« PreviousContinue »
the Spartans were even more despicable than those of their rivals. Their mixture of barbarity and of craft towards their foes and the states which were tributary to their powertheir unnatural sacrifice of the most sacred of the affections of nature to mere national glory wretched Helots, who were their property,have scarcely a parallel in human history. The long conspiracy of Rome against the liberties of mankind, carried on from the time of its foundation until it began to decline, served to string every sinew into a horrid rigidity, and to steel the heart to the feelings of compassion. This is the description of its progress by one of its own historians:
fulness, and Palestine again flow with milk and arts to their highest perfection. Gratitude, honey? honesty, and good faith, had no place in the The hypothesis, that population left to itself | breast of Athenian citizens. The morals of will increase in a geometrical progression, while the means of subsistence can only be enlarged in an arithmetical progression, is a mere fantasy. Vegetables, cattle, and fish, have far greater powers of productiveness than the human species; and the only obstacle to those powers being developed in an equal de--and their dreadful conduct towards the gree, is the want of room for them to increase, or the want of energy or wisdom in man to apply the bounty of nature to its fittest uses. The first want cannot exist while the larger part of the earth is barren, and the riches of the ocean remain unexhausted. The second, with all the disadvantages of ignorance, war, tyranny, and vice, has not prevented the boundaries of civilization from widely extending. What is there then in this particular stage of society, which should induce the belief, that the sinews of humanity are shrivelled up, and its energy falling to decay? The same quantity of food or of clothing-the same comforts and the same luxuries-which once required the labour of a hundred hands, are now produced almost without personal exertion. And is the spirit in man so broken down and debased, that, with all the aids of machinery, he cannot effect as much as the labour of his own right arm would achieve in the elder time? If, indeed, he is thus degenerate, the fault, at least, is not in nature, but in external and
transitory causes. But we are prepared clearly, though briefly, to show, that man has been and is, on the whole, advancing in true virtue, and in moral and intellectual energy.
"Raptores orbis, postquam cuncta vastantibus defuere terræ, et mare scrutantur; si locuples hostis est, avari; si pauper, ambitiosi: quos non oriens non occidens satiaverit; soli omnium opes atque inopiam pari affectu concupiscunt. Auferre, trucidare, rapere, falsis nominibus imperium, atque ubi solitudinem pacem appellent." (Tacitus, Vita Agricola, 30.)
The proscriptions of Marius and Sylla alone proved what this savage spirit could perpetrate at home, when it had exhausted all opportunities of satiating, among foreign states, its thirst for slaughter.
If we pass over the improvements in morals the amelioration of war-the progress of political science-and the redemption of the female sex from degradation and from bondage It cannot be denied, that there are many ap- -we shall find, in one great change alone, parent oscillations in the course of the species. ample reason to rejoice in the advances of the If we look at only a small portion of history, species. The simple term, humanity, expresses it may seem retrograde, as a view of one of the the chief difference between our times and the windings of a noble river may lead us to brightest of classical ages. In those there was imagine that it is flowing from the ocean. The no feeling for man, as man-no recognition intricacies of human affairs, the perpetual op- of a common brotherhood-no sense of those position of interests, prejudices, and passions, qualities which all men have in common, and do not permit mankind to proceed in a right of those claims which those who are "made line; but, if we overlook any large series of of one blood" have on each other for justice ages, we shall clearly perceive, that the course and for mercy. Manhood was nothing, citizenof man is towards perfection. In contemplat- ship was all in all. Nearly all the virtues ing the past, our attention is naturally at- were aristocratical and exclusive. The numtracted to the illustrious nations, whose story ber of slaves-their dreadful condition-and is consecrated by our early studies. But even the sanction which the law gave to all the if we take these, and forget the savage barbar- cruelties practised on them-showed that the ism of the rest of the world, we shall find little masters of the world had no sense of the digto excite our envy. Far be it from us to deny, nity of their nature, whatever they might feel that there were, among these, some men of for the renown of their country, or the privipure and disinterested virtue, whose names leges of their order. The Spartan youths masare like great sea-marks in the dreariness of sacred their Helots, to nurture their valour. the perspective, and whom future generations Indeed, the barbarities inflicted on that misecan only desire to imitate. Our nature has al- rable race, by those whom we are sometimes ways had some to vindicate its high capabili- taught to admire, would exceed belief, if they ties of good. But even among the privileged were not attested by the clearest proofs. classes of Greece and Rome-the selected mi- Rome, slaves, when too old for work, were nority, to whom all the rights of nature were often sent to an island in the Tiber, and left confined more strictly than in the strictest there to perish. On the slightest offence, they modern despotism-how rare are the instances were frequently thrown into fish-ponds, exof real and genuine goodness! The long suc-posed to wild beasts, or sentenced to die upon cession of bloody tragedies-that frightful al- the cross. And in the same spirit of contempt ternation of cruelties and of meannesses-the Peloponnesian war, was perpetrated in the midst of the people, who had just carried the
for humanity, and veneration for the privileged orders, parents had power to imprison their children or put them to death, and wives were
left, without protection, to the brutal ferocity | not the vain and the transitory, but the true of their husbands.
With how different feelings are the rights of humanity regarded in these happier seasons! Slavery is abolished throughout the Christian kingdoms of Europe, and, with few exceptions, equal justice is administered to all. There is no grief which does not meet with pity, and few miseries which do not excite the attempt to relieve them. Men are found of sensibilities keen even to agony, who, tremblingly alive in every fibre to wretchedness, have yet the moral heroism to steel their nerves to the investigation of the most hideous details of suffering, with no desire of applause or wish for reward, except that which success itself will give them. Within a few short years, what great moral changes have been effected! The traffe in human beings, which was practised without compunction or disgrace, and defended in parliament as a fair branch of commerce, is now made a felony, and those who are detected in pursuing it would almost be torn in pieces by popular fury. The most cruel enactments against freedom of thought and of discussion have been silently repealed, while scarcely a voice has been raised to defend or to mourn them. And, above all, a moral elevation has been given to the great mass of the rising generation, by the provision for their instruction, of which no time, or change, or accident can deprive them.
and the eternal, which are the same through all changes of society and shifting varieties of fashion. The heavens yet "tell the glory of God;" the hills, the vales, and the ocean, do not alter, nor does the heart of man wax old. The wonders of these are as exhaustless as they are lasting. While these remain, the circumstances of busy life-the exact mechanism of the social state-will affect the true poet but little. The seeds of genius, which contain within themselves the germs of expanded beauties and divinest sublimities, cannot perish. Wheresoever they are scattered, they must take root, striking far below the surface, overcropped and exhausted by the multitude of transitory productions, into a deep richness of soil, and, rising up above the weeds and tangled underwood which would crush them, lift their innumerable boughs into the free and rejoicing heavens.
The advancement of natural science and of moral truth do not tend really to lesson the resources of the bard. The more we know, the more we feel there is yet to be known. The mysteries of nature and of humanity are not lessened, but increased, by the discoveries of philosophic skill. The lustre which breaks on the vast clouds, which encircle us in our earthly condition, does not merely set in clear vision that which before was hidden in sacred gloom; but, at the same time, half exhibits masses of magnificent shadow, unknown before, and casts an uncertain light on vast re
There is a deep-rooted opinion, which has been eloquently propounded by some of the first critics of our age, that works of imagina-gions, in which the imagination may devoutly tion must necessarily decline as civilization expatiate. A plastic superstition may fill a advances. It will readily be conceded, that limited circle with beautiful images, but it no individual minds can be expected to arise, chills and confines the fancy, almost as strictly in the most refined periods, which will surpass as it limits the reasoning faculties. The mythose which have been developed in rude and thology of Greece, for example, while it peobarbarous ages. But there does not appear, pled earth with a thousand glorious shapes, any solid reason for believing, that the mighty shut out the free grace of nature from poetic works of old time occupy the whole region of vision, and excluded from the ken the high poetry or necessarily chill the fancy of these beatings of the soul. All the loveliness of later times by their vast and unbroken sha- creation, and all the qualities, feelings, and dows. Genius does not depend on times or on passions, were invested with personal attriseasons, it waits not on external circumstances, butes. The evening's sigh was the breath of It can neither be subdued by the violence of the Zephyr-the streams were celebrated, not in most savage means, nor polished away or dis- their rural clearness, but as visionary nymphs sipated among the refinements of the most glit--and ocean, that old agitator of sublimest, tering scenes of artificial life. It is "itself thoughts, gave place, in the imagination, to a alone." To the heart of a young poet, the trident-bearing god. The tragic muse almost world is ever beginning anew. He is in the" forgot herself to stone," in her lone contemgeneration by which he is surrounded, but he plations of destiny. No wild excursiveness is not of it; he can live in the light of the of fancy marked their lighter poems—no maholiest times, or range amidst gorgeous mar-jestical struggle of high passions and high vels of eldest superstition, or sit "lone upon actions filled the scene-no genial wisdom the shores of old romance," or pierce the veil of mortality, and "breathe in worlds to which the heaven of heavens is but a veil." The very deficiency of the romantic, in the actual paths of existence, will cause him to dwell in thought more apart from them, and to seek the wildest recesses in those regions which imagination opens to his inward gaze. To the eye of young joy, the earth is as fresh as at the first-the dew-drop is lit up as it was in Eden-and "the splendour in the grass, the glory in the flower," yet glitters as in the spring-time of the world.
The subjects in which genius rejoices are
threw a penetrating, yet lovely, light on the silent recesses of the bosom. The diffusion of a purer faith restored to poetry its glowing af fections, its far-searching intelligence, and its excursive power. And not only this, but it left it free to use those exquisite figures, and to avail itself of all the chaste and delicate imagery, which the exploded superstition first called into being. In the stately regions of imagination, the wonders of Greek fable yet have place, though they no longer hide from our view the secrets of our nature, or the long vistas which extend to the dim verge of the moral horizon. Well, indeed, does a grea
living poet assert their poetic existence, under the form of defending the science of the
"For Fable is Love's world, his home, his birth-place;
The intelligible forms of ancient poets,
The fair humanities of old religion,
The power, the beauty, and the majesty,
That had their haunts in dale or piny mountain,
Or chasms and watery depths! all these have vanish'd;
The poet is the inheritor of the imaginative treasures of all creeds which reason has now exploded. The dim gigantic shadows of the north-the gentle superstitions of the Greeks -the wild and wondrous prodigies of the Arabian enchantment-the dark rites of magic, more heart-stirring than all-have their places in the vast region of his soul. When we climb above the floating mists which have so long overspread humanity, to breathe a purer air, and gaze on the unclouded heavens, we do not lose our feeling of veneration for majestic errors, nor our sense of their glories. Instead of wandering in the region of cloud, we overlook it all, and behold its gorgeous varieties of arch, minaret, dome, or spire, without partaking in its delusions.
But we have no need of resort to argument, in order to show that genius is not gradually declining. A glance at its productions, in the present age, will suffice to prove the gloomy mistake of desponding criticism. We will sketch very lightly over the principal living authors, to illustrate this position-satisfied that the mere mention of their names will awaken, within our readers, recollections of delight, far more than sufficient triumphantly to contravene the theory of those who believe in the degeneracy of genius.
And first-in the great walk of poesy-is Wordsworth, who, if he stood alone, would vindicate the immortality of his art. He has, in his works, built up a rock of defence for his species, which will resist the mightiest tides of demoralizing luxury. Setting aside the varied and majestic harmony of his verse-the freshness and the grandeur of his descriptions -the exquisite softness of his delineations of character-and the high and rapturous spirit of his choral songs-we may produce his "divine philosophy" as unequalled by any preceding bard. And surely it is no small proof of the infinity of the resources of genius, that in this late age of the world, the first of all philosophic poets should have arisen, to open a new vein of sentiment and thought, deeper and richer than yet had been laid bare to mortal
Coleridge's translation of Schiller's Wallenstein.
eyes. His rural pictures are as fresh and as lively as those of Cowper, yet how much lovelier is the poetic light which is shed over them? His exhibition of gentle peculiarities of character, and dear immunities of heart, is as true and as genial as that of Goldsmith, yet how much is its interest heightened by its intimate connection, as by golden chords, with the noblest and most universal truths? His little pieces of tranquil beauty are as holy and as sweet as those of Collins, and yet, while we feel the calm of the elder poet gliding into our souls, we catch farther glimpses through the luxuriant boughs into "the highest heaven of invention." His soul mantles as high with love and joy, as that of Burns, but yet "how bright, how solemn, how serene," is the brimming and lucid stream? His poetry not only discovers, within the heart, new faculties, but awakens within, its untried powers, to comprehend and to enjoy its beauty and its wisdom.
Not less marvellously gifted, though in a far different manner, is Coleridge, who, by a strange error, has been usually regarded as belonging to the same school, partaking of the same peculiarities, and upholding the same doctrines. Instead, like Wordsworth, of seeking the sources of sublimity and of beauty in the simplest elements of humanity, he ranges through all history and science, investigating all that has really existed, and all that has had foundation only in the strangest and wildest minds, combining, condensing, developing, and multiplying the rich products of his research with marvellous facility and skill; now pondering fondly over some piece of exquisite loveliness, brought from a wild and unknown recess; now tracing out the hidden germ of the eldest and most barbaric theories; and now calling fantastic spirits from the vasty deep, where they have slept since the dawn of reason. The term," myriad-minded," which he has happily applied to Shakspeare, is truly descriptive of himself. He is not one, but Legion-"rich with the spoils of time," richer in his own glorious imagination and sportive fantasy. There is nothing more wonderful than the facile majesty of his images, or rather of his worlds of imagery, which, even in his poetry or his prose, start up before us self-raised and all perfect, like the palace of Aladdin. He ascends to the sublimest truths, by a winding track of sparkling glory, which can only be described in his own language
"the spirits' ladder,
That from this gross and visible world of dust
In various beauty of versification, he has never been exceeded. Shakspeare, doubtless, has surpassed him in linked sweetness and exquisite continuity, and Milton in pure majesty and classic grace-but this is in one species of verse only-and, taking all his trials of various metres, the swelling harmony of his blank verse, the sweet breathing of his gentler odes,
and the sybil-like flutter alternate with the mur-ness of his thought looks, in the quaintness of muring charm of his wizard spells, we doubt his style, like a modest beauty, laced-in and if even these great masters have so fully de- attired in a dress of the superb fashion of the veloped the music of the English tongue. He elder time. His versification is not greatly inhas yet completed no adequate memorials of ferior to that of Coleridge, and it is, in all its his genius; yet it is most unjust to assert, that best qualities, unlike that of any other poet. he has done nothing or little. To refute this His heroic couplets are alternately sweet, terse, assertion, there are, his noble translation of and majestical; and his octo-syllabic measures Wallenstein-his love-poems of intensest beauty have a freeness and completeness, which mark -his Ancient Mariner, with its touches of pro- them the pure Ionic of verse. foundest tenderness amidst the wildest and most bewildering terrors-his holy and most sweet tale of Christabel, with its rich enchantments and its richer humanities-the depths, the sublimities, and the pensive sweetness of his tragedy-the heart-dilating sentiments scattered through his "Friend"—and the stately imagery which breaks upon us at every turn of the golden paths of his metaphysical labyrinths. And, if he has a power within mightier than that which even these glorious creations indicate, shall he be censured because he has deviated from the ordinary course of the age, in its development; and, instead of committing his imaginative wisdom to the press, has delivered it from his living lips? He has gone about in the true spirit of an old Greek bard, with a noble carelessness of self, giving fit utterance to the divine spirit within him. Who that has heard can ever forget him-his mild benignity -the unbounded variety of his knowledge-the fast succeeding products of his imaginationthe child-like simplicity with which he rises, from the driest and commonest theme, into the widest magnificence of thought, pouring on the soul a stream of beauty and of wisdom, to mellow and enrich it for ever? The seeds of poetry, which he has thus scattered, will not perish. The records of his fame are not in books only, but on the fleshly tablets of young hearts, who will not suffer it to die even in the general ear, however base and unfeeling criticism may deride their gratitude!
Charles Lamb is as original as either of these, within the smaller circle which he has chosen. We know not of any writer, living or dead, to whom we can fitly liken him. The exceeding delicacy of his fancy, the keenness of his perceptions of truth and beauty, the sweetness and the wisdom of his humour, and the fine interchange and sportive combination of all these, so frequent in his works, are entirely and peculiarly his own. As it has been said of Swift, that his better genius was his spleen, it may be asserted of Lamb that his kindliness is his inspiration. With how nice an eye does he detect the least hitherto un-, noticed indication of goodness, and with how true and gentle a touch does he bring it out to do good to our natures! How new and strange do some of his more fantastical ebullitions seem, yet how invariably do they come home to the very core, and smile at the heart! He makes the majesties of imagination seem familiar, and gives to familiar things a pathetic beauty or a venerable air. Instead of finding that every thing in his writings is made the most of, we always feel that the tide of sentiment and of thought is pent in, and that the airy and variegated bubbles spring up from a far depth in the placid waters. The loveli
Barry Cornwall, with the exception of Coleridge, is the most genuine poet of love, who has, for a long period, appeared among us. There is an intense and passionate beauty, a depth of affection, in his little dramatic poems, which appear even in the affectionate triflings of his gentle characters. He illustrates that holiest of human emotions, which, while it will twine itself with the frailest twig, or dally with the most evanescent shadow of creation, wasting its excess of kindliness on all around it, is yet able to "look on tempests and be never shaken." Love is gently omnipotent in his poems; accident and death itself are but passing clouds, which scarcely vex and which cannot harm it. The lover seems to breathe out his life in the arms of his mistress, as calmly as the infant sinks into its softest slumber. The fair blossoms of his genius, though light and trembling at the breeze, spring from a wide, and deep, and robust stock, which will sustain far taller branches without being exhausted. In the vision, where he sees "the famous Babylon," in his exquisite sonnets, and yet more in his Marcian Colonna, has he shown a feeling and a power for the elder venerableness of the poetic art, which, we are well assured, he is destined successfully to develope.
Some of our readers will, perhaps, wonder, that we have thus long delayed the mention of the most popular of the living poets. But, though we have no desire to pass them by, we must confess, that we do not rest chiefly on them our good hope for English genius. Lord Byron's fame has arisen, we suspect, almost as much from an instinctive awe of his nobility, and from a curiosity to know the secrets of his diseased soul which he so often partially gratifies, as from the strength and turbid majesty of his productions. His mind is, however, doubtless cast in no ordinary mould. His chief poetic attributes appear, to us, to be an exceedingly quick sensibility to external beauty and grandeur, a capability and a love of violent emotion, and a singular mastery of language. He has no power over himself, which is the highest of all qualifications for a poet as it is for a man. He has no calm meditative greatness, no harmonizing spirit, no pure sense of love and of joy. He is as far beneath the calmy imaginative poets as the region of tempests and storms is below the quiet and unclouded heavens. He excites intense feeling, by leading his readers to the brink of unimaginable horror, by dark hints of nameless sins, or by the strange union of virtues and of vices, which God and nature have for ever divided. Yet are there touches of grace and beauty scattered throughout his works, occasional bursts of redeeming enthusiasm, which make us deeply regret the too-often "admired
80 disorder" of his soul. The stream of his ge- | full of the stateliest pictures. But his Kehama nius falls, from a vast height, amidst bleakest is his greatest work-the most marvellous sucrocks, into depths, which mortal eye cannot cession of fantasies, "sky tinctured," ever fathom, and into which it is dangerous to gaze; called into being, without the aid of real and but it sends up a radiant mist in its fall, which hearty faith! Mr. Southey's prose style is the sun tints with heavenly colouring, and it singularly lucid and simple. His life of Nelleaves its echoes on the golden and quiet son is a truly British work, giving the real clouds! The too frequent perversion of his heartiness of naval strength of our country, withgenius does not prevent it from showing, in out ostentation or cant; his memoir of Kirke its degree, the immortality of the most sublime White is very unaffected and pathetic; and his Essays on the State of the Poor, really touching of the human faculties. in their benevolence, and their well-regulated sympathies. Of the violences of his more decidedly political effusions, we shall not here venture to give an opinion; except to express our firm belief, that they have never been influenced by motives unworthy of a man of genius.
Mr. Campbell has not done much which is
Sir Walter Scott, if his poetry is not all which his countrymen proclaim it, is a bard, in whose success every good man must rejoice. His feeling of nature is true, if it is not profound; his humanity is pure, if it is not deep; his knowledge of facts is choice and various, if his insight into their philosophy is not very clear or extensive. Dr. Percy's Reliques pre-excellent in poetry, but that which he has writpared his way, and the unpublished Christabel aided his inspirations; but he is entitled to the credit of having first brought romantic poetry into fashion. Instead of the wretched sentimentalities of the Della Cruscan school, he supplied the public with pictures of nature, and with fair visions of chivalry. If he is, and we hope as well as believe that he is, the author of the marvellous succession of Scotch romances, he deserves far deeper sentiments of gratitude than those which his poems awaken. Then does he merit the praise of having sent the mountain breezes into the heart of this great nation; of having supplied us all with a glorious crowd of acquaintances, and even of friends, whose society will never disturb or weary us; and of having made us glow a thousand times with honest pride, in that nature of which we are partakers!
ten well is admirable in its kind. His battleodes are simple, affecting, and sublime.-Few passages can exceed the dying speech of Gertrude, in sweet pathos, or the war-song of old Outalissi, in stern and ferocious grandeur. It is astonishing, that he, who could produce these and other pieces of most genuine poetry, should, on some occasions, egregiously mistake gaudy words for imagination: and heap up fragments of bad metaphors, as though he could scale the "highest heaven of invention," by the accumulation of mere earthly materials.
It is the singular lot of Moore, to seem, in his smaller pieces, as though he were fitted for the highest walk of poetry; and in his more The ambitious efforts, to appear as though he could fabricate nothing but glittering tinsel. truth is, however, that those of his attempts, which the world thinks the boldest, and in Mr. Southey is an original poet, and a de- which we regard him as unsuccessful, are not lightful prose-writer, though he does not even above, but beneath his powers. A thousand belong to the class which it has been the tales of veiled prophets, who wed ladies in the fashion to represent him as redeeming. He abodes of the dead, and frighten their associates has neither the intensity of Wordsworth, nor to death by their maimed and mangled counthe glorious expansion of Coleridge; but he tenances, may be produced with far less exhas their holiness of imagination, and child-pense of true imagination, fancy, or feeling, like purity of thought. His fancies are often than one sweet song, which shall seem the as sweet and as heavenly as those which very echo "of summer days and delightful may make a crysome child to smile." There years." Moore is not fit for the composition is, too, sometimes an infantine love of glitter of tales of demon frenzy and feverish strength, He is the most sparkling and pomp, and of airy castle-building, dis-only because his genius is of too pure and It signifies little, played in his more fantastical writings. The noble an essence. great defect of his purest and loftiest poems and graceful of triflers. is, that they are not imbued with humanity; whether the Fives Court or the Palace furnish they do not seem to have their only home on him with materials. However repulsive the "this dear spot, this human earth of ours," but subject, he can "turn all to favour, and to prettheir scenes might be transferred, perhaps with tiness." Clay and gold, subjected to his easy advantage, to the moon or one of the planets. inimitable hand, are wrought into shapes, so In the loneliest bower which poesy can rear, pleasingly fantastic, that the difference of the deep in a trackless wild, or in some island, subject is lost in the fineness of the workmanplaced "far amid the melancholy main," the ship. His lighter pieces are distinguished at air of this world must yet be allowed to breathe, once by deep feeling, and a gay festive air, if the poet would interest "us poor humans." which he never entirely loses. He leads wit, It may heighten even the daintiest solitude of sentiment, patriotism, and fancy, in a gay fantastic round, gambols sportively with fate, and blessed lovers, holds a dazzling fence with care and with sorrow. He has seized all the "snatches of old tunes," which yet lingered about the wildest regions of his wild and fanciful country; and has fitted to them words of accordance, the most exquisite. There is a luxury in his grief, and a sweet melancholy in his joy, which are
"All the while to feel and know,
Mr. Southey's poems are beautiful and pure,