« ForrigeFortsæt »
gether in society be to render each other happynot to seek our own happiness at the expense of whomsoever may stand in our way—then they who are endued with intellectual and moral qualities superior to the generality, should, above all things, strive to infuse into public affairs as much as possible of their own spirit; since in this way only can governments be converted into any thing better than associations of the powerful to enslave the weak. Poets should never forget they are men and citizens. On the contrary, in their peacefulest and most retired moments, the love of humanity should be with them, to direct the lightnings of their genius against the oppressors of mankind. Consider the prophets, a kindred race: do they not constantly exhibit the strongest sympathy for the feeble, the friendless, the obnoxious to injury? Are not their voices lifted
for tbe people, against those who would grind the faces of the poor, and subsist, in pride and luxury, on the sweat of other men's brows? The poetaster, with a base admiration of every thing superior to his own mean soul, may celebrate and approve
the excesses of men in authority; of all, in fact, who have any thing to give : but the poet, whose lips the seraphim have touched with fire snatched from the altar, will never mistake for greatness the mere possession of the trappings of state, or confound regal pomp with genuine grandeur, which can have no existence independently of virtue.
6. The spirit of poetry is a spirit of power, which, in him who is possessed by it, cannot fail to engender a consciousness of dignity. He feels that he bears within him mines richer than those of gold or diamonds, which, so soon as art shall supply the proper tools for working them, must place him among
peers of intellect, or, rather, prove his title to a kingdom in the realms of thought, by subduing into praise and admiration whole masses of those whom fortune may have blindly thrust before him. And therefore the true poet scorns to be a parasite, scorns to owe any thing to insolent wealth ; or, if distress and lack of virtue sometimes lead such a man to prostitute his divine gift, rather than eat the sweeter bread of indigence, and herd with his misfortunes in a cottage or a garret, we may be well assured that he abhors whom he lauds, and burns to give birth to the vituperation and satire which he feels struggling to leap forth from his brain, and strangle his ill-paid eulogies. Nature never designed the muses to be the hand-maids of despotism ; nor can their servant, without betraying his high trust, touch the lyre they have placed in his hands for any but who practise virtue.
7. Milton, as he ought, experienced that noble pride and enthusiasm which the consciousness of genius inspires. He could, therefore, not behold without abhorrence an order of things in which the accidental possessor of wealth, or place, or a title, assumed the air of a superior, or of a master; while he acknowledged no master but God, no controlling power but the law, which, when just, is God's minister. He never forgot that man was created in the image of God; that, by putting on the human form, Christ had raised and sanctified it; and, therefore, that whoever sought to debase and vilify human nature—and what can do this more effectually than oppression ?-was, in fact, the enemy of God and Christ, and to be opposed accordingly.
8. Such were the considerations which led Mil. ton to engraft the politician on the poet, and caused him to employ all the energies of his gifted mind in effecting the overthrow of a government fatal to the interests of society, and in which civil precedence was obtained on other grounds than virtue and public services. He saw not, nor is it very clear what useful or worthy purpose could be served by considering the religious, the learned, the able, inferior in the scale of society to courtsycophants, or the routine intermeddlers with politics. His indignation was roused at beholding the tranquillity of three kingdoms disturbed by the perverse ambition of one man; and, afterwards, when the contest was terminated, by the insolence of a hired sophist, who, for a paltry bribe, brandished his mercenary tropes and figures against the People of England, overwhelming with contumely our illustrious countrymen, whom the poet justly considered the most pious, faithful, and valiant nation in Christendom. In the government of the church, also, he discovered principles analogous to those operating in the state, and tending to the same end; and against these, in like manner, he conceived it to be his duty to lift up his voice. Such, I repeat, were the reasons that snatched Milton from the muse's bower, to convert him into a controversialist and a politician, and nobler sources of inspiration no man ever found.
9. But upon the notion that they who would effectively exercise the poetical faculty should hide themselves in sullen seclusion from all active or political pursuits, I may, perhaps, be permitted, by the way, to hazard another observation. The idea seems to have arisen from the practice of ordinary verse-makers in comparatively refined ages, whose timid sensibilities unfit them to shine or struggle among the throng. Pope, indeed, says,
“ To grottos and to groves we run,
To ease and silence, every muse's son :”
that is, whoever feels his mind big with great thoughts, and reflections, and imagery, which trace their origin to his commerce with experience, desires, when he would give birth to them, some calm and tranquil retreat, where he may compose himself, and for the time be free from contention and solicitude. But a wholly retired and contemplative life, is fatal to poetry of every kind. For even he who would bring before us a picture, that shall delight and interest, of the inanimate world, must pour over it traditions, legends, superstitions, connecting it with man; in other words, must clothe it with human sympathies. For, after all, landscapes are only valuable as a background to human action: they are nothing in themselves. And the utter inability of mere brute matter to call forth the energies of poetry, is evident from the writings of those doctores umbratici who in every age have wooed the muse; their representations, like nothing in heaven above, or on the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth, being but so many wild dreams, and their sentiments and language every way worthy of the matter. None have ever yet benefited by setting at nought the wisdom which pronounced it not good for man to be alone; and we exhibit a disposition to approach this unblissful state, when, snapping in twain the link which binds, and should bind us, religiously and politically to human society, we skulk like wolves or wild dogs, to some den of our own making, to gnaw the bones of our pitiful fancies in secret.
10. Whoever loves mankind will love to be among them; and poetry, above all things, is impregnated with love. No fear that the great poet should ever lose, in courts, or camps, or senates, or crowded cities, the spirit which makes him what he is. It constitutes the very essence of his nature. He cannot lose it. Over whatever he does it will cast a glory that shall dignify the meanest duties, and inspire a soul into actions deemed by the dull and commonplace incapable of elevation. Epaminondas was a poet, when he said he would render illustrious the humble office contemptuously ap. pointed him by his countrymen : and every one whose mind contains the seeds of this divine fire, passes uncontaminated through the world—in it, but not of it-finding in every situation, but chiefly where the brethren of his race are most nume