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SPIRIT OF THE FRENCH REVOLCTION.
was much more stimulant to the minds of men, and, consequently, to literature. The French Revolution was no contest of the Constitution or of law, for both were swept away, and everything was to be remodelled,-in fact, made anew. New creeds of liberty were taught, new doctrines of the rights of man; the human heart was anatomized; Christianity, with its blessed day of sanctity and rest, sacred from the creation, was banished to make way for a sensual, brutalizing philosophy, with its tenth-day Sabbaths and its idolatry of human reason. Theories of ecclesiastical, political, and social regeneration were propagated with apostolic zeal to all lands,--doctrines which cast a cloud on the glittering spire of every village church, which made the husbandman tremble in the tenure of his little property of a few acres,
,-a patrimony, perhaps, and an ancient homestead from one generation after another,--and which struck dismay where the domestic virtues were grouped at the once secure and happy fireside. It was a commotion of the very primal elements of society. The scene was a new one---suddenly a new onein the drama of civilization : the power of strange rights was thrust into the hands of men; the weight of strange duties was harnessed on their backs. Ancient landmarks covered with the moss of a long tract of years were torn up; and thus it became necessary alike for those who hailed and those who abhorred the change to acquaint themselves with the power, the will, and the destiny of man. The guidance of principles, drawn not from any customary or conventional authority of constitution or law, but from the depths of human nature, was needed. Men, long accustomed to float on the placid waters of a river within sight and reach of safe and smiling shores, found themselves suddenly driven out upon a stormy and shoreless sea; and in their peril some were earnestly gazing for a beacon-light from the lost shore, some were idly gazing at the flashing fires which crest the dark billows of the deep, and a few were looking upward hopefully for a heaven-lit ray from some star in the clouded sky. To express myself less imaginatively, the agitation of the French Revolution forced men, whether the political and social changes were congenial to them or not, into deeper moods of thought and further-reaching sentiments. Absolute authority had lost its sufficiency. With so wide-spread a spirit of freedom, too often miserably degenerating into licentiousness, superficial precepts, whether in government, philosophy, or literature, were not enough. The influence, either direct or indirect, of that convulsion was far extended over all departments of thought and action. Nɔ such agency is to be attributed to the American Revolution, which was achieved so much less tumultuously, so much more happily—inore lastingly. There was no such turmoil, such heaving of the very earth by the agitation of the deep-seated elements of government and of society. It was comparatively a tranquil process, for it was a revolution that always kept the law on its side. Observe the different effect of the two revolutions upon a mind like Burke's. When the British colonial contest arose, it called from him his statesmanly speeches on taxation and conciliation ; but these were only parliamentary arguments upon questions of the Constitution and law and policy. When the French Revolution came on, a discussion more profound was demanded; and Burke, feeling that the crisis called for something more than even a statesman's argument, gave to the world his celebrated “Reflections,” which are the expressions of philosophy scanning the fundamental principles of political society, the texture of social life, and the universal elements of human nature.
I have dwelt on this subject much more than I intended, and more perhaps than even the discursive character of lectures will quite justify, because I have been often impressed with the thought that there are few topics of more vital interest to the American mind than to understand and appreciate the essential differences between the American and French Revolutions. There is a moral gulf between them as wide as the Atlantic, as might be shown on a fitting occasion. My present purpose, however, is with the Revolution of France, and with it an account of its influence on European literature, and especially on English poetry. I have been reminded of this influence on approaching the poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Upon his genius it was powerful; for, hoping impetuously of human nature, he was an enthusiast in the cause of freedom. It was by the intense interest and impassioned zeal thus inspired that his powers were chiefly called into action. In dedicating some of his poems to his brother, he recalls the time
“ When with joy of hope thou gav'st thine ear
These various strains,
Will calm it down, and let thy love forgive it!”
in no way hurtful to the moral tone of his genius. Miserably as the hope was frustrated, when tyranny and cruelty were busy in disguise and the word “revolution” began to acquire a fearful meaning, the poet's spirit repudiated the adulterous cause, but cherished with as strong a fervour the love of freedom. These feelings form the theme of one of his odes,—that entitled “France," which, is said to have been pronounced by Shelley the finest English ode of modern times. This opinion is rather too strong a one; but certainly the finest specimens of the higher order of English lyrical poetry have been produced by the poets of our own times. I know of none to be mentioned in the same range of the same department of poetry, unless it be Milton's “Ode on the Nativity," and some of the odes of Collins and Gray. Under the title of lyrical poetry are included the song, the ballad, the elegy, the hymn, and, above all, the ode, which especially calls for the poet's power and his temperament, with the best mastery over the metrical music of the language and knowledge of the subtle laws of harmony. It was lyrical poetry which, as the name indicates, was once considered that species of verse composed with an adaptation to musical accompaniments. It was well said by Charles Lamb that Milton almost requires a solemn service of music to be played before you enter upon him. But he brings his music, to which who listens had need bring docile thoughts and purged ears. The observation has recurred to my mind in turning to the subject of lyrical poetry; for it seems to me that, in reading any great ode, something of the preparation that music gives to the imagination and feelings is wanted to set us in right tune, as it were, for the articulate cadences. There is no more varied metrical construction than that which the true lyrical poets adopt as the fit expression for the ebb and flow of the imaginative passion. This ode of Coleridge's embodies in a true poetic shape the best emotions inspired by those momentous years of European history. The lofty opening invocation of the elements, the first flush of enthusiasm for the French cause, the sorrow for England's adversity to it, ihe clinging to the cause in spite of the first misgivings, the recantation and the plea for forgiveness when the cause proved an unworthy one, France assailing freedom in her ancient mountain-home of Switzerland, and the fine close of the ode, closing, as it began, by rising above the strife of nations and the falsehood of mankind to the tokens of liberty in the elements, the " guide of homeless winds and playmate of the waves,”—all these passages go far to sustain the high eulogy pronounced by Shelley. " Ye clouds! that far above me float and
pause, Whose pathless march no mortal may control !
Ye ocean waves ! that, wheresoe'er ye roll,
How oft, pursuing fancies holy,
Inspired beyond the guess of folly
The spirit of divinest Liberty.
“ When France in wrath her giant limbs uprear'd,
And with that oath, which smote air, earth, and sea,
The monarchs march'd in evil day,
Though dear her shores and circling ocean,
Had swoln the patriot emotion, And flung a magic light o'er all her hills and groves, Yet still my voice, unalter'd, sang defeat To all that braved the tyrant-quelling lance, And shame too long delay'd and vain retreat! For ne'er, O Liberty, with partial aim I dimm'd thy light, or damp'd thy holy flame, But bless'd the pæans of deliver'd France, And hung my head, and wept, at Britain's name,
“« And what,' I said, 'though Blasphemy's loud scream
With that sweet music of deliverance strove ?
And when, to soothe my soul, that hoped and trembled,
When, insupportably advancing,
Shall France compel the nations to be free,
“Forgive me, Freedom! Oh, forgive those dreams!
I hear thy voice ; I hear thy loud lament
To scatter rage and traitorous guilt
A patriot race to disinherit
And with inexpiable spirit
“ The sensual and the dark rebel in vain,
Slaves by their own compulsion! In mad game