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13 January, 2012
The Glory Of English Prose|
8. Jeremy Taylor
by Coleridge, Stephen
|My Dear Antony,
Milton, of whom I wrote in my last letter, was five years older
than Jeremy Taylor, of whom I am going to write to-day. The
latter's writings differ very much from Milton's, although they
were contemporaries for the whole of the former's life.
From the grave and august periods of Milton to the sweet beauty
of Jeremy Taylor is as the passing from out the austere halls of
Justice to lovely fields full of flowers.
Your and my great kinsman, Coleridge, pronounced Jeremy Taylor
to be the most eloquent of all divines; and Coleridge was a great
Indeed, there seems to dwell permanently in Jeremy Taylor's mind
a compelling sweetness and serenity.
His parables, though sometimes perhaps almost of set purpose
fanciful, are always full of beauty.
How can anyone withhold sympathy and affection from the writer
of such a passage as this:—
"But as, when the sun approaches towards the gates of the
morning, he first opens a little eye of heaven, and sends away the
spirits of darkness, and gives light to a cock, and calls up the
lark to matins, and by and by gilds the fringes of a cloud, and
peeps over the eastern hills, thrusting out his golden horns, like
those which decked the brows of Moses when he was forced to wear a
veil because himself had seen the face of God; and still, while a
man tells the story, the sun gets up higher, till he shows a fair
face and a full light, and then he shines one whole day, under a
cloud often, and sometimes weeping great and little showers, and
sets quickly, so is a man's reason and his life."
"No man can tell but he that loves his children, how many
delicious accents make a man's heart dance in the pretty
conversation of those dear pledges; their childishness, their
stammering, their little angers, their innocence, their
imperfections, their necessities, are so many little emanations of
joy and comfort to him that delights in their persons and society;
but he that loves not his wife and children, feeds a lioness at
home, and broods a nest of sorrows; and blessing itself cannot make
him happy; so that all the commandments of God enjoining a man to
'love his wife' are nothing but so many necessities and capacities
of joy. 'She that is loved, is safe; and he that loves, is joyful,'
Love is a union of all things excellent; it contains in it
proportion and satisfaction, and rest and confidence."
"So have I seen a lark rising from his bed of grass, and soaring
upwards, singing as he rises, and hopes to get to heaven, and climb
above the clouds; but the poor bird was beaten back with the loud
sighings of an eastern wind, and his motion made irregular and
inconstant, descending more at every breath of the tempest, than it
could recover by the liberation and frequent weighing of his wings;
till the little creature was forced to sit down and pant, and stay
till the storm was over; and then it made a prosperous flight, and
did rise and sing, as if it had learned music and motion from an
angel, as he passed sometimes through the air, about his ministries
here below; so is the prayer of a good man."
"I am fallen into the hands of publicans and sequestrators, and
they have taken all from me; what now? Let me look about me. They
have left me the sun and moon, fire and water, a loving wife, and
many friends to pity me, and some to relieve me, and I can still
discourse; and unless I list, they have not taken away my merry
countenance and my cheerful spirit, and a good conscience; they
still have left me the Providence of God, and all the promises of
the Gospel, and my religion, and my hopes of heaven, and my charity
to them too; and still I sleep and digest, I eat and drink, I read
and meditate; I can walk in my neighbor's pleasant fields, and see
the varieties of natural beauties, and delight in all that in which
God delights, that is, in virtue and wisdom, in the whole creation,
and in God Himself."
Here, Antony, is true wisdom. True, indeed, is it that no one
can take away from you your merry countenance, your cheerful
spirit, and your good conscience unless you choose; keep all three,
Antony, throughout your life, and you will be happy yourself and
make everyone about you happy, and that is to make a little heaven
of your earthly home.
Your loving old