and owen to bear next to God a natural and humble obedience; he being also institute and furnished by the goodness and sufferance of Almighty God with plenary whole and entire power pre-eminence authority prerogative and jurisdiction to render and yield justice and final determination to all manner of folk residents or subjects within this his realm, in all causes matters debates contentions happening to occur insurge or begin within the limits thereof without restraint or provocation to any foreign princes or potentates of the world ... all causes testamentary, causes of matrimony and divorces, rights of tithes, oblations and obventions ... shall be from hence-forth heard examined licenced clearly finally and definitely adjudged and determined within the King's jurisdiction and authority and not elsewhere."

The words "Empire" and "Imperial" are in the present day degraded from their ancient high estate by an appropriation of them to advertise soap or cigarettes or what not; and we even are confronted with the "Imperial" Cancer Research Fund, the money of which has been employed in artificially inflicting cancer on hundreds of thousands of living animals—a performance utterly repugnant to a great many of the inhabitants in the "Empire"!

But people indifferent to the dictates of mercy are not likely to have much reverence for words, however august.

Henry VIII., we may be sure, would never have allowed these solemn words to be used by people with something to sell, or by scientific disease-mongers.

They were great people who could draw up their statutes in splendid passages of sustained nobility.

Let us, Antony, salute them across the centuries.

Your loving old G.P.



One of the great creators of English prose who lived at the same time as Ralegh and Shakespeare was Richard Hooker, who is generally known as "the Judicious Hooker."

He was born in Devon, two years after Ralegh, in 1554.

He must very early in life have made his mark as a man of learning and piety, for when he was only thirty-one he was made Master of the Temple. The controversies in which he there found himself involved induced him to retire when he was only thirty-seven into the country, for the purpose of writing his famous books, The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.

It is the first great book on the English Church, and it is full of magnificent prose. It was divided into eight parts; and in the first one, before he had got far into it, he penned the exclamatory description of law which will live as long as the language:—

"Her seat is the bosom of God, her voice the harmony of the world; all things in heaven and earth do her homage, the very least as feeling her care, the greatest as not exempted from her power."

And in the same first part will be found a passage on the Deity which portrays faithfully for us the humble wisdom of both the man and his age:—

"Dangerous it were for the feeble brain of man to wade far into the doings of the Most High; whom although to know be life, and joy to make mention of His name; yet our soundest knowledge is to know that we know Him not as indeed He is, neither can know Him; and our safest eloquence concerning Him is our silence, when we confess without confession that His glory is inexplicable, His greatness above our capacity to reach. He is above and we upon earth; therefore it behoveth our words to be wary and few."

Shakespeare was born ten years later than Hooker, in 1564, and his share in founding English prose as we know it is, of course, not comparable with that of Hooker, for of Shakespeare's prose there remains for us but little. Whenever he rose to eloquence he clothed himself in verse as with an inevitable attribute, but on the rare occasions when he condescended to step down from the great line to "the other harmony of prose" he is as splendid as in all else. In Hamlet we have this sudden passage:—

"I have of late, (but wherefore I know not), lost all my mirth, foregone all custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition, that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy the air, look you, this brave o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to me, than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.

"What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving, how express and admirable! in action, how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet to me what is this quintessence of dust?"

And the most beautiful letter in the world is that written by Antonio to Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice. When it is remembered that it was out of his friendship for Bassanio that Antonio entered into his bond with Shylock, the supreme exquisiteness of the few words from friend to friend render this letter unsurpassable:—

"Sweet Bassanio, my ships have all miscarried, my creditors grow cruel, my estate is very low, my bond to the Jew is forfeit, and since, in paying it, it is impossible I should live, all debts are cleared between you and me if I might see you at my death; notwithstanding, use your pleasure; if your love do not persuade you to come, let not my letter."

Well did Shakespeare know that such a letter must make an instant appeal to the sweet heart of Portia: "O love!" she cries, "despatch all business, and be gone!"

All great poets are masters of a splendid prose, and had Shakespeare written some notable work of prose we may be sure it would even have surpassed the noble utterances of all his wonderful contemporaries.

It has been said that no language in the world has yet ever lasted in its integrity for over a thousand years. Perhaps printing may confer a greater stability on present languages; but whenever English is displaced, the sun of the most glorious of all days will have set.

Your loving old G.P.



I do not think that men of letters often search through the old law reports for specimens of fine prose, but I believe that here and there, in that generally barren field, a nugget of pure gold may be discovered by an industrious student.

Much noble prose delivered from the bench down the centuries has been lost for ever, for the judges of England have often been gentlemen of taste, scholarship, and eloquence. I have found one very splendid passage that has somehow survived the wrecks of nearly four hundred years.

Lord Chief Justice Crewe, who became Chief Justice of England in 1624, delivered in the case of the Earl of Oxford the following noble tribute to the great house of De Vere:—

"I heard a great peer of this realm, and learned, say, when he lived, there was no king in Christendom had such a subject as Oxford. He came in with the Conqueror, Earl of Guienne; shortly after the Conquest made Great Chamberlain, above 400 years ago, by Henry I., the Conqueror's son; confirmed by Henry II. This great honour—this high and noble dignity—hath continued ever since, in the remarkable surname De Vere, by so many ages, descents, and generations, as no other kingdom can produce such a peer in one and the selfsame name and title. I find in all this time but two attainders of this noble family, and those in stormy and tempestuous time, when the government was unsettled, and the kingdom in competition. I have laboured to make a covenant with myself, that affection may not press upon judgment, for I suppose that there is no man that hath any apprehension of gentry or nobleness, but his affection stands to the continuance of so noble a name and fame, and would take hold of a twig or twine-thread to uphold it. And yet Time hath his revolutions: there must be an end to all temporal things, finis rerum,—and end of names and dignities, and whatsoever is terrene; and why not of De Vere? For where is De Bohun?—where is Mowbray?—where is Mortimer? Nay, what is more and most of all, where is Plantagenet? They are entombed in the urns and sepulchres of mortality. And yet, let the name and dignity of De Vere stand so long as it pleases God."

And alas! we can now ask, Where is De Vere? This great Earldom of Oxford was created in 1142, and has disappeared long ago in the limbo of peerages said to be in abeyance.

In these days, Antony, when peerages are bought by men successful in trade and sold by men successful in intrigue, such elevations in rank have ceased to be regarded as the necessary concomitants of "great honour" and "high and noble dignity"; so that it has long been more reputable in the House of Lords to be a descendant than an ancestor. But among the older great families there still remains a pride that has descended unsullied through many generations, which serves as a fine deterrent from evil deeds, and a constant incentive to honour—and in England the history of great names can never be totally ignored, even though the country may be ruled by persons who do not know who were their own grandfathers.

Nothing is more ridiculous and cheap than to sneer at honourable descent from famous ancestors; it divertingly illustrates the fable of the sour grapes.

Your loving old G.P.



You will have seen from the extracts I have already quoted to you of the writers of the Elizabethan age that the style of all of them possesses something large and resonant, something that may be said to constitute the "grand style" in prose; and this quite naturally without effort, and without the slightest touch of affectation.

A great writer who came immediately after the Elizabethans—namely, Sir Thomas Browne, who lived from 1605 to 1682—displays the development in his style of something less simple and more precious than ruled in the former generation.

It is difficult to select any passage from his works where all is so good. He was curious and exact in his choice of words and commanded a wide vocabulary. There is deliberate ingenuity in the framing of his sentences, which arrests attention and markedly distinguishes his style. His Urn Burial, in spite of its elaboration, reaches a grave and solemn splendour.

The fifth chapter, which begins by speaking of the dead who have "quietly rested under the drums and tramplings of three conquests," rises to a very noble elevation as English prose.

Here I quote one paragraph of it, characteristic of the whole:—

"Darkness and light divide the course of time, and oblivion shares with memory a great part even of our living beings; we slightly remember our felicities, and the smartest strokes of affliction leave but short smart upon us. Sense endureth no extremities, and sorrows destroy us or themselves. To weep into stones are fables. Afflictions induce callosities; miseries are slippery, or fall like snow upon us, which notwithstanding is no unhappy stupidity. To be ignorant of evils to come, and forgetful of evils past, is a merciful provision in nature, whereby we digest the mixture of our few and evil days, and, our delivered senses not relapsing into cutting remembrances, our sorrows are not kept raw by the edge of repetitions. A great part of antiquity contented their hopes of subsistency with a transmigration of their souls,—a good way to continue their memories, while having the advantage of plural successions they could not but act something remarkable in such variety of beings, and, enjoying the fame of their passed selves, make accumulation of glory unto their last durations. Others, rather than be lost in the uncomfortable night of nothing, were content to recede into the common being, and make one particle of the public soul of all things, which was no more than to return into their unknown and divine original again. Egyptian ingenuity was more unsatisfied, contriving their bodies in sweet consistencies, to attend the return of their souls. But all was vanity, feeding the wind, and folly. The Egyptian mummies, which Cambyses or Time hath spared, avarice now consumeth. Mummy is become merchandise. Mizraim cures wounds, and Pharaoh is sold for balsams."

Milton was a contemporary of Sir Thomas Browne, and, like all great poets, was a master of resounding prose. All that he wrote, both in verse and prose, is severely classic in its form. His Samson Agonistes is perhaps the finest example of a play written in English after the manner of the Greek dramas.

Milton wrote The Areopagitica in defence of the liberty of publishers and printers of books. And it stands for all time as the first and greatest argument against interference with the freedom of the press.

The Areopagitae were judges at Athens in its more flourishing time, who sat on Mars Hill and made decrees and passed sentences which were delivered in public and commanded universal respect.

I will quote one of the finest passages in this great and splendid utterance:—

"I deny not but that it is of greatest concernment in the Church and Commonwealth to have a vigilant eye how books demean themselves as well as men; and thereafter to confine, imprison, and do sharpest justice on them as malefactors: for books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. I know they are as lively, and as vigorously productive, as those fabulous dragons' teeth; and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men.

"And yet on the other hand, unless wariness be used, as good almost kill a man as kill a good book; who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God's image; but he who destroys a good book kills reason itself; kills the Image of God as it were in the eye. Many a man lives a burden to the earth; but a good book is the precious life-blood of a master-spirit; embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.

"'Tis true, no age can restore a life, whereof, perhaps, there is no great loss; and revolutions of ages do not oft recover the loss of a rejected truth, for the want of which whole nations fare the worse.

"We should be wary, therefore, what persecutions we raise against the living labours of public men; how we spill that seasoned life of man preserved and stored up in books; since we see a kind of homicide may be thus committed, sometimes a martyrdom, and, if it extend to the whole impression, a kind of massacre, whereof the execution ends not in the slaying of an elemental life, but strikes at that ethereal and fifth essence, the breath of reason itself; slays an immortality rather than a life."

This is a fine defence of the inviolability of a good and proper book.

A bad book will generally die of itself, but there is something horribly malignant about a wicked book, as it must always be worse than a wicked man, for a man can repent, but a book cannot.

It is the men of letters who keep alive the books of the great from generation to generation, and they are never likely to preserve a wicked book from oblivion. Ultimately such go to light fires and encompass groceries.

Your loving old G.P.



Milton, of whom I wrote in my last letter, was five years older than Jeremy Taylor, of whom I am going to write to-day. The latter's writings differ very much from Milton's, although they were contemporaries for the whole of the former's life.

From the grave and august periods of Milton to the sweet beauty of Jeremy Taylor is as the passing from out the austere halls of Justice to lovely fields full of flowers.

Your and my great kinsman, Coleridge, pronounced Jeremy Taylor to be the most eloquent of all divines; and Coleridge was a great critic.

Indeed, there seems to dwell permanently in Jeremy Taylor's mind a compelling sweetness and serenity.

His parables, though sometimes perhaps almost of set purpose fanciful, are always full of beauty.

How can anyone withhold sympathy and affection from the writer of such a passage as this:—

"But as, when the sun approaches towards the gates of the morning, he first opens a little eye of heaven, and sends away the spirits of darkness, and gives light to a cock, and calls up the lark to matins, and by and by gilds the fringes of a cloud, and peeps over the eastern hills, thrusting out his golden horns, like those which decked the brows of Moses when he was forced to wear a veil because himself had seen the face of God; and still, while a man tells the story, the sun gets up higher, till he shows a fair face and a full light, and then he shines one whole day, under a cloud often, and sometimes weeping great and little showers, and sets quickly, so is a man's reason and his life."


"No man can tell but he that loves his children, how many delicious accents make a man's heart dance in the pretty conversation of those dear pledges; their childishness, their stammering, their little angers, their innocence, their imperfections, their necessities, are so many little emanations of joy and comfort to him that delights in their persons and society; but he that loves not his wife and children, feeds a lioness at home, and broods a nest of sorrows; and blessing itself cannot make him happy; so that all the commandments of God enjoining a man to 'love his wife' are nothing but so many necessities and capacities of joy. 'She that is loved, is safe; and he that loves, is joyful,' Love is a union of all things excellent; it contains in it proportion and satisfaction, and rest and confidence."


"So have I seen a lark rising from his bed of grass, and soaring upwards, singing as he rises, and hopes to get to heaven, and climb above the clouds; but the poor bird was beaten back with the loud sighings of an eastern wind, and his motion made irregular and inconstant, descending more at every breath of the tempest, than it could recover by the liberation and frequent weighing of his wings; till the little creature was forced to sit down and pant, and stay till the storm was over; and then it made a prosperous flight, and did rise and sing, as if it had learned music and motion from an angel, as he passed sometimes through the air, about his ministries here below; so is the prayer of a good man."


"I am fallen into the hands of publicans and sequestrators, and they have taken all from me; what now? Let me look about me. They have left me the sun and moon, fire and water, a loving wife, and many friends to pity me, and some to relieve me, and I can still discourse; and unless I list, they have not taken away my merry countenance and my cheerful spirit, and a good conscience; they still have left me the Providence of God, and all the promises of the Gospel, and my religion, and my hopes of heaven, and my charity to them too; and still I sleep and digest, I eat and drink, I read and meditate; I can walk in my neighbor's pleasant fields, and see the varieties of natural beauties, and delight in all that in which God delights, that is, in virtue and wisdom, in the whole creation, and in God Himself."

Here, Antony, is true wisdom. True, indeed, is it that no one can take away from you your merry countenance, your cheerful spirit, and your good conscience unless you choose; keep all three, Antony, throughout your life, and you will be happy yourself and make everyone about you happy, and that is to make a little heaven of your earthly home.

Your loving old G.P.



Some day, no doubt, you will read some of the celebrated diaries that have come down to us. The best known of such books is Pepys's Diary which was written in a kind of shorthand, and so lay undeciphered from his death in 1703 for more than a century. One of its merits is its absolute self-revelation; for Pepys exposes to us his character without a shadow of reserve in all its vanity; and the other is the faithful picture it gives us of the time of the Restoration.

But, though less popular, Evelyn's Diary is, I think, in many ways superior to that of Pepys.[1]

There is a quiet, unostentatious dignity about Evelyn which is altogether absent in the garrulous Pepys, and, indeed I find something very beautiful and touching in the grief Evelyn pours forth upon the death of his little son of five years old:—

"The day before he died," writes Evelyn, "he call'd to me and in a more serious manner than usual, told me that for all I loved him so dearly I should give my house, land, and all my fine things, to his Brother Jack, he should have none of them; and next morning when he found himself ill, and that I persuaded him to keepe his hands in bed, he demanded whether he might pray to God with his hands un-joyn'd; and a little after, whilst in great agonie, whether he should not offend God by using His holy name so often calling for ease. What shall I say of his frequent pathetical ejaculations utter'd of himselfe: Sweete Jesus save me, deliver me, pardon my sinns, let Thine angels receive me!

"So early knowledge, so much piety and perfection! But thus God having dress'd up a Saint for himselfe, would not longer permit him with us, unworthy of ye future fruites of this incomparable hopefull blossome. Such a child I never saw: for such a child I blesse God in whose bosome he is! May I and mine become as this little child, who now follows the child Jesus that Lamb of God in a white robe whithersoever he goes; even so, Lord Jesus, fiat voluntas tua! Thou gavest him to us, Thou hast taken him from us, blessed be ye name of ye Lord! That I had anything acceptable to Thee was from Thy grace alone, since from me he had nothing but sin, but that Thou hast pardon'd! Blessed be my God for ever, Amen! I caused his body to be coffin'd in lead, and reposited on the 30th at 8 o'clock that night in the church at Deptford, accompanied with divers of my relations and neighbours among whom I distributed rings with this motto: Dominus abstulit; intending, God willing, to have him transported with my owne body to be interr'd in our dormitory in Wotton Church, in my dear native county of Surrey, and to lay my bones and mingle my dust with my fathers, if God be gracious to me and make me fit for Him as this blessed child was. The Lord Jesus sanctify this and all my other afflictions, Amen! Here ends the joy of my life, and for which I go even mourning to my grave."

This great love and reverence for little children is peculiarly in accord with Christianity, for we should remember that it was the WISE men, who, when they had journeyed far across the world to salute the King of kings, laid their offerings down at the feet of a little child.

Is there not something to reverence in faith and resignation such as are here expressed by Evelyn? Were not these men of old with their unshakable faith and simple piety better and happier than those who in these days know so much more and believe so much less?

We, no doubt, have the knowledge, but perhaps they had the wisdom.

I think, Antony, that in the history of England we shall have difficulty in finding any of our greatest men whose hearts and minds were not filled with a reverence for God and a faith in something beyond the blind forces which are all that Science has to offer mankind as a guide of life.

All who have acted most nobly from the days of Ralegh and Sir Thomas More, down to the days of Gordon of Khartoum, and down again to our own days when the youth of England upheld the invincible valour, self-sacrifice, and glory of their race in the greatest of all wars,—all have been filled with the love of God and have found therein a perfect serenity in the face of death, and that peace which passeth all understanding.

The character of our race rests indubitably upon that faith, and he who lifts his voice, or directs his pen, to tear it down, had better never have been born.

Your loving old G.P.

[Footnote 1: Another diary that you should read by and by is that of Henry Grabb Robinson.]



In these letters I am never going to quote to you anything that does not seem to me to rise to a level of merit well above ordinary proper prose. There are many writers whose general correctness and excellence is not to be questioned or denied whom I shall not select in these letters for your particular admiration.

By and by, when your own love of literature impels you to excursions in all directions, you may perhaps come to differ from my judgment, for everyone's taste must vary a little from that of others.

English prose in its excellence follows the proportions manifested by the contours of the elevation of the world's land.

Vast tracts lie very near the sea-level, of such are the interminable outpourings of newspapers and novels and school books. And, as each ascent from the sea-level is reached, less and less land attains to it, and when the snow-line is approached only a very small proportion indeed of the land aspires so high.

So among writers, those who climb to the snow-line are a slender band compared to all the inhabitants of the lower slopes and plains.

In these letters I do not intend to mistake a pedlar for a mountaineer, nor a hearthstone for a granite peak. Time slowly buries deep in oblivion the writings of the industrious and the dull.

Born fifteen years later than Jeremy Taylor, of whom I wrote in a former letter, John Bunyan in 1660, being a Baptist, suffered the persecution then the lot of all dissenters, and was cast into Bedford gaol, where he lay for conscience' sake for twelve years. "As I walked through the wilderness of this world," said he, "I lighted on a certain place where was a den, and laid me down in that place to sleep; and as I slept I dreamed a dream"; and the dream which he dreamed has passed into all lands, and has been translated into all languages, and has taken its place with the Bible and with the Imitation of Christ as a guide of life.

The force of simplicity finds here its most complete expression; the story wells from the man's heart, whence come all great things:—

"Then said the Interpreter to Christian, 'Hast thou considered all these things?'

"Christian. 'Yes, and they put me in hope and fear.'

"Interpreter. 'Well, keep all things so in thy mind that they may be as a goad in thy sides, to prick thee forward in the way thou must go.'

"Then Christian began to gird up his loins, and to address himself to his journey.

"Then said the Interpreter, 'The Comforter be always with thee, good Christian, to guide thee in the way that leads to the city.'

"So Christian went on his way.

"Now I saw in my dream that the highway up which Christian had to go was fenced on either side with a wall, and that wall was called Salvation. Up this way, therefore, did burdened Christian run, but not without great difficulty, because of the load on his back. He ran thus till he came at a place somewhat ascending, and upon that place stood a cross, and a little below in the bottom a sepulchre.

"So I saw in my dream that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble, and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.

"Then was Christian glad and lightsome, and said with a merry heart, 'He hath given me rest by His sorrow, and life by His death.'

"Then he stood awhile to look and wonder, for it was very surprising to him that the sight of the cross should thus ease him of his burden.

"He looked, therefore, and looked again, even till the springs that were in his head sent the waters down his cheeks."

Bunyan died in 1688, and Dr. Johnson was born in 1709. Many years, therefore, elapsed between the time when they each displayed their greatest powers.

The interval was occupied by many reputable worldly-wise writers, but I do not myself find, between these two masters of English prose, anyone who wrote passages of such great lustre that I can quote them for your admiration.

You will have noticed, Antony, that all the writers whom I have quoted, and who reached the true nobility of speech necessary to command our tribute of unstinted praise, have been men of manifest piety and reverence.

And you will find it difficult to discover really great and eloquent prose from the pen of any man whose heart is not filled with a simple faith in the goodness of God.

Your loving old G.P.



I have come now to Dr. Johnson, and it is almost a test of a true man of letters that he should love him.

He was rugged and prejudiced, but magnanimous; impatient with the presumptuous, tender to modest ignorance, proudly independent of the patronage of the great, and was often doing deeds of noble self-sacrifice by stealth.

Through long years of hard, unremitting toil for his daily bread he lived bravely and sturdily, with no extraneous help but his stout oak stick—an unconquerable man.

His prose rises on occasion to a measured and stately grandeur above the reach of any of his contemporaries.

It was not often that he unveiled to the public gaze the beatings of his own noble heart, or invited the world to contemplate the depression and suffering amid which his unending labours were accomplished.

The concluding page of the preface to the first edition of the great Dictionary is, therefore, the more precious and moving. I know not why this majestic utterance came to be deleted in later editions; certainly it sanctifies, and as it were crowns with a crown of sorrow, the greatest work of his life; and with reverent sympathy and unstinted admiration I reproduce it here:—

"Life may be lengthened by care, though death cannot ultimately be defeated: tongues, like governments, have a natural tendency to degeneration: we have long preserved our constitution, let us make some struggles for our language.

"In hope of giving longevity to that which its own nature forbids to be immortal, I have devoted this book, the labour of years, to the honour of my country, that we may no longer yield the palm of philology to the nations of the continent. The chief glory of every people arises from its authors; whether I shall add anything by my own writings to the reputation of English literature, must be left to time: much of my life has been lost under the pressure of disease; much has been trifled away; and much has always been spent in provision for the day that was passing over me; but I shall not think my employment useless or ignoble, if by my assistance foreign nations, and distant ages, gain access to the propagators of knowledge, and understand the teachers of truth; if my labours afford light to the repositories of science, and add celebrity to Bacon, to Hooker, to Milton, and to Boyle.

"When I am animated by this wish, I look with pleasure on my book, however defective, and deliver it to the world with the spirit of a man that has endeavoured well. That it will immediately become popular I have not promised to myself: a few wild blunders and risible absurdities, from which no work of such multiplicity was ever free, may for a time furnish folly with laughter, and harden ignorance in contempt; but useful diligence will at last prevail, and there never can be wanting some, who distinguish desert, who will consider that no dictionary of a living tongue can ever be perfect, since while it is hastening to publication, some words are budding, and some falling away; that a whole life cannot be spent upon syntax and etymology, and that even a whole life would not be sufficient; that he whose design includes whatever language can express must often speak of what he does not understand; that a writer will sometimes be hurried by eagerness to the end, and sometimes faint with weariness under a task which Scaliger compares to the labours of the anvil and the mine; that what is obvious is not always known, and what is known is not always present; that sudden fits of inadvertency will surprise vigilance, slight avocations will seduce attention, and casual eclipses of the mind will darken learning; and that the writer shall often in vain trace his memory at the moment of need for that which yesterday he knew with intuitive readiness, and which will come uncalled into his thoughts to-morrow.

"In this work, when it shall be found that much is omitted, let it not be forgotten that much likewise is performed; and though no book was ever spared out of tenderness to the author, and the world is little solicitous to know whence proceeded the faults of that which it condemns, yet it may gratify curiosity to inform it that the English Dictionary was written with little assistance of the learned, and without any patronage of the great; not in the soft obscurities of retirement, or under the shelter of academic bowers, but amidst inconvenience and distraction, in sickness and in sorrow; and it may repress the triumph of malignant criticism to observe, that if our language is not here fully displayed, I have only failed in an attempt which no human powers have hitherto completed. If the lexicons of ancient tongues, now immutably fixed and comprised in a few volumes, be yet, after the toil of successive ages, inadequate and delusive; if the aggregated knowledge and co-operating diligence of the Italian academicians did not secure them from the censure of Beni; if the embodied critics of France, when fifty years had been spent upon their work, were obliged to change its economy, and give their second editions another form, I may surely be contented without the praise of perfection which, if I could obtain, in this gloom of solitude what would it avail me?

"I have protracted my work till most of those whom I wished to please have sunk into the grave, and success and miscarriage are empty sounds; I therefore dismiss it with frigid tranquillity, having little to fear or hope from censure or from praise."

This seems to me to be the noblest passage that Johnson ever wrote.

Almost all the most magnificent utterances of man are tinged with sadness. In this they possess a quality that is almost inseparable from grandeur wherever displayed. No man of sensibility and taste feels it possible to make jokes himself, or to tolerate them from others when in the presence of the Falls of Niagara, or a tempest at sea, or when he views from a peak in the Andes—as I have done—the sun descent into the Pacific. The greatest pictures painted by man touch the heart rather than elate it; and genius finds its highest expression not in comedy, but in tragedy.

And this need cause us no surprise when we consider how much of the great work in letters and in art is directly due to the writer possessing in full measure the gift of sympathy.

People with this gift, even if they are without the faculty of expression, are beloved by those about them, which must bring them happiness.

Till he was over fifty Dr. Johnson's life was a weary struggle with poverty. He wrote Rasselas under the pressure of an urgent need of money to send to his dying mother. His wife died some few years earlier. I have always thought that the sad reflections he put into the mouth of an old philosopher towards the end of the story were indeed the true expressions of his own tired heart:—

"Praise," said the sage with a sigh, "is to an old man an empty sound. I have neither mother to be delighted with the reputation of her son, nor wife to partake the honours of her husband.

"I have outlived my friends and my rivals. Nothing is now of much importance; for I cannot extend my interest beyond myself. Youth is delighted with applause, because it is considered as the earnest of some future good, and because the prospect of life is far extended; but to me, who am now declining to decrepitude, there is little to be feared from the malevolence of men, and yet less to be hoped from their affection or esteem. Something they may take away, but they can give me nothing. Riches would now be useless, and high employment would be pain. My retrospect of life recalls to my view many opportunities of good neglected, much time squandered upon trifles, and more lost in idleness and vacancy. I leave many great designs unattempted, and many great attempts unfinished.

"My mind is burdened with no heavy crime, and therefore I compose myself to tranquillity; endeavour to abstract my thoughts from hopes and cares, which, though reason knows them to be vain, still try to keep their old possession of the heart; expect, with serene humility, that hour which nature cannot long delay; and hope to possess, in a better state, that happiness which here I could not find, and that virtue which here I have not attained."

From the results of Rasselas he sent his mother money, but she had expired before it reached her.

Down to the time of Dr. Johnson it was the custom for writers of books and poems to seek and enjoy the patronage of some great nobleman, to whom they generally dedicated their works.

And in pursuance of that custom Dr. Johnson, when he first issued the plan or prospectus of his great Dictionary in 1747, addressed it to Lord Chesterfield, who was regarded as the most brilliant and cultivated nobleman of his time. Lord Chesterfield, however, took no notice of the matter till the Dictionary was on the point of coming out in 1755, and then wrote some flippant remarks about it in a publication called The World.

At this Dr. Johnson wrote a letter to the condescending peer, which became celebrated throughout England and practically put an end to writers seeking the patronage of the great.

This wonderful letter concludes thus:—

"Seven years, my lord, have now passed since I waited in your outward rooms, or was repulsed from your door; during which time I have been pushing on my work through difficulties, of which it is useless to complain, and have brought it, at last, to the verge of publication, without one act of assistance, one word of encouragement, or one smile of favour. Such treatment I did not expect, for I never had a patron before.

"The shepherd in Virgil grew at last acquainted with Love, and found him a native of the rocks.

"Is not a patron, my lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling for life in the water, and, when he has reached ground, encumbers him with help? The notice which you have been pleased to take of my labours, had it been early, had been kind, but it has been delayed till I am indifferent and cannot enjoy it; till I am solitary, and cannot impart it; till I am known, and do not want it. I hope it is no very cynical asperity not to confess obligations where no benefit has been received, or to be unwilling that the public should consider me as owing that to a patron which Providence has enabled me to do for myself.

"Having carried on my work thus far with so little obligation to any favourer of learning, I shall not be disappointed though I should conclude it, if less be possible, with less; for I have been wakened from that dream of hope, in which I once boasted myself with so much exultation, my lord,—your lordship's most humble, most obedient servant. SAM. JOHNSON."

Boswell's life of Dr. Johnson when you come to read it, as you will be sure to do by and by, has left a living picture of this great and good man for all future generations to enjoy, extenuating nothing to his quaintness, directness, and proneness to contradiction for its own sake, yet unveiling everywhere the deep piety and fine magnanimity of his character. He suffered much, but never complained, and certainly must be numbered among the great men of letters who have found true consolation and support in every circumstance of life in an earnest and fervent faith.

Your loving old G.P.



Edmund Burke was born in 1730, and therefore was twenty-one years younger than Dr. Johnson, and he survived him thirteen years. He was a great prose writer, and although some of his speeches in Parliament that have come down to us possess every quality of solid argument and lofty eloquence, there must have been something lacking in his delivery and voice, for he so frequently failed to rivet the attention of the House, and so often addressed a steadily dwindling audience, that the wits christened him "the dinner bell."

All men of letters, however, acknowledge Burke as a true master of a very great style.

We see in him the first signs of a breaking away from the universal restraint of the older writers, and of the surging up of expressed emotion.

His splendid tribute to Marie Antoinette and his panegyric of the lost age of chivalry are familiar to all students of English prose.

"It is now (1791) sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the Queen of France, then the Dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in glittering like the morning star, full of life, and splendour, and joy. Oh! what a revolution! and what a heart must I have, to contemplate without emotion that elevation and that fall! Little did I dream when she added titles of veneration to those of enthusiastic, distant, respectful love, that she should ever be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against disgrace concealed in that bosom; little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honour and of cavaliers. I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalry has gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished for ever.

"Never, never more, shall we behold that generous loyalty to sex and rank, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom. The unbought grace of life, the cheap defence of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise is gone!

"It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honour, which felt a stain like a wound; which inspired courage while it mitigated ferocity; which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil, by losing all its grossness."

This is a splendid and world-famous passage well worth committing to memory.

Your loving old G.P.



Edward Gibbon, who wrote the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, belonged to the later half of the eighteenth century, and was a contemporary of Dr. Johnson and Burke. He finished his great history three years after Dr. Johnson's death. It is a monumental work, and will live as long as the English language. It is one of the books which every cultivated gentleman should read. The style is stately and sonorous, and the industry and erudition involved in its production must have been immense.

Although it never sinks below a noble elevation of style, it nevertheless displays no uplifting flights of eloquence or declamation, and to me, and probably to you, Antony, the most moving passages in Gibbon's writings are those that describe with unaffected emotion the moment of the first resolve to compose the great history and the night when he wrote the last line of it. On page 129 of his memoirs[1] he wrote:—

"It was at Rome on the 15th of October, 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the bare-footed fryars were singing vespers in the Temple of Jupiter, that the idea of writing the decline and fall of the city first started to my mind."

Thus did he resolve to devote himself to the tremendous task, and at Lausanne twenty-three years later it was at last fulfilled. He recorded the event in a few pregnant sentences that are strangely memorable:—

"It was on the day, or rather night, of the 27th of June, 1787, between the hours of eleven and twelve, that I wrote the last lines of the last page, in a summer-house in my garden. After laying down my pen I took several turns in a berceau, or covered walk of acacias, which commands a prospect of the country, the lake, and the mountains. The air was temperate, the sky was serene, the silver orb of the moon was reflected from the waters, and all nature was silent. I will not dissemble the first emotions of joy on the recovery of my freedom, and perhaps, the establishment of my fame. But my pride was soon humbled, and a sober melancholy was spread over my mind, by the idea that I had taken an everlasting leave of an old and agreeable companion, and that, whatsoever might be the future fate of my History, the life of the historian must be short and precarious."

In June, 1888, just one hundred and one years after that pen had been finally laid aside, I searched in Lausanne for the summer-house and covered walk, and could find no very authentic record of its site. I brought home a flower from the garden where it seemed probable the summer-house had once existed, behind the modern hotel built there in the intervening time, and laid it between the leaves of my Gibbon.

The pressed flower was still there when I last took the book down from my shelves.

I hope my successors will preserve the little token of my reverence.

Your loving old G.P.

[Footnote 1: First edition, 1794.]



Some of the most eloquent orators in the world have been Irishmen, and among them Henry Grattan was supreme.

The Irish Parliament in the later half of the eighteenth century frequently sat spell-bound under the magic of his voice.

In 1782, at the age of thirty-two, he achieved by his amazing eloquence a great National Revolution in Ireland. But eighteen years later all that he had fought for and achieved was lost in the Act of Union. In these days I suppose few will be found to defend the means whereby that Act was passed; but the public assertions that the people of Ireland were in favour of it wrung from Grattan the following cry of indignation and wrath:—

"To affirm that the judgment of a nation is erroneous may mortify, but to affirm that her judgment against is for; to assert that she has said ay when she has pronounced no; to affect to refer a great question to the people; finding the sense of the people, like that of the parliament, against the question, to force the question; to affirm the sense of the people to be for the question; to affirm that the question is persisted in, because the sense of the people is for it; to make the falsification of the country's sentiments the foundation of her ruin, and the ground of the Union; to affirm that her parliament, constitution, liberty, honour, property, are taken away by her own authority,—there is, in such artifice, an effrontery, a hardihood, an insensibility, that can best be answered by sensations of astonishment and disgust, excited on this occasion by the British minister, whether he speaks in gross and total ignorance of the truth, or in shameless and supreme contempt for it.

"The constitution may be for a time so lost; the character of the country cannot be so lost. The ministers of the Crown will, or may, perhaps, at length find that it is not so easy to put down for ever an ancient and respectable nation, by abilities, however great, and by power and by corruption, however irresistible; liberty may repair her golden beams, and with redoubled heat animate the country; the cry of loyalty will not long continue against the principles of liberty; loyalty is a noble, a judicious, and a capacious principle; but in these countries loyalty, distinct from liberty, is corruption, not loyalty.

"The cry of the connexion will not, in the end, avail against the principles of liberty. Connexion is a wise and a profound policy; but connexion without an Irish Parliament is connexion without its own principle, without analogy of condition; without the pride of honour that should attend it; is innovation, is peril, is subjugation—not connexion.

"The cry of the connexion will not, in the end, avail against the principle of liberty.

"Identification is a solid and imperial maxim, necessary for the preservation of freedom, necessary for that of empire; but, without union of hearts—with a separate government, and without a separate parliament, identification is extinction, is dishonour, is conquest—not identification.

"Yet I do not give up the country—I see her in a swoon, but she is not dead—though in her tomb she lies helpless and motionless, still there is on her lips a spirit of life, and on her cheeks a glow of beauty—

"Thou art not conquered; beauty's ensign yet Is crimson in thy lips, and in thy cheeks, And death's pale flag is not advanced there."

"While a plank of the vessel sticks together, I will not leave her. Let the courtier present his flimsy sail, and carry the light bark of his faith, with every new breath of wind—I will remain anchored here—with fidelity to the fortunes of my country, faithful to her freedom, faithful to her fall."

Of another character, but not less admirable than his eloquence in the Senate, was Grattan's achievement with the pen. His description of the great Lord Chatham lives as one of the most noble panegyrics—it not the most noble—in the world. No writer, before or since, has offered anyone such splendid homage as this—that he never sunk "to the vulgar level of the great."

"The Secretary stood alone. Modern degeneracy had not reached him. Original and unaccommodating, the features of his character had the hardihood of antiquity, his august mind overawed majesty, and one of his sovereigns thought royalty so impaired in his presence that he conspired to remove him, in order to be relieved from his superiority. No state chicanery, no narrow systems of vicious politics, no idle contest for ministerial victories sunk him to the vulgar level of the great; but, overbearing, persuasive, and impracticable, his object was England,—his ambition was fame; without dividing, he destroyed party; without corrupting, he made a venal age unanimous; France sunk beneath him; with one hand he smote the House of Bourbon, and wielded in the other the democracy of England. The sight of his mind was infinite, and his schemes were to affect, not England, not the present age only, but Europe and posterity. Wonderful were the means by which these schemes were accomplished, always seasonable, always adequate, the suggestions of an understanding animated by ardour, and enlightened by prophecy.

"The ordinary feelings which make life amiable and indolent—those sensations which soften, and allure, and vulgarise—were unknown to him; no domestic difficulties, no domestic weakness reached him; but, aloof from the sordid occurrences of life, and unsullied by its intercourse, he came occasionally into our system to counsel and decide.

"A character so exalted, so strenuous, so various, so authoritative, astonished a corrupt age, and the Treasury trembled at the name of Pitt through all her classes of venality. Corruption imagined, indeed, that she had found defects in this statesman, and talked much of the inconsistency of his glory, and much of the ruin of his victories—but the history of his country, and the calamities of the enemy, answered and refuted her.

"Nor were his political abilities his only talents; his eloquence was an era in the senate, peculiar and spontaneous, familiarly expressing gigantic sentiments and instinctive wisdom—not like the torrent of Demosthenes, or the splendid conflagration of Tully; it resembled sometimes the thunder, and sometimes the music of the spheres. Like Murray, he did not conduct the understanding through the painful subtilty of argumentation; nor was he, like Townshend, for ever on the rack of exertion, but rather lightened upon the subject, and reached the point by the flashings of his mind, which, like those of his eye, were felt, but could not be followed.

"Yet he was not always correct or polished; on the contrary, he was sometimes ungrammatical, negligent, and unenforcing, for he concealed his art, and was superior to the knack of oratory. Upon many occasions he abated the vigour of his eloquence, but even then, like the spinning of a cannon ball, he was still alive with fatal, unapproachable activity.

"Upon the whole, there was in this man something that could create, subvert, or reform; an understanding, a spirit, and an eloquence to summon mankind to society, or to break the bonds of slavery asunder, and rule the wildness of free minds with unbounded authority; something that could establish or overwhelm empire, and strike a blow in the world that should resound through its history."

Grattan died in 1820, and twenty years later, in 1844, another great English writer, Lord Macaulay, wrote a world-famous passage upon the great Lord Chatham in the Edinburgh Review:—

"Chatham sleeps near the northern door of the church, in a spot which has ever since been appropriated to statesmen, as the other end of the same transept has long been to poets. Mansfield rests there, and the second William Pitt, and Fox, and Grattan, and Canning, and Wilberforce. In no other cemetery do so many great citizens lie within so narrow a space. High over those venerable graves towers the stately monument of Chatham, and, from above, his effigy, graven by a cunning hand, seems still, with eagle face and outstretched arm, to bid England be of good cheer, and to hurl defiance at her foes.

"The generation which reared that memorial of him has disappeared. The time has come when the rash and indiscriminate judgments which his contemporaries passed on his character may be calmly revised by history. And history, while, for the warning of vehement, high, and daring natures, she notes his many errors, will yet deliberately pronounce that, among the eminent men whose bones lie near his, scarcely one has left a more stainless and none a more splendid name."

It is a great race, Antony, that can produce a man of such a character as Chatham, and also writers who can dedicate to him such superb tributes as these.

Macaulay's prose has been much criticised as being too near to easy journalism to be classed among the great classic passages of English; but this much must be recognised to his great credit—he never wrote an obscure sentence or an ambiguous phrase, and his works may be searched in vain for a foreign idiom or even a foreign word. He possessed an infallible memory, absolute perspicuity, and a scholarly taste. He detested oppression wherever enforced, and never exercised his great powers in the defence of mean politics or unworthy practices.

Such a writer to-day would blow a wholesome wind across the tainted pools of political intrigue.

We can salute him, Antony, as a fine, manly, clean writer, who was an honour to letters.

Your loving old G.P.



Born in the same year as was Grattan, namely, in 1750, Lord Erskine adorned the profession of the Bar with an eloquence that never exhibited the slight tendency to be ponderous which sometimes was displayed by his contemporaries.

Grace and refinement shine out in every one of his great speeches.

He was a young scion of the great house of Buchan, being the third son of the tenth Earl. After being in the Navy for four years he left it for the Army, and six years later he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, and took his degree; thence he came to the Bar in 1778, and at once displayed the most conspicuous ability as an advocate.

He appeared for Horne Tooke in a six-day trial for high treason, which ended in an acquittal.

In 1806 he became Lord Chancellor and a peer.

I quote an indignant warning to the aristocracy of England which flamed forth in one of his great speeches:—

"Let the aristocracy of England, which trembles so much for itself, take heed to its own security; let the nobles of England, if they mean to preserve that pre-eminence which, in some shape or other, must exist in every social community, take care to support it by aiming at that which is creative, and alone creative, of real superiority. Instead of matching themselves to supply wealth, to be again idly squandered in debauching excesses, or to round the quarters of a family shield; instead of continuing their names and honours in cold and alienated embraces, amidst the enervating rounds of shallow dissipation, let them live as their fathers of old lived before them; let them marry as affection and prudence lead the way, and, in the ardours of mutual love, and in the simplicities of rural life, let them lay the foundation of a vigorous race of men, firm in their bodies, and moral from early habits; and, instead of wasting their fortunes and their strength in the tasteless circles of debauchery, let them light up their magnificent and hospital halls to the gentry and peasantry of the country, extending the consolations of wealth and influence to the poor. Let them but do this,—and instead of those dangerous and distracted divisions between the different ranks of life, and those jealousies of the multitude so often blindly painted as big with destruction, we should see our country as one large and harmonious family, which can never be accomplished amidst vice and corruption, by wars and treaties, by informations, ex officio for libels, or by any of the tricks and artifices of the State."

Mr. Erskine was entitled, as the son of the tenth Earl of Buchan, to speak such words of warning and exhortation to the aristocracy of England to which he belonged, and the lapse of a century and a quarter has not rendered the exhortation vain, though it may be hoped that the condemnatory clauses of the speech would not at the present time be so well justified as when they were delivered.

Great names carry great obligations, and, for the most part, those who bear them to-day recognise those great obligations and endeavour without ostentation to fulfil them.

The silly fribbles who posture before the photographic cameras for penny newspapers do not represent the real aristocracy of England.

We must not, Antony, mistake a cockatoo for an eagle.

Your loving old G.P.



I shall not expect you in your reading often to penetrate into the innumerable dusty octavos that contain sermons. The stoutest heart may fail, without blame, before the flat-footed pedestrianism of these platitudinous volumes. But there does occasionally arise above the dull horizon a star whose brilliance is the more conspicuous for the surrounding gloom.

In 1796, Coleridge, in a letter[1] to a Mr. Flower, who was a publisher at Cambridge, wrote:—

"I hope Robert Hall is well. Why is he idle? I mean towards the public. We want such men to rescue this enlightened age from general irreligion."

I suppose Robert Hall is a name known to but few in these days, but at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries his fame was great and deserved.

As a divine, dowered with the gift of inspired eloquence, Coleridge estimated his powers as second only to those of Jeremy Taylor. When Napoleon was at the supreme height of his conquests, and England alone of European countries still stood erect, uninvaded and undismayed, a company of soldiers attended Robert Hall's place of worship on the eve of their departure to Spain. The occasion was memorable and moving, and the preacher's splendid periods deserve to be preserved from oblivion:—

"By a series of criminal enterprises, by the successes of guilty ambition, the liberties of Europe have been gradually extinguished; the subjugation of Holland, Switzerland, and the free towns of Germany, has completed that catastrophe; and we are the only people in the Eastern Hemisphere who are in possession of equal laws and a free constitution. Freedom, driven from every spot on the Continent, has sought an asylum in a country which she always chose for her favorite abode; but she is pursued even here, and threatened with destruction. The inundations of lawless power, after covering the whole earth, threaten to follow us here, and we are most exactly, most critically placed in the only aperture where it can be successfully repelled, in the Thermopylae of the universe.

"As far as the interests of freedom are concerned, the most important by far of sublunary interests, you, my countrymen, stand in the capacity of the federal representatives of the human race; for with you it is to determine (under God) in what condition the latest posterity shall be born; their fortunes are entrusted to your care, and on your conduct at this moment depends the colour and complexion of their destiny. If liberty, after being extinguished on the Continent, is suffered to expire here, whence is it ever to emerge in the midst of that thick night that will invest it?

"It remains with you, then, to decide whether that freedom, at whose voice the kingdoms of Europe awoke from the sleep of ages to run a career of virtuous emulation in everything great and good; the freedom which dispelled the mists of superstition and invited the nations to behold their God; whose magic touch kindled the rays of genius, the enthusiasm of poetry, and the flame of eloquence; the freedom which poured into our lap opulence and arts, and embellished life with innumerable institutions and improvements till it became a theatre of wonders; it is for you to decide whether this freedom shall yet survive, or be covered with a funeral pall, and wrapt in eternal gloom.

"It is not necessary to await your determination. In the solicitude you feel to approve yourselves worthy of such a trust, every thought of what is afflicting in warfare, every apprehension of danger, must vanish, and you are impatient to mingle in the battle of the civilised world.

"Go then, ye defenders of your country, accompanied with every auspicious omen; advance with alacrity into the field, where God Himself musters the hosts of war. Religion is too much interested in your success not to lend you her aid; she will shed over this enterprise her selectest influences. While you are engaged in the field many will repair to the closet, many to the sanctuary; the faithful of every name will employ that prayer which has power with God; the feeble hands which are unequal to any other weapon will grasp the sword of the Spirit; from myriads of humble, contrite hearts, the voice of intercession, supplication, and weeping, will mingle in its ascent to heaven with the shouts of battle and the shock of arms.

"While you have everything to fear from the success of the enemy, you have every means of preventing that success, so that it is next to impossible for victory not to crown your exertions. The extent of your resources, under God, is equal to the justice of your cause.

"But should Providence determine otherwise; should you fall in this struggle, should the nation fall, you will have the satisfaction (the purest allotted to man) of having performed your part; your names will be enrolled with the most illustrious dead, while posterity to the end of time, as often as they revolve the events of this period (and they will incessantly revolve them) will turn to you a reverential eye while they mourn over the freedom which is entombed in your sepulchre.

"I cannot but imagine the virtuous heroes, legislators, and patriots, of every age and country, are bending from their elevated seats to witness this contest, as if they were incapable, till it be brought to a favourable issue, of enjoying their eternal repose.

"Enjoy that repose, illustrious immortals! Your mantle fell when you ascended, and thousands inflamed with your spirit, and impatient to tread in your steps, are ready 'to swear by Him that sitteth upon the throne and liveth for ever and ever,' they will protect freedom in her last asylums, and never desert that cause which you sustained by your labours and cemented with your blood.

"And Thou, Sole Ruler among the children of men, to whom the shields of the earth belong, 'gird on Thy sword, Thou most Mighty'; go forth with our hosts in the day of battle! Impart, in addition to their hereditary valour, that confidence of success which springs from Thy Presence!

"Pour into their hearts the spirit of departed heroes! Inspire them with Thine own, and, while led by Thine Hand and fighting under Thy banners, open Thou their eyes to behold in every valley and in every plain, what the prophet beheld by the same illuminations—chariots of fire, and horses of fire!

"Then shall the strong man be as tow, and the maker of it as a spark; and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them."

We, who have just emerged, shattered indeed and reeling, from another and yet more awful combat for freedom, can the better extend our sympathy to those forefathers of ours situated in like case, and can imagine with what beating hearts they must have listened to so magnificent a call to arms as this; commingling prayer, exhortation, and benediction.

Napoleon, after all, waged his wars with us according to the laws of nations, the rules of civilised peoples, and the dictates of decent humanity. But never since Christianity has been established has one man committed so dread and awful an accumulation of public iniquities as stand for ever against the base and cowardly name of William Hohenzollern, Emperor in Germany. He spat upon the ancient chivalries of battle; he prostituted the decent amenities of diplomacy; he polluted with infamy and murder the splendid comradeship of the sea.

When the captain of one of his submarines placed upon his deck the captured crew of an unarmed merchant vessel which he had sunk, destroyed their boats, took from them their life-belts, carried them miles away from any floating wreckage, and then projected them into the sea to drown, this unspeakable monarch approved the awful deed and decorated the ruffian for his infamous cruelty.

When gallant Fryatt, fulfilling every duty a captain owes to his unarmed crew and helpless passengers, turned the bows of his peaceful packet-boat upon the submarine which was being used to murder them all in cold blood, he fell into this Kaiser's hands, and the coward wreaked his vengeance upon nobility that was beyond his comprehension and valour that rendered him insignificant.

Of these horrible acts the proofs stand unchallenged, and for such deeds as these the world has cast him out: thrown him down from one of the greatest thrones in history; and left him in the place to which, white with terror, he ignominiously fled, stripped of all his power and splendour, his crowns, his crosses, and his diadems.

Idle is it for this man and his apologists to plead any extenuation or excuse.

It was his custom in the plenitude of his power to declare himself answerable for his actions only to God and himself. Then let the judgment of God be upon him. When we recall the awful and unnumbered horrors with which he covered Europe, I doubt whether all history can furnish a parallel to him.

By his authority helpless Belgium was invaded, treaties treacherously broken, and her people slaughtered. By his authority her priests were murdered in cold blood and her nuns violated by his vile soldiery. By his authority poison gases were first projected with low cunning upon brave and honourable adversaries. By his authority hospital ships at sea were sent to the bottom.

But time and the might of free nations have, after fearful sufferings, dissipated his invincible armies, and they have shrivelled before the wrath of mankind. The whole world rose up in its offended majesty and tore from him that shining armour of which it was his custom to boast; and, with the brand of Cain upon him, he now lies obscurely in Holland, bereft of all the trappings of his sinister power.

There were times in the past when justice would have avenged such awful crimes as lie at this man's door with the torture of his living body and the desecration of his lifeless remains, but his conquerors disdained to debase themselves by imitating his own abominations; and they left him to afford a spectacle to posterity as the supreme example of human ignominy!

When you are old, Antony, and this greatest of all wars has become part of England's history, you will be proud and happy to remember that your own father, at the first call for volunteers, laid down the pencil and scale of his peaceful profession, went out to fight for his country in the trenches in France, was wounded almost to death, and was saved only by the skill and devotion of one of the greatest surgeons of the day.[2] All the best blood of England, Scotland, and Ireland went marching together to defend the freedom of the world, and upon their hearts were engraven the glorious words:—

"Blessed be the Lord my strength, which teacheth my hands to war and my fingers to fight."

May such a call never come to our beloved country again! But if it does, Antony, I know where you will be found without need of exhortations from me.

Your loving old G.P.

[Footnote 1: Now in my library.—S.C.]

[Footnote 2: Sir Arbuthnot Lane.]



Grattan, of whom I have already written, had in the first Lord Plunket a successor and a compatriot very little his inferior in the gift of oratory.

He was born in 1764, and was therefore some fourteen years younger than Grattan, whom he survived by thirty-four years.

Like Grattan, he displayed a burning patriotism and, like him, fiercely opposed the Act of Union.

Few orators have displayed greater powers of clear reason and convincing logic than Plunket. It may be admitted that he seldom rose to great heights of eloquence, but tradition credits his delivery with a quality of dignity amounting almost to majesty. The gift of oratory consists in how things are said as much as in what things are said, and the voice, gesture, and manner of Plunket were commanding and magnificent.

When Attorney-General in Ireland, in 1823, in a speech prosecuting the leaders of the riot known as "the Bottle Riot," Plunket uttered the following fine tribute to the character of William the Third:—

"Perhaps, my lords, there is not to be found in the annals of history a character more truly great than that of William the Third. Perhaps no person has ever appeared on the theatre of the world who has conferred more essential or more lasting benefits on mankind; on these countries, certainly none. When I look at the abstract merits of his character, I contemplate him with admiration and reverence. Lord of a petty principality—destitute of all resources but those with which nature had endowed him—regarded with jealousy and envy by those whose battles he fought; thwarted in all his counsels; embarrassed in all his movements; deserted in his most critical enterprises—he continued to mould all those discordant materials, to govern all these warring interests, and merely by the force of his genius, the ascendancy of his integrity, and the immovable firmness and constancy of his nature, to combine them into an indissoluble alliance against the schemes of despotism and universal domination of the most powerful monarch in Europe, seconded by the ablest generals, at the head of the bravest and best disciplined armies in the world, and wielding, without check or control, the unlimited resources of his empire. He was not a consummate general; military men will point out his errors; in that respect Fortune did not favour him, save by throwing the lustre of adversity over all his virtues. He sustained defeat after defeat, but always rose adversa rerum immersabilis unda. Looking merely at his shining qualities and achievements, I admire him as I do a Scipio, a Regulus, a Fabius; a model of tranquil courage, undeviating probity, and armed with a resoluteness and constancy in the cause of truth and freedom, which rendered him superior to the accidents that control the fate of ordinary men.

"But this is not all—I feel that to him, under God, I am, at this moment, indebted for the enjoyment of the rights which I possess as a subject of these free countries; to him I owe the blessings of civil and religious liberty, and I venerate his memory with a fervour of devotion suited to his illustrious qualities and to his godlike acts."

This is not so magnificent a panegyric as that of Grattan in his written tribute to Chatham, but, enhanced by the gesture and voice of the great orator, it was reputed to have left a deep impression upon all who heard it.

But few speeches, however eloquent, survive, while the printed work of the writer may long endure; but to the orator is given what the writer never experiences—the fierce enjoyment, amounting almost to rapture, of holding an audience entranced under the spell of the spoken cadences; and English, Antony, has a splendour all its own when uttered by a master of its august music.

Your loving old G.P.



To-day I will write about Robert Southey, and, as he and Coleridge married sisters, you may claim a distant relationship with him. His personal character was beautiful and unselfish, and his dwelling at Keswick was the home that for years sheltered Coleridge's children.

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