« ПредишнаНапред »
Keats, whose Endymion was so cruelly treated by the critics, has just put forth a volume of poems which must effectually silence his deriders. The rich romance of his Lamia—the holy beauty of his St. Agnes' Eve-the pure and simple diction and intense feeling of his Isabella-and the rough sublimity of his Hyperion cannot be laughed down, though all the periodical critics in England and Scotland were to assail them with their sneers. Shelley, too, notwithstanding the odious subject of his last tragedy, evinced in that strange work a real human power, of which there is little trace among the old allegories and metaphysical splendours of his earlier productions. No one can fail to perceive, that there are mighty elements in his genius, although there is a melancholy want of a presiding power—a central harmony-in his soul. Indeed, rich as the present age is in poetry, it is even richer in promise. There are many minds—among which we may, particularly, mention that of Maturin—which are yet disturbed even by the number of their own incomplete perceptions. These, however, will doubtless fulfill their glorious destiny, as their imaginations settle into that calm lucidness, which in the instance of Keats has so rapidly succeeded to turbid and impetuous confusion.
The dramatic literature of the present age does not hold a rank proportioned to its poetical genius. But our tragedy, at least, is superior to any which has been produced since the rich period of Elizabeth and of James. Though the dramatic works of Shiel, Maturin, Coleridge, and Milman, are not so grand, and harmonious, and impressive, as the talent of their authors would lead us to desire, they are far superior to the tragedies of Hill, Southern, Murphy, Johnson, Philipps, Thomson, Young, Addison, or Rowe. Otway's Venice Preserved alone and that only in the stucture of its plot-is superior to the Remorse, to Bertram, Fazio, or Evadne. And then-more pure, more dramatic, more gentle, than all these, is the tragedy of Virginius-a piece of simple yet beautiful humanity-in which the most exquisite succession of classic groups is animated with young life and connected by the finest links of interest and the sweetest of Roman stories lives before us at once, new and familiar to our bosoms.
We shall not be suspected of any undue partiality to
wards modern criticism. But its talent shows, perhaps, more decidedly than any thing else, the great start which the human mind has taken of late years. Throughout all the periodical works extant, from the Edinburgh Review down to the lowest of the Magazines, striking indications may be perceived of “ that something far more deeply interfused,” which is now working in the literature of England. We not rarely see criticisms on theatrical performances of the preceding evening in the daily newspapers, which would put to shame the elaborate observations of Dr. Johnson on Shakspeare. Mr. Hazlitt-incomparably the most original of the regular critics—has almost raised criticism into an independent art, and, while analyzing the merits of others, has disclosed stores of sentiment, thought, and fancy, which are his own peculiar property. His relish for the excellencies of those whom he eulogizes, is so keen, that, in his delineations, the pleasures of intellect become almost as vivid and substantial as those of sense. He introduces us into the very presence of the great of old time, and enables us almost to imagine that we hear them utter the living words of beauty and wisdom. He makes us companions of their happiest hours, and share not only in the pleasures which they diffused, but in those which they tasted. He discloses to us the hidden soul of beauty, not like an anatomist but like a lover. His criticisms, instead of breaking the sweetest enchantments of life, prolongs them, and teaches us to love poetic excellence more intensely, as well as more wisely.
The present age is, also, honourably distinguished by the variety and the excellence of productions from the pen of women. In poetry-there is the deep passion, richly tinged with fancy, of Baillie-the delicate romance of Mitford-the gentle beauty and feminine chivalry of Beetham-and the classic elegance of Hemans. There is a greater abundance of female talent among the novelists. The exquisite sarcasm of humour of Madame D'Arblay-the soft and romantic charm of the novels of the Porters—the brilliant ease and admirable good sense of Edgeworth—the intense humanity of Inchbald--the profound insight into the fearful depths of the soul with which the author of Glenarvon is gifted—the heart-rending pathos of Opie-and the gentle
wisdom, the holy sympathy with the holiest childhood, and the sweet imaginings, of the author of Mrs. Leicester's School-soften and brighten the literary aspect of the age. These indications of female talent are not only delightful in themselves, but inestimable as proofs of the rich intellectual treasures which are diffused throughout the sex, to whom the next generation will owe their first and their most sacred impressions.
But, after all, the best intellectual sign of the present times is the general education of the poor. This ensures duration to the principles of good, by whatever political changes the frame of society may be shaken. The sense of human rights and of human duties is not now confined to a few, and, therefore, liable to be lost, but is stamped in living characters on millions of hearts. And the foundations of human improvement thus secured, it has a tendency to advance in a true geometrical progression. Mean while, the effects of the spirit of improvement which have long been silently preparing in different portions of the globe, are becoming brilliantly manisest. The vast continent of South America, whether it continue nominally dependent on European states, or retain its own newly-asserted freedom, will teem with new intellect, enterprize, and energy. Old Spain, long sunk into the most abject degradation, has suddenly awakened, as if refreshed from slumber, and her old genius must revive with her old dignities. A bloodless revolution has just given liberty to Naples, and thus has opened the way for the restoration of Italy. That beautiful region again will soon inspire her bards with richer strains than of yore, and diffuse throughout the world a purer luxury. Amidst these quickenings of humanity, individual poets, indeed, must lose that personal importance which in darker periods would be their portion. All selfism-all predominant desire for the building up of individual fame-must give way to the earnest and single wish to share in, and promote, the general progress of the species. He is unworthy of the name of a great poet, who is not contented that the loveliest of his imaginations should be lost in the general light, or viewed only as the soft and delicate streaks which shall usher in that glorious dawn, which is, we believe, about to rise on the world, and to set no more!
ON PULPIT ORATORY.
WiTH REMARKS ON THE REWEREND ROBERT HALL.
THE decline of eloquence in the Senate and at the Bar is no matter of surprise. In the freshness of its youth, it was the only medium by which the knowledge and energy of a single heart could be communicated to thousands. It supplied the place, not only of the press, but of that general communication between the different classes of the state, which the intercourses of modern society supply. Then the passions of men, unchilled by the frigid customs of later days, left them open to be inflamed or enraptured by the bursts of an enthusiasm, which would now be met only with scorn. In our courts of law occasions rarely arise for animated addresses to the heart; and even when these occur, the barrister is fettered by technical rules, and yet more by the technical habits and feelings, of those by whom he is encircled. A comparatively small degree of fancy, and a glow of social feeling, directed by a tact which will enable a man to proceed with a constant appearance of directing his course within legal confines, are now the best qualifications of a forensic orator. They were exhibited by Lord Erskine in the highest perfection, and attended with the most splendid success. Had he been greater than he was, he had been nothing. He ever seemed to cherish an affection for the technicalities of his art, which won the confidence of his duller associates. He appeared to lean on these as his stays and resting-places, even when he ventured to look into the depth of human nature, or to catch a momentary glimpse of
the regions of fantasy. When these were taken from him, his powers fascinated no longer. He was exactly adapted to the sphere of a court of law-above his fellows, but not beyond their gage-and giving to the forms which he could not forsake, an air of venerableness and grandeur. Any thing more full of beauty and wisdom than his speeches, would be heard only with cold and bitter scorn in an English court of justice. In the houses of parliament, mightier questions are debated; but no speaker hopes to influence the decision. Indeed the members of opposition scarcely pretend to struggle against the “dead eloquence of votes,” but speak with a view to an influence on the public mind, which is a remote and chilling aim. Were it otherwise, the academic education of the members—the prevalent disposition to ridicule, rather, that to admire-and the sensitiveness which resents a burst of enthusiasm as an offence against the decorum of polished society--would effectually repress any attempt to display an eloquence in which intense passion should impel the imagination, and noble sentiment should be steeped in fancy. The orations delivered on charitable occasions, consisting, with few exceptions, of poor conceits, miserable compliments, and hackneyed metaphors, are scarcely worthy of a transient allusion.
But the causes which have opposed the excellence of pulpit oratory in modern times, are not so obvious. Its subjects have never varied, from the day when the Holy Spirit visibly descended on the first advocates of the Gospel, in tongues of fire. They are in no danger of being exhausted by frequency, or changed with the vicissitudes of mortal fortune. They have immediate relation to that eternity, the idea of which is the living soul of all poetry and art. It is the province of the preachers of Christianity to develope the connexion between this world and the next-to watch over the beginnings of a course which will endure for ever-and to trace the broad shadows cast from imperishable realities on the shifting scenery of earth. This sublunary sphere does not seem to them as trifling or mean, in proportion as they extend their views onward; but assumes a new grandeur and sanctity, as the vestibule of a statelier and an eternal region. The mysteries of our being-life and death—both in their strange essences, and in their sublimer relations, are topics of