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The Glory of English Prose / Letters to My Grandson By Stephen Coleridge Characters: 2964

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

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


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