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material objects life, and sentiment, and emotion, and invests the mind with the powers and splendors of the outward creation; describes the surrounding universe in the colors which the passions throw over it, and depicts the mind in those moods of repose or agitation, of tenderness or sublime emotion, which manifest its thirst for a more powerful and joyful existence.
7. To a man of a literal and prosaic character, the mind may seem lawless in these workings; but it observes higher laws than it transgresses, the laws of the immortal intellect; it is trying and developing its best faculties; and, in the objects which it describes, or in the emotions which it awakens, anticipates those states of progressive power, splendor, beauty, and happiness, for which it was created.
8. We accordingly believe that poetry, far from injuring society, is one of the great instruments of its refinement and exaltation. It lifts the mind above ordinary life, gives it a respite from depressing cares, and awakens the consciousness of its affinity with what is pure and noble. In its legitimate and highest efforts, it has the same tendency and aim with Christianity; that is, to spiritualize our nature.
9. True, poetry has been made the instrument of vice, the pander of bad passions; but when genius thus stoops, it dims its fires, and parts with much of its power; and even when poetry is enslaved to licentiousness and misanthropy, she cannot wholly forget her true vocation. Strains of true feeling, touches of tenderness, images of innocent happiness, sympathies with suffering virtue, bursts of scorn or indignation at the hollowness of the world, passages true to our moral nature, often escape in an immoral work, and show us how hard it is for a gifted spirit to divorce itself wholly from what is good.
10. Poetry has a natural alliance with our best affections. It delights in the beauty and sublimity of
the outward creation and of the soul. It indeed portrays, with terrible energy, the excesses of the passions; but they are passions which show a mighty nature, which are full of power, which command awe, and excite a deep though shuddering sympathy. Its great tendency and purpose is, to carry the mind beyond and above the beaten, dusty, weary walks of ordinary life; to lift it into a purer element; and to breathe into it more profound and generous emotions.
11. It reveals to us the loveliness of nature, brings back the freshness of youthful feeling, revives the relish of simple pleasures, keeps unquenched the enthusiasm which warmed the spring-time of our being, refines youthful love, strengthens our interest in human nature by vivid delineations of its tenderest and loftiest feelings, spreads our sympathies over all classes of society, knits us by new ties with universal being, and, through the brightness of its prophetic visions, helps faith to lay hold on the future life.
12. We are aware that it is objected to poetry, that it gives wrong views and excites false expectations of life, peoples the mind with shadows and illusions, and builds up imagination on the ruins of wisdom. That there is a wisdom, against which poetry wars, — the wisdom of the senses, which makes physical comfort and gratification the supreme good, and wealth the chief interest of life,- we do not deny; nor do we deem it the least service which poetry renders to mankind, that it redeems them from the thralldom of this earth-born prudence.
13. But, passing over this topic, we would observe, that the complaint against poetry as abounding in illusion and deception is, in the main, groundless. In many poems there is more of truth than in many histories and philosophic theories. The fictions of genius. are often the vehicles of the sublimest verities, and its flashes often open new regions of thought, and throw
new light on the mysteries of our being. In poetry, en the letter is falsehood, the spirit is often profoundest wisdom.
14. And, if truth thus dwells in the boldest fictions of the poet, much more may it be expected in his delineations of life; for the present life, which is the first stage of the immortal mind, abounds in the materials. of poetry, and it is the high office of the bard to detect this divine element among the grosser labors and pleasures of our earthly being. The present life is not wholly prosaic, precise, tame, and finite. To the gifted eye it abounds in the poetic.
15. The affections which spread beyond ourselves, and stretch far into futurity; the workings of mighty passions, which seem to arm the soul with an almost superhuman energy; the innocent and irrepressible joy of infancy; the bloom, and buoyancy, and dazzling hopes of youth; the throbbings of the heart when it first wakes to love, and dreams of a happiness too vast for earth; woman, with her beauty, and grace, and gentleness, and fullness of feeling, and depth of affection, and blushes of purity, and the tones and looks which only a mother's heart can inspire; these are all poetical.
16. It is not true that the poet paints a life which does not exist. He only extracts and concentrates, as it were, life's ethereal essence, arrests and condenses its volatile fragrance, brings together its scattered beauties, and prolongs its more refined but evanescent joys. And in this he does well; for it is good to feel that life is not wholly usurped by cares for subsistence and physical gratifications, but admits, in measures which may be indefinitely enlarged, sentiments and delights worthy of a higher being.
THE TRIAL SCENE.
FROM "THE MERCHANT OF VENICE."
In the play of "The Merchant of Venice," Antonio, the merchant, consents to go surety for his friend Bassanio in the sum of three thousand ducats borrowed from Shylock. On failure to repay this sum at the time specified, Antonio agrees to forfeit to Shylock a pound of flesh to be cut from his (Antonio's) body. A bond to this effect is signed at the Notary's. Losses come upon Antonio, and the bond is forfeit. Then follows in the fourth act of the play, the following famous trial scene, in itself a perfect drama. The fact of so unamiable a character as Shylock being represented as a Jew must not be received as prompting to sectarian prejudices. It is remarked by Campbell, that while for dramatic purposes Shakespeare lends himself to the prejudices of Christians against Jews, he draws so philosophical a picture of the energetic Jewish character, that he traces the blame of its faults to the iniquity of those who would persecute a man for opinion's sake.
See in Index, BANE, OBDURATE, OFFENSE or OFFENCE, SCEPTRE or SCEPTER, SUFFICE, YEA, DANIEL, SHAKESPEARE.
Present the GRAND DUKE, SENATORS, ANTONIO, BASSANIO, GRATIANO, SOLANIO, and others.
Duke. What, is Antonio here?
Ant. Ready, so please your grace.
Duke. I am sorry for thee; thou art come to answer
From any dram of mercy.
Ant. I have heard,
Your grace hath ta'en great pains to qualify
Duke. Go one, and call the Jew into the court.
Duke. Make room, and let him stand before our face.
Shylock, the world thinks, and I think so too,
(Which is a pound of this poor merchant's flesh,)
That have of late so huddled on his back,
From stubborn Turks and Tartars, never trained.
To offices of tender courtesy.
We all expect a gentle answer, Jew.
Shy. I have possessed your grace of what I purpose;
And by our holy Sabbath have I sworn,
To have the due and forfeit of my bond:
If you deny it, let the danger light
A losing suit against him. Are you answered?