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needed in these days of unconsidered enthusiasms on the one hand, and contemptuous indifferentism on the other, Do not suffer yourself to be led into a depreciation of the value of a study of poetry, because it does not at first sight seem to have that intimate and vital connexion with practical life which is claimed for modern science; nor become, on the other hand, a disciple in a narrow school which speaks of its own literary shrine as that in which alone the worship of true genius is celebrated. You may take it without doubt that poetry, which has taught, cheered and supported so many men of varied temperament and character, cannot fail to be beneficial in its influences upon your own life and character, and that it is no true reverence for genius that confines itself in a narrow groove of unqualified panegyric for one master. Two things only are required of you, faith in the inestimable value of good literature, a faith soon to be transformed into certain knowledge, and catholicity of taste in the endeavour to appreciate it, which is a potent charm against the cant and bigotry of sects and schools.
What remains to be said? What but that if these views of what poetry really is and what it can do for us be true, we cannot too early address ourselves to making some acquaintance with it; so that, as Plato says, 'When reason comes we shall recognise and salute her as a friend with whom our education has made us long familiar.' 'If, by means of words,' wrote the late Cardinal Newman, 'the secrets of the heart are brought to light, pain of soul is relieved, hidden grief is carried off, sympathy conveyed, counsel imparted, experience recorded, and wisdom perpetuated. If, by great authors, the many are drawn up into unity, national character is fixed, a people speaks, the
past and the future, the east and the west are brought into communication with each other. If such men are, in a word, the spokesmen and prophets of the human family, it will not answer to make light of literature, or to neglect its study; rather we may be sure that, in proportion as we master it in whatever language, and imbibe its spirit, we shall ourselves become in our own measure the ministers of like benefits to others, be they many or few, be they in the obscurer or the more distinguished walks of life, who are united to us by social ties, and are within the sphere of our personal influence.'
Thus poetry is at once a storehouse of inspiring forces and of everlasting memories. And more, the unbought joys of life unoffered in the world's markets, these, too, the poets give, and give gladly: freedom and the breath of life to minds cramped and confined in the prison of some uncongenial occupation; gladness from a source free to all and inexhaustible as Nature's elements; consolation in every hour of disappointment of which the world is so generous a dispenser, and indifference to the blows of circumstance or the averted face of fortune.
AN ERA OF TRANSITION
of civilisation is like that of an incoming tide. Between the wave that reaches far up the strand and the wave that succeeds to reach still further, there is a lull, and partial recoil. The history of literature, too, is a chronicle of wave-periods and lull-periods. Movements of thought and of society are the strong spiritual winds and the deep currents of passion that stir the surface and impel the waves of the ocean of literature. The spirit and temper of an epoch are minutely betrayed in the poetry produced by it, for literature is in reality history written by historians who write of their own times. Yet it is not a record of events, events are usually of small significance in themselves, but of the manner in which events come about, a record of the mental, spiritual and moral life of the world. The power of English literature,' wrote Matthew Arnold, 'is in its poets.' It is a true word, and a torch to light us far on an enquiry into the character and genius of the nation. The English people, a mixed race, despite its turn for the practical life, and its splendid development of that turn and devotion to it as distinct from the turn leading to the field of abstract thought, has always
kept a place in its heart for the message of the poet. It has not reverenced, as other peoples, the musician or the painter or the sculptor, but the poet has never failed to awaken the deeper affections of its nature. In no other of the fine arts, save poetry, can it claim to have the lead, to have given birth to originative or stimulating ideas, or to have shown any superiority in its workmanship, either of delicacy or compass; its achievement in poetry is unrivalled and unique. Our present business is a consideration of a single group of poets who have contributed to the greatness of England's intellectual honour; but to read a character aright we must know something of its lineage; to understand the prevailing mood of any period, we must trace it, as we would a stream, to its sources.
What first strikes upon the ear of a student of English literature, is the diversity of tone in the poetry of different epochs. He catches a new accent in each succeeding age. In Chaucer, it is the note of the emancipated imagination, which for long centuries had pined in the monastic cell, or languished in the stifling air of narrow creeds. catch the music of fresh delight in the outside world under the open heaven. When the busy lark, the messenger of day, salutes the grey morning in her song, it is— 'Farewell my book and my devocioun!'
The same note of the pure imagination, but the imagination become passionate, is heard in Marlowe :
'Oh, thou art fairer than the evening air,
In Shakespere, it is the imaginative reason that is at work. When in the person of Macbeth he realises the profound world-weariness that overcomes even that stout soldier
as he sees the high hopes of his ambition, for which he has renounced so much, fail him, it is not easy to miss the note of the imaginative reason :—
'To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Let us compare these familiar passages with others no less familiar to the readers of Dryden and Pope, and observe the new accent:
'Stiff in opinions, always in the wrong,
Was everything by starts, and nothing long.'
'In squandering wealth was his peculiar art,
'Envy will merit as its shade pursue,
But like a shadow prove the substance true.'
With Dryden and Pope it is no longer the emancipated imagination, or the impassioned imagination, or the imaginative reason; it is clearly the festival of the quick intelligence. In 'Absalom and Achitophel,' or 'The Essay on Criticism,' we recognise at a glance a brilliant expression of acknowledged truths, a clear, forcible rendering of definite organised chains of reasoning; in a word, reason presides over the mind of the authors. A bright, keen, intellectual seizure of the points of an argument, or the salient and telling features of a character or of an object— these give the piquant flavour to the verse of Pope and Dryden. We feel, as we read, that the minds which appear