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oppugning it; till in the din and commotion and collision of dry rubs and hard blows, it loses ground, as it rose, century by century; is taken to pieces by timid friends and determined foes; totters and falls, and not a fragment of it is left upon another. A text of Scripture, or a passage in ecclesiastical history, is for one whole century “ torn to tatters, to very rags,” and wrangled and fought for, as maintaining the doctrine of the true and Catholic church; in the next century after that, the whole body of the Reformed clergy, Lutherans, Calvinists, Arminians, get hold of it, wrest it out of the hands of their adversaries, and twist and torture it in a thousand different ways, to overturn the abominations of Anti-Christ ; in the third a great cabal, a clamour, a noise like the confusion of Babel, jealousies, feuds, heart-burnings, wars in countries, divisions in families, schisms in the church arise, because this text has been thought to favour a lax interpretation of an article of faith, necessary to salvation; and in the fourth century from the time the question began to be agitated with so much heat and fury, it is discovered that no such text existed in the genuine copies. Yet all and each of these, Popes, councils, fathers of the church, reformed leaders, Lutherans, Calvinists, Independents, Presbyterian, sects, schisms, clergy, people, all believe that their own interpretation is the true sense ; that, compared with this fabricated and spuriour faith of theirs, “ the pillar'd firmament is rottenness, and earth's base built on stubble; and are so far from being disposed to treat the matter lightly, or to suppose it possible that they do not proceed on solid and indubitable grounds in every contradiction they run into, that they would hand over to the civil power, to be consigned to a prison, the galleys, or the stake (as it happened), any one who demurred for a single instant to their being people of sense, gravity, and wisdom. Sense (that is, that sort of sense which consists in pretension and a claim to superiority) is shewn, not in things that are plain and clear, but in deciding upon doubts and difficulties; the greater the doubt, therefore, the greater must be the dogmatism and the consequential airs of those who profess to settle points beyond the reach of the vulgar; nay, to increase the authority of such persons, the utmost stress must be laid on the most frivolous as well as ticklish questions, and the most unconscionable absurdities have always had the stoutest sticklers, and the most numerous victims. The affectation of sense so far, then, has given birth to more folly and done more mischief than any one thing else.
Hence we may, perhaps, be able to assign one reason, why those arts which do not undertake to unfold mysteries and inculcate dogmas, generally shine out at first with full lustre, because they start from the 'vantage ground of nature, and are not buried under the dust and rubbish of ages
perverse prejudice. Biblical critics were a long time at work to strip Popery of her finery, muffled up as she was in the formal disguises of interest, pride, and bigotry. It was like peeling off the coats of an onion, which is a work of time and patience. Titian, on the other hand, (which our protestant painters are sometimes amazed at) saw the colour of the skin at once, without any intellectual film spread over it; Raphael painted the actions and passions of men, without any indirect process, as he found them. The fine arts, such as painting, which reveals the face of nature, and poetry, which paints the heart of man, are true and unsophisticated, because they are conversant with real objects, and because they are cultivated for amusement without any further view or inference; and please by the truth of imitation only. Yet your people of sense, in all ages, have made a point of scouting the arts of paint
ing, music, and poetry, as frivolous, effeminate, and worthless, as appealing to sentiment and fancy alone, and involving no useful theory or principle, because they afforded them no scope, no opportunity for darkening knowledge, and setting up their own blindness and frailty as the measure of abstract truth, and the standard of universal propriety. Poetry acts by sympathy with nature, that is, with the natural impulses, customs, and imaginations of men, and is, on that account, always popular, delightful, and at the same time instructive. It is nature moralizing and idealizing for us; inasmuch as, by shewing us things as they are, it implicitly teaches us what they ought to be; and the grosser feelings, by passing through the strainers of this imaginary, wide-extended experience, acquire an involuntary tendency to higher objects. Shakespear was, in this sense, not only one of the greatest poets, but one of the greatest moral. ists that we have. Those who read him are the happier, better, and wiser for it. No one (that I know of) is the happier, better, or wiser, for reading Mr. Shelley's Prometheus Unbound *. One thing is that nobody reads it. And the reason for one or both is the same, that he is not a poet, but a sophist, a theorist, a contro
* This was written in Mr. Shelley's life-time.
He gives us,
versial writer in verse.
representations of things, rhapsodies of words. He does not lend the colours of imagination and the ornaments of style to the objects of nature, but paints gaudy, flimsy, allegorical pictures on gauze, on the cobwebs of his own brain, “Gorgons and Hydras, and Chimeras dire.” He assumes certain doubtful speculative notions, and proceeds to prove their truth by describing them in detail as matters of fact. This mixture of fanatic zeal with poetical licentiousness is not quite the thing. The poet describes what he pleases as he pleases- if he is not tied down to certain given principles, if he is not to plead prejudice and opinion as his warrant or excuse, we are left out at sea, at the mercy of every reckless fancy
, monger, who may be tempted to erect an ipse dixit of his own, by the help of a few idle flourishes and extravagant epithets, into an exclusive system of morals and philosophy. The poet describes vividly and individually, so that any general results from what he writes must be from the aggregate of well-founded particulars: to embody an abstract theory, as if it were a given part of actual nature, is an impertinence and indecorum. The charm of poetry, how. ever, depends on the union of fancy with reality, on its finding a tally in the human breast; and