Page images
PDF
EPUB

Notwithstanding, there is evidently a higher order of divine conceptions aimed at in the Christian poetry. It may be called the second dispensation of poetry. There is a grossness of idea about heathenism which modern refinement never can relish. We can never return to pagan poetry, with all its nature and with all its sympathy. Moreover, we are becoming dissatisfied with Christian poetry. Our great poets still enjoy their reputation by tacit assent, but they are not much read. Milton lies on the shelf, like Jeremy Taylor, and Isaac Barrow, and other great men, whose genius has never been surpassed in Christian literature; and the age not finding any thing to satisfy its religious appetite, is running headlong after trifles which our fathers would have scorned as profane or puerile. Artists ought to perceive the change ; and, instead of attempting to recur to that which has gone for ever, to fly to the eternal and exhaustless source of thought within their own bosoms, and bring out new treasures and new visions of God for new generations of men.

The first dispensation of poetry, which corresponds to the Legal in the history of the Church, was decidedly material in its character, but peculiarly fitted to the sensuous conceptions of young society. The second, which corresponds with the Gospel, is an attempt to escape from the laws of body in toto. This attempt is not only transcendental in respect to its impracticability, but also in respect to its moral re-action on the mind. Nature may rebel against it, and would have revolted, had the attempt been less successful. It is true, that all the poetic images and figures of speech, and the richest speci. mens of rapt enthusiasm, are the beau ideals of material nature. The poetic genius has had therein ample field for exercise; and, aided by its own richness, has therewith produced imperishable works of creative fancy. The celebrated Inferno of Dante is a work of genius in which the individual paintings are full of life and nature; the scenes are richly coloured, and the agonies of the damned are delineated with a masterly hand. But the conception of the piece is perhaps out of sympathy with the age in which we live, and the work itself is a Gothic ruin, venerable for its antiquity, admirable for its workmanship, picturesque and romantic as a specimen of art, but by no means a resting-place for the social and domestic feelings of men and women. In fine, Dante is a preterDatural poet-we may say the same of Milton. Both are pedantic. The less learning a poet shews the better. He should never obtrude his information, whether of history, or geography, or any other science ; whilst, at the same time, his images and figures should all be in perfect harmony with the laws of science. The theology of Milton is more sublime, but to some minds is not more satisfactory than that of Homer. The idea of God being sovereign of the south of heaven, and Satan raising his standard in the north, is to them infinitely heathenish. Is not God, they exclaim, a universal Spirit? Did not Satan know this? Was Satan a greater ignorantone in theology than an English school boy? Then the angels fighting with material swords, too, to settle a spiritual controversy, and throwing mountains at each other! Why no painter could represent the scene; the mountain would appear a mole-hill in the angel's hands, and the representation itself a caricature. Dr. Johnson used to sigh over this, as it seemed to him awful bad taste in our greatest poet. But we look upon it in another light. There are eras or dispensations through which the fine arts all move together, and become perfect simultaneously.

If we examine any other of the fine arts, we shall see the same characteristic steps of progress in each. We look at present to the great eras, overlooking minor changes, which, however, are all exponents of the mental or spiritual condition of their respective times. The temples of the Greeks are the first dispensation of sacred architecture. They constitute one complete branch of art to which nothing can be added. They are incorruptible like a revelation from heaven-perfectly isolated, and defying the genius of man to improve or modify them. They are a miracle in architecture, and the genius of masonry has now prostrated itself before them, vowed allegiance and sworn to preserve inviolable, their chastity, and their sovereignty. The Christian temple is very different. It is like the Christian poetry, more sublime, but no less natural, and more pensive. The Heathen temples were light and aerial, and low in stature. They were exquisite little specimens of masonic art. The Christian temples are majestic, tall, and proud, dark and cavernous, full of bones, and surrounded with death, and the monuments thereof,—the very counterpart of Dante and Milton's poetry; and like that poetry they at once excite fear and awe, as well as love and sympathy. If there be any exception at all to this universal character of Christian templar architecture, it is St. Peter's at Rome, which is light, aerial, beautiful, pleasing to the eye, and captivating to the imagination. But go down to the catacombs beneath it, to the shrine of St. Peter and St. Paul, to the sarcophagi of the popes and cardinals, and crowned heads of olden times, with a live torch in your hand, as you wend your way through the fearful labyrinth. You will walk up stairs with as sorrowful a countenance as if you had read the whole of Dante's Inferno, or the first book of Milton's Paradise Lost.

We know little of ancient painting ; but we have many memorials of Grecian sculpture, and they display the same light, chaste, natural character as the poetry and architecture. There is a free exhibition of nature in ancient art; and as the poet did not hesitate to imbue his divinities with the passions and feel. ings of men and women, the sculptor did not fear to represent them entirely nude. Venus is adorned only with her own perfections ; Mercury has got but a pair of wings on his heels, and a cap on his head; Minerva is clothed because she is spiritual; Diana, because she is chaste; Jupiter, because he is supreme and sovereign. But the prevailing character of ancient sculpture is nudity or simple nature. Christian sculpture, being more spiritual or less material, like the poetry, has clothed all its sacred characters ; the Madonna is amply folded up in her robes of chastity; the Saints are tied up to the very neck in their woollen tunics; and the workmanship of God is concealed by the coarse manufactures of the loom and the shuttle. This is done to spiritualise or sanctify the figures. It is the death of the body. The dispensation of Christianity is the death of the body of the eternal Son. In correspondence with this theologi. cal idea, the body has been buried in the works of art of the highest and most religious order.

There is a profanity about a naked body at present, which forbids its identification with a sacred character Symptoms, however, of a change of public feeling in this respect have shown themselves. This is especially visible on the Continent At the last exhibition of living artists in the Louvre, some of the finest specimens of art were representations of pure male and female nudity. This predicts a change, a change which may be symbolically represented as the resurrection of the body. The body has long been buried. It has been buried in art, it has been buried in spiritualism and monkish mortification. It has been decried, insulted, abused, vilified, all to no purpose. It has asserted its rights, and defied its persecutors. The angels of God are rolling away the stone from its sepulchre, and the resurrection-morn is dawning upon it, which will restore it to life purified, and sanctified, and glorified, as the sacred image of that God, whose workmanship is perfect, and which, though susceptible of degradation and liable to fall into corruption and disrepute for a season, is doomed at length to rise victorious from the tomb, and to fulfil its sacred destiny.

Before we make any observations upon the drama, we must observe, that all the fine arts naturally belong to the church; who is, or ought to be, the mother and patroness of all that is sacred or sanctifying in its character. Religion or the church gave birth to the fine arts, and has been hitherto their best supporters. But religion is broken to pieces, and that which is now called the church, represents only a portion of the broken body. Hence the support given by the church personally or corporatively amounts to cothing. It is chiefly to the religious feeling* in its scattered condition—the wandering Isis of

• By religious feeling, we mean the highest order of spiritual or moral feeling' independent of dogma.

the Prometheus of Æschylus--that the arts are at present indebted for their patrouage. Nay, the church political, which ought to be their mother, is really their enemy; and the ecclesiastical authorities have, by their imperious restrictions, prevented the religious feeling of the country from sanctifying the drama by its moral influence. The drama is a branch of the church. It was the church of the Greeks; and they sanctified it. Their dramatic productions are purer and holier than ours, because they were unfettered, because the poetic genius had wing, and because the pagan prelacy of Greece forbade not the exhibition of sanctity on the stage. The public naturally has no tendency to encourage profanity of any kind; but if interdicted from giving free vent to its religious feelings by any narrow sectarian notions of individual mysticism or puritanism, its very natural tendency is to descend and vulgarize to excess. One extreme always begets another. Accordingly, we find that, sanctity itself being forbidden in its own native dignity, the caricature has been substituted, and the priests themselves held up to public scorn, as the personifications of cant and hypocrisy. Thus it is in the race of error that extremes meet.

The drama, we say, was the church of the Greeks, and corresponded with the synagogue of the Jews, which was a species of drama, being a free conference, in which a variety of mind was exhibited, and diversity of character manifested. This stage or dispensation was superseded by the Christian church, which has raised the dignity or sublimity of the church, and given a greater degree of unity to its character. But modern practice has departed greatly from ancient manners. Instruction is not communicable by one man legally ordained by authority. Such unity is always unsatisfactory. It is unfavourable to mental exercise, and tends to breed inward discontent and aversion. There is a natural prejudice against solitary dictation. Variety of thought, and variety of character, are not only more pleasing, but more instructive. Hence the impressions derived from stage representation are more lasting than those derived from preaching or lecturing; and the people flock to the theatre to spend their money, when they would not take a seat in a church gratis. Twenty theatres in London, open six days in the week, are equal to one hundred and twenty on a Sunday, and many of them hold triple or quadruple the number of an ordinary church or chapel congregation. The superior dignity of the church to the old Grecian stage, consists in its more elevated dogma, its higher order of divinity; but its inferiority consists in its utter deficiency of art or nature, if you will, in the means adopted to electrify the public mind with its own conceptions. Its dulness is now proverbial, but it has monopolised sanctity, and used the strong arm of the law to prevent others from doing that in another fashion, which, after its own fashion, it has failed to accomplish. In making these remarks, we have no concealed thought of converting the church into a stage; far from it: but we think the church might, with great security to itself and benefit to the public, patronise the stage, and help to sanctify it; and, moreover, we think that, now since science has raised up so many illustrations to the truths of revelation, the church itself might with great propriety introduce a new mode of instruction by the eye, in ocular demonstrations of the great doctrines of the fall and redemption of man, which would have a happy effect in giving unity of idea to the public mind. The eye is as sacred as the ear-the eye is the emblem of God.

Thus far had we read, when we were alarmed by a great lumbering noise. We had left the entrance to the Crypt open in our library. The printer's Devil, having been shown into the room, in the full expectation that we were there, found himself alone. Prowling about in search of us, he at last stumbled over the trap-door, and came, head-foremost, down the stairs into the Crypt at once.

“O!" said we, picking up, compassionately, the spilt sulphur, "you want MS.?” “No''--replied he “but copy, sir!" So, to save pother, we tore-off

N. S.-VOL. 1.

what we had just read, and gave him the above specimen of Cryptography. In return, he left with us a bundle of proof-slips, to which we now give such arraugement as befits orderly editorship.

Fine Arts FOR THE MONTH.-The Village Magazine, a Journal of Litera. ture, Fine Arts, and General Knowledge, with Illustrations, Nos. 1 to 4, to be continued Monthly, is, we must say, an amusing and instructive little Miscel. lany.-Caricature still continues to flourish. The Heads of the People, No. 3, contains The Spoilt Child-The Old Lord--The Beadle of the Parish, and The Linen Draper's Assistant. Cornelius Webbe's Sketch of the Beadle is excellent. Godwin's Churches of London, No. 25, presents us with Views of St. Mary's Woolnoth; St. Margaret's, Lothbury; St. James's, Garlick-Hithe; St. Peter-le-Poor, Broad-street; and St, Botolph's, Aldersgate. Splendid Library Edition of Fables, by the most eminent British, French, German, and Spanish Authors, illustrated with numerous Engravings, after Original Designs, by J.J. Grandville-Part 2–Tilt, Fleet-street, 1839. This is, in all respects, a worthy production.

11.-PHILOSOPHY. Essay on the Method of Philosophical Study. By THEODORE JOUFFROY,

Professor of Moral Philosophy at the Faculté des Lettres of Paris; translated from the French, with Introductory and Critical Notices by George Ripley. M. JOUFFROY was first a pupil, then an assistant, of M. Cousin, in the Normal School, and is now his successor in the chair of Modern Philosophy at the Faculté des Lettres of Paris. The introducer, in a great measure, of the Scotch philosophy into France, and the especial favourite of M. Cousin, he nevertheless sustains a position equally independent of the Scottish school and of M. Cousin himself; his philosophy is a scientific system-based on the examination of Facts. The Soul has its facts as well as the Universe.

Jouffroy desires to solve the great problem of human destiny. Man is capable of contemplating every thing as created for a certain End. The Reason of Man is born with him ; but it long remains in a state of slumber; it needs powerful influences to arouse it, and, so to speak, to bring out the principles which it contains. That which awakens man's reason, and commoves him to inquire into his destiny, is Evil; and this is the purpose of Evil's existence.

The inevitable sufferings of life, sooner or later, compel us to demand a solution of the problem—Why has man been placed in the world? To the same question, also, our happinesses lead us—for the highest enjoyments of life at length prove insufficient for the heart of man. Looking, also, on the great scenes of nature, we are tempted irresistibly to the inquiry, What is the Pure pose of man's condition on earth ? Reflecting on the history of our kind, we exclaim, What is the humanity of which we form a part? What is its origin? what is its end? Is creation only a theatre in which it comes to perform one act of its immortal existence? Will the light which does not shine upon its cradle, illustrate its developement? But who understands the course which it is to take ? The Oriental civilisation has fallen under Grecian civilisation ; the Grecian civilisation has fallen under Roman civilisation ; a new civilisation, proceeding from the forests of Germany, has destroyed the Roman civilisation. What will be the issue of this new civilisation? Will it conquer the world, or is all civilisation destined to grow up and to decay? In a word, does humanity only revolve in the same circle, or does it advance? Or again, as some maintain, does it go back ?

The discoveries of science, also, perplex us—particularly the science of geology, which implicates nature in a series of attempts, proceeding from the less to the more perfect, and at length placing man upon the earth. Thus man seems to be only an essay on the part of the Creator, an essay, among many others, which he has been pleased to make and to destroy. Those immense reptiles, those shapeless animals, which have disappeared from the face of the earth, have formerly lived on it, as we do now. Why should not the day also come, when our race will be blotted out, when our bones, as they are discovered, will be looked upon by the species that are then alive, as the rude sketches of nature, in a first experiment? And if, then, we are only a link in this chain of creations, more or less imperfect, how should we regard ourselves ? What are our titles to hope and to pride ?

The first concepijon of human destiny is, to man, like the torch in the fable of Psyche. Before this fearful revelation, the man obeyed his instincts, and, without calculation, without disturbance, arrived, or did not arrive, at the end to which they impelled him : when he attained this end, he was happy; when he did not attain it, he suffered : those transitory distresses, soon effaced by the appearance of new passions, bore no resemblance to the profound sadness which takes possession of him who has conceived the question of human destiny, and observed the darkness which surrounds it: a new chord is then struck in the depths of his soul; and no external distraction can prevent its vibration on the slightest touch.

Hence the sentiments which are the glory and torment of our nature-the Poetical, the Religious, and the Philosophical. The lyrical is the whole of poetry-all other sorts of it have only the form. The mystical is the Whole of Religion and the psychical is the whole of philosophy. Poetry, religion, philosophy, are three manifestations of the same sentiment, which is here satisfied by laborious researches, there by a lively faith, and still further by plaintive melodies; and it is this which creates a bond of brotherhood between poetical, religious, and philosophical spirits ; which enables them to under. stand each other so perfectly, even when they speak such different languages; and which makes them equally unintelligible to those innocent minds which do not know, which do not yet comprehend, the tempest that agitates them.

The investigation of the destiny of man on earth is called Morality; after this life, Religion; of the destiny of the human race, the science of History; of the origin and the laws of the universe, Cosmology; of the nature of God, and his relations with man and creation, Theology.

The completeness with which these problems are solved, is the great criterion of every great philosophical doctrine. A philosophical doctrine which does not apply to them all, is only a half-philosophy. If we consult the great philosophers, we find this universality in their systems. The doctrine of Epicurus, for instance, contains a solution, such as it is, of every question which interests humanity; not one is without an answer. The case is the same with Platonism, with Stoicism, with the philosophy of Kant, with every great philosophy. Like every great religion, every great philosophical doctrine resolves all the problems which interest and which torment humanity. Christian wisdom also fulfils the same conditions.

“There is a little book (says Mr. Ripley, in his Introduction) which is taught to children, and on which they are examined in the church. If we read this book, which is the catechism, we shall find a solution of all the problems which have been proposed; of all of them, without exception. If we ask the Christian, whence comes the human race, he knows; or whither it goes, he knows; or how it goes, he knows. If we ask that poor child, who has never reflected on the subject in his life, why is he here below, and what will become of him after death? he will give you a sublime answer, which he will not thoroughly comprehend, but which is none the less admirable for that. If we ask him, how the world was created, and for what end; why God has placed in it plants and animals; how the earth was peopled, whether by a single family, or by many; why men speak different languages; why they suffer, why they struggle, and how all this will end, he knows all! Origin of

« PreviousContinue »