« AnteriorContinuar »
studied the nature of passion in others, can never be a poet; any more than the artist who has never felt the exhilaration of joy, nor witnessed its effects, can represent in painting or marble a personification of delight.
To examine the passions individually would be a work of time and patience, or rather of impatience. We will therefore dismiss those which are malevolent or injurious to the peace of society; for though rage, envy, malice, jealousy, and above all the master passion of revenge, may supply the poet with images of majesty, and horror, which give to the productions of his genius a character of depth and power; yet as those to which we are about to turn our attention are so much more congenial to the peaceful spirit of the muse, we will devote our time solely to the consideration of the poetry of love, and grief.
First then we begin with love; a subject hourly trampled in the dust, and yet hourly rising from its degradation with fresh life, and fresh vigour, to claim, in spite of the perpetual profanation of vulgar familiarity, the best and warmest tribute of the poet's lay. By love I do not mean that moderate, but high-toned attachment which may be classed under the general head of affection of this hereafter. For the present I am daring enough to speak in plain prose, and even in this enlightened day, of the love of May-day queens, and village swains; of the love of Damon and Delias; of the love which speaks in the common-place of sighs and blushes, as well as of that which never told its tale; of the love which Milton thought worthy of being described in its purest, holiest character; and of the love which lives and glows in the pages of every poet from Milton down to Byron, Burns, and Moore.
That all who have touched the poet's magic pen, have at one time or other of their lives made love their theme, and that they have bestowed upon this theme their highest powers, is proof sufficient to establish the fact that love is of all passions the most poetical; a
fact in no way contradicted or affected by the vulgar profanation to which this theme more than any other has been subjected. All human beings are not capable of ambition, of envy, of hate, or indeed of any other passion; but all are capable of love, in a greater or less degree, and according to certain modifications: it follows therefore as a necessary consequence, that love should form a favourite and familiar theme, with multitudes who know nothing of its refinements, and high capabilities.
The universal tendency of love to exalt its object, is a fact which at once gives it importance, dignity, and refinement. Importance because of its prevalence amongst mankind; dignity, because whatever raises the tone of moral feeling, and disposes towards kindly thoughts of our fellow-creatures, must be conducive to the good of society; and refinement because it enters into the secrets of social intercourse, and delights in nothing so much as communicating the happiness it derives from all that is most admirable in art and nature. If that is a contemptible or insignificant passion under whose influence more has been dared, and done, and suffered, than under any other; then is the human mind itself contemptible, and the name of insignificance may very properly be applied to all those impulses of human nature which have given rise to the revolutions of past ages, and the most conspicuous events which mark the history of the world.
It seems to me that love originates in a mixture of admiration and pity. Without some feeling of admiration, no sentient being could first begin to love; and without some touch of pity, love would be deficient in its character of tenderness, and that irresistible desire to serve the object, which impels to the most extraordinary acts of disinterestedness and devotion. I grant that after love has once taken possession of the heart, it becomes a sort of instinct, and can then maintain an existence too miserable, and degraded, for a
name, long after admiration and even pity have become extinct. But in the first instance there must be some quality we admire to attract our attention and win our favour, and there must be some deficiency in the happiness of this object, which we think we can supply, or we should never dream of attaching ourselves to it. It may be asked since love sometimes fixes itself upon an inserior object, degraded below the possession of dignity or virtue, where then can be the admiration ? I answer, that in such cases the mind that loves must be degraded too, and consequently it is subject to call evil good, and may thus discover qualities admirable to its perverted vision, which a more discriminating eye would turn from with disgust. Again, it is still more reasonable to ask when love is fixed upon an object apparently the centre of happiness, to which prosperity in every shape is ministering, where then can be the pity ? 'We all know that the appearance of happiness is deceitful, and we all suspect that even under the most flattering aspect, there is a mingled yarn in the web of life, which renders the experience of others, like our own, a mixture of joy and sorrow; but if a being can be found in whose happiness is no bro-ken link, no chord unstrung, who has no false friend, no flattering enemy, no threatening of infirmity, no flaw in worldly comfort and security ; I would answer the question by asking, is human happiness of so firm and durable a nature that once established, it remains unshaken ? No; the summit of earthly felicity is one of such perilous attainment, that the nearer we see any one approaching it, the more we long to protect them from the danger to come-to stretch out our arms, and if we cannot prevent, at least to break their fall. We feel towards such an one, that the day will come when they may want a real friend, a firm support, a true comforter, and we hasten the bond that unites our fate with theirs, that we may be ready in the days of trial and wo,"
If admiration did not form a competent part of our love, we should not feel so ardent a desire as is generally evinced, to obtain for the object beloved, the admiration of others. We long for others to behold them with our eyes, that they may participate in our feelings, and do what we consider justice to the idols of our imagination, and though this can seldom be the case to the extent of our wishes, we know that to listen to the well-merited praises of those we love, is (at least to women) the most intense enjoyment this world can afford. To purchase this gratification what anxiety we endure, what study we bestow, what ardent desire we experience, that they may commit no errors cognizable to the world's eye; but steering an open, honourable, upright course, may defy the scrutiny of envious eyes, and claim as their due from society at large, that tribute of admiration which we are ever ready to bestow. But the unspeakable anguish with which we behold any departure from this honourable course of conduct, is perhaps the strongest proof, how intimately our sense of all that is admirable in the human character is interwoven with our affections. I do not pretend to say, that we are all so influenced by right feeling, or so well assured of the precise line of demarcation between good and evil, as to lament over the errors of those we love, exactly in proportion to their moral culpability. Far from it. But let that which all hearts can feel-let the stigma of the world's disgrace fall upon them-let it at the same time be voluntarily incurred, and richly merited, and ye who tell us of the loss of friends or fortune, of poverty, or sickness or death, match the agony of this conviction if you can. No; it has neither companion nor similitude. In the wide range of human calamity there is not one that bears any proportion to this.
It may be said of piiy also, that there are cases in which we are scarcely aware of its forming any part of our love; but is not our love at such times languid,
spiritless, and inert? No sooner does sickness or misfortune assail the object of our regard, than it assumes a new life, and all that was dear before, becomes doubly valuable beneath the pressure of affliction, or on the brink of the grave. How often has pity brought to light a love who existence we were unconscious of before; and those whom we should once have deemed it impossible to regard with tenderness, have become, under the shadow of misfortune, the objects of our most devoted affection).
The power which love possesses of enhancing our enjoyments, is of itself sufficient to entitle this sentiment to a high place amongst those that are most influential in their operations upon the human mind. I appeal to the young, or rather to the old who have not forgotten their youth, whether love has not at some period of their existence, given a life and vividness to the aspect of creation, a music to sound, and an intensity to all their capabilities of simple and natural delight, which, while the enchantment lasted, seemed to raise the pleasures of earth above this sublunary sphere, though in remembrance it claims nothing but a passing smile, or perhaps a faint sigh of regret, that we have lost so much of what constituted the life of our early existence. We smile because we have lived to awake from our delusion—to know that the sunshine which then appeared to us a flood of radiance pouring its golden streams over hill and grove, and diffusing the principle of happiness through all the secret mysteries of nature, was but the ordinary light of day, liable to be obscured by mists, and hid from us by the intervention of dense and gloomy clouds. We smile because the brook that murmured at our feet with such continuous and unbroken melody, to our young imaginations pure, and clear, and vivid, like the secret springs of unsophisticated feeling, since then has wearied us with the constant monotony of its sound, seeming to tell of little else than pebbles and clear water. We smile, because