Page images
PDF
EPUB

of circumstance, and a knowledge of the diversities of character, is invaluable to the Preacher; but the observation that obscures the Abstract, that pares down the Standard, that obtrudes the pettiness and poverty of the Actual upon our exhibitions of the Ideal, requiring them to be lowered, tamed, cut down, presenting men as they are, and the world as it is, to send the sudden chill of impracticableness and mockery through our loftier enthusiasm and purer hope, is the Enemy of Truth and Righteousness, and a corrupter of the Preacher. The Sympathy of the Pastor must not be permitted to obscure the Vision of the Prophet. Nor fear, nor doubt, nor the knowledge of men, must take the fire out of his heart. He must study men, only that he may the more effectually preach man. The wisdom of Hope is sometimes better than the wisdom of Experience.

The Pastor ought not to think that his proper opportunities are only the critical or more important moments of life and feeling; better perhaps that whatever influences he exerts should be as a preparation for these, and that minds should meet their most solemn moments in their own trusts and strength, not without sympathy when the time comes that the heart is ready for it, but not helplessly dependent on it. The office of the Pastor gives him the privileges of intercourse that belong to a friend, but unconscious, unaimed, unaccompanied with the intention of acting and speaking with a view to others, should be the general influence he exerts. Natural, unstudied, the suggestion of the unprompted heart and mind should be his intercourse. What becomes of the Humility, or of the Truthfulness of the man who has the idea constantly before him, that all that he says and does must be with a view to the benefit of others ? What nature will retain its freshness and genuineness with such a sentinel purpose standing watch at the fountain head of its being? It would ruin and render insufferable any mind. If a genuine man freely acting out his own nature and coming into contact with other natures, liberated from worldly anxieties that no outward obstacle may impede his moral being, becomes, as opportunity serves, a useful, instructive, and elevating friend, enjoying perhaps, special advantages for separating the Real and Essential from the accidental disturbances of circumstance; such an influence is most legitimate, healthy, both to the giver and the receiver; this should be the Pastor's largest and favourite field. He may be introduced into recesses when the need comes, if his presence is required and grateful; but let him not look for these ; let them look for, and come to him; let him live for Character, for his own first, leaving it to emit freely whatever influences it is fitted to give : let him strive within for enlightenment of view, for purity of moral estimates, for freedom from narrow biasses, for elevation of tastes, and then let nature be truthful to itself, and unfold itself before others in their sympathies and circumstances, exactly as it is. If he is fitted to benefit them, he will do so by bringing forth all that is in him, in this freedom and simplicity of action. How can he serve Character but by moving through Society simply true to the noblest and gentlest inspirations of his own? Opportunities will open for the exercises of its strongest influences, if he has such at command, and other hearts accord to him such privilege. The vicissitudes of experience, and the perils of Character, will find employment for the utmost range of his sympathies, if the universal sympathies of a true-hearted man are his. By the unhappy, by the bereaved, at death-beds, at the departure of worldly fortune, by the sin-stricken and world-deserted, by all who need the light of Eternal Truth to pierce the cloud of passing circumstance, his power will be acknowledged, if such power he has—if it is the privilege, not of his office, but of his nature, and belongs to him of right.

J. H. T.

ART. V.-ON THE POETRY OF KEATS AND SHEL

LEY.

KEATS. If it were supposed that the union of these two names indicated an impression that a parity in the claims to admiration existed between the possessors of them, the mere accidents perhaps of association, in an individual mind, would be made to speak an unjust criticism.

Had Shelley died at twenty-four, as poor Keats did, they might perhaps, with greater justice, have been classed together as brothers in accomplishment as they were brothers in promise. But the six eventful years of mental life, between twenty-four and thirty, which were denied to Keats, to Shelley were extended; and the consequent maturity of thought, and command of power, attained to by the latter, have given him that indisputable superiority which the younger and less-formed genius of Keats could only have rivalled as the bud may rival the flower, by that which it may possibly contain enfolded within itself.

Though most unequal, therefore, in developed power, they may yet be classed together as united, in the intense poetry of their nature, in the enthusiasm of their young hopefulness for man, and in that unfailing source of mournful interest,—their early deaths. He that has stood beside the pyramid of Cestius, as it casts its protecting shadow on the lowly beds of the departed, and-amidst longer epitaphs and more sounding titles that keep watch over the exile ashes of that burial-place at Rome-has lingered, with an almost exclusive interest, on the short “ Cor cordium” of Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the rending melancholy of the plaint, “Here lies one whose name was writ in water," of the early-stricken Keats, will never feel at a loss to account for the associations which, even were there less resemblance between them than there is, would keep those two names for ever united in his memories of the gone, and form a tie between them which he finds to be indissoluble. ..

In selecting these two Poets from the mass of those with which our land has been honoured and been blessed, many of whom have equal, some of whom have infinitely greater, claims upon our gratitude and admiration, we distinctly disclaim that miserable spirit of criticism which compares and contrasts Poets and Poems, not so much for the sake of illustrating their individual properties and peculiarities as for that of assigning an in

tie in select Landh, some adi

dividual rank and position to each, above some and below others, and cannot be content with contemplating them except as rivals

and caprs. tearth of genero in which gent app
"There is a glorious varieties, which cannot admiratio

There is a dearth of generous sympathy, and a hard ingratitude for the glorious varieties in which genius developes itself, in that partizanship of Poetry, which cannot appreciate without depreciating, and that ever encumbers its admiration in one quarter, with an expression of disapprobation in another, that has its twofold division of the good Poets and the bad; or, if animated by a very keen spirit of justice, its graduated scale of measured praise and blame. As though in the infinite variety of human minds to be addressed, there was to be no variety in the minds addressing, or as though any one mind, whatever might be the prevailing character of its moods and states, did not vary immensely in itself, and therefore, varying in its tastes and wants, vary also in its judgments.

It is no exaggeration to say that there does not exist the man upon earth who is competent to the task of properly appreciating the entire Poetry of any one country,- of any at least that has been at all prolific in productions of this nature, for the simple reason, that there can be no man possessing that universality of feeling and of thought to which the universality of Poetry appeals. Poetry is a light into every heart, and may shine from one quarter or another upon every period of life or state of mind; and to select one of these hearts, or one of these periods, for pronouncing a judgment on that which is to minister to every heart and every period, and which never therefore, in its own nature, can be looked upon from any one point of view, is of necessity to make that a ground of its depreciation, which is its chief glory, and highest claim to praise.

Poetry is not the less such because it appeals to a class of sentiments which does not exist in many bosoms, nor is it necessarily the more such, because it appeals to a class which exists in most. It may develope recondite feelings, and address itself to few minds; it may develope more obvious and general feelings, and address itself to many minds, and still be Poetry.

The admirer, and yet I should not say the admirer,–because I imagine there are few men of taste and poetic appreciation who are not his admirers,—but the partizan of Scott, looks up in puzzled wonderment at the partizan of Shelley or of Wordsworth; and the partizan of Shelley or Wordsworth, in the supposed superior elevation of his position, looks with a kind of compassionate contempt upon the partizan of Scott, as a man unadmitted to the Mysteries, and whose taste is of the earth.

We may sympathize with one who prefers, but let us never sympathize with one who despises, any one of the accepted Poets of our Land. The prevailing temperament of an individual may incline him to one class of Poetic sentiment rather than to another; but to condemn, as unpoetic, any other class, should it command the homage of a number of hearts, is an act from which the truest poetic temperament would revolt. That temperament is in one of its highest manifestations when it is most extended and vivid in its sympathies; in one of its lowest when it is limited and confined.

Give me the man who can amble sociably by the side of the quiet Cowper, or float along the stream of Goldsmith's liquid and good-natured numbers, or course onward with the impetuous steeds of Byron and of Scott; who can feel "Young's Night Thoughts' in the Night of his soul, or rest on the manly might of Milton in his mind's maturity; and who, from ten years old to the day of Death, has sworn and kept eternal fealty to Shakspeare; and that man I love to listen to, as the real and true appreciator of Poetry,—as one who, though he be buried in the luxuriance of Spenser, bethinks him of the polish of the academic Gray, and, in his maturer tastes, forgets not his earlier loves. It would be a mockery to compare with him the man whose constant prate is about some single Poet,whose expression is for ever, “ Oh! but Wordsworth! Oh! but Byron !” and whose one-idead mawkishness is a proof that the germ of poetic temperament is even unconceived within his nature.

Byron was never less the Poet than when he was most the Satirist; and the narrowness which, from youth and bitter feeling, failed to perceive in Scott, or Moore, or Wordsworth, or many more, the gift and the spirit of poesy, most fortunately passed away, or it would have blighted him for ever. For that narrowness, mark how he increased in Penitence as he increased in Poetry. Generosity has as much to do with Taste as it has to do with character; and he is not of narrower sympathies among citizens, who can only appreciate one pursuit or one style of character, than he is among critics, whose admiration is limited by his school, and whose heart knows no friendships except such as are within the limits of his Poetic sect.

It is in this spirit that we should greet the productions of such men as Shelley and Keats; as, in graphic reality, not comparable to the favoured ones of Scott; or, in passionate and vital reality, not comparable to the favoured ones of Byron; but as possessing merits entirely their own, peculiarities of excellence unshared,—as expressive of feelings less common, but not less real, than those delineated by other Poets, and as assuming and

« PreviousContinue »