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empire of thought, possesses all the most essential characteristics of poetry, and it would be unreasonable to consider that by adding to a composition of this kind the graces of rhythm, often in itself an aid to solemn feeling, it could be rendered less proper for the conveyance of serious and elevated sentiment.
So inadequate, indeed, have all nations found the language in ordinary use, io impress the popular mind with lofty or devotional thought, that both patriotism and religion have from the earliest ages employed poetry as the vehicle of their appeals. Custom, which has generally its birth in some strong, natural feeling, thus agrees with reason in pointing out the fitness of poetry, elevating both by the language to which it has a sort of prescriptive right, and by its association with music, for being employed as a medium of high moral instruction.
But the number of persons who feel disposed to doubt the propriety of using poetry as a channel of religious instruction, is incomparably less than that of those who deem that poetry, when so employed, must be of a less stirring, impassioned, or elevating nature than when engaged on themes of an earthly or temporary character. Nor is the error of this opinion less apparent than that already noticed. To suppose that subjects, sublime not only in their own nature, but in all the associations to which they give rise, can be unfit for poetry, is to contradict common sense. It is therefore, advisable, perhaps, to inquire how so untenable a notion could ever have gained ground. In doing this we shall readily discover that it had its rise in s very confined idea of poetry itself, in ignorance or its history, and the
vre of thought, possesses all the most essential
to consider that by adding to a composition of
fitness of poetry, elevating both by the lan-
triumphs effected by the most eminent masters of the ani.
Objects of sense are usually of more general and ordinary interest than those of which the existence can only be discovered by the mind. Their beauty or deformity is recognized at a glance ; it inspires instantaneous pleasure or dislike, and to possess, or avoid contact with it, is a feeling born with the first pulse of the heart. To comprehend, on the other hand, intellectual excellence or deformity, if not of the most common kind, requires a mind active, well chastened, clear in its vision, and possessing a fair and ready command over all the passages to the heart. It need not be said, that these requisites to the reception of what is intellectually good, or evil, are not the universal possession of mankind in their present state ; and it hence follows that there is no comparison between the number of those who can be affected by representations which appeal strongly to their senses, and that of those who can take a deep and vivid delight in pictures of sensual pleasure, or objects of ordinary attraction. It is, therefore, to be expected that in every species of literature, the portions most conversant about matters which awaken the lowest order of our passions will be the most popular, and that the merit of such portions of literature will be appreciated with much greater facility than those of a higher class. Thus, in poetry, the ballad obtains a quicker popularity than the ode; the romance than the epic, the melodrama than the tragedy, and all these a more general admiration than compositions characterized by a strong spirit of devotion.
ss apparent than that already noticed.
in ignorance of its history, and the
were held, and which they mainly acquired by the dignity that appeared in all their compositions, and which, as the effect of great elevation of mind in themselves, commanded while it elevated the minds of others.
But while I make these general suggestions on the subject, least of all, it may be observed, have we in this country, reason to suppose either that poetry is an unsuitable medium for the conveyance of religious sentiments, or that if it be employed for such a purpose, it must use a cold and inanimate style, ill calculated to satisfy minds accustomed to hear the Muse speak in the sweetest and most impassioned tones of thought and language. To the honour of our literature be it spoken, all our best and most celebrated writers, with one or two exceptions, have evinced a strong spirit of devotion and piety in their noblest compositions. Some of them, it is well known, drew their themes from the very oracles of sacred truth; and those whose subjects were of a different class, yet seem to have had their minds constantly lifted up above the common level even of genius, by a powerful feeling of religion. The names of Milton and Cowper will at once rise in the mind of the reader, but scarcely less to our purpose are those of Spenser and Thomson, who, though their poetry is not of a class which may be technically called religious, is happily very strongly imbued with a religious spirit. There are few persons, who would venture to say that they would have the passages of a religious nature which occur in these poets blotted out; and the number is far less, of those who have any sense of what is beau
i religious spirit. There are few per
held, and which they mainly acquired by the y that appeared in all their compositions, and
as the effect of great elevation of mind in Ives, commanded while it elevated the minds
while I make these general suggestions on
calculated to satisfy minds accustomed to
our literature be it spoken, all our best celebrated writers, with one or two excep2 evinced a strong spirit of devotion and eir noblest compositions. Some of them, inown, drew their themes from the very sacred truth; and those whose subjects fferent class, yet seem to have had their antly lifted up above the common level ius, by a powerful feeling of religion. of Milton and Cowper will at once rise of the reader, but scarcely less to our
tiful in poetry, and who would wish that these or any other of our best writers had been of a different spirit to what they were.
But if a religious feeling be thus the characteristic of all the highest orders of poetry; if it be that which gives the deepest, and easiest recognized grace to many of the sweetest strains in our own language, the poetry devoted to religious subjects in general surely deserves to be regarded in a very different light to that in which it is usually considered.
While, however, I thus endeavour to shew how unreasonable are the ideas which some persons have framed respecting religious poetry ; I should be sorry to have it supposed that I intend these observations to apply to all religious poetry. Poetry, like every thing else, has certain qualities which constitute its essence, and without which it would not be that which we name it to be. Imagination, passion, or pathos, and the music of language, sweet as the artificial collocation of syllables, and the human voice can make it, these are the essentials of all poetry, whatever may be the subject of which it treats; and without them, it is not worthy, as poetry, of a moment's notice. In the same manner, therefore, as we would warn any one from supposing that religion affords not fit subjects for the Muse, we would warn him from imagining that religious poetry can dispense with any of the characteristics which are necessary to the art, when employed on subjects of a less intellectual kind. The song of devotion, if it be sincere, will be animated with the sublimest spirit of genuine eloquence. The harps of angels are of gold.
those of Spenser and Thomson, who, poetry is not of a class which may be iled religious, is happily very strongly
uld venture to say that they would
Missionary, The good
Nativity, On the
Rachel weeping for her Children