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But while we award this justice, we may be permitted to express our regret, that discussions, such as we have now spread before our readers, are ever rendered necessary by the violent attacks of the British press upon the mind and manners of this country. Who is to profit by this warfare, we are unable to conjecture. Even while we are writing these remarks, we perceive that one of the most respectable of the English journals has recently travelled out of its course to observe, that we are not fond of relying upon American reports.'* And what is gained by this affectation of contempt? The malice is ineffectual, the dart falls imbecili ictu, and the world is at no loss to attribute such coarse invective to the remembrance of events that have happened, or still more to gloomy visions of those, which may happen. Whatever we are, or are to be, we are far beyond the reach of mere literary denunciations, which, however they may gratify malevolence abroad, or provoke irritation at home, can never impede our progress in the career of national improvement.
How much more honorable would it be, and we cheerfully add, how much more becoming the British character, to cherish kindly feelings; to look back upon the little band of pilgrims, who sought liberty of action and of conscience beyond the ocean, and who carried with them the spirit of those institutions, which, in their native land and in their newly sought home, have secured so much national prosperity and private happiness; and to look forward to the United States, as the great depository of English literature and science and arts, and the living evidence of English intelligence and principles, when her own insular monuments shall be swept away, as all things else have been swept away, by the rolling tide of time. Sincerely do we hope that her day of glory will not be shrouded in a night of gloom; but what has happened to other nations may happen to her; and the traveller may yet inquire for the site of London, as we now inquire for those Nineveh and Babylon.
* Retrospective Review. Article, Pontoppidan's Natural History of Norway.
ART. VI.-1. The League of the Alps, The Siege of Valencia, The Vespers of Palermo, and other Poems. By MRS FELICIA HEMANS. Boston. 1826. Hilliard, Gray, Little, & Wilkins. 8vo. pp. 480.
2. The Forest Sanctuary, and other Poems. By MRS FELICIA HEMANS. Boston. 1827. Hilliard, Gray, Little, & Wilkins. 8vo. pp. 232.
THE collection of Mrs Hemans's miscellaneous Poems opens with verses in honor of the Pilgrim Fathers. She has celebrated with solemnity and truth the circumstances which give sublimity to the glorious scene of their landing, and their descendants cannot but be pleased to see the devotedness, displayed by them, introduced into poetry, and incorporated among the bright examples, held up by the inventive as well as the historic muse for the admiration of mankind.
Freedom, not licentiousness, religious freedom, not the absence of religious rites, was the object for which the fathers came. An air of earnestness was thus originally imparted to the character of the country, and succeeding ages have not worn it away. Though it may suit the humor of moralizers to declaim against the degeneracy of the times, we believe that the country has of late years made advances in moral worth. We infer this from the more general diffusion of intelligence and the higher standard of learning; from the spirit of healthy action pervading all classes; from the diminished number of crimes; from the general security of property; from the rapid multiplication of Sabbath schools, than which no discovery of our age has been more important for the moral education of the people; from the philanthropy which seeks for the sources of vice, and restrains it by removing its causes; from the active and compassionate benevolence, which does not allow itself to consider any class so vicious or so degraded as to have forfeited its claim to humane attention, which seeks and relieves misery wherever it is concealed, and, embracing every continent in its regard, has its messengers in the remotest regions of the world. Religious freedom is the last right, which even in our days the inhabitants of this country would surrender. It would be easier to drive them from their houses and their lands, than to take from them the liberty of worshipping God according to the dictates of conscience. There is no general assertion of this right,
and no energetic display of zeal in maintaining it, solely because it is menaced by no alarming danger.
In a state of society like ours, there may be little room for the exercise of those arts, of which it is the chief aim to amuse and delight; and yet attention is by no means confined to those objects, which are directly connected with the advancement of personal or public wealth. For the costly luxuries of life and even for its elegant pleasures, there may as yet be little room; and still the morality of the nation be far from forming itself on the new system of morals, devised by our political economists. There has been no age, we assert it with confidence, there has been no people, where the efforts of mind, directly connected with the preservation of elevated feeling and religious earnestness, are more valued than they are by the better part of our own community. We cannot support, or we hold it not best to support, an expensive religious establishment, but every where the voice of religious homage and instruction is heard; we cannot set apart large estates to give splendor to literary distinction; but you will hardly find a retired nook, where only a few families seek their shelter near each other, so destitute, that the elements of knowledge are not freely taught; we cannot establish galleries for the various works of the arts of design, but the eye that can see the beauties of nature is common with us, and the recital of deeds of of high worth meets with ready listeners. The luxuries, which are for display, are exceedingly little known; but the highest value is set on every effort of mind connected with the investigation of truth, or the nurture of generous and elevated sentiments.
Where the public mind had been thus formed, the poetry of The exercise of genius, if connected with no respect for virtue, might have remained unnoticed; the theory, which treats of beauty, as of something independent of moral effect, is still without advocates among us. It has thus far been an undisputed axiom, that if a production is indecent or immoral, it for that very reason cannot claim to be considered beautiful.
Mrs Hemans was sure to find admirers.
We do not go so far as to assert, that there can be no merit in works of which the general tendency is immoral; but the merit, if there is any, does not lie in the immoral part, in the charm that is thrown round vice, but rather in an occasional gleam of better principles, in nature occasionally making her
voice heard above the din of the dissolute, in the pictures of loveliness and moral truth, that shine out through the darkness. Amidst all the horrors and depravity of superstition, the strange and the abominable vagaries of the human imagination, exercised on religion in heathenish ignorance, the observing mind may yet recognise the spirit that connects man with a better world. And so it is with poetry; amidst all the confusion which is manifest where the heavenly gift is under the control of a corrupted judgment, something of its native lustre will still appear. When we see the poet of transcendant genius, delineating anything but the higher part of our nature, when we observe how, after borrowing fiendish colors, he describes states of mind, with which devils only should have sympathy, rails at human nature in a style which spiteful misanthropy alone can approve, or gives descriptions of sensuality, fit only for the revels of Comus, when we see him hurried down the adulterate age, adding pollutions of his own,' we can have little to say to excuse or to justify an admiration of poetic talent, till we are reconciled to human nature and the muse by the pure lustre of better guided minds.
In what view of the subject can it be held a proper design of poetry to render man hateful to himself? How can it delight or instruct us to see our fellow men, ranged under the two classes of designing villains, and weak dupes? Or what sources of poetic inspiration are left, if all the relations of social life are held up to derision, and every generous impulse scorned as the result of deluded confidence?
To demand that what is called poetical justice should be found in every performance may be unreasonable, since the events of life do not warrant us in expecting it; but we may demand what is of much more importance, moral justice, a consistency of character, a conformity of the mind to its career of action. It may not be inconsistent with reality, though it is with probability, that an unprincipled miscreant, governing himself in his gratifications by the narrowest selfishness, should be successful in his pursuits; but it is unnatural and false to give to such a nature any of the attributes of goodness. Vice is essentially mean and low; it has no dignity, no courage, no beauty; and while the poet can never impart to a production, tending to promote vice, the power and interest which belong to the worthy delineation of honorable actions, he can never invest a false heart with the noble qualities of a generons one.
Observe in this respect the manner of the dramatic poet, is acknowledged to have delineated the passions with the greatest fidelity. Shakspeare describes the mind as gradually sinking under the influence of the master passion. It stamps itself on the whole soul, and obliterates all the finer traces in which humanity had written a witness of gentler qualities. Macbeth is a moral picture of terrific sublimity, and an illustration of that moral justice, which we contend should never be wanting. The one, strong passion moulds the character, and blasts every tender sentiment. When once Othello is jealous, his judgment is gone; the selfishness of Richard leads to wanton cruelty. In one of Shakspeare's tragedies, not a crime, but a fault is the foundation of the moral interest. Here too he is consistent, and the irresolution of Hamlet leaves his mind without energy, and his contending passions without terror. We might explain our views by examples from the comedies of the great dramatist, but Macbeth and Richard furnish the clearest illustration of them. And it is in such exhibitions of the power of vice to degrade, that 'gorgeous tragedy' performs her severest office, lifting up the pall which hides the ghastliness of unprincipled depravity, and showing us, where vice gains control, the features, that before may have been resplendent with loveliness, marred and despoiled of all their sweet expression.
There can then be no more hideous fault in a literary work than profligacy. Levity is next in order. The disposition to trifle with topics of the highest moment, to apply the levelling principle to the emotions of the human mind, to hold up to ridicule the exalted thoughts and kindling aspirations of which human nature is capable, can at best charm those only, who have failed to enter the true avenues to happiness. Such works may be popular, because the character of the public mind may for a season be corrupt. A literature, consisting of such works, is the greatest evil, with which a nation can be cursed. National poverty is nothing in comparison, for poverty is remedied by prudent enterprise; but such works poison the lifeblood of the people, the moral vigor, which alone can strive for liberty and honor. The apologists for this class of compositions, in which Voltaire and La Fontaine are the greatest masters, defend it on the ground, that it is well adapted to give pleasure to minds, which have been accustomed to it, and that foreigners need only a different moral education to be able to enjoy it. Now without wasting a word on the enormity of defending what