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The Glory of English Prose / Letters to My Grandson By Stephen Coleridge Characters: 2801

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

My Dear Antony,

Edmund Burke was born in 1730, and therefore was twenty-one years younger than Dr. Johnson, and he survived him thirteen years. He was a great prose writer, and although some of his speeches in Parliament that have come down to us possess every quality of solid argument and lofty eloquence, there must have been something lacking in his delivery and voice, for he so frequently failed to rivet the attention of the House, and so often addressed a steadily dwindling audience, that the wits christened him "the dinner bell."

All men of letters, however, acknowledge Burke as a true master of a very great style.

We see in him the first signs of a breaking away from the universal restraint of the older writers, and of the surging up of expressed emotion.

His splendid tribute to Marie Antoinette and his panegyric of the lost age of chivalry are familiar to all students of English prose.

"It is now (1791) sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the Queen of France, then the Dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in glittering like the morning star, full of life, and splendour, and joy. Oh! what a revolution! and what a heart must I have, to contemplate without emotion that el

evation and that fall! Little did I dream when she added titles of veneration to those of enthusiastic, distant, respectful love, that she should ever be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against disgrace concealed in that bosom; little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honour and of cavaliers. I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalry has gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished for ever.

"Never, never more, shall we behold that generous loyalty to sex and rank, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom. The unbought grace of life, the cheap defence of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise is gone!

"It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honour, which felt a stain like a wound; which inspired courage while it mitigated ferocity; which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil, by losing all its grossness."

This is a splendid and world-famous passage well worth committing to memory.

Your loving old


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