Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
The King’s English
By William Cobbett (1763–1835)
From English Grammar

AND, though a man may possess great knowledge as a statesman and legislator without being able to perform what this poet would call writing well; yet surely we have a right to expect in a minister the capacity of being able to write grammatically; the capacity of putting his own meaning clearly down upon paper. But, in the composing of a king’s speech, it is not one man, but nine men, whose judgement and practical talent are employed. A king’s speech is, too, a very short piece of writing. The topics are all distinct. Very little is said upon each. There is no reasoning. It is all plain matter of fact, or of simple observation. The thing is done with all the advantages of abundant time for examination and re-examination. Each of the ministers has a copy of the speech to read, to examine, and to observe upon; and, when no one has anything left to suggest in the way of alteration or improvement, the speech is agreed to, and put into the mouth of the king.
  Surely, therefore, if in any human effort, perfection can be expected, we have a right to expect it in a king’s speech. You shall now see, then, what pretty stuff is put together, and delivered to the Parliament, under the name of king’s speeches.  2
  The speech which I am about to examine, is indeed, a speech of the Regent; but I might take any other of these speeches. I choose this particular speech, because the subjects of it are familiar in America as well as in England. It was spoken on the 8th of November, 1814. I shall take a sentence at a time, in order to avoid confusion.  3
  “My lords and gentlemen, it is with deep regret that I am again obliged to announce the continuance of His Majesty’s lamented indisposition.”  4
  Even in this short sentence there is something equivocal; for it may be that the Prince’s regret arises from his being obliged to announce, and not from the thing announced. If he had said: “With deep regret I announce,” or, “I announce with deep regret,” there would have been nothing equivocal. And in a composition like this, all ought to be as clear as the pebbled brook.  5
  “It would have given me great satisfaction to have been enabled to communicate to you the termination of the war between this country and the United States of America.”  6
  The double compound times of the verbs, in the first part of the sentence, make the words mean, that it would, before the prince came to the house, have given him great satisfaction to be enabled to communicate; whereas, he meant, “it would now, have given me great satisfaction to be enabled to communicate.” In the latter part of the sentence we have a little nonsense. What does termination mean? It means, in this case, end, or conclusion; and, thus, the prince wished to communicate an end to the wise men, by whom he was surrounded! To communicate is to impart to another anything that we have in our possession or within our power. And so, the prince wished to impart the end to the noble lords and honourable gentlemen. He might wish to impart, or communicate the news, or the intelligence of the end; but he could not communicate the end itself. What should we say, if some one were to tell us, that an officer had arrived, and brought home the termination of a battle, and carried it to Carlton House, and communicated it to the prince? We should laugh at our informant’s ignorance of grammar, though we should understand what he meant. And shall we then be so partial and so unjust as to reverence in king’s councillors that which we should laugh at in one of our neighbours? To act thus would be, my dear son, a base abandonment of our reason, which is, to use the words of Dr. Watts, the common gift of God to man.  7

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