« السابقةمتابعة »
And Augustine in his retreat at Cassiciacum passed many months with his friends Trygetius and Licentius, devoting the mornings to the discussions of grave questions of philosophy, commenting on Cicero, and reading every day the half of one of Virgil's cantos. So the two great Christian poets of modern times, Dante and Milton, can searcely write a stanza without some allusion to classic lore, some illustration borrowed from Paganism.
Perhaps one of the prime agents in Christianizing the literature of the middle ages was the composition of hymns in the Latin language, introducing therein the new feature of rhyme as an ornament to the verse. Under the influence of these compositions, which had become a necessity in the Christian Church, the old Roman tongue, which was in process of decline, put itself forth anew, budding and blossoming afresh, the meaning of words enlarging and dialating, old words coming to be used in new and higher significations, obsolete words reviving, new words being coined. The translation of the Old and the New Testaments into Latin by Jerome had a marked influence in this revival of the languages. Some of the early converts uttered their feelings in Latin poetry ; several of these compositions were attributed to Tertullian and Cyprian. Commodianus wrote a poem against Paganism, and Prosper of Aquitaine wrote one against the Semi-Pelagians; Dracontius, Hilary,and Marius Victor turned their attention to the Bible narratives, while Juvencus and Sedulius confined theirs to evangelical history, and labored to reproduce with poetical adornment the text of the gospel.
Following their example the Anglo-Saxon priest Cædmon sang of the origin of the world, and the fall of man; and the monk Ottfried, in the time of Charlemagne, wrote a poem on the Harmony of the Gospels. Christian hymnody began in the days of the Apostles; both St. Paul and St. James exhort to the practice of singing hymns. In the time of Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, in the fifth century, music was definitely adopted in the church in Italy, and he is the reputed author of several chants and sacred songs. He used iambic verse of eight syllables, and thus paved the way for rhyme, which was early introduced into Christian versification.
Some of the earliest specimens of this occur in St. Augustine's psalm against the Donatists, and in the hymn addressed by Pope Damascus to St. Agatha. The great Christian poets of the age of Augustine were Paulinus and Prudentius. The former of these two repudiated the influence of the Pagan muses, and dropped Venus, Juno, and the other deities, substituting in their place the illustrious personages of Scripture. The latter boldly attacked thc idolatrous practices and corrupt manners of the time, and became preëminently the poet of the Christians. Venantius Fortunatus, who flourished in the sixth century, was another of those Christian poets who laid the foundation of the noble Latin hymns of the middle ages, the productions of Adam of St. Victor Pistor, Peter the Venerable, Alanus, Hildebert, Manburn, St. Bernard, Bonaventura, Bede, Alard, Abelard, Bable, Thomasà-Kempis, Bernard of Clugny, and others. Mr. French has given an admirable selection of these in his Sacred Latin Poetry ; some of them almost equal in beauty and sublimity to the well known Dies Irae and Stabat Mater. In short the range of the early literature of the Christian Church is vast and varied, full of instruction and of the noblest sentiments of piety and humanity.
Art. III.-1. The Works of Robert Burns, with an Account of his
· Life and a Criticism on his Writings. London. 2. The Life of Robert Burns. By J. G. LOCKHART, Edinburgh.
The most striking characteristic of genius is what seems its daring; it is ever marking out new paths and discovering countries whose existence was previously unthought of, or denied. It is continually undertaking Argonautic expeditions in search of the golden fleece of perfection, and though its ultimate object be not attained, it constantly gives new impulses to the spirit of enterprise in exploring unknown regions of truth. If the possessor of genius should ask, “Do we move ourselves, or are we moved by an unseen hand at a game ?” the answer would doubtless be a repetition of the latter clause of the proposition. Genius is itself an impelling. power which possesses the individual as Apollo inspired the Sibyl :
“Struggling in vain, impatient of her load,
The person designated to be the mouth-piece of the oracle may, like the prophet Jonah, flee to Tarshish to avoid doing his work, yet everywhere his destiny pursues him, and sooner or later he is forced, cheerfully or reluctantly, to speak the word, or to do the deed assigned to him for his task in this life.
In the majority of cases, the possessor of genius is long ignorant of the work he has to do. He feels an impulsion to do something, and his restless soul struggles in vain for peace. With the poet this restlessness seeks utterance in words, and he finds that expression sooths him. Yet at the first this utterance is feeble and unsatisfactory, and his spirit drives him on to attain greater excellence. Absolute or even satisfactory expression is unattainable, hence his life is a continual struggle. If he gives himself up to the control of this power, as much happiness as is vouchsafed to mortals is within his reach. But, too often, finding the chain galling and the lash torturing that urges him on for his own and others' good, the slave of genius, not perceiving the glorious end, gives himself up to darker passions, whose mastery seems at first more pleasurable, but which conduct his steps to the gulf of despair.
In the streets of Edinburgh, a boy-afterwards a distinguished man — wearied with wandering and sight-seeing in the strange city, has paused to rest. A man passes, something in whose appearance strikes him. He gazes after him almost unconsciously, fascinated with the magnetism of genius, communicated by the outer semblance and bearing
of the passer-by. The veil of mystery is suddenly lifted, and the shadowy wonderland into which his rapt soul is gazing is peopled with well-known forms by the voice of a man near him who, observing his occupation, exclaims, “Eh, laddie! you may well look at that man; that's Bob Burns !"
Admiringly, lovingly, compassionately, let us, with the awe-struck boy, look at this man, for it is well worth our while. Let us follow, and learn more of him. Next we find him, we will say, in a fashionable drawingroom, the resort of persons most distinguished in literature, in the learned professions, and for the station which wealth and hereditary gentility confer at this time and place. Burns bas but lately entered this circle to which his recently-discovered talents have been his only card of admission. Lacking the prestige of rank, fortune, or conventional education, being only an “Ayrshire ploughman,” his reception is an anomaly. The admiration which his writings have excited is intensified by his manly independence, tempered with modesty, and his wonderful conversational powers. We find him “the observed of all observers” in that brilliant and proud circle—say in the salon of the beautiful, witty, and accomplished Duchess of Gordon. High-born and lovely ladies press around him to enjoy the scintillations of his wit, humor, and pathos, flashes of the most vivid imagination
—those conversational excellencies which his hostess declares “ carried her completely off her feet.” All who listen are charmed, astonished by the brilliancy of his genius, and regard him as a prodigy. We might follow him on one of his stealthy visits to the home of “Clarinda" and behold him in his best, tenderest, most soul-awakening mood; but that privacy is too sacred for our intrusion. The attentions which he everywhere receives, Dugald Stewart says, “ were such as would have turned any head but his own.”
This man, Robert Burns, is a newly-discovered poet, and discovered amid surroundings where one would have least thought of searching for such a jewel. He has jumped at once to an enviable position as a man of acknowledged genius and attained a fame that will never die. And this elevation he has reached, it would seem, by a single bound from
poverty and obscurity. What is most remarkable is, that now, after more than a hundred years have passed, the civilized world approves the opinion of his contemporaries, and adds to it growing love and admiration. Many have acquired sudden fame, but few have so well retained it. In this case there is no doubt that success was the reward of genuine merit.
The poetry of Burns was something quite new in its style and subjects. There were no efforts at highly-wrought excellence, an elaborate finish or a strained sentimentality. It was the natural out-gushing of a truly poetic soul, and was expressed with a fascinating simplicity and naturalness. Even the language was "chiefly Scottish,” which gave to his naive effusions an increased charm. Ramsay and Fergusson had already, to some extent, popularised this dialect as a medium of homely verse, but with neither did it seem so natural as with Burns. His heart was in his rhymes, for they were the expressions of his feelings told in a truly natural manner :
" He gave the people of his be.st," and they rewarded him with fame. There was no need to quote to him the familiar precept, Si vis me flere, for nature in him had at least not been warped by education. So perfect was his candor that he had not even concealed his vices. “If any ambitious man have a fancy” says Poe, “ to revolutionize, at one effort, the universal world of human thought, human opinion, and human sentiment, the opportunity is his own-the road to immortal renown lies straight open and unencumbered before him. All that he has to do is to write and publish a very little book. Its title should be simple—a few plain words—' My Heart laid bare.' But this little book must be true to its title.”
Excepting the title we believe this is just about what Robert Burns did in publishing his first volume of poems. Perhaps the results have not been quite so great as Poe imagined would follow such a publication, but we believe they have been nearly so. Certainly the effects upon the world of both his writings and his history have been very great.
VOL. XVIII.—NO. XXXV. 4