網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

and extinguishes all poetic ardor. As Balaam could prophecy only when he would bless the people of God, and found the oracle dumb within him when he would curse them, so the poet is visited by visions of beauty and splendor only when he would uphold the cause of truth and goodness. Vice is moral deformity, and the more it is exhibited the more odious it appears. One of the strongest proofs of the identity and universality of the moral sense is, that it pervades the literature, and particularly the poetry of all nations, and is nearly the same in all. The basis of the Iliad is moral and religious. It inculcates the doctrine of a Providence, of a Witness, and Rewarder of men. Homer collects the armies of Greece before the walls of Troy to avenge an atrocious crime; and the reader when he sees that ancient city uprooted from its foundations, and its inhabitants scattered into slavery, cannot avoid receiving the great moral lesson which it is intended to teach, the endless woes which may be occasioned by one act of moral misconduct. The Greek tragedians considered their plays rather as solemn moral lectures, than as the means of mere public amusement.

Indeed, what was the whole fabric of heathen religion but the creation of the imagination, stimulated and guided by the moral sense? The chains and darkness of their Tartarian regions, the groans and tortures of that dread abode, were nothing other than the images excited in the imagination by the horrors of a guilty conscience. And Tantalus with his quenchless thirst, and Prometheus bound to the rock, while the vulture forever gnawed his side, were merely the expression of the universal experience, that sin ever draws after it a long and severe retribution. The Elysian fields, where eternal sunshine reigned, where the flowers forever bloomed, and spring forever smiled, were nothing more than the symbols of that serenity and hope, which ever pervade the soul, when it has proved faithful to duty.

It has been complained of Shakspeare, that with his vast genius, he never attempted to make the world any better. It may be answered, that he has done more good than if such a design had been apparent. As it is, his testimony is unsuspected. He stands up before the world as a disinterested and impartial witness. He looked deeper into

the human soul than any other uninspired mind, and when he tells us what he finds there, we are more inclined to believe him than if we knew he made up his report for some ulterior purpose. Our disposition to believe him is the stronger, as we find there is almost an exact coincidence between poetic and Divine inspiration.

I know nothing out of the Sacred Scriptures, which makes a deeper moral impression than the play of Macbeth, nothing which represents more strongly and more truly the spiritual might of sin to destroy the soul. Macbeth and his lady, two strong and well balanced minds, are introduced to us, in the possession of wealth, rank and mutual love, surrounded with all the pleasures of refinement, added to the quiet satisfactions of a rural life. The very atmosphere about their castle is fragrant, and breathes of peace and contentment. On one sad night the devil of ambition steals into this paradise, and all is turned to misery and desolation. Macbeth, against the strugglings of his better nature, urged on by the fierce, indomitable, unscrupulous spirit of his wife, in the full consciousness of the turpitude of the act,

that it is in violation of the most sacred laws of religion, honor, and hospitality, becomes the assassin of his sovereign and benefactor. The very elements seem to shudder at the horrid deed. “The very night became unruly, the chimneys were blown down, lamentings heard in the air, strange screams of death, and prophesying with accents terrible of dire combustion, and confused events, new hatched in the woful time.” But this was nothing to the tempest which then began in the soul of the murderer. The hour of retribution immediately commences, and no warning can be more impressive than the language of his guilty conscience.

“Henceforth to me there's nothing serious in mortality;
All is but toys, renown and grace is dead.
The wine of life is drawn, and the mere lees
Is left this vault to brag of.”

The wife becomes a still more melancholy object. That indomitable spirit, daring almost to sublimity, is at length subdued by the subtile poison of guilt, and though before the world she carries a calm demeanor and an open brow, when sleep transports her soul to the spiritual world, her body rises to enact before the astonished eyes of mortals the horrors that are going on within. How awfully is symbolized the undying remembrance of the soul in those "damned spots," which will not be washed away, and even when they are obliterated the smell of blood remains!

The exceptions which may be pleaded to the general principle, that the poet is always a witness for virtue, are only apparent. It may be said that Byron and Burns were immoral men, and have occasionally shocked the moral sense of the world as well by their writings as their conduct. It may be answered, that no where can they find a severer condemnation than out of their own mouths. There are other passages, where every principle is asserted which they violated, and which show that their moral perceptions were as much keener than those of other men as their intellects were stronger, and their passions more intense; and their prospects for futurity become blacker as we contemplate their moral obliquities, for we perceive that they must inevitably fall under the condemnation of that servant, who knew

« 上一頁繼續 »