« PreviousContinue »
equal certainty, he conducts it to the end of its researches, by many winding paths, among recesses of shadowy, mysterious beauty, and through prospects of ravishing splendour. Pursuing truth, not so much by fixing a steady eye upon its centre, as by yielding himself up without reserve to the guidance of that enlightened sensibility, which, in connection with and exalted by imagination, constitutes genius, he instructs by first moving and humanizing; he informs, by enlarging the conceptions and ennobling the fancy; he improves the character, by deepening and extending the emotions of the heart. By that instinctive insight which is a constituent of genius, he knows—and he avails himself of his knowledge—the thousand fine links and hidden associations which connect the mind with the outer world, through the senses; man with his kind, by the varied sympathies of our common nature; feeling with thought; and thought, in turn, with action and conduct. He employs sensible imagery, but with a design to raise the soul above the slavery of sense: he rouses the passions, yet not so as to render them the masters and tyrants of the will, but its ready ministers.
“Whatsoever in religion is holy and sublime, in virtue amiable or grave; whatsoever bath passion or admiration, in all the changes of that which is called fortune from without, or the wiles, subtleties, and refluxes of man's thoughts from within ; all these to paint and describe, teaching over the whole book of sanctity and virtue:"_such, in the opinion of one whose qualifications to decide the question will not be disputed, is the task assigned to the creative energies of the poet, even in these periods of advanced civilization, when the severing of the two professions of divinity and law from the learned class has reduced the practical importance, or at least, the dignity of literature in general; and since the use of prose, in the treatment of didactic and unimpassioned subjects, bas apparently further straitened the domain of the
In early times, however, the bard held an undisputed sway over every region of thought and feeling: “poets were divines, and exercised a kind of spiritual authority among the people. Verse was in those days the sacred style, the style of oracles and laws. The vows and thanks of the people were recommended to their gods in songs and hymns.” A late profoundly philosophical writer does not hesitate to represent Orpheus, Linus, Musæus, and the other mythic poets of Greece, as the representatives, however partially and imperfectly they supported that character, of the Hebrew prophets and inspired lyrists. Consequently, though neither supernaturally endowed, nor divinely commissioned, he regards them as filling an important place in the providential economy of the times in which they lived, and to the exigencies of which their endowments were adapted. “That we include these," he says, “under a distinct providential, though not miraculous dispensation, will surprise no one, who reflects that, in whatever has a permanent operation on the destinies and intellectual condition of mankind at large—that in all which has been manifestly employed as a co-agent in the mightiest revolution of the moral world, the propagation of the gospel ; and in the intellectual progress of mankind, the restoration of philosophy, science, and the ingenuous arts—it were irreligion not to acknowledge the hand of divine Providence."} Poetry is the native birth of the human soul; but she was adopted by religion from the cradle, and passed her unpolluted youth in the hallowed service of the temple. The early Greek tragedy bears manifest evidences of its origin; and is so purely religious, according to the defective notions of religion held by its inventors, that it must have been of essential service in the public instruction of the people, in times when nothing answerable to the lessons of the pulpit were known. Both philosophy and poetry were gradually divested of their exclusively
religious character; but not till the happy period approached, when all such imperfect discipline was rendered needless; when not only Paganism, but Judaism itself “paled its ineffectual fire” before the dawning light of the Gospel.
But, more strikingly still, and more irrefragably, to the Christian mind, are the high origin and sacred destination of poesy evinced, by the frequent employment of this form of composition in the inspired volume. Our great religious poet, with, we may be sure, no irreverent carelessness, regarding the use of solemn terms, has styled the endowments of the poet “the inspired gift of God;” and although the supernatural affatus which enabled the prophets to reveal, in their exalted style, the secret counsels of God, was undoubtedly different in kind as well as degree, from the loftiest and most far-sighted poetical genius, yet the employment of numbers, in communicating the most affecting of the divine messages to mankind, on the one hand, and, on the other, in those heaven-born aspirations of holy men towards God, which also contain their own evidence of an impulse from above, would seem to imply an analogy between the gifts of the prophet and the poet. We feel, in reading the songs of Moses, the Psalms of David, and the magnificent prophetic lyrics of Isaiah, that those extraordinary men would still have been poets of a high order, had they not been among the prophets. We feel also that their fitness for the latter character was promoted by their possession of the former. The sober inference would appear to be, that between immediate inspiration and poetic susceptibility and energy, when worthily directed, there is some cognateness—some proportion-like that, for example, between human and divine love; that not in vain, in remote periods,
"- the hallowed name Of poet and of prophet were the same.”
Be this as it may, thus much is certain—that the use of rhythm and poetic imagery, in the loftiest passages of the Bible, imparts a sacredness to verse, in the estimation of the pious; and supplies an argument, in addition to all others, against the desecration or misapplication of the highest of the Creator's intellectual gifts, which men of genius would do well seriously to ponder.
Christianity, which progressively admitted into her service all the liberal arts, made poetry peculiarly her own, from an early period. To have rejected it, indeed, would have been to place a painful and unnatural restraint
and tendencies of the human mind. Songs of praise and adoration are the form which the irrepressible utterances of a heart overflowing with a sense of the goodness and the majesty of God will insensi