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“ The use of this feigned history hath been to give some shadow of satisfaction to the mind of man on those points wherein the nature of things doth deny it, the mind being, in proportion, inferior to the soul; by reason whereof there is, agreeable to the spirit of man, a more ample greatness, a more exact goodness, and a more absolute variety, than can be found in the nature of things. Therefore, because the acts or events of true history have not that magnitude which satisfieth the mind of man, poesy feigneth acts and events greater and more heroical: because true history propoundeth the successes and issues of actions not so agreeable to the merit of virtue and vice, therefore poesy feigns them more just in retribution and more according to revealed providence; because history representeth actions and events more ordinary and less interchanged, therefore poesy endueth them with more rareness and more unexpected variations : so as it appeareth that poesy serveth and conferreth to magnanimity and delectation; and therefore it was even thought to have some participation of divineness, because it doth raise and erect the mind by submitting the shows of things to the desires of the mind; whereas reason doth buckle and bow the mind unto the nature of things.”-Lord Bacon.
RELATION OF POETRY TO
POETRY TO HISTORY,
SHAKSPEARE'S ENGLISH HISTORICAL PLAYS
THE study of History, like that of human nature, is full of
perplexities. The old world question, “ What is truth ?” may be repeated over and over again as we examine the confitting records of the past. The primary facts of History may be combined and grouped into endless varieties. History has been well compared to a child's box of letters, with which we can pick out such letters as we want and spell any word we please. Men see what they wish to see, and what they look for, they are sure to find. One pessimist historian, in surveying the past, can see nothing but horror and bloodshed, a battle of kites and crows, or a blindfolded dance of death. To that sneering, sarcastic and metaphysical spirit the whole course of the world is but the accident of events, a supreme ironic procession with the laughter of gods in the background.” One writer sees a special providence in every action and event, while another notices a sublime repose in the order and uniformity of nature and would agree with the philosophical historian, who says "that God moves through History as the giants of Homer through space—he takes a step and ages have rolled away.” One school of historical investigators determine the facts of history by physical causes alone; who ignore the soul, and regard man as only a complicated and variously endowed automaton, whose actions, mental as well as physical, are governed by laws like those which regulate the planets and the tides. It is not easy among so many speculations, various readings, and discrepancies of opinion, arising out of such an entangled and enormous mass of materials, to get at the real facts of history, to be sure that a fact is a fact, though the quarrel seems not so much about the facts as the interpretations of them. It is a sad confession of the weakness of reason, and of the imperfections underlying human language, that any fact or circumstance, however clear, may be rendered doubtful by a too subtle refine. ment of logical ingenuity. A great deal of History is written in the spirit, and after the manner in which Charles Austen has humorously described Macaulay's method.
"He (Macaulay) always had by him some black and white paint. When he described a Tory he put on the black paint; when a Whig the white." No wonder that the student of history is baffled and bewildered and often tempted to discard the study altogether, and to exclaim of these philosophical critics as King James did to the lawyers : “You lie so outrageously on all sides, that I can believe nothing.” But the student must not take the sceptical critic for his guide in seeking out and classifying facts, investigating their causes, and examining their consequences. It is better to have no guide than a blind or false one ; and he who is constantly mistrustful of truth will scarcely be able to find it. Never give credit to any historian, who evinces universal suspicion and scepticism, who discredits everything that is noble and believes all that is base, for the truth is not in him. An historian must bring his heart into his work as well as his head. If his mind, girded round with the iron bands of logic and hardened by the habit of rigid demonstration, lacks moral or spiritual enthusiasm, and those finer feelings by which we weigh the evidence of facts and the opinions of others, he will scarcely perceive those subtle laws which rule beneath the surface of social life. A man may be a good mathematician or logician, but having no sympathy with human nature or knowledge of the world, he cannot be a great historian or poet. Some critics have a universal solvent in which they decompose the records and traditions of the past and leave a residium of lies. They ignore probabilities; and Heroditus, the father of history, is summarily dismissed by them as the father of lies, and those beautiful stories interspersed in his narrative, such as Cleobis and Biton, Atys and Adrastus, Croesus, Psammenitus, &c., which once glowed with life and feeling, are like antique statues, dumb and cold, although beautiful in their dead immortality.
That “ blind old man of Scio's rocky isle,” who sang the lay of Troy—who has been called the father of all our modern poems, fables, and romances—he with all his gods and heroes vanish like spectres before the full glare of the light of science and common sense.
“ The intelligible forms of ancient poets,
The fair humanities of old religions,
It would be well for us to know, that the authors of our early mythologies and fables were men, who looked out upon
this wondrous world and strove to read the riddle thereof; they were poets and seers and possessed with the same spirit of humanity as ourselves. If we study history in the critical spirit of denial, how little will be left to us, and that residium will be comparatively worthless. A dry and barren record of events is not history, but chronology. Could we quench the poetry out of the Old Testament it would become as uninteresting as the Assyrian records, and it might be the history of another planet so little would it concern us. We have been taught, that as civilization advances poetry necessarily declines,* and that in the reign of common sense it will ultimately disappear. Heaven only knows what a dull world it would be with nothing but common sense in it. Your common sense man is generally a common place man, and everything to him is the same. He can see only with his eyes, or, as Thackeray expresses it, he has no head above his eyes. He knows nothing of the poet, who soars beyond his understanding. We have all heard of the mathematician who objected to Shakspeare because his works proved nothing. To such a man the words of Robert Hall fitly apply, “ Prove, sir; prove, sir. Why they prove that you are a fool, sir." We are apt in these prosaic days, after what little imagination the tax-gatherer has left us, to huddle poetry away into some remote corner of the heart, and nourish it in secret, as if we were ashamed of our weakness. The consequence is that our feelings become withered and our fantasy dried up. Shakspeare has described the “Poet's eye in fine frenzy rolling, glancing from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven." A celebrated physician describes the poetic frenzy as the result of diseased brain at a