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things in the Church should be made to rest; for much more harm has been done by means of things which have been allowed to creep in through want of vigilance, than by wrong practices consciously or intentionally introduced. In these things, as well as in doctrinal matters, it is while men slumber and sleep that the tares are sown among the wheat; and when they are sown it may be impossible to root them
without destroying some portion of the wheat also. God alone must be the object of our worship. Everything that tends to solemnize our thoughts in coming or leads directly to Him in our acts of worship, is good; everything that obscures or turns away from Him—be it the workings of our own mind—be it the ministering priest—be it forms or ceremonies—all, in so far as they do this, are wrong, and easily pass into sin, and sin of the highest kind, viz., IDOLATRY.
ART. II.—The Waldenses ; or, the Fall of Rora. A Lyrical
Sketch; with other Poems. By AUBREY DE VERE. Oxford:
J. H. Parker. 1842. 2. The Search after Proserpine, Recollections of Greece, ana
other Poems. By AUBREY DE VERE. Oxford : J. H. Parker. 1843.
WE took the opportunity, in a former number, of noticing some of the most prevalent errors in the modern school of religious poetry. We there endeavoured to show how far it was wise to admit poetry into the precincts of religion, and upon what distinct conditions. We are now recalled to the subject by the first of the two volumes which stand at the head of this article; and we shall again attempt briefly to develope those principles, according to which it seems reasonable to reviewsuch poems. The same remarks are hardly applicable to the second of the two volumes, as the title-page indicates a different fount of inspiration than the Oxford Tracts; there is, however, a unity of design in the two volumes that will render the observations which may be made upon one not wholly inapplicable to the other.
We, therefore, purpose to consider the principal poems separately; as our imaginary standard will have then been declared, and the criticism of the different poems will stand or fall with the principles which we shall attempt to enunciate.
This seems the only just and reasonable method of reviewing poetry; it sweeps away at once all those dogmatical flipyoung, enthu
pancies which so infallibly either disgust or mislead the reader; and it elevates poetical criticism into a higher region than the day-dreams and idiosyncrasies of a reviewer. To apply this method to all poetry would be impossible, as there are many metrical performances which approximate so nearly to utter worthlessness, that no standard could be found sufficiently low. With such, however, we have here nothing to do; we leave books of such a character to those who have more time, patience, and temper than ourselves.
We turn cheerfully to such productions as those of Mr. De Vere, as, amid much that is crude, single-sided, and defective, there runs a strong clear current of those feelings which inseparably belong to the character of a Christian gentleman. The little scrolls, crosses, capitals, tracery, and tabernaclework which are prefixed to the greater number of poems in the first volume tell their own tale in their own harmless way. They at once announce the writer to be siastic, and full of those thoughts which cling lovingly round the foliating orders of a Gothic niche; they also prepare us to meet with allusions to topics and sentiments which seem as strange in their present position as the Sun-God among the herdsmen of Thessaly.
Upon this point we will state a few principles, which will be equally applicable to all poems of a religious nature, and perhaps may be useful in forming an estimate of Mr. De Vere's first volume.
To begin, then. If we acquiesce in the modern division of poetry into subjective and objective, it will not take much difficulty to prove that religious poetry, when exhibiting exclusively the features of either class, will present to the mind a painful and distorted appearance. As we have, in a former number, attempted to point out how far religious poetry may advance in these two great divisions, we purpose, in the present case, to point out the different, yet equally dangerous effects, that inseparably attend on an extreme devotion to either side.
If we consider, first, subjective poetry, we shall readily appreciate the peculiarities this school must necessarily introduce into religious feelings. It is the most seductive, and probably the most dangerous, as it turns the eyes inwardly upon the soul, until, in the intentness of self-contemplation, all external influences are forgotten. Self-examination is, indeed, the first and last duty of every mind. Deep, silent, and solitary contemplations are the best incentives to true religion; and the power of exercising them is among the greatest gifts bestowed on us by the Author of all good. But these differ widely from that morbid gaze on our own passions and emotions which has been lately so apparent in the graver writings of the day. It is but little different from the unruffled quietism that a well-. known writer has assigned to the influence of opium. Hours might pass away, and the entranced opium-eater was still gazing on the busy fishing-town and the calm sea beyond, in contemplations as aimless as the shadows that were crossing the landscape. There seems to have been a species of mental antagonism that produced passive neutrality, as silence is said to be nowhere more intense than behind the waters of Niagara. Such a state of mind is most deplorable in all the common duties of life : melancholy theories usurp the place of cheerful practice, and, instead of peace and life, bring with them the hopelessness and languor of death. We do not remember any passage in which evils of this peculiar system are more touchingly depicted than the following noble lines from “ The Castle of Indolence.” The poet is mainly alluding to this aimless introspection, as far as it casts its shadows over human energies, although the sentiments equally apply to the overclouding of those nobler feelings which we are now more exclusively discussing:
- To noontide shades incontinent he ran,
Where purls the brook with sleep-inviting sound;
But with the clouds they fled, and left no trace behind." If such be the evils attendant on this system, when considered simply with reference to the ends and aims of this present life, what shall be said of it when it may seem to intercept and embarrass us in our pathway to eternity ? And it is impossible to doubt that it does stand between us and the light; for when we consider how seductive is that reference of all thoughts and feelings to the secret judgment-seat of our own minds, without appeal to any higher tribunal-how flattering to pride that power of clothing all external events with the investiture of our own dreamy imaginations—we can no longer doubt that the peculiar punishment of such self-concentration may be what a most miserable man sang of himself—to be pursued, Acteonlike, by a fierce horde of in-born thoughts. In a word, the subjective principles of the present day tend to make us forget that we are members of one common body, and sons of one mother—the Catholic Church of Christ. We find ourselves solitary, self-occupied beings, treading wearily over the wilderness of life, unsupported by the consolation and society of the other members of our great Christian family. The necessity for this union and fellowship has been enforced by the author of the “ Rectory of Valehead,” in such simple and expressive language that we cannot forbear from quoting the passage :
“ As the subject maintains connexion with his king through the links of society above-mentioned, so the individual with Christ through the corresponding bonds of the Church. He cannot for a moment consider himself isolated, and independent of the next link above him-his family; nor that family deem itself unconnected with the next superior bond—the congregation.”—Rectory of Valehead, p. 12.
This is enough to dissuade us from unknitting those bonds with which we are so lovingly bound, and dissolving an union which God himself has authorized. It is for these reasons that we declare ourselves so openly against the whole school of subjective poetry upon religious topics. Our impression is, that the effect is, in all cases, to give prominence to individual feeling, and to tinge all things with the pale and sickly hues of private thought. Every one, as we have before said, must deeply search into the inward state of his mind; but it should be only with a view of correcting the inherent evils and errors, and not of musing languidly upon them, or bringing them, in all their meretricious adornment, to the half-pitying, half-admiring gaze of the world. The current of sound and healthful sorrow does not mingle with the brackish waters of introspective sentimentality. Moreover, such wayward dreamy fancies are doubly destructive, as they do not only bring disease and morbid longings to those minds that unhappily give themselves up to their influence, but most commonly present peculiar allurements to the susceptible minds of others. The young are frequently drawn irresistibly into the magic circle, and find a melancholy pleasure in contemplating the mournful imagery presented to them, when they should be devoting every energy to the acquisition of a knowledge that has the eternal attributes
of cheerfulness and peace. It is on this principle that we object to certain portions of the “Christian Year:" it is, perhaps, difficult to conceive any book, of the same number of poems on strictly religious subjects, with so little to find fault with: it is our constant companion, and deservedly merits all the praises that have been bestowed on it. Still we would not be like the blind Balbinus, who found pleasure in the deformity of his mistress; we would rather honestly bestow both censure and commendation, and not omit notice of what is bad because we keenly appreciate what is good. Thus we unhesitatingly express our disapproval of the following stanza in the “ Christian Year:" —
Spring should be gay and glad :
weariness were death."
Third Sunday after Easter. We here fully acknowledge the exceeding beauty of these lines, and admit that, in the next stanza, a sort of corrective is applied ; but still, at the risk of being considered cold, prosaic, and practical, we condemn in itself the very melancholy pathos that is, perhaps, their greatest charm. Such expressions would be sufficiently appropriate to the lament of an exiled lover, where the appearances of joy and gladness in the external world are in dissonance with the melancholy longings within ; in fact, the lover of Geraldine has adopted the same sort of ideas, in a description of Spring, wherein “eche thing renewes saue onely the lover”
“ And thus I se among these pleasant things,
Eche care decayes, and yet my sorow springs." Under such circumstances they may be suitable enough, but, even if accompanied with a sort of disapproval, they inevitably tend, by their suggestion, to weaken the principles of true Christian sorrow. That should be a sorrow for by-gone sins, till, as Jeremy Taylor says, “the very heart-strings crack, and not the feeble and inarticulate wailings of earthly grief. This spurious melancholy forms so great a feature in some of the inferior religious poetry of the present day, that we strongly advise all who feel themselves enchained by such imagery to
VOL. XVI. -D