On the Art of Writing eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 246 pages of information about On the Art of Writing.

Let me add that, just as a knowledge of his family failings will help one man in economising his estate, or warn another to shun for his health the pleasures of the table, so some knowledge of our lineage in letters may put us, as Englishmen, on the watch for certain national defects (for such we have), on our guard against certain sins which too easily beset us.  Nay, this watchfulness may well reach down from matters of great moment to seeming trifles.  It is good for us to recognise with Wordsworth that

     We must be free or die, who speak the tongue
     That Shakespeare spake; the faith and morals hold
     Which Milton held.  In everything we are sprung
     Of Earth’s first blood, have titles manifold.

But, though less important, it is good also to recognise that, as sons of Cambridge, we equally offend against her breeding when in our scientific writings we allow ourselves to talk of a microbe as an ‘antibody.’

Now, because a great deal of what I have to say this morning, if not heretical, will yet run contrary to the vogue and practice of the Schools for these thirty years, I will take the leap into my subject over a greater man’s back and ask you to listen with particular attention to the following long passage from a writer whose opinion you may challenge, but whose authority to speak as a master of English prose no one in this room will deny.

When (says Cardinal Newman) we survey the stream of human affairs for the last three thousand years, we find it to run thus:—­At first sight there is so much fluctuation, agitation, ebbing and flowing, that we may despair to discern any law in its movements, taking the earth as its bed and mankind as its contents; but on looking more closely and attentively we shall discern, in spite of the heterogeneous materials and the various histories and fortunes which are found in the race of man during the long period I have mentioned, a certain formation amid the chaos—­one and one only,—­and extending, though not over the whole earth, yet through a very considerable portion of it.  Man is a social being and can hardly exist without society, and in matter of fact societies have ever existed all over the habitable earth.  The greater part of these associations have been political or religious, and have been comparatively limited in extent and temporary.  They have been formed and dissolved by the force of accidents, or by inevitable circumstances; and when we have enumerated them one by one we have made of them all that can be made.  But there is one remarkable association which attracts the attention of the philosopher, not political nor religious—­or at least only partially and not essentially such—­which began in the earliest times and grew with each succeeding age till it reached its complete development, and then continued on, vigorous and unwearied, and still remains as definite and as firm as ever it was.  Its bond is a common civilisation:  and
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On the Art of Writing from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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