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grandest form of the great interest of every human being, piety, it seems to us, among the body of mankind, has been one of the most inoperative, inconstant, and factitious of all sentiments. Let theologians dispute as they may about human depravity, total or partial, it must be conceded by all, that the Being, whose presence is ever and everywhere most truly with us, whose presence is constantly and most strikingly manifest in every object around us, is least of all present to men's thoughts. Now one reason of the deficiency of that great sentiment, for which, as we believe, there is a natural aptitude in the human breast, is, we doubt not, the want of knowledge, the want of enlarged and distinct ideas. It is not enough to say, in the general, that God is wise, good, and merciful. It is not enough to teach this on set times and occasions. It would not be enough to do this concerning any other being, in whom we wished to awaken a deep and habitual interest. We want statements, specifications, facts, details, that will illustrate the wonderful perfections of the infinite Creator; and these details require to be such as will make their impression every day and hour, as will mingle their suggestions with all the toils and cares of business, and record their instructions on all the paths of life. Men, it is often said, and too truly, are so engrossed with occupation, so oppressed with labor, so agitated by competition, and perplexed with difficulty, that religion is precluded and kept out of sight. What is needed then is, that religious reflections should be mixed up, if possible, with the mass of human pursuits, should start up unbidden on every side, should make their impression, as all deep and abiding impressions are made, by constant and unforced repetition.
Now, it is precisely this want that is supplied by the scientific knowledge of nature. Not that men would think less of their Bible, for thinking more of this knowledge. It would help to explain their Bible, and give a loftier meaning to many of the noblest passages of Holy Writ.' Nature, too, is as truly a manifestation from Heaven as the Scriptures. • "Tis elder Scripture, writ by God's own hand.' The knowledge of it could scarcely fail to be a most powerful means of devotion. It is worthy of remark, that those philosophers, in general, who have been students of nature, have been distinguished by a pious reverence for the Author of nature. How without that madness,' which the poet charges upon
devout astronomer,' could they escape it? It follows, as inference from premises, as cause from effect. A man, who reads a work of genius, if he comprehends it, unavoidably admires its author. How could a similar, but loftier sentiment fail to arise from a study of the volume of nature!
But this volume has an advantage, in one respect, over all other volumes. It is, as we have already intimated,ever open before us, and we may read it at our leisure.' Nay, we must read it, if we understand its language, almost in spite of ourselves. Its line is gone out through all the earth, and its words to the end of the world.' Now of this various, unceasing, omnipresent communication, knowledge, knowledge, we repeat, is the great interpreter. It would make the world a new sphere to us, a sphere of new and nobler influences. Nothing that we remember, besides the direct effect of religious emotion, ever so effectually and entirely placed us in a new world,' as the simple philosophical history of vegetation. Knowledge would write lessons of piety on every leaf. Everyturf would be a fragrant shrine.' The earth, in its light, would rear ten thousand altars around us. The air we breathe would be incense. And heaven, beyond towering arch or temple's dome, would bear us to contemplations, glorious, sublime, unspeakable, of the adorable Creator.
ART. II. Curiosity; a Poem, delivered at Cambridge, before the Phi Beta Kappa Society, August 27, 1829. By CHARLES SPRAGUE. Boston. J. T. Buckingham. 8vo. pp. 30.
If we may believe certain high authorities, it was once thought that poetry required peculiar natural powers; such as are not given to all men, at least in the same measure. The poet, in order to pass muster, was required to possess the highest attributes of mind and the best affections of the heart; to have an eye wide and searching, quick to discern the magnificence and glory of nature, and able to look down into the depths of the soul. Beside the delicate sensibility which voluntary retirement could give him, he was expected to have an acquaintance with all the principles of human action, from the power which lifted and swayed the stormy passions of
the multitude, to the hair-spring which set in motion the wayward ambition of kings. But not to dwell on these easy generalities, it is enough to say, that the poet was the favorite creation of the imagination of the ancients. Their deities were hardly respectable in their character and pretensions; they were nothing more than human agents, exalted to the power and dignity of evil spirits; with more capacity of doing evil, and even less disposition to do good. The poet made the hero; so that he had no rival in the admiration of men; and this may account for the number and greatness of the qualifications required in those who aspired to the sacred name.
For many years this imaginary being has ceased to be found, and grave men have doubted, whether any such ever existed. Certainly, the impression that any peculiar powers are required for the production of poetry is completely done away. The time which Johnson prophesied, in no good humor, is come in this country, if not in his own, when the cook warbles lyrics in the kitchen, and the thresher vociferates his dithyrambics in the barn.' One of the first efforts of our forefathers was to destroy the monopoly of genius, and to impress upon their children the valuable truth, that man could do again whatever man had done. They entered the sacred ground of poetry without putting off their shoes, and made sure of success beforehand, by establishing the principle, that praise was due to well-meant exertion. If an epitaph, an elegy, or even a hymn-book was called for, they considered it not a matter of choice, but of duty, to supply the demand. Even the great epics of our country, in more modern times, were written with the same intrepidity. The writers saw that all other great nations had their distinguished poetical works, and they resolved that their own land should not be without them; if no one else would write them, they would; though they had little leisure for the labor, and for the art itself neither propensity nor vocation.
From their time to the present, Mr Kettell will bear us witness, vast quantities of good merchantable poetry, of which his three volumes are only specimens, have been thrown into the market every year; or rather, we should say, have been produced; for some of the worthies of that collection little. dreamed of being translated from the dark corner of a newspaper to a place among the northern stars. The result of
making this business so common has been a great developement of mechanical skill. Very tolerable verse may now be made with very little expense of time and labor; though there is reason to fear, that, in many cases, the workmanship covers the want of material. It is not long since an individual in one of our cities offered to supply the public with good verse, suited to any occasion, and at low prices; but the domestic manufacture had become so common, that he found no encouragement in his profession. We are evidently approaching a state of independence, even beyond that contemplated by the American system; when not only our nation shall cease to be indebted to others, but every individual shall furnish his own supply; and as all are pretty well satisfied with their exploits in verse, we rejoice in believing that every one will be supplied to his mind with poetry, which, if none of the best, is good enough for him.
But it must not be denied, that those who are inclined to look upon the dark side, represent this as a sign of the temporary decline of the art. For they say, and, it must be confessed, with some show of reason, that the gods have made excellence the prize of labor; and if the public are disposed to favor productions of the lighter kind, the fact, that excellence is no longer required, proves that the public taste is also declining. Neither is the success of the great poets of the present day any objection to this statement, because the labor spoken of is not required for single efforts, but in the preparation for great exertions. Thus it was by slow degrees, that Scott prepared himself for those works, which are now the wonder of the world; it was not at once, that Moore became master of his miraculous versification and imagery; and it was long before Mrs Hemans acquired that beautiful power, which now appears, however lightly her hand passes over the strings. With all their fine natural talent, they evidently felt and acted upon the conviction, that labor was essential to excellence and permanent success. Such is the opinion of sundry poetical skeptics; and whether it is a sound and sensible doctrine, or only an antiquated prejudice, time will show, when the momentary fashion is passed away. One thing, however, is clear; that those, who believe that no industry is required, fall into direct and servile imitation, and that not of the best models. For even to become sensible of the excellences of the great masters of the art, re
quires thought and study; no man is struck, at the first glance, with the greatness of the Paradise Lost, any more than the power of one of Raffaelle's pictures; we do not choose such works for the entertainment of our leisure hours, till we have become familiar with their beauties; and as such works are not so popular as those which are less admired, the judicious race of imitators choose a nearer way to applause, and copy the marvels of the hour. But the peculiarities, which are pleasing in original writers, will not bear imitation by the ablest hand, and such are not the hands which usually engage in this employment; so that the imitation, like Gothic architecture in our country, is more desperately Gothic than its original, and at last model and imitation are brought alike into contempt; a fate, of which we have abundant illustration. We must not judge of excellence in this way. No man chooses the noblest sciences, the sublimest scenes, nor the greatest men, for the companions of leisure hours; and it is but a mistaken gratitude to pronounce those who have best entertained us the greatest masters of the lyre.
A great proportion of the poetry in our country is of this imitative kind. There is evidence enough, that it is not owing to want of genius, and we are inclined to ascribe it to a want of correct and strong ambition. No man here makes poetry a serious and engrossing pursuit; and those who treat it merely as a graceful accomplishment, naturally imitate the manner of the writers they are most familiar with; and as, for the reason just given, the writers most admired are not always most read, it has come to pass, as once in Israel, that they go in by-paths,' and the highways are deserted. Still we are confident, that the way of Milton and Pope, by which we mean the way of thoughtfulness, care, and labor, will triumph at last; for we are convinced that there is a large body of cultivated men in our country, who, though no lovers of what bears the name of poetry at present, do yet take pleasure in reading our older writers and the truly excellent of the day; who know that genius is as much a matter of cultivation as of nature; who know that a taste for the beauty and grandeur of the visible world is formed by meditation, that acquaintance with the heart is not intuitive, and that power over hearts and souls is not to be acquired in an hour; who therefore have no patience with those, who rest their claims upon immediate inspiration, and will neither read