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ART. III.—A CRITICAL HISTORY OF THE LAN. GUAGE AND LITERATURE OF ANTIENT GREECE.
A Critical History of the Language and Literature of Antient Greece. By William Mure, of Caldwell. Vols. 1-3. London: Longmans. 1850.
THE Poet and the Poet-lover, are certainly very different persons from the critic and the critic-lover. The former bear to the latter the same relation that the spiritualist or religious man does to the Theologian, or the accomplished Physician to the skilful Anatomist and operator. Judgment is essential to perfection in the originator, but the perfect originator will not be fond of judging. The creative and the critical faculties, though the existence of the last be necessary to the perfection of the first, never find co-ordinate expression, without being mutually injurious. The great Poet must be a great Critic, but he sits in judgment on others for his own benefit, not for theirs, or for that of the public. He treasures up the results of his judgment, but he does not express them-except in the indirect way which occasions his avoidance of some things, and his cultivation of others, in his own works. In the proportion in which Aristotle was the Prince of Critics, and Homer the Prince of Poets, would one have found it impossible to be the other. This would not prevent Aristotle from writing Poetry, or Homer from pronouncing his opinion on the defects and excellences of past or contemporaneous poetry. The existence of a certain amount of power in these directions would be essential to the perfection of the specific genius of each, but a large expression of this power in either direction, must have injured completeness in the other. Horace is one of the few great Poets who has signalized himself as a publishing Critic of Poetry; and even in him, the criticism which he offers seems to confirm the general truth of these remarks, because it was more a self-revelation than anything else -a declaration of those rules which he felt should regulate his own judgment and action as a Poet, and which (having
evolved them for his own use) he was thus enabled to apply to the critical measure of others. The poetical faculty then must exist in the successful critic, and the critical faculty in the successful poet, but they must be entirely subordinate to the more absorbing and specific object of each—and seek but a secondary expression: for the poetical temperament is averse to critical employment, inasmuch as this employment is the opposite to itself, is eminently uncreative, and lives upon the life of others. Thus the two faculties, in great prominence, destroy each other. As Southey began to write more reviews, he necessarily began to write fewer poems. He thought it was because the fire of his youth was cooling by the progress of time: it was really, because from necessity he had been calling into exercise a set of faculties and feelings, which were counteractive, and, indeed, eventually destructive of poetry. No doubt the observer might have seen the marks of the critical faculty in full play upon the brow and mouth of Shakespeare, as he listened to some Drama of another author, but the expression which his judgment found, was in the indirect, but positive form of his own Plays. Even the clever scenes of the actors and the introduced play in Hamlet," in which the Poet is the critic, we feel to be something of a trespass upon the idealism of the rest. Poor Byron was never less a Poet-had the genial, all-embracing, all-apprehending spirit of a Poet never lessthan when he thought himself most of a critic. Thus therefore in all past time, and we suppose in all future, the great poets will stand on one shelf, the great critics on another.
Obvious as this distinction has ever practically been, it has to be much more widely applied than it has hitherto been, before the principle it involves will be fully understood. It lies at the root of many of the mistakes that some men are now making, and many of the sorrows that other men are now suffering, in the region of religious thought. Foreseeing the certainty of many of these, unless provided against, we have long been earnestly deprecating the tendency to confound critical with real theology -the subject-matter of religion with the science of its exposition. While we have observed writer after writer
placing the whole burden, the very existence, of religion upon the authenticity, genuineness, and inspiration of a certain collection of books, admitting, nay asserting with all the intensity of entire conviction, that there was no communion of the Spirit of God with man, no revelation made to his soul, no certainty in duty, no assurance of immortality, unless these books proceeded from the exact age and quarter, and in the exact manner predicated— we always lamented the rashness of this folly, and trembled for the result in matters of the highest possible moment to man. We saw in these critical questions much most importantly connected with the subject-matter of religion, but much more that was entirely separate and distinct from it. We never rested the existence of religion on their settlement, one way or the other. We were ready to meet, to avail ourselves of, and to consider the results, whatever they might be, for the service, the advancement, and the better assurance of religion, but never to subject religion to them. We saw that the logical faculty was not the only portion of our nature that was to be consulted in the matter of religion, and therefore were by no means prepared to adopt in their solitariness and isolation, the apparent results of pure reason, and would not consent to stake the issue upon them. We saw that many present conceptions of religion, our own among the number, might be liable to considerable modifications, according to the issue of several of the critical questions under consideration, and we were prepared to consider those results, and to receive them in as far as they were well-founded, but we could not believe that any questions of literary evidence involved the essence of religion. If the conclusions arrived at were according to the received assumptions, they might confirm the received conception of religion as connected with, and dependent upon literary documents and evidence; if they were not, our conception of religion would have to undergo modification, according to the character of the new elements of judgment. We wished, therefore, to make use of the critical faculty and the fruits of its exercise, as of the purely logical faculty and its results, but certainly not to place the existence and the doctrines of religion at their absolute control, so that these
were annihilated if the critical and logical conclusions reached, as regarded the authenticity and inspiration of the Scriptures, were against existing impressions.
While therefore we witnessed the violence and alarm with which all critical investigations which seemed to throw doubt upon the received views of the Scriptures, were resisted, we observed with regret, that in this process the critical faculty was viewed with suspicion, lest it should destroy religion, and religion was looked upon with fear and doubt, lest it should be destroyed by the criticism. Even scholars divested themselves of that calmness and patience with which they should always regard critical inquiries, because they fell into the lamentable error of supposing that in attacking, as they called it, the Scriptures, that is, investigating (often it must be avowed in obedience to some most extravagant passion for a given hypothesis, and therefore in a very one-sided and untrustworthy spirit of excess) all the literary questions connected with the age, origin and character of the Scriptures, the critics were attacking the very principle, sentiment and authority of religion in human nature itself, and in the express providence of God. For our own part, we listened to everything with seriousness, as we would to anything issuing from any genuine department of human knowledge, but received nothing without a much more full and cautious investigation of the general questions at stake, than the limited province of the critic demanded of himself. We are sorry, therefore, but not surprised, to see men who had regarded the truth of religion as depending on the truth of certain of their own critical notions, sadly shaken in the foundations of their religious belief. The simple result, however, of these inquiries, as far as they can be certainly affirmed, (and it is an incontestible result,) is the shifting off of religion from its entire dependence upon the absolute inspiration, or even authenticity, of any documents, and placing those documents in the much truer position of instruments to be used by religion, and existing for her service-they in fact depending for their value on religion, not religion (except incidentally) on them. Religion, therefore, was to take them for what they were, not for what they were not.
The recent controversy on the real age, value and au
thenticity of the Scriptures, has partaken something of the nature of one that we might suppose, for illustration, to exist in medical science, in which the Physician should declare that he had always understood such and such to be the facts and phenomena of the human frame, that the whole science of healing, not merely as at present practised, but in itself and necessarily, depended on these facts and phenomena always continuing to be regarded as true; that if we ever ceased to regard them as true, the art of healing would be destroyed. And when there were at least some indications that these facts were not as he supposed, instead of simply investigating the nature and worth of these indications, he should resolutely deny them, and say that the Anatomist asserting the same, was an enemy to the health of man, to the medical profession, and the science of cure.
The real position of the Physician and his science is in truth far above this vulgar and degrading fear. His duty and glory is to make facts and truths, whatever they are, subservient to the great and essential object he has in view. It is not for him to fall down before anatomy, but for anatomy to afford assistance to him; and especially if there be reason to believe that any anatomical or physical facts have been loosely or incorrectly stated, and require investigation, he should be prepared to enter, on its own merits, and apart from the consideration of supposed consequences, into the question of actual fact. Anatomy is not to declare, "Certain facts, which I myself have supplied to you, are incorrect; I now offer you the results of other investigations in which I have since been engaged; they are inconsistent with your present mode of treating disease; therefore the art of healing is destroyed, and your pretended science is a fraud." But curative knowledge is to say, "I will consider these facts calmly, and on their own merits; I will consider them in connection with others which have not been included in your investigations; in as far as they are falsely or insufficiently supported I shall entirely or for the present reject them; in as far as they are true, or appear to have an element of truth in them, I shall be benefitted by the discovery of them, and endeavour to make them useful to me.”
This is the relation of the Divine to the Critic-and as