Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

This sea, that bares her bosom to the moon,

The winds, that will be howling at all hours,

And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers, -
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I'd rather be

Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,

Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn-
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea,

Or hear old Triton blow his wreathéd horn." There is another influence adverse to imaginative culture. It is not only that one part of knowledge, and that not affecting the highest and most permanent interests of mankind, has usurped too large a space in the public thought, but there has been a tendency to unequal cultivation of some of the chief faculties of the mind. This is not the occasion to examine that modern mental philosophy which, rife especially on the rank soil of France and in the years of its revolution, was disseminated in the latter part of the last century. Enough for my present purpose is it to say that it gave to one power of the mind a supremacy which has proved injurious to the just distribution of all. The calculating faculty of the understanding has been made the sole arbiter to which the other reflective faculties and imagination and the moral powers are to bow as vassals. This has led to a false confidence in a dangerous guide ; for never is man more apt to go astray than when, casting away all other light, he follows implicitly the leading of mere reasoning. Reason (I use the term in the sense of the logical faculty), alienating itself in its usurpations from the other powers, becomes wilful, rash, and tyrannous. Thence comes a self-confidence in the age which casts off time-honoured associations with the past, and thus, to borrow a fine expression, “ covenant is broken with the mighty dead.” Thence come the thousand theories which unceasingly are flitting across the public mind :—theories of education, mental and bodily, theories of social and political regeneration, and theories of religion. Thence has come the revolution we have witnessed in the fashion of children's books; the healthy, imaginative, old-fashioned story-books displaced by preposterous devices to fill the young heart with pedantry. We are cramped by false and narrow systems of metaphysics, teaching that wisdom is to be drawn from one reservoir, when, the truth is, it is flowing from a hundred springs,-imagination, the affections, faith, prayer, and whatever else helps to guide and chasten intellectual action. There is a danger, it has been well said, “that the perfections and achievements of intellect will be too much prized, too much desired, too much sought

IMAGINATIVE POWER.

19

for. Already there are many who expect from human knowledge the work of divine grace. Science has made man master of matter; it has enabled him to calculate the revolutions of nature, to multiply his own powers beyond all that was dreamed of spell or talisman : and now it is confidently prophesied that another science is to remove all the moral and political evils of the planet; that by analyzing the passions we shall learn to govern them; and that, when the science of education is grown of age, virtue will be taught as easily as arithmetic and comprehended as readily as geometry with the aid of wooden diagrams. Let us not be deceived. “Leviathan is not so tamed.' The tree of knowledge is not the tree of life.”

I am speaking of the propensity of the age,-a propensity happily controlled by salutary checks. But, if any one desire to know what is the utmost peril when such restraints are removed, he may turn to the spectacle of revolutionary France, when, in the highest paroxysm of rational regeneration, there was paraded a living representation of the goddess of Reason, which the philosophers bade the people worship; and what the idol was I dare not venture even to name to you.

But, bringing these general observations to bear upon our subject,when such a condition of thought becomes predominant, in what estimation may we expect to find the power of imagination ? Very much what in point of fact may be observed to exist. It will be regarded as that faculty which gives birth to novels and romances and other idle fictions; which leads men into wild and extravagant speculations, and tempts some to add superfluous ornaments to their statements of matters of fact. What is the nature and the true functions of genuine imagination I shall endeavour to show hereafter, my present purpose being only to suggest how a particular habit of opinion may bring disparagement upon one of the chief endowments of the human spirit. Vibrating as the judgment is apt to do from one extreme to another, the question may be asked, whether the censure of undue exaltation of the reasoning faculties is meant to be dissuasive from its cultivation, or to suggest the propriety of suspending them by processes of the imagination. I have intimated nothing of the kind. The error would then be great, though in another direction. The disproportionate exercise of our faculties is an evil, no matter what the disproportion may chance to be. When I complain that one of these faculties is neglected and often sacrificed, it would be strange indeed were I to fall into the snare of encouraging a like neglect of others. On this point let me sustain myself by what seems to me the wise authority of an eloquent writer

The imagination, if left without restraint to follow its own conceits, is vain and wild, and teems with fantastic superstitions; the understanding, unless other powers elevate and ennoble it, is narrow and partial, and empirical and superficial. While the reason is cultivated let not the other faculties be neglected; let it substantiate its forms and give them a body of sound experiential and historical knowledge; and let not this body be without the beautiful, ever-varying hues, the glowing flushes and ardent glances of the imagination. So may it become an edifice wherein wisdom may not be ashamed to take up

her dwelling. No one of the powers with which God has endowed us is useless; no one is meant to lie waste, no one to run waste. Only when they are knit together and working in unison and harmony, may we hope that the vision of truth will descend upon

them.” I have thus endeavoured to trace to its sources the tendency to disparage the study of poetry as an intellectual occupation. If we can satisfy our minds that such a state of opinion has its origin in the causes suggested,—the indiscriminate confusion of all verse, no matter how vapid and unimaginative, with true poetry; the perpetual, because constitutional, proneness to suffer materialism and materialized notions to encroach on the spiritual endowments of humanity; the almost exclusive appropriation of the title of philosophy to mechanical science, looking only to the world of sense; and the undue exaltation of the reasoning faculty over all other mental powers,—it is enough to bring somewhat of conviction that the opinion itself is error. But the refutation of objections is not enough : a subject must be set on the independent foundation of its own principles. I have felt that I could not safely advance without an attempt to dispose of the preliminary considerations which have been noticed. This makes it necessary to defer to the next lecture the main introductory subject, the nature of Poetry, with an examination of its inspiration, its relation to the Fine Arts, and the moral uses of a cultivated imagination, and, after that, to proceed to the glorious registry of our English poets.

In conclusion, one word of a personal nature. This course of lectures has been prompted by the belief that it was due from me to this community, considering my position in this ancient Philadelphia institution. It is the result of mature reflection, with a full sense of the obstacles and discouragements which it may encounter. Be those discouragements what they may, standing on the ground of duty, this post of mine shall not be deserted. I have sought to place before the public a plan the subject of which I know to be worthy their consideration. But how far the lecturer may be esteemed competent to the task he has ventured on, it would be indecorous for

[blocks in formation]

me to indulge the most distant fancy. It will not, however, be too much for me to say that I stand here not a suppliant for favours, but with the consciousness of a single and an honourable purpose in the cause of literature; and to add that, while I form no conjecture how many of my friends I

may have the pleasure of seeing here again, no contingency of that sort shall prevent the prosecution of this enterprise to its completion.

LECTURE II.

THE NATURE OF POETRY AND ITS MINISTRATIONS-IMAGINATIVE CAPACITY-LORD

BACON'S VIEW-MILTON'S-POETRY A DIVINE EMANATION-ITS FOUNDATION IS
TRUTH–THE TRUTH OF INNER LIFE-PAINTING AND SCULPTURE-POETRY AN
IMITATIVE ART-THE CHILD AND THE SHELI-SCIENTIFIC INVESTIGATION OF
TRUTH-HUMAN SYMPATHY CULTIVATED BY POETRY-IMMORTALITY-SPIRIT-
UAL ASPIRATIONS-STOICISM IRRECONCILABLE WITH POETRY-LOYALTY AND
CHIVALRY-THE SONGS OF ISRAEL-TASTE, A WRONG NAME-MENTAL INACTIVITY
INCONSISTENT WITH CRITICISM-DUE PROPORTION OF INTELLECTUAL POWERS
-WALTER SCOTT AND SIR PHILIP SYDNEY.

H I to

AVING in my last lecture endeavoured to remove some prelim

[ocr errors]

proceed to the consideration of the nature of poetry and its ministrations, the poet's mission to his fellow-beings, and his powers. This is equivalent to an examination of the faculty of imagination ; for poetry is the voice of imagination. The two are inseparable; and it is one and the same thing to study the nature of that endowment, the moral uses of a cultivated imagination, and the purposes of genuine poetry.

The duty of cultivation, let me observe in the first place, rests on the possession of each power of the human mind. One of the universal endowments, infinitely different indeed in its degrees, is the faculty of imagination; and it would be strangely interpreting God's scheme in the government of the world to suppose that this mighty power was bestowed for no other than the pitiful offices often deemed its distinctive functions. It has more precious trusts than the production of tawdry romances or sentimental novels. The very existence of imagination is a proof that it is an agency which may be improved to our good, or neglected and abused to our harm. Even if it were beyond our comprehension to conceive how it may be auxiliary to humanity, it would be no more than a simple impulse of faith to feel that, so surely as it is an element implanted in our nature, it is there to be nurtured and strengthened by thoughtful exercise. But we are not left to the strenuous effort of implicit faith; for the purposes of the endowment are manifest and multifarious. It has been well demanded, “ To what end have we been endowed with the creative faculty of the imagination, which glancing from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven, vivifies

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »