Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

even

subject to the antique or the ideal The contemporaries of the Constable
world, the degree of his success does Bourbon can hardly have cared much
but serve to measure the remoteness of about Orlando ; and, in Tasso's day, the
his exile from contemporary interests Holy Sepulchre, so far from being the
and sympathies ; if, on the other hand, goal of a crusade, would not
he endeavours to reflect the life around answer as a pretext for replenishing the
him, he can no more escape alloying his Papal coffers. If, then, the universal
strain with the transitory and acci- witness of the human heart justified
dental than the diver can avoid bringing Mrs. Browning in her “Distrust” of
up the oyster with the pearl. This is
true ; but it cannot be said that the un-

“ The poet who discerns

No character or glory in his times, happy divorce between the real and

And trundles back his soul five hundred years, ideal is the especial disaster of our Past moat and drawbridge, into a castle court," times. Few and brief have been the periods in human history when a vital the successive laureates of that lucky belief in a mythology capable of supply- house of Este ought to have been poetiing art with the most exalted themes cally dead and buried long ago.

The has co-existed with the ability to apply notoriety of the contrary fact suggests it to poetic usages. The reason is evi

that the utilitarian theory of poetry dent—that such a degree of ability im- may perhaps be less sound than specious. plies a degree of culture and intelligence We see (and, if further example be rein presence of which the most pictu- quired, Spenser, Keats, Shelley, and resque legends disappear like

Schiller are at hand) that it is quite

possible for genius to disdain the ground “A withered morn,

of realities and yet exist—though, it may Smote by the fresh beam of the springing be but as a wild, wandering beauty, a East."

“Strange bird of Paradise For two generations only was it pos- That floats through Heaven and cannot light." sible for the Greeks to retain, along with the civilization which permitted The modern impatience of the indirect their tragic poets to exemplify the per- operation of the humanizing and harfection of artistic skill no less than of monizing influences of art—the confunative power, the simple traditional sion of the poet's function with that of belief which gave their dramas a root in the philosopher, the legislator, the rethe national life as well as the national former-have only tended to make sense of beauty. Dante's contempo- writers conceited and readers unjust. raries readily explained the gloom of his Still, however extravagant the form aspect as the effect of his Stygian expe- in which it may sometimes find exriences ; but the Cardinal of Este, two pression, the desire to see poetry brought hundred and fifty years later, would into a more intimate relation with the probably have referred the Divine

referred the Divine practical needs of the age is in itself Comedy to the same category as the laudable and legitimate. In proportion Orlando Furioso. In fact, the difficulty to our appreciation of the elevating and of accomplishing the task on which refining character of its influences must modern criticism rather vociferously in- be our unwillingness to contemplate sists, of finding imaginative expression these as necessarily limited in their for the interests, aspirations, and social operation to a small literary class. It peculiarities of our own age, is far cannot be said that contemporary poets from being any special characteristic of have, as a body, shown any indisposition the age in question that it would be “ to grapple with the questions of the hard to point out any writers who have time.” On the contrary, their mistake more unequivocally succumbed to it has rather consisted in the failure to than the great Italian pair of the six- discriminate between those vitally and teenth century,–Ariosto and Tasso. eternally significant and the merely trans

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

ient and accidental features of the age. nor practical utility his main object, for We live in times exceedingly favourable his instinct assures him that the soul of to the development of the speculative poetry lies elsewhere. As the painter faculty—a period in which it is hardly does not conceive the universe to be all possible to reflect seriously on any im- colour, as the musician has eyes as well portant topic without encountering some as ears, so he himself does not regard problem in urgent need of solution. The

poetry as sunlight, steeping the universe answers which for so many centuries in a flood of monotonous radiance, but have more or less contented the inquir- as the intense electric beam, whose ing mind of man are now found to have splendid concentration on some objects been merely provisional ; and, while only serves to isolate them from the old questions are being reopened on all surrounding darkness. Consequently, he sides, the gigantic development of phy- will be an eclectic, content with selectsical and political science has suggested ing from the mass of contemporary an infinity of new ones. By virtue of interests those themes alone which its peculiar sensitiveness, the poetic is appear to him susceptible of poetic treateven more likely than the ordinary mind ment; like a bee, he alights only upon to conceive an intense interest in some flowers. Thus, though Mr. Tennyson is of these problems; and it is the very law one of the most thoughtful of men, famiof its being to reproduce its impressions liar with every branch of ethical and in its creations. Unfortunately, nothing abstract speculation, it is impossible to but an instinctive sense of artistic fitness extract anything like a theory of life will enable it to distinguish the perma- from his writings, simply because such a nent from the accidental features of its theory must necessarily take cognisance fascinating environment. We might of a multitude of details which he has mention two contemporary poets who intuitively perceived to be unpoetical. possess this delicate tact, but doubt if The same might have been said even of the list could be extended.

so eminent a thinker as Goethe, had he Some writers not merely by prefer- never written in prose. ence adopt a metrical formas the But, it may be asked, is the reader vehicle of thought, but are before all dependent on the fidelity of the writer's things poets. Their conception of a intuitions? Can he not determine for poet is not that of one writing to in- himself when he is or is not reading struct, to refine, to expound a plan of poetry?. We might reply that he is life, to accomplish any end whatever himself frequently a participant in “the capable of being expressed with logical vision and the faculty divine,” even precision in words; but whose aim, or though “ the channels between thought rather call it instinct, is simply to com- and expression may have been obpose poetry. If you ask what this structed.” Perhaps, however, it may poetry is, they cannot tell you; they are be possible to discover a less abrupt only sure that it is an actual entity, as Gradus ad Parnassum. Painting, sculpreal an existence as painting or music. ture, music, are found to agree in the As painting, they would say, is not out- common aim of raising man above himline and colour, so neither is poet's lan- self---of substituting a state of emotion guage and rhythm ; these are simply the for one of tranquillity. If no emotion vesture of the spirit else invisible. As be excited by the sight of a painting or niusic is not an ingenious way of moving a statue, or the hearing of a piece of the passions, but a something which music, then either the spectator or lispossesses this among other properties, so tener is naturally insensible to the inthe power of poetry to exalt or admonish fluence of art, or has temporarily become is indeed an inherent quality, but not so through satiety, pre-occupation, or the essence of poetry itself. A writer infirmity, or else the merits of the work who has risen to this conception of his itself are merely of a technical character.

a

no

is attended by the same effect, and may perienced in composing political songs, be discovered by the same criterion. political zealot as he was. The range of the poetic is indeed more The cultivation of poetry for its own extensive than that of the sister arts. sake is, however, quite exceptional, even Emotion may be aroused by an appeal with poets. With most, when once they to the affections, as in Moore's— have travelled beyond the simple lyrical

expression of their individual emotions, "I know not, I ask not, if guilt's in that

the main impulse to the production of heart; I but know that I love thee, whatever thou poetry has obviously been to afford art;”

the world the benefit of their opinion -to the imagination, as in Shelley's importance

. Thus, if we are to accept

on subjects which appear to them of description of the waning moon :

Milton's own account of his aims, his "Like a dying lady, lean and pale,

sublimest flights of imagination are Who totters forth, wrapt in a gauzy veil, merely accessories to the practical end Out of her chamber, led by the insane

of “justifying the ways of God to man.” And feeble wanderings of her fading brain,

It is impossible to suppose that the The moon arose up on the murky earth, A white and shapeless mass ;'

architect of Pandemonium took

pleasure in his work for its own sake, or, finally, by the enunciation of some independent of the value he ascribed to grand moral or philosophical truth, such it as a buttress of theology ; but, with as Wordsworth's

less imaginative writers, the artistic “Sense sublime

motive disappears in the didactic. In Of something far more deeply interfused, the “Course of Time," for example, the Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, Calvinistic polemic is real and hearty ; And tbe round ocean, and the living air,

the imaginative form a reminiscence of And the blue sky, and in the mind of man : A motion and a spirit, that impels

Milton, as conventional as a red pettiAll thinking things, all cts of all thought, coat in a landscape. The same assertion, And rolls through all things."

mutatis mutandis, may be made with This latter sublime passage is to be

reference to Cowper, Young, Crabbe, &c.

Almost all Wordsworth's poems stand rather apprehended intuitively than by

in direct and calculated relation to his a conscious effort of the understanding ;

theories of life and art. Even Mrs. and so in every case the appeal is ad

Browning tells us that she intends dressed to feeling of some sort ;1 and,

“ Aurora Leigh” as the exponent of therefore, poetry, in the highest sense,

her own.

Now we think we may vencannot undertake the construction of a

ture to assume as axiomstheory of life or the universe, on which

1. That every system of thought is the logical faculty alone is competent to pronounce. Yet this is the very work

in some way the offspring of the age in which each successive generation requires Wordsworth's anti-conventionalism was

which it makes its appearance. Thus and attempts to accomplish. The highest at bottom merely another manifestation kind of poetry, then, cannot fulfil the

of the same spirit that was contempowants and wishes of contemporaries; raneously overthrowing the thrones of and it even requires self-discipline and

the continent. The Tractarian protest watchfulness, and an ambition of achiev- against the tendencies of the age was ing practical results, to prevent its wan

virtually as much the creature of the dering off altogether into the ideal

age as those tendencies themselves. regions which are after all most con

2. The poets who frame such systems genial to its nature. Mrs. Shelley has

are necessarily better exponents of the recorded the difficulty her husband ex

special characteristics of their times than i See Mr. Mill's masterly essay on Poetry

those who restrict themselves to the and its Varieties (" Dissertations and Discus- essentially poetical; for this is the sions," vol. i.).

common property of all ages. But, the

a

more completely they express these reason, that Mr. Tennyson has not gone characteristic features, the more certainly out of his way in quest of anything, but, do they reproduce the frivolous casual allowing free play to his artistic instincts, aspects of the age, as well as those of has evolved an ethical lesson as well. serious and permanent significance. Con- Mr. Patmore could not write with this sequently, the problem, how to adapt abandon ; he speaks by the intellect, the eternal spirit of poetry to contem- though, it may be, often to the feelings. porary interests and sympathies, does Fortunately these feelings, though temnot admit of a satisfactory solution. Aporarily entwined like ivy with much rigid idealist, professing to go round the that is accidental and perishable, have world without transgressing the limits still, like ivy, a root in the solid earth. of pure poetry, is like one endeavouring If we wish to understand Mr. Patmore's to empty the sea with a bucket. A mere merit in this respect, we can compare realist, trying to accomplish the poet's his poem with one partly conceived task with the satirist's tools, would hew in a kindred spirit — Aurora Leigh. an oak with rushes, weave a cable from Each book is occupied with a social sand. The same strictures apply to the problem; but Mrs. Browning's is one to purely didactic poet, wlto is inevitably which the peculiar aspects of the age driven to adapt his instructions to the have imparted an adventitious imporspecial requirements of his generation. tance, while Mr. Patmore's is invested

with constant freshness by its vital Mr. Patmorel is an admirable example relation to the needs of the human of the second of the poetical classes we

heart. The elements of decay in his have endeavoured to discriminate above work—its wood, hay, and stubble—of those, namely, who write poetry appear to us to be not so much inherent not for its own sake, but for that of in its structure as superinduced by his some definite aim ever present to their didactic spirit, his determination to exminds. Mr. Tennyson and Mr. Patmore haust the significance of his theme, inhave each treated of the mission of stead of confining himself to its poetic woman; but is it possible to imagine aspects as Mr. Tennyson would have two more dissimilar works than the done. In a word, he seems to us to “ Princess" and the Angel in the confuse the office of the poet with that House?Mr. Patmore describes his of the moralist on one hand, and that task as self-imposed, requiring special of the novelist on the other. training, steady purpose, and prolonged This implies that Mr. Patmore is after eifort :

all essentially a poet, and moreover that, “The fairest realm in all the earth

when he temporarily ceases to be such, Is counted still a heathen land;

he does but substitute one kind of exSo I, like Joshna, now go forth

cellence for another. His ethics and To give it into Israel's band.

his social delineations are as good in their I've girt myself with faith and prayer,” &c.

way as the inspirations of his loftier And he does indeed go at his work

mood-his precious metal has some alloy, with a simple manly directness that

but little dross. It requires, we are would insure him our respect, even if

sensible, a much finer 'analysis than his genius did not, as it must, command

ours to discriminate with perfect accuracy our admiration. Mr. Tennyson, too, pro

between his poetry and his prose; and, fesses to have a moral, of which he is con

unlike most treasure-seekers, we are in tinually losing sight, and which cannot much greater danger of parting with the be deduced from the preceding narrative.

object of our quest than of retaining “Maud” has fifty times the moral signifi

what we do not want. It is curious cance of “The Princess, and for this very

that this enthusiastic singer of domestic

life should himself be one of the last 1 Faithful for Erer. By Coventry Patmore.

writers with whom we can feel thoroughly

[ocr errors]

no

is attended by the same effect, and may perienced in composing political songs, be discovered by the same criterion. political zealot as he was. The range of the poetic is indeed more The cultivation of poetry for its own extensive than that of the sister arts. sake is, however, quite exceptional, even Emotion may be aroused by an appeal with poets. With most, when once they to the affections, as in Moore's

have travelled beyond the simple lyrical

expression of their individual emotions, “I know not, I ask not, if guilt's in that the main impulse to the production of

heart; I but know that I love thee, whatever thou

poetry has obviously been to afford art;"

the world the benefit of their opinion -to the imagination, as in Shelley's importance. Thus, if we are to accept

on subjects which appear to them of description of the waning moon :

Milton's own account of his aims, his “Like a dying lady, lean and pale,

sublimest flights of imagination are Who totters forth, wrapt in a gauzy veil, merely accessories to the practical end Out of her chamber, led by the insane

of “justifying the ways of God to man.” And feeble wanderings of her fading brain, The moon arose up on the murky earth,

It is impossible to suppose that the A white and shapeless mass ;”

architect of Pandemonium took

pleasure in his work for its own sake, or, finally, by the enunciation of some

independent of the value he ascribed to grand moral or philosophical truth, such it as a buttress of theology ; but, with as Wordsworth's—

less imaginative writers, the artistic “Sense sublime

motive disappears in the didactic. In Of something far more deeply interfused, the “ Course of Time," for example, the Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, Calvinistic polemic is real and hearty ; And the round ocean, and the living air, And the blue sky, and in the mind of man :

the imaginative form a reminiscence of A motion and a spirit, that impels

Milton, as conventional as a red pettiAll thinking things, all objects of all thought, coat in a landscape. The same assertion, And rolls through all things.”

mutatis mutandis, may be made with

reference to Cowper, Young, Crabbe, &c. This latter sublime passage is to be Almost all Wordsworth's poems stand rather apprehended intuitively than by in direct and calculated relation to his a conscious effort of the understanding ;

theories of life and art. Even Mrs. and so in every case the appeal is ad

Browning tells us that she intends dressed to feeling of some sort ;7 and,

“ Aurora Leigh” as the exponent of therefore, poetry, in the highest sense,

her own.

Now we think we may vencannot undertake the construction of a

ture to assume as axiomstheory of life or the universe, on which

1. That every system of thought is the logical faculty alone is competent to pronounce. Yet this is the very work

in some way the offspring of the age in

which it makes its appearance. Thus which each successive generation requires

Wordsworth's anti-conventionalism was and attempts to accomplish. The highest

at bottom merely another manifestation kind of poetry, then, cannot fulfil the

of the same spirit that was contempowants and wishes of contemporaries; raneously overthrowing the thrones of and it even requires self-discipline and

the continent. The Tractarian protest watchfulness, and an ambition of achiev

against the tendencies of the age was ing practical results, to prevent its wan

virtually as much the creature of the dering off altogether into the ideal

age as those tendencies themselves. regions which are after all most con

2. The poets who frame such systems genial to its nature. Mrs. Shelley has

are necessarily better exponents of the recorded the difficulty her husband ex

special characteristics of their times than

those who restrict themselves to the i See Mr. Mill's masterly essay on Poetry and its . Varieties (“Dissertations and Discus- essentially poetical; for this is the sions," vol. i.).

common property of all ages. But, the

« ZurückWeiter »