Abbildungen der Seite

and accordingly we find this reactionary sentiment expressing itself in a base school of what was called pastoral poetry; that is to say, poetry written in praise of the country, by men who lived in coffee-houses and on the Mall. The essence of pastoral poetry is the sense of strange delightfulness in grass, which is occasionally felt by a man who has seldom set his foot on it; it is essentially the poetry of the cockney, and for the most part corresponds in its aim and rank, as compared with other literature, to the porcelain shepherds and shepherdesses on a chimney-piece as compared with great works of sculpture. Of course all good poetry, descriptive of rural life, is essentially pastoral, or has the effect of the pastoral, on the minds of men living in cities; but the class of poetry which I mean, and which you probably understand, by the term pastoral, is that in which a farmer's girl is spoken of as a “nymph,” and a farmer's boy as a “swain,” and in which, throughout, a ridiculous and unnatural refinement is supposed to exist in rural life, merely because the poet himself has neither had the courage to endure its hardships, nor the wit to conceive its realities. If you examine the literature of the past century, you will find that nearly all its expressions, having reference to the country, show something of this kind; either a foolish sentimentality, or a morbid fear, both of course coupled with the most curious ignorance. You will find all its descriptive expressions at once vague and monotonous. Brooks are always “purling;” birds always “warbling;” mountains always “lift their horrid peaks above the clouds;” vales always “are lost in the shadow of gloomy woods;” a few more distinct ideas about haymaking and curds and cream, acquired in the neighbourhood of Richmond Bridge, serving to give an occasional appearance of freshness to the catalogue of the sublime and beautiful which descended from poet to poet; while

a few true pieces of pastoral, like the “Vicar of Wakefield,” and Walton’s “Angler,” relieved the general waste of dulness. Even in these better productions, nothing is more remarkable than the general conception of the country merely as a series of green fields, and the combined ignorance and dread of more sublime scenery; of which the mysteries and dangers were enhanced by the difficulties of travelling at the period. Thus in Walton’s “Angler,” you have a meeting of two friends, one a Derbyshireman, the other a lowland traveller, who is as much alarmed, and uses nearly as many expressions of asto nishment, at having to go down a steep hill and ford a brook, as a traveller uses now at crossing the glacier of the Col de Geant. I am not sure whether the difficulties which, until late years, have lain in the way of peaceful and convenient travelling, ought not to have great weight assigned to them among the other causes of the temper of the century; but be that as it may, if you will examine the whole range of its literature—keeping this point in view—I am well persuaded that you will be struck most forcibly by the strange deadness to the higher sources of landscape sublimity which is mingled with the morbid pastoralism. The love of fresh air and green grass forced itself upon the animal natures of men; but that of the sublimer features of scenery had no place in minds whose chief powers had been repressed by the formalisms of the age. And although in the second-rate writers continually, and in the first-rate ones occasionally, you find an affectation of interest in mountains, clouds, and forests, yet whenever they write from their heart, you will find an utter absence of feeling respecting anything beyond gardens and grass. Examine, for instance, the novels of Smollett, Fielding, and Sterne, the comedies of Molière, and the writings of Johnson and Addison, and I do not think you will find a single expression of true delight in sublime nature in any one of them, Per.

[ocr errors]

haps Sterne's “Sentimental Journey,” in its total absence of
sentiment on any subject but humanity, and its entire want
of notice of anything at Geneva, which might not as well have
been seen at Coxwold, is the most striking instance I could
give you; and if you compare with this negation of feeling on
one side, the inter.udes of Molière, in which shepherds and
shepherdesses are introduced in court dress, you have a very
accurate conception of the general spirit of the age.
It was in such a state of society that the landscape of
Claude, Gaspar Poussin, and Salvator Rosa attained its repu-
tation. It is the complete expression on canvas of the spirit
of the time. Claude embodies the foolish pastoralism, Salva-
tor the ignorant terror, and Gaspar the dull and affected
It was, however, altogether impossible that this state of
things could long continue. The age which had buried itself
in formalism grew weary at last of the restraint; and the ap
proach of a new aera was marked by the appearance, and the
enthusiastic reception, of writers who took delight in those
wild scenes of nature which had so long been despised.
I think the first two writers in whom the symptoms of a
change are strongly manifested are Mrs. Radcliffe and Rous-
seau; in both of whom the love of natural scenery, though
mingled in the one case with what was merely dramatic, and
in the other with much that was pitifully morbid or vicious,
was still itself genuine, and intense, differing altogether in
character from any sentiments previously traceable in litera-
ture. And then rapidly followed a group of writers, who
expressed, in various ways, the more powerful or more pure
feeling which had now become one of the strongest instincts
of the age. Of these, the principal is Walter Scott. Many
writers, indeed, describe nature more minutely and more
profoundly; but none show in higher intensity the peculiar

passion for what is majestic or lovely in wild nature, to which I am now referring. The whole of the poem of the “Lady of the Lake” is written with almost a boyish enthusiasm for rocks, and lakes, and cataracts; the early novels show the same instinct in equal strength wherever he approaches Highland scenery; and the feeling is mingled, observe, with a most touching and affectionate appreciation of the Gothic architecture, in which alone he found the elements of natural beauty seized by art; so that, to this day, his descriptions of Melrose and Holy Island Cathedral, in the “Lay of the Last Minstrel” and “Marmion,” as well as of the ideal abbeys in the “Monastery” and “Antiquary,” together with those of Caerlaverock and Lochleven Castles in “Guy Mannering” and “The Abbot,” remain the staple possessions and text-books of all travellers, not so much for their beauty or accuracy, as for their exactly expressing that degree offeeling with which most men in this century can sympathise. Together with Scott appeared the group of poets,—Byron, Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, and, finally, Tennyson,—differ. ing widely in moral principles and spiritual temper, but all agreeing more or less in this love for natural scenery. Now, you will ask me—and you will ask me most reasonably—how this love of nature in modern days can be connected with Christianity, seeing it is as strong in the infidel Shelley as in the sacred Wordsworth. Yes, and it was found in far worse men than Shelley. Shelley was an honest unbeliever, and a man of warm affections; but this new love of nature is found in the most reckless and unprincipled of the French novelists, -in Eugene Sue, in Dumas, in George Sand,—and that intensely. How is this? Simply because the feeling is reactionary; and, in this phase of it, common to the diseased mind as well as to the healthy one. A man dying in the fever of Intemperance will cry out for water, and that with a bitterer thirst than a man whose healthy frame naturally delights in the mountain spring more than in the wine cup. The water is not dishonored by the thirst of that diseased, nor is nature dishonored by the love of the unworthy. That love is, per haps, the only saving element in their minds; and it still remains an indisputable truth that the love of nature is a characteristic of the Christian heart, just as the hunger for healthy food is characteristic of the healthy frame.

I thinkit probable that many readers may be surprised at my calling Scott the great representative of the mind of the age in literature. Those who can perceive the intense penetrative depth of Wordsworth, and the exquisite finish and melodious power of Tennyson, may be offended at my placing in higher rank that poetry of careless glance, and reckless rhyme, in which Scott poured out the fancies of his youth; and those who are familiar with the subtle analysis of the French novelists, or who have in any wise submitted themselves to the influence of German philosophy, may be equally indignant at my ascribing a principality to Scott among the literary men of Europe, in an age which has produced De Balzac and Goethe.

I believe the first test of a truly great man is his humility I do not mean, by humility, doubt of his own power, or hesitation in speaking of his opinions; but a right understanding of the relation between what he can do and say, and the rest of the world's sayings and doings. All great men not only know their business, but usually know that they know it; and are not only right in their main opinions, but they usually knew that they are right in them; only they do not think much of themselves on that account. Arnolfo knows he can build a good dome at Florence; Albert Durer writes calmly to one who had found fault with his work, “It cannot be better done;” Sir Isaac Newton knows that he has worked out a problem or

« ZurückWeiter »