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other than the English character from which to collect his materials, nor with any other than that English mind of his own, by which to mould and shape them.
A Frenchman could never have conceived a Hamlet, a Lear, an Othello, or a Fallstaff, as possible existences; for he cannot understand them, now they are furnished to his hand. The dark and contradictory complexity of their natures is also strange to the straight-forward German ; who, though strong in feeling and deep in thinking, must yet move upon the direct line of one over-mastering and absorbing passion, but understands not so well the web of passions, self-involved, and the quick and instantaneous transition to opposite emotions. In Schiller we have
In Schiller we have the German, in Shakspeare, the English drama.
That which gives the English character its peculiar adaptation to the tragic drama, is the presence of its three elements, already named, thought and passion, with a rigid and reserved self-respect. Add to these its deep vein of humor and its delight in flashing wit and lively repartee, and you have the unrivalled English comedy.
In the higher region of poetry purely imaginative, the elements of the power of which are lofty thoughts and sublime conceptions, kindled into an intense and glowing heat by elevated purposes and fervid feeling, who is there, except the Italian Dante, who can be compared with the English Milton? And it cannot be but that Milton's sustained and majestic strength, as it marches forward to the solemn music of his matchless verse, places him upon the loftier height. Talk not of the Iliad, with its heroes bespattered with brains and blood; which, though unrivalled for the charms of its graphic descriptions, the dewy freshness of its images and the wondrous harmony of its verse, is not and ought not to be compared with Milton in sublimity or power. None other than the intellect, the fire and the dignity of the Eng. lish mind could have produced a Milton. I may not pause to speak of Spenser, with his liquid and harmonious verse and his affluent and delightful imagery, who, though equalled and perhaps surpassed by his Italian master, stands among the poets of England in letters of gold. England's poets have also struck the resounding lyre, with no mean inspiration, and though we claim not that Dryden, ard Collius and Gray have surpassed those of other lands, we yet do know
that English fire can strike from its strings the notes that stir the blood, as the sound of a trumpet.
In the lower but pleasant department of fiction we love to trace the presence and influence of our national peculiarities. The master-pieces of Bunyan and De Foe, the Pilgrim's Progress and Robinson Crusoe,-those books which in childhood we read again and again, with sueh keen delight, and which, if we relish them not now that we are older, we do but confess ourselves insensible to true genius,—these reflect to us the honest English mind, in all its love of truth and its robust and native sense. To say nothing of the novelists of the last century, whom I name not lest I should be misunderstood, he whom we call the magician of the north, a wonder almost as great as Shakspeare, is every inch an Englishman. None but his truly English vein of humor, of sense and dignity, could have strengthened those tastes in the mind of Scott, which, as an inspiring enthusiasm, were the secret of his power. None but true English life and English history could have furnished him with his ample and suitable materials.
The one characteristic, which secures its unfading charm to our lighter and our imaginative literature, is that regard to the truth and propriety of things, which in philosophy aims at scientific truth as its richest jewel, and in social and domestic life secures our comfort, and beauty, and taste.
This feature, which I beg leave to call the native good sense of the English character, is the secret of the triumphs of English genius. This saves it from trifling minuteness in little things; from tearing itself in pieces by the violence of its passion, and from rising into mystical bombast, by the excess of its moving force above its regulating power.
Though their neighbors find perpetual fault with the English, for their unmoved coldness, yet the literature of England surpasses their own, in its wonderful sublimity and its passionate fire. That which in a French writer would go off in ranting declamation or incoherent raving, when compressed by English sense, reacts on itself, till it is con. densed into a solid and glowing flame : and at last it breaks forth in the lofty propriety of the sublimest imagery, or in the startling energy of passion, which, while it is more than human in its intenseness, is altogether hunian in the justness of its proportions. The truly English poet, orator, and nov
elist, make it " a special observance, that they overstep not the modesty of nature," a lesson which writers on the conti. nent rarely, if ever, keep in mind. Hence, while they do much very well, they have done little so well as the best of our own authors. An instance from writers, known to us all, may not be amiss. Chateaubriand and La Martine, both men of poetic genius, statesmen and scholars, have given a record of their travels in that fair land,
“ Over whose acres walked those blessed feet,
For our advantage, lo the bitter cross." They have aimed to give expression to those honest feelings, which its sacred scenes could not but excite. And yet, by overdoing, have they undone the whole, while the fascinating Stephens has often, by a careless dash of his pen, moved us to a higher or more tender mood,
of over-wrought sentiment.
Who that has followed Milton along his dim pathway " through chaos and old night,” across the burning marl of Erebus, upon the solid pavement of heaven, as it thunders to the tramp of the angelic host, led forth to battle by the Eternal Son, has not trembled at the daring of that muse, which could bear the poet so high, lest in some audacious flight she should let him fall, with a sudden plunge, down to the lowest bottom of bathos, though yet she has never lagged in her strong pinions? Or who, that with Lear has felt his own brain almost oppressed with madness, and the universe without to be confounded by a keen and bitter storm, and at last has wept with him in his childish dotage which succeeds so soon, as he bears in the corpse of his abused Cordelia, has not felt the amazing audacity and the easy triumph of English sense, which, as it rises to the height of some great argument, becomes English genius? When also it speaks the language of love, it is ever true to nature, neither sickening her with the mawkish. ness of that sentiment which forgets its self-respect, nor mocking her with the hypocrisy of affected passion.
To the other characteristics of the English people is to be added one more. It is indeed the spring of some that have been named, and modifies them all. I mean their pervading belief in Religious Truth, and their general sensibility to Religious Obligation. This is true of the English
mind at large ; and should it ever cease to be a fact, then would the greatness and the glory of the English character as certainly decline. There is inwrought, through the framework of social and domestic life, a reverence for its tremendous truths, and a frequent and serious reference to the results of an unseen world. Their views of religion respect it as the purifier of the springs of action and the rightful sovereign of the whole man. They despise as profane mockeries the gaudy pageantry, that fills up the aspirings after immortality, which the Parisian feels, and behold with unaffected horror the solemn splendors of St. Peters, even in the thrilling ceremonial of the holy week. To the honor of the English nation be it said, that neither a skeptical and God-denying philosophy, nor a demoralized and licentious taste has ever gained but a temporary foothold in the heart of the English character.
Religion in its influence upon national literature is of high importance, not so inuch as it gives a cast to its theology and its books of devotion, but as it enters into the very substance of the national mind, and gives a new form and spirit to the most important elements of the human character. Faith, or belief in things unseen, as a moving spring of action, makes another character to the men and the nation over which it bears rule, giving to their graver emotions a deeper tone, and to their warmer sympathies, a more moving tenderness. Drivelling superstition, by its narrowing influence, enfeebles the powers and smothers them in the damp atmosphere of its gloomy cell. Heartless formality teaches lessons of dishonesty with one's own self, which preclude that freshness of belief and that heartiness in acting, which genius must possess. Skepticism dries up all that gives man his warmer and loftier emotions, and leaves him only capable of contemptuous mockery and savage satire. Faith, as it brings man in contact with objects the most exalted and the most stirring, gives him vigor, by the strong emotions which it calls into being, and the stern conflicts to which it summons him. It gives him enlargement of mind, and makes him to look upward, by an influence that is sublimely elevating.
Never did it happen, never can it happen, that a nation should be possessed of hearty faith, which, other things being equal,-- as leisure and opportunity for intellectual culture and the gift of a perfect language,-will not, in its literature, surpass another in which skepticism and false religion hold the supremacy. Least of all can poetry flourish where faith is not the rich substratum of its earnestness and power ;—for poetry speaks to the heart and from the heart. Man is its constant theme, and from man does it expect its response of love and honor. But man, without his moral nature, is not man, and he that professes to utter the language of man's heart, without employing these graver notes, speaks not the dialect of humanity. True, a man gifted with poetic fire and a vigorous imagination, may, as Byron has done, take the master passion of his own soul, and ring eternal changes upon this scanty theme; but those who listen will fail to be moved, except as they sympathize with his depraved peculiarity, or are startled by the fiery vigor of the poet. The man who was his ideal was not man, as man was made to be passion's lord and not its crouching slave—but inan as stirred by fiery passion, nerved with indomitable pride, or chafed with vexing remorse. And yet the noble poet Byron was not a little indebted to his inward seekings after faith, which he could not repress. Though his ideal of a perfect man was incorrect, yet there is an irrepressible longing for peace between his passions and himself, which gives that mournful tone to all his verse which is not its least potent charm. From the depth of his restless spirit there comes up an under tone of mournful wailing which moves upon our sympathy and calls forth our tears. Contrast, with Byron, Scotland's favorite poet and noble son, the intensely human Burns. We need not his letters to tell us that his heart vibrated with most lively sympathy to the stirring realities of the life immortal. Every page of his poetry bespeaks the same convictions intertwined within the fibres of his heart, the same human sympathies beating vigorously in his inmost breast. His ideal of man crowned and beautified his other perfections with the heavenly grace of faith, and though he often wrote that which proved his forgetfulness of what he honored, yet never does he speak with the fervor of his own most serious spirit and the true inspiration of an honest heart, except as he contemplates man as he is allied to an elevated destiny, and holds within himself the awful trust free and accountable will,