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Favourable Crisis for Protestantism.
35 When we have impartially studied the writings of these various men, the problem as to the future destiny of religious systems in France remains still unsolved. The languishing Papacy may be revived for a time by the doctrines of philosophy; but these can do little to build up the old ruins, or to relay the ancient foundations. The Papal system has been treated in such writings rather as a means than as
The fatal antagonism, which becomes more apparent day by day, between the old Roman absolutism and the liberal ideas of modern times, renders it probable that (humanly speaking) Roman Catholicism will find itself, sooner or later, in direct collision with the spirit of modern France.
The more enlightened thinkers of our day are looking with interest at the English and American constitutions, whilst the ideal of the Papacy is still that of Spain. Indifference and estrangement are almost inevitable under such a state of things. What, then, are the prospects of religion in France? Will Roman Catholicism degenerate into a political institution, becoming merely an ornament and an amusement to the vulgar, while it loses more and more of its power over the enlightened masses ? Will materialism or epicureanism be satisfactory to the public conscience in an age of inquiry and consideration ? Will the Reformed Church of France (so simple and unattractive in its forms, so unfortunately unpopular and connected with the ancient antagonism) be able to reanimate its forces, and to assert its influence over the civilization and liberty of the country?
These questions can be only partially answered by a reference to other considerations. The position of the Reformed Church of France has in past times been narrow and constrained, in consequence of its political connexion with the dominant Romanism. The official direction of the Protestant worship has too often been confided to illiberal members of the other community, and only such tolerance has been shown to it as has been accorded to petty theatres and public entertainments. The Reformed Church has, in centuries past, been injured by odious oppression, and rendered desperate by tyranny and injustice. We must not look impatiently for extended charity or a largeness of spirit from the immediate descendants of martyrs.
But Protestantism itself (as it has been said) may triumph, even though the Reformed Church may still be confined to a minority.
Protestantism is the spirit of examination, as opposed to unfounded authority. Protestantism, as the assertion of freedom of inquiry and independence of conscience, is gaining day by day upon the civilized world.
England, Germany, Prussia, Denmark, and America are outweighing the influence of Spain and Portugal; Italy is trembling in the balance; and the Colonies, destined to civilize other continents, are professedly Protestant. The intellectual movement can no longer be restrained. If one fact, says M. Vincent, is more patent than another, it is that enlightened Europe will accept no religion without liberty of conscience. And this liberty, (the necessary condition of an earnest and independent mind,) must it infallibly degenerate into deism, atheism, or hopeless indifference for a great and enlightened people? God forbid that we should thus judge, in opposition to the testimony of reason and experience.
Romanism can no longer remain what it is. Its worship, its discipline, its dogmas, and its government are things of the past. Whether the change, which every omen portends, will be effected by the gradual reformation of Roman Catholicism itself, or by a yearly diminution of its relative importance, we are unable to judge. But to treat with indifference a religious movement which is already beginning to be apparent in France, or lightly to conclude that a large proportion of our fellowcreatures are utterly devoid of that longing after religion, that keen craving after something higher than itself, which is inherent in the spirit of man, is unworthy of us as believers in the power of revelation. "The soul is created eternal, and therefore it cannot rest but in God.'
ART. II.—Routledge's Edition of the American Poets. 1852.
Messrs. ROUTLEDGE's Edition of the American poets has laid the public under another obligation to these enterprising publishers. A few shillings will now put the purchaser in possession of just as many volumes of poetry,-poetry which, if not of the highest class of composition, is good enough to challenge for itself a prominent position in the literature of the nineteenth century. The names of Bryant, Longfellow, Lowell, Willis, Holmes, Whittier, and Sigourney, which form the selection we have at present to deal with, present us indeed with a very singular illustration of the different standard by which poetry is judged in the present day, as compared with that which existed not long before the days of Cowper. When Johnson wrote his Lives of the Poets, he gave the public some
American Poetry in Relation to other American Literature. 37 account of fifty-two gentlemen whom he was pleased to dignify with that name; and when we mention that out of these fiftytwo, nearly thirty comprise such poets as Broome, Duke, Spratt, Walsh, Hughes, Yalden, &c., we may easily imagine what chance these worthies would have of inducing the publishers of 1861 to invest in their manuscripts. We may well say that in such matters tempora mutantur et nos mutamur in illis. There are a cloud of poets in our times whose ambition never exceeds the corner of a newspaper, or the column of a magazine, before whose genius nevertheless those stars of Dr. Johnson's constellation would ‘pale their ineffectual fires,' and be counted for nothing.
With such an abundance of comparatively excellent poetry, it is no wonder that our taste has become proportionably fastidious. We must be content, when the market is badly supplied, to put up with somewhat indifferent wares, and even to be thankful for that which in other circumstances would be declined without ceremony. And so it happens that authors who, had their lot been cast in a remoter age, would have stood fair for being handed down to posterity on the page of the literary biographer, can neither get their poems read while living, nor their lives discussed when dead. Time was when they would have been sought out by their admiring contemporaries, toasted at dinner parties, feasted at clubs, and lionized in every locality honoured with their presence. But we might as well attempt to restore the Heptarchy as to bring back those days. The poets who would have flourished then can make no headway now. Their volumes may be found at the various book-stalls, very neatly got up and well printed, but all of them in the first edition.
The great excellence to which the art of poetry has attained may be gathered from the fact, that writers so accomplished as those referred to at the beginning of this article have not, with the exception of one, produced anything like a 'sensation with the public. They are, we believe, but very little known to the great mass of English readers; and yet it is not too much to say that their united works form one of the most charming collections of poetry in the English language. Notwithstanding this, we cannot be blind to another fact, that the poets of America do not in their own sphere stand out in successful rivalry with the great names that country has produced in other departments of literature. Neither Bryant, nor Longfellow, nor any other, is to poetry what Edwards and Tappan are to metaphysics, what Irving and Bancroft are to history, what Wayland and Stuart are to moral philosophy and theology. The great poet of America has not yet appeared. We do not profess to account for this. It must be admitted that to some extent America is at a disadvantage in respect of those materials on which a great national poet can work. Two hundred years ago she had no literature at all. Her people the people of that America we now speak of--are a nation only in an accommodated sense of the word. The individual mind of the German, the Italian, the Frenchman, cannot be looked for among those who are—or rather ought to be as much English as ourselves. The major part therefore of American poetry might, as far as internal evidence is concerned, have been written in any part of the United Kingdom. The grand historical transactions that fire the genius of the bard are wanting among our Transatlantic brethren. Skirmishes with the Indians are poor things for satisfying the aspirations of the muse; and the war of Independence not only lacks the venerable antiquity which throws its mystic charm over such a subject, but was itself unmarked by any of those brilliant actions which may be fitly enshrined in song. Bunker's Hill, Lexington, Brandywine, and other names, are not devoid of a certain amount of importance, but for a poet they are not up to the mark. For a similar reason, the grand and glorious natural scenery of the western world cannot awake the inspirations which that panorama of wonders might otherwise call forth. The mountains, to which our Alpine ranges are pigmies, tell no tales of the past, except to geologists. The great lakes, those mighty inland seas so curiously linked together, are equally void of traditionary interest. The noble rivers, that might almost scorn the Danube as a tributary, have no green and hoary castles dozing on their banks, and wash no venerable towns whose origin goes back into the dim and uncertain distance of the ages past. Travellers who have visited the city of St. Petersburg tell us that when their first ecstasy of astonishment has subsided they gradually get dissatisfied. Their eyes, no longer dazzled by the splendour of the gilded domes and towers, and the number of the proud palatial buildings which every where meet the view, discover that everything is provokingly fresh and modern. It could not well be otherwise. It was a wonderful achievement of genius and enterprise to raise upon a wilderness of mud one of the finest cities of Europe ; but to make an old city surpassed even the energies of Peter the Great. What St. Petersburg is to the cities of Europe, that is America to the countries of the old hemisphere. We hear, indeed, of the buried monuments of a power and greatness that have long since passed away; and what antique literary treasures may yet be brought to light by the perseverance of some future Macpherson it is impossible to
39 decide. But, as yet, these strange discoveries have not added to the wealth of the intellectual world. For all purposes of tangible history America is but of yesterday.
Accordingly, when the genius of poetry or romance, as developed in America, wishes to expatiate in the scenes of the past, to find its worthiest subjects there is no alternative but that of crossing the Atlantic. That beautiful prose poem Hyperion could not have been gendered by all that America contains from Greenland to Tierra del Fuego. Here it is that the Rhine is greater than the Amazon. Here it is that the old town of Andernach, with its tower, and the great flight of stono steps, and the old keeper and his wife, whose daughter, the maiden with long dark eyelashes,' is asleep in her little grave under the linden-trees of Feldkirche with rosemary in her folded hands, is greater than all the cities of New England. And so the famous sketcher of Rip Van Winkle and the Sleepy Hollow found all the difference between the scanty materials upon American ground, and that fulness of traditionary treasures in which his genius revelled amidst the gorgeous visions of the Moorish Alhambra. In fact, both Irving and Longfellow are more at home than away from home.
Spain and Germany are worth to them more than America north and south. We may be told, indeed, that true genius can always take the whole world for its theatre, that Milton could have written Paradise Lost in Denmark as well as in England, and that Shakspeare is still Shakspeare whether in King John or in Julius Cæsar. It may be so; but how great a portion of the renown acquired by the latter bard is yet due to the inspiring associations connected with the land of his birth, is a question which needs not here be formally discussed.
In general, however, it must be granted that the great elements of poetry are the same every where. Wherever life, with its cares and pleasures, tears and laughter, comes upon the scene; wherever there are births, marriages, and deaths; wherever love and hatred, with all the storms and calms of human passion, find their place; there is the-store-house from which the poet may at any time fetch his ample materials. On these neverto-be-exhausted subjects the poets for all time have invariably based their greatness ; on no other conditions will the world continue to listen to them. Burns among the glens and valleys of Scotland, Wordsworth 'booing' in his daily walks about Rydal Mount's romantic solitudes, and Tennyson wrapping his cloak about him in the rough winds that blow along the wolds of Lincolnshire,—all walk by this rule. Men who do not; may win distinction in some particular department, but there is