« ForrigeFortsæt »
ART. L. ON ÆSTHETIC CULTURE. BY C. A. ALEXANDER, Esq.,
II. STANZAS TO MY SISTER. BY HANS VON SPIEGEL,
176 4. EXCURSION THROUGH THE SLAVE STATES. BY G. H. FEATHERSTONHAUGH, 177 5. WORKING A PASSAGE: OR LIFE IN A LINER,
1. A FRIENDLY REMONSTRANCE: LETTER FROM THE COUNTRY, 179 2. THE GREAT BERKSHIRE (MASS.) JUBILEE,
181 3. MORE OF THE SEATSFIELDIANA,
185 4. GOSSIP WITH READERS AND CORRESPONDENTS,.
188 1. A CHAPTER OF SPORTING EXCITEMENTS. 2. DEATH OF THOMAS CAMPBELL:
CHARACTER OF HIS WRITINGS. 3. EXCURSION TO THE OTSEGO COUNTRY: Po-
1. JOURNAL OF INSANITY. 2. MACKELLAR'S POEMS. 3. LIFE AND SERVICES OF MA
JOR-GENERAL JOHN THOMAS. 4. THOMSON'S `ELEMENTS OF GEOMETRY.' 5. THE ROSE OF THISTLE ISLAND.
ON Æ S T H E TIC CU L T U R E.
We all know how thick the harvest of blossoms which every branch of æsthetic* literature in our day has thrown forth; and we know, alas ! too well, how fleeting and unfruitful of more substantial results has been the most part of this flowery profusion. Beautiful exceedingly,' it is true, are many even of the fragmentary and unstudied effusions of modern genius: gems which the starriest Muse will not disdain to wear forever in her coronal; but so mingled with what is crude and imper. fect, with so much that is even impure and offensive, that we can hardly look upon this department of our literature as a whole with much satisfaction. Yet the blame does not rest wholly with the writers of the day; much of it must attach also to the reading public, whose taste is supposed to be consulted, and whose literary voracity is at least responsible for the overwrought haste and precipitancy of production. There is doubtless needed for both a stricter degree of mental discipline, which nothing can so well supply as a habitual recurrence to better models, and such a preparation as is not to be obtained from contemporary literature alone. And that discipline is as neces
cessary to those who would read with discernment as to those who would write with ability.
Our modern literature— literature I mean as distinguished from what is ephemeral and unworthy - is complex in its spirit, like our civilization; bears like that the impress of many ages, and is replete with the
* If this modern term appear to have been employed in the following essay in a sense somewhat different from its original application to the principles of taste in the plastic or imitative arts, the writer still thinks that he may be justified both by reason and authority for his use of it. In literature and in art, the perception of the beautiful, the feeling of what is true and appropriate, must be developed by the same culture, and proceeds upon kindred principles ; for
Wat is Taste but a discerning sense
genius of many tongues and nations. In it we still distinguish the accents of ancient Greece, to whose melodious sounds of old
'ILLISSUS pure devolv'd his tuneful stream
- The gorgeous
And even when the subject is not religious, we still feel that modern literature has borrowed something from the deep and solemn harmonies of Israel; that its tone is loftier and its spirit purer, because of its familiarity with the sacred strains of David and Isaiah. The Goth, the Saracen, the Provençal, have each left some impression of their genius, and contributed in their degree to make it what it is. Even in times much nearer to our own, how strong has been the impulse and decided the character communicated to literature by the unsealing of the great fountains of the German mind! East itself, since commerce has rendered our communications more intimate, has unlocked its treasures, and showered its gifts with no sparing hand in the path of the literary explorer. Thus to whatever side we turn, we find that all have been laid under contribution, and that Genius in its triumphant but blameless progress has gathered riches in every climate, and renewed its strength from every source of inspiration and invention.
Hence it is very easy to perceive that without preparatory culture, or at least without a constant familiarity with our higher classics, the mind must remain incapable of receiving from æsthetic literature (a branch of learning which is supposed in general to lie so level to the ordinary capacity,) much of that pleasure and benefit which it is calculated to produce. To the mind thus undisciplined and uninformed, how many an allusion must be lost, how many a beauty unperceived, how many a tone sink echoless on the ear, which would otherwise have called
up before the imagination a world of bright and glowing associations! To such a mind literature is like the invisible Paradise of Irem in Thalaba : the wanderer might stand in the midst of its golden pala
STAR-LIKE the ruby and the diamond shone ;
whose copious springs
and yet, if not endued with præternatural perception, be wholly uncon. scious of the splendor around him, wholly insensible to the verdure and the fragrance. There is not one of the great poets of Europe, since the revival of letters, who might not afford satisfactory evidence that something more than a superficial culture is necessary for any right appreciation and enjoyment of the higher productions of literature. Our Paul Cliffords and Jack Sheppards, and Mysteries, whether of London or Paris, may be read indeed extemporaneously; and it may be as well perhaps if they are forgotten with equal facility. But turn to any one of the standard authors of the language, and see how different is the case. Just in proportion to the cultivation of the reader's
own taste, just in proportion to the range of his own mental resources, must ever be the admiration and affection with which they are regarded. It is only by degrees that we rise up to the full majesty of their stature; and familiarity, working the reverse of what it is ordinarily said to do, only increases our veneration and delight.
Milton, among others, may be mentioned as an illustrious exemplification of this. Perhaps no other poet ever formed such high conceptions of his calling, or entered upon his task with so vast an apparatus of learning. Accordingly, no poet makes greater demands on the resources of his reader, or requires higher æsthetic culture in order to a just estimate of his merits. His strong imagination indeed seems sometimes almost to labor with the extent and variety of his attainments. Image crowds upon image, suggestion upon suggestion : he strides like a giant from height to height, bringing into proximity things the most remote, and forcing into his service illustrations and allusions from all languages and all ages. The accumulation of these is sometimes so great as to remind us of nothing more strongly than his own descriptions of embattled hosts and gorgeous palaces:
It was unnecessary for such a poet to inform us, as he has done in one of his prose treatises, that his younger feet had wandered among lofty fables and romances, inciting to the love and steadfast observation of virtue, while his riper years led him through a ceaseless round of study to the shady spaces of philosophy;' for all this stands broadly manifest in every part of his immortal writings.
Southey, to one of whose works allusion has already been made, might be cited as another and more modern instance of the necessity of familiarizing our minds with the principles of just taste, and extending our sphere of mental association, if we would enter into the spirit of the best writers, and qualify ourselves for the enjoyment of some of the highest pleasures of literature. It was his design, as he informs us a design in part accomplished — to found a series of narrative poems on the most remarkable forms of mythology which have obtained among mankind. This scheme necessarily led his researches into the most unfrequented paths, and forced him to adjust his ear to the most diversified poetic measures. In his oriental tales particularly, he seems to have realized the happiest adaptation of metre to the spirit and course of the narrative.* Not a few of his tones appear to have been caught from the lofty
* A very different opinion I am aware, has been sometimes held, and HAZLITT calls his versification abrupt, affected and repulsive.' SOUTHEY was, in truth, sometimes strangely deluded by his theories of poetic harmony, as in that monstrous effusion of political bigotry, party spleen, and professional Fanity .The Vision of Judgment;' which might have justified, if any thing could, the witty but profane rejoinder of Byron. But that SOUTHEY's ear was attuned to true rhythmical harmony, none can justly doubt after having read some of his inscriptions, his Roderick, and above all, those beautiful lipes in the Curse of Kehama,'
They sin who tell us Love can die, etc.' Throughout the last named production are scattered (so at least it seems to the present writer)