Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/206

This page has been validated.
194
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

of poetic fire rather than of a taste for the delights of the country. His "Botanic Garden" is a dreary, mechanical affair, several degrees worse and more unreadable than Cowley's "Plants," a century earlier. Both are constructed on an altogether erroneous principle. Science is science, and poetry is poetry; and while, as is well illustrated in "The Princess" and "In Memoriam," the scientific spirit may be distinctly present, yet any thing like a formal, didactic attempt at amalgamation is certain to prove a failure.

Although belonging to an earlier date than the sterile period referred to, George Herbert might also be quoted here as a case of poetic talent of a very genuine kind, yet unaccompanied by much perception of natural beauty or picturesqueness. He has sometimes been likened to Keble, a brother churchman and clergyman, but between the two, in their feeling and apprehension of the wonders of creation, the difference is singular and complete. Herbert's strong point was spiritual anatomy. His probing and exposure of the deceits and vanities of the human heart, and his setting forth of the dangers of the world to spirituality of mind, are at once quaint and incisive. But of any love or special knowledge of the physical world there is scarcely a trace.[1] Keble's poetry, on the other hand, quite as unworldly as that of the author of "The Temple," is redolent everywhere of the sights and sounds of Nature. The seasons with their endless changes, the motions of the heavenly bodies, the fragrance of the field, trees, rivers, mountains, and all material things, are assimilated, so to speak, into the very essence of his verse. That very world which to Herbert was only base and utterly indifferent, seemed to Keble, to use his own words, "ennobled and glorified," and awakened in his soul poetical emotions of the highest and purest kind.

It is unnecessary to enter into much detail in order to show how, much more truly than himself, Pope's predecessors, and especially those of the Elizabethan era, were entitled to the designation of poets of Nature. Shakespeare, Spenser, the two Fletchers, Milton, and many others, might be adduced in confirmation. With reference to botany, it is evident that the greatest of the tribe, in his universality of knowledge, flowing over into every region of human research, was well acquainted with the subject in its twofold aspect—trees and flowers. Many beautiful floral descriptions occur in the plays, and although the arboricultural allusions are less frequent, they are sufficiently numerous to justify the belief that his knowledge was both extensive and accurate. Perhaps the most important passage of the kind is where Cranmer, "dilating on a wind of prophecy," portrays, under the figure of a "mountain-cedar," the future glories of the reigns of Elizabeth and her successor.[2] Milton has many striking and appro-

  1. One of his biographers has discovered a solitary verse, on the faith of which he complacently assumes that Herbert "was thoroughly alive to the sweet influences of Nature."
  2. Commentators affirm Ben Jonson to be the author of the lines referred to.