« ZurückWeiter »
is vain and wild, and teems with fantastic superstitions; the understanding, unless other powers elevate and ennoble it, is narrow and partial, and empirical and superficial. While the reason is cultivated let not the other faculties be neglected ; let it substantiate its forms and give them a body of sound experiential and historical knowledge; and let not this body be without the beautiful, ever-varying hues, the glowing flushes and ardent glances of the imagination. So may it become an edifice wherein wisdom may not be ashamed to take up her dwelling. No one of the powers with which God has endowed us is useless; no one is meant to lie waste, no one to run waste. Only when they are knit together and working in unison and harmony, may we hope that the vision of truth will descend upon them.”
I have thus endeavoured to trace to its sources the tendency to disparage the study of poetry as an intellectual occupation. If we can satisfy our minds that such a state of opinion has its origin in the causes suggested the indiscriminate confusion of all verse, no matter how vapid and unimaginative, with true poetry; the perpetual, because constitutional, proneness to suffer materialism and materialized notions to encroach on the spiritual endowments of humanity; the almost exclusive appropriation of the title of philosophy to mechanical science, looking only to the world of sense; and the undue exaltation of the reasoning faculty over all other mental powers,—it is enough to bring somewhat of conviction that the opinion itself is error. But the refutation of objections is not enough : a subject must be set on the independent foundation of its own principles. I have felt that I could not safely advance without an attempt to dispose of the preliminary considerations which have been noticed. This makes it necessary to defer to the next lecture the main introductory subject, the nature of Poetry, with an examination of its inspiration, its relation to the Fine Arts, and the moral uses of a cultivated imagination, and, after that, to proceed to the glorious registry of our English poets.
In conclusion, one word of a personal nature. This course of lectures has been prompted by the belief that it was due from me to this community, considering my position in this ancient Philadelphia institution. It is the result of mature reflection, with a full sense of the obstacles and discouragements which it may encounter. Be those discouragements what they may, standing on the ground of duty, this post of mine shall not be deserted. I have sought to place before the public a plan the subject of which I know to be worthy their consideration. But how far the lecturer may be esteemeð competent to the task he has ventured on, it would be indecorous for
me to indulge the most distant fancy. It will not, however, be too much for me to say that I stand here not a suppliant for favours, but with the consciousness of a single and an honourable purpose in the cause of literature; and to add that, while I form no conjecture how many of my friends I may have the pleasure of seeing here again, no contingency of that sort shall prevent the prosecution of this enterprise to its completion.'
THE NATURE OF POETRY AND ITS MINISTRATIONS-IMAGINATIVE CAPACITY-LORD
BACON'S VIEW-MILTON'S-POETRY A DIVINE EMANATION-ITS FOUNDATION IS
TTAVING in my last lecture endeavoured to remove some prelimII inary obstacles to an entrance on our subject, I wish now to proceed to the consideration of the nature of poetry and its ministrations, the poet's mission to his fellow-beings, and his powers. This is equivalent to an examination of the faculty of imagination ; for poetry is the voice of imagination. The two are inseparable; and it is one and the same thing to study the nature of that endowment, the moral uses of a cultivated imagination, and the purposes of genuine poetry.
The duty of cultivation, let me observe in the first place, rests on the possession of each power of the human mind. One of the universal endowments, infinitely different indeed in its degrees, is the faculty of imagination; and it would be strangely interpreting God's scheme in the government of the world to suppose that this mighty power was bestowed for no other than the pitiful offices often deemed its distinctive functions. It has more precious trusts than the production of tawdry romances or sentimental novels. The very existence of imagination is a proof that it is an agency which may be improved to our good, or neglected and abused to our harm. Even if it were beyond our comprehension to conceive how it may be auxiliary to humanity, it would be no more than a simple impulse of faith to feel that, so surely as it is an element implanted in our nature, it is there to be nurtured and strengthened by thoughtful exercise. But we are not left to the strenuous effort of implicit faith; for the purposes of the endowment are manifest and multifarious. It has been well demanded, “ To what end have we been endowed with the creative faculty of the imagination, which glancing from heaven to carth, from earth to heaven, vivifies
LORD BACON'S VIEW OF POETRY. ,
what to the eye seems lifeless, and actuates what to the eye seems torpid, combines and harmonizes what to the eye seems broken and disjointed, and infuses a soul with thought and feeling into the multitudinous fleeting phantasmagoria of the senses ? To what end have we been so richly endowed, unless—as the prime object and appointed task of the reason is to detect and apprehend the laws by which the almighty Lawgiver upholds and ordains the world he has created—it be in like manner the province and the duty of the imagination to employ itself diligently in perusing and studying the symbolical characters wherewith God has engraven the revelations of his goodness on the interminable scroll of the visible universe ?”
But it is important to cite the highest possible authority; and I know not where I can better look for it than in that almost superhuman survey of human knowledge contained in the philosophy of Lord Bacon. Words of wisdom are there which cast their light on almost all the paths of mental inquiry; and on the present occasion I seek them with special earnestness, because of the superficial notion that the Baconian philosophy took thought of the domains of only physical investigation. It can, however, be shown that among the objects of inquiry to which he pointed attention was, how the imagination may be fortified and exalted; and his brief but celebrated passage on Poetry may be aptly repeated :—“The use of this feigned history hath been to give some shadow of satisfaction to the mind of man in those points wherein the nature of things doth deny it, the world being, in proportion, inferior to the soul; by reason whereof there is, agreeable to the spirit of man, a more ample greatness, a more exact goodness, and a more absolute variety, than can be found in the nature of things. Therefore, because the acts or events of true history have not that magnitude which satisfieth the mind of man, poesy feigneth acts and events greater and more heroical ; because true history propoundeth the successes and issues of actions not so agreeable to the merit of virtue and vice, therefore poesy feigns them more just in retribution and more according to revealed providence; because history representeth actions and events more ordinary and less interchanged, therefore poesy endueth them with more rareness and more unexpected variations : so, as it appeareth, that poesy serveth and conferreth to magnanimity and delectation; and, therefore, it was ever thought to have some participation of divineness, because it doth raise and erect the mind by submitting the shows of things to the desires of the mind; whereas reason doth buckle and bow the mind unto the nature of things.”
In these pregnant sentences, worthy of deep reflection, may be discovered the germs of the whole philosophy of poetry; and be who will follow as far as they light him in the paths of truth will leave far behind the questions and the cavils respecting the endowments of imagination. I have no desire to lead you into the tangles of metaphysics; but I beg your reflection on the passage cited, because it is the highest authority to be found in philosophy. The leading thought in twis profound meditation of Bacon's, as I understand it, is that there dwells in the human soul a sense—a faculty—a power of some kind, call it by what name you may–which craves more than this world affords, and which gives birth to aspirations after something better than the events of our common life; and that the poet's function is to minister to this want. From the earliest records of literature, the creations of poetry in all ages have found a congeniality in the breast of man, though the world might be searched in vain for the archetypes of those creations. A great modern poet boldly tells us of
“ The gleam,
and yet the heart takes those dreams home to itself for realities. Humanly speaking, this is mysterious in our nature. When a mind like Bacon's is brought to the contemplation, it penetrates to the centre of the mystery, and intimates that the solution is to be found only in the inspired record of the history of the human soul ; that its mingled majesty and poverty, its aspiration and its destitution, are to be traced to the fall from primeval purity. There was a time when the human soul and the world in which it was dwelling were better mated; when the discord and incongruity described by Bacon had not begun :
“Upon the breast of new-created earth
The loss of innocence was the beginning of a new era in the history of our race. I have no desire to indulge in speculation on a subject