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The ornament of beauty is Suspect,
His passion is not the fruit of chance; it swells, as he speaks, to a city, or a state.
No, it was builded far from accident;
In the strength of his constancy, the Pyramids seem to him recent and transitory; and the freshness of youth and love dazzles him with its resemblance to morning.
Take those lips away
The wild beauty of this hyperbole, I may say, in passing, it would not be easy to match in literature.
This transfiguration which all material objects undergo through the passion of the poet,—this power which he exerts, at any moment, to magnify the small, to micrify the great,-might be illustrated by a thousand examples from his Plays. I have before me the “Tempest," and will cite only these few lines :
ARIEL. The strong-based promontory
Have I made shake, and by the spurs plucked up
Prospero calls for music to soothe the frantic Alonzo and his companions :
A solemn air, and the best comforter
The charm dissolves apace;
The perception of real affinities between events (that is to say, of ideal affinities, for those only are real), enables the poet thus to make free with the most imposing forms and phenomena of the world, and to assert the predominance of the soul.
3. Whilst thus the poet delights us by animating Nature like a creator, with his own thoughts, he differs from the philosopher only herein,—that the one proposes Beauty as his main end; the other, Truth. But the philosopher, not less than the poet, postpones the apparent order and relations of things to the empire of thought. “The problem of philosophy,” according to Plato, “is for all that exists conditionally, to find a ground unconditioned and absolute.” It proceeds on the faith that a law determines all phenomena, which, being known, the phenomena can be predicted. That law, when in the mind, is an idea. Its beauty is infinite. The true philosopher and the true poet are one; and a beauty, which is truth, and a truth, which is beauty, is the aim of both. Is not the charm of one of Plato's or Aristotle's definitions strictly like that of the Antigone of Sophocles ? It is, in both cases, that a spiritual life has been imparted to Nature; that the solid seeming block of matter has been pervaded and dissolved by a thought; that this feeble human being has penetrated the vast masses of Nature with an informing soul, and recognised itself in their harmony, that is, seized their law. In physics, when this is attained, the memory disburthens itself of its cumbrous catalogues of particulars, and carries centuries of observation in a single formula.
Thus, even in physics, the material is ever degraded before the spiritual. The astronomer, the geometer, rely on their irrefragable analysis, and disdain the results of observation. The sublime remark of Euler, on his law of arches—“This will be found contrary to all experience, yet is true,” had already transferred Nature into the mind, and left matter like an outcast corpse.
4. Intellectual science has been observed to beget invariably a doubt of the existence of matter. Turgot said “He that has never doubted the existence of matter may be assured he has no aptitude for metaphysical inquiries.” It fastens the attention upon immortal necessary uncreated natures, that is, upon Ideas; and in their beautiful and majestic presence, we feel that our outward being is a dream and a shade. Whilst we wait in this Olympus of gods, we think of Nature as an appendix to the soul. We ascend into their region, and know that these are the thoughts of the Supreme Being. “These are they who were set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. When He prepared the heavens, they were there ; when He established the clouds above, when He strengthened the fountains of the deep, then they were by Him, as one brought up with Him. Of them took He counsel.”
Their influence is proportionate. As objects of science, they are accessible to few men; yet all men are capable of being raised by piety or by passion into their region; and no man touches these divine natures without becoming, in some degree, himself divine. Like a new soul, they renew the body. We become physically nimble and lightsome; we tread on air; life is no longer irksome, and we think it will never be so. No man fears age, or misfortune, or death, in their serene company, for he is transported out of the district of change. Whilst we behold unveiled the nature of Justice and Truth, we learn the difference between the absolute and the conditional or relative. We apprehend the absolute. As it were, for the first time, we exist. We become immortal, for we learn that time and space are relations of matter; that, with a perception of truth, or a virtuous will, they have no assinity.
5. Finally, religion and ethics, which may be fitly called the practice of ideas, or the introduction of ideas into life,—have an analogous effect with all lower culture, in degrading Nature, and suggesting its dependence on spirit. Ethics