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committed when the universal truth of poetry is subordinated to the detailed facts of science.*
Metaphysical poetry is obviously open to the same objection, because mental as well as physical science is conducted by an analytical process, while every branch of art demands a contrary method, which may be termed (for want of a better name) æsthetical. It is the province of the mental philosopher to lay bare, as with a dissecting-knife, the minutest parts of our intellectual system ; to trace the arterial current of our affections to their palpitating source; and to explore those powerful springs of action which are hidden from the mere observer of their manifested results, as the nerves and sinews of the body are clothed with a substance imparting harmony and grace. The office of the poet differs from these, although his subject is identical. He, too, is devoted to the exhibition of humanity — not to its improvement or embellishment, as some sups pose; nor to the mere display of its more elevated and prosperous condition. Our mixed and imperfect nature is the theme of the poet, as well as of the philosopher ; but while the latter, exposing the seat of every function, shows what man is able and designed to do, the former, animating by a Promethean heat his own life-like creation, presents us with man in action, or breathing and pulsating at the least, doing according to the prompting of passion or of reason, and developing his internal structure only by the movements in which his powers are exerted. Metaphor apart—the philosopher instructs by axiom and theorem, the poet by example : the science
* There is no real tendency in these remarks to question the poetical talent of Dr. Darwin. The method by which we have detected his deficiency in the art, leaves undetermined his measure of the faculty. That he did not possess the latter in an eminent degree is evident from his inferior success in the former; for it is certain that great poetical powers are always accompanied by a due appreciation of their proper objects, and by their intellectual subordination and disposition to the attainment of those objects. The writings of Darwin present many evidences of a fervid imagination; and, though his inflated style so much offends the chastity of taste, there are not wanting at intervals, throughout his poems, instances of felicity both as to thought and diction, and cadences of true poetic music, which lead us to conclude that—had he, adopting a better theory of poetry, disdained to stoop and delve in comparatively barren mines of physical science, and fused into his plastic imagination the wide and varied phenomena of nature, especially in their relation to humanity, their action upon human sympathies, and their colouring derived therefrom-he might have produced a great original poem, as fresh and as true after a thousand years as on its first appearance. The following lives, offered as a sample of his poetical achievements, are perhaps the most favourable we could select in respect of taste and ability
“So playful Love, on Ida's flowery sides,
With ribbon-rein the indignant lion guides ;
And love and music soften savage hearts.” This little passage must be allowed to contain many highly poetical elements ;-a pleasing allegory most fortunately illustrating its intended theme ; both the truth and the fiction contributing to modulate the language into something of their own symmetry and beauty, and so altogether forming (in the true spirit of Art) a gem of representative poetry.
of the one is perfect, in proportion as the peculiar truth is presented in its completeness with brevity and precision; the art of the other is consummate when some phase of life is so illustrated that all essentials are preserved in few particulars,—the results of any length of time, and any number of circumstances, being fully reflected within the limits of a brief and uncrowded picture.
The application of these remarks to moral science and religious truth requires only to be mentioned, and not further insisted upon; and the reader will thus have followed us to a point to which we shall have occasion to return. All poetry may (and undoubtedly should) be essentially accordant with religion. But it must not profess too much, or it will perform too little. Poetry must reflect, and not propound; illustrate, and not dogmatise. In one branch only may the highest themes be safely dwelt upon,-namely, in that of strictly devotional poetry ; a species of the first excellence, but peculiar in its nature, as demanding the inspiration of the saint, as well as that of the bard. Collaterally, sacred thoughts and allusions may be in strict keeping : always should the work of the poet, as a whole, profoundly harmonise with Scripture truth. Still poetry is an art, -nothing less, and nothing more : and its moral influence, when exercised as such, is sufficiently great and manifest without suffering it to trespass upon the higher province of religious doctrine,-thus losing its own characteristic excellence, and (which is a far more serious consideration) compromising the dignity and value of religion itself. All didactic poetry is as distant, in its relation to poetic art, as geometrical drawing is in regard to the art of painting ; but theology, of all subjects, is that which would admit of the fewest ornaments in verse. The admirable poems of Cowper are therefore sui generis, and must be allowed to stand alone, apart from all imitation, because they resulted from a union of gifts which the poetic character does not commonly include, nor for its own proper exercise require. The drama of the Tempest, removed as it is from emulation by its unrivalled beauty, is yet a more exact poetic model than The Task. Moreover, as a professed teacher, the poet may err as readily as far less gifted men. He will perhaps more frequently produce the erroneous philosophy of the Essay on Man, than the scriptural morality of the poem on Truth ; and, most assuredly, he cannot exercise his highest poetical functions while soberly enforcing a doctrine that admits of neither embellishment nor
Intent upon producing faithful works of art, he cannot fail of communicating a powerful moral in the guise of parable or story; and then his incidental allusions to Divine truth will (as in the works of Shakspeare) be all the more useful, as they may serve to show how distinct are the fruits of human fancy, and the speculations of literary minds, from a Revelation sent direct from God. This distinction is, unhappily, overlooked by certain authors in the present day ; and the consequence is, that many professors of literary art, mistaking its very nature and vocation, are repeatedly teaching that it is not merely adapted to meliorate and raise the condition of man in society, but that it includes and enforces the highest moral truths of which he is susceptible. The lamentable failure of every such system of ethics is twofold, as it involves both a departure from artistic beauty and a renunciation of revealed truth. How unsatisfactory are all literary works which, by tone and implication, profess to realise the highest aspirations of mankind ! How delightful and improving, on the other hand, are those authors who, if they anywhere cease to reflect from their chambers of imagery the many-figured treasures of nature, history, and life, do by reverent intimations point us to the awful subjects of redemption and grace, as verities of universal interest, in comparison with which learning is folly and art an infant's toy ! *
The comparison we have instituted between Science and Art is for the sake of distinction merely, not of depreciation. It regards only their means; for, the end of both being truth, dissimilarity must there cease. But some reader may still demur to the practical value of poetry. He has been wont to regard it as the antagonist of common sense. He knows that it principally consists of fictitious narrative ; and, reminding us that we have admitted so much, is ready to ask, How can it teach ?–We might answer, Do not the fictions used in algebraical science express the strictest abstract truths ? But the analogy may be denied. Still we claim for poetry all the honour due to common sense, as presenting the perfect results of reason without its visible and tardy process. In the poet, reason acts like instinct ; for this faculty of reason, with which we are accustomed (from observing its operation in ordinary minds) to connect the idea of a slow and laborious process, is in its nature-like all spiritual acts --instantaneous. In creatures of pure intelligence—in angels, for example-reason is the immediate and unerring law of their nature, as a limited instinct is that of the unintelligent creation. The difference lies, not in the suddenness or the certainty of the one above the other; but in the consciousness belonging to the higher faculty, and absent from the lower. Thus (we may say) instinct is unconscious reason, reason is conscious instinct; with this immense advantage in the latter, besides its conscious
* Those who have observed the direction taken by a certain class of modern writers, popular among our intellectual youth, will readily agree with us that the exaltation of literature from its proper sphere, to be the professed regenerator and civiliser of our race, is a growing and enormous evil, prolific of infidelity in its most dangerous, because most flattering, form. There are two phases of this delusion. The one presents to our admiration and worship the excellencies of work and science; and of the varied advocacy engaged in their behalf the “ People's Journal ” may be taken as the type. The authors of this and similar publications, by insinuating the comparative unimportance of creed, and the superlative need of universal amity, viewed independently of God's law and Gospel, make no value of that Christianity which was established at so great a cost, and for designs so high ; and they utterly limit the views of mankind-whom they nevertheless extol with every species of adulation—to threescore years and ten terminating in dust and darkness. This doctrine is industriously spread among the labouring classes of society. by men of perverted talents, enslaved by a French philosophy of mingled scepticism and Socialism. The other manifestation of this spirit of atheism is apparently of German origin. It consists in the idolization of art upon the pedestal of religion. The latter is not boldly thrown aside, because too beautiful in itself, and too firmly rooted in the imaginations, if not in the hearts, of men : it is, therefore, made to enhance the former. Christianity_in the literature alluded to-supplies a time-honoured and widely-reverenced phraseology for the adornment of wild poetic ravings about the purity of the natural heart and the majesty of the human mind. Emerson, of America, is an author open to these objections; and, if we mention a transatlantic offender, it must be remembered that his writings are so popular in England, that this country may be said to have adopted his sentiments, and become accessary after the fact. Original and brilliant in style, and abounding in felicitous poetic analogies, his works have no moral drift: they produce no moral impression, as a whole; or only impress us with the futility and vanity of substitute ing quaint conceits and coruscating thoughts for the inculcation of that great moral law under which we were created, and to which the Gospel promises to re-conform
How much superior to these are the ethics of some of our own true poets, whose works give us glimpses of Divine truth that remind us that the writers are but agreeably rousing and informing our minds, and not divesting us of our moral accountability!
ness, that its range, instead of being limited to the necessities of a brief animal existence, is not bounded by anything less than an infinitude of objects and an eternity of experience. If there be any value in these remarks, they may go far to account for those subtile inferences, seemingly intuitive, which in the works of great poets are recognised as universal truths, remembered on a thousand occasions, and found applicable under outwardly varied circumstances. Strictly speaking, intuition belongs no more to the poet than to any other of our race: but experience and observation, which in men of practical habits and of small reflection, are so limited, transitory, or dormant, live actively in the exquisite organisation of poetical natures; while the stores arising from each of these sources are indefinitely multiplied by the inferential faculty of their minds, which we have described as imparting the instantaneous certainty of instinct to the voluntary consciousness of reason. We are here reminded of the mental characteristics of woman, with whose sensitive intelligence the poet may claim honourable kindred : for, in both, the connexion of heart and brain appears to be so intimate that it is difficult to think of them otherwise than as the functions of one organ, having perceptions and feelings mysteriously interlaced for the purposes of vivifying and re-acting. In her limited province and personal mission, on the one hand, and his power of reflection and abstraction on the other, may be found their circumstantial difference; while in the acquisitive operation of their minds, sudden and sure, from slightest premises, lies their natural affinity.
We have not lost sight of our author. The considerations adduced have, we think, a direct bearing upon the question of Mr. Wordsworth's literary merits, and indicate the radical defect of his higher poetry,—namely, its semi-didactic character. But, before citing for examination the poems alluded to, we beg the reader's further patience during a brief inquiry in respect to the Moral Influence of Art.
With this object in view, we have entered at some length into the nature of poetry, carefully tracking its origin and development; and we think it surely follows, from the considerations advanced in regard to the natural history of this (in common with every other) art, that its influence is in character identical, and in force commensurate, with that of nature itself,—of which, in its every phase, it is the intellectual reflex. The grand impression, therefore, of any signal work of art, (or, that which it produces as a whole,) is similar to that arising from the study of nature, as it equally preserves the moral integrity of things, though discarding certain of their accidents ; this general impression being, of course, independent of (though deepened by) the collateral pleasures of imitation, association, and the sensuous medium of language, form, or colour. An appeal to the master-pieces of art seems to confirm our view : in the degree of their approach to perfection of truth, they elevate and inform the mind; while, in proportion as they yield expression to false taste or inconsistent thought, they mislead inferior judgments and fail to satisfy the highest. Raphael is the greatest of painters, because most true to the spirit of nature in its highest manifestations : for the same reason he is the most moral of painters also. Mere grace of drawing and expression, however wonderful, would never have gained for him the pre-eminence he holds ; but, the auxiliar beauties and resources of his art being by him made tributary to the exhibition of a pre-existing truth, his works remain for our admiration and delight, perfect in reflecting the perfection with which God made the world. Ilomer, as he faithfully embodied the actions, passions, and belief of heroic heathen Greece, presents a genuine poetic study, profitable in its degree : for, our account of poetry, as an intellectual transcript of creation and providence, allows of our deducing moral truth from erroneous creeds and mistaken pursuits among men, no less than from the bestdirected virtue,—as a natural philosopher takes equal interest in the causes and phenomena of volcanic fires, and those of invaluable springs of water, The exo ence of ancient Greek art stands in manifest confirmation of this theory. The heathen theology and philosophy are finally superseded : why does heathen art remain so admirable, furnishing models
to the extent of their aim-for all succeeding artists? Simply because its authors were faithful to the genius of art, and so “held the mirror up to nature” that, in the glorious poetry and sculpture of Attica, we still see, as in a glass, the subdued image of Grecian life : fierce passions and warlike habits, tempered by a serene and sunny climate ; uncertainty of creed, running into wild conjecture, and peopling with divinities all places from which a blessing or a curse might come; and, above all, a yearning after some ideal good, which, in the absence of a spiritual Revelation, found expression in luxurious beauty of form, and made perfect the triumph of mind over matter by moulding the very rock into the likeness of man, not in physical proportion merely, but embodying to our eyes his immortality and hope. If Phidias must yield the palm of excellence to Raphael, it is because the dispensation of truth under which the latter flourished surpasses in moral grandeur the era of the former,-imitation rising in value with the value of the object imitated. In this view, the scope of modern art is grand and boundless. We are no longer limited to bodily proportion, strength, and beauty, for the expression of great ideas : the Phidian Jove is less sublime than the Cripple at the Gate Beautiful. If sculpture was adequate for the sthetic utterance of an early heathen world, painting was the more copious language of a later and wider experience ; while poetry, naturally the first, must remain the noblest medium of all, capable as it is of indefinite expression,
“And ever rising with the rising mind.” The resources of poetic art are inexhaustible : progress, improvement, and discoveries in every age, do but furnish the substance of those grand shadows which, on its magic glass, delight a world wearied with utility, but finding in their originals no attractive charm. When we said that the chief moral of true poetry might be compared to that which Science furnishes under the name of natural theology, we did not mean
to be inferred that the range of the former is limited to the subjects of the latter; but merely that, as Science consists in a faithful exposition of the phenomena of nature, so Art, when equally faithful to its original, produces convictions and emotions similar in kind, and may claim the same deference for its teaching. While Science is confined to the pursuit of elements and the detection of causation, it is the boast of Art that it takes the shape of every conceivable combination in nature. The former teaches us what creation necessarily is, independently of its lord; but the latter, following in his progression with the fidelity of a shadow, reflects every phase and attitude of his condition, and out of the inferior world furnishes an harmonious back-ground to the picture. Thus poetry, uniform in its essence, has been widely varied in expression, and must be limited only by the ultimate experience of mankind. Thus poetry in Eden (who can doubt?) would celebrate the life of innocence; in songs and hymns extolling the