Page images

his design was in this way to exhibit the more strikingly the tranquillity, blessedness, and glory of the one scene, by placing in close contrast with it the distress and anxiety of the other. He did not mind the appearance of being guilty of something like blundering in his art, if he might succeed in making an impressive exhibition to all ages of pious feeling.

In sculpture it is universally allowed, that the poetical reigns far more than in painting. And why is this ?-except that sculpture, being more simple in its means of imitation, is thus thrown back from the bare imitation of nature upon the expression of feeling, which, in this case, can be little more than merely a distant intimation. Thus poetry is again shown to be the disclosure of secret feeling conveyed through the imagination, (curarum index, phantasiæ interpres).

In architecture, the poetry of the Norman style, with its round arches, its massive arch-piers, its small amount of tracery, and its general solidness and simplicity of structure, consists in the adumbration of firmness and immutability, in the instilling of sentiments of constancy and unaffected fortitude. On the other hand, the gothic, with its pointed arches, its high and slender columns, its complex tracery, its large and numerous windows, all directing the attention onwards to the penetralia of the temple, that most sacred shrine, than which there exists nothing more divine beneath the skies,' while again its lofty tapering spires seem to be so many fingers pointing to heaven, partly by a kind of sweet delight soothes and cherishes the spirit in the presence of God,-partly by its splendour teaches us, that to the benignant Deity true worshippers ought ever to present the largest and most costly offerings.

It is needless to dwell upon the poetry of music which obviously presents just the same characteristics. Leaving this and going on to oratory, let us, among the ancients, compare Cicero and Plato. What orator was ever more musical, or more ornate, or more empassioned, or more abounding in imagery, than the Roman? Yet no one would allow him to be a poet, even if the poetical form were not wanting. But all would immediately agree, that Plato has rightly been called even 'OunpoŨ TOINTIXάTEρos. And the reason is this: Cicero is always oratorical, always imagines himself exhibiting before an audience; and so he presses and urges his point, and pours out everything which may have the effect of moving the minds of his hearers; whilst Plato seems to be indulging in his own bent rather than seeking to influence others; to mean generally more than he says; to abound, indeed, in most beautiful thoughts, yet so as evidently to leave more behind unsaid.


may wonder that one who came to his paper with so full a mind

should have so religiously have observed the maxim, manum de tabula, but I fancy he did it from deep love, thus at once commending the objects of his chief affection to those worthy to receive the communication, and seeking to conceal them from those who were not worthy : Φωνάντα συνετοισιν· ἐς δὲ τὸ πᾶν, ἑρμηνέων χατίζει.’—vol. i. p. 38.

If we come to more modern writers, every one knows the passage in Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France,' (Works vol. v., p. 149,) in which he speaks of the fall of the Queen of France. Magnificent and splendid indeed it is: but hardly poetical: it has too much of the rhetorical air; it strikes the mind as having been too studiously adapted for the ears of an auditory. But take the following passage from Jeremy Taylor's Funeral Sermon on Lady Carbery. (Works, vol. vi. p. 476.)

'In all her religion and in all her actions of relation towards God, she had a strange evenness and untroubled passage, sliding towards her ocean of God and of infinity with a certain and silent motion."

No one can doubt that this came out of a full heart-that he who said this would have said something similar if speaking with himself. In short, Taylor speaks as a poet, Burke as an


It will now be evident why madness has so often been stated as necessary to the true poet. Not to quote any of the numerous passages to this effect, which occur in Plato and other ancient writers, our own Shakspeare has expressed the same thought in the Midsummer Night's Dream, in which he ranks the poet with the lunatic and the lover. To constitute a real poet, there must be some deep feeling in the heart, of which the man seeks to relieve himself by this reserved mode of expressing it.

Our attention is next directed to the origin of poetry viewed historically. Of this the account given by Mr. Keble is as follows:

The earliest known specimens of the art are of course to be sought for in the Pentateuch; and Dr. Lowth has supposed that the very first in order of time is Lamech's address to his wives, preserved in the fourth chapter of Genesis. The poetical form of that address is apparent to the most cursory reader; and its production is due, according to the views now propounded, to Lamech's deep remorse for some homicide he had been guilty of, which sought thus, in some measure, to relieve itself. The notion of Lamech's being the originator of poetical composition, is confirmed by its being noticed, that his younger son was 'the father of all such as handle the harp and the organ.' (Gen. iv. 21.) But Mr. Keble traces the poetical spirit, though somewhat obscurely developed, in the sentences pronounced by VOL. XVII.


God upon our first parents, and upon the serpent. He disposes them as follows:

Cursed art thou all above all cattle,

And above every beast of the field ;

Upon thy belly shalt thou go,

And dust thou shalt eat all the days of thy life;

And I will put enmity between thee and the woman,
And between thy seed and her seed:

It shall bruise thy head,

And thou shalt bruise his heel.'

'I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception;
In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children;

And thy desire shall be to thy husband,

And he shall rule over thee.'

'Cursed is the ground for thy sake,

In sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee;
And thou shalt eat the herb of the field;

In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,

Till thou return to the ground out of which thou wast taken;
For dust thou art,

And unto dust shalt thou return.'

In so sacred a matter he would not wish to give too much weight to mere conjectures; yet he cannot but feel, that the vastness and depth of the Divine Benignity may, in the obscure intimations of mercies, both immediate and future, which were then given, amid denunciations of judgment, to the guilty, be fairly regarded as communicating to the passages now quoted an element which constitutes them the earliest compositions of poetry which are extant.

But however that may be, Noah's curse on Ham, which in form is evidently poetical, procceded from feelings of wrath:

For, I trow, that incensed Father is not, because he uttered oracles as a prophet, to be therefore regarded as expressing no feeling of his own; for the Supreme Instructor has always, in some degree, indulged the feelings of the men through whom He has communicated His will, even in the case of prophets, and even when they have been most overborne by their inspiration in each case the style of composition, the feelings and the character of mind belonging to the individual have been left untouched.'-vol. i. p. 49.

And so Isaac pronounced his blessing under the leadings of blind affection; and Israel his, from attachment to his offspring; and Moses his, from strong emotions of patriotism; (Gen. xxvii. 49, Deut. xxxiii;) and so of the rest; for it be

came that supreme wisdom not violently to expel nature, but gently to insinuate itself into nature.'

These instances may suffice to illustrate the truth of the position now assumed that the most ancient and unaffected poetic compositions which we possess, were a kind of alleviative medicine; and that the Former of the human mind, having seen fit to employ poets and poetry, has, generally, purposely chosen those to be his prophets, whose own minds burned with impassioned feeling and much needed that relief.-Ps. xxxix. 1-3; Jer. xx. 9.

A consideration of those pieces of poetry which have been translated from the languages of barbarous tribes, whether Danes or North American Indians, Polynesians or Laplanders, specimens of which are next cited, is confirmatory of the same view; they are found to be expressions of the feelings which were most deeply seated in the minds of those several nations.

That form of metrical composition which we may call the Sententious, such as is exhibited in a very large proportion of the Welsh Triads, can hardly be regarded as poetical-unless when the poet added to the sentences of the ancient sages some indication of his own regret or admiration, which is by no means a

rare case.

Poetical composition having thus come into being, there were two classes of men to whom it would be likely to be acceptable; the one consisting of those who were the subjects of some similar passion, the other of those whose minds were languid and torpid from having too little to do. To both of these classes, the poet would be a most acceptable personage; in the one case opening a way of relief to the over-excited spirit, in the other operating a gradual excitation on those who were sunk in apathy. Beginning in consequence to be regarded with respect and affection, what he had at first essayed from a sort of blind impulse to soothe his own spirit, he would soon come, from various motives, to repeat, to modify, and to dress up into certain forms. How could he avoid doing so? Friends would require it of him; those in authority would command his services; he would be himself allured to the course by the sweetness of numbers, and, more than all, by a consciousness of his powers. Then others would begin to imitate him, according to their several powers of mind, or their nicety of ear, or their faculty of lofty utterance. Farther, it was no small matter that poetry proved to be a means of acquiring favour and securing gain; so that, by degrees, in addition to the original class of poets, there would grow up an infinite variety of others:

[ocr errors]

Quam qui scire velit, Libyci velit æquoris idem
Discere quam multæ Zephyro turbentur arenæ,
Aut ubi navigiis violentior incidit Eurus,
Nosse quot Ionü veniant ad litora fluctus.

And yet, just as they say, that in music there are certain first elements and seeds, so to speak, peculiar to each kind of harmony, which being once properly understood, the strain of the whole harmony becomes intelligible; so poetry will never be found unmindful of its primary source, i.e. the healing tendency which originally and peculiarly belongs to it. When this vanishes altogether, however elegant the verses which you may write, you will yet be no more than an accomplished imitator of poets; an original poet yourself you are not.'-vol. i. p. 54.

Mr. Keble next proceeds to inquire, what are the criteria for distinguishing genuine and native poetry from that which is secondary and imitative? Such a question in particular instances, must often be answered rather by a certain tact or feeling than by rules admitting of decisive application. Yet we shall be assisted in deciding on a few principles of discrimination, by considering what are the signs by which deep and earnest feeling is discernible in a man's ordinary conversation. Three at once present themselves.

1. Consistency. Generally speaking, the man who suddenly or quickly varies in the expression of his sentiments, brings thereby the sincerity or earnestness of those sentiments into suspicion. This is not, indeed, a universal rule; yet as men are generally found to be, consistency in the expression of feeling is truly regarded as one proof of sincerity. Applying this test to Spenser, we find that whatever is the subject or the strain of his writing, there is at all times a consistent manifestation of a deep, earnest love of true nobleness-save in a very few passages, assignable to an over-curious imitation of ancient writers. Shakspeare, again, throughout the ever-varying depicting of character with which his plays abound,-with the exception of a few anomalies, attributable partly to the times, and partly to his desire of rendering vice odious by its full exposure, as Spartans are said to have inspired their sons with a hatred of drunkenness by making Helots drunk before them, [might not a christian teacher have added, partly too to the weakness and depravity of our nature, too apt to throw their blots even on the exalted portraitures which genius can so nobly depict]-never fails to leave his readers profoundly impressed with antipathy to vice and admiration for the highest conceptions of moral excellence. In his case this is all the more remarkable, because of the wholly different character which attaches to the compositions of most of his contemporaries who wrote for the stage. When, on the other hand,

« PreviousContinue »