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A little portion of this little isle
And Wordsworth, in one of his elegies, boldly pro
Thou strikest, absence perisheth,
The future brightens on our sight;
For on the past hath fallem a light,
I have apparently stepped aside from my subject in citing these authorities, but the truth they sanction is set forth in this poem in the manifold forms into which the poet's genius has fashioned it, showing how that spiritual presence has been a reality to him, helping him onward in the destiny of life. The manly loyalty of his sorrow never fails him, but, conscious of the wisdom which sorrow brings, he clings to it with gratitude.
The deep mystery that wraps the whole subject of the relation between the living and the dead is in most minds barren of all belief; and, often worse than mere negative unbelief, it boldly denies that which lies much farther beyond the reach of denial than of assertion: that any influence of the spirits of the departed upon the spirits of the living is possible, and so covenant with the dead is boldly broken. One of the most learned and logical theologians among English laymen, in the present century, the late Alexander Knox, said that there was no opinion on which his mind rested with stronger assurance than that the spirits of the departed have a larger knowledge of transactions on earth than they had in life; and that having lost his father at twelve years of age, he felt, after the lapse of half a century, that all his days had been overshadowed by paternal Solicitude. These opinions occur in an argument to prove the concern felt by departed spirits for those left behind, and I refer to it because it shows one of the prime truths of this poem reached by another path, the process of strict argumentation.* The study of “In Memoriam” will also show how it windicates other truths affecting the life and destiny of man— elemental truths which have been assailed by some of the philosophical heresies of the day; and, indeed, there is to my mind something sublime in the poet's strong affection to his friend, passed from mortal sight, having power to sweep these heresies away. The notion, coupled perhaps with pantheism, which would deny individuality of existence in the hereafter, is dissipated by the assurance which affection gives—the feeling that it “Is faith as vague as all unsweet: Bternal form shall still divide
The eternal soul from all beside,
Sombre as the poem at first appears, it works its way on to happy hopes—the confidence of future recognitions, and a cheerful faith. The poet's voice is heard, too, against another error of the times—that which would give intellect supremacy over the higher powers which are in the soul, confounding knowledge with wisdom, or even making wisdom the Sub
* Alexander Knox's Remains, vol. ii.
ordinate. The better truth comes from the memory and imaginative contemplation of the character of his friend, when, speaking of knowledge falsely elevated, he says— “Half grown as yet, a child and vain,_ She cannot fight the fear of death:
What is she, cut from love and faith,
Of demons? fiery-hot to burst
A higher hand must make her mild,
With wisdom, like the younger child:
For she is earthly of the mind,
So early, leaving me behind,
I would the great world grew like thee,
In reverence and in charity.”
The effect of a sorrow not weakly indulged, but at once faithfully cherished and wisely disciplined, is perhaps most comprehensively shown in those stanzas which affirm the need, for the highest purposes of sorrow, of health and strength, in all that makes up our moral being.
In concluding this lecture, let me say that I have made no attempt to make choice among the poems with a view to present effect, but rather, in this desultory way, to illustrate the general purpose and character of the work, and some of the principles involved in it. I have thus passed in silence by many of the most admirable pieces in the volume, and have not stopped to speak of the superior metrical art which pervades the verse. Indeed, I am well aware, that in many respects this is rude handling of a poem which peculiarly demands the meditative study of silent reading. It is then that you may hear and see this stream of song and of sorrow—at first flowing deeply but darkly, contending alike against its own force and against resistance, light from the sky breaking only fitfully through the gloom : you may follow it after a while, gathering its strength into a more placid channel, and you will behold it at the last flowing as deeply as at first, but calmly, and in the light of peaceful memories and tranquil hopes, and bearing in the bosom of its own deep tranquillity the reflection of the deep tranquillity of the heavens.
oiterature of üif and jumour.”
Subtlety of these emotions—Sydney Smith and Leigh Hunt—Dullness of jest-books—Hudibras a tedious book—Sydney Smith's idea of the study of wit—Charles Iamb–Incapacity for a jest–German note on Knickerbocker–Stoicism and Puritanism—Guesses at Truth—-Cheerful literature needed for thoughtful minds—Recreative power of books—Different modes of mental relaxation—Napoleon—Shelley— Cowper—Southey's merriness—Doctor Arnold—Shakspeare and Scott's humour—The Antiquary—Burke—Barrow’s definition of wit —Hobbes—Forms of Humour—Doctor Johnson’s grotesque definitions—Collins, the landscape painter—Examples of grotesque style —Irish Bulls—Rip Van Winkle–Sydney Smith and Doctor Parr— Humour in old tragedies—Lear and the fool—Hamlet and the gravedigger—Irony—Macbeth and the doctor—Anne Boleyn—Bishop Tatimer—Fuller—Dean Swift and Arbuthnot-Gulliver—-Sir Roger De Coverley—Charles Lamb–Swift and Byron's humour—Prostitution of wit—Sir Robert Walpole–Lord Melbourne–Hogarth— Danger of power of humour illustrated—Ruskin's criticism.
IN my last lecture I was engaged in the consideration of some very serious subjects, the gravest that belong to literature. In passing from them at once to the Literature of Wit and Humour, I have less apprehension of the transition being felt as a violent one than that there will be found in this lecture more of seriousness than the chief title of it might lead one to expect. The movements of the mind which are connected with the faculties styled “Wit’ and “Humour,” are among the most subtle of
# University of Pennsylvania, March 13, 1851.