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suited ? We believe not. It can be shown, we doubt not, th influence of the heathen mythology in the production of p has been greatly overrated ;—that its power, in regard to Schlegel calls the great constituents of poetry, and in whi essence consists, viz. invention, expression and inspiration, very circumscribed. Some, we know, think differently. Ti gan theology has been called the parent of poetry ; and ap are often made in confirmation of that opinion to the poel Greece. But we should always remember the very peculia cumstances under which that poetry was composed. A grea riety of elements, if we may so speak, entered into its forma It was not written in the retirement of study, to meet the cold culating eye of criticism, but to be recited or sung at their p games and religious festivals, where every thing combined to ki and diffuse a deep and ardent enthusiasm for poetry.
Besides, the Greeks stood on new and hitherto unoccu ground. The whole field of invention lay fresh before their i in all the rich luxuriance of “ virgin nature.” Under these circ stances, and blest loo with the benign influence of free instituti the Greeks erected their splendid triumphal arch, under which many nations have passed in token of willing subjection.
Their mythology, however, had but little influence in produe its symmetry, variety, or beauty. It afforded, it is true, a field for the revelry of the imagination. It presented to the mi of the poet a multitude of gods and goddesses. Every mount: and forest, every fountain and river, every bud and blossom, h each its presiding deity. Poetry, music, and eloquence, bad, to their respective patrons among those ancient deities.
Their mythology, then, presented a multitude of objects, b this was all it could do. It could not refine the feelings
, or gri the poet one pure exalted idea of his subject. No; it was to gross, too sensual, to elevate the soul. It rarely, as Mr. Montgome ry observes, “touched the affections; the divinities it presente were as little calculated to excite human sympathies (though in vested with human passions,) as their own images of marble ant brass in their temples.
What crime does it not attribute to the gods? If they visited the abodes of men, it was to engage in some shameful amour,—10 unite in some nocturnal debauch, -or to aid in some inpure and scandalous mystery! O, if ever we have felt a sickening of soul
, it has been to find such scenes so depicted amidst what would otherwise be the finest specimens of human genius!
It is, we believe, the uniform testimony of criticism, that in a poetical, as well as moral point of view, 'Homer's representations of the gods, in general, form the weakest part of the Iliad. Indeed, there is no true eloquence of song in those representations
His deities, as Schlegel justly observes, are of a nature infinitely coarser, and more entangled with human infirmity, and in all respects less god-like beings, than the heroes in whose difficulties and quarrels they engage. Thus we see, that while their mythology furnished a wide field for invention, it was radically defective in regard to expression and inspiration. It was too low to elevate the soul, and too cold to kindle the imagination of the poet. There is not, we believe, a single poem in any modern language where its fabled deities have been introduced, and they are not an absolute incumbrance, not to say nuisance. Milton, it is true, has interwoven many of these fables in his great work, not, however, as “the dreams of the human mind, but as the delusions of infernal spirits."
The influence of christianity tends to destroy another great theme of poetry. Its spirit is peace. It breathes harmony and lore, and aims to bring together in appropriate union, all the trild and jarring elements of this world; and warrants the anticipation of that blessed future, when we shall no more hear the confused noise of battle, or behold garments rolled in blood. The object of poetry is to please, to instruct, and to deepen our social interest in existence. Is war, then, a fit subject for poetry ? The muse may weep,—she has often, like David, poured forth her bitter lamentations over the slain with inimitable pathos. But what theme of pleasurable poetry does the strife of war or a field of death present? We feel that there is an awiul delusion on this subject, arising from early associations, and strengthened by the whole course of our education. We need only turn to Kames' Sketches of man, to learn the sentiments of thousands on this subject. “ War," he says, “is necessary for man, as the school of magnanimity, heroism, and every virtue that ennobles human nature. Without it, he would rival the hare in timidity !" We confess that we cannot read such sentiments without feeling a glow of indignation. War necessary for man! A sentiment, indeed, worthy of one who had learned his philosophy in the school of Racine and Voltaire, and which should place its author back a thousand years before the christian era. How often, too, has the historian thrown bis enchanting but deceptive colors over this subject ; prostituting his noble talents, bowing before kings and warriors, while he has passed in silence some of the most splendid creations of genius! Volumes, for example, he has for the
pelty freaks and quarrels of Leicester and Essex, in the time of Elizabeth, but not a solitary page for Shakspeare.” Το many there seems something noble in “ the
and circumstance of glorious war ;" something sublime in the onset of battles, as the contending legions meet and dash against each other; something generous and god-like in the ardor of that chivalrous Vol. VI.
feeling, which glows in the hour of danger. We need not say, that this feeling is powerfully invigorated by the glowing descriptions of the historian and the poet, in their apotheosis of the warrior. To us, however, there is no poetry in such scenes. There are too many painful associations connected with them. We cannot confine our imaginations to the glories that encircle the individual hero ; our minds revert to the scene where his ovation was purchased, -the ensanguined plain,--and dwell upon the thousands that bave fallen under his victorious car.
Let us look at this subject in the light of sober, christian philosophy. Let us survey thus the field of Waterloo, that “ Golgotha of nations." There stood the mighty combatants, it is true, in awful array ;-the chivalrous legions of France opposed to the more determined hosts of Britain. They meet, and when that day's work is over, what do we behold of poetry there?—a field for a mile square covered with ghastly and disfigured forms, with the mutilated, the dying and the dead. “Melancholy and terrific sounds are heard the shouts of victory have given place to groans of anguish, the complaints of the vanquished, and the prayers of the dying. One is calling upon heaven to protect his children ; another raves for a beloved wife ; a third tenderly breathes a beloved name, consecrated only by that tie ; while others deprecate their own suffering, or plead piteously for the pardon of their sins. There are those who pray ardently for death, and others who implore a few minutes more of life. Some make complaints of bodily pain, some of the 'gnawings of the never-dying worm ;' while others, as they gaze upon the fast-fowing crimson torrent, waste the brief remains of breath in moralizing upon the shortness of life, and man's careless prodigality of existence. The eyes of all wander wistfully over the scene that is fast fading from their view; and fervently do they grasp the hand of those who are mournfully bidding them a last farewell.” Surely there is something in all this too unnatural for a poetic theme ! something too humiliating; something which gives man, with all his boasted sensibility and elevation of soul, a superiority, on the score of ferocity, over the lion which roams through the desert, or the shark which ranges the ocean. The lion preys upon the antelope. The tiger howls in unison with bis brothers of blood. But man, when about to exhibit the greatness of his soul, and furnish to after ages a theme for poetry, is aiming to destroy his fellow man, and by the wisdom of the deep-laid plan, and the success of its execution, to gain immortal honors froin the historian and the poet ! Let no one talk of
pomp and circumstance of glorious war.” Such are the awful consequences connected with that pomp and circumstance. We might as well undertake to separate ihe lightning's vivid flash from the riving thunder-bolt, as to dissociate in the mind of a benevolent man, the horrors of the battle-field from the glories of the individual conqueror.
Is war, then, the theme of pleasure, -the object of poetry? We blush for poor degraded human nature ! Our hearts sicken at the very thought! Well may we exclaim, with the anointed bard, ** Lord, what is man !"
War is not only an unfit subject for poetry, but it prostrates the spirit of song. The causes of the relapse of poetry, after Chaucer, as Campbell remarks,“ seem but too apparent in the annals of English history, which during five reigns of the fifteenth century continue to display but a tissue of conspiracies, proscriptions and bloodshed. War agitated society as one mass. There was no refuge from its Gothic irruptions,—no sanctuary of genius secure from its unballowed influence.”
To all these sources of poetry, we fully admit, the bible is diametrically opposed. With war and religious persecution christianity admits no compromise. She aims at the utter extermination of those malign influences, baneful alike to the fine arts and to all intellectual pursuits. Her spirit is peace and good will to man; her object the establishment of a universal sympathy for man as a social, moral, and intellectual being; a charity which will embrace all, and give a liue of poetry to the whole life of man. For all the vicissitudes of that feeling, as Mr. Montgomery forcibly remarks, " are pre-eminently poetical, in every change of form and color which it undergoes, being intimately associated with all that is transporting or afflictive, bright and pure, grand and terrible, peaceful, boly and happy, in mortal existence.
The tendency and aim of christianity is the same with the legitimate and highest efforts of poetry -to interest man in man,—to lift him above the grossness of material things,—to spiritualize bis nature, and fit him for a higher and nobler existence. From the time when Wickliffe opened the scriptures, which
“sealed book” before,—a “ fountain shut up,” we can distinctly trace the influence of christianity on the poetry of the English bards, exciting the dormant intellect of the nation, and contributing to its future field of song. From this remark we are not willing wholly to except the father of the English drama. Thus says Mr. Campbell, “We are apt to compare such geniuses as Shakspeare, to comets in the moral universe, which baffle all calculations, as to the causes which accelerate or retard their appearance, or from which we can predict their return. But those phenomena of poetical inspiration are, in fact, still dependent on the laws and light of the system which they visit. Poets may be indebted to the learning, philosophy, and we may add, the religion of their age, without being themselves men of erudition, philoso
phers, or christians. When the fine spirit of truth has goi abroad, it passes insensibly from mind to mind, independent of i direct transmissions from books; and it comes home in a mo welcome shape to the poet, when caught from his social intercour, with his species, than from solitary study. Shakspeare's genii was certainly indebted to the intelligence and moral principl which existed in his age; and to those moral principles the rev val of pulpit eloquence, and the restoration of the SCRIPTURES 1 the people in their native tongue, contributed.”
We do not believe, therefore, that christianity exerts an infit ence prejudicial to any thing essential to the character, or materia to the existence of genuine poetry. Its nature is not to cramp o paralyze man's intellectual powers, but to quicken and invigorat ihem. We may go still fariher. It has given more than it ha taken away: it has not circumscribed, but enlarged the field o poetic invention. It will be admitted, that the bible has rescuer woman from her supposed inferiority and real degradation, and made her the friend, equal, and companion of man. Every valley has been filled, and every mountain and bill brought low; the rough and crooked ways of man have been smoothed, straightened, and strewed with flowers of a rich poetic hue.
Woman thus elevated has been called the poetry of life. And with reason too; for such are the elements of her character,—her beauty, grace, and gentleness,-her fullness of feeling and depth of affection,-her courage, when danger and trials come, yet grafted on qualities of the softest kind;—her vivacity, which throws its cheering light over the gloom of man,—the fidelity of her love to a wayward heart;-a sister's affection, so feminine and dignified, and yet so fond, so devoted;—the tenderness of a mother's love," those thousand chords, woven with every fiber of her heart, and which complain like delicate harp-strings at a breath." These are pre-eminently poetical, and in every form of fear, and love, and hope, have furnished some of the richest, and most tender strains within the whole range of poetry. This entire influence, however, was unknown and unfelt by the heathen world. In that world she was the slave of man's passions. Her degradation destroyed the influence of her character.
The moral life of man, in which christianity deepens our social interest, is not tamely prosaic, as it has sometimes been called. The charms of external nature are not so richly varied, or so important as the world of passions and affections within us. To the keen observing eye of Shakspeare, the human bosom teemed with poetic images.' To bis mind the affections spread beyond ourselves, and reached far into futurity. The working of mighty passion armed his genius with an almost supernatural energy, in the delineations of every shade and lineament of human character.