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of the art. It is said that, although in moral poetry improvement be blended with amusement, the latter is nevertheless the object. We submit that this position is not clear.
In the case of didactic poetry (“. The Essay on Man" -the “ Art of Preserving Health,” etc.) the aim is instruction, and verse is but the medium or the attraction which the poet employs. In satire, the object is not to please a friend, but to sting an enemy; and we presume that the prophecies of the Bible must be admitted to have had an object beyond pleasure. The war-songs of the ancients were to stimulate the soldier; and iheir laments were to soothe regret. Poetry contains in it a strong stimulant; and although a feeling of pleasure may blend with other emotions, it does not follow that the attempts of poetry are not directed to objects different from those of merely“ pleasing.” As to the different kinds of poetry, there are so many upon each of which a treatise might be written, that we prefer referring the reader to essays on the subject, rather than delay him at present by a brief exposition of that which he would probably wish to see treated in more particular detail. For our own parts, we are not inclined to lay extraordinary stress upon the mere structure and mechanism of poetry. It is not very material, we think, that a poem should be built up according to rules, many of which originated in the caprice of former poets ; nor whether it be called an epic or a romance, an epistle or a dirge, an epitaph, an ode, an elegy, a sonnet, or otherwise. If it be full of the materiel of poetry, and contain something of fitness also, it will go far to satisfy our critical consciences.
ON THE UTILITY OF POETRY.*
The advocates of Utility have long been in the habit of decrying Poetry, and have lately renewed their attacks on it with increased bitterness and vehemence. They have discovered, it seems, not only that it is of no earthly use, but that it actually does a great deal of mischief-induces us to disregard truth and admire falsehood, to indulge in exaggerated sentiment, and to weaken the authority of reason over passion and imagination. As to its positive evils, we believe we need not concern ourselves much : but there are many people who really seem to think that it must be acknowledged that poetry is of no use; and consequently that, if at all to be tolerated in an industrious community, it ought to meet with no encouragement, and be treated with no respect. The short answer to this, to ask what is here meant by “being of use," and whether any thing that gives pleasure may not properly be called useful? Unless we are to stop at the mere necessaries of life, it would be difficult to dispute this; and, after all, if life itself was not a pleasure, the utility even of its necessaries might very well be questioned. Even the rigorous definition of the proper object of all virtuous exertion, according to the utilitarians themselves, viz. the greatest happiness of the greatest number -obviously involves the consideration of pleasure and enjoyment; and makes this enjoyment, as indeed it truly is, the measure and test of utility. In what sense then can it be said that poetry is of no use to mankind-if it is admitted that it affords the most intense delight to great
• The Songs of Scotland. By Allan Cunningham.-Vol. xlvii. p. 184. January, 1828.
multitudes among them, and has always been recognised as a copious and certain source of enjoyment, in all conditions of life, and all stages of society? The only replication must be, that the pleasures it brings are accompanied by greater pains, or that the pursuit of them leads to the neglect of higher duties, or, what is the same thing, to the exclusion of still greater pleasures. We do not think, however, that this can be even plausibly pretended; and we do not observe that the champions of utility have ever seriously taken that ground. The truth is, that their irreverence to the Muses is much more a matter of habit and feeling with them than of reasoning; and, though attired occasionally in logical forms, proceeds in the main from mere prejudice and ignorance.
It frequently happens that circumstances direct the mind to the contemplation of truth in opposite directions. The faculties of men practically developed in the exercise of their various pursuits, and the whole force of their intellect is generally exhausted in limited and particular investigations; and this necessarily detracts from their power of judging of arts and sciences alien to their own. It is thus that the great value placed on mathematical studies becomes not unfrequently a subject of doubts to a theologian or a moralist; while the excellence of poetry or art is questioned, in its turn, by the utilitarian or the legislator.
In all probability, it is with the mind as with the body-some limbs or sinews are occasionally kept in severe exercise, to the utier neglect of the rest; and the consequence is, that the one set gains strength and flourishes, while the other has a tendency to weaken or decay. Thus the Reason of some men is cultivated to the utter extinction of the Imagination; though it is but fair to suppose that the latter faculty was bestowed upon us for some use or purpose, equally with the former-the only question is, how to employ it profitably.
The motives which tempt a mere reasoner, a mathematician, or political economist, to abase the character of poetry, are, it must be allowed, as obvious as those which induce a writer of verse to exalt it. There is no sympathy with its pleasures in the one, while there is an over-wrought and interested admiration in the other. The former cannot be said, indeed, to be absolutely without the faculty of imagination, but it may be averred that he possesses it in a latent or undeveloped state ; and we suspect that he cannot thoroughly understand the operations of a power which he himself has never individually felt. He sees only the ultimate consequence, without witnessing or experiencing the progress of the idea in the mind. He perceives what the imagination has produced, but is unable to judge of the impulse, or to speculate, otherwise than imperfectly, upon what it may produce hereafter.
Leaving the question, however, as to what his faculty may cause to be produced, or what a great poet may do, who shall task his powers to the uttermosi, or wait patiently and sincerely for the illuminations of his imagination, it is enough to affirm that it exists. It is a power (and no mean one) not to be despised or neglected, but to be cherished and used, like any other power, for purposes beneficial to mankind. The most inveterate utilitarian would hesilate, we apprehend, to yield up any one nerve or fibre of the human frame, however useless it might, at first sight, appear to him to be. He would calculate wisely on the chance of its becoming at one time or other serviceable, and would be not without some misgivings as to the fallibility of his own particular opinions. Why then
should the Imagination (a subject at least as mysterious and important) be entitled to less consideration than a nerve or a sinew? “ It is a folly, as Montaigne thinks, “to measure truth or error by our own capacity;" and we think so too.
As, therefore, the Imagination is an existing power,-as it has given birth to numerous works, some of which have had a prodigious effect upon the habits of thinking, and even upon the moral conduct of men,-it is not the part of a philosopher (however little he may be under its influence) to despise it. It is to be used or misused, but not neglected nor contemned; for it can no more be extinguished than the mind of man. Ethical and political philosophy and mathematics are now held to be the master sciences; unquestionably they are most important ones. But there are other arts and sciences nearly as important, some of which are connected or collateral with those now mentioned, and some which may be said to be altogether independent of them. Amongst the first or collateral arts must undoubtedly be reckoned Poetry. It is, in the words of the great philosopher, “subservient to the Imagination, as Logic is to the Understanding;"* and its office“ (if a man well weigh the matter) is no other than to apply and commend the dictates of Reason to the Imagination, for the better moving of the Appetite and the Will." Being an ally of reason and logic, therefore, as Lord Bacon says, it should not be treated as a soe, nor despised as a thing insignificant.
If man were merely an intellectual being, subject only to be influenced by pure reason, there might be some ground, perhaps, for maintaining that poetry was, strictly speaking, useless. A code of laws might then probably be framed excluding this delightful art from the commonwealth of lelters, and substituting we know not what intellectual pleasure in lieu of it. But this most certainly neither is, nor can ever be our condition. We are not Houyhnboms, but men; and we must seek the gratification, as well as guard against the abuse, of all the faculties with which we are aclually gifted. In the formation of a system, a wise man will consider what has been, as well as what may be; for wisdom is little else than a synonyme for experience, and the future must always be built up from the past. It is desirable, therefore, to consider not only the value of the qualities with which we propose to endow any creature, but also the capacity of the crealure to receive them. What should we think if some philosopher from the Oltomaques, or some follower of Brahma, should come hither, and insist -the one, that it would be more nutritious, the other, that it would be more virtuous, if we were for the future to feed upon pipe-clay mixed with oxyd of iron ? + We should scarcely respect even the zeal of one of our Christian missionaries, were he to attempt to extend the benefit of the Scriptures lo any of the tribe of Simiæ, the Chimpansé, or the Pongo. It is true, that there is not so great a distinction amongst men, as between men and mere animals; yet the difference between the while race and the other varieties of the human species is greater than can be accounted for by climale or accident. Nay, amongst ourselves, distinctions are very obvious. We are not all mathematicians, or philosophers, or moralists, or poets. The human mind has certain defects (so called), and is liable to extraordinary changes. Its transitions, from vice to virtue, from equanimity to despair, have astonished all but the most profound philosophers. It is, in
• Lord Bacon's Instauratio Magna, lib. vi. c. 3.
truth, made up of good and evil impulses; of faculties which employ themselves in poetry and prose, -in other words, of Imagination and Reason, etc.—it is full of affections, of passions, of powers, infirmities, and errors of all sorts, which are to be combaled with and directed, but can never be altogether extirpated. It has its springs and movements which obey the warnings of reason, and others which are subject to the “ skiey influences" of poetry; and these act sometimes independently, sometimes in unison with each other. The object of Logic (which is the voice of reason is to act for good purpose upon the intellect. The end of Poetry is “ to fill the Imagination with observations and resemblances, which MAY SECOND PEASON, and not oppress and betray it: for these abuses of arts come in but ex obliquo, for prevention, not for practice."* All this being the case, it seems that all speculations for putting down poetry must necessarily be vain and useless. They are formed, perhaps, for man as he ought to be ; but certainly not for man as he is. They are, in short, like that Dream of Plato, which has been a dream and nothing more fortwo thousand years. That celebrated Greek denied admittance to a poel in his ideal republic; and his republic has remained ideal.
In addition to all this, it may be further argued, that there are certain graduations in society, which require different employments. There are the rude, the civilised, and the luxurious or refined. The human mind in one state cannot digest what it is eager for in another. In rude society, the mechanic and agriculturist are the most important characters. Afterwards, the legislator and the moralist insist upon precedence; and, finally, the poet is elevated into renown. If, after all, it be asked, what is the most important science ? the answer is probably,—all. It is not sufficient to say in opposition to the claims of the poet, that the state of refinement is the most unnatural, or that poetry is a luxury and a delusion only, and consequently little better than a vice : for luxury is bad only in so far as it injures the moral constitution of a people. Poetry, perhaps, may be considered as a luxury-we shall not dispute about terms; but so are all the products of all the arts and sciences. Our very houses are a great luxury, and all that they contain-and most of our food and our dress also. There is not a single comfort that we enjoy which is not liable to this imputation. We have all something beyond what absolute necessity requires.
Our basest beggars
Are in the poorest things superfluous.” But shall we therefore abandon every luxury, every comfort? There is, we think, at least as much of vice and folly in spurning at the beneficence of Nature, as in receiving the gifts which she bestows on us readily, and using them with discretion.
Poetry, then, is not to be reprehended as a pernicious delusion, till it is proved that ils general purposes are bad ; and certainly this is not generally true, but the reverse, inasmuch as it exhibits for the most part a high standard of perfection, and puts forward illustrious examples of worth and courage. And yet these, although they soar perhaps a little beyond the level of ordinary minds, do not rise above some instances of excellences which the history of the world has afforded. We read of no one, in tragedy or epic, who has surpassed Phocion or Aristides,-Cymon, or Brutus, or Timoleon, Socrates or Solomon - Alfred, Shakspeare, Bacon, Sir Philip Sydney,
* Lord Bacon's De Augmentis Srientiarum.
or Bayard, in their several ways, for virtue or intellect, or noble disinterested heroism. It may be asserted, indeed, after all, that poetry is no more a fiction than are certain maxims of law and state, which have been engrafted on the severest and most practical of the sciences, in order the better to enforce or illustrale some of their most important doctrines. Nor is it more a delusion-even when it holds up a picture of ideal excellence—than aby prose Atlantis or Utopia, which has been devised, not only to increase our admiration of virtue, but for practical and direct imitation. Nay, might not the same charge be brought against any scheme of moral and political good, which might be drawn out for the benefit of mankind at the present momenl—a state of things desirable, it may be, for a moralist or legislator, but as utterly unadapted, in its whole extent, as poetry itself, to the passions and affections of human nature? Doubtless such a scheme would contain in it many elements of wisdom; much of what is good, and much of what is prudent; and so also does poetry. But there is probably another aspect to the science, as well as to the art; in which some blemishes may be detected, and some maxims, which, when reduced to practice, might put to confusion the supporters of the theory.
It is not often that the mind addicts itself, for any length of time, to a pursuit that is wholly useless. The cultivation bestowed so generally, and 50 unsparingly, upon the reasoning faculties, forbids such a supposition; and the experience of the world contradicts it. In poetry, more particularly, such a charge seems altogether presumptuous, considering the character and fortunes of many of those who have been professors of that art. Is it reasonable to think that Chaucer, and Shakspeare, and Millon (the last a legislator and politician), should have cast away their lives, and expended such treasures of intellect, upon an art that was properly the subject of contempt ? Could they, who saw the faults and follies of all the world beside, discern none in themselves? Did they feel that their pursuits were Dugatory—their talents misdirected—their lives useless ? Or, was it, indeed, that these great men were really admirers, as well as professors of their art, -not following it from necessity, or the love of gain, but from motives as pure, and an ambition as lofty, as ever stimulated the legislator or the moralist? This, in fact, was the case. They were disciples of the Muses in their youth, and followed the profession which they had adopted from manhood to the grave. There is not one of them who has not left on record his reverence for poetry. There is not one who has not been the free champion of his art, as well as the disinterested friend of man; bequeathing to posterity his labours and his fame, and reaping, in return, ils gralitude - for learned precepts; for brilliant models; for wisdom fashioned in a thousand shapes, and applicable to all uses; for moral axioms and witty sayings ; for characters full of exemplary virtue; for fiction full of truth; in a word, for images at once instructive and beautiful, which leave their outlines indelibly upon the memory, when the bare precept or abstract truth would have vanished and been forgotten, • Who can forget the brilliant testimony of Swift?
“ Not empire, to the rising sun.
By valour, conduct, fortune won;
As how to strike the Muse's lyre." And by whom is this uttered ?-- by the sternest, severest, most sarcastic of all modern writers by the bitter satirist, the cunning politician, the worldly, ambitious, scofling Dean of St. Patrick's.