George Hooker Colton.

The American review : a Whig journal of politics, literature, art, and science (Volume 14) online

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at home, one must visit Bethlehem or Naz-
areth, in Pennsylvania.

Bishops are said to be of divine institu-
tion, but Archbishops are confessedly of
human creation, an after-thought of the
ecclesiastical polity ; and yet Canterbury and
York would swallow up a score of the poorer
sees, (as those of the colonies, for instance,)
and in worldly dignities rank much higher.

How they who hold the doctrine of in-
nate, utter depravity, can by any means
account for the pleasure every unsophisti-
cated heart receives from the company of
pure, innocent children, wo are very much
puzzled to account. The love of a fond
mother must appear to them more sense-
less than the dotage of feeble age. These
little creatures are angels in truth, as well
as in fancy, for the Divine Master has de-
clared of them, that " of such is the king-
dom of heaven." They have genuine faith
and truth, and are much nearer heaven
than the best of us.

The presence of a sweet young child is a
more cogent argument against the dogma
of universal and utter innate depravity, than
all the controversial discussion in the world.

No poor-laws can altogether eradicate
poverty ; no charitable provision suppresss
the causes of pauperism.

All of the great old English writers give
excellent counsel on all subjects, travel,
among the rest; but Bacon and Fuller,
amidst much good advice, press a particular
point, not always adverted to. Bacon: "As
for the acquaintance which is to be sought
in travel, that which is most of all profitable
is acquaintance with the secretaries and
emplo])ed men of ambassadors ; for so, in
travelling in one country, he shall suck the
experience of many." Fuller enjoins : " Con-
trive correspondence Avith some choice for-
eign friend after thy return ; as some pro-
fessor or secretary, who virtually is the
whole university or state."



SAILORS' AND KITCHEN LIBRARIES.

Reading is not only for certain ages, but
also for particular classes. Besides purely
professional studies, there are kindred topics
that interest every man in his particular
sphere. Sailors, as well as other men,
should have their libraries, and which might
be made truly attractive. Voyages of Drake,
Dampier, Cavendish, Marco Polo, Cook,
Ross, Parry ; Basil Hall, Dana's Two Years
before the Mast, Life in a Liner. Navigation,
Practical Mathematics, and Geography, form
the sailor's elementary education. He should
also read his national history, especially his
country's marine and naval history in general,
the lives of discoverers and great seamen,
Southey's Nelson, Paul Jones, British Admi-
rals, Cooper's and Irving's American naval
biography. The sailor has, too, his library
of history and poetry : Voyages Imaginaires,
Robinson Crusoe, Philip Quarll, Peter Wil-
kins. Cooper, Smollett, Marryat ; the glo-
rious songs of Dibdin, Gay's Black-eyed
Susan, Drake's American Flag, and the
magnificent lyrics of Campbell.

Neither do we see why the Kitchen should
be neglected. It should have its library also.
A kind master would have his servants
happy, and seek to lighten their state of ser-
vitude. They should read, as well as see
their friends and have holidays; and read
good books too, fitted for their condition.
Not to speak of the renowned works of Mrs.
Glasse and Dr. Kitchener; to omit any
reference to opinions on the author of the
" Physiologic du Gout," as better fitted for
the mistress or housekeeper, (simple receipt-
books are sufiicient in the kitchen ;) and to
pass by without further mention the witty,
fleering ironies of Swift, in his Directions to
Servants ; accounts of Parisian restaurants,
by Appleton, Jewett, or Saunderson ; we
come to what we would select for a shelf in
the kitchen.

The prayer-book, or the mass-book, ac-
cording to the servant's faith, or perhaps
simply a hymn-book ; religious and moral
tales, by More, Sherwood, Cottin and others ;
lives of saints or missionaries, or both ; De-
foe's Family Instructor ; The Whole Duty of
Man, and Pilgrim's Progress; devotional
treatises, Baxter and Doddridge, &c. ; an
Historical Compend ; atlas ; volumes of
travels and voyages; a file of the Penny
Magazine ; and the daily paper should find



1851.



The '■'•Hyinrion'''' of John Keats.



311



its way down stairs after it has been scanned
in the parlor.



CHESS.

Forbes tells us, in his Life of Beattie, the
poet and Scotch Professor, that " To chess
he had a real aversion, as occasioning, in his
opinion, a great waste of time, and requiring
a useless apphcation of thought."

Another j^oet, romancer, and still more



famous Scotchman, held similar language.
Scott, as a boy, we are told by Lock hart,
"engaged easily in the game, which had
found favor with so many of his paladins,
but did not pursue the science of chess after
his boyhood. He used to say it was a shame
to throw away upon mastering a mei'e game,
however ingenious, the time which would
suffice for the acquisition of a new language.
'Surely,' he said, 'chess-playing is a sad
waste of brains.' "



THE "HYPERION" OF JOHN KEATS.



The genius of John Keats, like his own
Saturn, majestic and solitary, ruled with a
broken sceptre a kingdom of desire. Its
breathings are all sighs. Instead of love, it
has yearnings. Its voice is the melodious
cry of unrequited, insatiate longing.

" Deep in the shady sadness of a vale,
Far sunken from the healthy breath of morn
And eve's one star,"

he buries himself in the cavern of memory.
His glory is the glory of the past ; he broods
over the ruined empire of passion ; the Titans
are subdued for him ; mountains rest upon
their breasts, and still he scornfully yet sadly
refuses the modern allegiance. Reason is
his Jove, whose power he confesses, but to
whom his proud spirit refuses to bow.
Death closed in upon him while he yet
wavered. He was never taken into the
circle of the gods ; his statue stands without
flie vestibule.

In his poem of Hyperion, there is indeed
a majesty of movement rivalling the Miltonic.
The silence is sublime, and the sound of the
verse rolls off constantly into a silence.

" No stir of air was there ;

Not so much life as on a summer's day
Robs not one light seed from the feathered grass,
But where the dead leaf fell, there did it rest.
A stream went voiceless by, still deadened more
By reason of his fallen divinity spreading a shade ;
The Naiad mid her reeds pressed her cold finger
Closer to her lip."

It is the recession of a storm ; the departure
of a multitude ; the coming on of night and
death.



No less solemn and imaginative is the
imagery of what is seen : life, palpitating but
not moving ; the outward stillness convinc-
ing of the inward grief; and the little mo-
tion that has been, only a return and not a
relief to the immovable.

"Along the margin sand large foot-marks went
No farther than to where his feet had strayed,
And slept there since. Upon the sodden ground
His old right hand lay nerveless, listless, dead,
Unsceptred, and his realmless eyes were closed ;
While his bowed head seemed listening to the

Earth,
His ancient mother, for some comfort yet."

From first to last, a more absolute picturing
of stillness, grief, and silence, of fallen divin-
ity, atid the coming on of eternal despair,
is not in written language. It has a quality,
this description of Saturn, which belongs to
no other poetry, — a ponderous weight, a
magnitude of passion. There is no senti-
ment here ; Saturn is too great for it ; he is
all dignity. It has also in absolute perfec-
tion a certain quality indispensable to gran-
deur — venerableness. The figure of the
ancient king, friendless, comfortless, driven
from his empire, his sceptre broken, yet
awakens no pity : it is the weakness of a
god : we venerate, perhaps we sympathize,
but we cannot pity.

Great emotions are short-lived. The first
line after this magnificent passage is pure
prose, a flat falling into commonplace :

"It seemed no force could wake him from his place;"

which, after the swelling: of the lunsfs and



312



The '■'■Hyperion'''' of John Keats.



October,



thrill of the preceding verses, is a mere
asthmatic puff. What follows is but little
better :

" But there came one Avbo with a kindred hand
Touched his wide shoulders after bending low
With reverence, though to one who knew it not."

By the epithet " kindred," we perceive that
the genius does not wholly desert the poet ;
but the action is roughly and coldly inverted.
First we picture to ourselves the " kindred
hand " touching the " wide shoulders," and
after that the figure "bending low with rev-
erence ;" whereas, in fact, the one who came
first bent low with reverence and then
touched the wide shoulders. It is an abso-
lute demand of poetry that description shall
go along with action ; inversion of the action
takes all dignity from the imagery. The
figure touching the shoulder first, and bow-
ing afterwards, is like that of a messenger
jogging your elbow, and bowing when you
turn to see who touched you. And finally,
the intimation that Saturn did not know who
it was that touched him is commonplace,
vero-ino- to vulo-ar.

This peculiar defect of interruptedness, a
proof either of intellectual or constitutional
feebleness, distresses the reader less in this
poem of Hyperion, and in " St. Agnes' Eve,"
than in any other of Keats's works. The
genius of the poet flares up, dies out, and
flares again, as if there were a dearth of fuel
to feed it ; and by this fault, more than any
other, he is removed out of the class of
great poets, and occupies but the second
rank. The voice of a hundred excellent
critics, both ancient and modern, sustains
the opinion that the p)lace of honor in art
must be given to the creative or sustaining
power — that which carries one feeling, one
passion, one sentiment, through as many re-
volving periods of verse and shifting scenes
as may serve for the exhaustion of the idea
or subject. It may have been through phy-
sical weakness, mental defect, or the very ex-
cess of an inferior faculty, /ancy ; by violent
action, drawing away the vital pith from im-
agination ; or perhaps an ambition, of which
Keats was certainly the victim, of transcend-
ing the powers granted by his years, as the
tree, striving too early to produce a perfect
fruit, exhausts itself and dies ; — through one
or all of these causes, this poet produced no-
thing entire. The " Eve of St. Agnes " will
be quoted against the opinion; but this



poem is an interlude, and has neither begin-
ning nor end ; it seems to have been thrown .
off as a pattern for a whole cloth which was
never woven.

Continuing our reading of Hyperion, we
are presented with a portrait of the goddess
Thea :

" She was a goddess of the infant world:

By her in statui'c the tall Amazon

Had stood a pigmy's height; she would have

ta'en
Achilles by the hair, and bent his neck,
Or with a finger staid Ixion's wheel."

Follows upon this :

'• Her face was large as that of Memphian Sphinx."

And now we see only her face : the body
has disappeared ; the image is broken ; the
head here, the body further off. This face,
so large, has no expression ; it is like a great
round moon, or like that of a colossal statue
lying in the sand. The poet endeavors to
restore life to it with a gasp, but fails :

'' But oh, how unlike marble was that face."

The expression that follows is again exqui-
site ; and we return to the passion, the
genius of the poem :

" How beautiful, if sorrow had not made
Sorrow more beautiful than beauty's self!
There was a listening fear in her regard,
As if calamity had but begun ;
As if the vanward clouds of evil days
Had spent their malice, and the sullen rear
Was with its stored thunder laboring up."

The majesty of these lines brings back a
conviction that in the mind of the poet there
was a unity of design and feeling, which he
had not the power to express in its totality.
The fragments of the architecture, capitals
of columns, the frieze, entablature even, fin-
ished with a master hand, lie all along in
gigantic disorder. It is as though the builder
of the temple had not yet invoked the deity.
The invocation wanting, the foundation not
laid, the genius would not descend.

Nothing could have been imagined more
suitable for epic genius than the argument
of this poem. Modern philosophy, penetra-
ting the mythological veil, has discovered
in the gods of antiquity an impersonation
of the powers and passions of the human
soul. Whether primeval philosophy, seizing
upon the traditions of the vulgar, forced the
deities into its service, and made Hermes
stand for Wit, Horus for Imagination, Juno



1851.



The ^^Ilt/perion''^ of John Keats.



313



for Pride. Ammon and Osiris for tlie diviner
principles in man; or whether the g-reater
gods, the powers of nature and the soul,
Avere clothed by the sages with the forms
and attributes of humanity, — as in Thoth,
tinderstanding, in Osiris beneficence, in Phtha
will and justice, in Ammon innate dignity,
— let the learned dispute. Certain it is, no
true epic of mythology and cosmogony
could be constructed without a philosophical
knowledge of the gods.

Under the character of the Titans, in this
poem of Keats, the primeval empire of pas-
sion is represented. Cronos, the dethroned
Saturn, is that power of necessity and cir-
cumstance, the sole deity of the unenlight-
ened mind ; venerable indeed, beloved of
the senses and of the passions, but succumb-
ing always to that divine reason in man to
which the accidents of life or death are in-
different.

How majestic the subject of this poem !
Hyperion, the God of Light, the pride and
beauty of the natural world, leads the war
against the new dynastry of Season, and of
Jove. Assembled in their caverns, at the
roots of the volcanoes, the Giants of Nature
hold a gloomy council.

The spirit of Milton presided over the
conception of this council. But who can
say whether a mythological epic must not
of necessity resemble all others of its name?
The elements of all are simple and the same.
If the poem is mythologic, to have a human
interest the right must conquer pride, as
among men. The honor of the superior
powers must be vindicated ; the right of
reason over the wild and furious democrats
of nature must be established by aristocraty
of Character.* Herein would lie all the
dignity of the poem, that Jove and his com-
peers conquer by right of Character, and
vindicate that right in themselves. And if
mythology is merely an impersonation of
the inferior and superior powers, the mytho-
logic epic is but one subject, and must be
ever treated from the same point of view.

Iq Milton's poem, the angels of God con-
quer by divine authority ; and the weakness
of the poem is the introduction of the Deity
in iperson. Had the divine Source itself
been left in darkness, and Heaven set against
Hell, equal in attributes, but conquering or

* Character — " mark ;" as we say, " a man of
mark."



conquered by impaited Divinity, the epic
would be pure. As it now moves, the an-
gels, with their beauty and their strength,
are unreal phantoms, and the Deity in per-
son is the Conqueror; while Satan and his
peers have the attributes and consequently
the dramatic value of pcrsoiis. In Milton's
angels there is no Will. All the freedom
is with Hell. These angels seem passive ;
almost soulless. Abdiel alone has real char-
acteristics. By this arrangement, the poem
loses one half the interest of true epic. If
we believe that the genius of Keats would
at length have proved equal to what he
undertook, his poem would then have been
more perfect in its frame-work than the
Paradise Lost ; and certainly it was far more
philosophical in its design. His gods, who
were to conquer, would have shown in action
the perfections of the higher reason. By
wisdom, by strength of will, and by reliance
on the Eternal, after many reverses, they
would have subdued, and again buried the
rebellious powers. Both literature and phi-
losophy suflered an irretrievable loss in a
mind capable of conceiving and executing
so majestic a design.

But it is idle to waste conjecture ; let ns
endeavor to appreciate the merits of the
fragment. At the conclusion of the second
book is a description of Hyperion entering
the council of the Titans : —

" Suddenly a splendor like tbe morn

Pervaded all the beetling gloomy steeps,

All the sad spaces of oblivion,

And every gulph and every chasm old.

And every height and every sullen depth.

Voiceless, or hoarse with loud tormented streams;

And all the everlasting cataracts,

And all the headlong torrents far and near,

Mantled before in darkness and huge shade,

Now saw the light and made it terrible.

It was Hyperion. A granite peak

His bright feet touched, and there he staid toviev

The misery his brilliance had betrayed

To the most hateful seeing of itself.

Golden liis hair, of short Numidian curl ;

Regal his shape majestic ; a vast shade

In midst of his own brightness, like tbe bulk

Of Memnon's image at the set of sun

To one who travels from the dusking East :

Sighs, too, as mournful as that Memnon's harp,

He uttered, while his hands contemplative

He pressed together, and in eilence stood.

Despondence seized again the fallen Gods

At sight of the dejected King of Day."

It strikes some readers, whether justly we
know not, on the reading of this fragment,
that there is in it no promise of action.



314



The ^'■Hyperion'''' of John Keats.



October,



There is a deficiency of the thews and sin-
ews. There is nothing war-Uke in Hyperion ;
his hands are 'pressed together in contempla-
tive silence ; and such hands, on such an
occasion, pressed together, would not have
grasped the sword of empire. How ener-
getic, on the other hand, and impregned
with restless vigor, is the first appearance of
the fallen Archangel in the poem of Mil-
ton : —

" He -with his horrid crew



Lay vanquished, rolling in the fiery gulph,
Confounded though immortal.

*****

Round he throws his baleful eyes,
That -witnessed huge affliction and dismay,
Mixed with obdurate pride and steadfast hate.
At once, as far as angel's ken, he views
The dismal situation waste and wild.



Thus Satan, talking to his nearest mate,
With head uplift above the wave, and eyes
That sparkling blazed ; his other parts besides,
Prone on the flood extended long and large.
Lay floating many a rood."

Milton is easier to read than Keats. The
description is rapid and concise. There is
no description without motion; a quality
necessary to the epic, since by dwelling too
long upon a part, the interest is lost, and
imagination flags. The description must
move forward, or it falls ; it must soar and
soar, and continually soar, passing mountains
and rivers at a wave of its mighty wings.
Indeed, it may be ventured, that Keats
would have failed in the Hyperion for want
of action. His figures are contemplative.
The Muse pauses, as she creates them, and
steps backward to meditate their fair pro-
portions. The poems of Milton, on the con-
trary, even his earliest, have a vivacity, a
lively spring and movement, which give
promise of the epic.

" Come, but keep thy wonted state
With even step, and musing gait."

He will not suffer even Melancholy herself
to sit contemplative ; she must pace forward.
Hardly a lino is deficient in the activity
either of thought or of motion ; the mark
of a genius essentially and powerfully epical.
In Keats, on the other hand, there is every
where flaccidity and weakness ; his heat is
not the heat of motion but of emotion ; he
has the melancholy of Hamlet, dreaming of
a purpose, but never moving toward it.



The appearance of the Miltonic feeling in
" Hyperion " has been alluded to by some
critics as a fault. But is not the earliest evi-
dence of artistic abihtyin imitation? Great
artists have indeed distinguished themselves
by an original nature of their own, but have
they not equally proved their merits by the
skill and taste with which they have repro-
duced the originality of others ? Unaided
by the faculty of imitation, and even of ap-
propriation, originality decliness into lame-
ness and obscurity. We know that the edu-
cation of a great artist is begun by a close
acquaintance with the works of his predeces-
sors, as well as of Nature. The most inti-
mate friendship with Nature avails nothing
without the jDOwer of imitation ; and though
this representative faculty be given to the
artist in never so great perfection, yet, as it
is of all the most artificial, and the most in-
telligent in its mode of action, so it requires
the greatest accumulation, and experience,
and aids to shorten and improve its pro-
cesses.

The advancement, that is to say, the dig-
nity of a school of artists appears chiefly in
their choice of subjects ; for we know that
nature is not all representable, but only cer-
tain scenes, times, phases : phases of beauty,
sublimity ; times or seasons of richest devel-
opment ; scenes illustrating what is moral
or immortal in humanity. Representative
art will not allow its powers to be wasted
with impunity upon the tame, the sensual,
or the vulgar of common life. The selection
of its subjects is therefore a moral occupation,
and of a high order, suitable to the leisure
of cultivated and heroic ages, and unsuitable,
because of baseness and incapacity, to those
that are barbarous and mechanical. The
lessons of the artist, in overcoming his great-
est diflSculty, the choice of subject, come to
him at first through his predecessors. He
imitates nature, it is true, but he looks at
nature through the eyes of those who have
preceded and aroused him. Every artistic
age refines upon former ages, holding to a
certain taste, and improving the " school."
The degeneracy of art appears in a mean or
novel choice of subject ; in eccentricity of
manner ; in a close and studied imitation of
insignificances. The two-fold imitation of
previous art and of nature goes on ripening
to a certain point, the height or perfection of
the school ; and then follows a gradual de-
cHne, when imitation predominates over



1851.



The '■'■ Hyperion'''' of John Keats.



315



design, when genius fades into sentimental-
ism, and the artist becomes either an eccen-
ti'ic or a tame and laborious imitator.

Poesy as well as painting has grown by
accretion as well as by invention. As it re-
quired a Giotto and a Cimabue to prepare
the ground for a Da Vinci, so it required an
Ejrnius to do the same for a Virgil. Imitation
reaches out from school to school, over en-
tire epochs and centuries. Homer precedes
Ennius and Virgil ; and Virgil's ^neid gives
form and beauty to the poems of Dante.
The influence of Phidias is seen again in
Angelo and Raphael, and something of the
Hebrew grandeur and simplicity reappears
in the liturgy of the Church of England.
In a word, the greatest imitators are the
greatest artists ; for by the same power that
is given them to receive and reproduce the
sublime and beautiful from nature, they seize
and reproduce the subhmity and beauty of
their predecessors ; so that the greatest
works of art, in painting, poetry, and sculp-
ture, are those which carry in their lines the
entire history of art itself. The Christ of
Raphael and the Moses of Michael Angelo,
the Satan of Milton and the Hamlet of
Shakspeare, are the best traditions of the
progress of genius from the beginning.

The greatest imitator absorbs and sur-
passes all that have gone before him, as did
Shakspeare, even to the reproduction of the
morality and sentiment of races Avho flour-
ished centuries before him, under other reli-
gious and other systems of society. Shak-
speare's appropriation of his predecessors
amounts even to the swallowing and diges-
tion of entire works.

Great artists are eclectic, and build upon
many masters. Like Goethe, in whom the
eclectic, imitative genius predominated to
that degree, his works are a prodigious mass
of imitations of every master in letters. Vir-
gil, Sophocles, Shakspeare, Ovid, Boccaccio,
Petrai'ch, by turns occupy him. From the
secondary v/riters of Germany he took away
their proper excellences, by surpassing each
in his field. Nor w.u it a blind instinct that
prompted him ; his imitations, like those of
Virgil and Milton, are deliberate and con-
scious aud profound.

The j)ride of originality can have no place
in the spirit of a first-rate artist : he appro-
priates and assimilates and reproduces in



Online LibraryGeorge Hooker ColtonThe American review : a Whig journal of politics, literature, art, and science (Volume 14) → online text (page 44 of 89)