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Correspondence

Scott of the Antarctic

Very long ago, when I was at boarding school in England in the 1960’s, we had a Sunday-morning ritual following chapel.  Mr. Gervis, our remote and forbidding headmaster, assembled everyone in the big hall and read to us from an improving book.  Over the years, I can remember generous helpings of everything from The Pilgrim’s Progress to The Screwtape Letters, and at least one rousing declamation of Elizabeth I’s words to her troops while awaiting the Spanish Armada.  The Rev. Richard Wurmbrand’s recently published Tortured for Christ kept even the most feckless ten-year-old boy riveted in his seat.  Churchillian idiom was also quite familiar to me in those days.  My own early attempts at creative writing were spent reluctantly under its giant shadow.  On national holidays, Mr. Gervis frequently treated us to John of Gaunt’s speech from Act 2, Scene 1 of Richard II, his voice rising to a fever pitch of emotion as he reached the line about “this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.”  To this day, I can never read that play without recalling those bitingly cold Sundays and that peak-decibel voice from the lectern.  Shakespeare’s language, as it was boomed out to us, seemed more like a mountain carved into runnels and crags by time than like something handmade.  There was, in...

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