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fearless energy of diction, which stamp the oratory of Protestant England and America ? In France, indeed, where prose has received a higher polish and classic elegance than in any other country, pulpit eloquence has reached an uncommon degree of beauty. For, though much was excluded, the avenues to the heart, as with the painter and the sculptor, were still left open to the orator. If there has been a deficiency, in this respect, in the English church, which all will not admit, it is probably that the mind, unrestricted, has been occupied with reasoning, rather than rhetoric, and sought to clear away old prejudices and establish new truths, instead of wakening a transient sensibility, or dazzling the imagination with poetic flights of eloquence. That it is the fault of the preacher, at all events, and not of Protestanism, is shown by a striking example under our own eyes, that of our distinguished countryman, Dr. Channing, whose style is irradiated with all the splendors of a glowing imagination, showing, as powerfully as any other example, probably, in English prose, of what melody and compass the language is capable, under the touch of genius instinct with genuine enthusiasm. Not that we would recommend this style, grand and beautiful as it is, for imitation. We think we have seen the ill effects of this already, in more than one instance. In fact, no style should be held up as a model for imitation. Dr. Johnson tells us, in one of those oracular passages somewhat threadbare now, that “whoever wishes to attain an English style, familiar but not coarse, and elegant but not ostentatious, must give his days and nights to the volumes of Addison.” With all deference to the Doctor, who, by the formal cut of his own sentence just quoted, shows, that he did not care to follow his own prescription, we think otherwise. Whoever would write a good English style, we should say, should acquaint himself with the mysteries of the language, as revealed in the writings of the best masters, but should form his own style on nobody but himself. Every man, at least every man with a spark of originality in his composition, has his own peculiar way of thinking ; and, to give it effect, it must find its way out in its own peculiar language. Indeed, it is impossible to separate language from thought, in that delicate blending of both which is called style. At least, it is impossible to produce the same effect with the original, by any copy, however literal. We may, indeed, imitate the struc
VOL. XLIX. — No. 105.
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ture of a sentence, but the ideas, which gave it its peculiar propriety, we cannot imitate. The forms of expression, that suit one man's train of thinking, no more suit another's, than one man's clothes will suit another. They will be sure 10 be either too big or too small, or, at all events, not to make what gentlemen of the needle call a good fit. If the party chances, as is generally the case, to be rather under-size, and the model is over-size, this will only expose his own littleness the more. There is no case more in point than that afforded by Dr. Johnson himself. His brilliant style has been the ambition of every school-boy, and of some children of larger growth, since the days of the Rambler. But the nearer they come to it, the worse. The beautiful is turned into the fantastic, and the sublime into the ridiculous. The most curious example of this, within our recollection, is the case of Dr. Symmons, the English editor of Milton's prose writings, and the biographer of the poet. The little Doctor has maintained, throughout his ponderous volume, a most exact imitation of the great Doctor, his sesquipedalian words, and florid rotundity of period. With all this cumbrous load of brave finery on his back, swelled to twice his original dimensions, he looks, for all the world, as he is, like a mere bag of wind, — a scarecrow, to admonish others of the folly of similar depredations.
But to return. The influence of the Reformation on elegant literature was never more visible than in the first great English school of poets, which came soon after it, at the close of the sixteenth century. The writers of that period, one and all, displayed a courage, originality, and truth, highly characteristic of the new revolution, which had been introduced by breaking down the old landmarks of opinion, and giving unbounded range to speculation and inquiry. The first great poet, Spenser, adopted the same vehicle of imagination with the Italian bards of chivalry, the romantic epic; but instead of making it, like them, a mere revel of fancy, with no further object than to delight the reader by brilliant combinations, he moralized his song, and gave it a deeper and more solemn import by the mysteries of Allegory, which, however prejudicial to its effect as a work of art, showed a mind too intent on serious thoughts and inquiries itself, to be content with the dazzling but impotent coruscations of genius, that serve no other end than that of amusement.
In the same manner, Shakspeare and the other dramatic writers of the time, instead of adopting the formal rules recognised afterwards by the French writers, their long rhetorical flourishes, their exaggerated models of character, and ideal forms, went freely and fearlessly into all the varieties of human nature, the secret depths of the soul, touching on all the diversified interests of humanity, — for he might touch on all without fear of persecution, — and thus making his productions a store-house of philosophy, of lessons of practical wisdom, deep, yet so clear, that he who runs may read.
But the spirit of the Reformation did not descend in all its fulness on the Muse, till the appearance of Milton. That great poet was, in heart, as thoroughly a reformer, and, in doctrine, much more thoroughly so, than Luther himself. Indignant at every effort to crush the spirit, and to cheat it, in his own words, " of that liberty, which rarefies and enlightens it like the influence of heaven,” he proclaimed the rights of man as a rational, immortal being, undismayed by menace and obloquy, amidst a generation of servile and unprincipled sycophants. The blindness, which excluded him from the things of earth, opened to him more glorious and spiritualized conceptions of heaven ; and aided him in exhibiting the full influence of those sublime truths, which the privilege of free inquiry in religious matters had poured upon the mind. His Muse was as eminently the child of Protestanism, as that of Dante, who resembled him in so many traits of character, was of Catholicism. The latter poet, coming first among the moderns, after the fountains of the great deep, which had so long overwhelmed the world, were broken up, displayed, in his wonderful composition, all the elements of modern institutions, as distinguished from those of antiquity. He first showed the full and peculiar influence of Christianity on literature. But it was Christianity under the form of Catholicism. His subject, spiritual in its design, like Milton's, was sustained by all the auxiliaries of a visible and material existence. His passage through the infernal abyss is a series of tragic pictures of human woe, suggesting greater refinements of cruelty than were ever imagined by a heathen poet. Amid all the various forms of mortal anguish, we look in vain for the mind as a means of torture ; at least, we recall but one solitary exception to this remark. In like manner, in ascending the scale of celestial being, we pass through a succession of brilliant fêtes, made up of light, music, and motion, increasing in splendor and velocity, till all are lost and confounded in the glories of the Deity. Even the pencil of the great master, dipped in these gorgeous tints of fancy, does not shrink from the attempt to portray the outlines of Deity itself. In this he aspired to what many of his countrymen in the sister arts of design have since attempted, and, like him, have failed. For who can hope to give form to the Infinite? In the same false style, Dante personifies the spirits of evil; and Satan himself is drawn in all the bugbear monstrosities of a superstitious fancy, or, more properly, age. For much was, doubtless, owing to the age, though much, also, must be referred to the genius of Catholicism, which, appealing to the senses, has a tendency to materialize the spiritual, as Protestantism, with deeper reflection, aims to spiritualize the material. Thus Milton, in treading similar ground, borrows his illustrations from intellectual sources ; conveys the image of the Almighty by his attributes ; and, in the frequent portraiture which he introduces of Satan, suggests only vague conceptions of form, the faint outlines of matter, as it were, stretching vast over many a rood, but towering sublime by the unconquerable energy of his will, — the fit representative of the principle of evil. Indeed, Milton has scarcely any thing of what may be called scenic decorations, to produce a certain stage effect. His actors are few, and his action nothing. It is only by their intellectual and moral relations, by giving full scope to the
« Cherub Contemplation, He that soars on golden wing,
Guiding the fiery-wheeled throne," that he has prepared for us visions of celestial beauty and grandeur, which never fade from our souls.
In the dialogue with which the two poets bave seasoned their poems, we see the action of the opposite influences we have described. Both give vent to metaphysical disquisition, of learned sound, and much greater length than the reader would desire. But in Milton it is the free discussion of a mind trained to wrestle boldly on abstrusest points of metaphysical theology ; while Dante follows in the same old, barren footsteps which had been trodden by the schoolmen. Both writers were singularly bold and independent. Dante asserted that liberty which should belong to the citizen of every free state ; that civil liberty which had been sacrificed, in his own country, by the spirit of faction. But Milton claimed a higher freedoin ; a freedom of thinking and of giving utterance to thought, uncontrolled by human authority. He had fallen, indeed, on evil times. But he had a generous confidence, that his voice would reach to posterity, and would be a guide and a light to the coming generations. And truly has it proved so ; for in his writings we find the germs of many of the boasted discoveries of our own day in government and education ; so that he may be fairly considered as the morning star of that higher civilization, which distinguishes our happier era.
Milton's poetical writings do not seem, however, to have been held in that neglect by his contemporaries, which is commonly supposed. He had attracted too much attention as a political controversialist, was too much feared for his talents, as well as hated for his principles, to allow any thing which fell from his pen to pass unnoticed. He lived to see a second edition of - Paradise Lost,” and this was more than was to have been fairly anticipated of a composition of this nature, however well executed, falling on such times. Indeed, its sale was no evidence that its merits were comprehended, and may be referred to the general reputation of its author. For we find so accomplished a critic as Sir William Temple, some years later, omitting the name of Milton in his roll of writers who have done honor to modern literature ; a circumstance which may, perhaps, be imputed to that reverence for the ancients, which blinded Sir William to the merits of their successors. How could Milton be understood in his own generation, — in the grovelling, sensual court of Charles the Second ? How could the dull eyes, so long fastened on the earth, endure the blaze of his inspired genius? It was not till time bad removed him to a distance, that he could be calmly gazed on, and his merits fairly contemplated. Indeed, Addison, as is well known, was the first to bring them into popular view, by a beautiful specimen of criticism, that has permanently connected his name with that of his illustrious subject. More than half a century later, another great name in English criticism, perhaps the greatest in general reputation, Johnson, passed sentence of a very different kind on the pretensions of the poet. A production more discreditable to the author is not to be found in the whole of his voluminous
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