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ration of that agreeable writer seems to be a sort of literary measles, which most English and American writers are obliged to have once in their life, and then afterwards to be safe from further attacks.
In another essay, written many years ago, Mr. Dana shows a great advance upon the system of education then in vogue.
“We have become too officious in our helps to children; we leave not enough to the workings of nature, and to impressions and tints too exquisite and delicate for any hands but hers; but with a vain and vulgar ignorance disturb the character she was silently and slowly moulding into beauty, till it is formed to our narrow and false taste. Anxious lest the clearness of their reason should be dimmed, their minds are never left to work their own way through the obscure: but ever-burning lights are held up before them. They are not indulged in the conjectural, but all is anticipated and overdone. We do not enough consider that oftentimes the very errors into which they fall, through a want of thorough knowledge of what they see or read, bring the invention into action, and thus give a life to the mind, which will survive when these errors are removed and forgotten. Children may reason well, as far as their knowledge carries them along, and their reason may still preside over what their imagination supplies.
“ An over-anxiety to make of babies little matter-of-fact men and unbreeched philosophers, will not add much to their sum of knowledge in after life, and nothing to that faculty which teaches them to consider and determine for themselves, and begets that independent wisdom without which their heaped up knowledge is but an incumbrance. A child now learns by heart how a shoe is made, from the flaying of an ox for the leather to the punching the last hole, and can give the best of reasons for its being so made, when it had much better be chasing a rainbow. Such a system may make inquisitive, but not wide-ranging minds. It kills the poetry of our character, without enlarging our philosophy, and will hardly make us worthier members of society, or give us the humble compensation of turning out better mechanics.”
All this is admirable, and shows that the truest practical wisdom is in the most poetical minds. The old system of education has many fine traits in it—we mean the old chivalric theory. Now utility is the Juggernaut before whose wheels everything noble or romantic is thrown down and crushed. The loftiest minds are those most required in the busy world ; they are the salt that sweetens the earth, the yeast that leavens the whole. A poet should be encouraged to come out into the crowded haunts, and mingle familiarly with his fellow-men, and not, as is often the case, driven into his own solitary chamber, to turn his face to the wall and die. The great, the fatal evil of the present day is want of imagination. There is not enough to bring the human masses to that average idealism absolutely necessary to carry on the Christian government of the world. The New Testament is rapidly becoming practically obsolete, but, like all hypocrites, the respectable classes preach more in proportion as they practise less. Our Saviour would stand a poor chance in modern cities ; destitution or a jail would be his fate, while possibly some benevolent men might suggest a lunatic asylum as a humane compromise.
Tested by the world, the Sermon on the Mount is an absurdity, and the actions of Christ those of a maniac. Hard as it may appear, the majority of respectable men are practical atheists. It is reported that an English millionaire, in a discussion once with an enthusiast, who was arguing that money was a very secondary matter, and that our Saviour had a great contempt for riches, astonished the worthy Christian by boldly declaring that he could not deny but that Christ had held those opinions, but,” said he, “ it always seemed to me that our Saviour was not sufficiently aware of the value of money." This setting Omniscience right is done by the great bulk of mankind. Every merchant does it every hour of his life. The money-changers of Threadneedle street and Wall street utter cutting sarcasms in reply to “What shall a man receive in exchange for his soul ?" Dollars or pounds sterling, of course!
We do not wish to undervalue the practical faculties and the useful part of man's nature. We should as soon think of neglecting the body merely because the soul was of so much more importance. One is necessary to the other, to complete the human being, and in like manner poetry is as needful to the well-being of man as religion and morals are to society.
Dana well observes :
“ Society should be like the earth about us, where the beautiful, the grand, the humble, the useful, lie spread out, and running into each other; where, indeed, for the most part, so beautiful is the useful that we almost forget its uses in its beauty.”
There is a general yet dignified tolerance running throughout our author's writings, which shows the liberal mind as well as poetical heart. The following is another proof of that careful working up of his modes of illustration, which shows how completely he has studied his subject. Still we miss in this well ordered prose those touches of light which reveal more than words:
“ We are filling our hot-houses and gardens with plants of the tropics, and of the earth. We decompose air, and water, and earths. Find the dip of rocks, and mark their strata ; voyage into regions of thick-ribbed ice; travel up to the sources of strange rivers ; betake ourselves to the mountain tops, and are bustling and busy in this great huddling and overturning of everything within our reach, while the delightful mystery within us lives on unexamined and unobserved. But if the pursuit of this mystery has been neglected for objects more gainful, or of cheaper fame, it has inward satisfyings and healthful moral uses, which are found only here. We can scarcely look into the hearts of other men without seeing the workings of our own, and learning to know ourselves in studying them. This brings us nearly to each other, and in opening out like weaknesses and like virtues, teaches us forgiveness and love."
There is a sustained power of reasoning in most of Dana's prose works which insensibly produces on the reader's mind that respectful assent, which is the highest tribute a second-rate writer can receive. To the chief bards of prose composition, such as Milton, Jeremy Taylor, and their compeers, alone belongs that enthusiastic reverence which carries us along in a glow of delight.
Who can forget the first study of the Areopagitica of the former, or the Sermons of the latter ! They are epochs in the life of the mind! We take leave of Mr. Dana with a sincere respect for his talents. Both in prose and verse he has earned a right to be considered as one of the most genuine writers of America. We prefer his poetry to his prose for several reasons, but chiefly on account of its comprising the qualities of that species of composition with a higher faculty. His verse is carefully finished, and displays occasionally a vein of imagination, which, if more sustained, would place him very high in the rank of even English poets. He has less unmeaning epithets than any American poet, except Emerson, we have met with, and some of his illustrations are remarkably happy. There is, however, a want of constructiveness in his mind which impairs his power as a narrative poet.