« PreviousContinue »
tion of purity, catholicity, and of age—in its gigantic smallness, elaborate accommodation to the worst passions of human nature -its attempted amalgam of principles which cannot meet, except for mutual destruction, and the false and frail unity produced thereby; but we are none the less convinced that there have been noble spirits, which, if not in Popery, yet in Roman Catholicism, felt themselves at home, or at least formed for themselves an ideal and a happy abode. So did Abelard; so did Bernard; so did Fenelon; and so did Crashaw.
From the beginning of his being, Crashaw was a Catholic; and in saying so, we deem that we have stated at once the source of his poetic weakness and strength, as well as that of all men of genius similarly situated. Roman Catholicism, in our judgment, is not Christianity; but, by dwelling in its neighbourhood, and trying to mimic its marvellous results, it has imbibed a portion of its spirit, and bears nearly that relation to it whieh Judaism would have done, had it been contemporaneous with, instead of prior to the Christian scheme. Besides, the admixture of fiction, the amount of ceremony, the quantity to be supposed, to be implicitly believed, to be loved without reason, and admitted without proof,-all this renders Popery favourable to the exercise of the poetic imagination; while, on the other hand, the false and useless mystery, the tame subjection it requires of soul and heart and intellect, its "proud limitary spirit," the routine of idle monotonous rite,-stamp a certain vulgarity upon it, against which the wings of lofty genius have to struggle, and often to struggle in vain. In Crashaw, the struggle is generally successful. He looks at Popery, not as Dryden does, through the cold medium of the intellect, but through the burning haze of the imagination. His spirit is generally that of a true Christian poet, although considerably perverted by a false and bad form of the religion. In soaring imagination, in gorgeous language, in ardent enthusiasm, and in ecstasy of lyrical movement, Crashaw very much resembles Shelley, and may be called indeed the Christian Shelley.
"His raptures are
His verse is pervaded everywhere by that fine madness, characteristic of the higher order of bards.
There can, we think, be little doubt that a great deal of Popish, and not a little of Protestant piety, is animalism inverted and transfigured. The saying of Pope about lust, “ through certain strainers well-refined," becoming "gentle love," admits of another application. Desire, thrown into a new channel, becomes devotion-devotion sincere and strong, although assuming a spurious and exaggerated form. Hence in some writers, the same epithets are applied to the Saviour and to God, which in others are used to the objects of earthly tenderness, and we are disgusted with a profusion of "sweet Saviour," "dear lovely Jesus," &c. In the writings of the mystics, in the poems for instance of Madame Guion, you see a temperament of the warmest kind turned into the channel of a high-soaring and rather superstitious piety. Conceive of Anacreon converted, and beginning to sing of celestial love, in the same numbers with which he had previously chanted the praises of women and wine! Nay, we need not make any such supposition. Moore-the modern Anacreon-has written Hebrew melodies, in which you find something of the same lusciousness of tone as in Tom Little's poems; the nature coming out irresistibly in both. We are far from questioning the sincerity of these writers, and far from denying that they are better employed when singing of Divine things, than when fanning the flames of earthly passion; but we should ever be ready, while reading their strains, to subtract a good deal on account of their temperament. Such writers too frequently become mawkish, and loathsomely sweet, and thus at once repel the tasteful and gratify the profane. Croly says, somewhere, "our religion is a manly religion," but we would not refer those who wished a proof of this to the love-sick and sentimental class in question, who seem to prefer Solomon's Song to every other book of the Bible, and without the excuse of oriental day, discover all the languor and voluptuousness of the oriental bosom. There is, too, considerable danger of a reaction on their part-that the fire, after turning up its crest for a season toward heaven, should sink into its
old furnace again, and that then their "last state should be worse than the first."
These remarks apply in some measure to Crashaw, although the strength of his genius in a measure counteracts the impres sion. Yet, often you hear the language of earthly instead of celestial love, and discover a certain swooning, languishing voluptuousness of feeling, as when in his lines on Teresa, he says:
"Oh, what delight when she shall stand,
And teach thy lips Heaven with her hand,
What joy shall seize thy soul when she,
More offensive are the following lines on "The Wounds of our Crucified Lord:
"O thou, that on this foot hast laid,
Many a kiss, and many a tear,
This foot hath got a mouth and lips,
Instead of tears, such gems as this is."
We may remark, in passing, how different and how far superior is Milton's language in reference to women to that of the Crashaw school! How respectful, dignified, admiring, yet modest and delicate, all Milton's allusions to female beauty! How different from the tone of languishment, the everlasting talk about "sighs," and "kisses," and "bosoms," found in some parts of our poet! Milton seems as much struck with woman's resemblance to, as with her difference from man, and regards her as a fainter stamp of the same Divine imagefainter but more exquisitely finished: her smile that of man, dying away in a dimple of loveliness, the lovelier for the dissolution; her eye his, less, but seeming sometimes larger from the tenderness with which it is filled; her brow his, in minia
ture, cut out too in alabaster, and bathed in the moonlight of a more spiritual radiance; her lips his, but tinged with a softer crimson, and capable of a finer play of meanings; her voice his, but hushed as if in the felt presence of a sanctuary, and trembling as in the conscious audience of an unearthly ear; her cheek his, but with a more delicate and diviner hue resting on it, like an infant-blush, ever ready to overspread her countenance with that glorious glow which arises only as a witness at the marriage of Modesty and Beauty; her hair his, but dipped in a softer brown, or suffused with a richer darkness, or yellowed over with a purer gold; and above all, her soul his, but more meekly informing its tenement of clay, breathing more fitfully, though sweetly, through its fairer chamber, and communicating more directly with its Maker and God.
Not equal, as their sex not equal seem'd;
His fair large front and eye sublime declared
Crashaw has written, and written beautifully, on general subjects, but is always most at home in the field of sacred poetry. His Muse is never fully herself, till she hears the organs of the Roman Catholic Church
"Blow their tempests of sweet sound.”
To this music, and to those splendid litanies which swell up upon it, like strong eagles riding on mighty winds, Crashaw seems to write; and we question if ever man better appreciated
the poetical elements which abound in the Roman Catholic faith. Every wise Protestant will admit that these are many. The supposed antiquity and pretended universality of that proud. religion-the triple apex into which it towers-its centre in the Eternal City, where, amidst the crumbling fanes of Paganism, and the general decay of empire, the Vatican still lifts its unabashed and unaltered front-the long line of martyrs and confessors whose blood seems to blush on every painted window, and change every church into a shrine-its ceremonies, often indeed overdone, gaudy, and unmeaning, but often, too, sublime and imposing-its music, with its varied enchantment— its paintings, so numerous, so exquisite, and so identified with this religion, that one of its votaries might almost dream that Italian genius and Italian day were two witnesses, testifying in its behalf, and proclaiming its glory-the large classes of men and women devoted to its service by vows of sternest severity-its monastic piles, buried in woods, or towering on mountain cliffs:
"Relentless walls! whose darksome round contains
Ye rugged rocks! which holy knees have worn ;
its awful practice (only inferior to the old Roman custom of burying the erring vestal alive) of consigning young and beautiful females to the premature grave of the cloister-its cathedrals, with their immemorial grandeur and their frowning and gorgeous architecture-the dim-lit and far-stretching dungeons of its Inquisition, with a tale of horror or mystery inscribed on every door; and, above all, the glimpses it professes to give, and the power it pretends to exert in the unseen world, where, high above a purgatory, crowded with myriads of sufferers, whom the Church, and the Church alone, can redeem from penal fire, and above tiers of angels, and above the Son himself, and on a level with the throne of God, it shews you a woman's face, of ravishing beauty and sweetness-forming precisely such a climax to the universe as human nature would