« PreviousContinue »
Since Poetry affords young persons an innocent pleasure, a taste for it, under certain limitations, should be indulged. Why should they be forbidden to expatiate, in imagination, over the flowery fields of Arcadia, in Elysium, in the Isles of the Blest, and in the Vale of Tempe? The harmless delight which they derive from Poetry, is surely sufficient to recommend an attention to it, at an age when pleasure is the chief pursuit, even if the sweets of it were not blended with utility.
If indeed pleasure were the ultimate object of Poetry, there are some who, in the rigor of austere wisdom, would maintain that the precious days of youth might be more advantageously employed than in cultivating a taste for it. obviate their objections, it is necessary to remind them, that Poetry has ever claimed the power of conveying instruction, in the most effectual manner, by the vehicle of pleasure.
There is reason to believe that many young persons of natural genius would have given very little attention to learning of any kind, if they had been introduced to it by books appealing only to their reason and judgement, and not to their fancy. Through the pleasant paths of Poetry they have been gradually led to the heights of science: they have been alluted, on first setting out, by the beauty of the scene presented to them, into a delightful land, flowing with milk and honey; where, after having been nourished like the infant at the mother's breast, they have gradually acquired strength enough to relish and digest the solidest food of philosophy.
This opinion seems to be confirmed by actual experience; for the greatest men, in every liberal and honorable profession, gave their early years to the charms of Poetry. Many of the most illustrious worthies in the church and in the state were allured to the land of learning by the song of the Muse; and
they would perhaps have never entered it, if their preceptors had forbidden them to lend an ear. Of so much consequence is the study of Poetry in youth to the general advancement of learning.
And as to morals, “ Poetry,” in the words of Sir Philip Sydney, “ doth not only show the way, but giveth so sweet a prospect of the way, as will entice
any man to enter into it; nay, the Poet doth, as if your journey should be “ through a fair vineyard, at the very first give you a cluster of grapes, that, “ full of that taste, you may long to pass farther. He beginneth not with ob“scure definitions, but he cometh to you with words set in delightful pro“portion, either accompanied with, or prepared for, the well-enchanting skill “ of music;—and with a tale ;-he cometh unto you with a tale, which holdeth “ children from play, and old men from the chimney corner. Even those hard“ hearted evil men, who think virtue a school-name, and despise the austere “ admonitions of the philosopher, and feel not the inward reasons they stand
upon, yet will be contented to be delighted; which is all the good fellow “ Poet seems to promise; and so steal to see the form of goodness; which seen “ they cannot but love, ere themselves be aware, as if they took a medicine of 66 cherries."
Thus Poetry, by the gentle, yet certain method of allurement, leads both to learning and to virtue. I conclude, therefore, that under a few self-evident restrictions, it is properly addressed to all young minds, in the course of a liberal education.
It must be confessed, at the same time, that many sensible men in the world, as well as in the schools of philosophy, have objected to an early study of it. They have thought that a taste for it interfered with an attention to what they call the MAIN CHANCE. What Poet ever fined for sheriff? says Oldham. It is seldom seen that any one discovers mines of gold and silver in Parnassus, says Mr. Locke. Such ideas have predominated in the exchange and in the warehouse; and, while they continue to be confined to those places, may perhaps, in some instances, be proper and advantageous. But they ought not to operate on the mind of the well-educated gentleman, or the man of a liberal profession; and indeed there is no good reason to be given why the mercantile classes, at least of the higher order, should not amuse their leisure with any pleasures of polite literature. Nothing perhaps contributes more to liberalise their minds and prevent that narrowness which is too often the consequence of a life attached, from the earliest age, to the pursuits of lucre.
That mere men of the world object to the study of Poetry as a part of education, is not to be wondered at, when it is considered that many, from want of natural sensibility, or from long habits of inattention to every thing but sor