图书图片
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

argument, to be sure, the appeal lies always
towards an assumed seat of absolute justice to
which even in the Law Courts every plea is
addressed; Persuasion is, after all, as Matthew
Arnold says, the only true intellectual process, ,
or as Socrates, in prison under sentence of death
for having failed in it, so nobly proclaimed,
the only right way of reforming a common-
wealth.

But persuasion, whether in narrative or in
argument, is a long process, insinuating, piling
up proof ; and Prose its medium is therefore
naturally long. So we find ourselves confronted
with the material, almost brutal, question, Can
any anthology of short passages rightly illustrate
an art of which the property is to be long?
From this the Devil's Advocate easily goes on
to say, 'Prose, being what you allow it to be, on
that admission abhors the purple patch. You
have admitted many purple patches. Please
you, justify yourself.' To this I might answer
that the purple patches in this book are
actually few in comparison with the mass of its
contents : I have very sedulously included all
sorts of our prose, choosing often a passage
quite pedestrian. Yet the answer would not
be quite honest : for some things are here
which all men have applauded, and (frankly)
because they have been so applauded as well

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

2830

a 3

ix

as because my own judgement applauds. Ralegh on Death, for example, some pages of Sir Thomas Browne, Lincoln's Gettysburg Oration. As I wrote in my preface to the Oxford Book of English Verse, I have tried to choose the best, and the best is the best though a hundred judges have declared it so.

But I have a bolder word to say for the purple patch. One might, in servility to a catchword of criticism, plead that from a sermon of Donne's, a tract of Milton's, an oration by Chatham or Burke, one must of necessity take the culmen, only referring the reader to the winding ways up the heights from which like eagles the impassioned phrases launch themselves. I think that, upon examination, literature--which, after all, is memorable speech—will be found in practice very much more on the side of the purple patch than the generality supposes nowadays. For certain Thucydides sewed on these patches deliberately : so (I think) did Plato, albeit more delicately as a philosopher electing to be a man of the world : so certainly did Cicero : so as certainly in the line of our own prose and in their turn did Malory, Donne, Milton, Browne, Berkeley, De Quincey, Hazlitt

to pursue no farther. Nay, if we go right back, it is arguable that Prose was born in the purple’: that nine-tenths of the speech

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

making in the Iliad itself, for example, is not poetry at all but rhetoric strung into hexameters; a metre which the tragedians discarded for iambics, 'the most conversational form of verse'. Aristotle himself never troubled to define prose, the medium in which he wrote as it happened to him. In the Poetics he just indicates that there is such a thing ; that hitherto it has lacked a name; and so (without supplying it) he passes on.

He nowhere separates prose from poetry, though we may infer a separation. But in the Rhetoric (Book iii) the philosopher, while (man of science as he was) suggesting that bald words, such as he habitually used, are the medium for some definite and ascertained knowledge, does admit the existence of a medium persuading men's opinion; and, while belittling it somewhat, allows its right to cultivate oeuvórns or—shall we call it?—the grand style. The man, after all, could not escape

the witchery, thenoblecharm of Plato, his beloved master. Now we may reasonably argue, I think, that men's opinions about things—their speculations, memories, aspirations, glimpses of the unseen and infinite-are actually of more importance, of more meaning to mankind than any amount of ascertained fact, that all ascertained fact exit in mysterium; that when one generation of it has been swallowed, or more frequently ejected, by the next, still man's eternal speculation abides and must abide; and that this is why, while books of exact science may be antiquated by new ones, we can never spare from our shelves a Shakespeare or a Dryden or even a Gibbon. But my immediate point is that even the most austerely practical of philosophers, with his eye intent on prose, admits the value of emotion and the purple patch.

For a last difficulty of the Prose anthologist (or the last to be mentioned here): he can by no contrivance make his book attract the eye as a Verse anthology—with its glancing differences of metre, its stanzas, its long and short lines of type—so easily and naturally does. His type must sit blockishly on the page, broken only by paragraphs or by quotations. There is no help for him here.

In face of all this, on what can he rely even for hope ? Simply, I believe, on the courage of a a conviction that of his acquaintance with English prose and by driving at practice in the English way, he (or somebody on the strength of an idea) can make a serviceable and portable volume which shall remind not only many stay-at-home quiet-living folk but many an Englishman on his travels and still better) many a one in exile

[ocr errors]

on far and solitary outposts of duty, of the nobility of this Island, its lineage and its language. I claim here, and with all emphasis, that my book is not one of Specimens : that a critic will mistake its purpose who starts judging it by the amount of space, the number

, of extracts, assigned to so-and-so; as that he may likely be mistaken in deeming me ignorant of an author not included or, in his opinion, insufficiently represented as against one of acknowledged importance. Mine is not an effort at 'class-listing '-a method always repulsive to

me in dealing with literature.

The anthologist, as I understand his trade, must have a ' notion of his own, a' pattern in the carpet', though he cannot easily define his pattern. If pressed, I should confess to one or two things.

To begin with, I have tried to make this book as representatively English as I might ; with less thought of robust and resounding 'patriotism' than of that subdued and hallowed emotion which, for example, should possess any man's thoughts standing before the tomb of the Black Prince in Canterbury Cathedral: a sense of wonderful history written silently in books and buildings, all persuading that we are heirs of more spiritual wealth than, may be, we have surmised or hitherto begun to divine.

« 上一页继续 »