A Layman's Love of Letters

A Layman's Love of Letters

A Layman's Love of Letters

A Layman's Love of Letters

Excerpt

YES, you may well wonder to see me standing up behind the desk. I have often taken the chair at the Clark Lectures, while we absorbed instruction and inhaled delight from discourses at once learned and inspiring, delivered by men whose life's work was the study of English literature. For this purpose I am only a layman--a "lewed man" as Chaucer would call me--not a professional scholar or critic at all. Perhaps those who are responsible for thus intruding me upon you wish to remind the University that the Clark Lectures are provided by Trinity; it is not unnatural that the Council should job an old servant of the College into this place. None the less I was surprised and taken aback by their invitation, for my lectures cannot have the kind of merit and authority to which you are accustomed on these occasions.

All the same, here I am; I have yielded to the temptation, of hearing again, in the words of Walt Whitman, "the clear glad sound of my own voice". I am indeed only an historian, but I have always held that History and Literature are sisters, and that their complete separation is unnatural and injurious. (Incidentally, I am glad to think that the English Tripos is conducted very largely on that principle.) Moreover, it is perhaps well that for one year the Clark Lectures should represent a lay point of view--I do not say the lay point of view, for my thesis is that there ought to be many such. Quot homines, tot sententiae.

I shall begin by stating first my own deep debt of gratitude to professional scholars and critics of English letters; and, second, my reasons for thinking that the existence of schools of English at the Universities is of special value in our present state of society.

First as to my personal debt. If I start counting from my . . .

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