Page images

that there ever existed either an Orpheus, a Linus, or a Musæus !--Do you, papa? --And if there did not, the Greeks had no right to consider themselves as the fathers of poetry and literature."

“ In the earlier ages of the world," said Mr. C., “all learning was oral and transmitted from father to son in tales and songs, systematic knowledge being as yet unknown. The first histories were poetical tales frequently adorned with metaphorical images and blended with fable, so that it does not appear surprising that many fictitious beings should have started into existence, and have been invested with poetical attributes : and, as the origin of those imaginary beings, Apollo, Orpheus, &c., became lost in remote antiquity, that they should be regarded by the multitude as real personages.

“ Do you understand this?"

“ Yes, papa, clearly. It is just as though we should believe that there really exists such a female as spring, because Mrs. Barbauld has designated it under the figure of a beautiful virgin. .“ But, perhaps, the Greeks had no real poets at all.” . “In that conjecture, my dear, you are quite mistaken. Orpheus, Linus, and Musæus, to whom, as I have already obseryed, they attributed the invention of poetry, were said to be antecedent to Homer-the true father of genuine poetry and taste--the universally admired poet of all ages and nations—who lived more than nine hundred years before the Christian era.

“I see by your inquiring look that you are going to ask if there ever was actually such a person as Homer, to which query I readily answer in the affirmative, for he, who has been deservedly styled the prince of poets, has left us palpable proofs of his existence in the Iliad and Odyssey, two epic poems which never have, and, perhaps, never can be equalled in the consummate knowledge they display of human nature, and in the union of sublimity, sweetness, and elegance, which constitutes the charm of their poetry.

“But even before the name of Homer was heard of, and in countries where it was never known, poetry existed. It is, therefore, quite an error to suppose it an art confined to polished nations only. It is true that from a variety of propitious circumstances it has been carried to greater perfection in some countries than in others, as is generally the case with those arts, the improvement of which depends upon cultivation and refinement. Instead of allowing

the Greeks, therefore, all the merit of · the invention, though they certainly

hold a higher place in my estimation than they seem to do in yours, in order to explore the origin of poetical composition we must, as Dr. Blair says, have recourse to the deserts and the wilds ; we must go back to the primitive ages, when society consisted chiefly of fishermen, hunters, and shepherds; and to the simplest form of manners among mankind.”

.“ And you think, papa, that the first historical records, which were transmitted from one generation to another by word of mouth, were not prose but poetical compositions. What reason have you for thinking so ?" .“ Because, as I have repeatedly observed, my dear, poetry is the language of nature, and also because poetry alone could attract the attention of a rude, uncivilized people. Cool reasoning and simple prose had no charms for savages addicted only to the pleasures of the chase and martial deeds. Had their chiefs and legislators attempted to hold forth their harangues in plain unornamented prose, they would have declaimed in vain ; in vain would they have endeavoured to instruct and animate their tribes. It was by the music of song alone — the language of enthusiasm that they could gain auditors that they could excite their people to perform great exploits in war, and invigorate them to enterprise ; by this alone that they celebrated the illustrious actions of their nations and their heroes, and that they expressed their joy on their victories or lamented the loss of their warriors slain in battle.

“There is another reason also, why poetical compositions only could be


« PreviousContinue »