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their imbecility excited,” because such pretensions must always be ridiculous; yet apart from these, no one, we think, can be indifferent to the daily increasing influence and production of poetry. As religion in earliest times was expounded by a few priests, and was understood by them alone, but has now, through its Christian development, become intelligible and practicable to millions ; so poetry, in becoming thus diffused, is developing its mission, widening its influence, and daily becoming a more potent element of life. Most foolish is the cry,“ that poetry is dead," or “ poetry's a drug." Poetry never dies, never becomes a drug, and least of all now, when every day brings fresh writers, and every day republications in all possible forms and at all prices, of all possible writers. The glory and intense apostolic radiance may have become dim, because there is no new creed to breathe firy inspiration into the nostrils of men, and poetry is occupying herself in the lower province of completing her Idea; but that it exists, that it revels in its superabundant life, can only be denied by those unfortunates for whom the steep of Parnassus remains a steep—the earth crumbling beneath their heavy feet. Nevertheless the meanest cultivator, whether he attain Parnassean eminence or not, has glimpses of that infinite to which all aspire, regards nature with a more penetrating and appreciating eye, looks radically at the soul of man in preference to his conventional trappings, cultivates the affections and sympathies, and developes the philosophy of beauty and happiness more than another. It is nothing to say that he is but an echo or re-echo of others; admitting it, we only thereby assert his relative rank, and negative the probability of his becoming an object of renown; but as far as his own soul is concerned, it is much for him that it is not dead, not wrapped up in the dull atmosphere of self-reference and “respectability,” but that the air of heaven can blow freshly on it; that it can admit “ the strains of higher mood,” which burst from the chorded harps of the great minstrels who have gone before, and filled the world with music unto everlasting time; it is much for him that he can catch up even a distant falling echo of these strains, and temper their celestial harmony to the “ears of the groundlings," who could not otherwise have
heard them. Poetry will one day become one of the elements of life-a sixth sense more keen and important than all the rest.
“ Ernst ist das Leben, heiter ist die Kunst.” But it is a noble dream, if a dream, to elevate life itself into the spiritual clearness and ideality of Art. Deep and beautiful is the advice of Göthe, that we should “ every day hear a little song, see a good picture, read some poetry, and, if possible, talk some sensible words," that we may thus cultivate a harmony of soul, which must eventually express itself in life; and so Montaigne's father used to awaken him in the morning by playing on the flute, in order that he might begin the day with cheerfulness, and one slight beam of beauty. Nevertheless if, as Göthe says, “ what we do not understand, we do not possess," so the more poetry becomes a familiar household thing, garnered up in the hearts of the masses, not shut in libraries of the rich, the more necessary it is for us to understand it, unless indeed we regard it as the stars,
"Too high for knowledge, but how near for love!"" But to understand it is the office of æsthetics and criticism; and if there be any truth in what we have written, a noble office it is. Criticism is the handmaiden to Art, the gentle and affectionate sister (philosophy) comprehending and knowing what poetry feels and utters. But this gentle sister, has somehow or other fared most sorrily in this merry and moral England of ours; she has been bullied by her brother, snubbed by her enemies, ill-treated by friends, and poisoned by quacks. Her brother, poetry, in the form of heaven-descended, unsuccessful genius, in turned-down shirt-collars,) has bullied her in unmeasured terms; "cold criticism," “ rules cramping genius," "envy of critics," etc. have been the most courteous terms. With these ingrates who thus ill-use their critics out of a resentful sense of their own shortcomings, we shall argue the point about “ rules cramping genius,” or “ learning damping poetic fire,” previous to our introducing them to their high-soul'd sister in Germany,
# Vivia Perpetua.
from whose Minerva-head streams a light somewhat differing from that of the Minerva-press.
We are aware, that in obscure corners originality is supposed to be obtainable through ignorance alone; knowledge, criticism, etc. being mere weights and obstructions to the free exercise of the poetic spirit. This does very well in rhetoric, indifferently so in logic. And then suppose we choose to reject the illustration of “ weights” applied to learning, and substitute “ wings” for it, is not the whole argument changed? And yet an arbitrary illustration can never affect the truth of the thing. Men are the dupes of epithets. Affix an epithet to your neighbour's actions or sentiments, and they share the fate of the dog in the proverb, and are virtuously hanged. Call reason or understanding “cold," and they become, as by magic, degraded and brutified in the eyes of men; while “ warm” imagination or “exalted" fancy are revered by every turn'd-down collar in the kingdom. Epithets are thus made the weapons of bigotry, the shields of conventionality, and the watchwords of superstition!
We insist therefore on an inspection of the epithet “cold,” when applied to understanding; we insist on knowledge, rules of art, etc. being no longer called “ damps, weights, or obstructions," until further examination. It is merely a dispute about words, as all disputes indeed are; men not looking steadily at the thing, but looking only at their conception of it, and each man insisting on the other seeing with his eyes. Mere verbal learning, or what is usually known as academic learning, can certainly be of no great use to the poet, if he also share the academic reverence for trivialities in “ ul.” Learning, in the common acceptation of the word, is the driest, barrenest dust that can be shaken from long-shelved folios, and collected under the skull; but here again that shifty Willo'-the-wisp, epithet, has led us dancing into a bog, instead of the broad path of reality. Men have consented to call one thing alone “ learning,” viz. the Greek and Roman literatures. In effect, however, there is learning beyond this, and such, usually called knowledge, the poet must have, if he would gain the world's ear; and the better, if strengthened and refined by an acquaintance with the language and the almost perfect relics of antiquity. Learning is as oil poured upon water, which rests glittering at the top, and can be shown, and its amount estimated, at a moment's notice; but unfortunately without changing the condition of the water itself. Knowledge is as wine poured upon water, which cannot be so readily shown and separated, but which mingles with the water, vivifying it with its own intense life, and changing it into quite another existence. Poets, mistake not oil for wine !
Shakspeare, it is possible, was unable to conjugate a Greek verb without bungling, but that he “ was wise in all the wisdom of his time," can be doubted by none. His appetite for knowledge was insatiable, and “grew with what it fed on.” Everything was welcome to him, high and low, and was turned to good account. How remarkably this was the case with Göthe we all know. That Homer, the Greek dramatists, Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Tasso, Chaucer, Milton, Spenser, Shelley, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Göthe, Schiller, etc. were all impressed with the necessity of mastering, as far as in them lay, all knowledge, is equally plain ; for, in a word, how can he, whose position is at the head of his age, be behind that age?
With regard to that theory invented by idleness and conceit-of rules cramping genius, the chilling effects of criticism, and the necessity for the artist's being ignorant of his art-how does this accord with past experience? Is not a great poem the work of years ? Was Dante, who formed his language, careless of his art? Did he not see himself “ growing grey” over his Divine Comedy? “ Creation, one 6 would think, cannot be easy,” says Carlyle; “ your Jove 6 has severe pains and fire-flames in the head, out of which 66 an armed Pallas is struggling!” Was Chaucer indifferent to the critical demands of his art?—was Spenser ?—was Shakspeare? The biographies of poets give very explicit statements of the labour and study which their poems cost them. Ariosto was twelve years writing his · Orlando Furioso,' and after it was published, travelled all over Italy to converse with the critics upon it, profiting by their advice; and it will live for more than twelve hundred years. Tasso had a scholar expressly to elucidate Aristotle's Poetics,' and
studied them with avidity; his own ‘Discorsi' on epic poetry show how long and carefully he had meditated the subject. Only look at the question for an instant, and it resolves itself. An artist has a certain aim ; to attain this he must use certain means: is he to be ignorant of them for the better employment of them? He must not only ascertain correctly the nature, power and limits of these means, but must apply them to his own wants. Now rules in poetry are nothing more than conclusions arrived at by critics for the best means of attaining this end.
But heaven-descended genius has one immense rock on which it reposes its contented ignorance-one never-failing argument-the Greeks! “The Greeks never wrote with the “fear of critics before their eyes; they had no cold rules “which they were afraid to violate.” Such is the confident announcement, such is their rock; unfortunately for them it is no rock, but a mere sand-hill converted into a rock by being viewed through the mist of ignorance,-a mist favourable and familiar to weak eyes. This rock is scattered into air by these two facts,-the Greeks had abundant scientific æsthetical treatises, and they had always a highly critical audience.
The history of Grecian æsthetics has been elaborately treated by Müller, Bode, Ruge, and others*; and although time has left us little beyond the titles of works, yet they alone indicate the advanced state of the science; and when we consider the profound philosophical genius of the people, their acute susceptibilities, and their passionate love of Art, we may be assured that their treatises were not only full of deep speculation, but also of suggestive matter to the artist. One thing strikes us throughout Grecian Art, and that is, the consciousness of its art; the well-considered, elaborated and calculated adoption of materials. Except in Homer, whom we regard, in spite of the critics, as bald, (simple, if they will; but the simplicity of primitive poetry, not the forethought simplicity of Art,) the most glowing burst of poetry with them
* Vide Müller, Geschichte der Theorie der Kunst bei den Alten' (a work much valued, but which we have been unable to consult). Bode, 'Gesch, der Hellenischen Dichtkunst;" the introduction to which contains a short but elaborate account of the different critical theories; and Ruge, ‘Platonische Æsthetik.' VOL. XIII.-No. XXV.