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Literature is distributed into several departments, as Poetry, Fiction, Criticism, History, and others. Now let either department be taken, and what is peculiar to it carefully examined, and it will appear evident that no one is fitted to excel in it, whichever it be, who has wholly neglected the culture of his moral nature. And since Poetry was the earliest form of literature into which men cast their thoughts, let us first consider this with reference to the above observation. In primitive times, poetry was regarded and used as the fittest vehicle of Divine truth. It was the universal language of worship. By all people of antiquity it was employed to celebrate the honor of their gods, and to impart an air of sanctity to their religious duties. The Delphic oracles, the Sybil's prophecies, were all delivered in verse, because this was conceived to clothe them with a mysterious, a super-earthly charm. Moreover, a considerable portion of the Bible is poetry. The oracles of God are in the songs of Hebrew bards. The inspirations of holiness and love that descended upon prophet and priest, flowed out from them in the melody of verse. Battle and victory, festival and fast, the gay rejoicings of the nuptial and the passionate lamentations of the burial, the sighings of repentance and the agony of remorse, filial fear and holy awe, - these they sang in strains deep, full, and fervent, that have moved the heart of the world. The lofty hymns of Moses and Deborah, the unrivalled poem of Job, the “sapphic elegy" of Jeremiah, the sweetly flowing and yet impassioned numbers of Isaiah and David, — how full are these of the love of that unspeakable and everlasting beauty, that divine and immortal truth, which the intellect clearly discerns only when its eye is illuminated by the soul.
And this early estimate and use of poetry have in a sense sanctified it, — separated it to the ministry of truth and goodness, made it sacred, as a temple of the Lord. In all ages it has been regarded in this light. Everywhere it is felt, that he who takes up the poetic lyre takes in his hand a Divine instrument; and that while he touches its strings, he should have a heart to feel the vibrations of its heavenly music.
“The Poet's lyre, to fix his fame,
Affection lights a brighter flame
Than ever blazed by Art.” He must have a heart to feel what is true and beautiful, brave and holy, that his verse may chime with these spiritual and immortal harmonies. He must draw inspiration from the warm and glad, the pure and lovely, spirit of Nature. His meditations must rest on the various beauty and kindling splendor of its visible temple, not more than on the awful wonders of its innermost shrine. He must commune often with himself, descend alone into the depths of his own being, ever serene and translucent if the spiritual sun shines upon it; else dark, gloomy, tumultuous. He must be at home with the sorrowful, the tempted, the rejoicing of the sons of men, and not a stranger to the enduring, the unconquerable, the eternal in man's nature. And is this the work of the intellect alone, or chiefly? Is it within the possibilities of mere intellectual culture ? Is it pretended that there can be any true and living inspiration to a heartless bosom, to a frozen soul? And can there be heart-stirring utterance where there has been no inspiration, and no moral experience ? Alas! the experiment has been made, too frequently made to leave room for doubt. The gifted genius who might have enchanted the world with the sweetness of his numbers and electrified the
after him by their thrilling tones, had he but listened to the heavenly “harpers harping with their harps," by shutting his ear to them and feeding the ethereal flame in his bosom with the gross aliment of the earth, has
“Profaned the God-given strength and marr'd the lofty line," and thus passed upon himself and his works the doom of early and irredeemable oblivion.
Of this class, we think, with Mr. Putnam, that Byron is the most conspicuous example in English literature; though his friend Shelley, from the influence of a set of philosophers who profess to admire in him a prophet of liberty and love, the largest liberty of the wildest love, we suppose,) stands but little below him. Of Byron all who are acquainted with his history will say in his own words,
" This should have been a noble creature :
He had a heart originally not deficient in sensibility or affection. He had talents, too, which would have commanded admiration and respect in any field he might have chosen for their exercise. But with suicidal hand he began his career by tearing away the corner-stone of all true greatness. He snapped the silken cord of moral control, and then snapped the strings of his angel-harp. With a skilful hand he took up the divine instrument, and its sounds reverberated throughout the civilized world; but all lovers of truth everywhere felt and lamented the discord. He is out of tune with the world ; he is at variance with nature; he is in rebellion against himself; and when he rises to his most cherished moods, he seems as though
"Frenzy to his heart were given
To speak the malison of Heaven.” Sad is the tale of Byron's genius. A failure it most truly was, - a mournful, though splendid failure ! We seem to follow him, with anxious eye, as he roams from place to place — from town to country and from country to town, disgusted with life, a stranger among his friends, an exile even in the land of his birth, -seeking rest and finding none. We hear his murmuring discontent in every new condition, and listen while he pours his distempered soul into his lofty but embittered song. We follow him as a wayward brother, when he plunges into the camp of Mars, and draws his battle-blade with the sons of ancient freedom. We observe him with hopeful interest, nay, not without emotions of sympathetic joy, as he pauses to breathe the air of Attica and Phocis once surcharged with the electric fire of poesy, as he stoops to drink from the fountain of Helicon, and bends the knee in the old temple of Apollo. And when, at last, he hangs up his jarring harp, lies down in despair, and — dies, while we weep with the thousands that deplore him, the question is forced upon us, what has he accomplished, what has he earned, where are the trophies of his success ? Had Byron's childhood been more fortunate, and had he given heed to the still, small voice which is ever whispering within of duty and inviting to worship, the whole life and destiny of the man had been changed, and the productions of his genius --- a few of which are of surpassing merit, proving him to have been little less than.
“ archanged ruined ” — would have been cherished and admired through all future time. As it is, they will hardly survive the passing age. With his own hand he sprinkled over them the ashes of decay. He sowed the seeds of death in the field from which he should have gathered an immortal harvest. Did he not at last feel this? Was it not the memory of early days and of better thoughts, coming in contact with the sense of shame and regret in his breast, which produced that soft and touching and holy prayer, - we would fain hope sincere, accepted and effectual, — which was, we believe, one of the last efforts of his weary and dejected muse?
“Father of light! to Thee I call,
Instruct me how to die." The class is not small of the sons of genius and of song to which Byron belongs, and of which he is the head. But there is one whose name sometimes is put with it, whom we cannot consign to such an association. We mean the bard of Scotland. Burns is not of this class; and we could not even mention him in this connection, had not his example been introduced as a warning, not much to the purpose of his argument, as it seems
by Mr. Putnam in his Oration. It cannot be said of Burns that, judged by any standard, even the highest, he failed of success, of entire and almost unexampled success, as a poet. Nor will it be said that he owed his success to his head and not to his heart, —- to his intellectual gifts rather than to his moral graces. Burns was not a bad man, a man destitute of good principles. To him who looks beyond the outside of character, who pierces to the springs of action, to the penetralia of thought, sentiment, desire and affection, he appears far better than many whose outward garb is fairer. Call him frail, as a reed trembling in the wintry blast, call him erring, tax him as a sinner, — sigh over
him, weep for him, (but you will weep with him,) — pity him with deep, overflowing sadness and sympathy; but oh! say not he was vile ; put him not in the seat with the scorner, with the profane, with the corrupter of other men; him, of heart so large, filled with all sweet and tender humanities, — him, whose poetry is the music of nature singing its truth and love, its sadness and joy, its beauty and beneficence to a listening world, — grateful as the breeze of spring, gentle as the autumn sun, silvery bright as the dew on the banks of Doon, — in child and sire, peasant and prince, man and woman alike, touching every chord that vibrates to youthful love, to domestic duty, to private grief, to social enjoyment, to national honor, — breathing cheerily in the workshops, over the fields, and at the hearths of honest toil, and with softest spirit soothing the heart of lonely and neglected sorrow,
- instinct with all that is loveliest in man or angel ; - him you cannot give over to the portion of the lost, nor consign to the tomb of the forgotten! His weaknesses, his errors, his vices even, for alas ! he had them, reached only the court of the temple in which his genius dwelt; whilst that temple itself, hung round with golden lamps, continued to his last hour, through all the storms that beat upon its roof, to shine with the clear effulgence, and to charm with the rich and chaste magnificence, of its first morning. Take your Voltaire, already gone to his own place, beyond the reach of any attempts of French galvanism to resuscitate him, — your Goëthe, with his morality of selfishness wrought and polished into the beauty of a statue, and his religion of sensuality spiritualized and adorned with angelic graces, — your Shelley and Byron, though we part with them not without reluctance and tears, - take these and do what you will with them ; write over the alcove that contains their productions the dreadful letters, that shook the heart of the monarch of Babylon with terror, “ Weighed in the balances and found wanting” : but Burns is not of them, and descends not into their doom. The world cannot spare him. He is embalmed for preservation in the delighted memory of ages. For the good that was in him he is loved; and for the good he has done, humanity, virtue, religion, claim him as their friend. Burns will live when all we who speak his name, and all our doings, are forgotten !