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The Glory Of English Prose|
16. 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  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
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
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.
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
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.  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
Now in my library.—S.C.
Sir Arbuthnot Lane.