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liberty rejects no sources of light. It is her boast that she aspires at all moral perfections, and neglects no means to attain them. It is her vital principle that she imposes no curb nor shackle upon the human powers. What free state has ever discouraged the study of elegant literature? Sparta was a republic when Lycurgus gathered the fragments of Homer from the corners of Ionia, and summoned Thales from Crete to soften the rudeness of Lacedemonian manners. Athens was a republic when Plato sought the elements of his refined philosophy in the records and tradition of Thebes and Egypt. Rome was a republic when Scipio and the assembled senate rescued Carneades and his learned colleagues—those attic babblers,” as ignorance had termed them--from Cato's motion of banishment, and not the less a republic when in his hoary age, that same Cato, outliving his
prejudices, himself acquired the language he before disdained to hear. Florence was a republic when Cosmo de' Medici sheltered and honoured the fugitive philosophers of the lower empire, and garnered in the boson of his native city most that the world then knew of the beautiful in art and the great in letters. And America was a republic yet stretching her infant limbs, and struggling with her early wants, when, if small things may follow great, the apostle of modern democracy deemed it, as it was, the glory of his life to establish a seat of learning in his paternal state, where the foundations of liberal knowledge should, as he fondly hoped, be laid and assured to future generations, broad, deep, secure, and eternal.
The acquisition of ancient learning is an accomplishment, but it is one, the importance of which no common objector, though mounted on his hobby of utility, can trample down or conceal. It is an accomplishment that strengthens as well as adorns. Putting theory aside, look at England, and the high tone of her national mind, for centuries past. Education there is built upon and supported by classical learning from turret to foundation stone” – from the elegant private studies of a cultivated nobility and gentry, to the drudgery of the fifth form at Eton. A German writer of no mean note, confirmed his opinions of the importance of these studies, from a similar consideration. “We ought to judge in matters of education,” says Lichtenberg, “ rather from experience than from mere reasoning. We should inquire what nation has produced the most active and the greatest men; not indeed the greatest number of compilers and of book makers, but of the most intrepid, the most acute, accomplished, and magnanimous characters? This is very probably the English nation."*
** Ten of the fifteen judges now on the bench in Westminster Hall, are high wranglers and prizemen from the two Universities-nearly one-half of the most eminent practising lawyers in England, gave a similar promise of their fame. The primate of all England, and the four first in consequence of the bishops, all obtained high
Should it be objected to this, that there are other causes operating upon the English character, such as the state of society, frame of government, and national and individual wealth, we are ready to grant the positions; but before we admit that it weakens our argument, we must pray the objector to canvass philosophically the operation of literature, society, and government, upon each other, and see for himself whether the influence of the first be not at least co-equal and co-ordinate with that of the other two. We have in a former page endeavoured to present some of the many considerations which the state of our own country furnishes in connexion with this topic, but to do it justice would require a volume. The state of society before and after the revival of letters and the invention of the printing press, affords an illustration to which it is sufficient at present merely to allude. Should we be referred to the greatest name in English literature as a refutation of our theory, while we bow implicitly to the supremacy of Shakspeare's genius, we notwithstanding take issue upon the fact of his ignorance of the learned tongues, at least of the Latin, and say with Schlegel, that he was a scholar. He rose infinitely above the pedantry of his contemporaries, but there is internal evidence which every reader of the classics can appreciate, that the associate of Jonson, in that learned age, was liberally imbued with polite learning. He was sufficiently a prodigy, without insisting that he shall be held an ignorant one.
Mr. Grimké has offered several passages in the Paradise Lost, to illustrate, to use his own metaphor, - how much injury a modern poet deriv's from the attempt to ornament the garden of modern poetry, with the shrubbery, flowers, and vines of classic literature.” He seems to have forgotten, that Milton's subject eminently needed some familiar illustration and imagery, to render it at all tangible by human apprehension, and yet was not susceptible of any by which it must not appear degraded. The unknown can only be rendered appreciable by the known, and of the known, that is best adapted to an elevated theme, which is itself half hid in the ideal, and which, though familiar, has the dignity of an ancient and mystic origin, and of poetical association. Milton knew this perfectly, when he adopted the Acheron and Lethe of the Pagan mythology, and borrowed from the Iliad, to weigh the fortunes of the contending angels, the scales of Jupiter. The reader of Dante, the only poet whose subject approaches that of Milton in majesty and solemnity, will occa
academical reputation. The two chancellors of England preceding the present, and the present chief justice, and his two predecessors, were equally distinguished, while the two front rows of the old House of Commons were crowded with the first-class men of the two Universities. Lord Liverpool's cabinet, which pacified Europe and subdued Napoleon (by way of fame and distinction,) was nick-named the ChristChurch Club.”—Lond. Quar. Rev. for Aug. 1834.
sionally perceive, that the allusions of the latter can but ill be supplied by the expedients of a vulgar superstition. Dante's judge, instead of a balance or an urn, is equipped with a long tail, by means of which he assigns to the soul of each culprit, its place in the infernal domain :
“Cignesi con la coda tante volte,
Quantunque gradi vuol che giù sia messa.' In elegance, vraisemblance, and every species of poetic propriety, how much superior is the metaphor of Dante's great teacher;
“Nec vero hæ sine sorte datæ, sine judice sedes :
Conciliumque vocat, vitasque et crimina discit.”+ Epic machinery is not so readily manufactured as some writers would seem to imagine. Spenser, with a subject which opened to him the whole field of romance, and which an Italian poet would have immortalized, has fewer English readers than Milton. He would actually have come nearer the heart, even of our own time, had he adopted the Grecian mythology, than he has with his cumbrous allegorical personifications. So with Voltaire. The truth is, the theory of the epic has, since the time of Milton, undergone a revolution, or rather epic poetry has become essentially dramatic. That poet, it is true, had no need to use the machinery of the ancients, but he deemed it legitimate to consider their belief
, and the personifications of their faith, in the light of realities, so far as description and allusion were concerned-as to machinery, properly so called, he needed none, since his actors and events were all essentially supernatural. The Hindu or Scandinavian mythologies, which Mr. Grimké recommends, are equally foreign to probability with the classic, and lack, besides, its ideality, and the familiarity of its associations. Nothing, therefore, can be gained by the substitution. The age of steamboats, we fear, must give up the epic-happy, in fact, if it can retain any evidence of the poetic temperament. Aside from the limited diffusion of truth, and connected with it, the reason why heroic poetry succeeded among the ancients, was the credence given by the mass of readers or hearers, to the preternatural intervention of divine personages. This is particularly true of the Iliad, which was received in a rude stage of society, where the imagination was more developed than the judgment, upon very different grounds from those on which it is now applauded. Nor was the representation of a personal interposition, by Mars or Neptune, in the wars of Troy, more to be doubted, by an ancient Greek, than the doctrine of a general superintending Providence by a modern Christian. Those productions of recent times, therefore, which, in their effect, have most resembled the earliest epic,
* Inferno, Canto 5.
Æneid. vi. 431.
are the metrical romances of chivalry. Like the Homeric poems, they were recited in a warlike and uncultivated age ; like them, they were, even in their most extravagant incidents, received with undoubting faith by all save the religious order and the very small number of educated laymen; and like them, they recounted heroic exploits and perilous adventures, effected frequently by the aid of a superior order of beings. The Italian poets early saw that here was the germ of the modern epic, and exquisitely did they turn their sagacity to account. But the fairy-faith had vanished from the Italian republics, if indeed it had ever obtained there, with the introduction of ancient learning: Still it haunted the hearts, if not the minds of men, and on the Rhine, and in the remoter and more sylvan districts of England, it may still be traced, in some lingering legend or old superstition. It would furnish, perhaps, the best machinery (though the experiment would be a bold one) of which the epic is now susceptible--that is, it would touch and interest more that great class of readers who have taken the place of the listeners of the age of Homer and the Trouvères. Pope's Rosicrucian agents, (though his poem is only mock-heroic,) are of the same lineage ; and Wieland's exquisite and successful version of Huon of Bourdeaux, so advantageously known to us through Mr. Sotheby's translation, shows how readily the public mind has, within a few years, yielded to those old and familiar influences, thitherto kept alive, in no small degree, in the bosom of the reader of English, by Shakspeare, and by Milton himself, though less popularly, in Comus.
We say again, in reference to the classical allusions of the Paradise Lost, that we yield no tittle of them. The poem
abounds with them, it is true, and so it abounds with learned reference to all the sources of knowledge then open to the scholar to the traditions of Assyrian and Persian greatness, the mysteries of Egypt, the unhallowed idolatry of the Canaanites (a less elegant mythology certainly than that of Greece), the sunny fables of the Italian poets, and the orgies of northern superstition. They are the points where the cultivated reader rests, after the fatigue and tension of the mind, as upon something earthly, after his flight upward through unfamiliar regions; as one who has struggled with wild or fearful dreams, welcomes, on awakening, some object or reflection, which brings his household recollections back again. It is by looking through the eyes of the heart that the intellect best familiarizes itself with the distant and obscure in literature, by connecting the subject with old associations, and linking it to those immortal creations of the mind, which have survived through so many ages, and which no age will “willingly let die.” Our remarks on this point have been confined to Milton, as the extreme instance, and because he was selected by Mr. Grimké, but they are applicable, mutatis mutandis, to other
poets, though we certainly do not mean to extend them to modern pastorals with classic decorations-a fair object of satire, we had almost said of utter detestation,
Learning cannot operate in favour of the few, without redounding to the benefit of the many. All the arts of peace improve beneath its influence. Industry revives and flourishes as it leads the way to new wants. The general mind advances, as the means of enjoyment are thus placed within the reach of all. The convenient succeeds the rude, and men begin to look beyond mere usefulness for the beautiful. The material creation in all its natural and artificial forms, is pervaded with a portion of that spirit, which clothes the ruins of antiquity with magic, even in their sad and mournful decay. The principles of taste are invoked to adorn and refine the architecture and amusements of the nation. The theatre takes the place of the resorts of dissolute riot, and gradually becomes a school where the people may be instructed through the ear, in the harmony and force of their language, and familiarized through the eye with the picturesque and graceful in costume, and the appropriate in decoration. The public mind is occasionally withdrawn from that which in a free government must greatly engross it, the exacerbating collisions of politics, and the angles of the national character are rounded, not by the corroding file of a rival or an enemy, but by the generous appliances derived from the contemplation of the polite arts. A love of those arts, and of the learning which produced and fosters them succeeds, as connected with national grandeur and individual happiness, and their professors and disciples are recoynised and honoured as public benefactors, even in the tumult of civil war or foreign invasion.
“The great Emathian conqueror bid spare
Of sad Electra's poet, had the power
To save the Athenian walls from ruin bare.” And finally, the great moral truth to which all modern legislation tends, is impressed upon mankind, that with the progress of knowledge is identified their future security against the efforts of low art or desolating power. This may be called a dream-if it is but a dream, we hold our national existence by a frail and feeble tenure.
The acquisition of ancient learning is an accomplishment, but not an accomplishment merely. The secular records of the old universe are wrapped up in the moods and tenses of those teeming volumes. Not a word, not a letter but is profitable for instruction—not a line but may mark an event. The restoration of a crooked character* almost fixed the birth-place of Homer
* The Æolic Digamma.