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DUE PROPORTION OF INTELLECTUAL POWERS.
familiarity with the classic models a deeper insight is gained into the glories of the spirit of a great poet. In the volume of the great dramatist, for instance, there are depths innumerable that have not yet been fathomed, and which remain to be sounded by an imaginative philosophy.
In bringing this lecture to a close, let me revert to a reflection previously presented :—that a prime purpose of every one who thoughtfully seeks to develope the faculties with which he is gifted should be to give to those faculties their due proportionate cultivation. Life is made up of an almost infinite variety of demands on the human character,—the thousand minute incidents of daily occurrence, the weightier trusts from which no one can isolate himself, and those responsibilities which, beginning here, will have their event beyond all time. A great error of human existence is devotion to one set of duties at the expense of others,—the partial formation of character, the culture of some faculties, and the wilful or thoughtless abandonment of others.
Let them be all present in a just subordination, without prostrating the other intellectual powers. I have endeavoured to assert the majesty of the imagination, thus claiming only
“That the king may enjoy his own." The world is swayed by two principles antagonistic when divorced,the spirit of contemplation, hermit-like seeking a retreat, and, what is more in the ascendant, the spirit of action, hurrying into the thoroughfares of society, and restless, wretched, and helpless in any chance moment of reluctant solitude. The temptation to which the mere man of letters is exposed is the disposition to withdraw from the active life in which, in common with his fellow-men, his lot is cast, into the cloister of his ideal world. I have had occasion to speak earnestly on the importance of literary cultivation; but I desire a condemnation equally earnest of the exaggeration of that importance at the cost of other duties, that pedantry which leads into the exclusive and narrow-spirited error of making literature the standard by which all things are to be measured. There is, bearing on this subject, a beautiful incident in the biography of Sir Walter Scott, to whom a young friend chanced to make a remark conveying the impression of a suspicion of poets and novelists being accustomed to look at life and the world only as the materials for art. A soft and pensive shade came over Scott's face as he said, “I fear you have some very young ideas in your head. Are you not too apt to measure things by some reference to literature,—to disbelieve that anybody can be worth much care who has no knowledge of that sort of thing, a taste for it? God help us ! what a poor world this would be if that
were the true doctrine! I have read books enough, and observed and conversed with enough of eminent and splendidly-cultivated minds too, in
my time; but, I assure you, I have heard higher sentiments from the lips of poor uneducated men and women, when exerting the spirit of severe yet gentle heroism under difficulties and afflictions, or speaking their simple thoughts as to circumstances in the lot of friends and neighbours, than I ever yet met with out of the pages of the Bible. We shall never learn to feel and respect our real calling and destiny unless we have taught ourselves to consider everything as moonshine compared with the education of the heart.”
The most accomplished condition of humanity is that in which habits of contemplation and of action exist in harmony. The noblest eulogy was pronounced on the celebrated Sir Philip Sydney, by his philosophic friend and biographer, when he said of him, “ He was the exact image of quiet and action, happily united in him, and seldom well divided in any." The equal cultivation of each spiritual gift that is bestowed on us is that true idea of education set forth by Lord Bacon in a passage full of a wise imagination, closing his enumeration of the obstacles to the advancement of learning, and which in conclusion I desire to quote :
The greatest error is the mistaking or misplacing the last or furthest end of knowledge; for men have entered into a desire of learning and knowledge, sometimes upon natural curiosity and inquisitive appetite, sometimes to entertain their minds with variety and delight, sometimes for ornament and reputation, and sometimes to enable them to victory of wit and contradiction, and most times for lucre and profession, and seldom sincerely to give a true account of their gift of reason, to the benefit and use of men; as if there were sought in knowledge a couch whereupon to rest a searching and restless spirit, or a terrace for a wandering and variable mind to walk up and down with a fair prospect, or a tower of state for a proud mind to raise itself upon, or a fort or commanding ground for strife and contention, or a shop for profit or sale, and not a rich storehouse for the glory of the Creator and the relief of nian's estate."
THE DAWN OF ENGLISH POESY-DIFFICULTIES OF DESCRIBING IT-OBSOLETE LAN.
GUAGE-CHAUCER THE FATHER OF ENGLISH POETRY-LATIN POETRY-REVIVAL OF LEARNING ENGLISH LANGUAGE-ITS TRANSITION-STATUTES OF EDWARD THE THIRD-GOWER-AGE OF CHIVALRY-INVASION OF FRANCE-CRESSY AND POITIERS-THE BLACK PRINCE—THE CHURCH-WICLIF-CHAUCER'S BIRTH, A.D. 1328--FRIENDSHIP WITH GOWER-TASTE FOR NATURAL SCENERY-THE FLOWER AND THE LEAF-BURNS'S DAISY-ROMAUNT OF THE ROSE-CANTERBURY TALESITS OUTLINE-HIS RESPECT FOR THE FEMALE SEX-CHAUCER'S INFLUENCE ON THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE,“ THE WELL OF ENGLISH UNDEFILED"--HIS VERSIFICATION-HIS DEATH, A. D. 1400.
HE era of English poetry may be described as a period of about five hundred
years. At the remote point of time forming the distant boundary of those five centuries stands a name illustrious enough to justify the usage of placing it at the head of the English poets when they are considered chronologically. A great living poet closes the catalogue.* It is a consideration of some interest that the calendar which opens so nobly with the name of Chaucer closes worthily in our day with that of Wordsworth. It is a gratification to the literary student to know that, when he seeks acquaintance with the earliest English poets, he will encounter, not the feeble and dull productions of rudeness and mediocrity, but works belonging to the higher order of
and also that, when he brings down the study to the literature of the present time, he will not have occasion to mourn over the degeneracy of modern inspiration. Upon each frontier of those five hundred years stands the landmark of high poetic genius. It is also worthy of remark that the history of English poetry is contemporaneous with that of the language. Almost as soon as the language spoken in England assumed a form which has continued intelligible to later generations, there appeared a poet of the first rank, who made it the voice of bis inspiration. In the primitive age of English literature there is one (and but one) name of distinguished eminence. If, therefore; our subject is to be treated with regard to historical considerations, there cannot be a moment's hesitation as to the period when it is to be taken up. The arrangement of this course of lectures is attended, in this particular, with a disadvantage to which it is proper to advert, though I am not aware that it can be avoided except by the sacrifice of more important considerations. The portion of literature in which any reader is naturally first interested is that which is accessible in the fresh and familiar forms of contemporaneous language; and it is only as the taste is invigorated and the knowledge of former ages increased that he carries his reading into earlier literature, no longer displeased or dismayed by antiquated or obsolete dialects. This is properly the course of every student in his individual investigations as he follows the guidance of his own taste. His course is against the stream of time. To obey the same instinct in presenting the subject to your consideration would have enabled me better to conciliate your attention than, I fear, I can hope to do in treating the old English poetry. The advantage of beginning the course with modern poetry and passing by a retrogade movement into its previous eras was not to be relinquished without reflection; but, at the same time, such a method would have involved an abandonment of the advantages arising from giving to the subject somewhat of an historical form. I have therefore concluded rather to encounter the risk and inconveniences alluded to, in order to trace the march of the English Muse, and, collaterally, the rise and progress of the English language.
* In 1841, Wordsworth was living.
I shall not therefore struggle against the tide of time, though in moving with it, and setting out at a period when the language was in many respects not the English language now spoken, we must hold converse with extinct dialects,-words and forms of expression which have yielded to the same power of death which long ago conquered the lips that uttered them. It is a weary thing, no doubt, communing with our native language through the medium of dictionaries and glossaries, to meet, as it were, the curse of Babel upon our own hearth. It is painful to hear the dear voice of our mother tongue like the voice of a stranger and an alien. The relation in which Chaucer stands to succeeding poets is that of an ancestor to a long lineage of descendants. “ The line of English poets,” says Mr. Southey, “ begins with him, as that of English kings with William the Conqueror; and, if the change introduced by him was not so great, his title is better. Kings there were before the Conquest, and of great and glorious memory too. But the poets before Chaucer are like the heroes before Agamemnon: even of those whose works have escaped oblivion the names of most have perished.” “ The Father of English Poetry,” “The Morning Star,” are the metaphorical phrases so tritely associated with Chaucer's name as
REVIVAL OF LEARNING.
to show the general sentiment respecting him. It could scarcely have happened that this kind of rank would have been assigned to an author of secondary merit. But it should be distinctly understood that his fame rests not only upon the fact of his being the acknowledged father of English poetry, but as one of our greatest poets.
Before entering on the question of his merits, it is proper to examine his position relatively to the literature of Europe generally and then to the language of England. The fourteenth century,—the period from the year 1300 to 1400,-—it will be remembered, was the first century of the rising literature of Europe. The Latin language, which had long since ceased to be a living, colloquial language, had not fallen into the entire obsoleteness of a dead language; for it continued to be the medium of communication for the learned community of all Europe. But in the time just alluded to—the latter Middle Ages—the vernacular tongues in the respective countries were beginning to assume a distinctive form, and thus to furnish to the author an instrument by which he could not only move the monastic intellect of the scholar, but arouse theneglected faculties of all to whom his writings could be made accessible in times when printing had not yet superseded the toilsome and limited labours of the copyist. In the history of modern European literature the foremost great name is that of Dante, and in immediate succession is that of Petrarch. These were men of the fourteenth century; and I have alluded to them for the purpose of showing that the little island we trace our history from was not far behind old Italy in the intellectual
When poetic genius, after its slumber of more than a thousand years, began to breathe again beneath the genial atmosphere of the South, the strain was quickly caught by the cold nations of the North, and the inspiration of the Muse found a fit tone in words which before were known only as the rude and uncouth dialect of barbarism. Between the death of Dante and the birth of Chaucer there was an interval
years. With the second great poet, Petrarch, the life of Chaucer was contemporary. All belonging to the fourteenth century, it will be perceived that the rise of English poetry was coincident with the early era of the modern literature of Europe. The ancestral position of Chaucer in the annals of our poetry makes it important to fix in the mind a distinct idea of the period of time in which he flourished. This may readily be done by the recollection that he died, at an advanced age, in the year 1400,—the border-year of two centuries. He was an author during the last half of the fourteenth century.
Fixing the date of Chaucer's time, let us next briefly examine the condition of the language of his nation. For the information of those
of a very