Old and New Masters eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 290 pages of information about Old and New Masters.
cut down by a Puritan.  He has hung all the candles of his faith on the sacred thorn, like the lights on a Christmas-tree, and lo! it has been cut down and cast out of England with as little respect as though it were a verse from the Sermon on the Mount.  It may be that Mr. Chesterton’s sight is erratic, and that what he took to be the sacred thorn was really a Upas-tree.  But in a sense that does not matter.  He is entitled to his own fable, if he tells it honestly and beautifully; and it is as a tragic fable or romance of the downfall of liberty in England that one reads his History.  He himself contends in the last chapter of the book that the crisis in English history came “with the fall of Richard II, following on his failures to use mediaeval despotism in the interests of mediaeval democracy.”  Mr. Chesterton’s history would hardly be worth reading, if he had made nothing more of it than is suggested in that sentence.  His book (apart from occasional sloughs of sophistry and fallacious argument) remains in the mind as a song of praise and dolour chanted by the imagination about an England that obeyed not God and despised the Tree of Life, but that may yet, he believes, hear once more the ancestral voices, and with her sons arrayed in trade unions and guilds, march riotously back into the Garden of Eden.




Dorothy Wordsworth—­whom Professor Harper has praised not beyond reason as “the most delightful, the most fascinating woman who has enriched literary history”—­once confessed in a letter about her brother William that “his person is not in his favour,” and that he was “certainly rather plain.”  He is the most difficult of all the great poets whom one reverences to portray as an attractive person. “‘Horse-face,’ I have heard satirists say,” Carlyle wrote of him, recalling a comparison of Hazlitt’s; and the horse-face seems to be symbolic of something that we find not only in his personal appearance, but in his personality and his work.

His faults do not soften us, as the faults of so many favourite writers do.  They were the faults, not of passion, but of a superior person, who was something of a Sir Willoughby Patterne in his pompous self-satisfaction.  “He says,” records Lamb in one of his letters, “he does not see much difficulty in writing like Shakespeare, if he had a mind to try it.”  Lamb adds:  “It is clear that nothing is wanting but the mind.”

Leigh Hunt, after receiving a visit from Wordsworth in 1815, remarked that “he was as sceptical on the merit of all kinds of poetry but one as Richardson was on those of the novels of Fielding.”  Keats, who had earlier spoken of the reverence in which he held Wordsworth, wrote to his brother in 1818:  “I am sorry that Wordsworth has left a bad impression wherever he visited in town by his egotism, vanity, and bigotry.”  There was

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Old and New Masters from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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