Изображения страниц

protested that true inspiration was rather to be found in "ae spark o' Nature's fire,"- -or at the nearest tavern:

Leese me on drink! it gies us mair
Than either school or college.

Like Sterne, who boasted that his pen governed him, Burns praised and affected the impromptu:

But how the subject theme may gang,
Let time or chance determine;
Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps turn out a sermon.

His Muse was to be the mood of the moment. Herein he brought to fulfillment the sentimental desire for the liberation of the emotions; but his work, taken as a whole, can scarcely be said to vindicate the faith that the emotions, once freed, would manifest instinctive purity. At his almost unrivalled best, he can sing in the sweetest strains the raptures or pathos of innocent youthful love, as in Sweet Afton or To Mary in Heaven; but straightway sinking from that elevation of feeling to the depths of vulgarity or grossness, he will chant with equal zest and skill the indulgence of the animal appetites.* He hails the joys of life, but without discriminating between the higher and the lower. Yet these exuberant animal spirits which, unrestrained by conscience or taste, drove him too often into scurrility, gave his work that passion-warm, throbbing, and personalwhich had been painfully wanting in earlier poets of sensibility. It was his emotional intensity as well as his lyric genius that made him the most popular poet of his time.

In Burns, sentimentalism was largely temperamental, unreflective, and concrete. In William Blake, the singularity of whose work long retarded its due appreciation, sentimentalism was likewise temperamental; but, unconfined to actuality, became far broader in scope, more spiritual, and more consistently philosophic. Indeed, Blake was the ultimate sentimentalist of the century. A visionary and

* In this edition, the poems of Burns, unlike those of the other poets, are printed not in the order of their publication but as nearly as ascertainable in that of their composition.

symbolist, he passed beyond Shaftesbury in his thought, and beyond any poet of the school in his endeavor to create a new and appropriate style. His contemporary, Erasmus Darwin, author of The Botanic Garden, was trying to give sentimentalism a novel interpretation by describing the life of plants in terms of human life; but, Darwin being destitute of artistic sense, the result was grotesque. Blake, by training and vocation an engraver, was primarily an artist; but, partly under Swedenborgian influences, he had grasped the innermost character of sentimentalism, perceived all its implications, and carried them fearlessly to their utmost bounds. To him every atom of the cosmos was literally spiritual and holy; the divine and the human, the soul and the flesh, were absolutely one; God and Man were only two aspects of pervasive "mercy, pity, peace, and love." Nothing else had genuine reality. The child, its vision being as yet unclouded by false teachings, saw the universe thus truly; and Blake, therefore, in Songs of Innocence, gave glimpses of the world as the child sees it,—a guileless existence amid the peace that passes all understanding. He hymned the sanctity of animal life: even the tiger, conventionally an incarnation of cruelty, was a glorious creature of divine mould; to slay or cage a beast was, the Auguries of Innocence protested, to incur anathema. The Book of Thel allegorically showed the mutual interdependence of all creation, and reprehended the maiden shyness that shrinks from merging its life in the sacrificial union which sustains the whole.

To Blake the great enemy of truth was the cold logical reason, a truncated part of Man's spirit, which was incapable of attaining wisdom, and which had fabricated those false notions that governed the practical world and constrained the natural feelings. Instances of the unhappiness caused by such constraint, he gave in Songs of Experience, where The Garden of Love describes the blighting curse which church law had laid upon free love. To overthrow intellectualism and discipline, Man must liberate his most precious faculty, the imagination, which alone can reveal the spiritual character of the universe and the beauty that life will wear when

the feelings cease to be unnaturally confined. Temporarily Blake rejoiced when the French Revolution seemed to usher in the millennium of freedom and peace; and his interpretation of its earlier incidents in his poem on that theme* illustrates in style and spirit the highly original nature of his mind. More than any predecessor he understood how the peculiarly poetical possibilities of sentimentalism might be elicited, namely by emphasizing its mystical quality. Thus under his guidance mysticism, which in the early seventeenth century had sublimated the religious poetry of the orthodox, returned to sublimate the poetry of the radicals; and with that achievement the sentimental movement reached its climax.

Burns died in 1796; Blake, lost in a realm of symbolism, became unintelligible; and temporarily sentimentalism suffered a reaction. The French Revolution, with its Reign of Terror, and the rise of a military autocrat, though supported, even after Great Britain had taken up arms against Napoleon, by some "friends of humanity" who placed universal brotherhood above patriotism, seemed to the general public to demonstrate that the sentimental theories and hopes were untrue to life and led to results directly contrary to those predicted. Once again, in Canning's caustic satires of The Anti-Jacobin, conservatism raised its voice. But by this time sentimentalism was too fully developed and widely spread to be more than checked. Under the new leadership of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey, the movement, chastened and modified by experience, resumed its progress; and the fame of its new leaders presently dimmed the memory of those pioneers who in the eighteenth century had undermined the foundations of orthodoxy, slowly upbuilt a new world of thought, gradually fashioned a poetic style more suited to their sentiments than the classical, and thus helped to plunge the modern world into that struggle which, in life and in literature, rages about us still. ERNEST BERNBAUM

*The French Revolution was suppressed at the time, and has been recovered only in our own day by Dr. John Sampson, who first published it in the admirable Clarendon Press edition of Blake.




If Heaven the grateful liberty would give,
That I might choose my method how to live;
And all those hours propitious fate should lend,
In blissful ease and satisfaction spend.


Near some fair town I'd have a private seat,
Built uniform, not little, nor too great:
Better, if on a rising ground it stood;
Fields on this side, on that a neighbouring wood.
It should within no other things contain,
But what are useful, necessary, plain:
Methinks 'tis nauseous, and I'd ne'er endure,
The needless pomp of gaudy furniture.
A little garden, grateful to the eye;
And a cool rivulet run murmuring by,
On whose delicious banks a stately row
Of shady limes, or sycamores, should grow.
At th' end of which a silent study placed,
Should with the noblest authors there be graced :
Horace and Virgil, in whose mighty lines
Immortal wit, and solid learning, shines;
Sharp Juvenal and amorous Ovid too,
Who all the turns of love's soft passion knew:
He that with judgment reads the charming lines,
In which strong art with stronger nature joins,
Must grant his fancy does the best excel;
His thoughts so tender, and expressed so well:


With all those moderns, men of steady sense,
Esteemed for learning, and for eloquence.
In some of these, as fancy should advise,
I'd always take my morning exercise:
For sure no minutes bring us more content,
Than those in pleasing useful studies spent.


I'd have a clear and competent estate,
That I might live genteelly, but not great:
As much as I could moderately spend;
A little more, sometimes t' oblige a friend.
Nor should the sons of poverty repine

At fortune's frown, for they should taste of mine;
And all that objects of true pity were,

Should be relieved with what my wants could spare;
For what our Maker has too largely given,
Should be returned in gratitude to Heaven.
A frugal plenty should my table spread,
With healthy, not luxurious, dishes fed;
Enough to satisfy, and something more,
To feed the stranger, and the neighb'ring poor.
Strong meat indulges vice, and pampering food
Creates diseases, and inflames the blood.
But what's sufficient to make nature strong,
And the bright lamp of life continue long,
I'd freely take, and as I did possess,
The bounteous Author of my plenty bless.


I'd have a little cellar, cool and neat,
With humming ale and virgin wine replete.
Wine whets the wit, improves its native force,
And gives a pleasant flavour to discourse;
By making all our spirits debonair,
Throws off the lees and sediment of care.
But as the greatest blessing Heaven lends
May be debauched, and serve ignoble ends;
So, but too oft, the grape's refreshing juice
Does many mischievous effects produce.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »