« PredošláPokračovať »
is the nearest approximation which we can effect. In the case of Homer, we have no contemporary literature. Even in Hesiod, the associations of a later generation are clearly to be traced and felt. The demigods of his fourth age are the warriors who, in the Iliad and Odyssey, are represented in the pure reality of actual human existence. We believe then, that, for the purpose of understanding Homer thoroughly, no better plan could be adopted, than that of repeated perusal of the Homeric poems themselves, to the temporary but rigid exclusion of all other literature.
That there are times which, in many circumstances, resemble the Homeric, we do not deny; and it cannot be disputed, that the remains of those who lived in such times supply valuable illustrations to a reader of Homer. Such illustrations may be found, in great abundance, in Sir Walter Scott's three volumes on the Minstrelsy of the Scotch Border. But still the question remains, how are we, in the first instance, to reach and understand the associations and spirit of the Homeric poems themselves: for till this is done, we cannot select the epoch which is to furnish the analogy.
We have dwelt at some length on this question, because we believe it to be of very great practical importance. That the true feeling and spirit of an author should be apprehended by his reader is essential, not merely to the perception and enjoyment of his merits, but to the full understanding of his meaning and to the improvement which is to be derived from him; indeed, this is so little removed from a truism, that we should not have thought the remark necessary, did not experience prove, that much trouble is often bestowed upon cracking the shell, when the kernel is scarcely tasted.
We shall fortify our reasoning with only one authority; but it shall be that of one of the most refined scholars of the age. Hermann, in his preface to the first volume of the Homer, which forms part of Bekker's Leipsic series, writes as follows:
Ex his consequitur, quos rectè Homeri lectione imbuere volumus, eò perducendos esse, ut postquam ex tribus quatuorve rhapsodiis formas verborum constructionumque regulas a magistro acceperint, deinde reliqua ipsi oblectationis causâ legere possint. Eoque fine totus iis perlegendus est Homerus: in quâ re hæc tria sunt observanda : primò, ut id hoc ipso fine, qui est in percipiendâ carminum illorum pulchritudine positus, faciant; deinde, ut quantum fieri possit perpetua sit lectio, neque ad alios scriptores divertat; denique, ut sæpiùs legant Homerum, totumque imbibant. . . . . . Horum singula quid prosint, paucis declarabo. Ac quod primum posui, non alio fine quam oblectationis causâ legendum esse Homerum, id ejus
modi est, ut non solum jucundam reddat eam lectionem, legentemque retineat et ad repetitionem legendi invitet, sed etiam ut eum doceat illud ipsum cogitare ac sentire, quod cogitandum sentiendum que voluit poeta. . . . . Quod autem dicebam, illud ipsum quod voluisset poeta, neque aliud quicquam cogitandum sentiendumque esse, quod hâc ratione optimè facillimèque consequimur, id non leve quid, sed summum maximique momenti esse putandum est. Nam in eâ re denique omnis justa scientia continetur, neque aut interpretatio aut intelligentia scriptoris appellari potest, quæ aliud quam illi in mente erat amplectitur. . . . . . Secundum est, ut lectio sit perpetua, neque interpelletur aliorum lectione scriptorum. Apertum est enim, quo quis plura simul tractet, eò magis distrahi attentionem animi rerum varietate, impedirique quòminus ea percipiat, quæ propria singulorum sunt: quò fit ut confundantur omnia, nec distingui quæ diversa sunt possint. Quod a plerisque non satis animo reputari videmus. Unde et in puerorum institutione multum in hoc genere peccatur, et qui maturiore ætate ipsi sua studia regunt, sæpe quo plura cognoscere laboraverunt, eo pauciora cognita habere reperiuntur.'
Hermann then goes on to insist upon the third point, that of repeating the perusal. We will not continue the citation, but will content ourselves with recommending to the attention of our readers, both the whole of the little preface from which we have made the extract, and that prefixed to the second volume.
We might confirm these arguments by referring to the very just remarks which Mr. Coleridge adds upon purity of language. The importance of an attention to the history of both the vocabulary and grammatical forms of a language cannot be too strongly impressed upon any one who wishes to acquire an accurate and philosophical acquaintance with it. But in order to learn the history of a language, we must surely study it as we study other history, that is, with an anxious watchfulness not to confound the associations which belong to one age with those which belong to another: and it seems plain, that the difficulty of exercising this watchfulness will be much increased by studying at the same time the works composed in different ages. We allow, however, that this argument militates principally against the practice of studying at the same time works written at different ages in the same language. Yet the analysis of the earliest and most elementary principles of any language must be embarrassed by whatever draws the attention strongly to the phænomena presented by other languages at a different stage of their existence.
Mr. Coleridge has taken some pains to explain the distinc
tion between the imagination and the fancy: we confess, that after carefully studying his remarks upon this often de-. bated question, we do not find ourselves in possession of much clearer ideas. There is less difficulty in assigning any given passage to the province of the proper faculty, according to the sense which critics usually attach to the words, than in investigating analytically what that sense is. Mr. Coleridge gives two instances, the first of the exertion of fancy, the other of imagination :
In the first of these passages, the images taken from objects of nature or art are presented as they are; they are neither modified nor associated; they are, in fact, so many pretty shows passing through a magic lantern, without any connexion with the being and feelings of the speaker or the poet impressed upon them; we look at them, but cannot for a moment feel for or with them. In the second, the images are transfigured; their colours and shapes are modified; one master-passion pervades and quickens them.'
As far as our observation goes, we are disposed to believe, that the images brought forward undergo as much change and modification in one class of passages as in the other; the difference must consist in that with reference to which the alteration is effected. We understand the author to mean, that in imaginative passages the feelings of the author, or supposed speaker, are so embodied as to make the reader perceive, and sympathize with, the union; the mere fact of such a union is common to all passages ever composed. Now we doubt whether the impression of the mind of the writer, or person represented, upon the imagery, be essential to an imaginative, in any sense in which it is not essential to a fanciful, passage. The passage which is given as an instance of the exertion of fancy is the description of Queen Mab; if we could forget that this comes from Mercutio, and separate our conception of the overflowing spirits and wild playfulness of the speaker from our enjoyment of the description, we should surely lose a very great portion of our pleasure. Something of the enjoyment, perhaps much, (for it is rather difficult to make this experiment of dissociation,) would remain; but may not this be said of many imaginative passages; of Wordsworth's description of Red Tarn for instance? We rather believe the criterion to be, that a passage partakes more strongly of the imagination or fancy, according as the imagery is more or less directly employed to convey truth. For this reason it is, that there is a more permanent character about the one than the other; and this may perhaps justify the enthusiastic assertion of Wordsworth,
that fancy is given to quicken and to beguile the temporal part of our nature, imagination to incite and to support the eternal.' Thus, to take the two other instances adduced by Mr. Coleridge, although there be more visible resemblance between the colours of stained ivory and blood, than between a wounded boy and a ploughed-up flower, yet does not the latter image carry home to the mind the truer sense of the circumstance described? Dante and Homer, two of the authors who may be instanced as preeminent in the exercise of the imagination, are perhaps of all that ever wrote the most remarkable for the singleness of purpose with which they endeavour to communicate truth.
We agree altogether with Mr. Coleridge in his dislike of the use of Latin translations, but we must express our dissent from his recommendation of prose translations for prose classical authors. It is very questionable whether the conception of the whole work can, in any instance, be improved by the use of a translation; and it is certain that peculiarities of manner and diction-sometimes the most valuable, and never unimportant, characteristics of the author-must be nearly lost, even in the best translation. The perception of them must then be weakened by bringing the translation before the reader together with the original. To recur to Hermann's language, the student is nearly sure impediri quò minùs ea percipiat quæ propria singulorum sunt*.'
Mr. Coleridge appears to generalize rather too boldly, when he attributes the craving for the visible representations of the Divinity to the effect of climate. Perhaps we shall better understand the nature and origin of the disagreement between different nations on this point, if we recollect that men, so far as they are independent of Revelation, have been led by two different paths to the conception of superior beings; in one case, the energies of nature, which are most obviously forced upon the attention, are personified; and here the natural tendency is, to a representation of the energy in a visible, and generally a human, shape. This may be called the idolatrous theology. On the other hand, the innate necessity of connecting design with mind, and inferring design from combinations producing useful effects, gives birth to what may be fitly termed philosophical theology. But the very effort by which the belief raises
*There is a note on the passage now under discussion, from which a reader might be led to infer, that prose Greek exercises are not practised at Eton. Is this actually so? The advice added respecting books of selections is sound, if books of selections are to be admitted at all.
itself from material phænomena to mind, is adverse to that disposition which seeks to bestow a corporeal existence on mental conceptions. The idolatrous theology is clearly the religion of Homer, though we do not find it in its mature shape. Nothing can less resemble the theology of the Memorabilia. Aphrodite is Beauty, a person; Ares is Ferocious Strength, a person; even Prayers are persons, limping feebly after Mischief, who is vigorous and soundfooted.
Too much stress, we think, is laid upon the effect of the system of chivalry in determining the nature of the relation between the sexes. The existence of that romantic police, known by the name of knight-errantry,' is assumed as a fact. Are there sufficient grounds for this? On this point we will content ourselves with referring our readers to the first volume of Sir James Mackintosh's History of England (p. 174, &c.). We differ with Mr. Coleridge merely as to the degree in which this spirit operated; for we do not question the fact of its having been one cause of the very important difference between modern and ancient feelings on this point. We agree with him also in referring to the reception of the Christian belief as another cause; though there does appear to be some difficulty in tracing the operation of a principle which is common to the north and south of Europe, yet which, as Mr. Coleridge himself points out, has produced the effect upon the northern races only. Before quitting this subject, we will make one remark upon that love which has derived its name from the divine Plato.' We believe that the name is all that it owes to Plato. That pretty and fantastic theory has scarcely any connexion with the singular doctrine in the Symposium, where the foulest and most loathsome aberrations of our nature are scrutinized, for the purpose of creating an abstraction, pure and beautiful no doubt, but bearing little or no resemblance to what we find in romances under the title of Platonic love*.
Mr. Coleridge's account of the different opinions held upon the great question of the origin of the poems is an excellent introduction to the controversy. In passing, we must express our doubt as to the correctness of a remark which he makes on the Ion of Plato. He thinks that the object of this dialogue was probably to sketch a true and exalted picture of the duty and character of a genuine hapsodist.' It seems strange, that there should be so much difference of opinion on this point; yet we are strongly per
*In the citation from the Symposium, at p. 32, Mr. Coleridge has applied to spirit what Socrates, or rather Diotima, says of Abstract Beauty or Excellence.