ePub 版

be too grateful for the providential fact of Shakspeare's coming into the world when he did. The time demanded him, and he came like a star to its appointed orbit, so wonderfully did his genius fit the spiritual necessities of the age.

It would be an interesting question to answer, How much of Shakspeare's generally admitted superiority may be fairly attributed to this universal habit of his, of adopting and identifying himself in his works with the morality of Scripture? I suspect it is one of the principal secrets of his wide-spread and wide-spreading fame. A great deal more of the purely moral element goes to the build, of what we call genius, than the great majority of people are prepared to admit. The materialism that in its pseudo-scientific mask has such an all-deceiving fascination for the present age, has done its best to disguise the fact, and would like nothing so well as to be able to prove that all mental and spiritual superiority in a man is to be accounted for, on certain fixed basis of physiological structure and development. Without detracting from such an argument one syllable of the truth it manifestly contains, it should by no means be held to settle the whole question. The almost blasphemous self-sufficiency with which such arguments are now-a-days advanced, as explaining the whole mystery, does not meet with the opposition it deserves, tending as it certainly has already, done to a mischievous extent, popularly to blunt all faith, if not indeed to bring about an utter scepticism in the only true source of power in a man, and the only channel through which the highest influences can reach him namely, that mysterious point of contact between him and his Creator, which no science can ever hope to explain. This fatal teaching is fast framing a religion, that almost forgets the only object of worship, in a morbid hurry, and insatiable desire to explain moral phenomena that lie far out of human reach, and has laid the foundation of a philosophy which encourages in its disciples such an inordinate love of those secondary laws that regulate the mere details of the mental

machine, that it leaves out of count altogether the Prime Mover. It is all the more to be deplored that such a tendency should be commonly alluded to by many as a feature upon which the age should be congratulated, instead of being crushed as exhibiting the first symptoms, in the man or in the nation, of ultimate imbecility. No mere preponderance of intellectual power alone can sufficiently account for the workings of that faculty so “fearfully and wonderfully made," which constitutes the highest forms of genius. It is all the more inscrufable that its source is not so much intellectual as spiritual. We call it inspiration. Does not the very word breathe a rebuke to the materialism, that, ignoring its direct indebtedness to God, would proceed to explain it as only a more elaborate piece of mental mechanism ? Does not the very word confess it to be a breath of that more mysterious Spirit that “bloweth where it listeth; thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth.” The most perfect human organisation must wait upon the moving of a higher spirit than its own; and its moral endowment, before it has any right to be called genius, must be commensurate with its intellectual gift. We require to take but a very cursory view of the works of our greatest authors, to enable us to conclude that it is not the power and beauty alone of genius that gives that perennial freshness to all that is imperishable in literature, but that its morality is its greatest preservative. In addition to all other claims on our admiration, it must also possess “ some soul of goodness” to enable it to outlive the storms of time. There is also a strong negative presumption in favour of this view, in the fact that there is nothing so shortlived and suicidal in literature as impurity. The age of which we have been speaking affords us a striking example of it. Never was there such a moral declension, and with it an intellectual atrophy, as exhibited between the drama of Elizabeth and the drama of the Restoration. In the time of Elizabeth and James dramatic literature was the vehicle of as great thoughts as ever were uttered, or perhaps ever will be uttered, in the whole history of our language ; but by the dry rot of impurity that began to eat into it in the subsequent reigns of the two Charleses, it fell so low that even the genius of Dryden will never be able to lift it out of the moral puddle he helped to sink it in. All that was great in nature forsook it, and what was only paltry in art remained, till dragging on through the mire in the hands of Wycherly, Congreve, Vanburgh, and Farquhar, it gradually weakened down into the most rubbishy small talk that ever disgraced a nation's literature,

So quickly does this moral gangrene bring about its own dissolution. It not only neutralizes the effect by impairing the beauty of the thing written, but by that dreadful law of retribution by which evil thought and evil done are made to gravitate towards each other, like monsters that hug each other to death, the writer, too, is dragged down, it may be to him by imperceptible degrees, but not the less surely down to the level of the thing he writes. It does not only clog the action,

« 上一頁繼續 »