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cup of festive sensuality, and the hero's conquering and destroying sword—even these have ceased to charın as they were wont, although they are seated in the master-principles of our nature. Even the graces must be clothed and veiled before they can step forth into public admiration. And that this feeling has been no mere transient whim, or prudish affectation, has been shown by that poetry of the present age which holds the highest place in public estimation. The devoted patriotism of Moore, and not his Epicureanism — the hearty Caledonian nationality that glows in the poetry of Scott, instead of his love of chivalrous exploits — the simple, heartfelt devoutness of Southey, rather than his pagoda divinities, and Dom-daniel wizards—the sudden bursts of elevated feeling, or melting tenderness, which are wrung by fits from the better nature of Lord Byron—and, above all, that buoyant, up-soaring spirit of faith and love which characterises the first great work of the Bard of Hope—these are the qualities of the great masters of modern song, which are now the most fondly and exclusively cherished, and without which no mere intellectual excellence could have saved them from neglect. Thus it is, that a home scene of domestic virtue and happiness outshines a Roman triumph, and a sacrifice to duty is of more account than a whole epic of heroic achievements. And to what is owing the great popu. larity of such poets as Milman, Croly, Heber, Pollok, and a whole host of inferior writers who have followed in their path ? It was but a century ago that a religious bard of great power trembled to approach the public, because his theme was so unwonted, and so alien to the prevalent spirit, that he anticipated nothing except neglect or contempt. But now the religious poet is valued the more highly, and obtains a more universal popularity, by how much he succeeds in kindling the feelings of ardent devotion, and finding the most impressive language for its utterance.
Another great moral characteristic of the poetry of the present age has been evinced, in the closer approximation which it has made towards the history and feelings of the lower classes, and the manner in which it has connected them with literary and aristocratic sympathies. The stilted poetry of former
ages could not descend to the “short and simple annals of the poor.” It was cnly with the heroic sufferings and sentimental sorrows of high life that it could entertain a fellow-feeling. A king dethroned, or a hero expiring on the field, was the principal topic of the sublime; the faithlessness of a coroneted lady's lover, or the death of her pet parrot or lap-dog, was the chief argument of the pathetic. What indeed could the bard do more who depended for patronage or a dinner upon the wealthy and the noble? He was only acquainted with aristocratic joys and sorrows, and upon these alone he therefore expended his tuneful numbers. All that pertained to unadorned nature, and simple feeling, was only to be found by descending into the untitled world. The “herd,” the “mob,” the “lower orders,” constituted a filthy Alsatia, into whose foul lanes the dainty and silk-shod Muse did not dare to penetrate. But this exclusive and fastidious spirit was broken when Crabbe and Wordsworth led the way. The world was startled to find, as if it had been a new discovery, that even the hamlet and the hovel contained the elements of true poetry as well as the castle and the palace; and that the unsophisticated feelings of an English and a Christian community, could furnish pictures more exciting than all the rude energies of semi-barbarians, or even the fictions of romance. The heroic struggle with the real ills of life; the grandeur of the victory, or the misery of the defeat—the love which difficulty could not daunt, nor poverty impair—the tenderness, the devotedness, the endurance, that so frequently warm and animate the otherwise cheerless fire-side of poverty and lowliness—these were topics of moral sublimity and tenderness which could now gratify the improved public taste, more especially after it had been dieted to the full upon the monotony of high life, or the mockery of fiction. When two such powerful and original minds as those we have mentioned thus gave the example and pointed the way, it was no wonder if others hurried into the unoccupied tract: the new principle rapidly widened, so that the history of the poor has now become as legitimate a source of poetry, as that of the regal and the noble. Thus the learned have been united with the illiterate, and the high with the low, by that eclectic spirit of poetry which constitutes one of the pr ailing characteristics of the present day: the fire was so intense that a fusion inevitably followed, and the discordant elements of society have been resolved into one sympathetic
mass. And what great political as well as moral benefits may yet be evolved from this principle! Let but the spirit of sympathy, thus auspiciously commenced, be continued, and the hostile barriers within which the different ranks were entrenched will be removed; and the parties themselves, instead of being arrayed against each other for a warfare of extermination, will be able to meet in a spirit of mutual cordiality and love. The lord will no longer be branded as a tyrant, nor the peasant considered as a slave, but all, however different in degree, will reciprocate the amenities of life, as the inheritors of the same nature, and the children of one common family.
While adverting to the high moral character of the modern school of poetry, it would be ungenerous to omit the mention of one very important source in which it has originated. And here, it is only necessary to allude to that illustrious series of female writers by which the nineteenth century has been adorned. The development of female talent, and the consequent high rank which the sex have been enabled to assume in the scale of moral and intellectual being, is a circumstance altogether unprecedented in the history of civilized society. Learned and intellectual females, indeed, had appeared in almost every age, but it was as isolated examples: each stood alone, with a bright, but sad and solitary, lustre. Sometimes, also, in our own country, a talented woman had dared to step into the ranks of authorship, during the paroxysm of some literary excitement; but she was regarded as a marvel, or rather a monstrosity, and treated accordingly. She was banished from her own sex as a renegade, and kept aloof by the other as an interloper. It was thought that, by courting the public gaze, she had violated the rules of womanly decorum; and let her talents be what they might, she was called a deserter from her proper vocation of needlework and housekeeping. Such was the general feeling; and the result that ensued was natural. Authoresses deemed themselves bound to unsex themselves in self-defence; and having begun by a defiance of public opinion, they often ended by the forfeiture of their own esteem, sc that they outdid the recklessness of a worthless age, by the looseness and profligacy of their writings. Upon this head, we need only advert to the Behns, the Heywoods, and the Manlys, of the beginning of the eighteenth century. But when the
education of both sexes was more justly equalized, so that female talent became less rare, and therefore less wondered at; and when such an endowment was not considered incompatible with female delicacy and gentleness, they could then venture to write from the overflowings of their hitherto suppressed hearts, without fear of being scowled into silence. And how natural was it, that their fondest and best efforts should be directed towards poetry! The first notes, indeed, with which they ventured to join the choral strain, were in a voice soft, gentle, and low—"an excellent thing in woman;”—but as the song of the age proceeded, and swelled into a wider grandeur, their sweet, clear, feminine accents were heard over the whole thunder-peal, like the notes of the high-toned flute over the deep crash of the orchestra. And how was it possible that poets could write indecorously in the company of such coadjutors? Or how could they fail to be elevated and refined by the force of such examples ? A more than chivalrous delicacy was introduced by the entrance of these fair impersonations of the Muses, and a rivalry ensued of mutual courtesy, in which masculine strength was softened by female tenderness. Thus, war began to lose its glory, and havoc its magnificence; sublimity was mingled with softness and beauty; while the grandeur of public action was alternated with the virtues and the feelings of domestic life. It was as if an angel had descended, to rebuke the evil passions of humanity, and to show where real happiness was to be found, by irradiating all its secret springs and obscure recesses. Such a halo was thrown over all the gentle charms and virtues of human existence, as could only have emanated from the highest state of intellect, animated and directed by the fondest impulses of the female heart.
It is no mystery, that the political eras which occur in the intellectual history of man are both few and brief. In the course of a century, or even a single generation, a whole constellation of distinguished poets arises, after which ages of prosaic existence frequently intervene. This must necessarily be the case, from the nature of poetry itself. In those departments of intellect that merely depend upon calculation and research, the mind can proceed continuously; and thus the progress of general science can be calculated by a regular succession of steps. But poetry is subject to no such formal rule.
It is the result of impulse, and, like every impulse, it is irregular and transient. Some master-mind suddenly appears, and arrests the world with a new song: the spirit of melody awakens kindred echoes; and a tuneful throng are evoked, as if from the grave, until the enthusiasm expires, and leaves the world to its former silence. Such is now the situation of England. Her third poetical era is closing, and although sweet notes are still vibrating in our ears, they are swan-like notes, that speak of a dying close. The present generation of men who have arrived at maturity, are like the entranced audience of a theatre, who have fed upon glorious sounds and magnificent pageants—but the curtain is falling, and they must now hie them away to the cold realities of every-day life. But as these remembrances of the theatre will return in the light of day, and amidst the bustle of the world, so the recollections and delights of the poetical age will be cherished after its departure; and society, even in the midst of its labours in physical science and political economy, will pause, to speak of these past pleasures, and endeavour to revive them. This will suffice to secure the popularity of poetry even in an age of prose. But society is also performing a still higher task. It is now asking, wherefore, and for what good purpose, it was so moved and excited? The duty is now in process of weighing and estimating the moral worth of the performance, as well as the comparative excellence of the actors.
In this manner, poets, who were unduly raised by adventitious circumstances, have been reduced to their proper level, while those who were lowered by calumny or neglect, have been restored to their fitting station. In this manner, also, a stern inquest has been held upon the tendencies of the poetry itself, to separate the morally bad from the good, and stamp the former with reprobation, and the latter with its merited immortality. Another
age of poetry will succeed—but at what distance of time, who shall venture to predict? A few generations only may intervene, or perhaps whole centuries : possibly, even the latter will be the case, if the length of the repose is to be measured by the greatness of the exertion that has preceded it. In the mean time, society will continue to cherish the rich poetical bequest of the nineteenth century until the cycle has revolved, when the intellectual character shall receive a fresh impulse,