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For any living thing, hath faculties
In lowliness of heart.” I have also had occasion to show how morbid and dangerous the love of innocent, inanimate nature may become when it is linked with infidelity-how it will sink down into a vile and weak materialism. By no poet that ever lived has the face of nature, the world of sight and sound, from the planetary motions in the heavens down to the restless shadow of the smallest flower, been so sedulously studied during a long life, and all the utterance his poetry gives of that study is meant to inspire
“The glorious habit by which sense is made
Subservient still to moral purposes,
Auxiliar to divine."* Never, as in the sensuous and irreligious poets, is the material world suffered to encroach upon the spiritual, still less to get dominion over it. So far from any such delusion, observe how, in that well-known passage in The Exvursion, the sublimity of which is sometimes overlooked in the beauty of the illustration, he proclaims this truth-that the universe, this material universe, is a shell, from which the ear of Faith can hear mysterious murmurings of the Deity.
* Excursion, book iv. p. 432.
“I have seen
Is to the ear of Faith."* The love of nature thus taught, associated with holy thoughts and reverent emotions, is made perpetual enjoyment, open, too, to every human being: and he who receives the poet's teaching may make the poet's words his own:
“Beauty—a living presence of the earth,
A simple produce of the common day.”+ I had reserved for the conclusion of this lecture some notice of the female authors of this century. Ungracious as it will be for such a subject, I feel that I must give it a brevity considerate of your patience. It is a fine cha
* Excursion, book iv. p. 432. † Preface to the Excursion, p. 394.
racteristic of the literature of our times, that the genius of woman has shared largely and honourably in it. It has been
from the share which Joanna Baillie had in the restoration of a more truthful tone of poetic feeling, and the delightful fictions with which Maria Edgeworth used to charm our childhood, down to the later company
of women who still adorn both prose and poetic literature. There have been instances of female authorship in such modest retirement that the world has not known them well enough. There is much that illustrates the gracefulness and delicacy of the womanly mind, but over and above all this, and combined with it, the literature of our times has developed an energy which womanly authorship had not shown before: I do not mean a masculine energy,
but genuine womanly power. Those writers who are, I think, chiefly distinguished for such power, as well as beauty of genius, are Mrs. Jameson, as a prose-writer, and especially in her admirable criticisms both on art and literature; Mrs. Kemble, Mrs. Norton, and Mrs. Browning, formerly Miss Barrett. Indulge me with a few minutes more for an illustration or two of the poetic power I speak of. Every person, probably, after youth is passed, is conscious at some time of a deep craving for repose, for a tranquillity inward and outward : this universal feeling is thus expressed in these lines :
“But to be still! oh, but to cease a while
To shut the banging doors and windows wide
It is an honourable and characteristic distinction of the female authorship of the day that it has devoted itself, in several forms, to the cause of suffering humanity.
“Some there are whose names will live
you know what might there is in the voice that speaks from a woman-poet's full heart, what power of imagination no less than of sympathy and pity, find that earnest plea which Elizabeth Barrett uttered against the horrid sacrifice to Mammon, which was once the shame of Britain's factories. It is entitled “The Cry of the Children." I quote only the opening and closing stanzas:
“Do ye hear the children weeping, O my brothers,
Ere the sorrow comes with years ?
And that cannot stop their tears.
The young birds are chirping in the nest,
The young flowers are blowing toward the West;
* Poems by Frances Anne Kemble, p. 151.
† Landor's Lines to “ The Author of Mary Barton," in the Examiner; March 17, 1849.
But the young, young children, O my brothers,
They are weeping bitterly;
In the country of the free.
They look up with their pale and sunken faces,
And their look is dread to see,
think you see their angels in their places,
Will you stand, to move the world, on a child's heart,
And tread onward to your throne amid the mart?
And your purple shows your path :
Than the strong man in his wrath !"" I am loth to leave so stern a strain of impassioned verse the last in your minds: she speaks with as genuine, but a gentler, voice of poetic power in the lines entitled “ Patience Taught by Nature:”
“O dreary life ! we cry, 'O dreary life!'
* Mrs. E. Barrett Browning's Poems, vol. i. p. 342.