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Ir prejudice apart from sound judgment decide in matters of religion and philosophy, where sound judgment alone ought to be sovereign, it is not to be wondered, if her capricious authority be sometimes found to usurp in the less regulated provinces of taste and criticism, and her influence be found equally injurious to truth in each. It has been said, that; when system begins, genius ends. This, like many other bold maxims, the very boldness of which conciliates belief, must be subject to numerous exceptions ; of respectable talents are found among the friends and patrons of system: particular systems owe their very birth to eminent genius, and the system of the universe iş referred to genius of the sublimest form.
The maxim therefore is not universally true, for genius may be the author of system, and genius may be laudably exercised in conformity to system. But still there is a considerable degree of truth in the maxim; for systems, however fabricated, and to other parents than a penetrating view of truth and nature are many systems indebted for their existence, are in the habit of requiring an implicit obedience; they preoccupy the early mind, before it is fitted for individual exertion; their rules become a law, without inquiry into the truth and reason of the law; intellect submits to the law; her native freedom is fettered ; and genius, naturally capable of originality and specific character, is stified by this dominant prejudice, and creeps along through ages in the dull walk of conformity to rules, where Nature perhaps would allow of a generous latitude. More than two thousand years
have passed since the days of Aristotle; but the system of Aristotle is still an imperial law, and is an interdict on genius in the walk of
epic poetry: for believing from a tame submission to authority, that every thing in the epic of Homer, from whom the system of Aristotle is altogether derived, is to be admired as the standard of excellence, we can neither bear with an epic production, which is original in its manner, and disdains the trammels of Homer and Aristotle; nor can we bear with an imitation, for this is frigid and tasteless to us, because we have acquired another taste, which we can sacrifice only to Homer, or to Virgil. These a venerable antiquity has equally. excepted from the decision of modern taste, and, I might add, of a taste more chaste, correct and elevated. The Poetics and other critical works of Aristotle, founded upon the models of an old and almost barbarous antiquity, have, indeed, bound genius in chains; and to that talent of man, which of all others delights in freedom and an expansive range, and in her favoured field of poetry, has prescribed a hackneyed path, where nature in her richest and most luxuriant dress is not
to be found. Hence the prejudice, that the poets of Greece and Rome, but particularly of Greece, are superior in every excellence to those of later days. I hesitate not to deny the fact; but if it were as by the general voice is supposed, the very prepossession is sufficient to produce the effect. They are, forsooth, the only standards of true taste and elegance ; excellencies have been discovered in them, which, in all probability, their authors, with all the vanity of an author, had no idea of, and which the modern literati neither see nor feel, but only suppose that they see and feel; and all praise for originality of thought, and fertility of invention, has been lavished on them alone.
This partiality, whether just or not, is without any difficulty traced to its origin. The writings of these poets are almost our only literary companions in our younger days. It is the business of our instructors to enable us to understand them, and their beauties are minutely and almost officiously
pointed out to us. At an age in which we make little resistance to any impression, and yet are remarkably susceptible of impressions, and remarkably retentive of impressions, we are taught to regard them as the very models of the beautiful and sublime in thought and expression ; the
graces of our own poets are either wholly unknown, or but transiently and partially introduced to us; and Milton and Shakespeare are but second names with us. It is also unfavourable to a just estimate of merit, that these impressions are made at a period, when the beauties of poetry have the easiest and most agreeable access to us. The pleasures, which enlivened that happy period, are hallowed to our imagination with an enthusiasm, which for ever endears to us the objects that excited them, but which no similar objects will ever awaken again with the same kindly glow. Add to this, that those authors, whose taste in this walk of literature is commonly appealed to as decisive, concur with the impressions that we are in the habit of