In Arthur Quiller-Couch’s Oxford Book of English Prose (1925), there is a one-paragraph selection by Arthur Clutton-Brock arguing that the cardinal virtue of poetry is love and that of prose justice. Poetry, I take Clutton-Brock at least in part to be saying, is for affirmation and asseveration, for emotion heightened, heated, even hyperbolic; prose is for calm explanation and cool elucidation, for, above all, the measured perfection of expression that goes under the name of precision.

For the editor of an anthology of English prose, the more pertinent point is that the beauty of poetry is more easily grasped in brief examples, whereas that of prose is generally available only in lengthy passages. Cogitating upon this point, Quiller-Couch asks: “Can any anthology of short passages rightly illustrate an art of which the property is to be long?” It’s a good question, and implicit in it is the larger question...

 

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