Imágenes de páginas

sense philosophy and somewhat commonplace rationalising of Clarke, Cudworth, and Hoadly; and the religious outpouringssimple even to uncouthness—of such men as Ellwood, Fox, and Penn. To none of these classes are we to look for the real development of prose style. Only a few of those named gave much thought to its niceties or graces; but they contributed something if it were only by the logical method of their exposition, and by the plain directness of their narrative. There were others, however, whose literary work is far more important in this connexion. Evelyn's style is often cumbrous, artificial, and pedantic. But it preserved the rich vein of ornament and fancy that descended from the older Euphuism ; and it added to abundance of metaphor, an orderly regularity, and an absence of involution, which Euphuism had not mastered. Evelyn wrote with a courtly grace that gave a tradition of dignity to English prose. Thomas Burnet had something of the older extravagance ; but there was a rich vein in his eloquence which was not without its effect on his successors, although posterity accorded to him no such important place as he occupied in his own generation. From Evelyn to Temple was only a small step ; but yet the luxuriance was pruned in Temple's periods, and the courtliness has more of ease and less of artificiality. As is shown in the preface to the specimens of Temple’s prose in this volume, he shares with Tillotson, Halifax, and Dryden the distinction of typifying the strongest tendency in the prose of that generation. It is difficult to describe this by any short definition ; but its most marked characteristics were ease and familiarity, combined with dignity and regularity. The qualities which Tillotson brought to the treatment of religious subjects were essentially of the same kind. Halifax typifies the same characteristics in his Political and Moral Reflections : and the consummate genius of Dryden brought these qualities to perfection in his critical essays. The debt which Dryden owed to Tillotson, was exaggerated by his own generosity ; but his acknowledgment at least shows that the two were akin in their literary taste and judgment.

The work which Dryden accomplished for English prose is treated fully in the preface to the selections from his prose in this volume. In him, as is there remarked, we have “an isthmus between two seas,” touching, on the one hand, the imagination and richness of the past, and on the other, the calmer and more critical instincts of the succeeding generation. To him we owe that perfection of ease, that familiar intercourse between author and reader, that constant reference to the common judgment of educated men, which gave its best note to English prose. When we pass from him to Steele and Addison, we find that the model he had formed has been adapted to new purposes for which by its nature, it was admirably fitted. It has lost some of the wealth of imagination which was the product partly of Dryden's contact with the past, partly of his own genius. But it has gained, in the miscellaneous essay, a theme for which, of all others, its easy and yet graceful conversational tone was best suited, and in the treatment of which it acquired, in the hands of such successors, new delicacy and precision, even if it lost something of the exuberance which had belonged to it in the hands of Dryden.

It is thus through Evelyn, Temple, and Tillotson, that we may trace the growth of English prose during this period, until it culminates in the rich storehouse of Dryden's essays, and is refined and adapted to a tone of courtly and yet familiar conversation, varied and embellished by a subtle literary flavour, in the hands of Addison and Steele. The growing precision of thought, the scientific accuracy towards which the age was tending, helped towards this, and the authors previously named, although their purely literary claims are inferior, yet deserve some credit for their share in the work. But there are others, of more outstanding genius, who defy classification, who belonged to hereditary line, and neither received from predecessors, nor transmitted to successors, the distinctive traits of their genius ; but who, nevertheless, powerfully affected the prose style of our language. The first of these is Bunyan. We cannot detach from one another the elements of his style : its raciness, its homeliness, its copiousness, and its directness and force. Just as little can we distinguish his style from the earnestness of feeling, the vividness of description, the quaint turns of thought, that make his work a masterpiece. We cannot attempt to trace his literary genealogy, and must be content to accept his genius, without appraising it, as an addition to the literary wealth of our country. The next is Defoe. In both there is the same vividness of imagination which gives to its products all the force of reality, and which makes the language Auent, direct, and homely, because no trace of artificiality intervenes between the subject and the style. No man ever wielded his pen with more consummate ease : and no man ever made his style fit so aptly to


his theme, and clothe imaginative creations with such an irresistible air of reality, as Defoe. It was impossible that any language could be handled as Defoe handled it, and yet not carry on its face the impress of his genius : but it is nevertheless true that his position is unique, and that we cannot look upon him, as we look upon Dryden or upon Addison, as marking a distinct phase in the development of English prose.

The same may be said of the third and greatest of these masters of language, who belong to no class or school- Jonathan Swift. To use his own words, his “ English was his own.”

It may well be doubted whether in absolute command over language, any English prose author has ever equalled Swift. His style defies description or classification.

It lends itself less than any, to imitation or to parody. It varies according to every mood. Its lucid simplicity is so perfect that its phrases once read, seemed to be only the natural utterances of careless thought, produced without effort and without art. Its very neglect of rule, and its frequent defiance of grammatical regularity, help to give to it force and directness. But such a style refuses to transmit the secret of its power, and must needs remain unique and solitary in its kind.



[John Pearson (1612-1686), was the son of a country clergyman, and was born at Snoring, in Norfolk, in 1612. He was educated at Eton, whence he proceeded to King's College, Cambridge, where he became a Fellow in 1634. He received holy orders in 1639, and was appointed chaplain to the Lord Keeper Finch, who presented him to the living of Torrington in Suffolk. On the breaking out of the Civil War he took the Royalist side ; and a sermon preached by him at Cambridge in 1643 shows that he had the courage of his convictions. He was, however, allowed to hold a lectureship at St. Clement's, Eastcheap, and his immortal Exposition of the Creed was, in the first instance, nothing more than a series of lectures delivered to the congregation of St. Clement's, about the year 1654. After the Restoration he rose rapidly. In 1660 he was made Archdeacon of Surrey, Prebendary of Ely, and Master of Jesus College, Cambridge ; in 1661, Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity ; in 1662, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge ; and in 1672, Bishop of Chester. His faculties gave way some years before his death, which took place 16th July 1686. He took a leading part in the Savoy Conference, where his fairness won the approbation of Baxter, and he was one of the founders of the Royal Society. After his appointment to the bishopric he does not appear to have taken any prominent part in the church life of the period. According to Burnet he was “a much better divine than bishop"; but Burnet's evidence must be accepted with caution, for the two men differed widely from one another, not only in their opinions, but in their whole tone of mind, habits, and character ; according to another almost contemporary historian, Laurence Echard, “he filled the bishopric of Chester with honour and reputation."]

BISHOP PEARSON is in the popular estimation essentially homo unius libri. Everybody has heard of, and many have read “Pearson on the Creed,” but few have read anything else that he wrote. And yet, as matter of fact, he was a voluminous writer. Archdeacon Churton, in his excellent edition of Bishop Pearson's Minor Works, specifies no less than thirty-one publications bearing his

Of these, however, several are in Latin (one- Vindicia Ignatiana-being of permanent value) som

me are single sermons, and some, notes and prefaces to other people's writings. Bishop


power of

Pearson therefore may fairly be estimated as a writer of English prose by his great work, the Exposition of the Creed. If he had written nothing else, this alone, with the Notes, would have been more than enough to make any man's reputation. Bishop Pearson depends wholly upon his matter, not at all upon his manner, for the value of his work; for as the best editor of the Exposition of the Creed (Professor Burton) remarks, “his style is rugged and antiquated even for the age in which he lived” ; but his calm, rational judgment, his

argument, his honest determination to sift to the bottom every difficult question that could possibly arise, and his profound knowledge of theology, especially of patristic theology, as shown in the marginal notes, which are at least as valuable, and nearly as lengthy as the text, have all contributed to make his work an exhaustive and final one. Later expounders of the Apostles' Creed can do little more than follow Bishop Pearson's lines, that is, of course, if they hold like him high Anglican views. He nobly employed his enforced leisure during “the troubles” in elaborating a work, which has not only become classical, but which has more completely covered the ground that it occupies, than any other work in any department of theology; for we gather from his dedication “to the Right Worshipful and Well-Beloved the Parishioners of St. Clement's, East Cheap,” that he employed much time in putting the lectures he had delivered to them into the shape of a formal treatise. The lectures were delivered about 1654 ; the book did not appear until 1659. Bishop Pearson carefully avoids any quotations from “any learned language," or any English word which would not be understood by the unlearned reader, reserving what is intended for scholars for his elaborate notes. He ranks high among the great divines of the golden age of English theology, and if he cannot be cited as an example of style, it is because he deliberately chose to write in that style which seemed to him most suitable for his purpose.


[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »