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as our own.
fervour and poetic genius, so moving and melodious,arrows of the spirit anointed so potently from the tissues of their own conscious being,—that entering, they must deeply thrill the heart of the sinner and the worshipper, so long as sinners and worshippers there shall be to take these inspired words upon their lips.
Living and dead then, we have a very host of poets of our own age,—the greater and the less, -witnesses indubitable to the falsehood of the theory, that advancing time as it leads on the march of science must narrow the realm and lower the rank of the poet.
We might have cited instances innumerable from foreign countries, but surely our own affords a sufficiently ample catalogue. Nor is even this quite complete. Others live to whom we still look for greater and better works than they have yet produced. And across the Atlantic there are writers by whom the title of poet has been fairly earned, and who, using our own language, we are wont to think of
Two at least we may mention,-Bryant, whose compositions are few, but some of them truly graceful, and others evincing power; and the more productive Longfellow, whose harmonious numbers seem sometimes like the wild airs of an Æolian harp, or broken melodies borne upon the night-wind, or the echoes of some sweet symphony lost floating over crested waves. If his Evangeline had been written in any other metre, it might have been an immortal poem; and even as it is, the awkwardness of the metre escapes you as you read, and light and beauty gather round the page. This poem, like many others, exhibits the untraversed regions of song remaining still, regions absolutely boundless,—where human history is the subject, and all creation the theatre of action, which the poet may deal with as he will.
The name of one venerated man we have omitted from the above list of our modern poets, because we look upon him more as a man of poetic temperament, than as, properly speaking, a poet, although he has written some few lines of real beauty. The friend and frequent host of Coleridge, Wordsworth, Godwin, Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt, Talfourd, and others of well-known names, with a character more interesting than any, and a genius almost more singular, Charles Lamb claims attention, rather as the
author of the Essays of Elia, than as the writer of a fragmentary tragedy and a few sonnets. In his own line he can never be surpassed; his wit and humour, his quick and delicate sensibility, his large and everflowing sympathies, the vein of tender pathos that ran through his most beautiful thoughts, said or written,—the mixture of manhood's intellect with childhood's innocence, the quaint sweetness and ineffable grace that invested his whole character, have given him a position in the literary world, isolated and remarkable; and while we cannot well class him with our poets, we could not pass, without a comment, one so eminently poetical in taste and temperament.-And when we turn from his works to his life, this judgment only gains strength. His self-devotion there was heroic, and yet calmly veiled; it bore the true ideal stamp; and, beside a selfish ungenuine man like Coleridge, he rises up a phenix of light and glory, and one true line of some simple verse of his, carries more poetic inspiration with it to the reader, than all that Coleridge, in his three volumes, has left behind. Unfortunately for mankind, Lamb's very failing connects him with the poet race. For though there have been many bright excep
. tions, many whom we have mentioned, and others whom we have not, bore or bear the character of men of selfindulgent habits. The many exceptions, especially in latter days, prove the weakness we allude to, to be not inseparable from poetical genius, which it so sadly blights and mars. Lamb had excuses to which none else can lay claim. One purpose the presence of this weakness seems, at all events, to answer to the outlying world. It draws an almost certain line of severance between those who may and those who may not be open to the direct inspirations of God. We cannot believe that the Father would ever continue consciously to breathe high and divine thoughts into the mind that had freely surrendered its own dignity, and yielded up the energy of will to the pressing inclination of the hour. In occasional bursts of sincere repentance He might not withhold His love, but in cases of habitual weakness, we cannot suppose Him to assist with His awakened thought, the native genius He has given. Here He must act only in general laws—at a distance from the poet's mind. Hereby we learn what wonderful resources the mind has, in itself, and in the general laws under which it acts and moves ; how the love of beauty can be cultivated, and the imagination enriched, and the feelings of the heart cherished, while still the noblest aid of God is absent. So we may give our truest love, and withhold our truest veneration ; for we cannot choose but love all human capacities in themselves attractive,-themselves heavenly gifts; and yet we cannot look without pity and censure upon sin; and self-indulgence in the poet, whether in the grossest form of sensuality, or in the lesser one of intemperance, is not to be excused and smiled away, because passion is strong, or sensation vivid.
And if we turn from Byron or Burns, Coleridge Campbell, to Shelley or to Wordsworth, or go back to Milton, we find at once that we have entered on a diviner element of being. We think we see in Shelley the direct inspiration of the beautiful, and perhaps that alone. He was singularly devoid (as we have noticed in a former article) of that religious reverence which gives harmony to creation and unity to life; but he had a. pure and guileless soul, and lived by the light that was in him, though a wandering and mystic life it was.
His intellect was peculiar; his character was incomplete; but he was full of noble enthusiasm to serve mankind, and was not given up to sensual indulgences or selfish pleasures; he was a wrongheaded, but pure-hearted, man; and the fervour of his indignation at injustice and wrong was expressed (as in his Adonais) with a brilliancy and power that we can think nothing less than inspired.— With Wordsworth we are upon firmer ground. Of a contemplative and quiet nature, no one can deny, we think, that his poetical gifts, (so to designate the natural faculty) are decidedly, if not greatly, inferior to any of the four poets above mentioned. Had he had the language of Byron, or the sensibility of Burns, or the imagination of either Coleridge or Campbell
, his works would, perhaps, be less voluminous than they are, but certainly more inspiring. And had his life been less innocent and holy, unquestionably we should have none of those beautiful passages of elevated sentiment, which he has thrown off, here and there, in a rapt hour of religious musing or prophetic vision. When other poets of this kind arise, with finer powers and more impassioned soul, walking his round of thought, and cleaving strenuously to his dignity of life, the golden age of poetry will dawn. It may, perhaps, be said that this is impossible; that the very excellences of the poets we most admire arise from that very constitution of their nature, which also works them mischief; but this, we affirm, is a non sequitur: that those excellences arise out of a constitution that promises or ensures temptation, we may admit, but nothing more: between temptation and habitual sin there is a great gulph fixed, and till we surrender up our deep conviction of man's freedom of will, we will never grant that the greatest poet may not be also a self-restrained, a chaste and temperate man. Genius was given for a great end—the uplifting of the human race towards the sublime perfection of the Unseen,—and we can never believe that God intended it to create the most exquisite delight for the intellect, and leave the moral and spiritual nature unedified and unimproved. The Deity, who is ever teaching us how to turn the forces of nature and the physical powers of man to the most account, cannot regard with complacency the perversion of our noblest mental powers; cannot but desire to see the imagination which conceives the beautiful and sublime, the fancy which lays hold of the finest combinations and the subtlest relations of ideas within or realities without us, and the affections which maintain a perennial flow in the human heart, employed to educate holy feeling, to strengthen moral principle, and lift up man to the true appreciation of his natural worth and his immortal destiny. If Religion is to be an agency of good in the world at all, it must be turned into every channel of powerful influence, and there is none broader or deeper than that of poetry.
That Poetry will become a noble channel of religious influence we firmly believe; that it is becoming so already we have more than one proof before us, albeit only advances towards that which shall be.—Some of these are the volumes cited at the head of this article, and, first, “The Saint's Tragedy,” by Mr. Kingsley, a clergyman of the Church of England. It forms, perhaps, the most valuable addition to our dramatic poetry that it has received for many years. We are aware, however, that this is not saying much in its praise, for with the exception of Coleridge's translations from Schiller, and his fine tragedy of “Remorse," Shelley's “Cenci," and the dramas of Byron, Mr. Justice Talfourd's “Ion," and a few plays of some merit by Mrs. Joanna Baillie, there has been no dramatic production of any kind in our times claiming the attention of the literary student. For even “The Lady of Lyons, perhaps one of the best of Sir E. L. Bulwer Lytton's writings, and remarkable for its dramatic effect, is rather interesting on the stage than valuable in the library.—“The Saint's Tragedy' is a work of quite another character; and by its very nature, its length, its class of incidents, the serious thought and deep feeling scattered through its pages, is quite unsuited, as it was evidently undesigned, for public representation. We mean, of course, by this no disparagement to theatrical performances: we are grateful to all who endeavour to raise the moral influence and dignity of the stage, for we are disposed to believe that it might be made a powerful instrument for educating and refining the public taste; but it will at once be confessed that the aspirations of religion are too sacred to be shouted into the public ear: for ourselves we must say that even where these are not approached, words are sometimes uttered on the stage that it is painful to hear there; not because they are not noble and beautiful expressions of what the mind thinks or the heart feels, but because they are concerned with thoughts and emotions whose natural privacy should never be violated. This feeling may arise from the English reserve under which we are educated, but still it must carry some weight with it, belonging as it does to the most cultivated and refined.
Mr. Kingsley's tragedy is the deeply interesting drama of a religious life. Though our concern now is with it only as a poem, we may fairly give an opinion upon the characters, which seem to us admirably conceived and sustained : they prove that the author has not studied in vain either human nature in general, nor the times and persons of which he writes in particular. The character of Elizabeth, Princess of Hungary and Landgravine of Thuringia —the subject of the piece—the saint of the Tragedy-is an
* We recommend to the notice of our readers the admirable Preface by Professor Maurice.
CHRISTIAN TEACHER.—No. 47.