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exist amid conflicting opinions, and present them, united in one beautiful whole, to the contemplation of an admiring multitude. These are the men who leave the impress of their own minds upon the rising generation, challenge the gratitude of posterity and are justly styled the benefactors of their race. But a large majority of authors prepare their works expressly for the market. They write to please the multitude. They seek popular applause, and they have their reward. Such writers, incorporating, in their works, the prevailing tastes, prejudices and principles of their times, become the representatives of their age, the true indices of national character. No opinion is too absurd, no superstition too degrading, no vice too loathsome, no crime too revolting to find even a talented advocate, if the multitude approve.
It will be readily granted that splendid talents often attract the attention of the vulgar and raise them from their low desires and grovelling pursuits to the contemplation of nobler themes; yet, it oftener happens that the multitude drag down the gifted mind to their own level, and make it the pander of their degraded appetites. Hence the popular literature of every age is tainted by popular vices. This literature, moulded by the habits, feelings, sympathies, prejudices, vices and follies of the age becomes, in turn, an active agent in forming the morals and minds of those who read. Viewed in this light, the influence of those great vices, against which the spirit of our times is arrayed, upon the literature of different ages, cannot be deemed a trifling subject by any well-wisher of his race. The devotee of intemperance and sensuality cannot give utterance to his thoughts without betraying his inherent corruption. The influence of these vices pervades the whole man. Both the moral and physical constitution is corrupt. Not a single filament of nerve or capillary tube remains unscathed, no chamber of the soul unpolluted. The intellectual offspring of such an author must betray its infamous parentage, National vices are thus transmitted to succeeding generations, and time, which destroys everything else, that is human, only strengthens the influence of splendid crimes. The licentious goddess of Grecian lyrics still breathes her poisonous influence into the soul of the modern student, and the amorous diuties and bacchanalian songs of Roman bards are still conned with pleasure by the modern sensualist. The influence of ancient literature, however, is comparatively feeble, owing to the limited number of those who study it, and to our want of sympathy with the manners and usages of ancient times. Much of ancient literature, we acknowledge, is corrupt; but we do not hesitate to assert, that a larger proportion of modern literature is still more corrupt. Modern literature is the strong-hold of national sympathies. Written in our own language, portraying scenes like those we have witnessed, describing emotions like those we have felt and presenting countless associations kindred to our own, it comes home to the heart of the reader, touches all the springs of human sympathy and moulds the character of the man.
It has recently become quite popular in order to disparage the study of the classics, to denounce them, en masse, as the puerile and worthless productions of a barbarous age, and to extol the moderns as the only efficient helps to a liberal education and the only safe models of imitation. Some writers, in their zeal for reform, would charge upon the authors of antiquity all the crimes of later times, would bring upon them all the blood that has been shed since the fall of Imperial Rome, and fasten upon them all the intemperance and sensuality which are the offspring of modern luxury. The gentle advocate of peace is shocked with those tales of war and bloodshed which blacken the page of ancient history. “The natural selfishness and injustice of the ancients," says Mr. Simpson, “ are positively recommended as the noblest objects of imitation ; the history of their murderous and aggressive wars, rapine and martial glory is listened to with delight and made in mimic essay the pastime of the play. ground of every grammar school.” Are these historians then to be charged with the guilt and folly of those teachers who positively recommend injustice and selfishness to the imitation of their pupils, and with the perversity and wickedness of those students who delight in tales of bloodshed ? Were we to destroy all books that treat of human selfishness and injustice, literature would be annihilated. If we were to banish from our libraries all books that treat of murderous and aggressive wars, national history would be a blank, and the Bible itself must be mutilated.
In treating of the virtues or vices of the ancients, partisan writers generally run into the extremes of commendation or censure. But in discoursing of this subject as well as others, the direction of the poet is a safe one : “ In medio tutissimus ibis.” The ancients, it is frequently said, were universally intemperate. In a certain sense this is true. They were systematically intemperate, but their revels were only periodical. In many of their religious festivals excessive drinking was practised, in some it was enjoined as an acceptable service to the god they honored.
Their religion was a religion of the senses. The prevailing element of their worship was excitement. They gave full indulgence to their animal appetites and " allowed the passions of earth to keep holiday in honor of Heaven.” Sacrifices and pæans, music and dancing, revelry and feasting were the most convincing proofs of their devotion. But these carousals were only occasional. The common people were not habitual topers. Only the more wealthy class could enjoy the luxuries of life and furnish their tables with the choicest viands and wines. During the public festivals every citizen made merry and sometimes a whole city was sunk in intoxication. But it is well known that an occasional debauch is not so injurious either to the soul or body as the habitual though moderate use of unnatural stimulants. The injury inflicted upon public morals and health by an occasional revel in the city of Athens cannot be compared with the results of the habitual drinking of modern European nations.
The religion of the ancients being thus sensual, their literature, which, in its infancy, was the offspring of religion, must exhibit similar characteristics. Poetry was ever employed in the worship of the gods. If the deities they worshipped were licentious and intemperate, the hymns composed in their praise must necessarily reflect iheir vices. The drama originated in the worship of the god of wine, and while under the form of comedy it pandered for the corrupted taste of the rabble, it was deeply stained with immorality and indecency. Tragedy, however, adopted a higher standard of morality, rose above the desires of the unthinking multitude and furnished, for the intelligent hearer, an intellectual treat which could not offend the ear of purity itself. But more of this hereafter. Poetry, in its infancy, was wedded to religion, and of course, exhibited all the imperfections of that religion. Soon, however, it left the airy regions of
mythology and walked with men on earth. It then became the handmaid of history and science, the mirror of human thoughts, sympathies, habits and laws. The Epic of Homer gives us a full length picture of the Grecian hero, with all the strong points of his character illuminated as by a sunbeam. And was this hero a drunkard ? To be sure, says one; " for after every battle, sacrifice or council of war, they had a drunken revel and not unfrequently a drunken brawl." But let us examine this point more minutely. It must be remembered that the heroes of Homer were, by no means acquainted with the refinements of a subsequent Grecian age or the luxuries of Roman Epicureanism ; much less with the delicacies of a modern Parisian table. They were sturdy warriors. They did nothing by halves. They fought like amateurs ; they ate like gourmands; they drank like topers, still they were neither fiends, gluttons, nor drunkards. Every part of their character was in perfect keeping with the whole. Their virtues and vices were in excess. Their love of country was unquenchable ; their hospitality proverbial; their honor unsullied ; their eloquence unrivalled ; their wrath unappeasable; their might irresistible. Such was the Grecian hero. What wonder then, if, after the fatigues of war, men of such strong passions should revel? Homer paints them as they were. Their characters are drawn with artless simplicity, and making suitable allowances for poetic embellishment, with perfect accuracy-- There is nothing in the description of their banquets to fire the most ardent imagination, nothing to tempt the most excitable spirit or seduce the weakest virtue. The time, place and manner of their feasting are described in the most invarnished style. Scarcely any part of the poems of Homer is less labored or more uninteresting to the general reader than his descriptions of the heroic festivals and sacrifices—Nothing is added to render the scene captivating or to recommend intemperance to the dainty reader. He says they feasted largely and drank copiously, but he does not say that they were disguised or besotted. He uses little variety in describing the different festivals that occur in his works. The same words are frequently repeated. After describing minutely the preparations for the feast and the manner of partaking of it, he usually adds something like the following, which occurs in the first book of the Iliad ;
" When now the rage of hunger was repressed,
They usually drank after the fatigues of a battle and fre- . quently before fighting to nerve them to greater effort. Ulysses, before battle counsels Achilles to give his soldiers wine and food, for, says he :
“ Strength is derived from spirits and from blood
And these augment by generous wine and food."
Such advice would have been regarded as quite prudent, even with us, a few years since. Sometimes the warriors are represented as simply satisfying the demands of appetite. When the princes feasted in the tent of Agamemnon, the poet says:
" Each seiz'd a portion of the kingly feast,
The expression most frequently used, by the poet, on such occasions implies that they simply satisfied the calls of nature. But allowing that his heroes were intemperate and licentious, he does not commend those traits to the imitation of the reader ; nor does he, by the power of his genius, throw such a charm around these vices as to tempt others to adopt them." It is not in him," says Mr. Pope," as in our modern romances where men are drawn in perfection, and we but read with a tender weakness what we can neither apply nor emulate.” Homer wrote for men, and therefore he wrote of men; if the world had been better, he would have shown it so. As a faithful painter of human actions he describes the vices as well as the virtues of his heroes. The existence of these vices is the fault of the times not of the poet. He has not failed to leave his own testimony in favor of temper. ance and chastity in numerous instances.
Some of his characters are perfect patterns in these virtues. Hector and Penelope may be cited as instances, the one of temperance, the other of unsullied chastity.- When the mother of Hector thus advises him to drink freely :
" Then with a plenteous draught refresh thy soul
And draw new spirits from the gen'rous bowl;"