« 前へ次へ »
made-treating the Papists, and chiefly the Irish, in a very ridiculous manner, and with a burden, said to be Irish words—that made an impression on the king's army that cannot be imagined by those who saw it not. The whole army-and, at last, the people, both in city and country-were singing it perpetually; and “perhaps,” he adds, “never had so slight a thing so great an effect.” Again, if a song helped to bring about the Revolution of 1688, and to drive the Stuarts from their dynasty, another song, harmonizing with another mood of the people's heart,-the sentiment of ancient loyalty,- near bringing the exiled family back again. In the rebellion of 1745, when the young Pretender made his victorious march upon Edinburgh to set his banished foot on the threshold of the palace of his forefathers, the lineage of Scotland's ancient kings was welcomed to its own again; and every breeze that blew over Scotland-highland and lowland, the streets of the metropolis and the blasted heath of distant moors—brought with it the burden of the cavalier-song chanted by loyal Scotsmen to the music of the Highland Clans :
“ Then, Fear, avaunt! upon the hill
Which now disturb my troubled brain,
That the king enjoys his own again.” In proof of the enduring influence of what is addressed to the imagination, far higher authority may be adduced. In the sacred history of the chosen race of Israel, when the promised land was almost reached, and the inspired lawgiver and leader was to relinquish his great charge, the command of the Deity came to him, bidding him write a song to be taught to the children of Israel, to be put into their mouths, that it might be a witness against them in after-ages. When the Divine Providence designed to imprint upon the memory of the nation what should endure generation after generation, he inspired his servant to speak, not in the stern language of reason and law, but in the impassioned strains of imagination. The last tones of that voice which had roused his countrymen from slavery and sensuality in Egypt, and cheered and threatened and rebuked them during their wanderings, which had announced the statutes of Jehovah, had proclaimed victory to the obedient, and pronounced judgment on the rebellious,—the last tones, which were to go on sounding and sounding into distant ages,-were the tones of
THE SONGS OF ISRAEL.
poetry. The last inspiration which came down from God into the heart of Moses burst forth in that sublime ode which was his death-song. And why was this? “It shall come to pass,” are the words of Scripture, “when many evils and troubles are befallen them, that this song shall testify against them as a witness; for it shall not be forgotten out of the mouths of their children.” Well may we conceive how, in aftertimes, when Israel was driven by the hand of Midian into caves and dens,—when, smitten by the Philistines, the Ark of God was snatched from them,—when, after Jerusalem had known its highest glory, the sword of the King of the Chaldees smote their young men in the sanctuary, and spared neither young man nor maiden, old man nor him that stooped for age, -or when the dark-browed Israelite was wandering in Nineveh or Babylon, an exile and a slave,-how must there have risen on his heart the memory of that song, with its sublime image of * God's protection : “As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings, 80 the Lord alone did bear them; and there was no strange God with him :" or its other mighty appeal to the imagination in the threat, up my hand to heaven, and say, I live for ever. If I whet my glittering sword, and my hand take hold on judgment, I will render vengeance to mine enemies, and will reward them that hate me."
When any one is disposed to undervalue poetry, it should be remembered that the one volume of divine prediction addressed to all mankind is the most poetical on which the eye has ever rested. It is the proudest attribute of imagination that, when the wisdom of God came down to earth to speak to man through inspired lips, it was addressed eminently to this faculty of the mind; and it is worth a thousand arguments in defence of poetry,—the simple fact, whether explained or no, that inspired patriotism and prayer and praise and thanksgiving took the voice of song, and that prophecy, and even the Redeemer's lessons, are glowing with the fervour of the visionary power.
It not unfrequently happens that, the dignity of poetry and its value admitted, the subject is dismissed with the thought that what is called a taste for poetry is not within the power of the will to attain. The degree in which it may be acquired will indeed vary with the proportion of imagination possessed by each reader ; but it is wholly erroneous to suppose that accurate taste in poetry or any of the kindred arts is other than an acquired talent. It is an acquisition by reflection and continued intercourse with the best models; it is the result of intellectual and moral activity; and the notion that it is a natural gift—an instinct, as it were—is the conclusion of ignorance or the fallacious plea of mental sluggishness. The fallacy has been philosophically traced to its source by a writer whose language will best serve to present the truth to you:
“ Taste is a word which has been forced to extend its services far beyond the point to which philosophy would have confined them. It is a metaphor taken from a passive sense of the human body, and transferred to things which are in their essence not passive,-to intellectual acts and operations. As nations decline in productive and creative power, they value themselves upon a presumed refinement of judging. The word 'taste' has been stretched to the sense which it bears in modern Europe by habits of self-conceit, inducing that inversion in the order of things whereby a passive faculty is made paramount among
the faculties conversant with the Fine Arts. Proportion and congruity, the requisite knowledge being supposed, are subjects upon which taste may be trusted. It is competent to this office ; for, in its intercourse with these, the mind is passive, and it is affected painfully or pleasurably as by an instinct. But the profound and exquisite in feeling, the lofty and universal in thought and imagination, or, in ordinary language, the pathetic and sublime, are neither of them, accurately speaking, objects of a faculty which could never, without a sinking in the spirit of nations, have been designated by the metaphor Taste. And why? Because, without the exertion of a coöperating power in the mind of the reader, there can be no adequate sympathy with either of these emotions : without this auxiliary impulse, elevated or profound passion cannot exist."
That which is so inadequately called a taste for poetry is the knowledge of the abiding principles in human nature on which the art rests and the feelings which recognise their truth. It is the high office of philosophic criticism to minister to it. In the unripe and undisciplined period of taste, vicious productions will win its favour; and only with the chastened and invigorated spirit will there be congeniality with chaste and elevated models. The value of such taste is enhanced at every period of its improvement, until at length it brings that deep emotion of delight familiar to a cultivated imagination,-a rich dowry of intellectual and moral happiness. The passionate sensibility which is an element of poetic character may, indeed, increase the pains as well as the pleasures of the spirit; but another element is philosophic faith, whose happy attendants are love and hope. The dark periods are momentary because uncongenial; and the main portion of a true poet's existence-I speak in reference to his spiritual life—is happy above the lot of mere worldly intellects. When a late poet exclaims,
" Most men Are cradled into poetry by wrong:
They learn in suffering what they teach in song," it was the expression of a passing morbid sentiment. So it was but a chance and discordant mood that was meant in that noble stanza of Wordsworth:
“I thought of Chatterton, the marvellous boy,–
The sleepless soul that perish'd in his pride,-
But thereof come in the end despondency and madness." I shall have occasion hereafter to treat of the disordered intellect and melancholy of Cowper ; -of the insanity of Collins ; of Chatterton's fearful frenzy, calmed only by the cup of poison ; of the sad part of Burns's career; and to show that none of them had their origin in the gift of imagination. But in the pages of biography I know of nothing more sublime and illustrative of the soul-sustaining power of poetry than the hermit old age of Milton. The happy visions of his youth were followed by a tempestuous life, in which one storm of disappointment after another burst upon his devoted head. As a patriot, a Christian, a husband, and perhaps as a father, his best hopes were frustrated. In the arena of political life, and in the sacred recess of home, his heart was as hopeless as his sightless eyes, but happiness communed with him in the
Unpolluted temple of his mind.” He went away
that was unworthy of him,—not to complain, not to repine, not to stain his spirit with bitterness, but to build
“ Immortal lays,
Of things invisible to mortal sight.'' The same spiritual visitant irradiated the gifted but darkly-diseased existence of Coleridge; for from his very heart there came the gratitude of that wise acknowledgment :“Poetry has been to me its own ex
from an age
ceeding great reward. It has soothed
afflictions ; it has multiplied and refined my enjoyments; it has endeared solitude; and it has given me the habit of wishing to discover the good and beautiful in all that meets and surrounds me.” Let me also bring the calm but earnest testimony of a living writer, eminent in another department of letters, whose life, devoted to laborious research, has produced three great historical works, each sufficient to give him fame. It is in the latest of these that Mr. Hallam remarks, “They who have known what it is, when afar from books, in solitude, or in travelling, or in the intervals of worldly cares, to feed on poetical recollections, to murmur over the beautiful lines whose cadence has long delighted the ear, to recall the sentiments and images which retain by association the charm which early years once gave them,—they will feel the inestimable value of committing to the memory, in the prime of its power, what it will easily receive and indelibly retain. And I know not, indeed, whether an education that deals much with poetry—such as is still in use in England
- has any more solid argument among many in its favour than that it lays the foundation of intellectual pleasures at the extreme of life.”
It is mental inactivity that is so fatal to all just criticism and to the genial appreciation of poetry. No one who takes up poetry as a mere matter of elegant amusement or an indolent recreation need expect to look higher than the most subordinate departments of the art. A great poem is the production of all the noblest faculties of the human mind; and what but the rash presumption of ignorance can suppose that such works are to be approached except by strenuous thought, by reverential study, and by deep meditation. In this lies the immeasurable space between poems and what are usually termed works of fiction. The common run of novels and romances are read with scarce any intellectual coöperation on the part of the reader, the gratification for the most part consisting in mere relief from vacuity of mind. The difference is as wide, too, in the enjoyment derived from the two great classes of works of imagination. That from the novel is fugitive, it being praise to say
of a novel that it can be read with pleasure a second time, and a more frequent recurrence being a rare tribute to its merits. Applying the same test to poetry, the indisposition, on the part of any one competent to judge, to peruse a poem a second time is almost equivalent to its condemnation. The higher works of the art comprehend a fund of intellectual interest inexhaustible. Nine out of ten novels, when read, are flung aside for ever; while at each study of a great poem the imagination expands with the perception of new beauties and new pow
With each expansion of the imagination effected by reflection and