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AN INTRODUCTION

TO THE

STUDY OF POETRY.

CHAPTER I.

LITERATURE-ITS ORIGIN AND NATURE.

The object that I have proposed to myself is the consideration of the nature and end of poetry. In dealing with this question I shall make no attempt to give any strict analysis, but shall endeavour so to express my own convictions that I may seem more anxious to suggest than to convince,—to exhibit and to excite a belief in the dignity and value of art, rather than to insist on any theory.

With this end in view I intend (i.) to consider the origin and nature of literature, (ii.) to discuss the question of art creation, with special reference to poetry, (iii.) to treat, for the purpose of illustration, the works and, as far as may seem necessary, the lives of certain English poets.

Firstly, therefore, what do we mean by literature ?

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Like many other words, this word “literature" has a broad popular meaning, as well as a special limited meaning.

In its broadest acceptation it evidently means the art of communication by means of letters, whether they be written, printed, painted, embroidered, engraved, or in any way presented; and also the material result of this art, namely, “visible speech” in every form -books of all kinds, small and great, bound or unbound; newspapers, pamphlets, Shakespeares, bluebooks, red-books, Dantes, clergy-lists, dictionaries, Miltons, manuscripts, menus, Moabite stones, peerages, biographies, natural histories, sermons, Runic and Assyrian inscriptions, tradesmen's bills, bibles, telegrams, placards, epitaphs, and so on.

And a mighty power indeed among men is this same art ! Think for an instant-where in civilization should we be without it? Is the power of steam -the power by means of which we transmit bodily substances, our own bodies included, with ease and rapidity hither and thither—to be compared with this power of communicating our thoughts to our fellowmen, to tens of thousands, to ages yet unborn ?

Think, too, of the ease and rapidity and universality of the thing! Consider for a moment the closeprinted columns of the daily newspapers, the reviews, magazines, weeklies, monthlies, quarterlies, with their deluge of facts, of advertisements, of critical essays, of political, theological, social, and moral dogmatisms ! Consider the endless ever-increasing flood of books of every kind that swamp our tables, and are piled up in our libraries, to read whose very titles would con. sume a lifetime!

What does all this signify but an intense unnaturally developed passion for the interchange of thought? Unnaturally, I say : for it has to a great extent ceased to be a true interchange of thought. With the enormous increase of facilities for learning the thoughts of others we seem to be losing our own independence of thought, content to spend the time and energy that are at our disposal for such matters in laying in, for private consumption or re-issue, a stock of what Plato well calls the unnutritious fodder of opinion. It is indeed impossible to realize fully the extent of our dependence, and the influence that this art of literature possesses nowadays in directing our thoughts and acts, in modelling our characters. Surely, therefore, it must be of no small importance that we should learn to estimate such things at their true worth, that we should be able to select for our own guidance the best, and reject the false.

Let our thought go back a few centuries—when scarce one in a thousand, in Europe at least, could use this art of letters; when in a few manuscripts, treasured as priceless heirlooms, hidden away in monastic cells, was sealed up the message of past ages; when thirty thousand students flocked to the hill of St. Geneviève to hear the voice of learning

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