ON THE ART OF WRITING
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ON THE ART OF WRITING
LECTURES DELIVERED IN THE UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE 1913-1914
SIR ARTHUR QUILLER-COUCH, M.A. Fellow of Jesus College King Edward VII Professor of English Literature
Cambridge: at the University Press 1917
First Edition 1916 Reprinted 1916,1917
TO JOHN HAY LOBBAN
By recasting these lectures I might with pains have turned them into a smooth treatise. But I prefer to leave them (bating a very few corrections and additions) as they were delivered. If, as the reader will all too easily detect, they abound no less in repetitions than in arguments dropped and left at loose ends—the whole bewraying a man called unexpectedly to a post where in the act of adapting himself, of learning that he might teach, he had often to adjourn his main purpose and skirmish with difficulties—they will be the truer to life; and so may experimentally enforce their preaching, that the Art of Writing is a living business.
Bearing this in mind, the reader will perhaps excuse certain small vivacities, sallies that meet fools with their folly, masking the main attack. That, we will see, is serious enough; and others will carry it on, though my effort come to naught.
It amounts to this—Literature is not a mere Science, to be studied; but an Art, to be practised. Great as is our own literature, we must consider it as a legacy to be improved. Any nation that potters with any glory of its past, as a thing dead and done for, is to that extent renegade. If that be granted, not all our pride in a Shakespeare can excuse the relaxation of an effort—however vain and hopeless—to better him, or some part of him. If, with all our native exemplars to give us courage, we persist in striving to write well, we can easily resign to other nations all the secondary fame to be picked up by commentators.
Recent history has strengthened, with passion and scorn, the faith in which I wrote the following pages.
ARTHUR QUILLER-COUCH November 1915
II THE PRACTICE OF WRITING
III ON THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN VERSE AND PROSE
IV ON THE CAPITAL DIFFICULTY OF VERSE
V INTERLUDE: ON JARGON
VI ON THE CAPITAL DIFFICULTY OF PROSE
VII SOME PRINCIPLES REAFFIRMED
VIII ON THE LINEAGE OF ENGLISH LITERATURE (I)
IX ON THE LINEAGE OF ENGLISH LITERATURE (II)
X ENGLISH LITERATURE IN OUR UNIVERSITIES (I)
XI ENGLISH LITERATURE IN OUR UNIVERSITIES (II)
XII ON STYLE
Wednesday, January 29, 1913
In all the long quarrel set between philosophy and poetry I know of nothing finer, as of nothing more pathetically hopeless, than Plato's return upon himself in his last dialogue 'The Laws.' There are who find that dialogue (left unrevised) insufferably dull, as no doubt it is without form and garrulous. But I think they will read it with a new tolerance, may-be even with a touch of feeling, if upon second thoughts they recognise in its twisting and turnings, its prolixities and repetitions, the scruples of an old man who, knowing that his time in this world is short, would not go out of it pretending to know more than he does, and even in matters concerning which he was once very sure has come to divine that, after all, as Renan says, 'La Verite consiste dans les nuances.' Certainly 'the mind's dark cottage battered and decayed' does in that last dialogue admit some wonderful flashes,
From Heaven descended to the low-roofed house Of Socrates,
or rather to that noble 'banquet-hall deserted' which aforetime had entertained Socrates.
Suffer me, Mr Vice-Chancellor and Gentlemen, before reaching my text, to remind you of the characteristically beautiful setting. The place is Crete, and the three interlocutors—Cleinias a Cretan, Megillus a Lacedaemonian, and an Athenian stranger—have joined company on a pilgrimage to the cave and shrine of Zeus, from whom Minos, first lawgiver of the island, had reputedly derived not only his parentage but much parental instruction. Now the day being hot, even scorching, and the road from Cnossus to the Sacred Cave a long one, our three pilgrims, who have foregathered as elderly men, take it at their leisure, and propose to beguile it with talk upon Minos and his laws. 'Yes, and on the way,' promises the Cretan, 'we shall come to cypress-groves exceedingly tall and fair, and to green meadows, where we may repose ourselves and converse.' 'Good,' assents the Athenian. 'Ay, very good indeed, and better still when we arrive at them. Let us push on.'
So they proceed. I have said that all three are elderly men; that is, men who have had their opportunities, earned their wages, and so nearly earned their discharge that now, looking back on life, they can afford to see Man for what he really is—at his best a noble plaything for the gods. Yet they look forward, too, a little wistfully. They are of the world, after all, and nowise so tired of it, albeit disillusioned, as to have lost interest in the game or in the young who will carry it on. So Minos and his laws soon get left behind, and the talk (as so often befalls with Plato) is of the perfect citizen and how to train him—of education, in short; and so, as ever with Plato, we are back at length upon the old question which he could never get out of his way—What to do with the poets?
It scarcely needs to be said that the Athenian has taken hold of the conversation, and that the others are as wax in his hands. 'O Athenian stranger,' Cleinias addresses him—'inhabitant of Attica I will not call you, for you seem to deserve rather the name of Athene herself, because you go back to first principles.' Thus complimented, the stranger lets himself go. Yet somehow he would seem to have lost speculative nerve.
It was all very well in the 'Republic,' the ideal State, to be bold and declare for banishing poetry altogether. But elderly men have given up pursuing ideals; they have 'seen too many leaders of revolt.' Our Athenian is driving now at practice (as we say), at a well-governed State realisable on earth; and after all it is hard to chase out the poets, especially if you yourself happen to be something of a poet at heart. Hear, then, the terms on which, after allowing that comedies may be performed, but only by slaves and hirelings, he proceeds to allow serious poetry.
And if any of the serious poets, as they are termed, who write tragedy, come to us and say—'O strangers, may we go to your city and country, or may we not, and shall we bring with us our poetry? What is your will about these matters?'—how shall we answer the divine men? I think that our answer should be as follows:—
'Best of strangers,' we will say to them, 'we also, according to our ability, are tragic poets, and our tragedy is the best and noblest: for our whole state is an imitation of the best and noblest life.... You are poets and we are poets, both makers of the same strains, rivals and antagonists in the noblest of dramas, which true law alone can perfect, as our hope is. Do not then suppose that we shall all in a moment allow you to erect your stage in the Agora, and introduce the fair voices of your actors, speaking above our own, and permit you to harangue our women and children and the common people in language other than our own, and very often the opposite of our own. For a State would be mad which gave you this license, until the magistrates had determined whether your poetry might be recited and was fit for publication or not. Wherefore, O ye sons and scions of the softer Muses! first of all show your songs to the Magistrates and let them compare them with our own, and if they are the same or better, we will give you a chorus; but if not, then, my friends, we cannot.'
Lame conclusion! Impotent compromise! How little applicable, at all events, to our Commonwealth! though, to be sure (you may say) we possess a relic of it in His Majesty's Licenser of Plays. As you know, there has been so much heated talk of late over the composition of the County Magistracy; yet I give you a countryman's word, Sir, that I have heard many names proposed for the Commission of the Peace, and on many grounds, but never one on the ground that its owner had a conservative taste in verse!
Nevertheless, as Plato saw, we must deal with these poets somehow. It is possible (though not, I think, likely) that in the ideal State there would be no Literature, as it is certain there would be no Professors of it; but since its invention men have never been able to rid themselves of it for any length of time. Tamen usque recurrit. They may forbid Apollo, but still he comes leading his choir, the Nine:—
[Greek: Akletos men egoge menoimi ken es de kaleunton Tharsesas Moisaisi snu amepeaisin ikoiman.]
And he may challenge us English boldly! For since Chaucer, at any rate, he and his train have never been [Greek: akletoi] to us—least of all here in Cambridge.
Nay, we know that he should be welcome. Cardinal Newman, proposing the idea of a University to the Roman Catholics of Dublin, lamented that the English language had not, like the Greek, 'some definite words to express, simply and generally, intellectual proficiency or perfection, such as "health," as used with reference to the animal frame, and "virtue," with reference to our moral nature.' Well, it is a reproach to us that we do not possess the term: and perhaps again a reproach to us that our attempts at it—the word 'culture' for instance—have been apt to take on some soil of controversy, some connotative damage from over-preaching on the one hand and impatience on the other. But we do earnestly desire the thing. We do prize that grace of intellect which sets So-and-so in our view as 'a scholar and a gentleman.' We do wish as many sons of this University as may be to carry forth that lifelong stamp from her precincts; and—this is my point—from our notion of such a man the touch of literary grace cannot be excluded. I put to you for a test Lucian's description of his friend Demonax—
His way was like other people's; he mounted no high horse; he was just a man and a citizen. He indulged in no Socratic irony. But his discourse was full of Attic grace; those who heard it went away neither disgusted by servility, nor repelled by ill-tempered censure, but on the contrary lifted out of themselves by charity, and encouraged to more orderly, contented, hopeful lives.
I put it to you, Sir, that Lucian needs not to say another word, but we know that Demonax had loved letters, and partly by aid of them had arrived at being such a man. No; by consent of all, Literature is a nurse of noble natures, and right reading makes a full man in a sense even better than Bacon's; not replete, but complete rather, to the pattern for which Heaven designed him. In this conviction, in this hope, public spirited men endow Chairs in our Universities, sure that Literature is a good thing if only we can bring it to operate on young minds.
That he has in him some power to guide such operation a man must believe before accepting such a Chair as this. And now, Sir, the terrible moment is come when your [Greek: xenos] must render some account—I will not say of himself, for that cannot be attempted—but of his business here. Well, first let me plead that while you have been infinitely kind to the stranger, feasting him and casting a gown over him, one thing not all your kindness has been able to do. With precedents, with traditions such as other Professors enjoy, you could not furnish him. The Chair is a new one, or almost new, and for the present would seem to float in the void, like Mahomet's coffin. Wherefore, being one who (in my Lord Chief Justice Crewe's phrase) would 'take hold of a twig or twine-thread to uphold it'; being also prone (with Bacon) to believe that 'the counsels to which Time hath not been called, Time will not ratify'; I do assure you that, had any legacy of guidance been discovered among the papers left by my predecessor, it would have been eagerly welcomed and as piously honoured. O, trust me, Sir!—if any design for this Chair of English Literature had been left by Dr Verrall, it is not I who would be setting up any new stage in your agora! But in his papers—most kindly searched for me by Mrs Verrall—no such design can be found. He was, in truth, a stricken man when he came to the Chair, and of what he would have built we can only be sure that, had it been this or had it been that, it would infallibly have borne the impress of one of the most beautiful minds of our generation. The gods saw otherwise; and for me, following him, I came to a trench and stretched my hands to a shade.
For me, then, if you put questions concerning the work of this Chair, I must take example from the artist in Don Quixote, who being asked what he was painting, answered modestly, 'That is as it may turn out.' The course is uncharted, and for sailing directions I have but these words of your Ordinance:
It shall be the duty of the Professor to deliver courses of lectures on English Literature from the age of Chaucer onwards, and otherwise to promote, so far as may be in his power, the study in the University of the subject of English Literature.
And I never even knew that English Literature had a 'subject'; or, rather, supposed it to have several! To resume:
The Professor shall treat this subject on literary and critical rather than on philological and linguistic lines:
—a proviso which at any rate cuts off a cantle, large in itself, if not comparatively, of the new Professor's ignorance. But I ask you to note the phrase 'to promote, so far as may be in his power, the study'—not, you will observe, 'to teach'; for this absolves me from raising at the start a question of some delicacy for me, as Green launched his "Prolegomena to Ethics" upon the remark that 'an author who seeks to gain general confidence scarcely goes the right way to work when he begins with asking whether there really is such a subject as that of which he proposes to treat.' In spite of—mark, pray, that I say in spite of—the activity of many learned Professors, some doubt does lurk in the public mind if, after all, English Literature can, in any ordinary sense, be taught, and if the attempts to teach it do not, after all, justify (as Wisdom is so often justified of her grandparents) the silence sapience of those old benefactors who abstained from endowing any such Chairs.
But that the study of English Literature can be promoted in young minds by an elder one, that their zeal may be encouraged, their tastes directed, their vision cleared, quickened, enlarged—this, I take it, no man of experience will deny. Nay, since our two oldest Universities have a habit of marking one another with interest—an interest, indeed, sometimes heightened by nervousness—I may point out that all this has been done of late years, and eminently done, by a Cambridge man you gave to Oxford. This, then, Mr Vice-Chancellor—this or something like this, Gentlemen—is to be my task if I have the good fortune to win your confidence.
Let me, then, lay down two or three principles by which I propose to be guided. (1) For the first principle of all I put to you that in studying any work of genius we should begin by taking it absolutely; that is to say, with minds intent on discovering just what the author's mind intended; this being at once the obvious approach to its meaning (its [Greek: to ti en einai], the 'thing it was to be'), and the merest duty of politeness we owe to the great man addressing us. We should lay our minds open to what he wishes to tell, and if what he has to tell be noble and high and beautiful, we should surrender and let soak our minds in it.
Pray understand that in claiming, even insisting upon, the first place for this absolute study of a great work I use no disrespect towards those learned scholars whose labours will help you, Gentlemen, to enjoy it afterwards in other ways and from other aspects; since I hold there is no surer sign of intellectual ill-breeding than to speak, even to feel, slightingly of any knowledge oneself does not happen to possess. Still less do I aim to persuade you that anyone should be able to earn a Cambridge degree by the process (to borrow Macaulay's phrase) of reading our great authors 'with his feet on the hob,' a posture I have not even tried, to recommend it for a contemplative man's recreation. These editors not only set us the priceless example of learning for learning's sake: but even in practice they clear our texts for us, and afterwards—when we go more minutely into our author's acquaintance, wishing to learn all we can about him—by increasing our knowledge of detail they enchance our delight. Nay, with certain early writers—say Chaucer or Dunbar, as with certain highly allusive ones—Bacon, or Milton, or Sir Thomas Browne—some apparatus must be supplied from the start. But on the whole I think it a fair contention that such helps to studying an author are secondary and subsidiary; that, for example, with any author who by consent is less of his age than for all time, to study the relation he bore to his age may be important indeed, and even highly important, yet must in the nature of things be of secondary importance, not of the first.
But let us examine this principle a little more attentively—for it is the palmary one. As I conceive it, that understanding of literature which we desire in our Euphues, our gracefully-minded youth, will include knowledge in varying degree, yet is itself something distinct from knowledge. Let us illustrate this upon Poetry, which the most of us will allow to be the highest form of literary expression, if not of all artistic expression. Of all the testimony paid to Poetry, none commands better witness than this—that, as Johnson said of Gray's Elegy 'it abounds with images which find a mirror in every mind, and with sentiments to which every heart returns an echo.' When George Eliot said, 'I never before met with so many of my own feelings expressed just as I should like them,' she but repeated of Wordsworth (in homelier, more familiar fashion) what Johnson said of Gray; and the same testimony lies implicit in Emerson's fine remark that 'Universal history, the poets, the romancers'—all good writers, in short—'do not anywhere make us feel that we intrude, that this is for our betters. Rather it is true that, in their greatest strokes, there we feel most at home.' The mass of evidence, of which these are samples, may be summarised thus:—As we dwell here between two mysteries, of a soul within and an ordered Universe without, so among us are granted to dwell certain men of more delicate intellectual fibre than their fellows—men whose minds have, as it were, filaments to intercept, apprehend, conduct, translate home to us stray messages between these two mysteries, as modern telegraphy has learnt to search out, snatch, gather home human messages astray over waste waters of the Ocean.
If, then, the ordinary man be done this service by the poet, that (as Dr Johnson defines it) 'he feels what he remembers to have felt before, but he feels it with a great increase of sensibility'; or even if, though the message be unfamiliar, it suggests to us, in Wordsworth's phrase, to 'feel that we are greater than we know,' I submit that we respond to it less by anything that usually passes for knowledge, than by an improvement of sensibility, a tuning up of the mind to the poet's pitch; so that the man we are proud to send forth from our Schools will be remarkable less for something he can take out of his wallet and exhibit for knowledge, than for being something, and that 'something,' a man of unmistakable intellectual breeding, whose trained judgment we can trust to choose the better and reject the worse.
But since this refining of the critical judgment happens to be less easy of practice than the memorising of much that passes for knowledge—of what happened to Harriet or what Blake said to the soldier—and far less easy to examine on, the pedagogic mind (which I implore you not to suppose me confusing with the scholarly) for avoidance of trouble tends all the while to dodge or obfuscate what is essential, piling up accidents and irrelevancies before it until its very face is hidden. And we should be the more watchful not to confuse the pedagogic mind with the scholarly since it is from the scholar that the pedagogue pretends to derive his sanction; ransacking the great genuine commentators—be it a Skeat or a Masson or (may I add for old reverence' sake?) an Aldis Wright—fetching home bits of erudition, non sua poma, and announcing 'This must be the true Sion, for we found it in a wood.'
Hence a swarm of little school books pullulates annually, all upside down and wrong from beginning to end; and hence a worse evil afflicts us, that the English schoolboy starts with a false perspective of any given masterpiece, his pedagogue urging, obtruding lesser things upon his vision until what is really important, the poem or the play itself, is seen in distorted glimpses, if not quite blocked out of view.
This same temptation—to remove a work of art from the category for which the author designed it into another where it can be more conveniently studied—reaches even above the schoolmaster to assail some very eminent critics. I cite an example from a book of which I shall hereafter have to speak with gratitude as I shall always name it with respect—"The History of English Poetry," by Dr Courthope, sometime Professor of Poetry at Oxford. In his fourth volume, and in his estimate of Fletcher as a dramatist, I find this passage:—
But the crucial test of a play's quality is only applied when it is read. So long as the illusion of the stage gives credit to the action, and the words and gestures of the actor impose themselves on the imagination of the spectator, the latter will pass over a thousand imperfections, which reveal themselves to the reader, who, as he has to satisfy himself with the drama of silent images, will nor be content if this or that in any way fall short of his conception of truth and nature,
—which seems equivalent to saying that the crucial test of the frieze of the Parthenon is its adaptability to an apartment in Bloomsbury. So long as the illusion of the Acropolis gave credit to Pheidias' design, and the sunlight of Attica imposed its delicate intended shadows edging the reliefs, the countrymen of Pericles might be tricked; but the visitor to the British Museum, as he has to satisfy himself with what happens indoors in the atmosphere of the West Central Postal Division of London, will not be content if Pheidias in any way fall short of his conception of truth and nature. Yet Fletcher (I take it) constructed his plays as plays; the illusion of the stage, the persuasiveness of the actor's voice, were conditions for which he wrought, and on which he had a right to rely; and, in short, any critic behaves uncritically who, distrusting his imagination to recreate the play as a play, elects to consider it in the category of something else.
In sum, if the great authors never oppress us with airs of condescension, but, like the great lords they are, put the meanest of us at our ease in their presence, I see no reason why we should pay to any commentator a servility not demanded by his master.
My next two principles may be more briefly stated.
(2) I propose next, then, that since our investigations will deal largely with style, that curiously personal thing; and since (as I have said) they cannot in their nature be readily brought to rule-of-thumb tests, and may therefore so easily be suspected of evading all tests, of being mere dilettantism; I propose (I say) that my pupils and I rebuke this suspicion by constantly aiming at the concrete, at the study of such definite beauties as we can see presented in print under our eyes; always seeking the author's intention, but eschewing, for the present at any rate, all general definitions and theories, through the sieve of which the particular achievement of genius is so apt to slip. And having excluded them at first in prudence, I make little doubt we shall go on to exclude them in pride. Definitions, formulae (some would add, creeds) have their use in any society in that they restrain the ordinary unintellectual man from making himself a public nuisance with his private opinions. But they go a very little way in helping the man who has a real sense of prose or verse. In other words, they are good discipline for some thyrsus-bearers, but the initiated have little use for them. As Thomas a Kempis 'would rather feel compunction than understand the definition thereof,' so the initiated man will say of the 'Grand Style,' for example—'Why define it for me?' When Viola says simply:
I am all the daughters of my father's house, And all the brothers too,
or Macbeth demands of the Doctor
Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased, Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow..?
or Hamlet greets Ophelia, reading her Book of Hours, with
Nymph, in thy orisons Be all my sins remembered!
or when Milton tells of his dead friend how
Together both, ere the high lawns appear'd Under the opening eyelids of the morn, We drove afield,
or describes the battalions of Heaven
On they move Indissolubly firm: nor obvious hill, Nor strait'ning vale, nor wood, nor stream divide Their perfect ranks,
or when Gray exalts the great commonplace
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power, And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave, Awaits alike th' inevitable hour; The paths of glory lead but to the grave,
or when Keats casually drops us such a line as
The journey homeward to habitual self,
or, to come down to our own times and to a living poet, when I open on a page of William Watson and read
O ancient streams, O far descended woods, Full of the fluttering of melodious souls!...
'why then (will say the initiated one), why worry me with any definition of the Grand Style in English, when here, and here, and again here—in all these lines, simple or intense or exquisite or solemn—I recognise and feel the thing?'
Indeed, Sir, the long and the short of the argument lie just here. Literature is not an abstract Science, to which exact definitions can be applied. It is an Art rather, the success of which depends on personal persuasiveness, on the author's skill to give as on ours to receive.
(3) For our third principle I will ask you to go back with me to Plato's wayfarers, whom we have left so long under the cypresses; and loth as we must be to lay hands on our father Parmenides, I feel we must treat the gifted Athenian stranger to a little manhandling. For did you not observe—though Greek was a living language and to his metropolitan mind the only language—how envious he showed himself to seal up the well, or allow it to trickle only under permit of a public analyst: to treat all innovation as suspect, even as, a hundred odd years ago, the Lyrical Ballads were suspect?
But the very hope of this Chair, Sir (as I conceive it), relies on the courage of the young. As Literature is an Art and therefore not to be pondered only, but practised, so ours is a living language and therefore to be kept alive, supple, active in all honourable use. The orator can yet sway men, the poet ravish them, the dramatist fill their lungs with salutary laughter or purge their emotions by pity or terror. The historian 'superinduces upon events the charm of order.' The novelist—well, even the novelist has his uses; and I would warn you against despising any form of art which is alive and pliant in the hands of men. For my part, I believe, bearing in mind Mr. Barrie's "Peter Pan" and the old bottles he renovated to hold that joyous wine, that even Musical Comedy, in the hands of a master, might become a thing of beauty. Of the Novel, at any rate—whether we like it or not—we have to admit that it does hold a commanding position in the literature of our times, and to consider how far Mr. Lascelles Abercrombie was right the other day when he claimed, on the first page of his brilliant study of Thomas Hardy, that 'the right to such a position is not to be disputed; for here, as elsewhere, the right to a position is no more than the power to maintain it.' You may agree with that or you may not; you may or may not deplore the forms that literature is choosing now-a-days; but there is no gainsaying that it is still very much alive. And I would say to you, Gentlemen, 'Believe, and be glad that Literature and the English tongue are both alive.' Carlyle, in his explosive way, once demanded of his countrymen, 'Shakespeare or India? If you had to surrender one to retain the other, which would you choose?' Well, our Indian Empire is yet in the making, while the works of Shakespeare are complete and purchasable in whole calf; so the alternatives are scarcely in pari materia; and moreover let us not be in a hurry to meet trouble half way. But in English Literature, which, like India, is still in the making, you have at once an Empire and an Emprise. In that alone you have inherited something greater than Sparta. Let us strive, each in his little way, to adorn it.
But here at the close of my hour, the double argument, that Literature is an Art and English a living tongue, has led me right up to a fourth principle, the plunge into which (though I foresaw it from the first) all the coward in me rejoices at having to defer to another lecture. I conclude then, Gentlemen, by answering two suspicions, which very likely have been shaping themselves in your minds. In the first place, you will say, 'It is all very well for this man to talk about "cultivating an increased sensibility," and the like; but we know what that leads to—to quackery, to aesthetic chatter: "Isn't this pretty? Don't you admire that?"' Well, I am not greatly frightened. To begin with, when we come to particular criticism I shall endeavour to exchange it with you in plain terms; a manner which (to quote Mr Robert Bridges' "Essay on Keats") 'I prefer, because by obliging the lecturer to say definitely what he means, it makes his mistakes easy to point out, and in this way the true business of criticism is advanced.' But I have a second safeguard, more to be trusted: that here in Cambridge, with all her traditions of austere scholarship, anyone who indulges in loose distinct talk will be quickly recalled to his tether. Though at the time Athene be not kind enough to descend from heaven and pluck him backward by the hair, yet the very genius loci will walk home with him from the lecture room, whispering monitions, cruel to be kind.
'But,' you will say alternatively, 'if we avoid loose talk on these matters we are embarking on a mighty difficult business.' Why, to be sure we are; and that, I hope, will be half the enjoyment. After all, we have a number of critics among whose methods we may search for help—from the Persian monarch who, having to adjudicate upon two poems, caused the one to be read to him, and at once, without ado, awarded the prize to the other, up to the great Frenchman whom I shall finally invoke to sustain my hope of building something; that is if you, Gentlemen, will be content to accept me less as a Professor than as an Elder Brother.
The Frenchman is Sainte-Beuve, and I pay a debt, perhaps appropriately here, by quoting him as translated by the friend of mine, now dead, who first invited me to Cambridge and taught me to admire her—one Arthur John Butler, sometime a Fellow of Trinity, and later a great pioneer among Englishmen in the study of Dante. Thus while you listen to the appeal of Sainte-Beuve, I can hear beneath it a more intimate voice, not for the first time, encouraging me.
Sainte-Beuve then—si magna licet componere parvis—is delivering an Inaugural Lecture in the Ecole Normale, the date being April 12th, 1858. 'Gentlemen,' he begins, 'I have written a good deal in the last thirty years; that is, I have scattered myself a good deal; so that I need to gather myself together, in order that my words may come before you with all the more freedom and confidence.' That is his opening; and he ends:—
As time goes on, you will make me believe that I can for my part be of some good to you: and with the generosity of your age you will repay me, in this feeling alone, far more than I shall be able to give you in intellectual freedom, in literary thought. If in one sense I bestow on you some of my experience, you will requite me, and in a more profitable manner, by the sight of your ardour for what is noble: you will accustom me to turn oftener and more willingly towards the future in your company. You will teach me again to hope.
THE PRACTICE OF WRITING.
Wednesday, February 12
We found, Gentlemen, towards the close of our first lecture, that the argument had drawn us, as by a double chain, up to the edge of a bold leap, over which I deferred asking you to take the plunge with me. Yet the plunge must be taken, and to-day I see nothing for it but to harden our hearts.
Well, then, I propose to you that, English Literature being (as we agreed) an Art, with a living and therefore improvable language for its medium or vehicle, a part—and no small part—of our business is to practise it. Yes, I seriously propose to you that here in Cambridge we practise writing: that we practise it not only for our own improvement, but to make, or at least try to make, appropriate, perspicuous, accurate, persuasive writing a recognisable hall-mark of anything turned out by our English School. By all means let us study the great writers of the past for their own sakes; but let us study them for our guidance; that we, in our turn, having (it is to be hoped) something to say in our span of time, say it worthily, not dwindling out the large utterance of Shakespeare or of Burke. Portraits of other great ones look down on you in your college halls: but while you are young and sit at the brief feast, what avails their serene gaze if it do not lift up your hearts and movingly persuade you to match your manhood to its inheritance?
I protest, Gentlemen, that if our eyes had not been sealed, as with wax, by the pedagogues of whom I spoke a fortnight ago, this one habit of regarding our own literature as a hortus siccus, this our neglect to practise good writing as the constant auxiliary of an Englishman's liberal education, would be amazing to you seated here to-day as it will be starkly incredible to the future historian of our times. Tell me, pray; if it concerned Painting—an art in which Englishmen boast a record far briefer, far less distinguished—what would you think of a similar acquiescence in the past, a like haste to presume the dissolution of aptitude and to close accounts, a like precipitancy to divorce us from the past, to rob the future of hope and even the present of lively interest? Consider, for reproof of these null men, the Discourses addressed (in a pedantic age, too) by Sir Joshua Reynolds to the Members and Students of the Royal Academy. He has (as you might expect) enough to say of Tintoretto, of Titian, of Caracci, and of the duty of studying their work with patience, with humility. But why does he exhort his hearers to con them?—Why, because he is all the time driving at practice. Hear how he opens his second Discourse (his first to the Students). After congratulating the prize-winners of 1769, he desires 'to lead them into such a course of study as may render their future progress answerable to their past improvement'; and the great man goes on:—
I flatter myself that from the long experience I have had, and the necessary assiduity with which I have pursued these studies in which like you I have been engaged, I shall be acquitted of vanity in offering some hints to your consideration. They are indeed in a great degree founded upon my own mistakes in the same pursuit....
Mark the noble modesty of that! To resume—
In speaking to you of the Theory of the Art, I shall only consider it as it has relation to the method of your studies.
And then he proceeds to preach the Old Masters.—But how?—why?—to what end? Does he recite lists of names, dates, with formulae concerning styles? He does nothing of the sort. Does he recommend his old masters for copying, then?—for mere imitation? Not a bit of it!—he comes down like a hammer on copying. Then for what, in fine, will he have them studied? Listen:—
The more extensive your acquaintance is with the works of those who have excelled, the more extensive will be your powers of invention.
Yes, of invention, your power to make something new:
—and what may appear still more like a paradox, the more original will be your conceptions.
There spake Sir Joshua Reynolds: and I call that the voice of a true Elder Brother. He, standing face to face with the young, thought of the old masters mainly as spiritual begetters of practice. And will anyone in this room tell me that what Reynolds said of painting is not to-day, for us, applicable to writing?
We accept it of Greek and Latin. An old Sixth Form master once said to me, 'You may give up Latin Verse for this term, if you will: but I warn you, no one can be a real scholar who does not constantly practise verse.' He was mistaken, belike. I hold, for my part, that in our Public Schools, we give up a quite disproportionate amount of time to 'composition' (of Latin Prose especially) and starve the boys' reading thereby. But at any rate we do give up a large share of the time to it. Then if we insist on this way with the tongues of Homer and Virgil, why do we avoid it with the tongue of Shakespeare, our own living tongue? I answer by quoting one of the simplest wisest sayings of Don Quixote (Gentlemen, you will easily, as time goes on, and we better our acquaintance, discover my favourite authors):—
The great Homer wrote not in Latin, for he was a Greek; and Virgil wrote not in Greek, because he was a Latin. In brief, all the ancient poets wrote in the tongue which they sucked in with their mother's milk, nor did they go forth to seek for strange ones to express the greatness of their conceptions: and, this being so, it should be a reason for the fashion to extend to all nations.
Does the difference, then, perchance lie in ourselves? Will you tell me, 'Oh, painting is a special art, whereas anyone can write prose passably well'? Can he, indeed?... Can you, sir? Nay, believe me, you are either an archangel or a very bourgeois gentleman indeed if you admit to having spoken English prose all your life without knowing it.
Indeed, when we try to speak prose without having practised it the result is apt to be worse than our own vernacular. How often have I heard some worthy fellow addressing a public audience!—say a Parliamentary candidate who believes himself a Liberal Home Ruler, and for the moment is addressing himself to meet some criticism of the financial proposals of a Home Rule Bill. His own vernacular would be somewhat as follows:—
Oh, rot! Give the Irish their heads and they'll run straight enough. Look at the Boers, don't you know. Not half such a decent sort as the Irish. Look at Irish horses, too. Eh? What?
But this, he is conscious, would hardly suit the occasion. He therefore amends it thus:—
Mr Chairman—er—as regards the financial proposals of His Majesty's Government, I am of the deliberate—er—opinion that our national security—I may say, our Imperial security—our security as—er—a governing people—lies in trusting the Irish as we did in the—er —case of the Boers—H'm Mr Gladstone, Mr Chairman—Mr Chairman, Mr Gladstone——
and so on. You perceive that the style is actually worse than in the sample quoted before; it has become flabby whereas that other was at any rate nervous? But now suppose that, having practised it, our candidate was able to speak like this:—
'But what (says the Financier) is peace to us without money? Your plan gives us no revenue.' No? But it does—for it secures to the subject the power of Refusal, the first of all Revenues. Experience is a cheat, and fact is a liar, if this power in the subject of proportioning his grant, or of not granting at all, has not been found the richest mine of Revenue ever discovered by the skill or by the fortune of man. It does not indeed vote you 152,750 pounds 11 shillings 2 3/4 pence, nor any other paltry limited sum—but it gives you the strong box itself, the fund, the bank, from whence only revenues can arise among a people sensible of freedom: Posita luditur arca.... Is this principle to be true in England, and false everywhere else? Is it not true in Ireland? Has it not hitherto been true in the Colonies? Why should you presume that in any country a body duly constituted for any function will neglect to perform its duty and abdicate its trust? Such a presumption would go against all Governments in all nations. But in truth this dread of penury of supply, from a free assembly, has no foundation in nature. For first, observe that, besides the desire which all men have naturally of supporting the honour of their own Government, that sense of dignity, and that security to property, which ever attend freedom, have a tendency to increase the stock of a free community. Most may be taken where most is accumulated. And what is the soil or climate where experience has not uniformly proved that the voluntary flow of heaped-up plenty, bursting from the weight of its own luxuriance, has ever run with a more copious stream of revenue than could be squeezed from the dry husks of oppressed indigence by the straining of all the politic machinery in the world?
That, whether you agree or disagree with its doctrine, is great prose. That is Burke. 'O Athenian stranger,' said the Cretan I quoted in my first lecture,—'inhabitant of Attica I will not call you, since you deserve the name of Athene herself, because you go back to first principles!'
But, you may object, 'Burke is talking like a book, and I have no wish to talk like a book.' Well, as a fact, Burke is here at the culmen of a long sustained argument, and his language has soared with it, as his way was—logic and emotion lifting him together as upon two balanced majestic wings. But you are shy of such heights? Very well again, and all credit to your modesty! Yet at least (I appeal to that same modesty) when you talk or write, you would wish to observe the occasion; to say what you have to say without impertinence or ill-timed excess. You would not harangue a drawing-room or a subcommittee, or be facetious at a funeral, or play the skeleton at a banquet: for in all such conduct you would be mixing up things that differ. Be cheerful, then: for this desire of yours to be appropriate is really the root of the matter. Nor do I ask you to accept this on my sole word, but will cite you the most respectable witnesses. Take, for instance, a critic who should be old enough to impress you—Dionysius of Halicarnassus. After enumerating the qualities which lend charm and nobility to style, he closes the list with 'appropriateness, which all these need':—
As there is a charming diction, so there is another that is noble; as there is a polished rhythm, so there is another that is dignified; as variety adds grace in one passage, so in another it adds fulness; and as for appropriation, it will prove the chief source of beauty, or else of nothing at all.
Or listen to Cicero, how he sets appropriateness in the very heart of his teaching, as the master secret:—
Is erit eloquens qui poterit parva summisse, modica temperate, magna graviter dicere.... Qui ad id quodcunque decebit poterit accommodare orationem. Quod quum statuerit, tum, ut quidque erit dicendum, ita dicet, nec satura jejune, nec grandia minute, nec item contra, sed erit rebus ipsis par et aequalis oratio.
'Whatever his theme he will speak as becomes it; neither meagrely where it is copious, nor meanly where it is ample, nor in this way where it demands that; but keeping his speech level with the actual subject and adequate to it.'
I might quote another great man, Quintilian, to you on the first importance of this appropriateness, or 'propriety'; of speaking not only to the purpose but becomingly—though the two as (he rightly says) are often enough one and the same thing. But I will pass on to what has ever seemed, since I found it in one of Jowett's 'Introductions' to Plato, the best definition known to me of good style in literature:—
The perfection of style is variety in unity, freedom, ease, clearness, the power of saying anything, and of striking any note in the scale of human feelings, without impropriety.
You see, O my modest friend! that your gamut needs not to be very wide, to begin with. The point is that within it you learn to play becomingly.
Now I started by proposing that we try together to make appropriate, perspicuous, accurate, persuasive writing a hall-mark of anything turned out by our English School here, and I would add (growing somewhat hardier) a hall-mark of all Cambridge style so far as our English School can influence it. I chose these four epithets accurate, perspicuous, persuasive, appropriate, with some care, of course as my duty was; and will assume that by this time we are agreed to desire appropriateness. Now for the other three:—
Perspicuity.—I shall waste no words on the need of this: since the first aim of speech is to be understood. The more clearly you write the more easily and surely you will be understood. I propose to demonstrate to you further, in a minute or so, that the more clearly you write the more clearly you will understand yourself. But a sufficient reason has been given in ten words why you should desire perspicuity.
Accuracy.—Did I not remind myself in my first lecture, that Cambridge is the home of accurate scholarship? Surely no Cambridge man would willingly be a sloven in speech, oral or written? Surely here, if anywhere, should be acknowledged of all what Newman says of the classics, that 'a certain unaffected neatness and propriety and grace of diction may be required of any author, for the same reason that a certain attention to dress is expected of every gentleman.' After all, what are the chief differentiae between man and the brute creation but that he clothes himself, that he cooks his food, that he uses articulate speech? Let us cherish and improve all these distinctions.
But shall we now look more carefully into these twin questions of perspicuity and accuracy: for I think pursuing them, we may almost reach the philosophic kernel of good writing. I quoted Newman playfully a moment ago. I am going to quote him in strong earnest. And here let me say that of all the books written in these hundred years there is perhaps none you can more profitably thumb and ponder than that volume of his in which, under the title of "The Idea of a University," he collected nine discourses addressed to the Roman Catholics of Dublin with some lectures delivered to the Catholic University there. It is fragmentary, because its themes were occasional. It has missed to be appraised at its true worth, partly no doubt by reason of the colour it derives from a religion still unpopular in England. But in fact it may be read without offence by the strictest Protestant; and the book is so wise—so eminently wise—as to deserve being bound by the young student of literature for a frontlet on his brow and a talisman on his writing wrist.
Now you will find much pretty swordsmanship in its pages, but nothing more trenchant than the passage in which Newman assails and puts to rout the Persian host of infidels—I regret to say, for the most part Men of Science—who would persuade us that good writing, that style, is something extrinsic to the subject, a kind of ornamentation laid on to tickle the taste, a study for the dilettante, but beneath the notice of their stern and masculine minds.
Such a view, as he justly points out, belongs rather to the Oriental mind than to our civilisation: it reminds him of the way young gentlemen go to work in the East when they would engage in correspondence with the object of their affection. The enamoured one cannot write a sentence himself: he is the specialist in passion (for the moment); but thought and words are two things to him, and for words he must go to another specialist, the professional letter-writer. Thus there is a division of labour.
The man of words, duly instructed, dips the pen of desire in the ink of devotedness and proceeds to spread it over the page of desolation. Then the nightingale of affection is heard to warble to the rose of loveliness, while the breeze of anxiety plays around the brow of expectation. That is what the Easterns are said to consider fine writing; and it seems pretty much the idea of the school of critics to which I have been referring.
Now hear this fine passage:—
Thought and speech are inseparable from each other. Matter and expression are parts of one; style is a thinking out into language. That is what I have been laying down, and this is literature; not things, but the verbal symbols of things; not on the other hand mere words; but thoughts expressed in language. Call to mind, gentlemen, the meaning of the Greek word which expresses this special prerogative of man over the feeble intelligence of the lower animals. It is called Logos; what does Logos mean? it stands both for reason and for speech, and it is difficult to say which it means more properly. It means both at once: why? because really they cannot be divided.... When we can separate light and illumination, life and motion, the convex and the concave of a curve, then will it be possible for thought to tread speech under foot and to hope to do without it—then will it be conceivable that the vigorous and fertile intellect should renounce its own double, its instrument of expression and the channel of its speculations and emotions.
'As if,' he exclaims finely, 'language were the hired servant, the mere mistress of reason, and not the lawful wife in her own house!'
If you need further argument (but what serves it to slay the slain?) let me remind you that you cannot use the briefest, the humblest process of thought, cannot so much as resolve to take your bath hot or cold, or decide what to order for breakfast, without forecasting it to yourself in some form of words. Words are, in fine, the only currency in which we can exchange thought even with ourselves. Does it not follow, then, that the more accurately we use words the closer definition we shall give to our thoughts? Does it not follow that by drilling ourselves to write perspicuously we train our minds to clarify their thought? Does it not follow that some practice in the deft use of words, with its correspondent defining of thought, may well be ancillary even to the study of Natural Science in a University?
But I have another word for our men of science. It was inevitable, perhaps, that Latin—so long the Universal Language—should cease in time to be that in which scientific works were written. It was impossible, perhaps, to substitute, by consent, some equally neat and austere modern language, such as French. But when it became an accepted custom for each nation to use its own language in scientific treatises, it certainly was not foreseen that men of science would soon be making discoveries at a rate which left their skill in words outstripped; that having to invent their terms as they went along, yet being careless and contemptuous of a science in which they have no training, they would bombast out our dictionaries with monstrously invented words that not only would have made Quintilian stare and gasp, but would affront the decently literate of any age.
After all, and though we must sigh and acquiesce in the building of Babel, we have some right to examine the bricks. I was waiting, the other day, in a doctor's anteroom, and picked up one of those books—it was a work on pathology—so thoughtfully left lying in such places; to persuade us, no doubt, to bear the ills we have rather than fly to others capable of being illustrated. I found myself engaged in following the manoeuvres of certain well-meaning bacilli generically described as 'Antibodies.' I do not accuse the author (who seemed to be a learned man) of having invented this abominable term: apparently it passed current among physiologists and he had accepted it for honest coin. I found it, later on, in Webster's invaluable dictionary: Etymology, 'anti' up against 'body', some noxious 'foreign body' inside your body or mine.
Now gin a body meet a body for our protection and in this gallant spirit, need a body reward him with this hybrid label? Gratitude apart, I say that for our own self-respect, whilst we retain any sense of intellectual pedigree, 'antibody' is no word to throw at a friendly bacillus. Is it consonant with the high dignity of science to make her talk like a cheap showman advertising a 'picture-drome'? The man who eats peas with his knife can at least claim a historical throwback to the days when forks had but two prongs and the spoons had been removed with the soup. But 'antibody' has no such respectable derivation. It is, in fact, a barbarism, and a mongrel at that. The man who uses it debases the currency of learning: and I suggest to you that it is one of the many functions of a great University to maintain the standard of that currency, to guard the jus et norma loquendi, to protect us from such hasty fellows or, rather, to suppeditate them in their haste.
Let me revert to our list of the qualities necessary to good writing, and come to the last—Persuasiveness; of which you may say, indeed, that it embraces the whole—not only the qualities of propriety, perspicuity, accuracy, we have been considering, but many another, such as harmony, order, sublimity, beauty of diction; all in short that—writing being an art, not a science, and therefore so personal a thing—may be summed up under the word Charm. Who, at any rate, does not seek after Persuasion? It is the aim of all the arts and, I suppose, of all exposition of the sciences; nay, of all useful exchange of converse in our daily life. It is what Velasquez attempts in a picture, Euclid in a proposition, the Prime Minister at the Treasury box, the journalist in a leading article, our Vicar in his sermon. Persuasion, as Matthew Arnold once said, is the only true intellectual process. The mere cult of it occupied many of the best intellects of the ancients, such as Longinus and Quintilian, whose writings have been preserved to us just because they were prized. Nor can I imagine an earthly gift more covetable by you, Gentlemen, than that of persuading your fellows to listen to your views and attend to what you have at heart.
Suppose, sir, that you wish to become a journalist? Well, and why not? Is it a small thing to desire the power of influencing day by day to better citizenship an unguessed number of men, using the best thought and applying it in the best language at your command?... Or are you, perhaps, overawed by the printed book? On that, too, I might have a good deal to say; but for the moment would keep the question as practical as I can.
Well, it is sometimes said that Oxford men make better journalists than Cambridge men, and some attribute this to the discipline of their great School of Literae Humaniores, which obliges them to bring up a weekly essay to their tutor, who discusses it. Cambridge men retort that all Oxford men are journalists, and throw, of course, some accent of scorn on the word. But may I urge—and remember please that my credit is pledged to you now—may I urge that this is not a wholly convincing answer? For, to begin with, Oxford men have not changed their natures since leaving school, but are, by process upon lines not widely divergent from your own, much the same pleasant sensible fellows you remember. And, next, if you truly despise journalism, why then despise it, have done with it and leave it alone. But I pray you, do not despise it if you mean to practise it, though it be but as a step to something better. For while the ways of art are hard at the best, they will break you if you go unsustained by belief in what you are trying to do.
In asking you to practise the written word, I began with such low but necessary things as propriety, perspicuity, accuracy. But persuasion—the highest form of persuasion at any rate—cannot be achieved without a sense of beauty. And now I shoot a second rapid—I want you to practise verse, and to practise it assiduously.... I am quite serious. Let me remind you that, if there ever was an ancient state of which we of Great Britain have great right and should have greater ambition to claim ourselves the spiritual heirs, that state was Imperial Rome. And of the Romans (whom you will allow to have been a practical people) nothing is more certain than the value they set upon acquiring verse. To them it was not only (as Dr Johnson said of Greek) 'like old lace—you can never have too much of it.' They cultivated it with a straight eye to national improvement. Among them, as a scholar reminded us the other day, you find 'an educational system deliberately and steadily directed towards the development of poetical talent. They were not a people of whom we can say, as we can of the Greeks, that they were born to art and literature.... The characteristic Roman triumphs are the triumphs of a material civilisation.' Rome's role in the world was 'the absorption of outlying genius.' Themselves an unimaginative race with a language not too tractable to poetry, they made great poetry, and they made it of patient set purpose, of hard practice. I shall revert to this and maybe amplify reasons in another lecture. For the moment I content myself with stating the fact that no nation ever believed in poetry so deeply as the Romans.
Perpend this then, and do not too hastily deride my plea that you should practise verse-writing. I know most of the objections, though I may not remember all. Mediocribus esse poetis, etc.—that summarises most of them: yet of an infliction of much bad verse from you, if I am prepared to endure it, why should anyone else complain? I say that the youth of a University ought to practise verse-writing; and will try to bring this home to you by an argument convincing to me, though I have never seen it in print.
What are the great poetical names of the last hundred years or so? Coleridge, Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, Landor, Keats, Tennyson, Browning, Arnold, Morris, Rossetti, Swinburne—we may stop there. Of these all but Keats, Browning, Rossetti were University men; and of these three Keats, who died young, cut off in his prime, was the only one not fairly well-to-do. It may seem a brutal thing to say, and it is a sad thing to say: but, as a matter of hard fact, the theory that poetical genius bloweth where it listeth, and equally in poor and rich, holds little truth. As a matter of hard fact, nine out of those twelve were University men: which means that somehow or other they procured the means to get the best education England can give. As a matter of hard fact, of the remaining three you know that Browning was well-to-do, and I challenge you that, if he had not been well-to-do, he would no more have attained to writing "Saul" or "The Ring and the Book" than Ruskin would have attained to writing "Modern Painters" if his father had not dealt prosperously in business. Rossetti had a small private income; and, moreover, he painted. There remains but Keats; whom Atropos slew young, as she slew John Clare in a madhouse, and James Thomson by the laudanum he took to drug disappointment. These are dreadful facts, but let us face them. It is—however dishonouring to us as a nation—certain that, by some fault in our commonwealth, the poor poet has not in these days, nor has had for two hundred years, a dog's chance. Believe me—and I have spent a great part of the last ten years in watching some 320 Elementary Schools—we may prate of democracy, but actually a poor child in England has little more hope than had the son of an Athenian slave to be emancipated into that intellectual freedom of which great writings are born.
What do I argue from this? I argue that until we can bring more intellectual freedom into our State, more 'joy in widest commonalty spread,' upon you, a few favoured ones, rests an obligation to see that the springs of English poetry do not fail. I put it to you that of this glory of our birth and state you are the temporary stewards. I put it to the University, considered as a dispenser of intellectual light, that to treat English poetry as though it had died with Tennyson and your lecturers had but to compose the features of a corpse, is to abnegate high hope for the sake of a barren convenience. I put it to the Colleges, considered as disciplinary bodies, that the old way of letting Coleridge slip, chasing forth Shelley, is, after all, not the wisest way. Recollect that in Poesy as in every other human business, the more there are who practise it the greater will be the chance of someone's reaching perfection. It is the impetus of the undistinguished host that flings forward a Diomed or a Hector. And when you point with pride to Milton's and those other mulberry trees in your Academe, bethink you 'What poets are they shading to-day? Or are their leaves but feeding worms to spin gowns to drape Doctors of Letters?'
In the life of Benvenuto Cellini you will find this passage worth your pondering.—He is telling how, while giving the last touches to his Perseus in the great square of Florence, he and his workmen inhabited a shed built around the statue. He goes on:—
The folk kept on attaching sonnets to the posts of the door....I believe that, on the day when I opened it for a few hours to the public, more than twenty were nailed up, all of them overflowing with the highest panegyrics. Afterwards, when I once more shut it off from view, everyone brought sonnets, with Latin and Greek verses: for the University of Pisa was then in vacation, and all the doctors and scholars kept vying with each other who could produce the best.
I may not live to see the doctors and scholars of this University thus employing the Long Vacation; as perhaps we shall wait some time for another Perseus to excite them to it. But I do ask you to consider that the Perseus was not entirely cause nor the sonnets entirely effect; that the age when men are eager about great work is the age when great work gets itself done; nor need it disturb us that most of the sonnets were, likely enough, very bad ones—in Charles Lamb's phrase, very like what Petrarch might have written if Petrarch had been born a fool. It is the impetus that I ask of you: the will to try.
Lastly, Gentlemen, do not set me down as one who girds at your preoccupation, up here, with bodily games; for, indeed, I hold 'gymnastic' to be necessary as 'music' (using both words in the Greek sense) for the training of such youths as we desire to send forth from Cambridge. But I plead that they should be balanced, as they were in the perfect young knight with whose words I will conclude to-day:—
Having this day my horse, my hand, my lance Guided so well that I obtained the prize, Both by the judgment of the English eyes And of some sent by that sweet enemy France; Horsemen my skill in horsemanship advance, Town-folk my strength, a daintier judge applies His praise to sleight which from good use doth rise; Some lucky wits impute it but to chance; Others, because of both sides I do take My blood from them who did excel in this, Think Nature me a man-at-arms did make. How far they shot awry! the true cause is, Stella looked on; and from her heavenly face Sent forth the beams which made so fair my race.
'Untrue,' you say? Well, there is truth of emotion as well as of fact; and who is there among you but would fain be able not only to win such a guerdon but to lay it in such wise at your lady's feet?
That then was Philip Sidney, called the peerless one of his age; and perhaps no Englishman ever lived more graciously or, having used life, made a better end. But you have seen this morning's newspaper: you have read of Captain Scott and his comrades, and in particular of the death of Captain Oates; and you know that the breed of Sidney is not extinct. Gentlemen, let us keep our language noble: for we still have heroes to commemorate!
[Footnote 1: The date of the above lecture was Wednesday, February 12th, 1913, the date on which our morning newspapers printed the first telegrams giving particulars of the fate of Captain Scott's heroic conquest of the South Pole, and still more glorious, though defeated, return. The first brief message concerning Captain Oates, ran as follows:—
'From the records found in the tent where the bodies were discovered it appeared that Captain Oates's feet and hands were badly frost-bitten, and, although he struggled on heroically, his comrades knew on March 16 that his end was approaching. He had borne intense suffering for weeks without complaint, and he did not give up hope to the very end.
"He was a brave soul. He slept through the night hoping not to wake; but he awoke in the morning.
"It was blowing a blizzard. Oates said: 'I am just going outside, and I may be some time.' He went out into the blizzard, and we have not seen him since.
"We knew that Oates was walking to his death, but though we tried to dissuade him, we knew it was the act of a brave man and an English gentleman."']
ON THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN VERSE AND PROSE
Wednesday, February 26
You will forgive me, Gentlemen, that having in my second lecture encouraged you to the practice of verse as well as of prose, I seize the very next opportunity to warn you against confusing the two, which differ on some points essentially, and always so as to demand separate rules—or rather (since I am shy of the word 'rules') a different concept of what the writer should aim at and what avoid. But you must, pray, understand that what follows will be more useful to the tiro in prose than to the tiro in verse; for while even a lecturer may help you to avoid writing prose in the manner of Milton, only the gods—and they hardly—can cure a versifier of being prosaic.
We started upon a promise to do without scientific definitions; and in drawing some distinctions to-day between verse and prose I shall use only a few rough ones; good, as I hope, so far as they go; not to be found contrary to your scientific ones, if ever, under another teacher you attain to them; yet for the moment used only as guides to practice, and pretending to be no more.
Thus I go some way—though by no means all the way—towards defining literature when I remind you that its very name (litterae—letters) implies the written rather than the spoken word; that, for example, however closely they approximate one to the other as we trace them back, and even though we trace them back to identical beginnings, the Writer—the Man of Letters—does to-day differ from the Orator. There was a time, as you know, when the poet and the historian had no less than the orator, and in the most literal sense, to 'get a hearing.' Nay, he got it with more pains: for the orator had his senate-house or his law-court provided, whereas Thespis jogged to fairs in a cart, and the Muse of History, like any street acrobat, had to collect her own crowd. Herodotus in search of a public packed his history in a portmanteau, carted it to Olympia, found a favourable 'pitch,' as we should say, and wooed an audience to him much as on a racecourse nowadays do those philanthropic gentlemen who ply a dubious trade with three half-crowns and a gold chain. It would cost us an effort to imagine the late Bishop Stubbs thus trying his fortune with a bag full of select Charters at Queen's Club or at Kempton Park, and exerting his lungs to retrieve a crowd that showed some disposition to edge off towards the ring or the rails.
The historian's conditions have improved; and like any other sensible man he has advanced his claim with them, and revised his method. He writes nowadays with his eye on the printed book. He may or may not be a dull fellow: being a dull fellow, he may or may not be aware of it; but at least he knows that, if you lay him upside down on your knee, you can on awaking pick him up, resume your absorption, and even turn back some pages to discover just where or why your interest flagged: whereas a Hellene who deserted Herodotus, having a bet on the Pentathlon, not only missed what he missed but missed it for life.
The invention of print, of course, has made all, or almost all, the difference.
I do not forget that the printed book—the written word—presupposes a speaking voice, and must ever have at its back some sense in us of the speaking voice. But in writing prose nowadays, while always recollecting that prose has its origin in speech—even as it behoves us to recollect that Homer intoned the Iliad to the harp and Sappho plucked her passion from the lyre—we have to take things as they are. Except Burns, Heine, Beranger (with Moore, if you will), and you will find it hard to compile in all the lyrical poetry of the last 150 years a list of half a dozen first-class or even second-class bards who wrote primarily to be sung. It may help you to estimate how far lyrical verse has travelled from its origins if you will but remind yourselves that a sonnet and a sonata were once the same thing, and that a ballad meant a song accompanied by dancing—the word ballata having been specialised down, on the one line to the ballet, in which Mademoiselle Genee or the Russian performers will dance for our delight, using no words at all; on the other to "Sir Patrick Spens" or "Clerk Saunders," 'ballads' to which no one in his senses would dream of pointing a toe.
Thus with Verse the written (or printed) word has pretty thoroughly ousted the speaking voice and its auxiliaries—the pipe, the lute, the tabor, the chorus with its dance movements and swaying of the body; and in a quieter way much the same thing is happening to prose. In the Drama, to be sure, we still write (or we should) for the actors, reckon upon their intonations, their gestures, lay account with the tears in the heroine's eyes and her visible beauty: though even in the Drama to-day you may detect a tendency to substitute dialectic for action and paragraphs for the [Greek: Stichomuthia], the sharp outcries of passion in its give-and-take. Again we still—some of us—deliver sermons from pulpits and orations in Parliament or upon public platforms. Yet I am told that the vogue of the sermon is passing; and (by journalists) that the leading article has largely superseded it. On that point I can offer you no personal evidence; but of civil oratory I am very sure that the whole pitch has been sensibly lowered since the day of Chatham, Burke, Sheridan; since the day of Brougham and Canning; nay, ever since the day of Bright, Gladstone, Disraeli. Burke, as everyone knows, once brought down a Brummagem dagger and cast it on the floor of the House. Lord Chancellor Brougham in a peroration once knelt to the assembled peers, 'Here the noble lord inclined his knee to the Woolsack' is, if I remember, the stage direction in Hansard. Gentlemen, though in the course of destiny one or another of you may be called upon to speak daggers to the Treasury Bench, I feel sure you will use none; while, as for Lord Brougham's genuflexions, we may agree that to emulate them would cost Lord Haldane an effort. These and even far less flagrant or flamboyant tricks of virtuosity have gone quite out of fashion. You could hardly revive them to-day and keep that propriety to which I exhorted you a fortnight ago. They would be out of tune; they would grate upon the nerves; they would offend against the whole style of modern oratory, which steadily tends to lower its key, to use the note of quiet business-like exposition, to adopt more and more the style of written prose.
Let me help your sense of this change, by a further illustration. Burke, as we know, was never shy of declaiming—even of declaiming in a torrent—when he stood up to speak: but almost as little was he shy of it when he sat down to write. If you turn to his "Letters on the Regicide Peace" —no raw compositions, but penned in his latter days and closing, or almost closing, upon that tenderest of farewells to his country—
In this good old House, where everything at least is well aired, I shall be content to put up my fatigued horses and here take a bed for the long night that begins to darken upon me—
if, I say, you turn to these "Letters on the Regicide Peace" and consult the title-page, you will find them ostensibly addressed to 'a Member of the present Parliament'; and the opening paragraphs assume that Burke and his correspondent are in general agreement. But skim the pages and your eyes will be arrested again and again by sentences like these:—
The calculation of profit in all such wars is false. On balancing the account of such wars, ten thousand hogsheads of sugar are purchased at ten thousand times their price—the blood of man should never be shed but to redeem the blood of man. It is well shed for our family, for our friends, for our God, for our country, for our kind. The rest is vanity; the rest is crime.
Magnificent, truly! But your ear has doubtless detected the blank verse—three iambic lines:—
Are purchased at ten thousand times their price... Be shed but to redeem the blood of man... The rest is vanity; the rest is crime.
Again Burke catches your eye by rhetorical inversions:—
But too often different is rational conjecture from melancholy fact,
Well is it known that ambition can creep as well as soar,
Never, no never, did Nature say one thing and Wisdom say another ... Algiers is not near; Algiers is not powerful; Algiers is not our neighbour; Algiers is not infectious. Algiers, whatever it may be, is an old creation; and we have good data to calculate all the mischief to be apprehended from it. When I find Algiers transferred to Calais, I will tell you what I think of that point—
by quick staccato utterances, such as:—
And is this example nothing? It is everything. Example is the school of mankind, and they will learn at no other—
Our dignity? That is gone. I shall say no more about it. Light lie the earth on the ashes of English pride!
I say that the eye or ear, caught by such tropes, must (if it be critical) recognise them at once as rhetoric, as the spoken word masquerading under guise of the written. Burke may pretend to be seated, penning a letter to a worthy man who will read it in his slippers: but actually Burke is up and pacing his library at Beaconsfield, now striding from fire-place to window with hands clasped under his coat tails, anon pausing to fling out an arm with some familiar accustomed gesture in a House of Commons that knows him no more, towards a Front Bench peopled by shades. In fine the pretence is Cicero writing to Atticus, but the style is Cicero denouncing Catiline.
As such it is not for your imitation. Burke happened to be a genius, with a swoop and range of mind, as of language to interpret it, with a gift to enchant, a power to strike and astound, which together make him, to my thinking, the man in our literature most nearly comparable with Shakespeare. Others may be more to your taste; you may love others better: but no other two leave you so hopeless of discovering how it is done. Yet not for this reason only would I warn you against imitating either. For like all great artists they accepted their conditions and wrought for them, and those conditions have changed. When Jacques wished to recite to an Elizabethan audience that
All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players—
or Hamlet to soliloquise
To be, or not to be: that is the question—
the one did not stretch himself under a property oak, nor did the other cast himself back in a chair and dangle his legs. They both advanced boldly from the stage, down a narrow platform provided for such recitations and for that purpose built boldly forward into the auditorium, struck an attitude, declaimed the purple passage, and returned, covered with applause, to continue the action of the play. This was the theatrical convention; this the audience expected and understood; for this Shakespeare wrote. Similarly, though the device must have been wearing thin even in 1795-6, Burke cast a familiar epistle into language proper to be addressed to Mr Speaker of the House of Commons. Shakespeare wrote, as Burke wrote, for his audience; and their glory is that they have outlasted the conditions they observed. Yet it was by observing them that they gained the world's ear. Let us, who are less than they, beware of scorning to belong to our own time.
For my part I have a great hankering to see English Literature feeling back through these old modes to its origins. I think, for example, that if we studied to write verse that could really be sung, or if we were more studious to write prose that could be read aloud with pleasure to the ear, we should be opening the pores to the ancient sap; since the roots are always the roots, and we can only reinvigorate our growth through them.
Unhappily, however, I cannot preach this just yet; for we are aiming at practice, and at Cambridge (they tell me) while you speak well, you write less expertly. A contributor to "The Cambridge Review," a fortnight ago, lamented this at length: so you will not set the aspersion down to me, nor blame me if these early lectures too officiously offer a kind of 'First Aid': that, while all the time eager to descant on the affinities of speech and writing, I dwell first on their differences; or that, in speaking of Burke, an author I adore only 'on this side idolatry,' I first present him in some aspects for your avoidance. Similarly I adore the prose of Sir Thomas Browne, yet should no more commend it to you for instant imitation than I could encourage you to walk with a feather in your cap and a sword under your gown. Let us observe proprieties.
To return to Burke.—At his most flagrant, in these "Letters on the Regicide Peace," he boldly raids Shakespeare. You are all, I doubt not, conversant with the Prologue to "Henry the Fifth":—
O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend The brightest heaven of invention! A kingdom for a stage, princes to act And monarchs to behold the swelling scene! Then should the warlike Harry, like himself, Assume the port of Mars: and at his heels, Leash'd in like hounds, should Famine, Sword and Fire Crouch for employment.
Well, this passage Burke, assuming his correspondent to be familiar with it, boldly claps into prose and inserts into a long diatribe against Pitt for having tamely submitted to the rebuffs of the French Directory. Thus it becomes:—
On that day it was thought he would have assumed the port of Mars: that he would bid to be brought forth from their hideous Kennel (where his scrupulous tenderness had too long immured them) those impatient dogs of War, whose fierce regards affright even the minister of vengeance that feeds them; that he would let them loose in Famine, Plagues and Death, upon a guilty race to whose frame and to all whose habit, Order, Peace, Religion and Virtue, are alien and abhorrent.
Now Shakespeare is but apologising for the shortcomings of his' play-house, whereas Burke is denouncing his country's shame and prophesying disaster to Europe. Yet do you not feel with me that while Shakespeare, using great words on the lowlier subject, contrives to make them appropriate, with Burke, writing on the loftier subject, the same or similar words have become tumid, turgid?
Why? I am sure that the difference lies not in the two men: nor is it all the secret, or even half the secret, that Burke is mixing up the spoken with the written word, using the one while pretending to use the other. That has carried us some way; but now let us take an important step farther. The root of the matter lies in certain essential differences between verse and prose. We will keep, if you please, to our rough practical definitions. Literature—the written word—is a permanent record of memorable speech; a record, at any rate, intended to be permanent. We set a thing down in ink—we print it in a book—because we feel it to be memorable, to be worth preserving. But to set this memorable speech down we must choose one of two forms, verse or prose; and I define verse to be a record in metre and rhythm, prose to be a record which, dispensing with metre (abhorring it indeed), uses rhythm laxly, preferring it to be various and unconstrained, so always that it convey a certain pleasure to the ear.
You observe that I avoid the term Poetry, over which the critics have waged, and still are waging, a war that promises to be endless. Is Walt Whitman a poet? Is the Song of Songs (which is not Solomon's)—is the Book of Job—are the Psalms—all of these as rendered in our Authorised Version of Holy Writ—are all of these poetry? Well 'yes,' if you want my opinion; and again 'yes,' I am sure. But truly on this field, though scores of great men have fought across it—Sidney, Shelley, Coleridge, Scaliger (I pour the names on you at random), Johnson, Wordsworth, the two Schlegels, Aristotle with Twining his translator, Corneille, Goethe, Warton, Whately, Hazlitt, Emerson, Hegel, Gummere—but our axles grow hot. Let us put on the brake: for in practice the dispute comes to very little: since literature is an art and treats scientific definitions as J. K. Stephen recommended. From them
It finds out what it cannot do, And then it goes and does it.
I am journeying, say, in the West of England. I cross a bridge over a stream dividing Devon from Cornwall. These two counties, each beautiful in its way, are quite unlike in their beauty: yet nothing happened as I stepped across the brook, and for a mile or two or even ten I am aware of no change. Sooner or later that change will break upon the mind and I shall be startled, awaking suddenly to a land of altered features. But at what turn of the road this will happen, just how long the small multiplied impressions will take to break into surmise, into conviction—that nobody can tell. So it is with poetry and prose. They are different realms, but between them lies a debatable land which a De Quincey or a Whitman or a Paul Fort or a Marinetti may attempt. I advise you who are beginners to keep well one side or other of the frontier, remembering that there is plenty of room and what happened to Tupper.
If we restrict ourselves to the terms 'verse' and 'prose,' we shall find the line much easier to draw. Verse is memorable speech set down in metre with strict rhythms; prose is memorable speech set down without constraint of metre and in rhythms both lax and various—so lax, so various, that until quite recently no real attempt has been made to reduce them to rule. I doubt, for my part, if they can ever be reduced to rule; and after a perusal of Professor Saintsbury's latest work, "A History of English Prose Rhythm," I am left doubting. I commend this book to you as one that clears up large patches of forest. No one has yet so well explained what our prose writers, generation after generation, have tried to do with prose: and he has, by the way, furnished us with a capital anthology—or, as he puts it, with 'divers delectable draughts of example.' But the road still waits to be driven. Seeking practical guidance—help for our present purpose—I note first that many a passage he scans in one way may as readily be scanned in another; that when he has finished with one and can say proudly with Wordsworth:—
I've measured it from side to side, 'Tis three feet long and two feet wide,
we still have a sensation of coming out (our good master with us) by that same door wherein we went; and I cannot as yet after arduous trial discover much profit in his table of feet—Paeons, Dochmiacs, Antispasts, Proceleusmatics and the rest—an Antispast being but an iamb followed by a trochee, and Proceleusmatic but two pyrrhics, or four consecutive short syllables—when I reflect that, your possible number of syllables being as many as five to a foot, you may label them (as Aristotle would say) until you come to infinity, where desire fails, without getting nearer any rule of application.
Let us respect a genuine effort of learning, though we may not detect its immediate profit. In particular let us respect whatever Professor Saintsbury writes, who has done such splendid work upon English verse-prosody. I daresay he would retort upon my impatience grandly enough, quoting Walt Whitman:—
I am the teacher of athletes; He that by me spreads a wider breast than my own proves the width of my own; He most honours my style who learns under it to destroy the teacher.
His speculations may lead to much in time; though for the present they yield us small instruction in the path we seek.
It is time we harked back to our own sign-posts. Verse is written in metre and strict rhythm; prose, without metre and with the freest possible rhythm. That distinction seems simple enough, but it carries consequences very far from simple. Let me give you an illustration taken almost at hazard from Milton, from the Second Book of "Paradise Regained":—
Up to a hill anon his steps he reared From whose high top to ken the prospect round, If cottage were in view, sheep-cote or herd; But cottage, herd, or sheep-cote, none he saw.
These few lines are verse, are obviously verse with the accent of poetry; while as obviously they are mere narrative and tell us of the simplest possible incident—how Christ climbed a hill to learn what could be seen from the top. Yet observe, line for line and almost word for word, how strangely they differ from prose. Mark the inversions: 'Up to a hill anon his steps he reared,' 'But cottage, herd, or sheep-cote, none he saw.' Mark next the diction—'his steps he reared.' In prose we should not rear our steps up the Gog-magog hills, or even more Alpine fastnesses; nor, arrived at the top, should we 'ken' the prospect round; we might 'con,' but should more probably 'survey' it. Even 'anon' is a tricky word in prose, though I deliberately palmed it off on you a few minutes ago. Mark thirdly the varied repetition, 'if cottage were in view, sheep-cote or herd—but cottage, herd, or sheep-cote, none he saw.' Lastly compare the whole with such an account as you or I or Cluvienus would write in plain prose:—
Thereupon he climbed a hill on the chance that the view from its summit might disclose some sign of human habitation—a herd, a sheep-cote, a cottage perhaps. But he could see nothing of the sort.
But you will ask, 'Why should verse and prose employ diction so different? Why should the one invert the order of words in a fashion not permitted to the other?' and I shall endeavour to answer these questions together with a third which, I dare say, you have sometimes been minded to put when you have been told—and truthfully told—by your manuals and histories, that when a nation of men starts making literature it invariably starts on the difficult emprise of verse, and goes on to prose as by an afterthought. Why should men start upon the more difficult form and proceed to the easier? It is not their usual way. In learning to skate, for instance, they do not cut figures before practising loose and easy propulsion.
The answer is fairly simple. Literature (once more) is a record of memorable speech; it preserves in words a record of such thoughts or of such deeds as we deem worth preserving. Now if you will imagine yourself a very primitive man, lacking paper or parchment; or a slightly less primitive, but very poor, man to whom the price of parchment and ink is prohibitive; you have two ways of going to work. You can carve your words upon trees or stones (a laborious process) or you can commit them to memory and carry them about in your head; which is cheaper and handier. For an illustration, you find it useful, anticipating the tax-collector, to know how many days there are in the current month. But further you find it a nuisance and a ruinous waste of time to run off to the tribal tree or monolith whenever the calculation comes up; so you invent a formula, and you cast that formula into verse for the simple reason that verse, with its tags, alliterations, beat of syllables, jingle of rhymes (however your tribe has chosen to invent it), has a knack, not possessed by prose, of sticking in your head. You do not say, 'Quick thy tablets, memory! Let me see—January has 31 days, February 28 days, March 31 days, April 30 days.' You invent a verse:—
Thirty days hath September, April, June and November...
Nay, it has been whispered to me, Gentlemen, that in this University some such process of memorising in verse has been applied by bold bad irreverently-minded men even to the "Evidences" of our cherished Paley.
This, you will say, is mere verse, and not yet within measurable distance of poetry. But wait! The men who said the more memorable things, or sang them—the men who recounted deeds and genealogies of heroes, plagues and famines, assassinations, escapes from captivity, wanderings and conquests of the clan, all the 'old, unhappy, far-off things and battles long ago'—the men who sang these things for their living, for a supper, a bed in the great hall, and something in their wallet to carry them on to the next lordship—these were gentlemen, scops, bards, minstrels (call them how you will), a professional class who had great need of a full repertory in a land swarming with petty chieftains, and to adapt their strains to the particular hall of entertainment. It would never do, for example, to flatter the prowess of the Billings in the house of the Hoppings, their hereditary foes, or to bore the Wokings (who lived where the crematorium now is) with the complicated genealogy of the Tootings: for this would have been to miss that appropriateness which I preached to you in my second lecture as a preliminary rule of good writing. Nay, when the Billings intermarried with the Tootings—when the Billings took to cooing, so to speak—a hasty blend of excerpts would be required for the "Epithalamium." So it was all a highly difficult business, needing adaptability, a quick wit, a goodly stock of songs, a retentive memory and every artifice to assist it. Take "Widsith," for example, the 'far-travelled man.' He begins:—
Widsith spake: he unlocked his word-hoard.
So he had a hoard of words, you see: and he must have needed them, for he goes on:—
Forthon ic maeg singan and secgan spell, Maenan fore mengo in meoduhealle, Hu me cynegode cystum dohten. Ic waes mid Hunum and mid Hreth-gotum, Mid Sweom and mid Geatum, and mid Suth-Denum. Mid Wenlum ic waes and mid Waernum and mid Wicingum. Mid Gefthum ic waes and mid Winedum....
(Therefore I can sing and tell a tale, recount in the Mead Hall, how men of high race gave rich gifts to me. I was with Huns and with Hreth Goths, with the Swedes, and with the Geats, and with the South Danes; I was with the Wenlas, and with the Waernas, and with the Vikings; I was with the Gefthas and with the Winedae....)
and so on for a full dozen lines. I say that the memory of such men must have needed every artifice to help it: and the chief artifice to their hand was one which also delighted the ears of their listeners. They sang or intoned to the harp.
There you get it, Gentlemen. I have purposely, skimming a wide subject, discarded much ballast; but you may read and scan and read again, and always you must come back to this, that the first poets sang their words to the harp or to some such instrument: and just there lies the secret why poetry differs from prose. The moment you introduce music you let in emotion with all its sway upon speech. From that moment you change everything, down to the order of the words—the natural order of the words: and (remember this) though the harp be superseded, the voice never forgets it. You may take up a Barrack Room Ballad of Kipling's, and it is there, though you affect to despise it for a banjo or concertina:—
Ford—ford—ford of Kabul river...
'Bang, whang, whang goes the drum, tootle-te-tootle the fife.' From the moment men introduced music they made verse a thing essentially separate from prose, from its natural key of emotion to its natural ordering of words. Do not for one moment imagine that when Milton writes:—
But cottage, herd, or sheep-cote, none he saw.
Of man's first disobedience and the fruit Of that forbidden tree...
—where you must seek down five lines before you come to the verb, and then find it in the imperative mood—do not suppose for a moment that he is here fantastically shifting words, inverting phrases out of their natural order. For, as St Paul might say, there is a natural order of prose and there is a natural order of verse. The natural order of prose is:—
I was born in the year 1632, in the City of York, of a good family, though not of that county; my father being a foreigner of Bremen, who settled first in Hull.—[Defoe.]
Further I avow to your Highness that with these eyes I have beheld the person of William Wooton, B.D., who has written a good sizeable volume against a friend of your Governor (from whom, alas! he must therefore look for little favour) in a most gentlemanly style, adorned with the utmost politeness and civility.—[Swift.]
The natural order of poetry is:—
Thus with the year Seasons return, but not to me returns Day, or the sweet approach of Ev'n or Morn, Or sight of vernal bloom, or Summer's Rose, Or flocks, or herds, or human face divine.
But cottage, herd, or sheep-cote, none he saw.
and this basal difference you must have clear in your minds before, in dealing with prose or verse, you can practise either with profit or read either with intelligent delight.
ON THE CAPITAL DIFFICULTY OF VERSE
Thursday, April 17
In our last lecture, Gentlemen, we discussed the difference between verse, or metrical writing, and prose. We traced that difference (as you will remember) to Music—to the harp, the lyre, the dance, the chorus, all those first necessary accompaniments which verse never quite forgets; and we concluded that, as Music ever introduces emotion, which is indeed her proper and only means of persuading, so the natural language of verse will be keyed higher than the natural language of prose; will be keyed higher throughout and even for its most ordinary purposes—as for example, to tell us that So-and-so sailed to Troy with so many ships.
I grant you that our steps to this conclusion were lightly and rapidly taken: yet the stepping-stones are historically firm. Verse does precede prose in literature; verse does start with musical accompaniment; musical accompaniment does introduce emotion; and emotion does introduce an order of its own into speech. I grant you that we have travelled far from the days when a prose-writer, Herodotus, labelled the books of his history by the names of the nine Muses. I grant you that if you go to the Vatican and there study the statues of the Muses (noble, but of no early date) you may note that Calliope, Muse of the Epic—unlike her sisters Euterpe, Erato, Thalia—holds for symbol no instrument of music, but a stylus and a tablet. Yet the earlier Calliope, the Calliope of Homer, was a Muse of Song.