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The Glory Of English Prose
King George The Fifth
by Coleridge, Stephen


My Dear Antony,

I will now quote to you one other master of splendid English.

Not every temporal sovereign of these realms has deserved a throne among the kings of literature. James the First was a poet of some merit; Charles the First wrote and spoke with a fine distinction; Queen Victoria's letters to her subjects were models of dignified and kindly simplicity; but to King George the Fifth by the grace of God it has been reserved to give utterance to what I believe to be the most noble and uplifting address ever delivered by a king to his people.

From the day of his accession King George has been confronted with trials and troubles enough to daunt the stoutest heart, and none of us can plumb the depth of anguish that must have been his through the awful years of the Great War. He has been tried and proved in the fierce fires of adversity, and has emerged ennobled by pain, and dowered by sorrow with a gift of expression that has placed him among the masters of the glory of English prose.

On the 13th day of May 1922 he concluded a tour of the cemeteries in France at Terlinchthun, where there stands on the cliffs over-looking the Channel a monument to Napoleon and his Grand Army, and around it now lie the innumerable English dead.

Earlier in his pilgrimage Marshal Foch and Lord Haig had in his presence clasped hands, and the King with a fine gesture had placed his own right hand upon their clasped ones and said, "Amis toujours!" We are told that, "going up to the Cross of Sacrifice, the King looked out over the closely marshalled graves to the sea, and back towards the woods and fields of the Canche Valley where Montreuil stands, and seemed reluctant to leave."

At last he turned, and, standing before the great Cross of Sacrifice, he spoke from his heart words that those of us, Antony, who love our country and the glory of its language will cherish while we live:—
"For the past few days I have been on a solemn pilgrimage in honour of a people who died for all free men.

"At the close of that pilgrimage, on which I followed ways already marked by many footsteps of love and pride and grief, I should like to send a message to all who have lost those dear to them in the Great War, and in this the Queen joins me to-day, amidst these surroundings so wonderfully typical of that single-hearted assembly of nations and of races which form our Empire. For here, in their last quarters, lie sons of every portion of that Empire, across, as it were, the threshold of the Mother Island which they guarded, that Freedom might be saved in the uttermost ends of the earth.

"For this, a generation of our manhood offered itself without question, and almost without the need of a summons. Those proofs of virtue, which we honour here to-day, are to be found throughout the world and its waters—since we can truly say that the whole circuit of the earth is girdled with the graves of our dead. Beyond the stately cemeteries of France, across Italy, through Eastern Europe in well-nigh unbroken chain they stretch, passing over the holy Mount of Olives itself to the furthest shores of the Indian and Pacific Oceans—from Zeebrugge to Coronel, from Dunkirk to the hidden wildernesses of East Africa.

"But in this fair land of France, which sustained the utmost fury of the long strife, our brothers are numbered, alas! by hundreds of thousands.

"They lie in the keeping of a tried and generous friend, a resolute and chivalrous comrade-in-arms, who with ready and quick sympathy has set aside for ever the soil in which they sleep, so that we ourselves and our descendants may for all time reverently tend and preserve their resting-places.

"And here, at Terlinchthun, the shadow of his monument falling almost across their graves, the greatest of French soldiers—of all soldiers—stands guard over them. And this is just, for side by side with the descendants of his incomparable armies they defended his land in defending their own.

"Never before in history have a people thus dedicated and maintained individual memorials to their fallen, and, in the course of my pilgrimage, I have many times asked myself whether there can be more potent advocates of peace upon earth through the years to come than this massed multitude of silent witnesses to the desolation of war. And I feel that, so long as we have faith in God's purposes, we cannot but believe that the existence of these visible memorials will eventually serve to draw all peoples together in sanity and self-control, even as it has already set the relations between our Empire and our Allies on the deep-rooted bases of a common heroism and a common agony.

"Standing beneath this Cross of Sacrifice, facing the great Stone of Remembrance, and compassed by these sternly simple headstones, we remember, and must charge our children to remember, that as our dead were equal in sacrifice, so are they equal in honour, for the greatest and the least of them have proved that sacrifice and honour are no vain things, but truths by which the world lives.

"Many of the cemeteries I have visited in the remoter and still desolate districts of this sorely stricken land, where it has not yet been possible to replace the wooden crosses by headstones, have been made into beautiful gardens which are lovingly cared for by comrades of the war.

"I rejoice I was fortunate enough to see these in the spring, when the returning pulse of the year tells of unbroken life that goes forward in the face of apparent loss and wreckage; and I fervently pray that, both as nations and individuals, we may so order our lives after the ideals for which our brethren died that we may be able to meet their gallant souls once more, humbly but unashamed."
Hard indeed must it be for any Englishman whose heart is quick within his bosom not to feel it beat faster with thanksgiving and pride as he reads the flawless periods of this glorious speech.

As the final word of consolation, sanctification, and benediction, closing the awful agony of the greatest of all wars, preserve, Antony, this magnificent threnody in your memory imperishable.

Your loving old
G.P.

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