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(2) But, in the second place, besides this peculiar conformation of the English race and mind, there is still another feature in its history which contributes to render the study of it, and its productions, of more worth than that of any other of the literatures of modern Europe. We allude to the peculiar and powerful influence which the Christian religion has had upon its formation and development. We have already alluded to the fact that one great cause of the difference between Ancient and Modern culture, civilization, and literature is to be traced to the influence of divine revelation. Christianity imparted a depth and spirituality to the thought and feeling of the Modern world, which could not arise under the predominantly sensualizing tendency of Paganism, and those literatures which imbibed its spirit most deeply and purely, other things being equal, are most worthy of attention. For they harmonize best with the tone and spirit of the Modern world; they best prepare the scholar to enter vividly and with a vital consciousness into the career and movement of modern society ; they afford more that awakens and strengthens and nurtures the individual mind ; they are less liable to be exhausted of their contents and to be outgrown and left behind in the progressive development of human nature. But of all the literatures of modern Europe, the English felt the influence of Christianity in its purest form. The literatures of Southern Europe grew up under the influence of a nominal Christianity, which had in it far more of the sensualism of Paganism than the spirituality of the gospel. The effects of it are to be seen, this day, in the nerveless, emasculated national character, and the feeble, decaying, dying literature. The English mind and heart, on the contrary, have, in the main, been exposed, age after age, to the spiritualizing influences and discipline of the Christian religion. Even those periods in English history when a false Christianity prevailed, only served to make the recoil more violent, and to subject the nation to a still purer and still more spiritual form of truth. The rich, healthy genius and strong sense of England have, for a longer and less interrupted period than has been the case with any other peo
ple, been slowly, and from the centre, unfolding themselves under the cultivating, elevating, humanizing influences of the Christian religion.
In the English literature, then, by virtue of the comprehensive representative character of the English mind, and the strength, depth, and purity of the influence exerted upon it by the Christian religion, is the modern student to find the most effectual preservative against that literary Formalism which an unbalanced, and in reality ungenial, study of classical literature is sure to produce. The modern scholar ought to be a man of power and of impression. He ought also to be a man of well-proportioned, symmetrical, elegant cultivation. But he is more likely to be the latter, if he is already the former, than he is to be the former, if he is, first, the latter. For, wherever there is matter and power to start with, there may be beauty, and grace, and elegance. The same degree of careful effort devoted to the artistic and formal finish of a work after, instead of before, the proper diligence and care have been devoted to its material origination within the mind, will elaborate it into a high beauty and an exquisite grace, that are absolutely beyond the power of one who has not thus begun at the beginning; who has not first gendered the work in his own soul.
In the thoughtful opulence and the throbbing life of the English literature, the modern student should, then, seek for mental wealth and power; for that vigorous and masculine principle that will vivify all his other culture from whatever source it come. In so doing, he is going to Ophir for gold, to the gorgeous East for barbaric pearl, to the very heart of nature for the forces of life. For let him bring before his mind, for a moment, the series of productions in the several departments of literature, which the English mind has been originating and throwing off with freedom, and force, and wonderful variety, during the last half millennium; let him remember the wisdom of Bacon, and Hooker, and Burke ; the satire of Hall, of Butler, of Swift; the humor of Chaucer, of Goldsmith, of Sterne, of Lamb; the brilliancy and art of Pope; the magnificence and architecture of Milton; Vol. XIII. No. 50.
the sweetness, and fluency, and flushed beauty, of Spenser ; the meditativeness of Wordsworth, and the intensity of Byron; let him think, lastly, of that wonderful being in whom all these qualities existed in their prime and purity, and found their full expression in the immense range and expanse of the Shaksperean drama, in the portraiture of the whole human being in its myriad minds and moods; let the modern student recall all this, and feel its full impression, and believe that, in pursuing the close and thorough study of English literature, he is pursuing the study of the richest, and the most thoughtful, the most vigorous, and the most vivifying, literature of the modern world.
II. The second principal effect of English studies is seen in the excellence of the style of thought and expression, that results from their prosecution.
The mode of thinking induced into a mind by a course of education, is a matter of the highest importance. If it cannot be said that it is of as great moment how the mind thinks, as what it thinks, it can be asserted with positiveness, that the matter of its thoughts is very closely connected with the manner of them, and, in this respect, the style of thinking becomes worthy of attention and cultivation.
By the style of thinking, is meant the particular and pecu. liar manner in which thought is produced in the mind, when left to its spontaneous, unwatched workings. This peculiar manner undoubtedly has its lowest foundation in the peculiar structure of the individual mind; but it is also modified, and, to a certain extent determined, by the class of minds and kinds of thought, in other words, by the species of literature with which it is familiar. Besides, so far as the style of thinking is founded upon, and determined by, the structure of the human mind itself, it is a correct one, and all deviations therefore, in the wrong direction, must be traced to external influences. For the mind itself is well made, and when its laws and constitution are perfectly obeyed, nothing, either in its mode of action, or in its products, requires emendation or correction.
When, however, a mind is exposed to the influence of other minds, whose way of thought is unnatural, affected,
artificial, extravagant, or whatever the bad quality may be, it is very
liable to be drawn into the same false manner. Es pecially is this true, in case there be in the individual mind a bent of the same general character. In this case, the student, while in the plastic process, and before he has reached “ the years that bring the philosophic mind,” is extremely liable to attach himself to some school in letters, in which the false mode of thought has embodied itself in all probability in dazzling glare, and with a species of imposing power difficult to be resisted. Falling in, as it does, with his own particular tendency, it is no wonder that his whole intellect is taken captive by it, and he acquires a fixed style of thinking, in which the most glaring faults of his model appear.
But the age, as well as the single individual, always has a style of thinking which is peculiar to itself, and this also exerts a controlling influence upon the individual. For that must be an extremely intense and determined individuality that can keep itself out of the great main current and tendency of the age in which it lives, and, in strong contrast, exhibit a style of thinking purely sui-generic. Such individualities, when genuinely original, become the creators of new schools in literature, and of new eras in art. The great mass of men, however, naturally share in the general intellectual characteristics of the age in which they live, and no one can rid himself of the faults of his age, unless he carefully study and imbibe some of the better characteristics of other periods. If he contents himself with the literature of the present, and suffers himself to be the mere creature and copy of its good and bad qualities alike, he will not attain the best development of his own mind, and will help to perpetuate what is defective in the existing type of thought and culture.
The influence of English studies, and especially of the study of the earlier English, in reference to the point under consideration, is most excellent. For, if we were called upon to mention the distinguishing characteristic of these elder writers, we should mention the sincerity and thoroughness
of their mental processes. They never write for merely momentary effect, but absorb themselves, with great selfforgetfulness, in the subject of their reflections. They had, it is true, one advantage over writers of the present day: they composed before criticism (either as theory or practice) became a constituent part of the national literature, and hence wrote without restraint. But, aside from this, the elder Eng. lish mind was a singularly thoughtful and even-tempered one. When stirred deeply, it proved itself to be a mind full of powers and energies, as the political history of England shows. But this force was under the control of strong English sense, and of that more profound faculty which is the parent of ideas and the discoverer of laws. This temperance of intellect, this moderation of soul, invariably accompanies depth and richness of thought, and manifests itself in a grave and commanding style of reflection and expression. Turn, for example, to the poetry of Spenser and Milton, to the philosophy of Bacon, to the history of Raleigh, and notice the entire absence of that quality so much strained after by the modern Belle Lettrist, the striking and the startling. The charm lies not in individual passages ; and hence no compositions suffer more when judged of by “ elegant extracts” from them; but in the continuous and continual flow of the main current of thought, which pours onward in gentleness, in quietness, and in broad, deep strength. This same characteristic is seen in every department of literary composition. Even in auto-biography, where the writer would be specially tempted to throw a brilliant hue over his own personal history, the same sedateness and balance of judgment is exhibited. The Memoirs of Lord Herbert of Cherbury, for example, contain the history of one of the most rare and accomplished gentlemen, as well as one of the most learned and thoughtful students, of the age in which he lived. They also contain an account of chivalrous adventures
“of most disastrous chances, Of moving accidents, by flood and field;
Of hair-breadth scapes i' the imminent deadly breach." And yet the narrative is equable and tranquil, the language