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sacred poem of Job undoubtedly is, such nevertheless is its character and construction, as to carry strong internal marks of its being written in an advanced state of the art.
The poet, therefore, whether Hebrew or Greek, was in the earliest ages a sacred character, and his talent a divine gift, a celestial inspiration : men regarded him as the ambassador of Heaven, and the interpreter of its will. It is perfectly in nature, and no less agreeable to God's providence, to suppose that even in the darkest times some minds of a more enlightened sort should break forth, and be engaged in the contemplation of the universe and its author : from meditating upon the works of the Creator, the transition to the act of praise and adoration follows as it were of course: these are operations of the mind, which naturally inspire it with a certain portion of rapture and enthusiasm, rushing upon the lips in warm and glowing language, and disdaining to be expressed in ordinary and vulgar phrase; the thoughts become inflated, the breast labours with a passionate desire to say something worthy of the ear of Heaven, something in a more elevated tone and cadence, something more harmonious and musical; this can only be effected by measured periods, by some chaunt, that can be repeated in the strain again and again, grateful at once to the ear, and impressive on the memory; and what is this but poetry? Poetry then is the language of prayer, an address becoming of the Deity; it may be remembered; it may be repeated in the ears of the people called together for the purposes of worship; this is a form that may be fixt upon their minds, and in this they may be taught to join.
The next step in the progress of poetry from the praise of God is to the praise of men : illustrious characters, heroic actions are singled out for celebration : the inventors of useful arts, the reformers of savage countries, the benefactors of mankind, are extolled in verse, they are raised to the skies; and the poet, having praised them as the first of men whilst on earth, deifies them after death, and, conscious that they merit immortality, boldly bestows it, and assigns to them a rank and office in heaven appropriate to the character they maintained in life; hence it is that the merits of a Bacchus, a Hercules, and numbers more, are amplified by the poet, till they become the attributes of their divinity, altars are raised, and victims immolated to their worship. These are the fanciful effects of poetry in its second stage: religion over-heated turns it into enthusiasm ; enthusiasm forces the imagination into all the visionary regions of fable, and idolatry takes possession of the whole Gentile world. The Egyptians, a mysterious dogmatizing race, begin the work with symbol and hieroglyphic; the Greeks, a vain ingenious. people, invent a set of tales and fables for what they do not understand, embellish them with all the glittering ornaments of poetry, and spread the captivating delusion over all the world.
In the succeeding period we review the poet in full possession of this brilliant machinery, and with all Olympus at his command : surrounded by Apollo and the muses, he commences every poem with an address to them for protection; he has a deity at his call for every operation of nature; if he would roll the thunder, Jupiter shakes Mount Ida to dignify his description; Neptune attends him in his car, if he would allay the ocean ; if he would let loose the winds to raise it, Æolus unbars his cave; the spear
of Mars, and the ægis of Minerva, arm him for the battle; the arrows of Apollo scatter pestilence through the air; Mercury flies upon the
messages of Jupiter; Juno raves with jealousy, and
he stands in person before us: he no longer appears as a blind and wandering bard, chaunting his rhapsodies to a throng of villagers collected in a group about him, but erects a splendid theatre, gathers together a whole city as his audience, prepares a striking spectacle, provides a chorus of actors, brings music, dance, and dress, to his aid, realizes the thunder, bursts open the tombs of the dead, calls forth their apparitions, descends to the very regions of the damned, and drags the Furies from their flames to present themselves personally to the terrified spectators : such are the powers of the drama; here the poet reigns and triumphs in his highest glory.
The fifth denomination gives us the lyric poet chaunting his ode at the public games and festivals, crowned with olive, and encompassed by all the wits and nobles of his age and country : here we contemplate Stesichorus, Alcæus, Pindar, Callistratus; sublime, abrupt, impetuous, they strike us with the shock of their electric genius; they dart from earth to heaven; there is no following them in their flights; we stand gazing with surprise, their boldness awes us, their brevity confounds us; their sudden transitions and ellipses escape our apprehension; we are charmed we know not why, we are pleased with being puzzled, and applaud although we cannot comprehend. In the lighter lyric we meet Anacreon, Sappho, and the votaries of Bacchus and Venus; in the grave, didactic, solemn class we have the venerable names of a Solon, a Tyrtæus, and those, who may be styled the demagogues in poetry: Is liberty to be asserted, licentiousness to be repressed ? Is the spirit of a nation to be roused? It is the poet not the orator must give the soul its energy and spring: Is Salamis to be recovered ? It is the elegy of Solon must sound the march to its attack. Are the Lacedemonians to be awakened from their lethargy? It is Tyrtæus, who must sing the war-song and revive their languid courage.
Poetry next appears in its pastoral character; it affects the garb of shepherds and the language of the rustic: it represents to our view the rural landscape and the peaceful cottage? it records the labours, the amusements, the loves of the village nymphs and swains, and exhibits nature in its simplest state: it is no longer the harp or the lyre, but the pipe of the poet, which now invites our attention; Theocritus, leaning on his crook in his russet mantle and clouted brogues, appears more perfectly in character than the courtly Maro, who seems more the shepherd of the theatre than of the field. I have yet one other class in reserve for the epigrammatist, but I will shut up my list without him, not being willing that poetry, which commences with a prayer, should conclude with a pun.
Taste may be considered either as sensitive or mental; and under each of these denominations is sometimes spoken of as natural, sometimes as acquired; I propose to treat of it in its intellectual construction only, and in this sense Mr. Addison defines it to be that faculty of the soul, which discerns the beauties of an author with pleasure, and the imperfections with dislike.
This definition may very properly apply to the faculty which we exercise in judging and deciding upon the works of others; but how does it apply to the faculty exercised by those who produced those works; How does it serve to develope the taste of an author, the taste of a painter or a statuary? And yet we may, speak of a work of taste with the same propriety as we do of a man of taste. It should seem therefore as if this definition went only to that denomination of taste, which we properly call an acquired taste; the productions of which generally end in imitation, whilst those of natural taste bear the stamp of originality: another characteristic of natural taste will be simplicity : for how can nature give more than she possesses, and what is nature but simplicity? Now when the mind of any man is endued with a fine natural taste, and all means of profiting by other men's ideas are out of the question, that taste will operate by disposing him to select the fairest subjects out of what he sees either for art or imagination to work upon: Still his production will be marked with simplicity; but, as it is the province of taste to separate deform