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Continuity of Letters. I am very conscious that it is a larger title than such a book has any right to. But it represents a doctrine in which I profoundly believe and one which is several times insisted on in these essays; and I hope that it is not altogether inappropriate to a volume which, while dealing primarily with some aspects of the English literature of the last three hundred years, attempts often to illustrate it by allusions to the literature of other times and other countries.
LIFE AND ART IN ENGLISH
I CANNOT begin what I have to say to-day without allowing myself a few rather personal words. I hope it is not necessary to tell you how sensible I am of the high honour which the college has done me in appointing me to hold this office, and how conscious, almost painfully conscious, I am of my unfitness to stand in a place which has been occupied by such men as Sir Walter Raleigh, Professor W. P. Ker, and the brilliant classical and English scholar who was the first holder of the King Edward VII Chair of English Literature. There is never any use in spending time over one's unfitness for
any kind of work : the only thing to do is to make oneself as fit as one can and think no more about it. But there is something else. It is not merely a matter of unfitness. It is a matter of strangeness. Part of the pride, and part also of the alarm, which I felt when I received the Master's letter offering me this lectureship came from surprise and pleasure in the thought that one so entirely a creature of Oxford as I am should be asked to lecture at Cambridge. But after to-day I shall presume to consider myself not so entirely of Oxford as before, but now a little, at any rate, of Cambridge too. I shall not in future allow myself to be so humbled by that array of Cambridge poets with which the Cambridge man is wont to crush any tendency to complacence on the part of Oxonians of literary tastes. Having now at least a temporary foothold in Cambridge, I shall lay claim to my proper fraction of the reflected glory of Milton and Wordsworth and the rest : and even when my brief connexion with
1 The opening Lecture delivered on the 10th November 1921 by the Clark Lecturer in English Literature at Trinity College, Cambridge.
this place is over I shall, I hope, have memories and gratitudes which will almost make me shrink from so much as remembering a reply which, when still in the position of a mere undiluted Oxonian, I once devised to silence that Cambridge taunt of which I spoke. It cannot be denied, no doubt, that Gray said ugly things about Cambridge, or evendare I mention so profane a fact in this place ?—that Dryden, Wordsworth, and Byron went so far in moments of eccentricity or anti-mathematical exaltation as to utter the ugly wish that they had been at Oxford ; and the fact is, perhaps, a justifiable Oxford parry to that difficult Cambridge thrust. But I shall now be more inclined to remember that it by no means represents the last word to be said about the true feelings of those poets. Dryden's, for instance, was notoriously rather a venal Muse, and it is not to be forgotten that his painful contrast between Thebes and Athens occurs in verses addressed to the University of Oxford, and is naturally tinctured by that gratitude which, we know, has its own lively expectations, and naturally does what it can to put them in the way of fulfilment. Moreover, in estimating the value of his
Oxford to him a dearer name shall be
Ho chooses Athens in his riper agewe cannot forget what he says of another prologue and epilogue addressed to Oxford :
'I hear they have succeeded, and by the event your lordship will judge how easy it is to pass anything upon an university, and how gross flattery the learned will endure.' And as to Gray, his life is the best answer to his words. It is no use describing Cambridge as 'a silly, dirty place’ if, without any call of duty or business, you show your love for it by choosing to spend the best part of your life there. Of Byron I say nothing, except that, so far as I remember,