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VERY brief note is sufficient to indicate what is meant by impassioned prose. It may be described
as prose so impregnated with emotion that it is elevated to an equality with poetry. It must not be confused, however, with what is sometimes called the “prose-poem,” a bastard form of writing, which usually fails of being either good prose or good poetry. When, for example, Dickens becomes dithyrambic over his frequent death-beds, it is not impassioned prose he writes, but hysteric prose, and its effect upon a critical taste is to produce a sense of nausea and absurdity. When, however, the Hebrew prophets, aflame with a hatred of injustice, rise to the height of their great argument, they write truly impassioned prose, which increases in dignity in the degree of its emotional vehemence. We find the same quality in Wycliff and Latimer for the same reason; each is a prophet pleading for the rights of the poor. Across their pages there sweeps the gust of the Spirit, as it does at times over the page of Milton; a wind that blows through the members, a flame that burns upon the heights of logic; something that fuses and transfuses the form of thought, until the whole is 'indistinguishable from poetic or prophetic utterance.
Such a form of writing is necessarily rare. In Baxter, from whose Saints' Everlasting Rest we quote, it is manifestly the fruit of spiritual emotion. From the great religious and devotional writers many similar passages might be selected, but Baxter's may stand as the example of all. It should be noted how closely related this passage of Baxter's is to oratory, and indeed it is very probable that it was actually preached-another illustration of the relation of the essay to the spoken word. In De Quincey the spirit and method are wholly different, and are not altogether free from the suspicion of artifice; yet there is no mistaking the seer-like quality of the writing. And this is always the most marked outward characteristic of impassioned prose, it is vision. It is of imagination all compact; imagination paints the picture, emotion pours into each reticulation of the picture a pulse of life, which makes it less a picture than a vision. We see things; with Baxter that far-off land, where “every day is a noon, every month is harvest, every year a jubilee, every age is a full manhood, and all this is one eternity”; with De Quincey, “Death, the crowned Phantom, with all the equippage of his terrors . . . suddenly as from the chambers of the air opening in revelation ... with the flashing of cataracts”-rushing on his victim. Here we have the true apocalyptic quality, which asking larger freedom for itself than the forms of metre admit, finds its adequate expression in impassioned prose.
Ruskin is much less simple than Baxter, much more ornate than De Quincey, but in his highest moments is equally the seer, the man who sees. His pictures of Venice are a continuous pageant, so essentially pictures in their objective quality and their appeal to the imagination, that had he possessed the equipment of the painter, he would have found in color a better vehicle for their interpretation than in words. The passage chosen from Ruskin illustrates this pictorial power, but it must not be forgotten that his prophetic power was equally great. Wordpainting is but a part of his gift; behind it lies the rarer gift of passion, and his greatest prose passages are the product of his moral passion. In no English writer is the influence
of the Bible so manifest. He himself has told us that one of the chief intellectual exercises of his childhood was the systematic absorption of the English Bible. Mr. Frederick Harrison has noted no fewer than sixty references to the Bible in one of his famous passages. With a soul saturated with the spirit of the Hebrew prophets, a mind exquisitely sensitive to their sonorous eloquence, a nature easily wrought into ecstasies of indignation over wrong, ecstasies of rapture over loveliness of form or action, Ruskin needed for his message to the world something that lay between poetry which he could not write, and mere pedestrian prose which he scorned to write, and he found his medium in impassioned prose. Matthew Arnold's famous apostrophe to Oxford is well known. In his essays, as in his poetry, he has something of the defect which he noted in Gray-he does not speak out. No one can be franker than he in the expression of opinion, few men have been more reticent in the expression of emotion. But in his apostrophe to Oxford he allows his emotion to speak as it rarely spoke even in his poetry. And it has the singular charm of entire spontaneity; here he speaks from the heart, and the speech is the more affecting because it is the brief and habitually denied emotion of a man naturally reticent. In Walter Pater the source of passion is the love of beauty. With a style definitely intricate, subtle, and full of artifice, Pater also has his passionate moments, when his page grows lyric, and his exquisite modulations affect us like the passing of a strain of music. Stevenson has done more for the essay than any writer since Lamb. He has endued it with new qualities, carried it to a completer perfection. Always by genius and deliberate aim a great stylist, a lover of phrases, a master of form, in his essays the genuine man speaks; a man not only genuine but deep-hearted, with a message for his age which he himself has won out of the long discipline of suf