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The Glory Of English Prose|
34. King George The Fifth
by Coleridge, Stephen
|My Dear Antony,
I will now quote to you one other master of splendid
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.
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.
"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
"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
"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
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
Your loving old