Puslapio vaizdai
PDF
„ePub“

false metaphysics, the pretensions to infallible interpretations, the cant phrases, and the impotent intolerance which characterize the dwarfed and dwindled Puritanism of our own days, out of which all pith and manhood appear to have departed, who does not feel disposed to be tender to it for Cowper's gentle sake? However out of date the effort of the Tractarian may seem to you, to reproduce the piety of the past through the forms of the past, instead of striving, like a true prophet, to interpret the aspirations of the present in forms which shall truly represent and foster them, what man is there to whose heart Keble has not shown that in Tractarianism, too, there is a "soul of goodness," a life and a meaning which mere negations cannot destroy?

Lastly, I name the refining influence of Poetry. We shall confine our proofs to that which it has already done in making men and life less savage, carnal, and mercenary; and this especially in the three departments which were the peculiar sphere of the Poetry which is called romantic. Beneath its influence, passion became love; selfishness, honour; and war, chivalry.

The first of these, as a high sentiment, can only be said to have come into existence with the Christianity of the Middle Ages. All who are familiar with the Greek and Roman Poetry, know

that the sentiment which now bears the name, was unknown to the ancients. It became what it is when passion had been hallowed by imagination. Then, and not till then, it became loyalty to female worth, consecrated by religion. For the sacred thought of a Virgin Mother spread its sanctity over the whole idea of the sex. Christianity had given to the world a new object for its imagination; and the idolatry into which it passed in the Church of Rome, was but the inevitable result of the effort of rude minds struggling to express in form the new idea of a divine sacredness belonging to feminine qualities of meekness and purity, which the ages before had overlooked. That this influence of the religious element of the imagination on the earthlier feeling is not fanciful but historical, might be shown in the single case of Ignatius Loyola, on whose ardent temperament the influences of his age worked strongly. Hence it was that there seemed nothing profane when the chivalrous gallantry of the soldier transformed itself by, to him, a most natural transition, into a loyal dedication of all his powers to One who was "not a countess, nor a duchess, but much greater." But only think how he must have shrunk from this transference of homage, as blasphemous, if his former earthlier feelings had not been elevated by a religious

imagination; if, in short, his affections had been like those of the Greeks and Romans!

And while on the subject of the influence of all the higher feelings in elevating passion into that which is unselfish and pure, and even sublime, I will remind you of those glorious lines of Lovelace in reply to a reproach on account of absence caused by duty :

"Yet this inconstancy is such

As you, too, shall adore;

I could not love thee, dear, so much,
Loved I not honour more.”

Under the influence of imagination, selfishness became honour. Doubtless, the law of honour is only half Christian. Yet it did this: it proclaimed the invisible truth above the visible comfort. It consecrated certain acts as right, uncalculatingly, and independently of consequences. It did not say-it will be better for you in the end if you do honourably. It said-you must do honourably, though it be not better for you to do it, but worse, and deathful. It was not religion; but it was better than the popular, merely prudential, mercenary religion, which says, "Honesty is the best policy; godliness is gain; do right and you will not lose by it." Honour said, Perhaps you will lose-all-life; lose then, like a

man; for there is something higher than life, dearer than even your eternal gain. It was not purely religious; for it retained the selfish element. But it was a more refined selfishness which permitted a man to take another's life in defence of his honour, than that which requires him to do it in defence of his purse.

Finally, through poetic imagination war became chivalry. The practice of arms ceased to be " a conflict of kites and crows; it was guarded by a refined courtesy from every rude and ungenerous abuse of superior strength.

Upon this point there is much sophistry prevalent; therefore it is worth while to see how the matter really stands. A truly great man-the American Channing- has said, I remember, somewhere in his works, that if armies were dressed in a hangman's or a butcher's garb, the false glare of military enthusiasm would be destroyed, and war would be seen in its true aspect as butchery.

It is wonderful how the generous enthusiasm of Dr. Channing has led him into such a sophism. Take away honour, and imagination, and Poetry from war, and it becomes carnage. Doubtless. And take away public spirit and invisible principles from resistance to a tax, and Hampden becomes a noisy demagogue. Take away

Take

the grandeur of his cause, and Washington is a rebel, instead of the purest of patriots. away imagination from love, and what remains? Let a people treat with scorn the defenders of its liberties, and invest them with the symbols of degradation, and it will soon have no one to defend it. This is but a truism.

But it is a falsity if it implies that the mere change of symbolic dress, unless the dress truly represented a previous change of public feeling, would reverse the feeling with which the profession of arms is regarded. So long as people found it impossible to confound the warrior with the hangman, all that a change of garb could do would be to invest the sign with new dignity. Things mean become noble by association; the Thistle the Leek-the Broom of the Plantagenets-the Garter-and the Death's Head and Cross Bones on the front of the Black Brunswickers, typical of the stern resolve to avenge their Chief methinks those symbols did not exactly change the soldier into a sexton!

But the truth is that here, as elsewhere, Poetry has reached the truth, while science and commonsense have missed it. It has distinguished-as, in spite of all mercenary and feeble sophistry, men ever will distinguish-war from mere bloodshed. It has discerned the higher feelings which

« AnkstesnisTęsti »