« AnteriorContinuar »
another a heretic because his views are different from your own, you who would stigmatize the professors of other creeds as idolatrous,-consider the lesson of history. What is truth? Has it any absolute criterion? Your opinions are imagined to be conclusive and final; but have not the finalities of yesterday yielded to the larger generalizations of to-day? What assurance that, in the onward march of the collective soul, your doctrines shall not wane and vanish like the scattered dreams of your ancestors ? Your faith assumes to be perfect; but what is perfection? The realized anticipations of the present. But is humanity tottering into the grave, or yet crawling out of the cradle? Who shall set a limit to the giant's unchained strength? Is not man forever defining himself? Does he not mould himself incessantly in thoughts, sentiments, acts? And, as incessantly progressing by these determinations, does he not successively burst his environments as he assumes them, only to pass into new ones, from which he will again escape in his unflagging and indefinite ascent? Through the ages to be, as through the ages gone, it shall be asked, “Brethren, what of the night?' while to each and to all the same answer shall be returned, 'Lo, the morning cometh,
Poetry.-We have seen its ardent youth and its early manhood; not preoccupied, as we are, with theories; happy in contemplating lovely objects, dreaming of nothing else, and wishing only that they might be the loveliest possible; not that things were more beautiful then, but that men, in the vernal freshness of the senses, found them so. Now prettiness takes the place of the beautiful. To the impassioned succeeds the agreeable. It is no more the overflow of images, compelling relief in words, but the sentiment of gallantry, turning a delicate compliment and a graceful phrase. The literary exhaustion is manifested in verses like these of Wither:
• Shall I, wasting in despair,
If she love me (this believe),
But if like the rest, he is a reader and a versifier rather than a seer, he keeps close to the best he knows, pure enough to have delight in nature, reverent enough to give praise:
Now the glories of the year
Mixed with pleasure profits yield.' Withal, he has the dominating bent,- the serious thought of the long sad sleep beyond the dark gulf into which we plunge, uncertain of the issue:
'As this my carnal robe grows old,
There lurk no terrors in my heart.' These are the words of a Puritan. We must expect even less substance in wits of the court, cavaliers of fashion,– Carew, Herrick, and Suckling. If the first is destitute of noble ideas, he gives us smooth and flexible verse, mere perfume and dainty form, with hardly a gem amid the rubbish-heap of trivialities:
*He that loves a rosy cheek,
Lovely cheeks or lips or cyes.' No fire in the second, but light; no passion, but sensuous reverie, with a radical indelicacy of fancy and a garrulous egotism. Let
us hear the exquisite who wrote twelve hundred little
in Arcadian repose, while public riot was drowning the voices of some and driving others to madness:
Some ask'd me where the Rubies grew:
The quarrelets of Pearl,'
'Cherry-ripe, ripe, ripe, I cry,
All the year where cherries grow.'
"When the house doth sigh and weep,
Sweet Spirit, comfort me!
Sweet Spirit, comfort me!
Sweet Spirit, comfort me!'
"Why so pale and wan, fond lover:
Prithee, why so pale?
Looking ill prevail?
Prithee, why so pale?
Prithee, why so mute?
Will, when speaking well can't win,
Saying nothing do't.
Quit, quit, for shame, this will not move:
This cannot take her.
Nothing can make her:
He has none of the penetrating faculty which opens the invisible door of obscure, endless depths, leads us to the centre, and leaves us to gather what more we may of the treasure of pure gold. He has only fancy, which stays at externals. Thus:
Her feet beneath her petticoat
As if they feared the light,''
• Her lips were red, and one was thin,
Some bec had stung it newly.' ? The real bright being of the lip is there in an instant, but it is all outside; no expression, no mind. Now hear imagination speak:
'Lamp of life, thy lips are burning
Through thin clouds, ere they divide them.'3 There is no levity here. He who sees into the heart of things sees too far, too darkly, too solemnly, too earnestly, to smile.
A second mark of decadence is the affectation of poets, their involved obscurity of style, their ingenious absurdities, their conceits. They desire to display their skill and wit in yoking together heterogeneous ideas, in justifying the unnatural, in converting life into a puzzle and a dream. They are characterized by the philosophizing spirit, the activity of the intellect rather than that of the emotions. The prevalent taste is to trace resemblances that are fantastic, to strain after novelty and surprise. Thus Donne, carliest of the school, says of a sea-voyage:
• There note they the ship's sicknesses,- the mast
With a salt dropsy clogged.'
This flea is you and I, and this
And cloyster'd in the living walls of jet.
And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.'
"Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright,
The bridal of the earth and -ky;
For thou must die.'
More servants wait on Man
To the same class of verse concoctions of novel and remote analogies, belongs The Purple Island of Fletcher, five cantos of allegorical anatomy and one of psychology, a languid sing-song of laborious riddles. Other instances of the change, equally frigid if less extravagant, are Wotton's Character of' a Happy Life, Bacon's Life of Jan, Brook's Treatise of Religion, which are noticed only as indications that the sentiment of truth was encroaching upon the sentiment of beauty, that the imaginary figures of art were giving way to the precise formulas of logic.
Apart from the crowd of sedulous imitators, is one who, preserving something of the energy and thrill of the original inspiration, refuses to be perverted; a Scot,Drummond of Hawthornden,— whose private happiness was suddenly ruined, and whose public hopes were slowly wasted; a' brooding, silent, tragic soul, altogether too serious to be artificial, with the fundamental Saxon idea of man and of existence:
"This world a hunting is.
The prey poor man, the Nimrod fierce is death;