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Dreary, prosaic fact has established its empire in glade, forest, and cavern,
over land, sea, and air, and has banished spiritual essences from these lower skies. To supply the lost inspiration, various tricks are resorted to. Some have recourse to fantastic language, high-flown epithets, and artificially extravagant moods of mind, and ply in full sight of their readers every stroke of the scourge by which they lash themselves up to a most preposterous state of poetical frenzy. Others strew thickly over a mass of unmeaning platitudes impassioned words fresh from the dictionary, and present a caricature of poetic sentiment, that reminds one of the hideous contortions of muscles in the countenance of a galvanized corpse. Others, like Mrs. Hemans, only less gracefully, write on all classes of subjects, “ in strains that sigh and words that weep,” and derive their sole claim to a place on Parnassus from this morbid pathos, this maudlin sensibility, so alien from all actual experience that by its very strangeness it passes for inspiration. Others there are, indeed, both in poetry and in fiction, who anticipate the advent of a better age by creations instinct with a tenderly humane, philanthropic, and devout spirit. But the few truly great poets of our day are less creative than descriptive.
Thus, Wordsworth betrays little creative fancy, but the keenest, gentlest, kindest powers of observation, intense sympathy with every form of life and mood of feeling, and a sacred harmony with the indwelling spirit that fills the universe with beauty and with glory. Similar endowments, with hardly less delicacy of perception, but with a more masculine tone and a stronger intellectual fibre, place Sterling (who ought to be more largely known), and our countrymen Bryant and Longfellow, among the first living poets, among whom, however, it is difficult to assign rank and to mark the degrees of glory.
To pass to another topic, our age undeniably manifests strong skeptical tendencies. There is, indeed, but little professed and blasphemous infidelity, unless we give that name (as we feel no hesitation in doing) to the Straussian forms of (so called) faith. But there is (if we may thus employ the name of an old Jewish sect) an abounding Sadducism, - a disposition to believe, trust, and enjoy only things that can be seen and handled, — an aversion to spiritual contemplation and spiritual truth, — an unwillingness to entertain subjects of
thought drawn from the soul's higher life, from revelation, or from the dread mysteries of a future state. These tendencies result from the false position which we occupy with regard to the region of the unseen and the spiritual. That lies above and beyond ; the age looks down and back, - is busy in the contemplation of its own attainments, - is in the mood of self-glorification, which of course implies self-trust and self-sufficiency. Man has, within the last generation, wrought so many wonders, and unravelled so many, in the outward world, as to lead to the belief that there can have been no event in the universe beyond the scope of bis intellect, or the range of the laws that he has verified. He comprehends in his philosophy the material universe, which, in its immensity, is still finite, and forgets that he is embosomed in a spiritual universe which is infinite. As regards philosophy, therefore, the tendency is to complete, full-orbed systems, which leave nothing unexplained, and admit nothing that cannot be comprehended within simple, obvious, mechanical laws, - characteristics which ought to brand a system as superficial and utterly inadequate. There must needs be in an infinite universe mysteries too deep, too high, for the unaided intellect, — clefts and chasms which it cannot fill; and for these faith seeks light from surer wisdom than its own, and rejoicingly welconies miracle, prophecy, revelation, for its guidance in those arduous paths of research in which “ it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps,” those departments of truth in which reason has not of itself sufficient premises or data, and therefore cannot assure itself of its own conclusions. Never was more needed than at this culminating era of material philosophy and science the prayer of Lord Bacon :—“This also we humbly and earnestly beg ; that human things may not prejudice such as are divine ; neither that from the unlocking of the gates of sense, and the kindling of a greater natural light, any thing may arise of incredulity or intellectual night towards divine mysteries; but rather that by our minds thoroughly purged and cleansed from fancy and vanity, and yet subject and perfectly given up to the divine oracles, there may be given unto faith the things that are faith's.” Such are some of the characteristics of our age.
The view that we have presented is by no means so discouraging as it might at first sight seem ; for the tendencies which we VOL. LXIV. — NO. 135.
regret may be speedily reversed, while the ground that we have gained need not be retrodden. Our position is one eminently favorable to the future and rapid progress of humanity, - one, from which the race may advance with accelerated speed in all the elements of spiritual knowledge, freedom, and power. In ancient fable, the Titans piled mountain upon mountain that they might reach the celestial seats ; and when they began to climb, the angry king of the gods hurled them and their unwieldy scaffolding to the ground. We stand, as they did, upon the tops of the mountains, and the broad earth, the vast universe, lies beneath us ; but for us they furnish a solid foothold from which we can mount the skies, and the Infinite Father stretches out the hand to help those who have subdued the earth to scale the heavens. The spiritual world lies all open for our research and activity. It is in this that industry must toil, science explore, fancy create ; and we trust that the engrossing demands of the material world will soon give place to bigher fields of research and modes of effort. Let us now cast a cursory glance at the work which remains to be wrought in coming ages, and in which we trust that our own will begin to bear part.
First, the practical skill, which has almost exhausted its resources in the material world, must apply itself to the reorganization of human society. That the social system is out of joint is only too obvious. Here are the vast masses of superfluous and unproductive wealth ; there the crowded ranks of the suffering, the starving, the degraded, the enslaved, for whom no healing or restoring influence has ever gone forth. These are the valleys to be exalted ; those the mountains to be brought low. War, still the scourge of a guilty world, must be put away, and the principles of peace, forbearance, equity, and good faith brought down to the details of domestic and social life, and thence (for it can be only thence) infused into the machinery of governments and the counsels of nations. Grovelling toil, both among the sordid rich and the hunger-driven poor, must be made to relax its demands and to equalize its burdens, so that in all classes of society the mind and heart shall claim their rights and have their dues, their sufficient space and means for culture and enjoyment. These ends are not, as we suppose, to be reached by any violent convulsion, outbreak, or revolution.
On the old Jewish temple was heard no sound of axe or hammer; still less will there be on the tabernacle of God, as its stakes are planted, and its curtains spread over the regenerated earth. Nor have we the slightest faith in Fourierism, or in any of the plans for creating a social machinery which shall move aright by its own momentum. We do not believe that Providence ever meant that human institutions and arrangements should produce the highest results by their own independent and self-adjusting action. It is essential to our best moral discipline, that the bands, wheels, and pulleys of the social machine should be constantly liable to be thrown out of gear and out of play, and should thus need weights of our own addition and compensations of our own device, -the incessant and vigorous exercise of our best powers of mind and heart.
Meanwhile, philosophy has its appointed work, still unwrought, in the spiritual universe. Man has measured the heights and sounded the depths of nature, yet still knows not his own soul. The laws of mind, its mutual relations, its connection with the Supreme Intelligence, the harmonies of the spiritual world, the correspondences between nature and revelation, the scientific aspects of nature, the glimpses that reach us from a higher sphere of being, the shadows of a past, and the foreshinings of a future eternity, - these form a field of research on which the human mind has hardly entered, but which, from their vastness, sublimity, and intense interest, may well demand and tax to the utmost the loftiest powers for unnumbered ages.
Imagination, too, has before her a sphere from which she has hardly begun to draw materials for her creations. In the immensity of the spiritual universe, the realm of the unknown can never vanish. Even revelation gives us only the great outlines of spiritual truth and of the future life ; and may not the details have been withholden, in order that fancy might range at will in the vast expanse thus left open, that there might be, within the temple-gates of eternal truth, ample scope for the creative faculty of the human soul to build, garnish, and people its own mansions? In this spiritual world, there will always be mysteries before which science will veil her face, - hidings of omnipotence, which the keenest eye cannot penetrate, secrets of the future life, which the earthly vision cannot explore. It is in this region
that the fountains of poetic inspiration must henceforth be sought. As in ancient times, the poet's and the prophet's name will again be one. Imagination will thus become the handmaid of devotion, letting in the light of eternity on the toils of time, and filling man's path to heaven with celestial harmonies.
We have completed the discussion which we proposed ; but, as we have taken Gilfillan's book for our text, we feel bound to give a brief notice of it before we close. the epithet which Dickens has stamped as an Americanism, this is one of the most remarkable books of the age. The author tells us that "the life of every thinking man may be divided into three eras, - the era of admiration, the era of action, and the era of repose.” In the work before
US, has garnered up the results of his young love and wonder for the master-pieces of his country's genius"; and he informs us, “ that, with it, one mental period of his history is closing, and that it is for the public to decide whether he be encouraged to gird up his loins for some other more manlike, more solid, and strenuous achievement."
The public, we opine, will very readily connive at his easy transit from the first to the third era. And yet the book is entertaining. The writer seems to have made himself a sort of Boswell general. He has picked up a rich assortment of literary gossip, sat as a humble listener in many learned coteries, heard almost all the great men talk, attended the ministrations of most of the distinguished preachers of England and Scotland, and wormed himself into a knowledge of the personal habits and private history of almost all the originals of his “ Gallery of Literary Portraits.” Moreover, though the least skilful of portrait-painters, he is by no means unsuccessful. His colors are chosen at random, and his strokes of the brush are mere dabs ; but he piles color upon color, and plies stroke upon stroke, till by dint of reiterated trial he hits a tolerable, though in almost every instance a grossly flattered, likeness. His style is the most stilt-like that has come under our cognizance for many a day. His sentences consist generally of metaphors in threes, fours, or fives, most unequally yoked together. For the incoherent mixture of metaphors we can match him by no parallel within our memory, unless we liken him to Orator Emmons, whose peculiar rhetoric cannot have wholly faded from the memory