Зображення сторінки

and prove that the image of a thing is not the thing itself. Are the landscapes of Claude to be condemned as colored falsehoods, because they are full of cattle and human figures and trees and flowers that never actually existed but in the painter's mind ? These are the fictions of painting, and they are analogous to the fictions of a still higher art. Such particular fictions are the vehicles of general truth. Is Shakespeare opposed to truth in his life-like representations of human nature? Bentham, and those who think with him that there is “ a natural opposition between poetry and truth,” and complain of the inaccuracy of the poet's FACTS, cannot consistently pronounce him innocent. Shakespeare was not on his oath when he told us of the murder of Desde

He was not in the witness box. If the scene had been put on canvass instead of into a book, perhaps the Utilitarians would have been less severe upon the painter than they have been upon the poet, and yet where is the difference? It is a picture in words instead of colours*.

I cannot understand how any man of ordinary acuteness should so confound the most positive distinctions, as to identify the spirit of poetry with its mere accompaniments. It is a truism, that metre and fiction are not the constituent parts of poetry. There may be these without poetry, and poetry without these. It appears to be necessary, however, to repeat so simple a fact for the enlightenment even of Philosopherst!


*“We were not aware till the other day, that Mr. Bentham had really evinc. ed his want of universality to so puerile an extent; but we find the words in Mr. Richardson's ' Literary Leaves,' with a good many more, refuting them. selves at every step. And he thinks poetry contradictory to 'truth!' This specimen of an amazing ignorance of the very essence of things, of the spiritual wants of mankind, and of the whole world of ideal beauty, is happily followed up by Mr. Richardson, among other quotations by the two following:" (those from Voltaire and Sir James Mackintosh.)- Leigh Hunt's Monthly Repository.

+ I may perhaps be expected to give a definition of poetry. This is difficult indeed. Dr. Johnson has said, that the attempt limit poetry by a definition would only shew the narrowness of the definer. I dare not pretend to offer a

Every worldly-minded economist, who has just a sufficient glimmering of sense to enable him to fix his eye on the main chance, to talk about the importance of wealth, to load his own purse, and to‘lock his rascal counters from his friends, may shield himself under the authority of the Utilitarians, and chuckle at the ridicule of that unprosperous and unproductive race of men, the Poets*. There is something very like a sarcasm in Bentham's remark in his Rationale of Rewards, that it is not necessary to assist poets by factitious rewards, because they take such a pleasure in their own art, and sometimes acquire a sudden reputation! It is true that poets possess an exquisite pleasure unknown to common min ds, but this peculiar enjoyment being of a purely intellectual character cannot of course render them wholly independent of the pressure of life's daily cares. And yet how much is lost to the cold despisers of works of imagination, even with all the advantages of worldly prosperity !

“ Unknown to them when sensual pleasures cloy,

To fill the languid pulse with finer joy.”

It has become a deadly heresy to speak too reverently of such men as Shakespeare and Milton. Jeremy Bentham and Mr. Mill are the new idols. The former writers, it is said, only amused mankind with melodious falsehoods; the latter have instructed them with useful truths! These modern sages would make man a mere automaton. Every thing like intensity of

complete and unobjectionable definition, but the following is the best I can give.

Poetry, considered as an art, consists in the imitation of moral and external nature in musical language. This imitation is not to be literal, but imaginative; not local or individual, bul general or universal.

* " This I observe to the honor of poets, I never found them covetous, or scrapingly base. The Jews had not two such kings in their catalogue as Solomon and his father ; poets both. There is a largeness in their souls beyond the narrowness of other men ; and why may we not then think this may embrace more both of heaven and God ?"-- Feltham's Resolves. VOL. II.


feeling or a refined enthusiasm is regarded by the new school of philosophy as an evidence of morbid irritability and an unsound judgment : it is treated as a disease of the mind. The poet is considered a romantic trifler, and his art an ingenious jugglery. It is the aim of the new sect to raise an eternal barrier between Poetry and Philosophy. They speak of the first as an illusion, and of the second as “the only true thing.” If the Muse is represented as a false and frivolous coquet, Philosophy, as they have pourtrayed her, is a coarse and sensual being, who can scarcely see a yard before her. Her eyes are bent upon the ground, and her soul is wrapt in paltry calculations. She is a selfi and narrow-minded economist. If Poetry present her with her fairest products, her first and only question is, how much they will sell for, and to what account they can be turned. She has not even the dignity of a merchant, but is a petty retail dealer in the meanest wares. This degrading and disgusting spirit has seized for a while upon the public mind; but it cannot possibly continue, unless the very substance of our human nature could be decomposed by the chemistry of utilitarianism. While there is beauty in the universe, and it is acknowledged to be the production of a beneficent Power, who gives us nothing that is useless, Poetry, who bathes herself in the light and loveliness of nature, will never wholly cease to enchant and refine the heart of man.

There is no doubt, that the attention of the reading public was for some years too exclusively directed towards works of imagination, and poets are now suffering from the force of the reaction. There seem to be fashions in literature, as in every thing else; and each branch of literature and science has its turn of popularity. The public taste is now as violently mechanical and utilitarian as a few years ago it was poetical and imaginative. There was a great rage for poetry of a certain kind in the time of Pope ; but the flock of mocking birds who had got his tune by

heart, without catching a single gleam of his inspiration, soon wearied and disgusted the public ear.

After Collins, Young, and Thompson, (all genuine poets) there was a long night with scarcely a single luminary in the poetical horizon. Cowper indeed was “a bright particular star," and would have shone conspicuous even in a galaxy of glories ; but an age that esteemed Hayley a great poet did not deserve to possess a Cowper. It was the long previous dearth of true genius that occasioned the present generation of poets such a hearty and reverential welcome, and it is owing to their numbers and to their intellectual affluence, that the craving for true poetry has been so speedily and entirely satisfied. I question if any poetical production from the most popular poet of the day, would now obtain a decent offer from the publishers. Moore would not get another two thousand pounds for a poem of the length and character of his Lalla Rookh, and Scott and Byron would have discovered, had they lived a little longer, that the poetry which was once quite as saleable as the actual necessaries of life, is now in the estimation of the multitude an unvalued toy. There are always a certain number of the lovers and readers of poetry (a fit audience though few), who remain faithful in their attachment to the Muses, through evil and through good report, and whom a thousand Benthams and a hundred thousand Mills could not drive from the green and sunny slopes of Parnassus. There are still warm-hearted and fine-minded truants, over whom these harsh schoolmasters have very slight authority. But even the lovers of poetry, though they are still enchanted with that holiest and divinest of all human arts, have got tired of their once favorite artists, and turning from the pages of Scott and Moore and Byron, have concentrated all their affections upon Wordsworth, who, though he may ever remain the poet's poet, will perhaps never become widely popular. The high reputation of Wordsworth as a poet has been forced upon the public by the critics ; but though


his name is now familiar even to the mob of readers, his writings have not found the way into their hearts.

The word utility is one of the rocks on which the Utilitarians have been wrecked. It is admitted, that nothing is useful, but as it contributes more or less to the happiness of mankind. The Utilitarians seem to maintain that happiness consists in sensual enjoyments-in eating and drinking-in good clothes and comfortable houses. They encourage therefore only that sort of useful education which enables people to get on in the world. The poets do not deny the value of these things, in their way; but maintain that we have something in our nature that is superior to our mere animal impulses, and that is more worthy of our

To this it is rejoined, that before we can exert our spiritual faculties we must possess the necessaries of life, We must live before we can think. Therefore it is of more consequence to live than to think, and therefore those articles that support life are more useful than poetry. The butcher and baker are accordingly more useful than the poet and the philosopher. Would not the same style of argument prove the inutility of virtue ? If the happiness of human life resembled the happiness of brutes, the opponents of poetry and the fine arts would have the best of the controversy.


may be urged that I am caricaturing the Utilitarians, and I do not mean to assert that their entire system of philosophy is compressed into this rapid statement; but as far as the opposition between Poetry and Utilitarianism is concerned, the case is not unfairly stated. I see nothing objectionable in their celebrated doctrine respecting the “ greatest happiness of the greatest number.” The Utilitarians have argued on this point with great acuteness and sagacity, and in a truly philanthropic spirit. It is against their attacks on poetry and the Fine Arts that I think a stand should be made.

If the word Utility, has been used with no definite meaning, that of Poetry, has been still more vaguely understood. Many

« НазадПродовжити »