« PreviousContinue »
and genius which are ever coming forth into life, descended from the Father of lights, and shaping the destinies of the world, if there be such a law, it is time it were generally understood.
We proceed to make a few observations on this point. Truth is the object of all worthy pursuit in study. A love of truth is essential to the author's permanent success. This is well illustrated in the Oration before us. But, besides a love of truth, there are certain intellectual conditions equally essential. He must have, for instance, an eye for seeing the truth, and also the power of presenting it clearly, faithfully, livingly, in all its bearings, as well in regard to the finer sentiments of the soul as to the faculties which take the name and do the work of the intellect.
To bring these requisitions into a more precise form ; in order to attain the best success, the scholar who thinks and writes for others should have, in addition to his learning, and the love of truth, freedom of mind, good taste, and intellectual activity and energy. These three qualifications are primary and fundamental. Now each of these has a necessary connection with the moral part of our nature, and neither of them can exist, in any degree of perfection, independently of that moral culture which is the basis of all true life. Let us see if it be not so.
Freedom of mind, — what is it? It is, negatively, the absence of all unnatural restraints on the mind's best action, exemption from the burning and torture of the passions, from the teasing and goading of the appetites, and from the whips and stings of the conscience; - from these as well as from prejudice, fear, favor, and the hope of sordid rewards. It is, positively, power to rise in thought and imagination into regions of perfect light and purity, to hold communion with the intelligence of other ages and other worlds, to explore the boundless field in which the highest sentiments have their corresponding objects, to know the Source of all knowledge, and to tread with humble but unfaltering step the track of eternal Wisdom, as it goes forth in the earth and round the universe, establishing and executing its unchangeable laws. Now, this freedom, we affirm, has no security, no protection, if indeed it can be said to have any existence, except in the moral nature — in the conscience and the soul. It does not exist, it cannot, where the moral nature is wholly neglected. The ignorant foreigner, is he rendered a freeman merely by being landed on our shores, naturalized, taxed, and made a voter ? Does he, then, appreciate and enjoy civil liberty ? Does he then, on the instant, become an American in principle and feeling, in attachments and hopes, in every thing but his birth and name? By no means. He must make himself acquainted with our political history, learn the principles of our Constitution, understand the plan of our government, and, above all, be imbued with the spirit of our institutions, before he can be called in any proper sense a free citizen. Now, what these attainments are to civil liberty in this case, moral culture is, in our view, to the freedom of the scholar, - its vitality, its dignity, its worth, its glory.
Taste is another essential qualification. And what is taste? In a writer, it is the ability, with all the materials for his work before him, to select the most suitable, and to dispose them into an order the most appropriate and beautiful. It implies therefore discrimination, choice, a sense of proportion and fitness, appreciation of what is just and true, not only in thought and language, but in principle and sentiment. Madame de Stäel, we remember, somewhere says, "taste consists in the perfect knowledge of all true and beautiful relations." We accept this definition, as discriminating as it is comprehensive. And then we say, that no man possesses this knowledge who does not know himself, who has not read the hand-writing of God on his soul, or who is acquainted with no higher laws than those which regulate the succession of ideas or the combination of images in his mind: for the most beautiful and true of all relations are those which connect the heart of man with his Heaven-appointed duties, and unite him in will and affection with the Author of his being. There is, besides, a degree of moral sensibility, which is as essential an element of good taste as accuracy of judgment and self-knowledge. He who does not possess it, and is accustomed to treat with indifference the demands of virtue and religion, is in danger continually of offending those sentiments in others of which he knows nothing, and which are, in the end, to pronounce an irreversible judgment on his efforts. Let him abandon at once and forever the hope of producing any thing that will live. He lacks one thing; and that VOL. XXXVII. - 4TH S. VOL. III. NO. I.
thing — unfortunately for him — contains the principle of permanence, the life-element.
Again, a certain amount of intellectual energy is indispensable to literary success. Energy implies activity and strength. It is this which gives force to language. It is the pith and nerve of eloquence. It imparts to the written and spoken word its spirit and interest. We love to perceive it, we love to feel it awaking our sympathies, kindling our enthusiasm, and making us strong in the cause for which it is exerted. And the literary productions, particularly the orations, which are most admired, both ancient and modern, are distinguished by this quality. Every word strikes. Every sentence has its meaning. Every line is a line of life. When the “golden flood of their divine rhetoric” is poured forth, it flows like a torrent. Strong thought seeks a strong expression; burning thoughts, words that burn. Now it will not be denied that moral purity has a tendency to preserve intellectual energy. We believe more than this; namely, that in connection with active moral sentiments it creates intellectual power; but it is sufficient for our present purpose to maintain that it preserves it. Nothing is more true, the proof is seen in a thousand melancholy and lamented examples of “genius baffled, blasted and discrowned,” – than that moral degeneracy induces dimness of the intellectual vision, and in many cases a perfect atrophy of the powers of the mind. The moral degeneracy which tends to such a result, it should be observed, does not consist solely in the habitual indulgence of the animal appetites. There is a profligacy of the thoughts, a drunkenness of the imagination, a prostitution of the faculties to base ends, which is not less surely fatal. He who thus offends, braves a law that is higher and stronger than he, and he must take the retribution."
Thus it appears, we think, and by no strained and unnatural inferences, that those qualities of the mind which, upon a fair view of the subject, must be deemed essential to the best success in study and literature, derive their chief support and nourishment from the moral nature, and cannot exist except in harmony with its laws.
There is still another view of this subject on which we beg leave to offer a few suggestions. Suggestions, we say, for our limits forbid a full discussion.
Literature is distributed into several departments, as Poetry, Fiction, Criticism, History, and others. Now let either department be taken, and what is peculiar to it carefully examined, and it will appear evident that no one is fitted to excel in it, whichever it be, who has wholly neglected the culture of his moral nature. And since Poetry was the earliest form of literature into which men cast their thoughts, let us first consider this with reference to the above observation. In primitive times, poetry was regarded and used as the fittest vehicle of Divine truth. It was the universal language of worship. By all people of antiquity it was employed to celebrate the honor of their gods, and to impart an air of sanctity to their religious duties. The Delphic oracles, the Sybil's prophecies, were all delivered in verse, because this was conceived to clothe them with a mysterious, a super-earthly charm. Moreover, a considerable portion of the Bible is poetry. The oracles of God are in the songs of Hebrew bards. The inspirations of holiness and love that descended upon prophet and priest, flowed out from them in the melody of verse. Battle and victory, festival and fast, the gay rejoicings of the nuptial and the passionate lamentations of the burial, the sighings of repentance and the agony of remorse, filial fear and holy awe, — these they sang in strains deep, full, and fervent, that have moved the heart of the world. The lofty hymns of Moses and Deborah, the unrivalled poem of Job, the “sapphic elegy” of Jeremiah, the sweetly flowing and yet impassioned numbers of Isaiah and David, - how full are these of the love of that unspeakable and everlasting beauty, that divine and immortal truth, which the intellect clearly discerns only when its eye is illuminated by the soul.
And this early estimate and use of poetry have in a sense sanctified it, —- separated it to the ministry of truth and goodness, made it sacred, as a temple of the Lord. In all ages it has been regarded in this light. Everywhere it is felt, that he who takes up the poetic lyre takes in his hand a Divine instrument; and that while he touches its strings, he should have a heart to feel the vibrations of its heavenly music.
“The Poet's lyre, to fix his fame,
Affection lights a brighter flame
Than ever blazed by Art." He must have a heart to feel what is true and beautiful, brave and holy, that his verse may chime with these spiritual and immortal harmonies. He must draw inspiration from the warm and glad, the pure and lovely, spirit of Nature. His meditations must rest on the various beauty and kindling splendor of its visible temple, not more than on the awful wonders of its innermost shrine. He must commune often with himself, descend alone into the depths of his own being, ever serene and translucent if the spiritual sun shines upon it; else dark, gloomy, tumultuous. He must be at home with the sorrowful, the tempted, the rejoicing of the sons of men, and not a stranger to the enduring, the unconquerable, the eternal in man’s nature. And is this the work of the intellect alone, or chiefly? Is it within the possibilities of mere intellectual culture? Is it pretended that there can be any true and living inspiration to a heartless bosom, to a frozen soul? And can there be heart-stirring utterance where there has been no inspiration, and no moral experience ? Alas! the experiment has been made, too frequently made to leave room for doubt. The gifted genius who might have enchanted the world with the sweetness of his numbers and electrified the ages after him by their thrilling tones, had he but listened to the heavenly “harpers harping with their harps,” by shutting his ear to them and feeding the ethereal flame in his bosom with the gross aliment of the earth, has
“Profaned the God-given strength and marr'd the lofty line," and thus passed upon himself and his works the doom of early and irredeemable oblivion.
Of this class, we think, with Mr. Putnam, that Byron is the most conspicuous example in English literature; though his friend Shelley, from the influence of a set of philosophers who profess to admire in him a prophet of liberty and love, (the largest liberty of the wildest love, we suppose,) stands but little below him. Of Byron all who are acquainted with his history will say in his own words,
“ This should have been a noble creature: