« PreviousContinue »
us to dwell a little on the value, as we trust, of Christian sympathy, and intercessory prayer.
Long have the cares of Empire weighed on that noble and still youthful head. Hitherto they have been unmingled with aught of domestic sorrow, almost of domestic anxiety. Henceforth it will not be so. That calm and unobtrusive wisdom, that unselfish patriotism to an adopted country, that example of public and of private virtue, have passed away from us : and they who may be present on the occasion-surely a great and a touching one—when the Queen shall first again appear in public, among those from whom for a time she must be hid, will see on that Imperial brow the deep lines of a life-long grief. May it be in some slight measure due even to our poor prayers, if with them shall also be seen the soft light of heavenly Resignation, and a Hope not of this world, nor of Time.
A FEW WORDS ON ENGLISH POETS.
Read at Hagley, December 23, 1862.
[The reader is requested to remember that this Lecture was addressed to a village audience, and that therefore the quotations were necessarily of a short and popular character.]
THE Rev. Thomas Legh Claughton is Vicar of Kidderminster, and Honorary Canon of Worcester. But he was also, some years ago, Professor of Poetry in the University of Oxford ; and in this character, or excharacter, if he needed any special character at all, it may have been that he addressed to us, in this place, two Lectures on Poetry, which we heard with the utmost delight. I say if he needed any special character: in truth he needed nothing but his native taste and his power of elocution, of reading aloud, in neither of which, I believe, can he be surpassed. I remind you of this in order to apologise for my presumption in attempting to occupy any part of the same ground over which he passed.
Yet in one respect, and that an important one, I have no fear of the charge of presumption. There are three things to be encountered by one who attempts such a lecture as this—the choice of passages to be read: the lecturer's own remarks, which are often like the packing,—the straw, shavings, cotton, wool, and nameless rubbish of all sorts,-in which precious goods are
embedded in a parcel : and the recitation of the passages. As to the two latter I do not presume to compete with any Professor or ex-Professor whatever : but as to passages, no one with even a moderate acquaintance with English poetry can have any difficulty in making any number of beautiful selections—aye as beautiful even as those which Mr. Claughton produced.
Of course, on such an occasion as this, it is impossible to be systematic. I can attempt nothing like regular classification. In a treatise on the subject, whoever has the skill to do it might do so in various ways : as for instance he might specify the higher and the lower kinds of Poetry. Just to touch on that subject, I know no reason why a Christian man, as he probably considers religious painting, music, architecture, to be each the highest in its kind, should not think the same of religious poetry. This has indeed been denied, in a very striking manner, by a man of great power, and one too whose voice has been heard in this place. He has written this: “No sorer evil has been done to religion than by connecting it with poetical feeling : it is a stern deadly strife.” The futility of the argument need not be pointed out : but was there ever a more monstrous assertion ? Is the morning hymn of Adam and Eve in Milton, is the Christian Year, a sore evil to religion ? But why speak of uninspired writings? Is not the prophet Isaiah a poet? Are not these words, to which we so lately listened, poetry?—“A man shall be as a hiding-place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest ; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land."* Is not the Book of
* Is. xxxii. 2.
Job a great poem? On this I cannot resist quoting one of the most beautiful passages, as I believe, in the English language : it is in Carlyle's “ Lectures on Heroes.”* “I call the Book of Job one of the grandest things ever written with pen. It is our first, oldest statement of the never-ending problem-man's destiny, and God's ways with him here in this earth : and all in such free flowing outlines ; grand in its sincerity, in its simplicity ; in its epic melody, and repose of reconcilement. There is the seeing eye, the mildly-understanding heart. So true, every way ; true eyesight and vision for all things ; material things no less than spiritual : the Horse—hast thou clothed his neck with thunder ?'
-he 'laughs at the shaking of the spear !' Such living likenesses were never since drawn. Sublime sorrow, sublime reconciliation ; oldest choral melody as of the heart of mankind—so soft, and great, as the summer midnight, as the world with its seas and stars !"
The truth in this matter has been well set forth in a few stanzas, unpublished and never to be published, but which you will hear with some interest, as they were written by my father ; who had a strong and genuine poetical feeling, and who in his youth sometimes wrote verses of no slight beauty and grace. I have here the original copy of them. They were written when I had myself attained the mature age of two months.
Music, thou daughter of the sky,
Soar to thy native realms again !
Bear to God's throne the prayers of men.
Thine are the rapt ecstatic lays
Of grateful love and joys divine,
Can find no softer voice than thine.
O nymph of high immortal race !
Be mindful of thy glorious birth,
Thy converse with the sons of earth.
To soften and refine the breast,
To bid the warring passions rest. No doubt these lines relate to music more than to poetry ; but they are obviously even more specially applicable to the latter : for music, simply in itself, apart from words or other adjuncts, and from any question of excess, can hardly much minister to evil : whereas there is no more deadly vehicle of the most subtle and malignant moral poison, than poetry perverted.
I can dwell no further on this : nor will I attemptwhich also would have to be done in a complete book or essay on the subject—to define Poetry.* This same defining is one of the most difficult of all things; and its successful performance, in so many instances, is probably the best title to immortality of that great work, Johnson's English Dictionary. It is very much easier to understand than to define : sometimes the
* Some attempt, not, as might be expected, a very profound or comprehensive one, to analyze the elements of Poetry, will be found in Goldsmith's Essays, XIV.—XVIII. I notice it chiefly on account of the passage (p. 162, Ed. 1819), in which a strong opinion is expressed in favour of English verse in classical mea