« PreviousContinue »
it is because men lack time to be studious, or because the temper of their minds is rendered averse from contemplation, not because our poetry is wanting in applicability to such seasons; for unless I err greatly through partiality and partial knowledge, the poetry of this country (a country pre-eminently poetical), is its chief storehouse of civil wisdom; whilst it is in that other country whose poetry has ever been of an inferior order and beyond its own territories in the least estimation, that political wisdom has been most at fault, supplanted from time to time by the crudest theories and the most barbarous practice-in so much that despite the scientific attainments, the many dexterities and the colloquial cleverness of that people, any instructed man who should adventure to visit them at this time, might suppose himself, like the suitor in Beaumont and Fletcher's Play, “arrived amongst a nation
of new-found fools, on a land where no navigator had yet planted wit.” Such would be the appearance; and though in reality there is no such thing as a nation of fools, yet there is unhappily a nation in which at particular conjunctures, and (let us hope) only for a season, the fools are so much the most active and energetic as to be the only parties apparent, and through defect of sober intrepidity on the part of those who are rational, foolhardihood is triumphant.
“The Good want power, but to weep barren tears.
I do not mean of course to imply that it is for want of written poetry that the French nation cannot see it's way; nor that it is by virtue of written poetry that our way lies more in the light: but out of that imagi
Shelley. “Prometheus Unbound.”
native power in our national mind which is wanting in their's, have proceeded the twinbirths of poetry and political wisdom; and as they are born of one stock, so do they dwell together in the land in a faithful and helpful relationship
If the poet who is now one of the foremost members of that body in France which is called its Government, and who is apparently one of the least erring, certainly the most brave and generous of their number,-if that in some respects very admirable person be not politically wise, the inferenceshould be, not that poets make bad politicians, but rather that this politician is but an indifferent poet. For true greatness in poetry there is none without wisdom,—without that wisdom at least which errs not widely in the philosophy of politics, whether or not it be competent to the conduct of affairs. The great English Poets, though ardent lovers of freedom, have never, as far as
I know, lent their countenance in a single line to the confounding of liberty with equality; nor was it possible that they should do so, so long as the poetic faculty was alive in them: for in what is that faculty most essentially exercised but in the inquisition into Nature, and who can look into Nature and fail to see that the system of God's Providence therein is not a system of equality, but throughout its whole scope and tenour a system of subordination ?
“Not equal all, yet free;
Such was the judgment of the least conservative of our great Poets as delivered in verse; and the prose development of his opinions may be found in his second book “ Of Reformation in England.”
In Spenser's allegóry the champion of equality is represented as a Giant full of violence, pride, and presumption, who proclaimed that all realms and nations were run awry,
* Paradise Lost, b. V., 791.
and undertook to repair them by reducing all things to a level:
“ Therefore the Vulgar did about him flock
And cluster thick unto his leesings vain,
In hope by him great benefit to gain.”
He is rebuked by Arthegal as seeking to contravene the order of Nature and Provi
dence, and also for his blindness in aiming at equality through mere physical distribution, having, at the same time, no balance in which he can weigh what is moral, spiritual, or intellectual. But he stubbornly maintains his ground:
“Thou foolish Elf,' said then the Giant wroth,
Seest not how badly all things present be, And each Estate quite out of order go'th ?
The Sea itself dost thou not plainly see
the Land there under thee; And th' Earth itself how daily 'tis increased
By all that dying to it turned be?