Page images



[ocr errors][subsumed][merged small][merged small][merged small]



[ocr errors]




[ocr errors]

THE desire to penetrate to the origin of things would seem, from its universality, to be an instinctive feeling of the human mind. Hence the insatiable desire which prevailed, alike in ancient and in modern times, to penetrate the mystery which shrouded the fountains of the Nile.

Thus we would fain trace to its source the great river of humanity, which had its rise in “ the dark backward and abysm of time."

Futile, however, is our wish! An impenetrable veil shrouds the origin of man, and conceals from our gaze the progenitors of the human race.

Science, it is true, promises to gratify our curiosity; she invites us to gaze upon the primordial germ from which, in accordance with her theory, have sprung the various tribes of living things, culminating with the appearance of man upon the globe. Should this theory prove correct, our sense of the mysterious grandeur of the universe, and of the preordaining wisdom of the allpervading mind, would, in my judgment, be enhanced.

To this question, however, we need not at present address ourselves; history is concerned not with the origin, but with the progress of humanity—à process which, depending as it does upon man's observance of God's immutable laws, supreme in the domain of matter 12.


and of mind, is necessarily arrested or retarded alike by his ignorance of those laws, and by his wilful violation of them; human progress, nevertheless, notwithstanding periods of apparent retrogression, continues, as our poet tells us, from age to age, its onward march:

“Since time means amelioration, tardily enough displayed,

Yet a mainly onward moving, never wholly retrograde;” a truth confirmed by the words of a still greater poet:

“There's a Divinity that shapes our ends,

Rough hew them how we will;" a Divinity whose controlling and superintending power is slowly, but surely, guiding humanity to its destined goal,

“ To that far-off divine event,

Toward which the whole creation moves.' Profound interest attaches to the study of history when viewed as the record of man's progressive development; grand, however, as are her teachings, as she unrolls - the bloody chronicles of ages past,

" I cannot but regard the teachings of poetry, in this particular, as grander still; during bygone ages the attitude of nation towards nation has been almost invariably one of hostility ;-hence, in perusing the records of the past, we are introduced, for the most part, to national rivalries and antipathies, culminating too often in oppression and war. The darker aspects of national character, together with the utter disregard of morality displayed in international relations, being thus brought into prominent relief, it is not always easy, amid the tumult of conflicting interests, to trace the progress of humanity.

It has occurred to me that in wending our way through the tangled labyrinth of human affairs, we shall find a surer guide in Poetry, which, like a golden thread traversing the ages, bears witness to the continuity of culture, and binds together the present and the past.

Nor must it be forgotten that, when authentic history fails us, it is to poetry that we are indebted for revealing to us the progenitors of our race, in far-off times, laying the foundations of our modern civilization. Hence the supreme interest which attaches to the poetic literature of the ancient Egyptians; also to the epic and lyrical poetry contained in the Sacred Books of Babylonia, and to the Vedic Hymns, the earliest record of Aryan thought which has come down to us.

Still deeper is the interest awakened by the Homeric poems, in which the prehistoric Hellenes are brought vividly before us; nor must it be forgotten that the key to the Homeric mythology is to be found in the poetry of Babylonian and of Vedic bards.

Inhaling the atmosphere of their age, while breathing forth, in strains of impassioned music, their inmost thoughts and feelings, the immortal poets of our race have unconsciously reflected in their works the tendencies, moral and intellectual, of the period in which their lot was cast; in their ideal world we see transfigured the actual world by which they were surrounded, and, while themselves the heirs of the ages which preceded them, they have in turn bequeathed new elements of progress to their successors.

Accordingly, it will be my object to consider the great masters of song not only in relation to their special function as “God's prophets of the beautiful,” but also as revealing, from age to age, the successive stages reached by humanity on its onward march, together with its occasional periods of degradation and apparent retrogression.

Grand indeed has been the function of poetry, as one of the prime factors in promoting human progress, quickening the springs of faith and love,

cherishing in the human soul the love of the Good, the Beautiful, and the True; uplifting it to higher and holier aspirations by the creation of ideals transcending our ordinary experience, and keeping alive the sacred fire of enthusiasm, without which the spirit is apt to droop under the deadening influence of custom and routine.

"Nor must it be forgotten that when, by the strong

« PreviousContinue »