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valled style of prose, as numerous as the richest verse, and Demosthenes himself, -of the effects of whose speeches as “ fulmined" from the living voice over the heads of audiences that could criticise every syllable, even when Philip was at the gates,
we must necessarily form very imperfect ideas from reading them in a dead language, addressed only to the eye, for the sounds, whatever be our pronunciation, are little more than imaginary; - Cicero and Demosthenes have exercised no such power over posterity as Homer and Virgil have done, though the diction of these lies under yet a heavier impracticability of modern utterance, from the loss of the true use of quantity, as well as articulation, in the antique tongues.
In history, as a matter of fact, whether creditable to the eccentricity of human taste or not, it will hardly be disputed, that Xenophon and Thucydides have failed to command the attention, which (not without a cause lying deep in our very nature) has been won by Anacreon and Horace. But even on its own ground, history, in some respects, as the transmitter of knowledge concerning the past, is compelled to vail to poetry. Not that the records of actual events can be so properly conveyed in verse (though bards in all nations were the first chroniclers) as they may be, through all their remembered details, in prose; but, since all memorials must be necessarily imperfect, and more or less mixed up with error, -by the latter we may be absolutely deceived, taking the statements for pure truth ; while, by the former, we must be left proportionately in ignorance of some
things needful to be known, to form a correct judg. ment of great and complicated transactions. Now the defects and errors of poets concerning subjects of history are not in themselves liable to mislead, bes cause the details are never exhibited as literal verities, but avowedly as things which might have happened under certain circumstances, in cases where what really did happen is no longer known. This is exemplified by the narrative poems of the Siege of Troy, and the Voyages of Ulysses and Æneas, events of which no other history exists; and though few will doubt that for much of the romance in the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Æneid, there was no foundation in truth, nobody will mistake the palpable fictions for facts. In history, on the other hand, it is difficult, nay, impossible, to distinguish between facts and fictions, when both rest upon the same authority, and there happens to be nothing in the nature of things to enable us to separate the one from the other, both being in the abstract alike probable. But this would lead us into too wide a field of discussion, at present. It may, however, be safely assumed, that a large proportion of ancient history, especially that of the early periods, is as fabulous as the mythology of the gods, which usually precedes the traditions of the men that first made and then worshipped them.
Poetry, in one sense, builds up the ruins of history, fallen otherwise into irrecoverable dilapidation. From the epic, dramatic, satiric, didactic, and even from the lyric remains of the Greeks and Romans, we learn more than history, were it sevenfold more
perfect than it is in the records of great men and great deeds, could ever have communicated concerning the state of society in old times and in famous lands. From the former we derive almost all that we know of ancient manners, customs, arts, sciences, amusements, food, dress, and those numberless small circumstances which make up the business and leisure, the colour, form, and character of life. Poetry, in a word, shows us men, not only as kings and legislators, warriors and philosophers, tyrants and slaves, actors and sufferers upon the public stage, —but men in all their domestic relationships, -as they are in themselves, as they appear in their families, and as they influence their little neighbourhoods. Nay, even in the palace, the hall of justice, the field of battle, the academic grove, poetry exhibits man in portraiture, - more like himself individually (so as his fellows in all ages may personally sympathise with him), than history can show him in any of the artificial groups amidst which he appears in his assumed character,-a mask among masks.
Take poetry and history upon the same favourite ground, -war. Homer may not have recorded the actual events at the siege of Troy, and the disasters of Greece in consequence of the anger of Achilles ; but, with all his noble exaggeration of the strength, speed, prowess, and other qualities of his heroes, the splendour of their arms, and the sumptuousness of their state, he has undoubtedly delineated from the life the people of his own and the age before him ; so that we learn more concerning the warriors, minstrels, sages, ladies, and all classes of human society,
from the Iliad and the Odyssey alone, than from the most faithful, intelligent, and least romantic of the historians of the same and succeeding periods, before the fashions of those strange times were passed away. Poetry is thus the illuminator of history, the paths of which, in early times, would have been dark indeed, without this “ light from heaven.”
In regard to philosophy and jurisprudence, it may be remarked, that Pythagoras, Solon, Lycurgus, and Socrates himself, occasionally employed poetry to dictate laws, with oracular authority, and to enforce morals with the sanction of a language like that of the gods. Plato was the most poetical of writers in prose, because, it has been said, he could not excel Homer in verse, and at the head of one or the other species of literature he had determined to be; - thus acknowledging the pre-eminence of that which he did not adopt, by making that which he did approach as near to it as possible. It is true, that he would banish poets from his commonwealth ; first, however, crowning them with bays. But there were immunities under his system of polity which rendered it no disgrace for the divinest of human arts to be forbidden; and in his other works he does honour to himself, by giving to it the honour due. I palliate not the abominations of pagan poetry, many of them too revolting to be named; but these were the perversions of what in itself is most excellent, and in proportion to its excellence most pernicious when perverted. But pagan poetry, with all its sins, has survived pagan philosophy with all its merits.
Permanence of Poetry. - Poetry, the most perfect form of literature, which is all that I contend for in this essay, is also the most enduring ; the relics of ancient verse considerably exceed, in proportion to the bulk of the original materials, those of ancient prose, especially in ethics. Most of the philosophers are but names, and their systems traditions, at this day. Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and Seneca alone have survived, in sufficient bulk, to show what they were; giants in intellect, but babes in knowledge of the best things (the pure spiritual principles that teach the love of God and the love of man), in comparison with the humblest Christian who can read his Bible, and know, from its influence upon his heart, his conscience and his life, that it is true. Had all the writings of Greek and Roman moralists been preserved, they would but have exhibited the impossibility of man by searching to find out God, without a distinct revelation from himself. They would have been, in many respects, splendid piles of error, on which eloquence, argument, all the
power, penetration, and subtilty of minds of the highest order were expended in comparatively vain speculations; resembling their temples, - prodigies of human art, science, taste, elegance, sublimity,—all that could show the immortality of man even in his mortal works, but dedicated to false gods, to idols ---the wisest among them not knowing that an idol, whether ideal or material, the idol of the sage or of the clown, is nothing in the world. Now, in the systems alluded to, whatever was false and evil was laid