« PredošláPokračovať »
bility and retentiveness of memory at that tender age ; but a great deal also is, in my opinion, to be ascribed to the weakness of their reasoning powers, and to their complete want of reflection. And hence the importance of communicating to them all those accomplishments which are really useful, before the nobler faculties of the understanding begin to open to the more intereting objects of intellectual curiosity.
In entering on this subject it is proper to observe, that the word Poet is not here used in that restricted sense in which it is commonly employed; but in its original acceptation of Maker or Creator. 'In plainer language, it is used to comprehend all those who devote themselves to the culture of the arts which are addressed to the Imagination; and in whose minds, it may be presumed, imagination has acquired a more than ordinary sway over the other powers of the understanding. By using the word with such a latitude, we shall be enabled to generalize those observations which might otherwise seem applicable merely to the different classes of versifiers.*
As the chief delight of the Poet consists in the exercise of his imagination, he can scarcely fail to acquire an intellectual character, very different from what distinguishes those who cultivate the abstract sciences. These last withdraw a man's thoughts from the world, and turn them to the necessary relations of his general ideas, or to the solitary operations of his own understanding. The culture of imagination does not diminish our interest in human life, but is extremely apt to inspire the mind with false conceptions of it.
As this faculty derives its chief gratification from picturing to itself things more perfect than what exist, it has a tendency to exalt our expectations above the level of our present condition ; and frequently produces a youth of enthusiastic hope, while it stores up disappointment and disgust for our maturer, years. In general, it is the characteristic of a poetical mind to be sanguine in its prospects of futurity,-a disposition certainly extremely useful when seconded by great activity and industry, but which, when accompanied (as it is too frequently) with indolence, and with an over-weening self-conceit, is the source of numberless misfortunes.
* For this latitude in the use of the word Poet, I may plead the example of Bacon and D'Alembert, the former of whom (De Aug. Scient. Lib. II. cap. 1.) comprehends under poetry all fables of fictitious histories, whether in prose or in verse; while the latter includes in it painting, sculpture, architecture, music, and their different divisions See the Preliminary Discourse prefixed to the Ency.
A thoughtlessness and improvidence with respect to the fulure, and a general imprudence in the conduct of life, has been often laid to the charge of poets. Horace represents them as too much engrossed and intoxicated with their favourite pursuits to think of any thing else.
« Vatis avarus
This carelessness about the goods of fortune, is an infirmity very naturally resulting from their studies, and is only to be cured by years and experience; or by a combination (very rare indeed) of poetical genius, with a more than ordinary share of that homely endowment called common sense.
Akenside has very beautifully touched upon the history of his own mind in these respects :
" The figured brass, the choral song,
A few exceptions to these observations may undoubtedly be mentioned, but they are so very few, as by their singularity to confirm rather than weaken the general fact. In proof of this, we need only appeal to the sad details recorded by Dr. Johnson in his Lives of the Poets. It is difficult to guess who the French poets were among Boileau's contemporaries, to whom he alluded in the following admirable verses:
" Travaillez pour la gloire, et qu'un sordide gain
Epistle to Augustus
† Ode to Sleep. See Note (B.)
“ Mettent leur Apollon aux gages d'un libraire,
From the predominance in the poetical character of the power of imagination, (a faculty which is habitually conversant with creations of its own, more perfect than what the world presents to us,) it may be expected that the moral taste of the poet, as well as that species of taste which has the fine arts for its object, should receive a degree of cultivation not to be met with in the common run of mankind. Hence in poetry the natural and pleasing union of those pictures which recal to us the charms of external nature, and that moral painting which affects and delights the heart. Hence, too, the origin of an opinion, (which is not altogether without foundation, although it has been often pushed too far,) that there is an inseparable connexion between a good heart and a good taste. : “Jamais " homme ne fut poëte, ou aima la lecture des poëtes qui n'eut “le cœur assis en bon lieu." | "The opinion is, I think, just, if a good heart is understood merely to imply a delicate perception of moral good or evil; but if it be understood to imply, farther, a conformity of our lives to the precepts we revere, our daily experience furnishes us with melancholy proofs that the maxim does not hold without many exceptions. Milton has forcibly, though indirectly, conveyed this important lesson,
“ Abash'd the devil stood,
Boileau l’Art Poetique, Cant. 4.
“ Never was there a poet, or a man who delighted in poetry, whose heart * did not lie in the right place.”-Scaligerana (Edit
. of Cologne, 1695, p. 318.) Upon this position of Scaliger, the learned Le Clerc has the following very extraordinary remark in his Parhasiana : “ Je crois que par avoir le cour assis en " bon lieu, il entend être glorieux; car en effet, il n'y a guere de poëte, qui ne le " soit un peu.”—(P. 33, edit. of Amsterdam, 1699.)
“Avoir le cæur assis en bon lieu,” (to have the heart in the right place,) is an old proverbial expression both in French and English, for to be possessed of natural good dispositions. In our language it is not yet become obsolete. It occurs more than once in the novel of Tremaine ; applied (if I recollect right) to the charming portrait of Jack Careless.
The following passage, from the Guadian, may serve as a comment upon Scaliger's maxim: “ Were it modest, I should profess myself a great admirer of poesie, but that profession is in effect telling the world, that I have a heart tender and generous, a heart that can swell with the joys or be depressed with the misfortunes of others, nay
pre, even of imaginary persons; a heart large enough to receive " the greatest ideas nature can suggest, and delicate enough to relish the most " beautiful; it is desiring mankind to believe that I am capable of entering into " all those subtle graces, and all that divine elegance, the enjoyment of which is " to be felt only; and not expressed.”-Guardian, No. 51.
In scientific researches, those habits of the mind which lay the foundation of poetical genius may, undoubtedly, be of occasional use, by suggesting analogies as interesting subjects of philosophical examination ; which analogies, though they often do nothing more than furnish amusement to the fancy, may yet sometimes lead to important discoveries. The power of invention, besides, is necessarily connected with the powers of fancy and imagination ; at least these contribute their share largely in supplying the materials on which invention is to operate. It is scarcely necessary for me to add, of what advantage they are to the theorist, in supplying him with happy and varied illustrations of his hypothesis ; an advantage which, it must be owned, has, in the past history of science, been more frequently employed in giving plausibility to error, than in illustrating and establishing truth. It is from the seducing influence of these powers that the principal charm of Darwin's Zoonomia arises ; and hence, too, the strong tendency of this and similar philosophical romances to mislead young and inex. 3 perienced understandings.
In this last remark I have partly anticipated what I have next to mention with respect to the influence of poetical habits on the intellectual faculties ; I mean their tendency, by cherishing a proneness to analogical combination, to impair that severe and discriminating good sense which can alone guide us infallibly in the search of truth. Not that I would venture, with Mr. Diafoirus, to assume as certain the converse of this proposition, and to conclude, that, in proportion as imagination is weak, our other faculties must necessarily be strong. “ foresee,” (said this fond parent) “ from the heaviness of my “ son's imagination, that he will have, in time, an excellent “ judgment."*
All that I would be understood to assert is, that a more than ordinary liveliness and warmth of imagination will require, in a greater degree, the discipline of logical precepts and of philosophical habits of thinking, to prevent the possessor from losing his way in his scientific researches, than when this faculty does not possess the same ascendant in the intellectual frame. What Mr. Locke has observed with respect to wit, may, I apprehend, be applied, with scarcely any alteration, to the other elements and accessories of poetical
*“ Monsieur, ce n'est pas parce que je suis son père, mais je puis dire que “ j'ai sujet d'être content de lui. Il n'a jamais eu l'imagination bien vive, ni ce
feu d'esprit qu'on remarque dans quelques-uns ; mais c'est par là que j'ai toujours bien auguré de sa judiciare ; cette lenteur à comprendre, cette pesanteur d'imagination, est la marque d'un bon jugement à venir.”-Moliere, Le Malade Imaginaire.
genius. “ If, in having our ideas in the memory ready at
hand consists quickness of parts, in this of having them un“confused, and being able nicely to distinguish one thing from « another, where there is but the least difference, consists, in
a great measure, the exactness of judgment and clearness of
reason, which is to be observed in one man above another." “And hence, perhaps.” (continues Mr. Locke,) "may be “ given some reason of that common observation, that men « who have a great deal of wit and prompt memories, have not « always the clearest judgment or deepest reason.
As and illustration of the tendency of analogies to mislead the judgment, I beg leave to quote a passage from a writer of distinguished talents, whose fertile imagination, by occasionally pressing into his service, in support of an argument, what Pope calls a “mob of metaphors,” leaves his reader no leisure to examine their justness ; and sometimes gives to the visions of his fancy the semblance of a more than common measure of science and profundity. In this case, indeed, I am far from supposing that the author himself is always misled by his own imagination. I believe that more frequently he employs it as a rhetorical engine to subjugate the reason of his readers; and I remark it, therefore, chiefly, as an artifice against which his readers would do well to be on their guard. This very amusing style of reasoning was first rendered fashionable by Mr. Burke, and has since been adopted, with equal powers, by the writer to whom I allude. It seems, indeed, happily calculated for imposing on that degree of attention with which reviews are commonly read, and parliamentary speeches listened to. The passage which follows forms part of an argument in support of the pleasing prospects which opened to France at the time of the restoration of the Bourbons. It is but justice to this critic to premise, that his liberal and beDevolent wishes for the spread of free institutions over the world, and in particular for a communication to our continental neighbours of such political blessings as we ourselves enjoy, seem to have warmed and exalted his imagination to a more than ordinary degree, at the very interesting crisis when this passage was composed.
“All the periods in which human society and human intel“lect have ever been known to make great and memorable ad
vances, have followed close upon periods of general agitation " and disorder. Men's minds, it would appear, must be deep
ly and roughly stirred before they become prolific of great
Essay on the Human Understanding, B. II. Chap. xi. Sect. 2.