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embattled against them, that they can be pure and holy, and calm and just? Are they never to make a single false step? Are they to be very puritans in virtue? Will nothing less than absolute perfection content you? Oh, fools and blind !
Let me not be misunderstood. Let not be for a moment imagined that I would underrate the religion of the humble-minded, simple-hearted christian. In truth, I could not sufficiently praise him who, in lowliness of heart and sincerity of purpose, is walking in the narrow road which leadeth unto life. He has truth with him, and, above all, he has God with him. But still
, genius is eminently the child of God, and woe be to him who slights the mission of genius! woe be to him who disregards the summons of God's herald, “when he commands him to take the trumpet and blow a dolorous, a thrilling blast."
Never let it be forgotten, that God made man in his own image; -never let it be forgotten, that God is not only infinite goodness, but infinite beauty; not only infinite justice, but infinite wisdom. goodness is beauty. The soul therefore that loves the good, and worships God in spirit and in truth, is aspiring after the sublimest beautythe beauty of holiness. Goodness is also wisdom. He then who seeks more and more to model his conduct after the laws of the highest wisdom, most nearly approximates to the similitude of his Father which is in heaven. But let us never believe that the Divinity loves only the poor in spirit; never let us trust that creed which would teach us, that ignorance alone is beloved by the Creator, and that for men to fulfil the whole law of their being, it is sufficient to love and to worship and to bless God,—to cherish the affections, and to cultivate all the gentle impulses and kindly feelings of the heart. No! to commune with the Infinite of Days, something more than this is requisite. We must look to the mind as well as to the heart. We must be great as well as good, that we may be perfect, even as our Father which is in heaven is perfect. Shall we, then, disregard the majestic voice of those great beings, whose spirit overflows with the light of genius, as heaven with the light of day? Shall we dare to turn away from those who, as creators of the good and beautiful, approximate more nearly than we all to the great Father, and who enjoy, by reason of their ability to evoke new worlds of unimagined grandeur from the abysmal waters of mind, some faint degree of that happiness which the Arch-Creator be supposed to have felt, when he called into being the heaven and the earth, and all the hosts of them; and when, on the birthday of creation, the morning stars sang together, and the sons of God shouted for joy.
I would remind those who are most eager to attach blame to the conduct of the poet, that they are themselves, in some degree, responsible for each deed that they so fiercely criminate. The poet is the representative of his age. His soul is one gigantic mirror, wherein are reflected the peculiar idiosyncracies of his time,—wherein may be seen the thoughts and the passions, the wisdom and the folly, the virtue and the vice, of the men of his generation. He can no more prevent the peculiarities of his fellow-men from influencing him, than they can prevent his thoughts from influencing them. The poet
would act upon the age, and the age acts upon him. • He thinks to impel, and is himself impelled.” Beware then lest, in censuring the poet, you pass sentence of condemnation on yourselves. Every evil action that you commit will plead trumpet-tongued against you; and if you are a man in authority, and can by your actions mould, in the most remote degree, the spirit of the age, recollect that you are responsible for the image of evil which is by your instrumentality reflected on the mirror of the poet's mind.
All poets are lovers of nature; and the love of nature purifies, and exalts, and tranquillises. There is to a poet something infinitely solemn and mysterious in the various forms in which nature appears to us. In the solitude and deep silence, he hears a voice,—still and small, but eloquent and convincing. In the forest is "the awful shadow of some unseen power," visible not indeed to his bodily eye, but to his spirit
On the mountain a presence seems to brood, and in the valley a vision to float; and the poet feels the presence, and his soul acknowledges the burthen, of the vision. In the deep waters he hears the voice of the Lord; and when the clouds utter their thunders, he must needs recognise the agency of the great God who made the heaven and the earth and the sea. Who, then, will deny that the poet who dwells much with nature, must also dwell with God ? Nature is but an expression of God's power; and he who looks abroad on nature, and beholds how fearfully and wonderfully she is made, cannot but turn his thoughts from finite beauty and finite good to the infinite beauty and the infinite good-even God. To be alone with nature, is to be alone with God, and therefore it is that the poet so often talks a language which the men of this world understand not ; therefore it is that he is to the children of this generation, as a very lovely song in a strange land.
Be it understood, that I never intend to assert the sufficiency of this natural religion. I know that another path must be trodden, another doctrine taught, ere men can become “ wise unto salvation.” But this I
say, that nature will reveal the most sublime truths to the pure and lowly in mind; that nature will teach a man to do justice, and love mercy, and walk humbly with his God; and therefore it is that my spirit burns within me when I hear the little-souled and passionless automaton of morality complacently sitting in judgment on the greatest intellects, the mysteries of which he affects to fathom, while utterly ignorant of the operations of even his own dwarfish mind.
Furthermore ; it is the poet's office to declare to the universe the glories of creation.—God hath set the world in his heart; in it, as in a mirror, is the visible beauty reflected. Nature is glassed there in her glory and her power, in her strength and in her weakness. The heavens, co-expanded with the earth, the green fields and still waters, the stars which are for ever, and the unenduring clouds,—all are there portrayed with an unerring skill. And there, too, are pictured the fiery passions of our common heart, its hate and its love,
its joy and its grief,— its pride and its humility,- its patience and its meekness, and its gentleness,—and its cruelty and its wrath, and its tyranny. The poet, then, embodies that which is within him; and in proportion to his wisdom, and the excellency of his art, he gives no beautiful and
correct images of the realities which dwell in his heart and brain. He teaches us to love the good, to hate the evil; to be gentle and kind to all, for that we are all brethren ; he appeals to our sympathies, and to our hopes and fears ; and by his eloquence he persuades men to virtue, and by his earnestness he confirms them in virtue; and by his most gentle and most loving spirit he sanctifies their hearts, and beautifies their minds; and the nobleness of his sentiments, and the transparent loveliness of his thoughts, and the grandeur of his intellect, build
up the temple of their spirits in beauty and in love and in holi
Yet the poet is but a man,--subject, alas! to the same frailties as we all; and sometimes his heart and his flesh faint, and he forgets the country from whence he came, and the music which his soul learnt when it soared up to its own heaven, in the high season of its fancies, with its garland and its singing-robes about it;* and it teaches another music which is not of God, and his lyre vibrates with strains which are not in harmony with the inner and unheard music of his heart. And here is his penance, and here his sorrow. Is not this enough that the music which is without, should give the lie to the melody which is within? And wilt thou, O blind Pharisee !- wilt thou add yet to his punishment, by denying his genius, - by denying its heavenly origin, — by dwelling on every error, - by magnifying every fault? Thou knowest his failings--thou seest his backslidings, but thou knowest not his bitter repentance; his tears by night,- his sorrows by day ; his self-abasement, —his broken and contrite heart. How he turns aside to evil, thou canst discern; but his yearnings for the good and beautiful,--his aspirations after spiritual excellence,-these thou canst not discern. O fool, and blind !
It is pleasant to hear men dogmatise on the subject of a poet's vices. They forget that, by reason of the sin originant, we are all, in some measure, the creatures of circumstance—the slaves of time. They forget that it is not possible for any one to attain unto perfection at once, and as it were by instinct; much less for a poet, whose passions are always stronger than other men’s, in proportion as his intellect is greater than theirs. They look through the glass of prejudice or selfesteem, at the faults of the creator of the beautiful, as they would look through a magnifying-glass on a drop of water, only to discover the impurities which otherwise would have been unobserved. Every failing is revealed to the vulgar gaze; errors, which are entirely created by circumstance, are subject to their most searching scrutiny,the
very sanctities of private life are violated, the household gods are broken on the holy hearth, — the delicate feelings, and mysterious impulses, and exquisite sensibilities, of a poet's heart, are made to assume the guise of sin ; and his whole character, misunderstood, falsified, and new-modelled by hypocrisy, is exposed, in the broad insolent light of day, to the vulgar stare of those who are utterly ignorant of the miraculous beauty of his mind, and who have never shewed his passions, his trials, his sorrows, and his wrongs. How this has been done, in our own day, we all know. Witness the fate of “the Pilgrim of Eternity.” He had faults,—great and glaring faults : but
• Milton. May, 1840.-Vol. I.-NO. V.
should not the circumstances which in great part caused them, and over which he had no controul, be admitted as some extenuation of them ?-should we not look on the other side of the portrait ? Should we only hold up the sin to scorn and detestation, and not regard the virtue whose serene light made beautiful his soul. Look at his generosity,--his noble and affectionate spirit,- his devotion to the cause of mankind,—the stedfastness and sincerity of his friendship,his open heart, — his ready hand,—his ardent yearning after the true and beautiful,—his enduring love, - his lofty heroism. Is there nothing here to venerate, – nothing here to admire,—nothing worthy our imitation, nothing worthy our praise, nothing worthy our love? Who shall say that this mighty spirit, had time been given, would not have fully awakened to a sense of his own surpassing powers, and framed his life in unison with the eternal laws of truth and faith? As it was, his sun went down at noonday. He of the lyre and sword-at the very moment when he was about to devote all his gigantic energies to the mostnoble of causes--perished; and we, in the blindness and unbelievingness of our hearts, disown his power, forget his glory, deny his mission, and abandon his cause !
Have we not reason, then, to complain, with our own divine and beloved Milton, that we are fallen on evil tongues, and on evil days? We will not see that it is impossible for man to do more than approximate to perfection ; we will not see that it is only by struggling and suffering, by sorrow and trial, that man can be weaned from the love of earth and earthly things; and that time only can build up
the man as he should be built,-pure and calm and integral, as to the eye of faith is the clear and quiet heaven of midnight.
Yet, a time is coming, nor is it far distant, when the mission of the poet will be recognised, — when men will learn wisdom from his lips, and assimilate themselves to God—whose great high-priest the poet is -through his instruction and through his persuasion. The time is not far distant when the poet will himself learn the awful importance of his office, and appreciate the value of his mission ; and then art will take new and beautiful forms, and all that is now objectionable in it will vanish ; and the poet will go forth in his robes of exceeding glory, in the divine apparel of love and truth and holiness—which is but the offspring of the former two - and will tell the world of the goodness, and mercy, and greatness, and beauty of God; and will sing of the joys of heaven, and prophesy of the splendour of the latter days.
Meanwhile, what remain for us - for us who recognise the poet's mission — for us who, in spite of the grievous and manifest fallings off of the man, still have a lively trust in the celestial origin of the genius of the poet, and look forward to the time when the beauty of holiness shall dwell in the temple of his spirit, as light in heaven, or glory in the sun; - what remain for us? Hope and faith:-hope in the bright future which is about to dawn on the world,—and faith in the miracles which genius, purified and ennobled, will hereafter achieve. However others act, let us never forget our duty ;—that duty is, to champion genius. When genius is incarnate in goodness, God will have effectuated the regeneration of the human family. Meanwhile, let us be not faithless, but believing. Let us not doubt the mission of genius, because of the imperfection in the nature of the men of genius. Let us not doubt its divine origin, because it is degraded and brought low among us ; let us not doubt that it will hereafter be crowned with an exceeding and eternal weight of glory, though it be hidden now in a dense and massive cloud. Homer's goddesses appear in mists, but they depart in splendour.;
Let us, in fine, who confide in genius, and defend genius, when men would persuade us to deny our Master, remember that poetry is the highest expression of the beautiful,—that the beautiful is the infinite,* -and that though, like the ladder of the patriarch, it be lost in the clouds, yet every step that we ascend will reveal to us a radiance increasingly brilliant, until we reach the paved work of the sapphirestone beneath the feet of God, and view as it were the body of heaven in its clearness.t
W. M. W. c.
+ Exod. xxiv. 16.
MADONNA WEEPING O'ER THE DEAD BODY
We mourn not o'er the shrouded form, as those
But here too well that sunken bursting eye,
• Carlo Dolce.