Abbildungen der Seite

mon of human passions. All the inanimate objects of the visible creation had their allotted places in this gorgeous, imaginative tissue, though still appearing under associations purely human. They had, in short, no conceptions of nature independent of man; to them the whole world was but the shield of Achilles.

With the same mythology, the same philosophy as the Greeks, the Romans are admitted to have been essentially plagiarists. They saw the earth, in this sense, with the eyes of the Greeks. Their literature has even been accused of a greater dearth of poetical observation, as regards the natural world, than that of their predecessors. The practical realities of life engrossed their attention more exclusively. A colossal selfishness was their striking national characteristic -a characteristic which was alike the cause, first, of their political prosperity, and later of their downfall. Rome was their deity; to her daily needs, or interests, or pleasures, all was sacrificed ; they cared little for the mountains, and forests, and streams of the earth, provided all the wealth and magnificence of these were brought over Roman ways to swell the triumph of the Forum. It has been remarked that Cæsar could pass the Alps, then comparatively an unknown region, without one allusion to their sublime character. Still, a body of men like the great Latin writers could not, of course, exist devoid of susceptibility to the beauty of the inanimate world, and many passages may be drawn from their poems bearing witness to this fact. Although, says M. de Humboldt, there is no individual rural portraiture in the Æneid, yet " a deep and intimate comprehension of nature is depicted in soft colors. Where, for instance, has the gentle play of the waves, or the stillness of night, been more happily described ?” The modern reader, however, is still left to wonder that poets so great should not have delighted more frequently in enlarging upon similar topics, and that even in many of their elegiac works social life should so exclusively fill up the space. We

Unwilling, for a moment, to be supposed entitled to credit to which she can lay no just claim, the writer of these remarks hastens to avow

should have rather supposed that when the earth stood in her primitive freshness, in the morning of her existence, her wealth of beauty as yet unsung, that the works of the first great poets would have been filled with the simple reflection of her natural glory. But, as we have seen, such was not the case with the writers of Greece or of Rome; and, as we have already ventured to intimate, it would appear that the great intellectual activity of those races, connected with the period of time filled by them, where so wide a field opened in every direction, became in itself a prominent cause of this peculiar deficiency of their literature. Whatever admiration they felt for nature expressed itself in positive forms of art, or in an imaginative system of mythology, rather than in song.

But something of a different spirit appears to have actuated the old Asiatic nations. The ancient Indian races, for instance, were more contemplative in character, and more vivid impressions of natural objects are revealed in their writings. The Sanscrit Hymns, and the heroic poems of the same language, are said to contain fine descriptive passages. main subject of these writings," says M. de Humboldt, speaking of the Sanscrit Vedas, “are the veneration and praise of Nature.” A poem, called “ The Seasons”—and one starts at the familiar name-with another work, called “ The Messenger of the Clouds,” are full, we are told, of the same spirit; they were written by Kalidasa, a cotemporary of Virgil and Horace. It would have given us pleasure to offer the reader a few fragments from writings so ancient and so interesting ; one would have liked to compare a passage from the Sanscrit Seasons with those so celebrated and so familiar from our own language and modern time, but no English versions are found within reach. The fact, however, of this

“ The

that whatever opinions she may have formed on subjects connected with ancient literature, have been entirely drawn from translations. Although it is impossible to enjoy the full perfection of a great poem in any other than the original language, yet we are enabled, by means of the best versions, to form general views regarding a work, and to appreciate, at least, the spirit with which it is imbued.

characteristic of the Sanscrit poems is placed beyond reasonable doubt by the declarations of many distinguished men of learning, more particularly among the German scholars.

The Chinese, that singular people which for ages have separated themselves from the rest of the earth by impassable barriers of prejudice and mystery, are now found—as glimpses are opening into their interior—to have long shown some partiality for natural beauty. Among other poems, touching more or less upon subjects of this kind, they have one bearing the simple name of “ The Garden,” which was written by Seema-kuang, a celebrated statesman, some eight or nine centuries since, and which is said to contain agreeable descriptive passages ; the sketch of a hermitage among rocks and evergreen woods, and a fine, extensive water view over one of their great rivers, are especially referred to. Lieu-schew, another ancient writer of theirs, dwells at length on the subject of pleasure-grounds, for which he gives admirable directions, in the English style, at a period when a really fine garden was not to be found in all Northern Europe ; a short translation from a passage of his will be found in the following selections.* Gardening, in fact, appears to have been the sphere in which Chinese love of nature has especially sought to unfold itself; that perception of beauty of coloring and of nicety of detail, very general among them, shows itself here in perfection ; they have long been great florists, and have delighted in writing verses upon particular flowers and fruittrees. Garden and song were thus closely connected by them; and if one may judge from brief views received through others, their poetry has very frequently indeed something of a horticultural character. Their busy, practical habits and close inspection of detail would easily incline them in this direction ; but as yet nothing grand or very elevated has been given to us by translators.

The Hebrew poets stand alone. Their position is absolutely different from that of all profane writers, and places them at a distance from the usual limits of a mere literary


* Part X.

comparison. They only, as priests and prophets of the One Living God, beheld the natural world in the holy light of truth. Small as was the space the children of Israel filled among the nations of the earth, the humblest individual of their tribes knew that the God of Abraham was the Lord God of Hosts, and that all things visible were but the works of his hands. “ The Lord made the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and all that in them is ;" they bowed the knee to no one object “ in the heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth.” Truth is, of its nature, sublime. No fiction of the human imagination, even in the highest and richest forms which it is capable of assuming, can approach to that majesty which is her inherent prerogative. The views of the earth, open to the children of Israel, had naturally, therefore, a grandeur far beyond what the Greeks, with all the luxuriance of their florid mythology, could attain to. Of this fact—thanks to the translations of the Sacred Writings in the hands of all who speak the English tongue—any one of us is capable of judging ; the extreme excellence of the Psalms, merely in the sense of literary compositions, and independently of the far higher claims they have upon mankind, has never failed to impress itself deeply on all minds open to such perceptions. The nineteenth Psalm, with the unequaled grandeur of its opening verses ; the twenty-third, with its pastoral sweetness; the hundred and fourth, with the fullness of its natural pictures ; the hundred and seventh; the ninetysixth ; the hundred and forty-fifth ; the hundred and fortyeighth, with others of a similar character, will recur to every reader. It is generally admitted that, throughout the range of ancient profane writing, nothing has yet been brought to light which can equal these, or other great passages of the Psalms, of the Pentateuch, the Prophets, or the Book of Job. Even for sweetness, also, the old Hebrew writers were very remarkable. The most celebrated author and literary artist of modern Germany, and one little likely to have been influenced on such a subject by warmth of religious feeling, has left it as his written opinion that the Book of Ruth, usually attributed to the prophet Samuel, is “the loveliest specimen of epic and idyl poetry which we possess.'

But the history of Jacob and his family, and the personal story of David in all its details, with other episodes easily pointed out, are almost equally full of this beautiful pastoral spirit. The same inspired pens which have dwelt on the grandest events of which time has any knowledge, have not disdained to move the lesser chords of human sympathies and affections. It was the most honored of the Prophets who so nobly recorded the greatest of all physical facts, the creation of light : " And God said, Let there be light, and there was light.” And on the page immediately following, while still occupied in recording the grand successive stages of the creation, he condescends to note that out of the earth “ the Lord God made to grow cvery tree that is pleasant to the sight." This simple phrase, taken in connection with all its sublime relations of time and place, has a gracious tenderness, a compassionate beneficence of detail which moves the heart deeply; all the delight which the trees of the wood have afforded to men, independently of

the many peaceful homes they have overshadowed; the many eyes they have gladdened; all the festal joys of the race in which their branches have waved, seem to crowd the mind in one grateful picture, and force from our lips the familiar invocation, “O all ye green things upon earth, bless ye the Lord; praise him, and magnify him forever.”

The most ancient writings of the world thus afford evidence that in those remote ages the perception of natural beauty was not wanting in the human heart. Different races and individual men may have varied greatly in giving expression to the feeling. David and Homer, the Indian and the Roman, may



very different tones, but wherever intellectual life was at all active, there some strain, at least, from the great Hymn was heard.

But very early, in what may be called Christian literature, this feeling began to receive a fresh impulse and a new direction. On the same soil, and among the same races, where,

* Goethe.

their uses ;

« ZurückWeiter »