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enquiries' (says Johnson, speaking of Pope's translation of the Iliad') into the force of words are less necessary in translating Homer than other poets, because his positions are general and his representations natural, with very little dependence on local or temporary customs, on those changeable scenes of artificial life, which, by mingling original with accidental notions, and crowding the mind with images that time effaces, produce ambiguity in diction and obscurity in books.' The same quality, fidelity to nature, is found in all Homer's genuine descendants. And hence we believe ourselves entitled to say, dogmatically, that all poetry which produces pleasure by the just representation of what is permanent and typical in nature (and by the word we mean human nature), is good poetry; and that all metrical works, of a serious character, which attempt to please by any other means, are false in conception, and unsubstantial in quality.
So long as the imagination remains in the active and vigorous state described by Sterne, the pleasure experienced from any such natural representation of poetry, whether it be 'Paradise Lost,' A Country Churchyard, or Tam o' Shanter,' satisfies equally the desire of the head and the heart. The feelings, content with the liberty that nature allows, are gratified with the effect immediately produced upon them. A yellow primrose by the brim is a yellow primrose to them, and nothing more. Their enjoyment resembles that of a robust and trained. habit of body, where the appetite seeks instinctively the best food, and the food satisfies and refines the instincts of the appetite. But when the imagination loses its vigour, it is no longer content with the wholesome fare that nature has provided for it. As the active emotions, which correspond with the physical appetite, become enfeebled, imagination begins to spur their declining impulse by undue stimulants of the intellect. Like an indolent epicure, it craves for more liberty; it desires novelties and curiosities; and, too sick and capricious to find pleasure in its natural food, it pricks itself into a momentary excitement over the tainted turbot or the nightingale's tongue. The reader, grown self-conscious, seeks gratification in artistic representations which appeal to his head before they reach his heart, preferring what is curious, grotesque, or extravagant, to what is natural, simple, or sublime. Pleased in this manner he may be, but it is certain that his pleasure is of an inferior order. Pleasure must be perfect in itself; it must satisfy the appetite so fully and immediately as to leave no room for questionings and second thoughts: when we begin to think,' says Rousseau justly, 'we cease to feel.' But no sooner has the imagination
reached the stage of analysis, than the mind, unsatisfied with effect, ekes out its imperfect sense of pleasure by the perception of motive, and begins to care less for the enjoyment of an artist's work than for the discovery of his intention. The pleasure derived from this subtle form of self-flattery, and procured by the servile subordination of the feelings to the intellect, is the symptom of that disease which we call Romanticism. It was the craving of the disease in its first stage, where it stimulates thought rather than impairs feeling, which the poetry of Wordsworth was adapted to satisfy.
True it is that Wordsworth, trained in an active and political atmosphere, and preserved by his own sound and vigorous instincts, did not himself experience the enervating influence which analysis and introspection are finally sure to exercise. But none the less must he be considered the ancestor of those emasculated principles of art, which at the present day obtain credit with a portion of cultivated' society. Let Mr. Pater, the most thoroughly representative critic that the romantic school has yet produced, describe the final effect of analysis on the understanding.
'At first sight experience seems to bury us under a flood of external objects, pressing upon us with a sharp importunate reality, calling us out of ourselves in a thousand forms of action. But when reflection begins to act on those objects they are dissipated under its influence; the cohesive force is suspended like a trick of magic: each object is loosed into a group of impressions-colour, odour, texture-in the mind of the observer. And if we continue to dwell on this world, not of objects in the solidity with which language invests them, but of impressions unstable, flickering, inconsistent, which burn and are extinguished with our consciousness of them, it contracts still further, the whole scope of observation is dwarfed to the narrow chamber of the individual mind."
A most exact description of that analytical process of the imagination which we have traced in the poems of Wordsworth! But will the imagination thus disposed rest content with the abstract moralising which Wordsworth prescribes as its proper food? Mr. Pater shall once more decide.
'To burn always with this hard gem-like flame, to maintain this ecstasy' (viz. of artistic perception) is success in life. Failure is to form habits, for habit is relative to a stereotyped world; meantime it is only the roughness of the eye that makes any two things, persons, situations, seem alike. While all melts under our feet, we may well catch at any exquisite passion, or any contribution to knowledge, that seems by a lifted horizon to set the spirit free for a moment; or any stirring of the senses, strange dyes, strange flowers, and curious
odours, or the work of the artist's hands, or the face of one's friend.'
Now, let us ask ourselves what Milton, Addison, Byron, Scott, any of our sound and manly writers, would have said to stuff like this. Yet the feeling suggested in the above passage is not merely indulged but justified by a considerable section of polite society, and we know well what qualities will be expected in the poetry that is written to meet this kind of taste. The spirit of imaginative analysis, wearied of calm exercise on material nature, returns once more to the proper sphere of poetry, the nature of man. Instinctively it sets itself to stimulate thought and speculation on those questions lying at the very foundation of society, which seem to have been most definitely determined by the common consent and experience of ages. It throws new and attractive colours over doubts on religion; it presents in an imaginative form a subtle casuistry about matters of morality, which the unsophisticated conscience had been accustomed to decide off-hand. Above all, it delights to handle in a thousand forms problems relating to the passion of so-called love. Love, as it is represented in modern poetry, is no longer the noble and chivalrous devotion of old romance; no longer the martial homage of Montrose; no longer even the eager ardour of Byron; but an epicene something between a physical impulse and an intellectual curiosity, a caricature of the Eros of the Greek mystics. What wonder, if Mr. Pater's taste is good, that Mr. Swinburne should dilate on the beauty of hermaphrodites, and grow rapturous over the luxurious lovingness' of snakes!
Precisely the same spectacle was presented more than two thousand years ago, when the 'romantic' Euripides, divesting the Greek myths of their remote grandeur and mystery, reduced them to the level of common life, and under a colouring of the imagination presented to the mind ordinary things in an unusual aspect.' Here is the question as it is treated in the Aristophanic dialogue between Eschylus and Euripides in 'The Frogs :'
6 EUR. But how, you wretch, did my "Sthenoboas" harm the city?
ESCH. Noble women and the wives of noble men you drove to poison themselves for shame of your "Bellerophons." But this story that I composed about Phædra, is it not true?
ESCH. True! ay, by Zeus, true enough! But the poet should leave base things alone, and not drag them out and moralise upon them, for any chance instructor may
teach children, but poets teach men. What you represent to us should be noble or nothing.
If you then speak to us words like mountains, is this instructing us in the noble, you who ought to speak after the measure of a man?
ESCH. Great subjects and ideas, you scoundrel, require great words. And 'tis natural, too, for heroes to use great words, for the very garments they wear are more venerable than our own. But this noble practice of mine you spoiled.'
It will be seen that the general point at issue is the right of the imagination to unlimited liberty, which Eschylus deprecates, and Euripides, in common with the modern romantic school, maintains. What Æschylus particularly condemns is, first, the rationalising of the myths for the purposes of self-styled philosophy; and on the same principle he would have condemned the rationalism' in The Idylls of the King.' And, secondly, he condemns the lowering of poetical language to the level of prose, which, as we have seen, is Wordsworth's leading principle of composition. The ground which Eschylus takes up must always be occupied by conservative critics against the encroachments of romanticism. Poetry, as he says, is a great instrument of social instruction, not indeed as being directly moral or didactic, but as feeding the mind on noble food, and keeping the atmosphere in which the imagination lives bracing and healthy, like the atmosphere in the works of Shakespeare and Scott. On the other hand, the apologists of romanticism deny that there is any connection between morality and art. 'Art for art's sake,' is a cry with which we are only too familiar. 'Let us understand by poetry,' Mr. Pater tells us with authority, all literary production which attains the power of giving pleasure by its form as distinct from its matter. Only in this varied literary form can art command that width of variety or delicacy of resources which will enable it to deal with the conditions of modern life.' And Euripides has been defended on substantially the same grounds by one critic, at least, whose good judgment and true sympathy with the severity, grandeur, and self-restraint of ancient poetry, make us regret the more to dissent so decidedly from many of his conclusions.
'It may sound paradoxical,' says Mr. Symonds, 'now to assert that it was a merit in Euripides rather than a defect to have sacrificed the unity of art to the development of subordinate beauties. Yet it seems to me that in no other way could the successor of Eschylus have made himself the exponent of his age-have expanded to the full the faculties still latent in Greek tragedy, or have failed "to affect the fame of an imitator." The law of inevitable progression in art,
from the severe and animated embodiment of an idea, to the conscious elaboration of merely aesthetic motives and brilliant episodes, has hitherto been neglected by the critics and historians of poetry.'
We trust, indeed, that critics and historians will continue to reject this fatalistic theory of art. We decline to regard the poet as a mere musical instrument, played upon by the ZeitGeist, the Spirit of the Age. In art, as in moral action, man's will is free. We admit, indeed we have always urged, that the poet must represent his own age; but he must represent that which is true and lasting in it, not that which is peculiar and temporary. Poetry in which the form supersedes the matter can only enervate and corrupt. It is true that in Euripides' time the spirit of the sophist and the professor was in the air; but so also was the spirit of Eschylus and Sophocles. Euripides was free to make his choice between good and evil, between the losing side of manhood and public spirit, and the winning side of hair-splitting, scepticism, and sophistry. He chose the latter. But when in the next century Demosthenes appealed to his countrymen, in the face of disaster and defeat, what was the oath by which he swore? He did not invoke the Spirit of the Age, the genius of Success, or the criticism of the Academy. His oath was by something deeper in the hearts of his audience, the courage and public spirit of their Athenian ancestors. 'It cannot be, it cannot be, men of Athens, that you had erred in taking up the quarrel for public freedom and security; no, by your ancestors who risked their lives at Marathon, who stood side by side at Platæa, who fought the sea-fight at Salamis.' Here speaks the true spirit of poetry, the poetry of instinct, patriotism, and religion, which the philosophers and the poets who follow them would eradicate from society. It was, indeed, the spirit of Æschylus which deserved the glory of Marathon; but how much did the spirit of Euripides contribute to the glory of Charonea? As Plato says, there is an old standing quarrel' between Philosophy and Poetry, and we suspect that from his point of view the parties are irreconcilable.* At any rate we are still old-fashioned enough to believe that the decline of the Athenian drama is to be largely ascribed to the progress of
* Didactic poetry, if it were nothing but versified philosophy, would not deserve to be thought poetry at all. It can only merit the name so far as it deals, incidentally or directly, with objects affecting our instincts and feelings. Who would ever read Lucretius if his De Rerum Naturâ' were only a metrical exposition of the atomic theory? The great charm of the Georgics' lies in the skill with which Virgil has associated the conditions of a humble art like agriculture with the loftiest sentiments of patriotism, and the most refined perceptions of beauty. Poetry may employ Philosophy, but can never serve it.