The Daughters of England/Chapter IV
As a picture which presents to the eye of the beholder, those continuous masses of light and shade usually recognized under the characteristic of breadth; though it may be striking, and sometimes even sublime in its effect, yet, without the more delicate touches of art, must ever be defective in the pleasure it affords; so the female character, though invested with high intellectual endowments, must ever fail to charm, without at least a taste for music, painting, or poetry.
The first of these requires no recommendation in the present day. Indeed, the danger is, that the fair picture which woman's character ought to present, should be broken up into that confusion of petty lights and shades, which, in the phraseology of painting, is said to destroy its effect as a whole. May we not carry on the similitude still farther and compare the more important intellectual endowments of human character to the broad lights and massive shadows of a picture; music, to the richness and variety of its colouring; painting, to correctness and beauty of its outline; and poetry, to general harmony of the whole, consisting chiefly in the aerial or atmospheric tints which convey the idea of morning, noon, or evening, a storm, a calm, or any of the seasons of the year; with all the varied associations which belong to each.
I have said that music requires no recommendation in the present day, when to play like a professor ranks amongst the highest attainments of female education. Since, then, music is so universally regarded both by the wise and good, not only as lawful, but desirable, it remains to be considered under what circumstances the practice of it may be expedient or otherwise.
In the first place, 'Have you what is called an ear for music?' If you are not annoyed by discord, nor made to suffer pain by a false note, nor disturbed by errors in time, let no persuasion ever induce you to touch the keys of a piano, or the chords of a harp again.
Perhaps you reply, 'But I am so fond of music.' I question it not: for though difficult to be accounted for, many persons, who have no ear, are fond of music. Yet, why not, under such circumstances, be content to be a listener for the rest of your lives, and thankful that there are others differently constituted, who are able to play for your amusement, and who play with ease in a style superior to what you would have attained by any amount of labour? All have not the same natural gifts. You, in your turn, may excel in something else; but as well might an automaton be made to dance, as a woman destitute of taste for music, be taught to play with any hope of attaining excellence, or even of giving pleasure to her friends. It is possible that by an immense expenditure of time and money, a wooden figure might be so constructed, to dance so as to take the proper steps at the right time; but the grace, the ease, indeed all that gives beauty to the movements of the dancer, must certainly be wanting. It is thus with music. By a fruitless waste of time and application, the hand may acquire the habit of touching the right keys; but all which constitutes the soul of music must be wanting to that performance, where the ear is not naturally attuned to "the concord of sweet sound."
It is a good thing to, be a pleased and attentive listener, even in music. And far happier sometimes is the unpretending girl, who sits apart silently listening to another's voice, than any one of the anxious group of candidates for promotion to the music-stool, whose countenances occasionally display the conflicting emotions of hope and fear, triumph and disappointment.
There are, however, amongst men, and women too, certain individuals whose souls may be said to be imbued with music as an instinct. It forms a part of their existence, and they only live entirely in an atmosphere of sound. To such it would be a cold philosophy to teach the expediency of giving up the cultivation of music altogether, because of the temptations it involves; and yet to such individuals, above all others, music is the most dangerous. To them it may be said, that, like charity, though in a widely different sense, it covers a multitude of sins; for such is its influence over them, that while carried away by its allurements, they scarcely see or feel like moral agents, so as to distinguish good from evil; and thus they mistake for an intellectual, nay, even sometimes for a spiritual enjoyment, the indulgence of that passion, which is but too earthly in its associations.
I will not say that music is a species of intoxication, but I do think that an inordinate love of it may be compared to intemperance, in the fact of its inciting the passions of the human mind so much more frequently to evil than to good. We are warranted by the language of Scripture to believe, that music is a powerfully pervading principle in the universe of God. The harmony of the spheres is figuratively set forth under the idea of the morning stars singing together, and the Apocalyptic vision abounds with allusions to celestial choirs. Indeed, so perfectly in unison is music with our ideas of intense and elevated enjoyment, that we can scarcely imagine heaven without the hymning of the praises of the Most High by the voices of angels and happy spirits. But let it be remembered, that all this is in connection with a purified state of being. It is where the serpent sin has never entered, or after he has been destroyed. So long as the evil heart is unsubdued—so long as there are desperate passions to awaken—so long as the hand of man is raised against his brother—so long as the cup of riotous indulgence continues to be filled—so long as temptation lurks beneath the rose-leaves of enjoyment, music will remain to be a dangerous instrument in the hands of those who are by nature and by constitution its willing and devoted slaves.
Even to such, however, I would fain believe, that when kept under proper restrictions, and regulated by right principles, music may have its use. There can be no need to advise such persons to cultivate, when young, their talent for music. The danger is, that they will cultivate no other.
Between these individuals, and the persons first described, there is a numerous class of human beings, of whom it may be said, that they possess by nature a little taste for music; and to these the cultivation of it may be desirable, or otherwise, according to their situation in life, and the views they entertain of the use of accomplishments in general. If the use of accomplishments be to make a show of them in society, then a little skill in music is certainly not worth its cost. But if the object of a daughter is to soothe the weary spirit of a father when he returns home from the office or the counting-house, where he has been toiling for her maintenance; to beguile a mother of her cares; or to charm a suffering sister into forgetfulness of her pain; then a very little skill in music may often be made to answer as noble a purpose as a great deal; and never does a daughter appear to more advantage, than when she cheerfully lays aside a fashionable air, and strums over, for more than the hundredth time, some old ditty which her father loves. To her ear it is possible it may be altogether divested of the slightest charm. But of what importance is that? The old man listens until tears are glistening in his eyes, for he sees again the home of his childhood—he hears his father's voice—he feels his mother's welcome—all things familiar to his heart in early youth come back to him with that long-remembered strain; and, happiest thought of all! they are revived by the playful lingers of his own beloved child. The brother too—the prodigal—the alien from the paths of peace. In other lands, that fire-side music haunts his memory. The voice of the stranger has no melody for him. His heart is chilled. He says, "I will arise and go to my father's home," where a welcome, a heart-warm welcome, still awaits him. Yet so wide has been the separation, that a feeling of estrangement still remains, and neither words, nor looks, nor affectionate embraces can make the past come back unshadowed, or dispel the cloud which settles upon every heart. The sister feels this. She knows the power of music, and when the day is closing in, that first strange day of partial reconciliation, she plays a low soft air. Her brother knows it well. It is the evening hymn they used to sing together in childhood, when they had been all day gathering flowers. His manly voice is raised. Once more it mingles with the strain. Once more the parents and the children, the sister and the brother, are united as in days gone by.
It requires no extraordinary skill in execution to render music subservient to the purposes of social and domestic enjoyment; but it does require a willing spirit, and a feeling mind, to make it tell upon the sympathies and affections of our nature.
There is a painful spectacle occasionally exhibited in private life, when a daughter refuses to play for the gratification of her own family, or casts aside with contempt the music they prefer; yet when a stranger joins the circle, and especially when many guests are met, she will sit down to the piano with the most obliging air imaginable, and play with perfect good-will whatever air the company may choose. What must the parents of such a daughter feel, if they recollect the fact, that it was at their expense, their child acquired this pleasing art, by which she appears anxious to charm any one but them? And how does the law of love operate with her? Yet, music is the very art, which by its mastery over the feelings and affections, calls forth more tenderness than any other. Surely, then, the principle of love ought to regulate the exercise of this gift, in proportion to its influence upon the human heart. Surely, it ought not to be cultivated as the medium of display, so much as the means of home enjoyment; not so much as a spell to charm the stranger, or one who has no other link of sympathy with us, as a solace to those we love, and a tribute of gratitude and affection to those who love us.
With regard to the application and use of the art of painting, or perhaps we ought to say drawing, there is a very serious mistake generally prevailing amongst young persons, as well as amongst some who are more advanced in life. Drawing, as well as music, is not only considered as something to entertain company with, but its desirableness as an art is judged of precisely by the estimate which is formed of those pieces of polished pasteboard brought home from school, and exhibited as specimens of genius in the delineation of gothic arches, ruined cottages, and flowers as flat and dry as the paper on which they are painted. The use of drawing, in short, is almost universally judged of amongst young ladies, by what it enables them to produce; and no wonder, when such are the productions, that its value should be held rather cheap.
It has often been said with great truth, that the first step towards excellence in the art of drawing, is to learn to see; and certainly, nothing can be more correct than that the quickening of the powers of observation, the habit of regarding, not only the clear outline, but the relative position of objects, with the extension of the sphere of thought which is thus obtained, is of infinitely more value in forwarding the great work of intellectual advancement, than all the actual productions of female artists since the world began. There are many very important reasons why drawing should be especially recommended to the attention of young persons, and I am the more anxious to point them out, because, amongst the higher circles of society, it appears to be sinking into disrepute, in comparison with music. Amongst such persons, it is beginning to be considered as a sort of handicraft, or as something which artists can do better than ladies. In this they are perfectly right; but how then are they to reap the advantage to themselves, which I am about to describe as resulting from an attentive cultivation of the graphic art?
Amongst these advantages, I will begin with the least—It is quiet. It disturbs no one; for however defective the performance may be, it does not necessarily, like music, jar upon the sense. It is true, it may when seen offend the practised eye; but we can always draw in private, and keep our productions to ourselves. In addition to this, it is an employment which beguiles the mind of many cares, because it never can be merely mechanical. The thoughts must go along with it, for the moment the attention wanders, the hand ceases from its operations, owing to the necessity there is that each stroke should be different from any which has previously been made. Under the pressure of anxiety, in seasons of protracted suspense, or when no effort can be made to meet an expected calamity, especially when that calamity is exclusively our own, drawing is of all other occupations the one most calculated to keep the mind from brooding upon self, and to maintain that general cheerfulness which is a part of social and domestic duty.
Drawing, unlike most other arts, may be taken up at any time of life, though certainly with less prospect of success than when it has been pursued in youth. It can also be laid down and resumed, as circumstance or inclination may direct, and that without any serious loss; for while the hand is employed in other occupations, the eye may be learning useful lessons to be worked out on some future day.But the great, the wonder-working power of the graphic art, is that by which it enables us to behold, as by a new sense of vision, the beauty and the harmony of the creation. Many have this faculty of perception in their nature, who never have been taught, perhaps not allowed, to touch a pencil, and who remain to the end of their lives unacquainted with the rules of painting as an art. To them this faculty affords but glimpses of the ideal, in connection with the real; but to such as have begun to practise the art, by first learning to see, each succeeding day unfolds some new scene in that vast picture, which the ever-varying aspect of nature presents. As the faculty of hearing, in the savage Indian is sharpened to an almost incredible degree of acuteness, simply from the frequent need he has for the use of that particular sense; so the eye of the painter, from the habit of regarding every object with reference to its position and effect, beholds ten thousand points of interest, which the unpractised in this art never perceive. There is not a shadow on the landscape, not a gleam of sunshine in the fields, not a leaf in the forest, nor a flower on the lea, not a sail upon the ocean, nor a cloud in the sky, but they all form parts of that unfading picture, upon which his mind perpetually expatiates without satiety or weariness.
It is a frequent complaint with travellers, that they find the scenery around them insipid; but this can never occur to the artist, through whatever country he may roam. A turn in the road, with a bunch of furze on one side, and a stunted oak on the other, is sufficient to arrest his attention, and occupy a page in his sketch-book. A willowy brook in the deep meadows, with cattle grazing on its banks, is the subject of another. The tattered mendicant is a picture, of himself; or the sturdy wagoner with his team, or the solitary orphan sitting in the porch of the village-church. Every group around the door of the inn, every party around the ancient elm in the centre of the hamlet, every beast of burden feeding by the way-side, has to him a beauty and a charm, which his art enables him to revive and perpetuate.
It is the same when he mingles in society. Hundreds and thousands of human beings may pass by the common observer without exciting a single thought or feeling, beyond their relative position with regard to himself. But the painter sees in almost every face a picture. He beholds a grace in almost every attitude, a scene of interest in every group; and, while his eye is caught by the classic beauty of an otherwise insignificant countenance, he arrests it in the position where light and shadow are most harmoniously blended; and, behold! it lives again beneath his touch—another, yet the same.
In every object, however familiar in itself, or unattractive in other points of view, the painter perceives at once what is striking, characteristic, harmonious, or graceful; and thus, while associating in the ordinary affairs of life, he feels himself the inhabitant of a world of beauty, from which others are shut out.
Would that we could dwell with more satisfaction upon this ideal existence, as it affects the morals of the artist's real life! Whatever there may be defective here, however, as regards the true foundation of happiness, is surely not attributable to the art itself; but to the necessity under which too many labour, of courting public favour, and sometimes of sacrificing the dignity of their profession to its pecuniary success.
Nor is it an object of desirable attainment to women in general, that they should study the art of painting to this extent. Amply sufficient for all their purposes, is the habit of drawing from natural objects with correctness and facility. Copying from other drawings, though absolutely necessary to the learner, is but the first step towards those innumerable advantages which arise from an easy and habitual use of the pencil. Yet here how many stop, and think their education in the graphic art complete! They think also, what is most unjust of drawing, that it is only the amusement of an idle hour, incapable of producing any happier result than an exact fac-simile of the master's lesson. No wonder, that with such ideas, they should evince so little inclination to continue this pursuit on leaving school. For though it is a common thing to hear young ladies exclaim, how much they should like to sketch from nature, and how much they should like to take likenesses, it is very rarely that we find one really willing to take a hundredth part of the pains which are necessary to the attainment even of mediocrity in either of these departments. That it is in reality easier, and far more pleasant, to sketch from nature, than from another drawing, is allowed by all who have made the experiment on right principles; which, however, few young persons are able to do, because they are so seldom instructed in what, if I might be allowed the expression, I should call the philosophy of picture-making, or, in other words, the relation of cause and effect in the grouping and general management of objects, so as to unite a number of parts into a perfect and pleasing whole.
Perspective is the first step in this branch of philosophy, but the nature and effect of light and shade, with the proportions and relations of different objects, and harmony, that grand feature of beauty, must all have become subjects of interest and observation, before we can hope to sketch successfully; and especially, before we can derive that high degree of intellectual enjoyment from the art of painting, which it is calculated to afford. Yet all these, by close and frequent attention, may be learned from nature itself, though an early acquaintance with the rules of art will greatly assist the understanding in this school of philosophy.
Amongst the numerous mistakes made by young people on the subject of drawing, none is a greater hinderance to their efforts, than an idea which generally prevails, that not only drawing itself, but each different branch of the art, requires a natural genius for that particular study. Thus, while one excuses herself from drawing because she has no genius for it; another tells you, that although she can draw landscapes with great facility, she has no genius for heads. Now, if genius be, as Madame de Stael informs us, "enthusiasm operating upon talent," I freely grant that it is essential to success in this, as well as every other art. You must not only learn it, but you must absolutely love it, was the frequent expression of a very clever master to his pupil. And it is this very love, which of itself will carry on the young student to any point of excellence, which it is desirable for a woman to attain.
It is true, there are greater difficulties to some than to others; just as the eye is more or less acute in its perceptions, or the communication between that and the hand more or less easy. Yet, with the same amount of genius and a little more patience, with a little more humility too, for that has more to do with success in painting than the inexperienced are aware of, these difficulties may easily be overcome.
I have said that humility is necessary to our success, and it operates precisely in this manner. It always happens that the eye has been in training for observation, long before the hand begins to trace so much as a bare outline of what the eye perceives. Thus, our first attempts at imitation fall so far short, not only of the real, but also of the ideal which the mind retains, that if praise of admiration have had anything to do with inciting us to draw, the mortification which ensues will probably be more than a young artist can endure. She must, therefore, be humble enough to be willing to proceed without praise, sometimes without commendation, and occasionally with a more than comfortable share of ridicule, as the reward of her first endeavours; all which might possibly be borne with equanimity, if she did not herself perceive a fearful want of resemblance to the thing designed.
The practice of drawing the human face and figure, is a sufficient illustration of this fact. For one who succeeds in this branch of drawing, there are twenty who succeed in landscapes; because, those who fail assure you, it is so much more difficult to draw faces and figures. This statement, however, is altogether unsupported by reason, since it requires just the same use of the eye and the hand, and just the same exercise of the mind, to draw one object as another; and provided only the object drawn is stationary, it is quite as easy to trace with accuracy the outline of a head, as of a tree, or a mountain.
There is, however, a wide difference in the result. By a slight deviation from the true outline of a mountain, no great injury to the general effect of a landscape is produced; while the same degree of deviation from the outline of a face, will sometimes entirely destroy, not only the likeness, but the beauty, of the whole. Even a branch of a tree, and sometimes a whole tree, may be omitted in a landscape; but if a nose, or an eye, were found wanting in the drawing of a face, it would be difficult to treat the performance with anything like gravity.
Thus, then, the vanity of the young students is more severely put to the test in delineations of the human form, than it can be in landscape drawing; and thus they are apt to say, they have no genius for heads or figures, because their love of excellence, though sufficient for the purposes of landscape drawing, is not strong enough to support them under the mortification of having produced a badly drawn face, or figure.
It is not the least amongst the advantages of drawing, that it induces a habit of perpetually aiming at ideal excellence; in other words, that it draws the mind away from considering the grosser qualities of matter, to the contemplation of beauty as an abstract idea; that it gives a definiteness to our notions of objects in general, and enables us to describe, with greater accuracy, the character and appearance of everything we see.
Nor ought we by any means to overlook the value of that which the pencil actually produces. Sketches of scenery, however defective as works of art, are amongst the precious memorials of which time, the great destroyer, is unable to deprive us. In them the traveller lives again, through all the joys and sorrows of his distant wanderings. He breathes again the atmosphere of that far world which his eye will never more behold. He treads again the mountain-path where his step was never weary. He sees the sunshine on the snowy peaks which rise no more to him. He hears again the shout of joyous exultation, when it bursts from hearts as young and buoyant as his own; and he remembers, at the same time, how it was with him in those by-gone days, when, for the moment, he was lifted up above the grovelling cares of every-day existence.
But, above all, the art which preserves to us the features of the loved and lost, ought to be cultivated as a means of natural and enduring gratification. It is curious to look back to the portrait of infancy, or even youth, when the same countenance is stamped with the deep traces of experience, when the venerable brow is ploughed with furrows, and the temples are shaded with scattered looks of silvery hair. It is interesting—deeply interesting, to behold the likeness of some distinguished character, with whose mind we have long been acquainted, through the medium of his works; but the beloved countenance, whose every line of beauty was mingled with our young affections, when this can be made to live before us, after death has done his fearful work, and the grave has claimed its own—we may well say, in the language of the poet, of that magic skill which has such power over the past, as to call up buried images, and clothe them again in beauty and in youth,
"Bless'd be the art that can immortalize,
Beyond these, however, there are uses in the art of drawing so well worthy the consideration of every young woman of enlightened mind, that we cannot too earnestly recommend this occupation to their attention, even although it should be at some sacrifice of that labyrinthine toil of endless worsted-work, with which, in the case of modern young ladies, both head and hand appear to be so perse- veringly employed. I freely grant the charm there is in weaving together the many tints of German wool, but what does this amusement do for the mind, except to keep it quiet, and not always that? Now, the substitute I would propose for this occupation, is equally pleasing in the variety of colours employed, and yet calculated to be highly beneficial in its influence upon the mind, by increasing its store of knowledge, and supplying a perpetual source of rational interest, even at times when the occupation itself cannot well be carried on.
My proposition, then, is this; that, in pursuing the study of botany, instead of the unattractive hortus siccus, which pleases no one but the scientific beholder, correct and natural drawings should be made of every specimen, just as it appears when growing, or when freshly gathered. Instead of the colourless, distorted, hot-pressed specimens which the botanist now displays, to the utter contempt of all uninitiated in his lore, we should then have beautiful and imperishable pictures of graceful, delicate, or curious plants, looking just as they did when the mountain-wind blew over them, or when the woodland stream crept in amongst their thousand stems, and kissed the drooping blossoms that hung upon its banks. We might then have them placed before us in all their natural loveliness, either the flower, the branch, or the entire plant, and sometimes, to render the picture more complete, the characteristic scenery by which it is usually surrounded.
But if in botany the practice of this art is so desirable, how much more so does it become in entomology, where the study can scarcely be carried on without a sacrifice of life most revolting to the female mind. What beautiful specimens might we not have of the curious caterpillar, with a branch of the tree on which it feeds; then the larva and its silken bed; and, lastly, the splendid butterfly, whose expanded wings no cruel touch could ruffle; all forming pictures of the most interesting and delightful character, and powerfully contrasted in the associations they would excite, with those regular rows of moths and beetles pricked on paper, which our juvenile collectors now exhibit.
It may be said, that even such specimens of insects could scarcely be obtained without some sacrifice of life or liberty; but we all know that when the eye and the hand are habituated to catch the likeness of any object, it is done with increasing facility each time the experiment is made, until a comparatively slight observation of the general appearance, position, and characteristic features of the living model, is sufficient for the artist in the completion of his likeness.
The same facility of delineation would assist our researches through the whole range of natural history. By such means we should not only be supplied with endless amusement, but might at the same time be adding to our store of useful knowledge. We should not only be making ourselves better acquainted with the poetry of nature, but with its reality too. For what is there either practical, or real, in the specimens of plants and insects as we generally find them. Real, they unquestionably are in one sense, as the mummy is a real man; but who would point to that pitiful vestige of mortality as exhibiting the real characteristics of a human being?
It seems to me a perfectly natural subject of repulsion, when the poet exclaims—
"Nor would I like to spread,
And few there are who would not prefer to such miserable memorials, as actually more real, a well-painted likeness of a departed friend, with the expression of countenance, the dress, the position, and the circumstances with which the memory of that friend was associated.
Drawing is, unfortunately, one of those accomplishments which are too frequently given up at the time of life when they might be most useful to others, when they might really be turned to good account, in that early expansion and developement of mind, which belong exclusively to woman in her maternal capacity; but as this view of the subject belongs more properly to a later stage of the present work, we will pass on to ask, In what degree of estimation poetry is, and ought to be held, by the daughters of England in the present day?
There have been eras in our history, when poetry assumed a more than reasonable sway over the female mind, when an acquaintance with the Muses was considered essential to a polished education, and when the very affectation of poetic feeling proved how high a value was attached to the reality. It would be useless now to speak of the absurdities into which the young and sensitive were often betrayed by this extreme of public taste. Such times are gone by, and the opposite extreme is now the tendency of popular feeling. It is not to be wondered at that this should be the case with men, because as a nation, our fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers are becoming more and more involved in the necessity of providing for mere animal existence. No wonder, then, that in our teeming cities, poetry should be compelled to hide her diminished head; or, that even, pursuing the man of business home to his suburban villa, she should leave him to his stuffed arm-chair, in the aims, of that heavy, after-dinner sleep, which so frequently succeeds to his short and busy day of unremitting struggle and excitement. Nor is this all. If poetry should seek the quiet fields, as in the days of their pastoral beauty, even from these her green and flowery haunts, she is scared away by the steaming torrent, the reeking chimney, and the fiery locomotive; while on the wide ocean, where her ancient realm was undisputed, her silvery trace upon the bosom of the deep waters is now ploughed up by vulgar paddles; and all the voiceless mystery of "viewless winds," which in the old time held the minds of expectant thousands under their command, is now become a thing of no account—a by-word, or a jest.
I speak not with childish or ignorant repining of these things. We are told by political enconomists that it is good they should be so, and I presume not to dispute the fact. Yet, surely if it be the business of man to give up the strength of his body, the energy of his mind, and the repose of his soul, for his country's prosperity or—his own; it is for woman, who labours under no such pressing necessity, to make a stand against the encroachments of this popular tendency, I had almost said—this national disease.What is poetry? is a question which has been asked a thousand times, and perhaps never clearly answered. I presume not to suppose my own definition more happy than others; but in a work already before the public, I have been at some pains to place this subject in a point of view at once clear and attractive. My idea of poetry as explained in this work, and it remains to be the same, is, that it is best understood by that chain of association which connects the intellects with the affections; so that whatever is so far removed from vulgarity, as to excite ideas of sublimity, beauty, or tenderness, may be said to be poetical; though the force of such ideas must depend upon the manner in which they are presented to the mind, as well as to the nature of the mind itself.
When the character of an individual is deeply imbued with poetic feeling, there is a corresponding disposition to look beyond the dull realities of common life, to the ideal relation of things, as they connect themselves with our passions and feelings, or with the previous impressions we have received of loveliness or grandeur, repose or excitement, harmony or beauty, in the universe around us. This disposition, it must be granted, has been, in some instances, a formidable obstacle to the even tenor of the wise man's walk on earth; but let us not, while solicitous to avoid the abuse of poetic feeling, rush into the opposite excess of neglecting this high and heaven-born principle altogether.
It is the taste of the present times to invest the material with an immeasurable extent of importance beyond the ideal. It is the tendency of modern education to instil into the youthful mind the necessity of knowing, rather than the advantage of feeling. And, to a certain extent, "knowledge is power;" but neither is knowledge all that we live for, nor power all that we enjoy. There are deep mysteries in the book of nature which all can feel, but none will ever understand, until the veil of mortality shall be withdrawn. There are stirrings in the heart of man which constitute the very essence of his being, and which power can neither satisfy nor subdue. Yet this mystery reveals more truly than the clearest proofs, or mightiest deductions of science, that a master-hand has been for ages, and is still at work, above, beneath, and around us; and this moving principle is for ever reminding us, that, in our nature, we inherit the germs of a future existence, over which time has no influence, and the grave no victory.
If, then, for man it be absolutely necessary that he should sacrifice the poetry of his nature for the realities of material and animal existence, for woman there is no excuse—for woman, whose whole life, from the cradle to the grave, is one of feeling, rather than of action; whose highest duty is so often to suffer, and be still; whose deepest enjoyments are all relative; who has nothing, and is nothing, of herself; whose experience, if unparticipated, is a total blank; yet, whose world of interest is wide as the realm of humanity, boundless as the ocean of life, and enduring as eternity! For woman, who, in her inexhaustible sympathies, can live only in the existence of another, and whose very smiles and tears are not exclusively her own—for woman to cast away the love of poetry, is to pervert from their natural course the sweetest and loveliest tendencies of a truly feminine mind, to destroy the brightest charm which can adorn her intellectual character, to blight the fairest rose in her wreath of youthful beauty.
A woman without poetry, is like a landscape without sunshine. We see every object as distinctly as when the sunshine is upon it; but the beauty of the whole is wanting—the atmospheric tints, the harmony of earth and sky, we look for in vain; and we feel that though the actual substance of hill and dale, of wood and water, are the same, the spirituality of the scene is gone.
A woman without poetry! The idea is a paradox; for what single subject has ever been found so fraught with poetical associations, as woman herself? "Woman, with her beauty, and grace, and gentleness, and fulness of feeling, and depth of affection, and her blushes of purity, and the tones and looks which only a mother's heart can inspire."
The little encouragement which poetry meets with in the present day, arises, I imagine, out of its supposed opposition to utility; and, certainly, if to eat and to drink, to dress as well or better than our neighbours, and to amass a fortune in the shortest possible space of time, be the highest aim of our existence, then the less we have to do with poetry the better. But may we not be mistaken in the ideas we habitually attach to the word utility? There is a utility of material, and another of immaterial things. There is a utility in calculating our bodily wants, and our resources, and in regulating our personal efforts in proportion to both; but there is a higher utility in sometimes setting the mind free, like a bird that has been caged, to spread its wings, and soar into the ethereal world. There is a higher utility in sometimes pausing to feel the power which is in the immortal spirit to search out the principle of beauty, whether it bursts upon us with the dawn of rosy morning, or walks at gorgeous noon across the hills and valleys, or lies at evening's dewy close, enshrined within a folded flower.
It is good, and therefore it must be useful, to see and to feel that the all-wise Creator has set the stamp of degradation only upon those things which perish in the using; but that all those which enlarge and elevate the soul, all which afford us the highest and purest enjoyment, from the loftiest range of sublimity, to the softest emotions of tenderness and love, are, and must be, immortal. Yes, the mountains may be overthrown, and the heavens themselves may melt away, but all the ideas with which they inspired us—their vastness and their grandeur, will remain. Every flower might fade from the garden of earth, but would beauty, as an essence, therefore cease to exist? Even love might fail us here. Alas! how often does it fail us at our utmost need! But the principle of love is the same; and there is no human heart so callous as not to respond to the language of the poet, when he says—
"They sin who tell us love can die
Its holy flame for ever burneth,
All these ideas are excited, and all these impressions are made upon the mind through the medium of poetry. By poetry, I do not mean that vain babbling in rhyme, which finds no echo, either in the understanding or the heart. By poetry, I mean that ethereal fire, which touched not the lips only, but the soul of Milton, when he sung of
"Man's first disobedience,"
and which has inspired all who ever walked the same enchanted ground, from the father of poetry himself, down to
"The simple bard, rough at the rustic plough."
Thousands have felt this principle of poetry within them, who yet have never learned to lisp in numbers; and perhaps they are the wisest of their class, for they have thus the full enjoyment which poetic feeling affords, without the disappointment which so frequently attends upon the efforts of those who venture to commit themselves in verse.
Men of business, whose hearts and minds are buried in their bales of goods, and who know no relaxation from the office or the counter, except what the daily newspaper affords, are apt to conclude that poetry does nothing for them; because it never keeps their accounts, prepares their dinner, nor takes charge of their domestic affairs. Now, though I should be the last person to recommend poetry as a substitute for household economy, or to put even the brightest emanations of genius in the place of domestic duty, I do not see why the two should not exist together; nor am I quite convinced that, although a vast proportion of mankind have lost their relish for poetry, it would not in reality be better for them to be convinced by their companions of the gentler sex, that poetry, so far from being incompatible with social or domestic comfort, is capable of being associated with every rational and lawful enjoyment.
Yes, it is better for every one to have their minds elevated, rather than degraded—raised up to a participation in thoughts and feelings in which angels might take a part, rather than chained down to the grovelling cares of mere corporeal existence; and never do we feel more happy, than when, in the performance of any necessary avocation, we look beyond the gross material on which we are employed to those relations of thought and feeling, that connect the act of duty which occupies our hands with some being we love, that teach us to realize, while thus engaged, the smile of gratitude which is to constitute our reward, or the real benefit that act will be the means of conferring, even when no gratitude is there.
What man of cultivated mind, who has ever tried the experiment, would choose to live with a woman, whose whole soul was absorbed in the strife, the tumult, the perpetual discord which constant occupation in the midst of material things so inevitably produces; rather than with one whose attention, equally alive to practical duties, had a world of deeper feeling in her "heart of hearts," with which no selfish, worldly, or vulgar thoughts could mingle?
It is not because we love poetry, that we must be always reading, quoting, or composing it. Far otherwise. For that bad taste, which would thus abuse and misapply so sacred a gift, is the very opposite of poetical. The love of poetry, or, in other words, the experience of deep poetic feeling, is rather a principle, which, while it inspires the love of beauty in general, forgets not the beauty of fitness and order; and therefore can never sanction that which is grotesque or out of place. It teaches us, that nothing which offends the feelings of others can be estimable or praiseworthy in ourselves; for it is only in reference to her association with others, that woman can be in herself poetical. She may even nil a book with poetry, and not be poetical in her own character; because she may at the same time be selfish, vain, and worldly-minded.
To have the mind so embued with poetic feeling that it shall operate as a charm upon herself and others, woman must be lifted out of self, she must see in everything material a relation, an essence, and an end, beyond its practical utility. She must regard the little envyings, bickerings, and disputes about common things, only as weeds in the pleasant garden of life, bearing no comparison in importance with the loveliness of its flowers. She must forget even her own personal attractions, in her deep sense of the beauty of the whole created universe, and she must lose the very voice of flattery to herself, in her own intense admiration of what is excellent in others.
This it is to be poetical; and I ask again, whether it is not good, in these practical and busy times, that the Daughters of England should make a fresh effort to retain that high-toned spirituality of character, which has ever been the proudest distinction of their sex, in order that they may possess that influence over the minds of men, which the intellectual and the refined alone are capable of maintaining?
Let them look for a moment at the condition of woman wherever this high tone of character has been wanting, where she has been identified merely with material things, and, as a necessary consequence, regarded as a soulless and degraded being, essential to society only in her ministration to the general good of man. But we close the scene ere it is fully unfolded. The Daughters of England must feel within themselves that a higher and a nobler destiny is theirs.