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author, in the dedication, to the request or the influence of friendship; but it was in reality, delight for the full discernment of religious truth, which
“ As birds put on their own attire
As shells o'er sea nymphs grow,"clothed itself instinctively with song, and gave birth to a book of careless verses, which will outlive some that have been more carefully composed.
Mr. Coxe entered the Church at a period when her true principles were set forth and defended with a clearness and power unprecedented in late years, and when, as a consequence, they were held with a firmness of grasp and a fervency of spirit, which we trust will long animate the members of our communion. With the intuition natural to the poetic mind, he assumed, at once, that true position, which admits neither of advance nor retrogradation, though of an ever deepening, subjective development: and receiving thus from the Church a wisdom not his own, discoursed in song with a curious mixture of the stern thoughtfulness of age, and the exhilaration of boyhood, exemplifying the words of David, “I have more understanding than my teachers, for thy testimonies are my study. I am wiser than the aged ; because I keep thy commandments." It was evident to him that CHRisT demands of us all our powers, of whatsoever nature ; and hence, that if he wrote poetry at all, it must be Christian poetry, and moreover, that from the Church alone could he obtain the key note which was to give internal harmony to his song. It is a sad thought, that the greater portion of human literature, in its present shape, is the result of defective views of truth and duty. Where would have been the plays of Shakspeare, or even the novels and poems of Scott, had religion, and its call for the undivided surrender of our faculties to God, come home in power to their hearts ? . Their genius would not, indeed, have been lost to the world, but the evidences and fruits of its existence would have been very different. Shakspeare may have possessed as great natural powers as St. Paul. Had he possessed St. Paul's principles, even without his inspiration, would he have written for the theater, instead of serving the Church ; or relied mainly on his own observation of man and nature for his knowledge of both ? He would have felt, with ovir suthor, that the province of the Poet is to " praise the Beauty of Holiness ;" and that the true source of his inspiration is to be found in “ the Catholic Religion,” which“ having the same original with nature, is in perfect harmony with it, and shares VOL. 1.-NO. bo
its poetic element. Christ in the Church, is the center and interpretation of all earthly things, giving an unity and design to outward objects, and to the faculties of the mind, which, without, must be vainly sought. Human genius, undirected by this great truth, can never find its true expression-never reach that goal at which it instinctively aims. By a feeling common to the bard and his auditors, which we should be Joth to consider wholly visionary, the poet has from the earliest times been regarded as occupying an intermediate position between the spiritual and visible worlds—680106 xou avθρωποισι αεδιειν-and as interpreting to mankind those deep mysteries of their nature which connect them with a higher grade of being. In all rude countries the poet has had a traditionally sacred character, and even when society lost mental hold of the idea, there still lingered a verbal recognition of it, though faint and profane. Wide spread popular opinions, though they may sink into superstition, have generally some foundation in fact. The poetic is emphatically the truthful, and the truth loving condition of the inind. It elevates a man above the prejudices of sect, the passions of party, the imperfect notions of a dark and barbaric age; and compels him to give utterance to some, at least, of those innate principles of our nature, which, being graven by the hand of God alike on all bosoms, must find a response in all, and be in as strict harmony with the universe as with the heart. Hence is it, that Catholicism finds witnesses to its truth in the poets of every age and clime ; and that the Church, in her educational system, has not disdained to use the great ancient masters of the lyre, as instruments in moulding the minds of her choicest youth into the perception and love, of the true, the beautiful, the saintly, and the heroic. Hence it is, that in that one of the old philosophers, in whom the poetic element was most richly developed, the “ Divine Plato,” may be traced not only a marvellous congruity with the general principles of Revelation, but a startling insight, which wisest men have scarcely hesitated to deem prophetic, into that mystery of mysteries, the nature of God, and into the objective existence of the Catholic Church, its institutions, ritual, discipline, its origin, tendency, aims, and ends. Hence was it that Milton, the poet, was such a different man from Milton, the rebel politician and heretical controversialist in the one character overflowing with Catholic instincts, affections and tastes—in the other, animated with a preternatural hatred, befitting the denizens of his own Pandemonium, for the just restraints of ecclesiastical law, and the authority of the Christian ministry; and hence, the involuntary alliance in thought which some must confess to, and which were it not for this principle would be profane, between the Bible and Shakspeare. We recognize in the true Poet, a spokesman not wholly of earth, who, like a messenger from above, can“ read to us our wants and feelings, and comfort us by the very reading, who can make us feel that there is a higher life than this daily one, and a brighter world than that we see.” So far is poetry from being akin to the fabulous, as is often represented by superficial persons, who with an unintentional sarcasm are styled matter of fact men, that just in proportion as it is worthy of the name, it assumes the form, and clothes itself in the vestments of Eternal Truth.
The perception of this prophetic mission of the poet, was far clearer in rude times, and in Christendom prior to the soulnarrowing divisions which we have now to lament, than it has been during the last two or three hundred years ; during which literature has been pampered into beauty of external form, under the influence of a sensual civilization, with comparatively little regard to its higher and more spiritual uses. The auside dea of the ancients, until the invasion of an Epicurean infidelity, was very different from the heartless invocation of the muse that has succeeded it, even in Christian lands. The one was the acknowledgment of a great principle, the dependence of man on Divine assistance for the due enlightening of his mind—the other is a ribald mockery of sacred influences, committed perhaps thoughtlessly and through force of custom, but no less a mockery, and blind deification of the faculties of the human intellect. Milton, with true Catholic feeling, deemed prayerful study of things sacred, his meetest preparation for the great work of song to be accomplished when years and power ripened—although its very theme was then unknown-and when he approached his task in earnest, it was from the
“Spirit that does prefer Before all temples the upright heart and pure,” that he sought instruction. In turning over the pages of modern poetry from the time of Charles II, notwithstanding the many noble productions with which we meet, there is every where visible a painful indefiniteness of purpose. The possessors of the divine gift, seem, for the most part, like men endowed with a priceless treasure, which they know not how to use; and which, therefore, they pervert and squander. This abuse of the talent which was lodged with them caused in many cases, a mental misery most eminent, and an abject poverty of soul.
Great exceptions will rise to the mind. Thomson, Akenside, Cowper, the quaint but holy Herbert, Young, Beattie and others; but as a general rule in the mental dimness occasioned by the obscuration of the Church, the man of genius was left without a clue to guide his steps even morally aright. He felt his vocation to be an honorable one, while seduced by ill-governed passions, he often disgraced it in practice. Inclined to assume an oracular tone, he had no revelation to deliver. Scintillations of truth escaped him, but they were mingled with the lurid flashes of human error, What Christian does not mourn over the fallen Swift ; a man of eminent originality and imagination, but whose soul, notwithstanding his sacred office, seemed habitually under the influence of the most brutish fancies. Poets and men of letters wrote at random; without any fixed principle and object in life, save to build up a reputation ; little caring what was their theme, so that it gave scope to the imagination, allowed of embellishment, and was pleasing to the publisher and the public. Pope, for instance, in a moral essay, or a licentious ode, was equally happy, and equally at home ; as mellifluous in his pruriences, as in his divinity, in January and May, as in an Eclogue on the Messiah ; and the arm, which at the hour of death, his distempered fancy saw protruding from the wall, as if to grasp him, may be no inapt image of the inner work of conscience at the remembrance of his prostituted powers. The office of the poet sank almost into the mere effort to say brilliant things, harmoniously, no matter what was the subject; and the Bible was ransacked for language and imagery to adorn a page, which was often polluted with the very dregs of profanity and vice. Few dreamt of imputing to a writer the religious sentiments expressed casually in his works, any more than to the opera singer the devotion of her Sunday Psalm. Both were artists; things sacred and profane, merely materials to be beautified by their touch. Unreality became the order of the day. Dress, manners, architecture shared in the depravation of religion and literature, and a hopeless artificiality overspread society.
But even then, through the dense mist came mutterings of a rising storm and angry flashes, and there were heavings of the underneath waters. Men began to speak fearfully in earnest, whether for good or for evil, and when the continental Revolution came upon the world, as Alison says, not like a transient wave, but with the full burst of all the bil, lows of the Atlantic, wafted by tempests from a distant
shore," there was an end to the starched affectation of the past, to bag wigs in dress, and pastorals in poetry. The world rose to war, and cleared the ground for action. While armies were contending in the field, principles were battling in the heart, and good men buckled on their spiritual armor, awkwardly at first, as a thing to which they were unaccustomed, and seized their weapons, sometimes a wrong one, but with a resolution to achieve something for God's glory, and human good. Wordsworth has somewhere said, “Destruction is God's daughter," and been sneered at for so saying. But his meaning is a truism, viz: that God educes good from seeming evil, and, from the unhallowed contentions of men, the immediate results of which are His temporal judgments on crime, He draws permanent benefit to the race. The human mind seems generally to have risen to its highest elevation in periods of social convulsion. Name some intellectual colossus, at least, in the ranks of the poet, and you can hardly fail to stumble on the unsheathed sword. The early troubles of Greece gave rise to Homer, whether he were one or many—the age of the Peloponesian war, was the age of Socrates, Plato, Zenophon, Thucydides-Demosthenes and Aristotle were contemporary with Alexander-Virgil and Cicero with the Cæsarian strife—the mediaval perturbations of Italy produced Dante and Petrarch-Shakspeare and Spencer grace the period of the Armada, and the Queen of ScotsMilton and the Commonwealth are identical in thought-and from the last terrible political earthquake, whose rockings we still feel, emerged a host of bright names, which, were the history of the age expunged from the world's annals, would enable after times to discern by their works, all the jarring elements in politics, theology, and social life, reflected as in a mirror. To all the great poets of the period, however differing in creed or character Wordsworth, Southey, Crabbe, Coleridge, Scott, Campbell, Rogers, Shelly, and Byron, and we may include a writer of another country who preceded them--the prose poet of France," the self-torturing sophist, wild Rosseau,"—there is one common principle, which had previously been so little developed in secular "literature, that it came upon them almost with the power of a revelationwe mean the sense of a mysterious sympathy and connection between man and nature. It operated differently upon them, according to the bent of their dispositions. Some, it sent to discontented self-communings, amid waves and mountains, with bosoms embittered against their kind, the bond with whom, they were nevertheless unable to break, though for