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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

XII. Divines of the Church of England 1660–1700

§ 14. South and the Controversial Style

But, before we have done with sermons, we must touch on the striking contrast, at once to the ornate and the commonplace, to Taylor and to Tillotson, noticeable in the work of Robert South, who was twenty years younger than the former and died twenty-two years after the latter. South, before all things, was original. He rejected the flowers of Taylor, and followed the simple way before Tillotson. But he followed it with a difference. If he delights not in tropes or figures, he abhors the commonplace and the dull. He revels in humour: he continually shoots shafts of ridicule against vice, be it pride or hypocrisy, ingratitude or anger. He had fixed orthodox opinions and considered orthodoxy important, unlike Tillotson. But he knew how to make beliefs effective without being venomous; he could make home truths stick though the wound did not fester. His writing is as sincere as Tillotson’s, but of quite different quality: while the one maintains a level of plainness from which it is difficult to detach a passage of interest, the other is always vivacious, and the difficulty in quoting from South is to find a passage which will not lose by its separation from a context equally vigorous and emphatic. Many an epigram could be set down by itself; but there was never a time when English prose lacked a maker of epigrams. Part of a longer passage, chosen almost at random, may illustrate at once the characteristic merits of South and the ordinary unaffected language of Charles II’s day. It is from a sermon preached before the university of Oxford, at the beginning of the October term of 1675, on ingratitude. The preacher is approaching his “consequences,” and, after advising that friendships should not be made with the ungrateful, he continues:

  • Philosophy will teach the Learned, and Experience may teach all, that it is a thing hardly sensible. For, Love such an one, and he shall despise you. Commend him, and, as occasion serves, he shall revile you. Give to him, and he shall but laugh at your easiness. Save his life; but when you have done, look to your own. The greatest favours to such an one, are but like the Motion of a Ship upon the Waves; they leave no trace, no sign, behind them; they neither soften nor win upon him; they neither melt, nor endear him, but leave him as hard, as rugged, and as unconcerned as ever. All Kindnesses descend upon such a Temper, as Showers of Rain, or Rivers of fresh Water falling into the Main Sea: the Sea swallows, but is not at all changed, or sweetened by them. I may truly say of the Mind of an Ungratefull person, that it is Kindness-proof. It is impenetrable; unconquerable; Unconquerable by that which conquers all things else, even by Love itself. Flints may be melted (we see it daily) but an Ungrateful heart cannot; no, not by the strongest and noblest Flame. After all your Attempts; all your Experiments, for any doing that Man can doe, He that is Ungratefull, will be Ungratefull still.