Monday, May 25, 2009

Hill, Burton, England

In my article yesterday, I said 'Who are we?' was the real question people were asking. At 11am in Coffee Republic in Marylebone High Street I came across one English, not British, answer.
In Geoffrey Hill's essay Keeping to the Middle Way, he quotes Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy on the subject of exorcism - 'all those jugling circumstances, Astrologicall Elections, of time, place, prodigious habits, fustian, sesquipedall words, spells, crosses, characters, which Exorcists ordinarily use...'
Far better, says Burton, to following the example of the curing of the lame man in Acts 3 - 'In the name of Christ Jesus rise and walke.' The simplicity contrasts not just with the holy rolling exorcists but also with Burton's own expansive style - the 'loose, referential edifice' of his book. Burton thus makes his point by implicitly decrying his own style in the light of scripture, a moment that, Hill says, is 'wonderful almost beyond words'.
A few pages later, Hill quotes Burton again - 'Want of faith, no feeling of grace for the present, are not fit directions, we must live by faith, not by feeling, 'tis the beginning of grace to wish for grace: we must expect and tarry.'
Hill says, ''We must live by faith not by feeling': this at the heart of several hundred thousand words dedicated to an 'anatomy' of diseased feeling. 'In the name of Christ Jesus rise and walke.''
He said it of Burton so I'll say it of Hill - 'wonderful almost beyond words'. And English to the core.


  1. It's a good answer because the wonder is only ALMOST beyond words - the English language is so capable; to be English is to be at home in the language. It's no surprise that speaking good English is no longer considered a part of being English, that to use the language well is despised or at best disregarded. The rot is in language.

  2. Appleyard quotes Hill quoting Burton somewhat loosely quoting the King James translators of the Bible (1611), closely following as usual William Tyndale (1525), translating the Greek version prepared by Desiderius Erasmus from then-extant manuscripts of twin books (Luke-Acts) about some world-shaping events in the first century written by a talented historian and biographer in the Greek tradition whom we traditionally call Luke.

    It isn't about English, in my humble view. It's about the impact on England of these amazing ideas, expressed in such gripping stories, communicated very often at the cost of their lives by geniuses like Erasmus and Tyndale. In my humble view. We really need to be.

    Having said which, it's a wonderful use of the passage, at least I found it so when I first read it early this morning and have been pondering it ever since.

  3. I think I sort of understand this post. It reminds of that bit in Indiana Jones when the baddie performs a load of elaborate threatening swordplay, after which Indy just shoots him. Indy wasn't English, but that scene was very, um, Anglospheric.

  4. Harrison Ford was meant to have learned all the moves for an intricate sword fight but hadn't. Spielberg wanted to move on so, improvising, said "Just take out your gun and shoot him." It became many people's favourite moment in the film. Not just English people I think. There's a lot there too.

  5. the importance of self-recognition is understood obviously.