You may be thinking, Gentlemen, that I take up a disproportionate amount of your time on such technical matters at these. But literature being an art (forgive the reiteration!) and therefore to be practised, I want us to be seeking all the time how it is done; to hunt out the principles on which the great artists wrought; to face, to rationalise, the difficulties by which they were confronted, and learn how they overcame the particular obstacle. Surely even for mere criticism, apart from practice, we shall equip ourselves better by seeking, so far as we may, how the thing is done than by standing at gaze before this or that masterpiece and murmuring ‘Isn’t that beautiful! How in the world, now...!’
I am told that these lectures are criticised as tending to make you conceited: to encourage in you a belief that you can do things, when it were better that you merely admired. Well I would not dishearten you by telling to what a shred of conceit, even of hope, a man can be reduced after twenty-odd years of the discipline. But I can, and do, affirm that the farther you penetrate in these discoveries the more sacred the ultimate mystery will become for you: that the better you understand the great authors as exemplars of practice, the more certainly you will realise what is the condescension of the gods.
Next time, then, we will attempt an enquiry into the capital difficulty of Prose.
INTERLUDE: ON JARGON
Thursday, May 1
We parted, Gentlemen, upon a promise to discuss the capital difficulty of Prose, as we have discussed the capital difficulty of Verse. But, although we shall come to it, on second thoughts I ask leave to break the order of my argument and to interpose some words upon a kind of writing which, from a superficial likeness, commonly passes for prose in these days, and by lazy folk is commonly written for prose, yet actually is not prose at all; my excuse being the simple practical one that, by first clearing this sham prose out of the way, we shall the better deal with honest prose when we come to it. The proper difficulties of prose will remain: but we shall be agreed in understanding what it is, or at any rate what it is not, that we talk about. I remember to have heard somewhere of a religious body in the United States of America which had reason to suspect one of its churches of accepting Spiritual consolation from a coloured preacher—an offence against the laws of the Synod—and despatched a Disciplinary Committee with power to act; and of the Committee’s returning to report itself unable to take any action under its terms of reference, for that while a person undoubtedly coloured had undoubtedly occupied the pulpit and had audibly spoken from it in the Committee’s presence, the performance could be brought within no definition of preaching known or discoverable. So it is with that infirmity of speech—that flux, that determination of words to the mouth, or to the pen—which, though it be familiar to you in parliamentary debates, in newspapers, and as the staple language of Blue Books, Committees, Official Reports, I take leave to introduce to you as prose which is not prose and under its real name of Jargon.