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forever disclosing affinities with each other.
It was no false boast when it was said that “Our great poets have been our best political philosophers ;"* nor would it be, to add that they have been our best moralists. The reader, then, who, on the one hand, gives himself wholly to visionary poetic dreamings is false to his Saxon blood; and equally false is he who divorces himself from communion with the poets. There is no great philosopher in our language in whose genius imagination is not an active element: there is no great poet into whose character the philosophic element does not largely enter. This should teach us a lesson in our studies of English literature.
For the combination of prose and poetic reading, a higher authority is to be found than the predominant characteristic of the Saxon intellect as displayed in our literature. In the One Book, which, given for the good of all mankind, is supernaturally fitted for all phases of humanity and all conditions of civilization, observe that the large components of it are history and poetry. How little else is there in the Bible! In the Old Testament all is chronicle and song, and the high-wrought poetry of prophecy. In the New Testament are the same elements, with this difference, that the actual and the imaginative are more interpenetrated-narrative and parable, fact and poetry blended in matchless harmony; and even in the most argumentative portion of holy Writ, the poetic element is still present, to be followed by the vision and imagery of the Apocalypse,
Such is the unquestioned combination of poetry and
* Preface to Henry Taylor's Notes on Books,
prose in sacred Writ—the best means, we must believe, for the universal and perpetual good of man; and if literature have, as I have endeavoured to prove in the previous lecture, a kindred character, of an agency to build up our incorporeal being, then does it follow that we should take this silent warning from the pages of Revelation, and combine in our literary culture the same elements of the actual and the ideal or imaginative.
But, as it is the poetic culture which is most frequently discarded, let me follow out this high authority in that direction. You will recall how, when it was the divine purpose to imprint upon memory
of the chosen race what should endure from generation to generation, the minister of the divine will was inspired to speak, not in the language of argument or law, but in the impassioned strains of the imagination. The last tones of that voice which had roused his countrymen from slavery and sensuality in Egypt, and cheered, and threatened, and rebuked them during their wanderings, which had announced the statutes of Jehovah, had proclaimed victory to the obedient and judgment on the rebellious—the last tones, which were to go on sounding and sounding into distant ages, were the tones of poetry. The last inspiration which came down into the soul of Moses burst forth in that sublime ode which was his death-song. And why was this?
“ It shall come to pass,” are the words, “when many evils and troubles are befallen them, that this song shall testify against them as a witness, for it shall not be forgotten out of the mouth of their seed.” Well may we conceive how, in after times, when Israel was hunted by the hand of Midian into caves and denswhen, smitten by the Philistine, the ark of God was
snatched away—when, after Jerusalem had known its highest glory, the sword of the King of the Chaldees smote their young men in the sanctuary, and spared neither young man nor maiden, old man nor him that stooped for age, or when the dark-browed Israelite was wandering in the streets of Nineveh or Babylon, an exile and a slave,how must there have arisen on his sad spirit the memory of that song, with its sublime images of God's protection, now forfeited, "as an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, so the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him!”
I know that there is a way in which some people turn a deaf ear to this, saying that it is Oriental imagery, an Asiatic fashion of speech. Yes, but none the less, in the all-foreseeing purposes of Him who inspired it, was it meant for all after time and all after generations of menin the West no less than in the East. The ancient and the Hebrew song had a modern and a larger destiny; it was to pass into a body of English words, and so come unto us.
This proof of the value of poetic culture is fortified when you reflect how that which may be reverenced as the
very ideal of poetry—I mean that which flowed from direct divine inspiration-has always proved its adaptation to the hearts of men in all ages, in the Christian as well as in the Jewish church, in all their conditions of joy and of woe.
The Holy City was given over to the fearful fulfilment of prophecy by the bloody sword of the Chaldean and the Roman-its temple and town razed to the ground, to be for a weary length of centuries trodden on by the infidel foot of the Saracen; and yet the sounds that issued from the harp of Jerusalem's king, silenced in
the desecrated city, have never been hushed elsewhere, but to this day are heard, and their never-ending echoes will rise up to heaven from every side of the round earth as long as this planet of ours shall roll glittering in the sunlight through the boundless spaces of the sky. And thus it is that in all true worship there is incorporated forever the large influence of imagination.
Now, I have spoken of the combination of the practical and the poetical as a character of our English race, of the greatest English minds, and above all, as observable in Holy Writ; and such authority might be all-sufficient; but let us further seek a reason why this combination should be cherished, and prose and poetry studied in welladjusted proportion. I speak of them as distinct, but let it be remembered that they are not contra-distinguished, for the best prose and the best poetry are but varied forms of uttered wisdom. The perfection of a literature is in the true combination of its poetry and prose, which bear to each other a relation which has been imaged with equal truth and fancy in these simple stanzas :
I looked upon a plain of green
That some one called the land of prose,
In movement or repose.
That well was named the mount of song,
The woods and streams among.
Though known by all the nobly wise-
The fair green plain's amenities.*
* Anonymous.—“Poetry, Past and Present,” p. 194,
The prose literature leads us along into the region of actual truth, that which has manifested itself in action, in deeds, in historic events, in biographic incidents. It tells us what men have done, and said, and suffered, or it reasons on the capacity for action and for passion, and so it gives power to the mind, in making us the better know ourselves and our fellow-beings. But most inadequate are his conceptions of truth, who thinks it has no range beyond the facts and outward things which observation and research and argument ascertain. Beneath all the visible and audible and tangible things of the world's history, there lies the deeper region of silent, unseen, spiritual truth—that which was shadowed forth in action, and yet the action, which to some minds seems every thing, is but the shadow, and the spirit is the reality. The experience of any one's own mind may teach the inadequacy of mere actual truth: has not every one felt, at the time when any deep emotion stirred him, or any lofty thought animated him, what imperfect exponents of such emotion or thought, his words or actions are? Nay, the more profound and sacred the affection, how it shrinks from any outward shape, as too narrow and superficial for it! Is it not in your daily consciousness to recognise the presence of emotions, yearnings, aspirations of your spiritual nature, which baffle expression, even if you wished to bring them forth from the recess of silence-motions of the soul, which word nor deed do justice to? Do you not know that there are sympathies, affinities with our fellow-beings, and with the external world of sight and sound, which pass beyond the reach of argument or common speech? So true is it, that there are powers,