Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch > On the Art of Writing > II. The Practice of Writing
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Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (1863–1944).  On the Art of Writing.  1916.

II.  The Practice of Writing

Wednesday, February 12


WE found, Gentlemen, towards the close of our first lecture, that the argument had drawn us, as by a double chain, up to the edge of a bold leap, over which I deferred asking you to take the plunge with me. Yet the plunge must be taken, and to-day I see nothing for it but to harden our hearts.   1
  Well, then, I propose to you that, English Literature being (as we agreed) an Art, with a living and therefore improvable language for its medium or vehicle, a part—and no small part—of our business is to practise it. Yes, I seriously propose to you that here in Cambridge we practise writing: that we practise it not only for our own improvement, but to make, or at least try to make, appropriate, perspicuous, accurate, persuasive writing a recognisable hall-mark of anything turned out by our English School. By all means let us study the great writers of the past for their own sakes; but let us study them for our guidance; that we, in our turn, having (it is to be hoped) something to say in our span of time, say it worthily, not dwindling out the large utterance of Shakespeare or of Burke. Portraits of other great ones look down on you in your college halls: but while you are young and sit at the brief feast, what avails their serene gaze if it do not lift up your hearts and movingly persuade you to match your manhood to its inheritance?   2
  I protest, Gentlemen, that if our eyes had not been sealed, as with wax, by the pedagogues of whom I spoke a fortnight ago, this one habit of regarding our own literature as a hortus siccus, this our neglect to practise good writing as the constant auxiliary of an Englishman’s liberal education, would be amazing to you seated here to-day as it will be starkly incredible to the future historian of our times. Tell me, pray; if it concerned Painting—an art in which Englishmen boast a record far briefer, far less distinguished—what would you think of a similar acquiescence in the past, a like haste to presume the dissolution of aptitude and to close accounts, a like precipitancy to divorce us from the past, to rob the future of hope and even the present of lively interest? Consider, for reproof of these null men, the Discourses addressed (in a pedantic age, too) by Sir Joshua Reynolds to the Members and Students of the Royal Academy. He has (as you might expect) enough to say of Tintoretto, of Titian, of Caracci, and of the duty of studying their work with patience, with humility. But why does he exhort his hearers to con them?—Why, because he is all the time driving at practice. Hear how he opens his second Discourse (his first to the Students). After congratulating the prize-winners of 1769, he desires ‘to lead them into such a course of study as may render their future progress answerable to their past improvement’; and the great man goes on:—
          I flatter myself that from the long experience I have had, and the necessary assiduity with which I have pursued these studies in which like you I have been engaged, I shall be acquitted of vanity in offering some hints to your consideration. They are indeed in a great degree founded upon my own mistakes in the same pursuit.…
Mark the noble modesty of that! To resume—
          In speaking to you of the Theory of the Art, I shall only consider it as it has relation to the method of your studies.
And then he proceeds to preach the Old Masters.—But how?—why?—to what end? Does he recite lists of names, dates, with formulae concerning styles? He does nothing of the sort. Does he recommend his old masters for copying, then?—for mere imitation? Not a bit of it!—he comes down like a hammer on copying. Then for what, in fine, will he have them studied? Listen:—
          The more extensive your acquaintance is with the works of those who have excelled, the more extensive will be your powers of invention.
Yes, of invention, your power to make something new:
        —and what may appear still more like a paradox, the more original will be your conceptions.
There spake Sir Joshua Reynolds: and I call that the voice of a true Elder Brother. He, standing face to face with the young, thought of the old masters mainly as spiritual begetters of practice. And will anyone in this room tell me that what Reynolds said of painting is not to-day, for us, applicable to writing?
   3
  We accept it of Greek and Latin. An old Sixth Form master once said to me, ‘You may give up Latin Verse for this term, if you will: but I warn you, no one can be a real scholar who does not constantly practise verse.’ He was mistaken, belike. I hold, for my part, that in our Public Schools, we give up a quite disproportionate amount of time to ‘composition’ (of Latin Prose especially) and starve the boys’ reading thereby. But at any rate we do give up a large share of the time to it. Then if we insist on this way with the tongues of Homer and Virgil, why do we avoid it with the tongue of Shakespeare, our own living tongue? I answer by quoting one of the simplest wisest sayings of Don Quixote (Gentlemen, you will easily, as time goes on, and we better our acquaintance, discover my favourite authors):—
          The great Homer wrote not in Latin, for he was a Greek; and Virgil wrote not in Greek, because he was a Latin. In brief, all the ancient poets wrote in the tongue which they sucked in with their mother’s milk, nor did they go forth to seek for strange ones to express the greatness of their conceptions: and, this being so, it should be a reason for the fashion to extend to all nations.
   4
  Does the difference, then, perchance lie in ourselves? Will you tell me, ‘Oh, painting is a special art, whereas anyone can write prose passably well’? Can he, indeed?… Can you, sir? Nay, believe me, you are either an archangel or a very bourgeois gentleman indeed if you admit to having spoken English prose all your life without knowing it.   5
  Indeed, when we try to speak prose without having practised it the result is apt to be worse than our own vernacular. How often have I heard some worthy fellow addressing a public audience!—say a Parliamentary candidate who believes himself a Liberal Home Ruler, and for the moment is addressing himself to meet some criticism of the financial proposals of a Home Rule Bill. His own vernacular would be somewhat as follows:—
          Oh, rot! Give the Irish their heads and they’ll run straight enough. Look at the Boers, don’t you know. Not half such a decent sort as the Irish. Look at Irish horses, too. Eh? What?
   6
  But this, he is conscious, would hardly suit the occasion. He therefore amends it thus:—
          Mr Chairman—er—as regards the financial proposals of His Majesty’s Government, I am of the deliberate—er—opinion that our national security—I may say, our Imperial security—our security as—er—a governing people—lies in trusting the Irish as we did in the—er—case of the Boers—H’m Mr Gladstone, Mr Chairman—Mr Chairman, Mr Gladstone——
and so on. You perceive that the style is actually worse than in the sample quoted before; it has become flabby whereas that other was at any rate nervous? But now suppose that, having practised it, our candidate was able to speak like this:—
          ‘But what (says the Financier) is peace to us without money? Your plan gives us no revenue.’ No? But it does—for it secures to the subject the power of Refusal, the first of all Revenues. Experience is a cheat, and fact is a liar, if this power in the subject of proportioning his grant, or of not granting at all, has not been found the richest mine of Revenue ever discovered by the skill or by the fortune of man. It does not indeed vote you &sterling;152,750 11s. 2.75d., nor any other paltry limited sum—but it gives you the strong box itself, the fund, the bank, from whence only revenues can arise among a people sensible of freedom: Positâ luditur arcâ.… Is this principle to be true in England, and false everywhere else? Is it not true in Ireland? Has it not hitherto been true in the Colonies? Why should you presume that in any country a body duly constituted for any function will neglect to perform its duty and abdicate its trust? Such a presumption would go against all Governments in all nations. But in truth this dread of penury of supply, from a free assembly, has no foundation in nature. For first, observe that, besides the desire which all men have naturally of supporting the honour of their own Government, that sense of dignity, and that security to property, which ever attend freedom, have a tendency to increase the stock of a free community. Most may be taken where most is accumulated. And what is the soil or climate where experience has not uniformly proved that the voluntary flow of heaped-up plenty, bursting from the weight of its own luxuriance, has ever run with a more copious stream of revenue than could be squeezed from the dry husks of oppressed indigence by the straining of all the politic machinery in the world?
That, whether you agree or disagree with its doctrine, is great prose. That is Burke. ‘O Athenian stranger,’ said the Cretan I quoted in my first lecture,—‘inhabitant of Attica I will not call you, since you deserve the name of Athene herself, because you go back to first principles!’
   7
  But, you may object, ‘Burke is talking like a book, and I have no wish to talk like a book.’ Well, as a fact, Burke is here at the culmen of a long sustained argument, and his language has soared with it, as his way was—logic and emotion lifting him together as upon two balanced majestic wings. But you are shy of such heights? Very well again, and all credit to your modesty! Yet at least (I appeal to that same modesty) when you talk or write, you would wish to observe the occasion; to say what you have to say without impertinence or ill-timed excess. You would not harangue a drawing-room or a subcommittee, or be facetious at a funeral, or play the skeleton at a banquet: for in all such conduct you would be mixing up things that differ. Be cheerful, then: for this desire of yours to be appropriate is really the root of the matter. Nor do I ask you to accept this on my sole word, but will cite you the most respectable witnesses. Take, for instance, a critic who should be old enough to impress you—Dionysius of Halicarnassus. After enumerating the qualities which lend charm and nobility to style, he closes the list with ‘appropriateness, which all these need’:—
          As there is a charming diction, so there is another that is noble; as there is a polished rhythm, so there is another that is dignified; as variety adds grace in one passage, so in another it adds fulness; and as for appropriation, it will prove the chief source of beauty, or else of nothing at all.
   8
  Or listen to Cicero, how he sets appropriateness in the very heart of his teaching, as the master secret:—
          Is erit eloquens qui poterit parva summisse, modica temperate, magna graviter dicere.… Qui ad id quodcunque decebit poterit accommodare orationem. Quod quum statuerit, tum, ut quidque erit dicendum, ita dicet, nec satura jejune, nec grandia minute, nec item contra, sed erit rebus ipsis par et aequalis oratio.
—‘Whatever his theme he will speak as becomes it; neither meagrely where it is copious, nor meanly where it is ample, nor in this way where it demands that; but keeping his speech level with the actual subject and adequate to it.’
   9
  I might quote another great man, Quintilian, to you on the first importance of this appropriateness, or ‘propriety’; of speaking not only to the purpose but becomingly—though the two as (he rightly says) are often enough one and the same thing. But I will pass on to what has ever seemed, since I found it in one of Jowett’s ‘Introductions’ to Plato, the best definition known to me of good style in literature:—
          The perfection of style is variety in unity, freedom, ease, clearness, the power of saying anything, and of striking any note in the scale of human feelings, without impropriety.
You see, O my modest friend! that your gamut needs not to be very wide, to begin with. The point is that within it you learn to play becomingly.
  10
  Now I started by proposing that we try together to make appropriate, perspicuous, accurate, persuasive writing a hall-mark of anything turned out by our English School here, and I would add (growing somewhat hardier) a hall-mark of all Cambridge style so far as our English School can influence it. I chose these four epithets accurate, perspicuous, persuasive, appropriate, with some care, of course as my duty was; and will assume that by this time we are agreed to desire appropriateness. Now for the other three:—  11
  Perspicuity.—I shall waste no words on the need of this: since the first aim of speech is to be understood. The more clearly you write the more easily and surely you will be understood. I propose to demonstrate to you further, in a minute or so, that the more clearly you write the more clearly you will understand yourself. But a sufficient reason has been given in ten words why you should desire perspicuity.  12
  Accuracy.—Did I not remind myself in my first lecture, that Cambridge is the home of accurate scholarship? Surely no Cambridge man would willingly be a sloven in speech, oral or written? Surely here, if anywhere, should be acknowledged of all what Newman says of the classics, that ‘a certain unaffected neatness and propriety and grace of diction may be required of any author, for the same reason that a certain attention to dress is expected of every gentleman.’ After all, what are the chief differentiae between man and the brute creation but that he clothes himself, that he cooks his food, that he uses articulate speech? Let us cherish and improve all these distinctions.  13
  But shall we now look more carefully into these twin questions of perspicuity and accuracy: for I think pursuing them, we may almost reach the philosophic kernel of good writing. I quoted Newman playfully a moment ago. I am going to quote him in strong earnest. And here let me say that of all the books written in these hundred years there is perhaps none you can more profitably thumb and ponder than that volume of his in which, under the title of The Idea of a University, he collected nine discourses addressed to the Roman Catholics of Dublin with some lectures delivered to the Catholic University there. It is fragmentary, because its themes were occasional. It has missed to be appraised at its true worth, partly no doubt by reason of the colour it derives from a religion still unpopular in England. But in fact it may be read without offence by the strictest Protestant; and the book is so wise—so eminently wise—as to deserve being bound by the young student of literature for a frontlet on his brow and a talisman on his writing wrist.  14
  Now you will find much pretty swordsmanship in its pages, but nothing more trenchant than the passage in which Newman assails and puts to rout the Persian host of infidels—I regret to say, for the most part Men of Science—who would persuade us that good writing, that style, is something extrinsic to the subject, a kind of ornamentation laid on to tickle the taste, a study for the dilettante, but beneath the notice of their stern and masculine minds.  15
  Such a view, as he justly points out, belongs rather to the Oriental mind than to our civilisation: it reminds him of the way young gentlemen go to work in the East when they would engage in correspondence with the object of their affection. The enamoured one cannot write a sentence himself: he is the specialist in passion (for the moment); but thought and words are two things to him, and for words he must go to another specialist, the professional letter-writer. Thus there is a division of labour.
          The man of words, duly instructed, dips the pen of desire in the ink of devotedness and proceeds to spread it over the page of desolation. Then the nightingale of affection is heard to warble to the rose of loveliness, while the breeze of anxiety plays around the brow of expectation. That is what the Easterns are said to consider fine writing; and it seems pretty much the idea of the school of critics to which I have been referring.
Now hear this fine passage:—
          Thought and speech are inseparable from each other. Matter and expression are parts of one; style is a thinking out into language. That is what I have been laying down, and this is literature; not things, but the verbal symbols of things; not on the other hand mere words; but thoughts expressed in language. Call to mind, gentlemen, the meaning of the Greek word which expresses this special prerogative of man over the feeble intelligence of the lower animals. It is called Logos; what does Logos mean? it stands both for reason and for speech, and it is difficult to say which it means more properly. It means both at once: why? because really they cannot be divided.… When we can separate light and illumination, life and motion, the convex and the concave of a curve, then will it be possible for thought to tread speech under foot and to hope to do without it—then will it be conceivable that the vigorous and fertile intellect should renounce its own double, its instrument of expression and the channel of its speculations and emotions.
‘As if,’ he exclaims finely, ‘language were the hired servant, the mere mistress of reason, and not the lawful wife in her own house!’
  16
  If you need further argument (but what serves it to slay the slain?) let me remind you that you cannot use the briefest, the humblest process of thought, cannot so much as resolve to take your bath hot or cold, or decide what to order for breakfast, without forecasting it to yourself in some form of words. Words are, in fine, the only currency in which we can exchange thought even with ourselves. Does it not follow, then, that the more accurately we use words the closer definition we shall give to our thoughts? Does it not follow that by drilling ourselves to write perspicuously we train our minds to clarify their thought? Does it not follow that some practice in the deft use of words, with its correspondent defining of thought, may well be ancillary even to the study of Natural Science in a University?  17
  But I have another word for our men of science. It was inevitable, perhaps, that Latin—so long the Universal Language—should cease in time to be that in which scientific works were written. It was impossible, perhaps, to substitute, by consent, some equally neat and austere modern language, such as French. But when it became an accepted custom for each nation to use its own language in scientific treatises, it certainly was not foreseen that men of science would soon be making discoveries at a rate which left their skill in words outstripped; that having to invent their terms as they went along, yet being careless and contemptuous of a science in which they have no training, they would bombast out our dictionaries with monstrously invented words that not only would have made Quintilian stare and gasp, but would affront the decently literate of any age.  18
  After all, and though we must sigh and acquiesce in the building of Babel, we have some right to examine the bricks. I was waiting, the other day, in the doctor’s anteroom, and picked up one of those books—it was a work on pathology—so thoughtfully left lying in such places; to persuade us, no doubt, to bear the ills we have rather than fly to others capable of being illustrated. I found myself engaged in following the antics of certain bacilli generically described as ‘Antibodies.’ I do not accuse the author (who seemed to be a learned man) of having invented this abominable term: apparently it passed current among physiologists and he had accepted it for honest coin. I found it, later on, in Webster’s invaluable dictionary: Etymology, ‘body’ (yours or mine), ‘anti,’ up against it: compound, ‘antibody,’ a noxious microbe.  19
  Now I do not doubt the creature thus named to be a poisonous little wretch. Those who know him may even agree that no word is too bad for him. But I am thinking of him. I am thinking of us: and I say that for our own self-respect, whilst we retain any sense of intellectual pedigree, ‘antibody’ is no word to throw at a bacillus. The man who eats peas with his knife can at least claim a historical throwback to the days when forks had but two prongs and the spoons had been removed with the soup. But ‘antibody’ has no such respectable derivation. It is, in fact, a barbarism, and a mongrel at that. The man who uses it debases the currency of learning: and I suggest to you that it is one of the many functions of a great University to maintain the standard of that currency, to guard the jus et norma loquendi, to protect us from such hasty fellows or, rather, to suppeditate them in their haste.  20
  Let me revert to our list of the qualities necessary to good writing, and come to the last—Persuasiveness; of which you may say, indeed, that it embraces the whole—not only the qualities of propriety, perspicuity, accuracy, we have been considering, but many another, such as harmony, order, sublimity, beauty of diction; all in short that—writing being an art, not a science, and therefore so personal a thing—may be summed up under the word Charm. Who, at any rate, does not seek after Persuasion? It is the aim of all the arts and, I suppose, of all exposition of the sciences; nay, of all useful exchange of converse in our daily life. It is what Velasquez attempts in a picture, Euclid in a proposition, the Prime Minister at the Treasury box, the journalist in a leading article, our Vicar in his sermon. Persuasion, as Matthew Arnold once said, is the only true intellectual process. The mere cult of it occupied many of the best intellects of the ancients, such as Longinus and Quintilian, whose writings have been preserved to us just because they were prized. Nor can I imagine an earthly gift more covetable by you, Gentlemen, than that of persuading your fellows to listen to your views and attend to what you have at heart.  21
  Suppose, sir, that you wish to become a journalist? Well, and why not? Is it a small thing to desire the power of influencing day by day to better citizenship an unguessed number of men, using the best thought and applying it in the best language at your command?… Or are you, perhaps, overawed by the printed book? On that, too, I might have a good deal to say; but for the moment would keep the question as practical as I can.  22
  Well, it is sometimes said that Oxford men make better journalists than Cambridge men, and some attribute this to the discipline of their great School of Literae Humaniores, which obliges them to bring up a weekly essay to their tutor, who discusses it. Cambridge men retort that all Oxford men are journalists, and throw, of course, some accent of scorn on the word. But may I urge—and remember please that my credit is pledged to you now—may I urge that this is not a wholly convincing answer? For, to begin with, Oxford men have not changed their natures since leaving school, but are, by process upon lines not widely divergent from your own, much the same pleasant sensible fellows you remember. And, next, if you truly despise journalism, why then despise it, have done with it and leave it alone. But I pray you, do not despise it if you mean to practise it, though it be but as a step to something better. For while the ways of art are hard at the best, they will break you if you go unsustained by belief in what you are trying to do.  23
  In asking you to practise the written word, I began with such low but necessary things as propriety, perspicuity, accuracy. But persuasion—the highest form of persuasion at any rate—cannot be achieved without a sense of beauty. And now I shoot a second rapid—I want you to practise verse, and to practise it assiduously.… I am quite serious. Let me remind you that, if there ever was an ancient state of which we of Great Britain have great right and should have greater ambition to claim ourselves the spiritual heirs, that state was Imperial Rome. And of the Romans (whom you will allow to have been a practical people) nothing is more certain than the value they set upon acquiring verse. To them it was not only (as Dr Johnson said of Greek) ‘like old lace—you can never have too much of it.’ They cultivated it with a straight eye to national improvement. Among them, as a scholar reminded us the other day, you find ‘an educational system deliberately and steadily directed towards the development of poetical talent. They were not a people of whom we can say, as we can of the Greeks, that they were born to art and literature.… The characteristic Roman triumphs are the triumphs of a material civilisation.’ Rome’s rôle in the world was ‘the absorption of outlying genius.’ Themselves an unimaginative race with a language not too tractable to poetry, they made great poetry, and they made it of patient set purpose, of hard practise. I shall revert to this and maybe amplify reasons in another lecture. For the moment I content myself with stating the fact that no nation ever believed in poetry so deeply as the Romans.  24
  Perpend this then, and do not too hastily deride my plea that you should practise verse-writing. I know most of the objections, though I may not remember all. Mediocribus esse poetis, etc.—that summarises most of them: yet of an infliction of much bad verse from you, if I am prepared to endure it, why should anyone else complain? I say that the youth of a University ought to practise verse-writing; and will try to bring this home to you by an argument convincing to me, though I have never seen it in print.  25
  What are the great poetical names of the last hundred years or so? Coleridge, Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, Landor, Keats, Tennyson, Browning, Arnold, Morris, Rossetti, Swinburne—we may stop there. Of these all but Keats, Browning, Rossetti were University men; and of these three Keats, who died young, cut off in his prime, was the only one not fairly well-to-do. It may seem a brutal thing to say, and it is a sad thing to say: but, as a matter of hard fact, the theory that poetical genius bloweth where it listeth, and equally in poor and rich, holds little truth. As a matter of hard fact, nine out of those twelve were University men: which means that somehow or other they procured the means to get the best education England can give. As a matter of hard fact, of the remaining three you know that Browning was well-to-do, and I challenge you that, if he had not been well-to-do, he would no more have attained to writing Saul or The Ring and the Book than Ruskin would have attained to writing Modern Painters if his father had not dealt prosperously in business. Rossetti had a small private income; and, moreover, he painted. There remains but Keats; whom Atropos slew young, as she slew John Clare in a madhouse, and James Thomson by the laudanum he took to drug disappointment. These are dreadful facts, but let us face them. It is—however dishonouring to us as a nation—certain that, by some fault in our commonwealth, the poor poet has not in these days, nor has had for two hundred years, a dog’s chance. Believe me—and I have spent a great part of the last ten years in watching some 320 Elementary Schools—we may prate of democracy, but actually a poor child in England has little more hope than had the son of an Athenian slave to be emancipated into that intellectual freedom of which great writings are born.  26
  What do I argue from this? I argue that until we can bring more intellectual freedom into our State, more ‘joy in widest commonalty spread,’ upon you, a few favoured ones, rests an obligation to see that the springs of English poetry do not fail. I put it to you that of this glory of our birth and state you are the temporary stewards. I put it to the University, considered as a dispenser of intellectual light, that to treat English poetry as though it had died with Tennyson and your lecturers had but to compose the features of a corpse, is to abnegate high hope for the sake of a barren convenience. I put it to the Colleges, considered as disciplinary bodies, that the old way of letting Coleridge slip, chasing forth Shelley, is, after all, not the wisest way. Recollect that in Poesy as in every other human business, the more there are who practise it the greater will be the chance of someone’s reaching perfection. It is the impetus of the undistinguished host that flings forward a Diomed or a Hector. And when you point with pride to Milton’s and those other mulberry trees in your Academe, bethink you ‘What poets are they shading to-day? Or are their leaves but feeding worms to spin gowns to drape Doctors of Letters?’  27
  In the life of Benvenuto Cellini you will find this passage worth your pondering.—He is telling how, while giving the last touches to his Perseus in the great square of Florence, he and his workmen inhabited a shed built around the statue. He goes on:—
          The folk kept on attaching sonnets to the posts of the door.… I believe that, on the day when I opened it for a few hours to the public, more than twenty were nailed up, all of them overflowing with the highest panegyrics. Afterwards, when I once more shut it off from view, everyone brought sonnets, with Latin and Greek verses: for the University of Pisa was then in vacation, and all the doctors and scholars kept vying with each other who could produce the best.
I may not live to see the doctors and scholars of this University thus employing the Long Vacation; as perhaps we shall wait some time for another Perseus to excite them to it. But I do ask you to consider that the Perseus was not entirely cause nor the sonnets entirely effect; that the age when men are eager about great work is the age when great work gets itself done; nor need it disturb us that most of the sonnets were, likely enough, very bad ones—in Charles Lamb’s phrase, very like what Petrarch might have written if Petrarch had been born a fool. It is the impetus that I ask of you: the will to try.
  28
  Lastly, Gentlemen, do not set me down as one who girds at your preoccupation, up here, with bodily games; for, indeed, I hold ‘gymnastic’ to be necessary as ‘music’ (using both words in the Greek sense) for the training of such youths as we desire to send forth from Cambridge. But I plead that they should be balanced, as they were in the perfect young knight with whose words I will conclude to-day:—
        Having this day my horse, my hand, my lance
  Guided so well that I obtained the prize,
  Both by the judgment of the English eyes
And of some sent by that sweet enemy France;
Horsemen my skill in horsemanship advance,
  Town-folk my strength, a daintier judge applies
  His praise to sleight which from good use doth rise;
Some lucky wits impute it but to chance;
Others, because of both sides I do take
  My blood from them who did excel in this,
Think Nature me a man-at-arms did make.
  How far they shot awry! the true cause is,
Stella looked on; and from her heavenly face
Sent forth the beams which made so fair my race.
‘Untrue,’ you say? Well, there is truth of emotion as well as of fact; and who is there among you but would fain be able not only to win such a guerdon but to lay it in such wise at your lady’s feet?
  29
  That then was Philip Sidney, called the peerless one of his age; and perhaps no Englishman ever lived more graciously or, having used life, made a better end. But you have seen this morning’s newspaper: you have read of Captain Scott and his comrades, and in particular of the death of Captain Oates; and you know that the breed of Sidney is not extinct. Gentlemen, let us keep our language noble: for we still have heroes to commemorate! 1  30


Note 1.  The date of the above lecture was Wednesday, February 12th, 1913, the date on which our morning newspapers printed the first telegrams giving particulars of the fate of Captain Scott’s heroic conquest of the South Pole, and still more glorious, though defeated, return. The first brief message concerning Captain Oates, ran as follows:—
          ‘From the records found in the tent where the bodies were discovered it appeared that Captain Oates’s feet and hands were badly frost-bitten, and, although he struggled on heroically, his comrades knew on March 16 that his end was approaching. He had borne intense suffering for weeks without complaint, and he did not give up hope to the very end.
  “He was a brave soul. He slept through the night hoping not to wake; but he awoke in the morning.
  “It was blowing a blizzard. Oates said: ‘I am just going outside, and I may be some time.’ He went out into the blizzard, and we have not seen him since.
  “We knew that Oates was walking to his death, but though we tried to dissuade him, we knew it was the act of a brave man and an English gentleman.”’
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