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Or why does the oratory of one man create a breathless silence throughout the assembly, which hangs with the most eager attention upon his words, while another might say almost the same things and scarcely obtain a hearing? What, in short, is the difference between accurate dullness and that composition, which, with no higher degree of artistic skill, and on the same subject, absorbs the whole man of the reader, and leads his feelings captive in its chains ?
It is impossible to answer such questions satisfactorily without regard to the distinction now made. For all such effects are the productions of imagination in that respect in which it is different from fancy.
The grandest, the most beautiful objects in nature, as material in the hands of an artist, are but tame and commonplace, unless he can inspire them with the glow of human emotion. Man can be truly and deeply interested only in what pertains to man.
We must bring the lofty down to ourselves, as well as lift the lowly up, if we would truly sympathize with either. Even the student of science, who believes that he loves the rocks or plants of his classification, will find, upon closer observation, that it is only because he has associated with them, and, by an act of imagination, imputed to them, qualities of his own mind, and the accomplishment of his own plans. It is this association with the feelings of humanity which gives all its highest interest to the physical world. Are the natural features of the scenes they describe the principal source of interest in the writings of Thompson and of Wordsworth? Their favorite subjects, as far as concerns bodily shape, have always been open to every man with eyes and ears in his head-subjects attempted repeatedly by other pens not failing either in accuracy or command of language. Its connection with human life is all that lends this material earth its power to move the feelings of man. We may admire the beautiful and wonder at the grand ; but removed from the feelings of our race, they make but a short lived impression. With what different interest would we look upon the plains of Attica, and the wilds of New Holland, upon the site of ancient Thebes and the waste which bears no trace of man ? Even in the primeval forests of the West the pulse is quickened by the thought that the Indian savage has wandered there ; but the interest amounts to rapture when some ancient mound or fragment of a wall brings up our fellow man before us.
The discoveries in central America and Yucatan, of ruined temples and cities of a former time, have excited more interest in the world than all the strangest stories ever penned, of vast territories of savage grandeur unmarked by the foot of man. Amid the solitude of the far western prairies, where least of all are suggestions of human life to be expected, what are the images that rise before the mind of the poet ?
“Are they hereThe dead of other days ?-and did the dust Of these fair solitudes once stir with life
And burn with passion ? Let the mighty mounds
“All day this desert murmured wtth their toils.
Thus, even when the devoted lover of nature addresses himself to the wilderness, his imagery is drawn from the life and heart of man. Rather than contemplate nature in uninhabited wildness the imagination will people it with congenial beings of its own. What lover of painting has not felt how uninteresting and desolate, how unmeaning is the finest landscape piece without the presence of a human figure? The errant knights in the scenes of Salvator Rosa are often without any obvious business there ; but their very presence, while enhancing the picturesque effect, gives a life and human interest to the whole. Extensive knowledge of nature and the principles of science must furnish the artist's mind; and yet if he would have these seeds germinate into works of interest, he must water them from the well springs of his own heart. One ought not to rest satisfied with observing, or with merely
comprehending—he needs to digest the materials of his knowledge until they become assimilated to his own mind; and then, if acquainted with his own strength and weakness, and willing to work in the direction of his strength, he may not attain the highest degree of interest, but his productions can never be dull: for they will be infused with that spirit which man can never regard with apathy—the real feelings of a healthy mind.
SECTION II.- - POESY.
However critics may differ as to the definition of poetry, all competent to offer an opinion on the subject will agree that occasionally, in prose, as well as in verse, we meet with a passage to which we feel that the term poetry could be applied with great propriety by a figure of speech. In the other arts, also, we find, now and then, what we feel prompted from within to call the poetry of painting, of statuary, of music, or of whatever art it may be. The fact that books have been written under such figurative titles, and favorably received, proves that the popular mind conceives of something in poetry besides versification — of some spiritual excellence, most properly belonging to compositions in verse, but which is also found elsewhere. When Byron said that few poems of his day were half poetry, he evidently meant by poetry something distinguishable from rhythm and from rhyme. True,
such may be only a figurative use of the word; but the public accept that figurative use as corresponding to some actual conception which they entertain of poetry in its best degrees. And when they speak of the poetry of
any other art, it is evident from the use of the same word that they believe themselves perceiving the same or similar qualities. To such conceptions, then, without regard to whence they spring, I think, with Coleridge, that it would be expedient to appropriate the word poesy — thereby avoiding the ambiguity which now exists in the use of the word poetry; though popular choice, which always prefers a figurative application of a common word, has not adopted the suggestion.
Upon reading Byron's lines on Modern Greece, in the Giaour, or Burke's recollections of the Queen of France, or beholding Landseer's picture called the Old Shepherd's Chief Mourner, or the Dying Gladiator, the feelings we experience are found to be so similar, in the main, that we instinctively seek to embrace them under the same names. Upon proceeding to inquire into the æsthetic feature presented by such examples in common—the one cause of their common effect, that which would be popularly called their poetry—we find it to consist invariably in a beautiful expression of some tender or highly refined emotion.
We often confess a high degree of beauty where we are not prompted to declare the existence of poetry; nothing except what deeply moves the heart, without