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The Glory Of English Prose
Robert Hall
by Coleridge, Stephen


My Dear Antony,

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

In 1796, Coleridge, in a letter [1] to a Mr. Flower, who was a publisher at Cambridge, wrote:—
"I hope Robert Hall is well. Why is he idle? I mean towards the public. We want such men to rescue this enlightened age from general irreligion."
I suppose Robert Hall is a name known to but few in these days, but at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries his fame was great and deserved.

As a divine, dowered with the gift of inspired eloquence, Coleridge estimated his powers as second only to those of Jeremy Taylor. When Napoleon was at the supreme height of his conquests, and England alone of European countries still stood erect, uninvaded and undismayed, a company of soldiers attended Robert Hall's place of worship on the eve of their departure to Spain. The occasion was memorable and moving, and the preacher's splendid periods deserve to be preserved from oblivion:—
"By a series of criminal enterprises, by the successes of guilty ambition, the liberties of Europe have been gradually extinguished; the subjugation of Holland, Switzerland, and the free towns of Germany, has completed that catastrophe; and we are the only people in the Eastern Hemisphere who are in possession of equal laws and a free constitution. Freedom, driven from every spot on the Continent, has sought an asylum in a country which she always chose for her favorite abode; but she is pursued even here, and threatened with destruction. The inundations of lawless power, after covering the whole earth, threaten to follow us here, and we are most exactly, most critically placed in the only aperture where it can be successfully repelled, in the Thermopylæ of the universe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Then shall the strong man be as tow, and the maker of it as a spark; and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them."
We, who have just emerged, shattered indeed and reeling, from another and yet more awful combat for freedom, can the better extend our sympathy to those forefathers of ours situated in like case, and can imagine with what beating hearts they must have listened to so magnificent a call to arms as this; commingling prayer, exhortation, and benediction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When you are old, Antony, and this greatest of all wars has become part of England's history, you will be proud and happy to remember that your own father, at the first call for volunteers, laid down the pencil and scale of his peaceful profession, went out to fight for his country in the trenches in France, was wounded almost to death, and was saved only by the skill and devotion of one of the greatest surgeons of the day. [2] All the best blood of England, Scotland, and Ireland went marching together to defend the freedom of the world, and upon their hearts were engraven the glorious words:—
"Blessed be the Lord my strength, which teacheth my hands to war and my fingers to fight."
May such a call never come to our beloved country again! But if it does, Antony, I know where you will be found without need of exhortations from me.

Your loving old
G.P.

[1]
Now in my library.—S.C.

[2]
Sir Arbuthnot Lane.

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