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by the poet that they have to a large extent fallen out of the range of the annalist. For example, to learn the story of Macbeth we turn to the pages of Shakspere rather than to those of Boece, or Hollingshed, or Buchanan; and similarly, Plutarch is left unread when we wish to understand such characters as Brutus, Cassius, Coriolanus, Cleopatra, or Marc Antony-fairly and properly left unread, shall we venture to say — since the poet has brought up before us the veritable existences, exactly as we know they must have lived and moved in the theatre of life? And with what extraordinary intensity and variety of expression ! With the development of passion he constantly rises, sitting serenely on its highest waves. The language may labour, as passion chokes speech, but it never sinks beneath the true level. In Lear and Othello, what stormy yet majestic utterances! In the very whirlwind and tempest of passion there reigns a nobleness and a solemn power.
In the portraiture of domestic incident the art of the poet also reigns supreme. As examples of wonderful tenderness and beauty in this direction, we may refer to such charming compositions as “ Jeanie Morrison" by Motherwell, “ Casa Wappy" by Dr Moir, and “ The Ballad of Babe Christabel” by Gerald Massey. This latter poem has scarcely received the attention it deserves for its delicacy of treatment and exquisiteness of tone and feeling. There is a fragrance and perfectness about it as of a full-blown rose. How many poots in any language have drawn a picture of equal beauty to this ?All night beneath the Cottage eaves,
A lonely light, with tremulous Arc,
Surged back a space the sea of dark,
The nest of life, did lean and brood !
Within ! the Mother's tears of blood
Lookt through the curtains of the night,
There was a dearer dawn of light,
The Star new-kindled in the dark
Life that had flutter'd like a Lark-
Her nesting heart more close and close
Her rose-bud ripening to a Rose,
How she had throbb’d with hopes and fears,
And strain’d her inner eyes till dim,
To see the coming glory swim
And smiled at, Sorrow's darkest dole ;
And now Delight's most dainty soul
Like nectar, on her pain's hot drouth,
And feeling fingers-kissing mouthBeing faint with joy, the Mother slept. But not to history, nor to domestic incident, is the art of the poet confined. These he can heighten, refine, idealise, and in the process make everything of earth truer to truth than the literal narrator can possibly do. But, as already hinted, there are realms of thought where the poet of right rules alone, and in which he only can be the master. The legislator and statist deal with the actualities of life, and most men follow them in thinking of little else. The poet has this higher advantage, that whilst able to beautify all that is lowly and literal in our sphere, he can carry his admirers into loftier and quite unknown regions—discovering, creating, and clothing with mortal vestments the children of his imagination, and causing every sympathetic soul to love and to rejoice. Nay, he can do more even than this. Religion, and Piety her handmaid, he can render still more beautiful, attractive, and commendable. The Scriptures themselves, both Old and New, are full of the grandest poetry. The very oldest triumphal lyric in the world is also one of the finest—6. Sing ye to the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.” Then look at Ruth's burst of affection to Naomi; it is not paralleled even by Shakspere for intensity of expression>" Entreat me not to leave thee, or to cease from following after thee—for whither thou goest I will go, and where thou lodgest I will lodge—thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.”
This department of the subject, as with so many others, is of course too extensive to enter on at length. It may be sufficient to enforce on readers the great truth that poetry enters essentially into all our conceptions of the relationship of man with his Maker, and that it has done much-a great deal more than unreflecting persons can be aware ofto reconcile us to our earthly lot, and to make both life and death beautiful and attractive. In connection with the religious, let us give one example of the power of the poetical element. Read a dry treatise on Astronomy, with its descriptions of variable and fixed stars, nebulæ, calculations on the return of comets, and so on, and then turn to the 19th Psalm and to Addison's magnificent Paraphrase of the same. In a case like this, the poet distances the mathematician. His is the higher kind of logic, for he proves, by his very form of speech, that the undevout astronomer must be truly mad. For mark how the poet settles the question of a divine original:
What though in solemn silence all move round the dark terrestial ball ?
Regarding the varied forms assumed by the art, it is first of all necessary to remark that poetry is confined within no particular literary limits. As its elements exist everywhere -on earth, in ocean, in the sky, in the human intellect and heart—so its form and expression are found to co-exist with every possible variety of human speech. It is a vulgar error to suppose that poetry must necessarily be embodied in rhyme or measured stanzas. This idea is so far from being correct that a great proportion of the literary material issued in the shape of rhyme is not in any exact sense poetry at all; and it is also true, conversely, that some books in the form of prose are of the highest poetical merit. It is no doubt true that in very ancient times poetry was united with music, in order that it might be sung or chanted. Scholars have discovered that in the more poetical books of the Old Testament there exist a certain parallelism and measurement of words, and we believe it to be also the fact that in the original Gaelic of such of the poems of Ossian as are entitled to be called genuine a regular system of rhythm was preserved throughout. We know also that in the books of Homer a regulated measurement prevails. In all these cases the object apparently was, by wedding music with the grand verse of the poets, to render it more easy of recollection, and thus aid in its preservation. Even in our own days we see the power of this union in some of our national songs, which have taken so firm a hold of the popular heart that we are safe in saying they can only perish with the language. Still, it would be wrong to conclude that poetry cannot exist separated from music and every form of measured words-50 wrong indeed that some of our grandest works of imagination would be thus excluded from the
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poetical sphere. For example, several of the finest passages ever penned by Milton are to be found in what have been distinctively called his prose works, and our own Scott is occasionally quite as poetical in his novels as in what are believed specially to be his poems—such productions as the Talisman, Ivanhoe, and the Bride of Lammermoor, embracing perhaps as much of the higher element as Marmion or the Lady of the Lake. Writers like Bulwer and Dickens illustrate the same principle; adopting the ordinary form of composition, their writings frequently breathe the very essence of poetry.
Poetical genius, like genius of every kind, rejoices in expansiveness and variety. In poetry, critics have recognised three grand divisions, under which every description of excellence must be ranked. These are the sublime, the pathetic, and the ludicrous. Few men have achieved high excellence in all these departments. One is grand in conception and execution, as Milton in the Paradise Lost; the prevailing mood of another is tenderness; and a third excels in humorous imagery or reflections. To keep this principle in view will prevent much misconception and false criticism. We have seen this question set down for discussion in debating societies—66 Was Milton or Shakspere the greater poet?” but it is quite apparent to all who know anything of the subject that this or any similar question with regard to manifestations of genius so dissimilar is incapable of intelligent question. Milton stands forth as the model and exemplar of sublimity; but Shakspere is not the poet of the sublime or of any special quality. His range is over all nature-his reign over all humankind. Distinguished to some extent by Miltonic qualities, he is equally distinguished by his power over the pathetic and the humorous. Lear, Othello, or Falstaff-it appears to be all the same with this overmastering genius. He indeed has no competitor-in the whole world of literature he stands aloneunapproached and seemingly unapproachable. It was Hazlitt, we think, who in noticing the great names of our poetical hemisphere, said that the characteristic of Chaucer was intensity-of Milton, sublimity-of Shakspere, every
These general remarks on the nature and scope of the poetical art might be greatly expanded by taking up the different special forms under which the divine faculty is developed, such as the lyric, the epic, the dramatic, the
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classic, and the romantic. We shall not, however, attempt the task, and pass on to some short notice, in concluding this chapter, of the uses and objects of the faculty.
As a branch of the fine arts, it is not to be doubted that poetry plays an important part in our higher phases of education. Along with the study of music, and the arts of painting and sculpture, its tendency is to elevate, strengthen, and refine the noblest capabilities of our nature by the culture of the imaginative faculties. And the importance of duly educating these powers will be denied by no one conversant with the subject. Although the point is apt to be overlooked by unthinking persons, the circumstance should never be forgotten that this great dominating faculty of Imagination is the one of all others which constitutes the real psychological distinction between man and the lower animals, no one of which, we may feel assured, has ever, since the dawn of creation, turned with delight or satisfaction to the glory of the rising or the setting sun. Man alone, of all the creatures of God, can form any estimate of the marvels in the midst of which he is placed, and this he does by virtue of the implanted love of the beautiful, which is or should be an essential portion of his being. Properly cultivated and directed, this love is one of his highest attributes. By it he constructs splendid cities and edifices, adorns his mansions with the most lovely forms of nature, wraps the soul in melodious music, and gives to human speech a power, majesty, and beauty which to the common mind appears like the effect of direct inspiration from God, and which was doubtless given for the purpose of magnifying His praise and of conferring a higher measure of intellectual delight on the creatures of His Providence.
It has been argued that the commercial spirit is opposed to imagination, and that poetry will cease to be written as that spirit gains the ascendancy amongst us. The idea appears to be quite fallacious, and involving indeed a double mistake. Commerce brings wealth, and a portion. of that wealth will in all circumstances be devoted to the purchase of works of imagination. But the most lavish bestowal of riches will not alone produce what is required. Poets are born as well as made, and the best of them, we may be sure, will throw their thoughts on the world irrespective of money gains or lordly patronage. Burns was a poet in spite of his poverty ; Byron was not made one by his wealth. The question is not to be decided on any such