Does it or does it not strike you as queer that the people who set you ‘courses of study’ in English Literature never include the Authorised Version, which not only intrinsically but historically is out and away the greatest book of English Prose. Perhaps they can pay you the silent compliment of supposing that you are perfectly acquainted with it?... I wonder. It seems as if they thought the Martin Marprelate Controversy, for example, more important somehow.
’So when this corruptible shall
have put on incorruption, and this
mortal shall have put on immortality...’
’Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can the floods drown it:
if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it
would utterly be contemned.’
’The king’s daughter is all
glorious within: her clothing is of
’Thine eyes shall see the King in
his beauty: they shall 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.’
When a nation has achieved this manner of diction, those rhythms for its dearest beliefs, a literature is surely established. Just there I find the effective miracle, making the blind to see, the lame to leap. 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, thinking and speaking. 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 or Bunyan—have their lips touched and speak to the homelier tune. Proud men, scholars,—Milton, Sir Thomas Browne—practice 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 we see, hear, feel, because it is in us, in our blood.
What madman, then, will say ‘Thus or thus far shalt thou go’ to a prose thus invented and thus with its free rhythms, after three hundred years, working on the imagination of Englishmen? Or who shall determine its range, whether of thought or of music? You have received it by inheritance, Gentlemen: it is yours, freely yours—to direct your words through life as well as your hearts.