As time goes on, you will make me believe that I can for my part be of some good to you: and with the generosity of your age you will repay me, in this feeling alone, far more than I shall be able to give you in intellectual freedom, in literary thought. If in one sense I bestow on you some of my experience, you will requite me, and in a more profitable manner, by the sight of your ardour for what is noble: you will accustom me to turn oftener and more willingly towards the future in your company. You will teach me again to hope.
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.
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?
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