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to the intellect in much the same as if she had declared, once for all, overmastering relation that Cres- thy God shall be my God, and thy sida's love stood to all her other people my people. feelings, when she declares
The poetical scepticism of the
present day has of course retired “My love Is as the very centre of the earth
from the gloomy atheism of the Drawing all things to it.”
beginning of the century. The old
controversies, deistical and theistical, Faith is the tonic of the poetical have nearly died out in literature. scale, the key-note to which the The world at length seems to have most wildly discursive imagination lost patience with the philosophy must return in the end before the that does not at least postulate a ear can rest satisfied. Hence we god of some kind or another to have absolutely no poetry in which begin with ; at all events, any such doubt is anything like the central philosophy has been left high and or dominant interest; while we have, dry by the poetical tide of the as in the Hebrew poetry, as gor present generation. And, to tell geous palaces as imagination ever the truth, there was no choice. sanctified, whose material is sup One or other must perish : they plied and whose genius is inspired could not live together. The dewfrom faith alone. When doubt is less desert of blank and barren made use of at all in poetry, as in denial was no place for the gentle that highest quotable example, the muse. Imagination cannot breathe Book of Job, it is introduced more its atmosphere and live. And yet, as a foil to faith — the intense though not present themselves, shadow of an intenser light-a these old controversies have left us wrestler brought into the arena only an inheritanco. The times have to be overthrown by his mightier changed, and we have changed with opponent. Doubt can command them. The gloomy, not to say stagey no prolonged sympathy, and con- atheism that had a certain fascination sequently can find no permanent for the youth of thirty or forty years footing in any of the higher places ago, has given place in our day to of poetry. Faith, on the contrary, a refined and vaguely idealistic panseems to clothe itself with poetry theism, which, without any of the without effort; attracts all poetry old obtrusion of unbelief (it has to it as a seemingly natural conse- even a kind of niggardly recognition quence; interwinds and interweaves of a personal God about it), still exerits life with it, until—to use the cises a limiting influence on poetry strong Shakespearian phrase—the —a weaker solution of the strong two have “grown together,” and waters of atheism, not so objectiontheir parting would be "a tortured able as the old form, on account of body." They are the dermis and what it admits of evil, as of what it the epidermis of the ideal anatomy, excludes of good. Without attemptand their severance means mutila- ing any hard-church definition of its tion. Poetry can find no more than influence- and indeed we question a partial and passing attraction in much if many of its poetical exponanything that is doubtful; she is at entsthemselves could give a perfectly best but a stranger and a pilgrim in lucid account of what they believe the debatable land. Her final elec- and what they do not believe-we tion and abiding home is faith. She are yet of opinion that it puts a clings to faith as a child to a mother, limitation on genius, and especially and will not be shaken off, as plainly on poetical genius, in nearly the same proportion that it falls short personal or dramatic mask that of a definite faith.
which, in the hearing of the majority Leaving all moral considerations of his audience, can only be regardout of sight as not within our pro- ed as flat blasphemy, there can be vince, it seems to be necessary, for no doubt that Mr Swinburne has æsthetical reasons alone, that the reached his highest poetical pospoet, of all other artists, should pos- sibility in what we may classify as sess a belief that shall at least be his ethnical poems. Without troubclear to himself. Above all other ling ourselves about whether the men it behoves him, in the words of inspiration comes from above or one of the greatest of his brother- below, there is a force about his hood, to be
audacious profanity that we do not “One in whom persuasion and belief
so readily find in his other efforts. Has ripened into faith, and faith become Good or bad, Mr Swinburne's capaA passionate intuition."
city for blasphemy is unquestionThere is a certain degree of heat at ably une qualité, as the French would which language fuses, and becomes say, with their subtle substratum of the possible vehicle of poetical feel- meaning. ing, and the point of liquefaction is In the hands of a poet like Milnever registered below conviction, ton, the Titanic war against heaven but above it. We do not say con- is capable of a certain amount of viction is all that is necessary. diabolical picturesqueness ; but the Oxygen itself would quickly con- merely human unbelief, the distractsume life, yet a man must consume ing doubt, and the shuffling inoxygen to live. Conviction alone genuity that nibbles at this creed will not produce poetry, but it is an and that without arriving at any essential component of the atmos- definite conviction of its own, is the phere in which alone poetry can be most unpoetical thing in the world. sustained. At the degree in the No amount of artistic skill can mental thermometer which chronic make its effusions pleasing. Seekcles conviction, the possibility of ing sympathy and finding none, poetry begins. Anything below they seem to be all conceived in the that lacks one of the first conditions melancholy minor, without any of of its existence.
the natural plaintiveness of that The poetry that has been pro- key, and with a double share of its duced without due regard to this hopeless dejection. There appears essential quality, has seldom out to be a place in the realms of the lived its own generation; and, in fact, imagination for either God or devil; any attempt to get the materials of but upon the Laodicean lukewarmpoetry outof half belief, argues a defec- ness, upon the apathetic neutrality tive poetical perception at the outset. that is neither cold nor hot, poetry
It is possible indeed, leaping to turns her back. the opposite extreme, to get some- To trace the effects of scepticism, thing like poetry out of the gigantic and the storn limitation put upon and passionate denial of Satan him- poetical genius by the want of that self, as Milton has abundantly proved; faith which ripens into Wordsworth's or even, to a certain degree, out of the “passionate intuition," would open pagan abhorrence to the God of up too wide a field, extending as it Christianity, as illustrated by a liv- does through all the infinite phases ing poet. For, waiving altogether and degrees of doubt, from the first any question as to the moral fitness shadowy suggestion down to the of rehabilitating even under an im- ultimate utter denial. But that each step downward is hurtful in uity, that would have presented its degree, whatever disguise it as- themselves to other men's minds in sumes, could be easily proved. some vague and nebulous way, stood Even the affectation of atheism, as forth to the order of that imperial in much of Byron's poetry, is an imagination with the distinctness artistic expedient fraught with in- and precision of objective realities. finite danger to the user of it. Al. And yet with all this power he is though one feels that the atheism still but the enchanter. Wherever of Byron is not real, but in most you go it is fairy-world still, and cases a mere stage property, one affords no solid ground for mortal gets thoroughly sick of it before foot; and though you cannot resist all his scowling heroes : the Laras, its haunting beauty, you are equally the Corsairs, the Giaours are painted haunted by a sense of its almost in on the same gloomy and thread- ghastly unreality. The kindred bare background-a varied fugue points of heaven and home are even on the one everlasting theme-a more nearly akin than they are change of costume, but the same old commonly supposed. Shelley's inun hallowed anatomy visibly stick- ability to conceive a heaven with a ing through. Nothing short of the God in it to whom he could pay genius of Byron could have achieved reverence, seemed to drain away all even a partial success with such a humanness and homeliness out of clogging nightmare on its back. him, until his poetry became quite
It is perhaps not to be so much as unearthly as his adverse critics regretted that atheism should prove judged it unheavenly. Starving one such a complete extinguisher to side of his nioral nature, the other anything like second-rate poetical side was supersaturated, and renpower, as that it should have some- dered morbid by an overflow of the times dragged down to the second imaginative secretions that should place gifts that should have ranked have fed both. This insubstantial with the highest. It overshadows characteristic of his work was unforthe resplendent genius of Shelley tunately one upon which Shelley like a black thunder-cloud above a rather prided himself. Writing to rainbow, and gives everything he a friend, he says he “does not deal has left behind him a phantasma- in flesh and blood.” “You might goric and evanescent character. as well,” says he, "go to a gin-shop Reading his works is like walking for a leg of mutton, as expect anythrough the dreamlike palace of thing earthly from me.” That Kubla Khan. On every side, and want of fixity, too, which the abin such profusion as has never sence of central faith invariably been approached by man, lie the induces, that want of a peaceable potentialities of poetry, but yet in mental anchorage—the green pasa great measure only the potential- tures and the still waters of the ities. He has left no palace be- Hebrew poet, with whom, however, hind him worthy of his genius or he has so much in common-acts his materials. If ever mortal had as a continual drag on his powers. the materials, and the power of the There is a provoking absence of enchanter to call them forth, it was that massive and leonine repose he. No one ever possessed in a which usually consorts with the greater degree the faculty of bring- greatest gifts, and which one natuing himself en rapport with the rally looks for as a concomitant hallucination of the moment.
of his. But we look for it in vain. Images of the most ethereal ten- He was always in an ecstasy, in the somewhat lost but literal meaning the different degrees of unbelief are of the word—always out of himself. frequently no more than the varied If his genius had a fault, it was too phases of mental disorder, and that impressionable. The merest mouth- absolute atheism itself, in the vast ful of the Delphian vapour put him majority of cases, is only an irreinto fits. He was ever on the sponsible mania, proceeding from tripod, and is only a modern incar- sheer intellectual defect, - if we nation of that priestess of Apollo, could only have it settled that our mentioned by Plutarch, who raved sceptics, and more especially our herself to death in the temple. cultured and scientific sceptics, are His Pegasus in this way was good what they are by “a divine thrustfor a short run, but had little wait- ing on," they might possibly be ing power. Consequently, the de- taught to hold their views with a fect does not interfere with the little more humbleness of mind than perfection of his shorter lyrics, they have hitherto done. In Shelwhich are simply unique and unap- ley's case, atheism was a thing that proached; but its limiting influence ran in the blood. His father seems is painfully apparent in all his to have had a fame for eccentricity works (though less marked in the in the direction of profanity, and Cenci) that require any long sus- was said to have been a disciple of tained effort. The deficiency was the Chesterfield and Rochefoucaulone well understood and keenly felt dean school ; while Shelley himself by Shelley himself. In a letter to declares-in an unpublished letter Godwin, he says, “I cannot but be quoted by Mr Rosetti-that his conscious, in much of what I write, grandfather, old Sir Bysshe, “ was of an absence of that tranquillity a complete atheist, and founded all which is the attribute and accom- his hopes on annihilation." paniment of power."
To a somewhat similar causeSad indeed that this defect, this the want of any deep-rooted convicwant of reference to the funda- tion in the author's mind—may be mental key-note of power, should attributed, we think, a great deal have marred the music of such an of that watery and Werthery instaotherwise heavenly instrument. bility that characterises too many
That the atheism-or at least the of Goethe's heroes, although in his pantheism-of Shelley, was a mental case in a more modified degree. unsoundness of a constitutional and Goethe's unbelief did not kick at hereditary kind, does not, we think, heaven as Shelley's did in the Proadmit of a doubt. In these days metheus. His scepticism was of a of irresponsible faultiness, studded milder and more passive type, or over with dipso- and klepto-maniacs, perhaps it might be more accurately when so many are anxious to prove described as a kind of moral juste that we are “ villains by necessity,” milieu, with a singular inaccessibilas Shakespeare would have put it, ity to attraction on one side or the
_“ fools by heavenly compulsion ; other. His moral sense was insuknaves, thieves, and treachers by lated, so to speak—encased by a spherical predominance,"—we have coating of intellect which was an often wondered that some charitable absolute non-conductor. There is no doctrinaire with a scientific turn of better representative than he of the mind has never started his atheo- spirit described by Tennyson as maniac. If the world could be con
“Holding no form of creed, vinced and there is no lack of But contemplating all." plausible argument to prove it—that With less of this power to main
tain an attitude of moral neu- moral attitudinising that pirouettes trality, Goethe's own character, as on a pivot of its own self-consciouswell as that of many of those he ness (and which the world could so created, would have been much well do without), no man's work more humanly and poetically com- carries upon it more clearly and unplete. His shortcoming in the di- mistakably the marks of an overrection of personal faith cannot be ruling conviction and a dominant kept down, and is continually crop- purpose. So evident is this quality ing out in his heroes. In many of in Shakespeare's works that one the leading men he has drawn there might almost imagine that like is hardly any strong moral aspira- every fresh effort of Haydn's genius tion, and in some no discoverable they were commenced with prayer preference or predilection whatever. and carried out under the power of The only exception to this we can old Herbert's motto-think of is in the character of "Think “Goetz von
“ Think the king sees thee still, for his Berlichingen," and
King does.” that was a production almost of the anthor's boyhood, or at least at an Perhaps the most striking illusage before men have begun to ques- tration in more modern times of the tion or doubt. There was evidently manner in which the poetical facula lurking suspicion in Goethe's ma- ty may be overridden and paralysed turer mind that anything like well- by the action of doubt, is to be found defined religious views in a man in the life and writings of Arthur argued weakness, and weakness was Hugh Clough. The more his life the one vice Goethe abhorred, even is studied, the more it appears to to a weakness. But that he was rise above the common conventionequally well convinced, on the other ality of doubt, and to represent the hand, that no feminine character highest possible phase of consciencould possibly be complete without tious scepticism — one, indeed, of such views, may be as safely inferred. those sacrificial souls which the His women are singularly rich by Creator seems to throw from Him the very excess of those qualities of at intervals into the ocean of relifaith and trust so conspicuously gious opinion to keep the waters in awanting in his men.
a healthy fermentation, and save This absence of any kind of moral them from stagnating by tradition, partiality in the author found its or freezing by convention into mere counterpart in the moral tenuity lifeless forms. His case presents and aimless vacillation of Werther, many unique and interesting points. Egmont, Wilhelm Meister, and Differing from Shelley, inasmuch Faust. Beside the intense pur- as the very elements left out in pose of Shakespeare's heroes, such Shelley's half - human composition men as these are little better than were amongst Clough's most conshadows. Even in the presence of spicuous endowments, the social Shakespeare's secondary characters side of genius—its simple homeli-of his villains even we are never ness, and the keenness of its human altogether out of an atmosphere of sympathies—was in him beautifully faith. Among the very worst there complete. Differing, again, from the is an implied recognition of God, a scepticism of Goethe—for Clough's power without and beyond them, in moral predilections were strong, and an accusing if not approving con- anything like indifference was with science.
him impossible — his scepticism Without any of that modern seemed rather to rise out of an al