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13 January, 2012
The Glory Of English Prose|
by Coleridge, Stephen
|My Dear Antony,
I have come now to the end of my citations for the present. My
object, Antony, has been to rouse in your heart, if I can, a love,
admiration, and reverence for the wonders to be found in the
treasure-house of English prose literature.
I have only opened a little door here and there, so that you can
peep in and see the visions of splendour within.
Some day perhaps, when you have explored for yourself, you may
feel surprised that in these letters I have quoted nothing from Sir
John Eliot, or Addison, or Scott, or Thackeray, or Charles Lamb, or
De Quincey, or Hazlitt, or other kings and princes of style
innumerable. Many, many writers whom I have not quoted in these
letters have adorned everything they touched, but do not seem to me
to reach the snow-line or rise into great and moving eloquence.
Charles Lamb, for example, never descends from his equable and
altogether pleasing level, far above the plain of the commonplace,
but neither does he reach up to the lofty altitudes of the lonely
peaks; and if I began to quote from him, I see no obstacle to my
quoting his entire works! And of Addison, Johnson wrote, "His page
is always luminous, but never blazes in unexpected splendour"; and
he adds, "Whoever wishes to attain an English style, familiar but
not coarse, and elegant but not ostentatious, must give his days
and nights to the volumes of Addison."
In selecting such passages as I have in these letters I have
necessarily followed my own taste, and taste—as I said when I
first began writing to you—is illusive. I could do no more
than cite that which makes my own heart beat faster from a
compelling sense of its nobility and beauty.
When I was young, Antony, I lived long in my father's house
among his twelve thousand books, with his scholarly mind as my
companion, and his exact memory as my guide; for more than a
quarter of a century since those days I have lived in the more
modest library of my own collecting, and have long learnt how much
fine literature there is that I have never read, and now can never
read. But, Antony, you may not find, in these crowded days, even so
much time for reading, or so much repose for study as I have found,
and therefore it is that I have offered you in these letters the
preferences of my lifetime, even though it has been the lifetime of
one who makes no claim to be a literary authority.
As you look back at those from whom you have sprung, you will
see that for five generations they have been men of
letters—many distinguished, and one world-famous; and though
I myself am but a puny link in the chain, yet I may perhaps afford
you the opportunity of hitching your wagon by and by to the star
that has for so long ruled the destinies of our house.
Farewell, then, dear Antony; and if "the dear God who loveth us"
listens to the benedictions of the old upon their children's
children, may He guide and bless you to your life's end.
Your loving old