I propose this morning:
(1) to enquire into the reasons for this, so far as I can guess and interpret them;
(2) to deal with such reasons as we can discover or surmise;
(3) to suggest to-day, some simple first aid: and in another lecture, taking for experiment a single book from the Authorised Version, some practical ways of including it in the ambit of our new English Tripos. This will compel me to be definite: and as definite proposals invite definite objections, by this method we are likeliest to know where we are, and if the reform we seek be realisable or illusory.
I shall ask you then, first, to assent with me, that the Authorised Version of the Holy Bible is, as a literary achievement, one of the greatest in our language; nay, with the possible exception of the complete works of Shakespeare, the very greatest. You will certainly not deny this.
As little, or less, will you deny that more deeply than any other book—more deeply even than all the writings of Shakespeare—far more deeply—it has influenced our literature. Here let me repeat a short passage from a former lecture of mine (May 15, 1913, five years ago). I had quoted some few glorious sentences such as:
Thine eyes shall see the king in his beauty:
behold the land that is very far off.
And a man shall be as an hiding-place
from the wind, and a
covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place,
as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land....
So when this corruptible shall have put
and this mortal shall have put on immortality ...
and having quoted these I went on:
When a nation has achieved this manner of diction, these rhythms for its dearest beliefs, a literature is surely established.... Wyclif, Tyndale, Coverdale and others before the forty-seven had wrought. The Authorised Version, setting a seal on all, set a seal on our national style.... It has cadences homely and sublime, yet so harmonises them that the voice is always one. Simple men—holy and humble men of heart like Isaak Walton and Bunyan—have their lips touched and speak to the homelier tune. Proud men, scholars —Milton, Sir Thomas Browne—practise the rolling Latin sentence; but upon the rhythms of our Bible they, too, fall back—’The great mutations of the world are acted, or time may be too short for our designs.’ ’Acquaint thyself with the Choragium of the stars.’ ’There is nothing immortal but immortality.’ The precise man Addison cannot excel one parable in brevity or in heavenly clarity: the two parts of Johnson’s antithesis come to no more than this ’Our Lord has gone up to the sound of a trump; with the sound of a trump our Lord has gone up.’ The Bible controls its enemy Gibbon as surely as it haunts the curious music of a light sentence of Thackeray’s. It is in everything