[ocr errors]

forth in lays, which rival or eclipse all that antiquity has left of the kind.

But Love, in all ages, and among all people, has been the principal source of poetic inspiration. Love, — the love of country, our native country; love, – the love of home, our own home, its charities, endearments, relationships; love, the love which men ought to bear to their brethren, of every kindred, realm, and clime upon earth; love, the love of virtue, which elevates man to his true standard under heaven; and, with reverence be it spoken, love, - the love of God, who is Love. I add once more, love, that love, which is the prime, perpetual, ever young and fresh, and unexhausted theme of bards in each successive generation, as though it had never been sung before ; – the love which Adam bare to Eve in Paradise; the love with which Eve compensated Adam in the wilderness, for the loss of that earthly Paradise, which he seems to have forfeited from excess of love to her. I cannot be wrong; I cannot be misunderstood, when I speak thus of that ineffable tenderness which includes whatever makes human love sweet, and lasting, and peculiar; the business of the heart, the subject of hope, fear, sorrow, rapture, despondency, despair, - each in turn, sometimes altogether; for so mysteriously mingled is the cup of affection, that the bitterest infusion will occasionally dash it with intenser deliciousness. All the vicissitudes of this love are pre-eminently poetical in every change of colour, form, and feeling which it undergoes, being intimately associated with all that is transporting or

afflictive, bright and pure, grand and terrible, peaceful, holy, and happy in mortal existence. On this theme, how gloriously soever they have often excelled, it must be confessed that poets have more grievously offended than on any other. Where they might have done most good they have done most evil. I forbear to expatiate here; suffice it to say, that taste and morals have been equally vitiated, and genius itself debased in proportion as it has thus been prostituted.

The Influence of Poetry.

Poetry possesses a paramount degree of influence, from the fact, that sentiments communicated in verse are identified with the very words through which they have been received, and which frequently, more than the character of the sentiments themselves, give force, perspicuity, and permanence to the latter. The language and its import being remembered together, the instruction conveyed is rendered more distinct and indelible. The discourses of the orator, with all their beauty of embellishment, ardour of diction, and cogency of argument, are recollected rather by their effect than in their reality : what he has conceived and expressed with transcendant ability, we call to mind in its general bearings only, and repeat to ourselves, or to others, by imperfect imitation, and in very incompetent verbiage. This, of necessity, must be far inferior, in emphasis and clearness, to the original composition, whether that were spontaneous or elaborate ; and if such be the case with eloquence,

much more will it be so with history, philosophy, and prose literature at large, from which the narratives, speculations, and reasonings, can only be recalled in the abstract, however fascinating in perusal the style of the writer may be. Of these, the epitomised matter, moral, or lesson alone, remains in the mind, which, being blended with our stock of general knowledge, general principles, general motives, thus remotely becomes influential on our conduct and our lives.

Poetry, on the other hand, takes root in the memory as well as in the understanding,—not in essence only, but in the very sounds and syllables that incorporate it. This every one can testify from experience, who, as a child, was taught the songs of Dr. Watts, as a youth, went through Homer and Horace, and, as a man, made acquaintance with the native and foreign literature of his own and past ages.

Of all his reading, that which he remembers most perfectly, and remembers in the words of the originals, will be poetry; poetry in the fixed form of verse, from which it cannot be dissociated without losing half its beauty, and more than half its influence.

That influence is further and incalculably increased from the circumstance that it is the business of poetry to invest whatever it touches with the hues of imagination, and animate that which is susceptible with the warmth of passion; at the same time never to depart from truth ; for if it does, it departs from nature, and its creations are monsters, as incongruous in themselves as they are revolting to good taste.

Noble fictions are not disguises, but revelations of truth; shapes which she assumes to make herself visible to the mind's eye; indeed, so far is legitimate fiction from being any thing distinct from reality, that it can have no existence without it, but is neither more nor less than the fine ideal of reality.

In reference to the lamentable and frequent abuse of that best gift of influence (because the most potent, diffusive, and enduring,) which heaven has bestowed upon the poet for the best purposes — at once to delight and profit contemporaries and posterity - I may observe, that he holds a perilous talent, on a fearful responsibility, who can invent, combine, and fix with inseparable union, words, thoughts, and images, and give them motion like that of the planets,—not to cease till the heavens shall be dissolved, and the earth, with the works therein, burnt up. Is there a power committed to

so great ? Is there one that can be more beneficently or more malignantly exercised ? The deeds of warriors, the decrees of princes, the revolutions of empires, do not so much, so immediately, so permanently affect the moral character, the social condition, the weal and the woe of the human race, as the lessons of wisdom or folly, of glory, virtue and piety, pride, revenge, depravity, licentiousness, and the converse of these,- in the writings of those mysterious beings, who have an intellectual existence among us, and rule posterity, not " from their urns,” like dead heroes, whose acts only are preserved in remembrance, but by their very spirits


living, breathing, speaking in their works; -- therein holding communion with the spirits of all who read or hear their syren or their seraph strains; and thus becoming good or evil angels to successive generations, tempting to vice and crime, to misery and destruction; or leading through ways of pleasantness and paths of peace. Millions of thoughts and images, fixed in the palpable forms of words, and put into perpetual motion, by these benefactors or scourges of their species, are passing down in the track of time, upon the length and breadth of the whole earth, blessing or cursing the people of one age after another;-and, let authors tremble at the annunciation, perpetuating the righteousness or aggravating the guilt of men, whose bones are in the sepulchre and their souls in eternity.

Lord Bacon, remarking upon the destruction of all other works of men's hands, says of letters, “ The images of men's wits remain unmaimed in books for ever, exempt from the injuries of time, – because capable of perpetual renovation. Neither can they properly be called images, because, in their way, they generate still, and cast forth seeds in the minds of men, raising and procreating infinite actions and opinions in succeeding ages; so that, if the invention of a ship was thought so noble and wonderful,which transports riches and merchandise from place to place, and consociates the most remote regions in participation of their fruits and commodities - how much more are letters to be magnified, - which, as ships passing through the vast sea of time, connect the remotest ages of wits and inventions in mutual

« 前へ次へ »