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Outward appearance has little concern for him. He looks through and beyond, "before and after," to the spirit which underlies all action, all evidences whatsoever. Such a "seeing one," if he be dowered also with the gift of utterance, though it be long in coming, and he suffer dumbly for awhile, if after his spirit has burned within him he speak with his tongue, he discovers to the world a poet, prophet, and priest.
But a sad thing has come to pass in these late times. have lost our love and reverence for the minstrel. grown so critical wise ourselves-there is no man living who can satisfy us. It matters not if he have sung for half a century and his words are on the lips of all. No matter if he has created standards of beauty in thought and in form, and is acknowledged to be throned as a king in the realms of glorious fancy; we, with our miserable smallness of ability and of taste, must carp at each new thing that falls from his pen, and cry "What is this?" A strange pass indeed it is when scarce any kind of singing will please, save the comic. We are bent upon being funny at all costs. "Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die." What miserable Greek pagans we are!
Our clever Transatlantic brothers, with the clearness of vision incident to their country, and due, no doubt, to the lightness and dryness of their atmosphere, have seen to the heart of this matter, and have deftly combined pathos with drollest comedy, so that one must laugh and weep at the same moment in reading their productions. This is well and useful, but it is not the highest aim of poetry. The qualities of grandeur and sublimity must be wanting, and many others besides. There is little of comedy in the story of Arthur and his Knights.
Well, and there are doubtless a remnant of such as delight in full toned minstrelsy of the higher order, and if the world be blessed with a minstrel and sweet singer they are the first to recognise that fact, and to offer allegiance to the rule of his music. How much better would it be for the world if we had more of this spirit of devotion and admiration, with less self-confidence and conceit; fancying ourselves all poets, or at least wellqualified to criticise. Poeta nascitur non fit. You cannot take lessons in that art. No, not if you were to offer to pay for them at the rate of a guinea per minute. Nature is the only teacher, and she gives no lessons for money. Do not imagine, however, that she requires no fees. Far otherwise; her demands are exorbitant, and she takes her premium out of the heart and soul of her pupil. It would seem she is not altogether impartial in her favours either, though paying little regard to wealth or worldly position; even learning and high academical honours are not all powerful with her; for do we not know that here almost in our own day an untutored artizan, from the narrowness and deprivation of a dungeon could dream one of the grandest
poems that ever- -since the hour when Jacob dreamed-has blessed a mortal dreamer; though he did not measure his lines or sing it in rhyme. He named it the "Pilgrim's Progress." Again, we have an unlettered farmer's son following his team afield with the plough, chanting for us in sweetly solemn cadences his "Cotter's Saturday Night," and with a routh o' rhymes and glee, his "Tam o' Shanter." Shall we say, then, that education militates against poetry, that is, against all the finer, purer, more generous impulses of the soul? Far from it. A true and right culture of intellect and heart would foster the growth of these, supposing the germs already existent. What I contend is that mere intellectual training will never implant the divine seed; rather will it tend to crush that seed by the multiplicity and variety of other absorbing aims-aims which have little tendency to kindle the imagination or fire the fancy of the plodding student. The muses, methinks, have but scant sympathy with arithmetic or mathematics. Even the majestic Urania, she who presides over the starry influences, as they are supposed to determine the destinies of men, will scarcely bend a gracious countenance upon a mere astronomical calculation, however correct. Arithmetic as applied to commerce must be inimical to all the lovely Nine. Questions of supply and demand, of barter and sale, of cent. per cent., of gentility, respectability, utility, these are the hungry harpies that swoop down and devour all that is generous, or noble, or beautiful in our hearts. What wonder then if the gentle but high Muses turn disgusted away.
Nevertheless it must be admitted that there never was a time in the history of any country when poetry-so called-was so plentiful as here in England at this present. The journals are teeming with poetry. Little boys and girls are writing verses, stimulated thereto, very many of them, by editors' prizes, all over the land. One would think we were a most poetical people, and so we are, or were once-but this continual scribbling is certainly not the way to cultivate a true taste, or spirit of poetry in any people; but rather, I should say, a sure means of quenching the spirit, even where it might be commencing to live a genuine life. Of all the arts this is least under power of the will, least amenable to rules, though it cannot dispense with them; it is therefore least susceptible of stimulation by the almighty dollar, as our American cousins would express it. And here is one proof of the purity of the poetical passion in our versifying public; it is rarely paid for. Editors know the odes and sonnets, dirges and epithalamia will come, whether paid for or not, and will be perhaps little better for being remunerated. Considering all this, there must be a strong tendency towards what is called romance in our nation to account for that continual effervescence of verses, irrespective of those usually vital considerations, £ s. d.
And yet if you speak to a man on the subject of poetry, how scornful wise he looks on the instant. An expression of pity comes into his eyes, he will shake his head and tell you that you cannot have sentiment in this everyday world. It is not business. A man cannot be hampered by these fine feelings. It would never do. He could not get on at all." So he tells you; but look on the shelf that is nearest his hand as he sits at home in the evening, and what mean these works, which if not now in use have seen good service-Burns, Byron, Shelley, Scott, Longfellow, Bret Harte, Browning (that last shows not much sign of wear, however), Tennyson, and, king of them all, Shakspeare? Not care for poetry! What need for these then? The fact is he does care; he finds a charm and a solace in the sweet singers; but he fights, or makes brave show of fighting, again st the fascination of beauty and truth because they are not always in accord with the daily life of the mart and the warehouse. They soften his heart, whereas he thinks a hard heart indispensable for the business of the world, and likes not to own to himself that he is better than he seems. And, if he never read a rhythmed line, this commercial gentleman, if he have no notion of musical language; yet there is poetry in his soul; else is he no true man. I tell you it is poetry that fills the churches and chapels, undeniably so the Welsh chapels, where the people sit in breathless excitation under the Hwyl of the preacher, whose eloquence is lifting them for the time out of themselves into a higher sphere. And in the grand Catholic cathedral the poetry of worship raises and yet subdues all hearts. Likewise, with all deferential apologies to Mr. Ruskin, I contend that it is poetry which fills the railroad cars in holiday time. A longing to get away from the common town life, with its murkiness and its ugly sordidity-away to nature, freshness, beauty. Let us not quench the spirit. It is in the heart of man, whatever his condition. Ask that business friend who shakes his worldly-wise head (with delicacy do it, not rudely) was he never in love? It should not need such high test to bring him to a knowledge of the beauty that is within him, but if it failed to show itself at that supreme hour, if he did not wish to give effect to all that was truest and best and most lovely in his nature, to express it all in some excelling manner, whether in word or deed, then it must be said, there is no poetry in his soul. He is not worthy of his manhood; nay, what is he better than the beasts of the field? Indeed I dishonour the beasts by the comparison, for they are full of beautiful feeling. When you return home after a short absence, does not your faithful dog spring and bound about you, barking for very joy? And to you. who love him, surely there is poetry in his uncontrollabic excitement. I have seen in the deep eyes of a peaceful pretty Jersey cow, such eloquence! The meek patient face of the
martyred donkey is eloquent, when you understand the language; and then the birds, poets of the air and the woods, see how they behave when the happy wooing time is come, preening and fluffing to look their perfect best, singing out their little souls in purest minstrelsy. Not unmindful of the housebuilding and the home comforts all the while. Sweet philosophers!
However, we cannot all be singers. There may be a plenitude of feeling without the gift of expression, the instinct of poetry, but no voice.
Weep for the voiceless who have known
Says the tender-hearted " Autocrat." But there are compensations. Let not such speechless ones repine, or think themselves all unblest. They have the faculties for full enjoyment of life's feast, with, over and above, an immense advantage. They need never fear the critic's censure, the scorn of their wiser neighbours, or, worse stili, the misunderstanding of their friends. Yes, the reserved and silent have this to their account, they may go their ways in peace without making themselves marks for missiles. Ah! but if the poetic fervour burn within and find no vent, I pity them! Such are in danger of losing control of the mental machinery altogether, and finishing in dreadful desperation and despair. It is a question whether the outrage upon those strongest, truest instincts of our higher nature which must come in a society constituted as ours is at present has not much to do with the peopling of our lunatic asylums. Remember, it is your finely and delicately constructed English lever watch which is most easily destroyed, not the substantial, serviceable, matter-of-fact American clock in the kitchen. My friends, if you have this fire within you, find an outlet for it. It need not be in written words, far better in acted deeds. Words are weak compared with deeds, mere tinkling cymbals. Very few are called to the minstrelsy, few are granted melodious utterance, but all are called to be poets in the sense of living the perfect life.
Will it be considered an absurdity to say that it is only in proportion to the true poetic feeling within him, the strength, the depth, the tenderness, that a man gets the good out of life? This it is which determines his portion of joy or sorrow: enhancing the keenness of every pleasure, and if accompanied with a right philosophical faith (without which it is a bane instead of a blessing), enabling him to bear with calmness the evils inevitable in this our mortal state, teaching him by a sure intuition to rise above all doubt and difficulty; and urging him onward with an added certainty of ultimate satisfaction for all the needs of his better nature. It should be so especially in these late days, when we are privileged to possess three such
high priests as Tennyson, Browning, and Rossetti, chief officiating ministers in the temple of beauty and goodness, of which grand cultus we may all be lay readers, or faithful and reverent disciples. Not, however, in the manner of the emaciated, melancholy æsthetic of the period, languishing before a lily or a sunflower, tuning all their speech to a weary minor key, too limp and despondent, too sickly morbid to get any good. out of this so earnest, practical life. Seeing no beauty in work, the actual subduing of material to man's use or need, hating the winds that blow a colour to their cheeks and the broad light of day which would brighten their eyes, they turn from all earnest, healthful occupation to their own imaginary sorrows, fancying a sweetness in shade and low tones, "delicious despondency, musical melancholy." If these pensive ones who can have little real pain of their own are truly earnest in the quest for it, there is enough around of a more indubitable character, but such as will not, I fear, be greatly ameliorated by the worship of the beautiful in that form. There are thousands in this our dear country for whom it is true that the times are hard, for whom life is weighed with sorrows and deprivations, and these not only among the utterly destitute. From morning to night many have to spend their whole thought upon the allmastering problem of rent and taxes, servants' wages, or, it may be, food and clothing for the little ones. What wonder that the fire of poetry is cold when there is a doubt about the fire in the kitchen grate? We must have the foundation before we can support the ornament; even food for the body, before food for the mind. And herein lies scope enough for those whose time hangs so heavily on their hands that they must try to beguile it with dreamings of the "too too utter" beauty of melancholy.
But to return to the question of minstrelsy. There is decidedly a superabundance of word jingling and scribbling at this present time; versification with little, if any, thought or meaning, unless an arithmetical one, and sometimes lacking even that, as the false quantities and superfluous feet plainly testify. Reading a critique the other day, I find an extract from a lately published poem entitled "The Wild Enthusiast." These are the three lines excerpted :
The wild enthusiast dashed his lyre-
It was high time for him to finish, I should say, if he were continuing in that fashion! This is the kind of nonsense which does more mischief to poetry as a power for good than all the scorners of sentiment put together could do; more mischief to poetry than the hard facts or the petty daily wear and worry of ordinary daily life can do, because by its very form