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Raised almost to divine honors, never mentioned but with affected rapture, the classics of Greece and Rome are seldom read, most of them never; are they, indeed, the closet companions of any man? Surely it is time that these follies were at an end; that our practice were made to square a little better with our professions; and that our pleasures were sincerely drawn from those sources in which we pretend that they lie.
The Greek language, mastered in any eminent degree, is the very rarest of all accomplishments, and precisely because it is unspeakably the most difficult. Let not the reader dupe himself by popular cant. To be an accomplished Grecian, demands a very peculiar quality of talent; and it is almost inevitable that one who is such should be vain of a distinction which represents so much labor and difficulty overcome. For myself, having, as a school-boy, attained to a very unusual mastery over this language, and (though as yet little familiar with the elaborate science of Greek metre) moving through all the obstacles and resistances of a Greek book with the same celerity and ease as through those of the French and Latin, I had, in vanquishing the difficulties of the language, lost the main stimulus to its cultivation. Still, I read Greek daily; but any slight vanity which I might connect with a power so rarely attained, and which, under ordinary circumstances, so readily transmutes itself into a disproportionate admiration of the author, in me was absolutely swallowed up in the tremendous hold taken of my entire sensibilities at this time by our own literature. With what fury would I often exclaim: He who
loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how shall he love God whom he hath not seen? You, Mr. A, L, M, O, you who care not for Milton, and value not the dark sublimities which rest ultimately (as we all feel) upon dread realities, how can you seriously thrill in sympathy with the spurious and fanciful sublimities of the classical poetry—with the nod of the Olympian Jove, or the seven-league strides of Neptune? Flying Childers had the most prodigious stride of any horse on record; and at Newmarket that is justly held to be a great merit; but it is hardly a qualification for a Pantheon. The parting of Hector and Andromache—that is tender, doubtless; but how many passages of far deeper, far diviner tenderness, are to be found in Chaucer! Yet in these cases we give our antagonist the benefit of an appeal to what is really best and most effective in the ancient literature. For, if we should go to Pindar, and some other great names, what a revelation of hypocrisy as respects the fade enthusiasts for the Greek poetry!
Still, in the Greek tragedy, however otherwise embittered against ancient literature by the dismal affectations current in the scenical poetry, at least I felt the presence of a great and original power. It might be a power inferior, upon the whole, to that which presides in the English tragedy; I believed that it was; but it was equally genuine, and appealed equally to real and deep sensibilities in our nature. Yet, also, I felt that the two powers at work in the two forms of the drama were essentially different; and without having read a line of German at that time, or knowing of any such controversy, I began
to meditate on the elementary grounds of difference between the Pagan and the Christian forms of poetry. The dispute has since been carried on extensively in France, not less than in Germany, as between the classical and the romantic. But I will venture to assert that not one step in advance has been made, up to this day. The shape into which I threw the question it may be well to state; because I am persuaded that out of that one idea, properly pursued, might be evolved the whole separate characteristics of the Christian and the antique: Why is it, I asked, that the Christian idea of sin is an idea utterly unknown to the Pagan mind? The Greeks and Romans had a clear conception of a moral ideal, as we have; but this they estimated by a reference to the will; and they called it virtue, and the antithesis they called vice. The acheté or relaxed energy of the will, by which it yielded to the seductions of sensual pleasure, that was vice; and the braced-up tone by which it resisted these seductions was virtue. But the idea of holiness, and the antithetic idea of sin, as a violation of this awful and unimaginable sanctity, was so utterly undeveloped in the Pagan mind, that no word exists in classical Greek or classical Latin which approaches either pole of this synthesis; neither the idea of holiness, nor of its correlate, sin, could be so expressed in Latin as at once to satisfy Cicero and a scientific Christian. Again (but this was some years after), I found Schiller and Goethe applauding the better taste of the ancients, in symbolizing the idea of death by a beautiful youth, with a torch inverted, &c., as compared with the Christian types of a skeleton and
hour-glasses, &c. And much surprised I was to hear Mr. Coleridge approving of this German sentiment. Yet, here again I felt the peculiar genius of Christianity was covertly at work moving upon a different road, and under opposite ideas, to a just result, in which the harsh and austere expression yet pointed to a dark reality, whilst the beautiful Greek adumbration was, in fact, a veil and a disguise. The corruptions and the other "dishonors" of the grave, and whatsoever composes the sting of death in the Christian view, is traced up to sin as its ultimate cause. Hence, besides the expression of Christian humility, in thus nakedly exhibiting the wrecks and ruins made by sin, there is also a latent profession indicated of Christian hope. For the Christian contemplates steadfastly, though with trembling awe, the lowest point of his descent; since, for him, that point, the last of his fall, is also the first of his reäscent, and serves, besides, as an exponent of its infinity; the infinite depth becoming, in the rebound, a measure of the infinite reäscent. Whereas, on the contrary, with the gloomy uncertainties of a Pagan on the question of his final restoration, and also (which must not be overlooked) with his utter perplexity as to the nature of his restoration, if any were by accident in reserve, whether in a condition tending downwards or upwards, it was the natural resource to consult the general feeling of anxiety and distrust, by throwing a thick curtain and a veil of beauty over the whole too painful subject. To place the horrors in high relief, could here have answered no purpose but that of wanton cruelty; whereas, with the Christian hopes, the very saddest
memorials of the havocs made by death are antagonist prefigurations of great victories in the rear.
These speculations, at that time, I pursued earnestly; and I then believed myself, as I yet do, to have ascertained the two great and opposite laws under which the Grecian and the English tragedy has each separately developed itself. Whether wrong or right in that belief, sure I am that those in Germany who have treated the case of classical and romantic are not entitled to credit for any discovery at all. The Schlegels, who were the hollowest of men, the windiest and wordiest (at least, Frederic was so), pointed to the distinction; barely indicated it; and that was already some service done, because a presumption arose that the antique and the modern literatures, having clearly some essential differences, might, perhaps, rest on foundations originally distinct, and obey different laws. And hence it occurred that many disputes, as about the unities, etc., might originate in a confusion of these laws. This checks the presumption of the shallow criticism, and points to deeper investigations. Beyond this, neither the German nor the French disputers on the subject have talked to any profitable purpose.
I have mentioned Paley as accidentally connected with my début in literary conversation; and I have taken occasion to say how much I admired his style and its unstudied graces, how profoundly I despised his philosophy. I shall here say a word or two more on that subject. As respects his style, though secretly despising the opinion avowed by my tutor (which was, however, a natural opinion for a stiff lover of the artificial and the pompous), I would just