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the high-born, whose crimes had brought eclipse across the ancestral glories of some ancient line.
But we now know that there is but one origin from which flow all disastrous issues, alike to the king and the beggar. It is sin that does “ with the lofty equalize the low;" and the same deep-felt community of guilt and groans which renders Religion awful, has given to poetry in a lower degree something of the same character-has made it far more profoundly tender, more overpoweringly pathetic, more humane and thoughtful far, more humble as well as more high, like Christian Charity more comprehensive; nay, we may say, like Christian Faith, felt by those to whom it is given to be from on high; and if not utterly destroyed, darkened and miserably weakened by a wicked or vicious life.
We may affirm, then, that as human nature has been so greatly purified and elevated by the Christian Religion, Poetry, which deals with human nature in all its dearest and most intimate concerns, must have partaken of that purity and that elevation—and that it may now be a far holier and more sacred inspiration, than when it was fabled to be the gift of Apollo and the Muses. We may not circumscribe its sphere. To what cerulean heights shall not the wing of Poetry soar ? Into what dungeongloom shall she not descend ? If such be her powers and privileges, shall she not be the servant and minister of Religion ?
If from moral fictions of life Religion be altogether excluded, then it would indeed be a waste of words to
show that they must be worse than worthless. They must be, not imperfect merely, but false, and not false merely, but calumnious against human nature. The agonies of passion fling men down to the dust on their knees, or smite them motionless as stone statues, sitting alone in their darkened chambers of despair. But sooner or later, all eyes, all hearts look for comfort to God. The coldest metaphysical analyst could not avoid that, in his sage enumeration of “each particular hair” that is twisted and untwisted by him into a sort of moral tie; and surely the impassioned and philosophical poet will not, dare not, for the spirit that is within him, exclude that from his elegies, his hymns, and his songs, which, whether mournful or exulting, are inspired by the life-long, life-deep conviction, that all the greatness of the present is but for the future-—that the praises of this passing earth are worthy of his lyre, only because it is overshadowed by the eternal heavens.
But though the total exclusion of Religion from Poetry aspiring to be a picture of the life or soul of man, be manifestly destructive of its very essence—how,
be asked, shall we set bounds to this spirit—how shall we limit it-measure it-and accustom it to the curb of critical control? If Religion be indeed all-in-all, and there are few who openly deny it, must we, nevertheless, deal with it only in allusion—hint it as if we were half afraid of its spirit, half ashamed—and cunningly contrive to save our credit as Christians, without subjecting ourselves to the condemnation of critics, whose scorn, even in this enlightened age, has—the
more is the pity—even by men conscious of their genius and virtue, been feared as more fatal than death?
No: Let there be no compromise between false taste and true Religion. Better to be condemned by all the periodical publications in Great Britain than your own conscience. Let the dunce, with diseased spleen, who edits one obscure Review, revile and rail at you to his heart's discontent, in hollow league with his blackbiled brother, who, sickened by your success, has long laboured in vain to edit another, still more unpublishable but do you hold the even tenor of your way, assured that the beauty which nature, and the Lord of nature, have revealed to your eyes and your heart, when sown abroad will not be suffered to perish, but will have everlasting life. Your books—humble and unpretending though they be—yet here and there a page, not uninspired by the spirit of Truth, and Faith, and Hope, and Charity—that is, by Religion-will be held up before the ingle light, close to the eyes of the pious patriarch, sitting with his children's children round his knees-nor will any one sentiment, chastened by that fire that tempers the sacred links that bind together the brotherhood of man, escape the solemn search of a soul, simple and strong in its Bible-taught wisdom, and happy to feel and own communion of holy thought with one unknowneven perhaps by name—who although dead yet speaketh --and, without superstition, is numbered among the saints of that lowly household.
He who knows that he writes in the fear of God and in the love of man, will not arrest the thoughts that flow
from his pen, because he knows that they may-will be -insulted and profaned by the name of cant, and he himself held up as a hypocrite. In some hands, ridicule is indeed a terrible weapon. It is terrible in the hands of indignant genius, branding the audacious forehead of falsehood or pollution. But ridicule in the hands either of cold blooded or infuriated Malice, is harmless as a birch-rod in the palsied fingers of a superannuated beldam, who in her blear-eyed dotage has lost her school. The Bird of Paradise might float in the sunshine unharmed all its beautiful life long, although all the sportsmen of Cockaigne were to keep firing at the starlike plumage during the Christmas holydays of a thou
We never are disposed not to enjoy a religious spirit in metrical composition, but when induced to suspect that it is not sincere; and then we turn away from the hypocrite, just as we do from a pious pretender in the intercourse of life. Shocking it is, indeed, to see “fools rush in where angels fear to tread;” nor have we words to express our disgust and horror at the sight of fools, not rushing in among those awful sanctities before which angels vail their faces with their wings, but mincing in, with red slippers and flowered dressing-gowns-would-be fashionables, with crow-quills in hands like those of milliners, and rings on their fingers-afterwards extending their notes into Sacred Poems for the use of the public-penny-a-liners, reporting the judgments of Providence as they would the proceedings in a police court.
The distinctive character of poetry, it has been said, and credited almost universally, is to please. That they who have studied the laws of thought and passion should have suffered themselves to be deluded by an unmeaning word is mortifying enough ; but it is more than mortifying—it perplexes and confounds—to think that poets themselves, and poets too of the highest order, have declared the same degrading belief of what is the scope and tendency, the end and aim of their own divine artforsooth, to please! Pleasure is no more the end of poetry, than it is the end of knowledge, or of virtue, or of religion, or of this world. The end of poetry is pleasure, delight, instruction, expansion, elevation, honour, glory, happiness here and hereafter, or it is nothing. Is the end of Paradise Lost to please ? Is the end of Dante's Divine Comedy to please? Is the end of the Psalms of David to please? Or of the songs of Isaiah? Yet it is probable that poetry has often been injured or vitiated by having been written in the spirit of this creed. It relieved poets from the burden of their duty-from the responsibility of their endowments—from the conscience that is in genius. We suspect that this doctrine has borne especially hard on all sacred poetry, disinclined poets to devoting their genius to it—and consigned, if