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´╗┐Title: A Defence of Poetry and Other Essays
Author: Shelley, Percy Bysshe, 1792-1822
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Defence of Poetry and Other Essays" ***


By Percy Bysshe Shelley



What is love? Ask him who lives, what is life? ask him who adores,
what is God?

I know not the internal constitution of other men, nor even thine,
whom I now address. I see that in some external attributes they
resemble me, but when, misled by that appearance, I have thought
to appeal to something in common, and unburthen my inmost soul to
them, I have found my language misunderstood, like one in a distant
and savage land. The more opportunities they have afforded me for
experience, the wider has appeared the interval between us, and
to a greater distance have the points of sympathy been withdrawn.
With a spirit ill fitted to sustain such proof, trembling and feeble
through its tenderness, I have everywhere sought sympathy and have
found only repulse and disappointment.

Thou demandest what is love? It is that powerful attraction towards
all that we conceive, or fear, or hope beyond ourselves, when we
find within our own thoughts the chasm of an insufficient void,
and seek to awaken in all things that are, a community with what we
experience within ourselves. If we reason, we would be understood;
if we imagine, we would that the airy children of our brain were
born anew within another's; if we feel, we would that another's
nerves should vibrate to our own, that the beams of their eyes
should kindle at once and mix and melt into our own, that lips of
motionless ice should not reply to lips quivering and burning with
the heart's best blood. This is Love. This is the bond and the
sanction which connects not only man with man, but with everything
which exists. We are born into the world, and there is something
within us which, from the instant that we live, more and more
thirsts after its likeness. It is probably in correspondence with
this law that the infant drains milk from the bosom of its mother;
this propensity develops itself with the development of our nature.
We dimly see within our intellectual nature a miniature as it were
of our entire self, yet deprived of all that we condemn or despise,
the ideal prototype of everything excellent or lovely that we are
capable of conceiving as belonging to the nature of man. Not only
the portrait of our external being, but an assemblage of the minutest
particles of which our nature is composed;[Footnote: These words
are ineffectual and metaphorical. Most words are so--No help!] a
mirror whose surface reflects only the forms of purity and brightness;
a soul within our soul that describes a circle around its proper
paradise, which pain, and sorrow, and evil dare not overleap. To
this we eagerly refer all sensations, thirsting that they should
resemble or correspond with it. The discovery of its antitype; the
meeting with an understanding capable of clearly estimating our own;
an imagination which should enter into and seize upon the subtle
and delicate peculiarities which we have delighted to cherish and
unfold in secret; with a frame whose nerves, like the chords of
two exquisite lyres, strung to the accompaniment of one delightful
voice, vibrate with the vibrations of our own; and of a combination
of all these in such proportion as the type within demands; this
is the invisible and unattainable point to which Love tends; and
to attain which, it urges forth the powers of man to arrest the
faintest shadow of that, without the possession of which there
is no rest nor respite to the heart over which it rules. Hence in
solitude, or in that deserted state when we are surrounded by human
beings, and yet they sympathize not with us, we love the flowers,
the grass, and the waters, and the sky. In the motion of the very
leaves of spring, in the blue air, there is then found a secret
correspondence with our heart. There is eloquence in the tongueless
wind, and a melody in the flowing brooks and the rustling of the
reeds beside them, which by their inconceivable relation to something
within the soul, awaken the spirits to a dance of breathless
rapture, and bring tears of mysterious tenderness to the eyes, like
the enthusiasm of patriotic success, or the voice of one beloved
singing to you alone. Sterne says that, if he were in a desert,
he would love some cypress. So soon as this want or power is dead,
man becomes the living sepulchre of himself, and what yet survives
is the mere husk of what once he was.

[1815; publ. 1840]


Life and the world, or whatever we call that which we are and feel,
is an astonishing thing. The mist of familiarity obscures from us
the wonder of our being. We are struck with admiration at some of
its transient modifications, but it is itself the great miracle.
What are changes of empires, the wreck of dynasties, with the
opinions which supported them; what is the birth and the extinction
of religious and of political systems to life? What are the revolutions
of the globe which we inhabit, and the operations of the elements
of which it is composed, compared with life? What is the universe
of stars, and suns, of which this inhabited earth is one, and their
motions, and their destiny, compared with life? Life, the great
miracle, we admire not, because it is so miraculous. It is well
that we are thus shielded by the familiarity of what is at once
so certain and so unfathomable, from an astonishment which would
otherwise absorb and overawe the functions of that which is its

If any artist, I do not say had executed, but had merely conceived
in his mind the system of the sun, and the stars, and planets, they
not existing, and had painted to us in words, or upon canvas, the
spectacle now afforded by the nightly cope of heaven, and illustrated it
by the wisdom of astronomy, great would be our admiration. Or had
he imagined the scenery of this earth, the mountains, the seas,
and the rivers; the grass, and the flowers, and the variety of
the forms and masses of the leaves of the woods, and the colours
which attend the setting and the rising sun, and the hues of the
atmosphere, turbid or serene, these things not before existing,
truly we should have been astonished, and it would not have been a
vain boast to have said of such a man, 'Non merita nome di creatore,
se non Iddio ed il Poeta.' But now these things are looked on with
little wonder, and to be conscious of them with intense delight is
esteemed to be the distinguishing mark of a refined and extraordinary
person. The multitude of men care not for them. It is thus with
Life--that which includes all.

What is life? Thoughts and feelings arise, with or without our will,
and we employ words to express them. We are born, and our birth is
unremembered, and our infancy remembered but in fragments; we live
on, and in living we lose the apprehension of life. How vain is it
to think that words can penetrate the mystery of our being! Rightly
used they may make evident our ignorance to ourselves, and this is
much. For what are we? Whence do we come? and whither do we go? Is
birth the commencement, is death the conclusion of our being? What
is birth and death?

The most refined abstractions of logic conduct to a view of life,
which, though startling to the apprehension, is, in fact, that which
the habitual sense of its repeated combinations has extinguished
in us. It strips, as it were, the painted curtain from this scene
of things. I confess that I am one of those who are unable to refuse
my assent to the conclusions of those philosophers who assert that
nothing exists but as it is perceived.

It is a decision against which all our persuasions struggle, and we
must be long convicted before we can be convinced that the solid
universe of external things is 'such stuff as dreams are made
of.' The shocking absurdities of the popular philosophy of mind
and matter, its fatal consequences in morals, and their violent
dogmatism concerning the source of all things, had early conducted
me to materialism. This materialism is a seducing system to young and
superficial minds. It allows its disciples to talk, and dispenses
them from thinking. But I was discontented with such a view of
things as it afforded; man is a being of high aspirations, 'looking
both before and after,' whose 'thoughts wander through eternity,'
disclaiming alliance with transience and decay; incapable of
imagining to himself annihilation; existing but in the future and
the past; being, not what he is, but what he has been and shall be.
Whatever may be his true and final destination, there is a spirit
within him at enmity with nothingness and dissolution. This is the
character of all life and being. Each is at once the centre and
the circumference; the point to which all things are referred, and
the line in which all things are contained. Such contemplations as
these, materialism and the popular philosophy of mind and matter
alike forbid; they are only consistent with the intellectual system.

It is absurd to enter into a long recapitulation of arguments
sufficiently familiar to those inquiring minds, whom alone a writer
on abstruse subjects can be conceived to address. Perhaps the most
clear and vigorous statement of the intellectual system is to be
found in Sir William Drummond's Academical Questions.

After such an exposition, it would be idle to translate into other
words what could only lose its energy and fitness by the change.
Examined point by point, and word by word, the most discriminating
intellects have been able to discern no train of thoughts in the
process of reasoning, which does not conduct inevitably to the
conclusion which has been stated.

What follows from the admission? It establishes no new truth, it
gives us no additional insight into our hidden nature, neither its
action nor itself. Philosophy, impatient as it may be to build,
has much work yet remaining, as pioneer for the overgrowth of ages.
It makes one step towards this object; it destroys error, and the
roots of error. It leaves, what it is too often the duty of the
reformer in political and ethical questions to leave, a vacancy.
It reduces the mind to that freedom in which it would have acted,
but for the misuse of words and signs, the instruments of its own
creation. By signs, I would be understood in a wide sense, including
what is properly meant by that term, and what I peculiarly mean. In
this latter sense, almost all familiar objects are signs, standing,
not for themselves, but for others, in their capacity of suggesting
one thought which shall lead to a train of thoughts. Our whole life
is thus an education of error.

Let us recollect our sensations as children. What a distinct and
intense apprehension had we of the world and of ourselves! Many of
the circumstances of social life were then important to us which
are now no longer so. But that is not the point of comparison on
which I mean to insist. We less habitually distinguished all that
we saw and felt, from ourselves. They seemed as it were to constitute
one mass. There are some persons who, in this respect, are always
children. Those who are subject to the state called reverie, feel
as if their nature were dissolved into the surrounding universe,
or as if the surrounding universe were absorbed into their being.
They are conscious of no distinction. And these are states which
precede, or accompany, or follow an unusually intense and vivid
apprehension of life. As men grow up this power commonly decays,
and they become mechanical and habitual agents. Thus feelings and
then reasonings are the combined result of a multitude of entangled
thoughts, and of a series of what are called impressions, planted
by reiteration.

The view of life presented by the most refined deductions of the
intellectual philosophy, is that of unity. Nothing exists but as
it is perceived. The difference is merely nominal between those two
classes of thought, which are vulgarly distinguished by the names
of ideas and of external objects. Pursuing the same thread of
reasoning, the existence of distinct individual minds, similar to
that which is employed in now questioning its own nature, is likewise
found to be a delusion. The words _I_, YOU, THEY, are not signs of
any actual difference subsisting between the assemblage of thoughts
thus indicated, but are merely marks employed to denote the different
modifications of the one mind.

Let it not be supposed that this doctrine conducts to the monstrous
presumption that I, the person who now write and think, am that one
mind. I am but a portion of it. The words _I_, and YOU, and THEY,
are grammatical devices invented simply for arrangement, and totally
devoid of the intense and exclusive sense usually attached to
them. It is difficult to find terms adequate to express so subtle
a conception as that to which the Intellectual Philosophy has
conducted us. We are on that verge where words abandon us, and what
wonder if we grow dizzy to look down the dark abyss of how little
we know. The relations of THINGS remain unchanged, by whatever system.
By the word THINGS is to be understood any object of thought, that
is any thought upon which any other thought is employed, with an
apprehension of distinction.

The relations of these remain unchanged; and such is the material
of our knowledge. What is the cause of life? that is, how was it
produced, or what agencies distinct from life have acted or act
upon life? All recorded generations of mankind have weariedly busied
themselves in inventing answers to this question; and the result
has been,--Religion. Yet, that the basis of all things cannot be,
as the popular philosophy alleges, mind, is sufficiently evident.
Mind, as far as we have any experience of its properties, and beyond
that experience how vain is argument! cannot create, it can only
perceive. It is said also to be the cause. But cause is only a
word expressing a certain state of the human mind with regard to
the manner in which two thoughts are apprehended to be related to
each other. If any one desires to know how unsatisfactorily the
popular philosophy employs itself upon this great question, they
need only impartially reflect upon the manner in which thoughts
develop themselves in their minds. It is infinitely improbable that
the cause of mind, that is, of existence, is similar to mind.

[1815; publ. 1840]


It has been the persuasion of an immense majority of human beings
in all ages and nations that we continue to live after death,--that
apparent termination of all the functions of sensitive and intellectual
existence. Nor has mankind been contented with supposing that
species of existence which some philosophers have asserted; namely,
the resolution of the component parts of the mechanism of a living
being into its elements, and the impossibility of the minutest
particle of these sustaining the smallest diminution. They have
clung to the idea that sensibility and thought, which they have
distinguished from the objects of it, under the several names
of spirit and matter, is, in its own nature, less susceptible of
division and decay, and that, when the body is resolved into its
elements, the principle which animated it will remain perpetual
and unchanged.  Some philosophers-and those to whom we are indebted
for the most stupendous discoveries in physical science, suppose,
on the other hand, that intelligence is the mere result of certain
combinations among the particles of its objects; and those among
them who believe that we live after death, recur to the interposition
of a supernatural power, which shall overcome the tendency inherent
in all material combinations, to dissipate and be absorbed into
other forms.

Let us trace the reasonings which in one and the other have conducted
to these two opinions, and endeavour to discover what we ought to
think on a question of such momentous interest. Let us analyse the
ideas and feelings which constitute the contending beliefs, and
watchfully establish a discrimination between words and thoughts.
Let us bring the question to the test of experience and fact; and
ask ourselves, considering our nature in its entire extent, what
light we derive from a sustained and comprehensive view of its
component parts, which may enable, us to assert, with certainty,
that we do or do not live after death.

The examination of this subject requires that it should be stript
of all those accessory topics which adhere to it in the common opinion
of men. The existence of a God, and a future state of rewards and
punishments, are totally foreign to the subject. If it be proved
that the world is ruled by a Divine Power, no inference necessarily
can be drawn from that circumstance in favour of a future state.
It has been asserted, indeed, that as goodness and justice are to
be numbered among the attributes of the Deity, He will undoubtedly
compensate the virtuous who suffer during life, and that He will
make every sensitive being who does not deserve punishment, happy
for ever. But this view of the subject, which it would be tedious
as well as superfluous to develop and expose, satisfies no person,
and cuts the knot which we now seek to untie. Moreover, should it
be proved, on the other hand, that the mysterious principle which
regulates the proceedings of the universe, is neither intelligent
nor sensitive, yet it is not an inconsistency to suppose at the
same time, that the animating power survives the body which it
has animated, by laws as independent of any supernatural agent as
those through which it first became united with it. Nor, if a future
state be clearly proved, does it follow that it will be a state of
punishment or reward.

By the word death, we express that condition in which natures
resembling ourselves apparently cease to be that which they were.
We no longer hear them speak, nor see them move. If they have
sensations and apprehensions, we no longer participate in them.
We know no more than that those external organs, and all that fine
texture of material frame, without which we have no experience that
life or thought can subsist, are dissolved and scattered abroad.
The body is placed under the earth, and after a certain period there
remains no vestige even of its form. This is that contemplation
of inexhaustible melancholy, whose shadow eclipses the brightness
of the world. The common observer is struck with dejection at the
spectacle. He contends in vain against the persuasion of the grave,
that the dead indeed cease to be. The corpse at his feet is prophetic
of his own destiny. Those who have preceded him, and whose voice
was delightful to his ear; whose touch met his like sweet and subtle
fire; whose aspect spread a visionary light upon his path--these
he cannot meet again. The organs of sense are destroyed, and the
intellectual operations dependent on them have perished with their
sources. How can a corpse see or feel? its eyes are eaten out, and
its heart is black and without motion. What intercourse can two
heaps of putrid clay and crumbling bones hold together? When you
can discover where the fresh colours of the faded flower abide,
or the music of the broken lyre, seek life among the dead. Such
are the anxious and fearful contemplations of the common observer,
though the popular religion often prevents him from confessing them
even to himself.

The natural philosopher, in addition to the sensations common
to all men inspired by the event of death, believes that he sees
with more certainty that it is attended with the annihilation of
sentiment and thought. He observes the mental powers increase and
fade with those of the body, and even accommodate themselves to
the most transitory changes of our physical nature. Sleep suspends
many of the faculties of the vital and intellectual principle;
drunkenness and disease will either temporarily or permanently
derange them. Madness or idiotcy may utterly extinguish the most
excellent and delicate of those powers. In old age the mind gradually
withers; and as it grew and was strengthened with the body, so does
it together with the body sink into decrepitude. Assuredly these
are convincing evidences that so soon as the organs of the body
are subjected to the laws of inanimate matter, sensation, and
perception, and apprehension, are at an end.  It is probable that
what we call thought is not an actual being, but no more than the
relation between certain parts of that infinitely varied mass,
of which the rest of the universe is composed, and which ceases
to exist so soon as those parts change their position with regard
to each other. Thus colour, and sound, and taste, and odour exist
only relatively. But let thought be considered as some peculiar
substance, which permeates, and is the cause of, the animation of
living beings. Why should that substance be assumed to be something
essentially distinct from all others, and exempt from subjection
to those laws from which no other substance is exempt? It differs,
indeed, from all other substances, as electricity, and light, and
magnetism, and the constituent parts of air and earth, severally
differ from all others. Each of these is subject to change and
to decay, and to conversion into other forms. Yet the difference
between light and earth is scarcely greater than that which exists
between life, or thought, and fire. The difference between the two
former was never alleged as an argument for the eternal permanence
of either, in that form under which they first might offer themselves
to our notice. Why should the difference between the two latter
substances be an argument for the prolongation of the existence
of one and not the other, when the existence of both has arrived
at their apparent termination? To say that fire exists without
manifesting any of the properties of fire, such as light, heat,
etc., or that the principle of life exists without consciousness,
or memory, or desire, or motive, is to resign, by an awkward
distortion of language, the affirmative of the dispute. To say
that the principle of life MAY exist in distribution among various
forms, is to assert what cannot be proved to be either true or
false, but which, were it true, annihilates all hope of existence
after death, in any sense in which that event can belong to the
hopes and fears of men. Suppose, however, that the intellectual
and vital principle differs in the most marked and essential manner
from all other known substances; that they have all some resemblance
between themselves which it in no degree participates.  In what manner
can this concession be made an argument for its imperishability?
All that we see or know perishes and is changed.  Life and thought
differ indeed from everything else. But that it survives that
period, beyond which we have no experience of its existence, such
distinction and dissimilarity affords no shadow of proof, and nothing
but our own desires could have led us to conjecture or imagine.
Have we existed before birth? It is difficult to conceive the
possibility of this. There is, in the generative principle of each
animal and plant, a power which converts the substances by which
it is surrounded into a substance homogeneous with itself. That
is, the relations between certain elementary particles of matter
undergo a change, and submit to new combinations. For when we use
the words PRINCIPLE, POWER, CAUSE, we mean to express no real being,
but only to class under those terms a certain series of co-existing
phenomena; but let it be supposed that this principle is a certain
substance which escapes the observation of the chemist and anatomist.
It certainly MAY BE; though it is sufficiently unphilosophical
to allege the possibility of an opinion as a proof of its truth.
Does it see, hear, feel, before its combination with those organs
on which sensation depends? Does it reason, imagine, apprehend,
without those ideas which sensation alone can communicate? If we
have not existed before birth; if, at the period when the parts
of our nature on which thought and life depend, seem to be woven
together; if there are no reasons to suppose that we have existed
before that period at which our existence apparently commences,
then there are no grounds for supposition that we shall continue
to exist after our existence has apparently ceased.  So far as
thought is concerned, the same will take place with regard to use,
individually considered, after death, as had place before our birth.

It is said that it, is possible that we should continue to exist
in some mode totally inconceivable to us at present. This is a most
unreasonable presumption. It casts on the adherents of annihilation
the burthen of proving the negative of a question, the affirmative
of which is not supported by a single argument, and which, by its
very nature, lies beyond the experience of the human understanding.
It is sufficiently easy, indeed, to form any proposition, concerning
which we are ignorant, just not so absurd as not to be contradictory
in itself, and defy refutation. The possibility of whatever enters
into the wildest imagination to conceive is thus triumphantly
vindicated. But it is enough that such assertions should be either
contradictory to the known laws of nature, or exceed the limits of our
experience, that their fallacy or irrelevancy to our consideration
should be demonstrated. They persuade, indeed, only those who
desire to be persuaded. This desire to be for ever as we are; the
reluctance to a violent and unexperienced change, which is common
to all the animated and inanimate combinations of the universe, is,
indeed, the secret persuasion which has given birth to the opinions
of a future state.

[1815; publ. 1840]



The first law which it becomes a Reformer to propose and support,
at the approach of a period of great political change, is the
abolition of the punishment of death.

It is sufficiently clear that revenge, retaliation, atonement,
expiation, are rules and motives, so far from deserving a place in
any enlightened system of political life, that they are the chief
sources of a prodigious class of miseries in the domestic circles
of society. It is clear that however the spirit of legislation may
appear to frame institutions upon more philosophical maxims, it
has hitherto, in those cases which are termed criminal, done little
more than palliate the spirit, by gratifying a portion of it; and
afforded a compromise between that which is bests--the inflicting
of no evil upon a sensitive being, without a decisively beneficial
result in which he should at least participates--and that which is
worst; that he should be put to torture for the amusement of those
whom he may have injured, or may seem to have injured.

Omitting these remoter considerations, let us inquire what, DEATH
is; that punishment which is applied as a measure of transgressions
of indefinite shades of distinction, so soon as they shall have
passed that degree and colour of enormity, with which it is supposed
no, inferior infliction is commensurate.

And first, whether death is good or evil, a punishment or a reward,
or whether it be wholly indifferent, no man can take upon himself
to assert. That that within us which thinks and feels, continues
to think and feel after the dissolution of the body, has been the
almost universal opinion of mankind, and the accurate philosophy
of what I may be permitted to term the modern Academy, by showing
the prodigious depth and extent of our ignorance respecting the
causes and nature of sensation, renders probable the affirmative
of a proposition, the negative of which it is so difficult to
conceive, and the popular arguments against which, derived from
what is called the atomic system, are proved to be applicable only
to the relation which one object bears to another, as apprehended
by the mind, and not to existence itself, or the nature of that
essence which is the medium and receptacle of objects.

The popular system of religion suggests the idea that the mind,
after death, will be painfully or pleasurably affected according to
its determinations during life. However ridiculous and pernicious
we must admit the vulgar accessories of this creed to be, there
is a certain analogy, not wholly absurd, between the consequences
resulting to an individual during life from the virtuous or vicious,
prudent or imprudent, conduct of his external actions, to those
consequences which are conjectured to ensue from the discipline
and order of his internal thoughts, as affecting his condition in
a future state. They omit, indeed, to calculate upon the accidents
of disease, and temperament, and organization, and circumstance,
together with the multitude of independent agencies which affect
the opinions, the conduct, and the happiness of individuals, and
produce determinations of the will, and modify the judgement, so
as to produce effects the most opposite in natures considerably
similar. These are those operations in the order of the whole of
nature, tending, we are prone to believe, to some definite mighty
end, to which the agencies of our peculiar nature are subordinate;
nor is there any reason to suppose, that in a future state they should
become suddenly exempt from that subordination.  The philosopher is
unable to determine whether our existence in a previous state has
affected our present condition, and abstains from deciding whether
our present condition will affect us in that which may be future.
That, if we continue to exist, the manner of our existence will be
such as no inferences nor conjectures, afforded by a consideration
of our earthly experience, can elucidate, is sufficiently obvious.
The opinion that the vital principle within us, in whatever mode
it may continue to exist, must lose that consciousness of definite
and individual being which now characterizes it, and become a unit
in the vast sum of action and of thought which disposes and animates
the universe, and is called God, seems to belong to that class of
opinion which has been designated as indifferent.

To compel a person to know all that can be known by the dead
concerning that which the living fear, hope, or forget; to plunge
him into the pleasure or pain which there awaits him; to punish or
reward him in a manner and in a degree incalculable and incomprehensible
by us; to disrobe him at once from all that intertexture of good
and evil with which Nature seems to have clothed every form of
individual existence, is to inflict on him the doom of death.

A certain degree of pain and terror usually accompany the infliction
of death. This degree is infinitely varied by the infinite variety
in the temperament and opinions of the sufferers.  As a measure of
punishment, strictly so considered, and as an exhibition, which, by
its known effects on the sensibility of the sufferer, is intended
to intimidate the spectators from incurring a similar liability,
it is singularly inadequate.

Firstly, Persons of energetic character, in whom, as in men who
suffer for political crimes, there is a large mixture of enterprise,
and fortitude, and disinterestedness, and the elements, though
misguided and disarranged, by which the strength and happiness of a
nation might have been cemented, die in such a manner, as to make
death appear not evil, but good. The death of what is called a
traitor, that is, a person who, from whatever motive, would abolish
the government of the day, is as often a triumphant exhibition
of suffering virtue, as the warning of a culprit. The multitude,
instead of departing with a panic-stricken approbation of the laws
which exhibited such a spectacle, are inspired with pity, admiration
and sympathy; and the most generous among them feel an emulation
to be the authors of such flattering emotions, as they experience
stirring in their bosoms.  Impressed by what they see and feel,
they make no distinctive between the motives which incited the
criminals to the action for which they suffer, or the heroic courage
with which they turned into good that which their judges awarded
to them as evil or the purpose itself of those actions, though that
purpose may happen to be eminently pernicious. The laws in this
case lose their sympathy, which it ought to be their chief object
to secure, and in a participation of which consists their chief
strength in maintaining those sanctions by which the parts of the
social union are bound together, so as to produce, as nearly as
possible, the ends for which it is instituted.

Secondly,--Persons of energetic character, in communities not
modelled with philosophical skill to turn all the energies which
they contain to the purposes of common good, are prone also to fall
into the temptation of undertaking, and are peculiarly fitted for
despising the perils attendant upon consummating, the most enormous
crimes. Murder, rapes, extensive schemes of plunder are the actions
of persons belonging to this class; and death is the penalty of
conviction. But the coarseness of organization, peculiar to men
capable of committing acts wholly selfish, is usually found to
be associated with a proportionate insensibility to fear or pain.
Their sufferings communicate to those of the spectators, who may be
liable to the commission of similar crimes a sense of the lightness
of that event, when closely examined which, at a distance, as
uneducated persons are accustomed to do, probably they regarded with
horror. But a great majority of the spectators are so bound up in
the interests and the habits of social union that no temptation
would be sufficiently strong to induce them to a commission of the
enormities to which this penalty is assigned. The more powerful, and
the richer among them,--and a numerous class of little tradesmen are
richer and more powerful than those who are employed by them, and
the employer, in general, bears this relation to the employed,--regard
their own wrongs as, in some degree, avenged, and their own rights
secured by this punishment, inflicted as the penalty of whatever
crime. In cases of murder or mutilation, this feeling is almost
universal. In those, therefore, whom this exhibition does not
awaken to the sympathy which extenuates crime and discredits the
law which restrains it, it produces feelings more directly at war
with the genuine purposes of political society.  It excites those
emotions which it is the chief object of civilization to extinguish
for ever, and in the extinction of which alone there can be any
hope of better institutions than those under which men now misgovern
one another. Men feel that their revenge is gratified, and that
their security is established by the extinction and the sufferings
of beings, in most respects resembling themselves; and their daily
occupations constraining them to a precise form in all their thoughts,
they come to connect inseparably the idea of their own advantage
with that of the death and torture of others. It is manifest that
the object of sane polity is directly the reverse; and that laws
founded upon reason, should accustom the gross vulgar to associate
their ideas of security and of interest with the reformation, and
the strict restraint, for that purpose alone, of those who might
invade it.

The passion of revenge is originally nothing more than an habitual
perception of the ideas of the sufferings of the person who inflicts
an injury, as connected, as they are in a savage state, or in such
portions of society as are yet undisciplined to civilization, with
security that that injury will not be repeated in future. This
feeling, engrafted upon superstition and confirmed by habit, at
last loses sight of the only object for which it may be supposed
to have been implanted, and becomes a passion and a duty to be
pursued and fulfilled, even to the destruction of those ends to
which it originally tended. The other passions, both good and evil.
Avarice, Remorse, Love, Patriotism, present a similar appearance;
and to this principle of the mind over-shooting the mark at which
it aims, we owe all that is eminently base or excellent in human
nature; in providing for the nutriment or the extinction of which,
consists the true art of the legislator. [Footnote: The savage and
the illiterate are but faintly aware of the distinction between
the future and the past; they make actions belonging to periods so
distinct, the subjects of similar feelings; they live only in the
present, or in the past, as it is present. It is in this that the
philosopher excels one of the many; it is this which distinguishes
the doctrine of philosophic necessity from fatalism; and that
determination of the will, by which it is the active source of future
events, from that liberty or indifference, to which the abstract
liability of irremediable actions is attached, according to the
notions of the vulgar.

This is the source of the erroneous excesses of Remorse and Revenge;
the one extending itself over the future, and the other over the
past; provinces in which their suggestions can only be the sources
of evil. The purpose of a resolution to act more wisely and virtuously
in future, and the sense of a necessity of caution in repressing
an enemy, are the sources from which the enormous superstitions
implied in the words cited have arisen.]

Nothing is more clear than that the infliction of punishment in
general, in a degree which the reformation and the restraint of
those who transgress the laws does not render indispensable, and
none more than death, confirms all the inhuman and unsocial impulses
of men. It is almost a proverbial remark, that those nations in which
the penal code has been particularly mild, have been distinguished
from all others by the rarity of crime.  But the example is to be
admitted to be equivocal. A more decisive argument is afforded by
a consideration of the universal connexion of ferocity of manners,
and a contempt of social ties, with the contempt of human life.
Governments which derive their institutions from the existence of
circumstances of barbarism and violence, with some rare exceptions
perhaps, are bloody in proportion as they are despotic, and form
the manners of their subjects to a sympathy with their own spirit.

The spectators who feel no abhorrence at a public execution, but
rather a self-applauding superiority, and a sense of gratified
indignation, are surely excited to the most inauspicious emotions. The
first reflection of such a one is the sense of his own internal and
actual worth, as preferable to that of the victim, whom circumstances
have led to destruction. The meanest wretch is impressed with a
sense of his own comparative merit. He is one of those on whom the
tower of Siloam fell not--he is such a one as Jesus Christ found
not in all Samaria, who, in his own soul, throws the first stone at
the woman taken in adultery.  The popular religion of the country
takes its designation from that illustrious person whose beautiful
sentiment I have quoted.  Any one who has stript from the doctrines
of this person the veil of familiarity, will perceive how adverse
their spirit is to feelings of this nature.



It is an axiom in mental philosophy, that we can think of nothing
which we have not perceived. When I say that we can think of nothing,
I mean, we can imagine nothing, we can reason of nothing, we can
remember nothing, we can foresee nothing.  The most astonishing
combinations of poetry, the subtlest deductions of logic and
mathematics, are no other than combinations which the intellect
makes of sensations according to its own laws.  A catalogue of all
the thoughts of the mind, and of all their possible modifications,
is a cyclopedic history of the universe.

But, it will be objected, the inhabitants of the various planets of
this and other solar systems; and the existence of a Power bearing
the same relation to all that we perceive and are, as what we
call a cause does to what we call effect, were never subjects of
sensation, and yet the laws of mind almost universally suggest,
according to the various disposition of each, a conjecture,
a persuasion, or a conviction of their existence. The reply is
simple; these thoughts are also to be included in the catalogue
of existence; they are modes in which thoughts are combined; the
objection only adds force to the conclusion, that beyond the limits
of perception and thought nothing can exist.

Thoughts, or ideas, or notions, call them what you will, differ
from each other, not in kind, but in force. It has commonly been
supposed that those distinct thoughts which affect a number of
persons, at regular intervals, during the passage of a multitude
of other thoughts, which are called REAL or EXTERNAL OBJECTS,
are totally different in kind from those which affect only a few
persons, and which recur at irregular intervals, and are usually
more obscure and indistinct, such as hallucinations, dreams, and the
ideas of madness. No essential distinction between any one of these
ideas, or any class of them, is founded on a correct observation of
the nature of things, but merely on a consideration of what thoughts
are most invariably subservient to the security and happiness of
life; and if nothing more were expressed by the distinction, the
philosopher might safely accommodate his language to that of the
vulgar. But they pretend to assert an essential difference, which
has no foundation in truth, and which suggests a narrow and false
conception of universal nature, the parent of the most fatal errors
in speculation. A specific difference between every thought of the
mind, is, indeed, a necessary consequence of that law by which it
perceives diversity and number; but a generic and essential difference
is wholly arbitrary. The principle of the agreement and similarity
of all thoughts, is, that they are all thoughts; the principle
of their disagreement consists in the variety and irregularity of
the occasions on which they arise in the mind. That in which they
agree, to that in which they differ, is as everything to nothing.
Important distinctions, of various degrees of force, indeed, are to
be established between them, if they were, as they may be, subjects
of ethical and economical discussion; but that is a question
altogether distinct. By considering all knowledge as bounded by
perception, whose operations may be indefinitely combined, we arrive
at a conception of Nature inexpressibly more magnificent, simple
and true, than accords with the ordinary systems of complicated and
partial consideration. Nor does a contemplation of the universe,
in this comprehensive and synthetical view, exclude the subtlest
analysis of its modifications and parts.

A scale might be formed, graduated according to the degrees
of a combined ratio of intensity, duration, connexion, periods of
recurrence, and utility, which would be the standard, according to
which all ideas might be measured, and an uninterrupted chain of
nicely shadowed distinctions would be observed, from the faintest
impression on the senses, to the most distinct combination of those
impressions; from the simplest of those combinations, to that mass
of knowledge which, including our own nature, constitutes what we
call the universe.

We are intuitively conscious of our own existence, and of that
connexion in the train of our successive ideas, which we term our
identity. We are conscious also of the existence of other minds;
but not intuitively. Our evidence, with respect to the existence of
other minds, is founded upon a very complicated relation of ideas,
which it is foreign to the purpose of this treatise to anatomize.
The basis of this relation is, undoubtedly, a periodical recurrence
of masses of ideas, which our voluntary determinations have, in
one peculiar direction, no power to circumscribe or to arrest, and
against the recurrence of which they can only imperfectly provide.
The irresistible laws of thought constrain us to believe that the
precise limits of our actual ideas are not the actual limits of
possible ideas; the law, according to which these deductions are
drawn, is called analogy; and this is the foundation of all our
inferences, from one idea to another, inasmuch as they resemble
each other.

We see trees, houses, fields, living beings in our own shape, and
in shapes more or less analogous to our own. These are perpetually
changing the mode of their existence relatively to us. To express
the varieties of these modes, we say, WE MOVE, THEY MOVE; and as this
motion is continual, though not uniform, we express our conception
of the diversities of its course by--IT HAS BEEN, IT IS, IT SHALL
BE. These diversities are events or objects, and are essential,
considered relatively to human identity, for the existence of the
human mind. For if the inequalities, produced by what has been
termed the operations of the external universe, were levelled by the
perception of our being, uniting and filling up their interstices,
motion and mensuration, and time, and space; the elements of the
human mind being thus abstracted, sensation and imagination cease.
Mind cannot be considered pure.


We do not attend sufficiently to what passes within ourselves. We
combine words, combined a thousand times before. In our minds we
assume entire opinions; and in the expression of those opinions,
entire phrases, when we would philosophize. Our whole style of
expression and sentiment is infected with the tritest plagiarisms.
Our words are dead, our thoughts are cold and borrowed.

Let us contemplate facts; let us, in the great study of ourselves,
resolutely compel the mind to a rigid consideration of itself. We
are not content with conjecture, and inductions, and syllogisms,
in sciences regarding external objects. As in these, let us also,
in considering the phenomena of mind, severely collect those
facts which cannot be disputed. Metaphysics will thus possess this
conspicuous advantage over every other science, that each student,
by attentively referring to his own mind, may ascertain the
authorities upon which any assertions regarding it are supported.
There can thus be no deception, we ourselves being the depositaries
of the evidence of the subject which we consider.

Metaphysics may be defined as an inquiry concerning those things
belonging to, or connected with, the internal nature of man.

It is said that mind produces motion; and it might as well have
been said, that motion produces mind.


If it were possible that a person should give a faithful history of
his being, from the earliest epochs of his recollection, a picture
would be presented such as the world has never contemplated before.
A mirror would be held up to all men in which they might behold
their own recollections, and, in dim perspective, their shadowy hopes
and fears,--all that they dare not, or that, daring and desiring,
they could not expose to the open eyes of day. But thought can
with difficulty visit the intricate and winding chambers which it
inhabits. It is like a river whose rapid and perpetual stream flows
outwards;--like one in dread who speeds through the recesses of
some haunted pile, and dares not look behind. The caverns of the
mind are obscure, and shadowy; or pervaded with a lustre, beautifully
bright indeed, but shining not beyond their portals. If it were
possible to be where we have been, vitally and indeed--if, at the
moment of our presence there, we could define the results of our
experience,--if the passage from sensation to reflection--from a
state of passive perception to voluntary contemplation, were not
so dizzying and so tumultuous, this attempt would be less difficult.


Most of the errors of philosophers have arisen from considering
the human being in a point of view too detailed and circumscribed
He is not a moral, and an intellectual,--but also, and pre-eminently,
an imaginative being. His own mind is his law; his own mind is all
things to him. If we would arrive at any knowledge which should be
serviceable from the practical conclusions to which it leads, we
ought to consider the mind of man and the universe as the great
whole on which to exercise our speculations. Here, above all,
verbal disputes ought to be laid aside, though this has long been
their chosen field of battle. It imports little to inquire whether
thought be distinct from the objects of thought. The use of the
words EXTERNAL and INTERNAL, as applied to the establishment of this
distinction, has been the symbol and the source of much dispute.
This is merely an affair of words, and as the dispute deserves, to
say, that when speaking of the objects of thought, we indeed only
describe one of the forms of thought--or that, speaking of thought,
we only apprehend one of the operations of the universal system of


1. Let us reflect on our infancy, and give as faithfully as possible
a relation of the events of sleep.

And first I am bound to present a faithful picture of my own peculiar
nature relatively to sleep. I do not doubt that were every individual
to imitate me, it would be found that among many circumstances
peculiar to their individual nature, a sufficiently general
resemblance would be found to prove the connexion existing between
those peculiarities and the most universal phenomena. I shall employ
caution, indeed, as to the facts which I state, that they contain
nothing false or exaggerated. But they contain no more than certain
elucidations of my own nature; concerning the degree in which
it resembles, or differs from, that of others, I am by no means
accurately aware. It is sufficient, however, to caution the reader
against drawing general inferences from particular instances.

I omit the general instances of delusion in fever or delirium, as
well as mere dreams considered in themselves. A delineation of this
subject, however inexhaustible and interesting, is to be passed
over. What is the connexion of sleeping and of waking?

2. I distinctly remember dreaming three several times, between
intervals of two or more years, the same precise dream.  It was
not so much what is ordinarily called a dream; the single image,
unconnected with all other images, of a youth who was educated at
the same school with myself, presented itself in sleep. Even now,
after the lapse of many years, I can never hear the name of this
youth, without the three places where I dreamed of him presenting
themselves distinctly to my mind.

3. In dreams, images acquire associations peculiar to dreaming; so
that the idea of a particular house, when it recurs a second time
in dreams, will have relation with the idea of the same house, in
the first time, of a nature entirely different from that which the
house excites, when seen or thought of in relation to waking ideas.

4. I have beheld scenes, with the intimate and unaccountable
connexion of which with the obscure parts of my own nature, I
have been irresistibly impressed. I have beheld a scene which has
produced no unusual effect on my thoughts. After the lapse of many
years I have dreamed of this scene. It has hung on my memory, it
has haunted my thoughts, at intervals, with the pertinacity of an
object connected with human affections. I have visited this scene
again. Neither the dream could be dissociated from the landscape,
nor the landscape from the dream, nor feelings, such as neither
singly could have awakened, from both.

But the most remarkable event of this nature, which ever occurred
to me, happened five years ago at Oxford. I was walking with
a friend, in the neighbourhood of that city, engaged in earnest
and interesting conversation. We suddenly turned the corner of a
lane, and the view, which its high banks and hedges had concealed,
presented itself. The view consisted of a wind-mill, standing
in one among many plashy meadows, inclosed with stone walls; the
irregular and broken ground, between the wall and the road on which
we stood; a long low hill behind the windmill, and a grey covering
of uniform cloud spread over the evening sky. It was that season
when the last leaf had just fallen from the scant and stunted ash.
The scene surely was a common scene; the season and the hour little
calculated to kindle lawless thought; it was a tame uninteresting
assemblage of objects, such as would drive the imagination for
refuge in serious and sober talk, to the evening fireside, and the
dessert of winter fruits and wine. The effect which it produced on
me was not such as could have been expected. I suddenly remembered
to have seen that exact scene in some dream of long--. [Footnote:
Here I was obliged to leave off, overcome by thrilling horror.]

[1815; publ. 1840]



That great science which regards nature and the operations of
the human mind, is popularly divided into Morals and Metaphysics.
The latter relates to a just classification, and the assignment
of distinct names to its ideas; the former regards simply the
determination of that arrangement of them which produces the greatest
and most solid happiness. It is admitted that a virtuous or moral
action, is that action which, when considered in all its accessories
and consequences, is fitted to produce the highest pleasure to the
greatest number of sensitive beings. The laws according to which
all pleasure, since it cannot be equally felt by all sensitive
beings, ought to be distributed by a voluntary agent, are reserved
for a separate chapter.

The design of this little treatise is restricted to the development
of the elementary principles of morals. As far as regards that
purpose, metaphysical science will be treated merely so far as a
source of negative truth; whilst morality will be considered as a
science, respecting which we can arrive at positive conclusions.

The misguided imaginations of men have rendered the ascertaining of
what IS NOT TRUE, the principal direct service which metaphysical
science can bestow upon moral science. Moral science itself is the
doctrine of the voluntary actions of man, as a sentient and social
being. These actions depend on the thoughts in his mind. But there
is a mass of popular opinion, from which the most enlightened persons
are seldom wholly free, into the truth or falsehood of which it
is incumbent on us to inquire, before we can arrive at any firm
conclusions as to the conduct which we ought to pursue in the
regulation of our own minds, or towards our fellow beings; or before
we can ascertain the elementary laws, according to which these
thoughts, from which these actions flow, are originally combined.

The object of the forms according to which human society is administered,
is the happiness of the individuals composing the communities which
they regard, and these forms are perfect or imperfect in proportion
to the degree in which they promote this end.

This object is not merely the quantity of happiness enjoyed by
individuals as sensitive beings, but the mode in which it should
be distributed among them as social beings. It is not enough, if
such a coincidence can be conceived as possible, that one person
or class of persons should enjoy the highest happiness, whilst
another is suffering a disproportionate degree of misery. It is
necessary that the happiness produced by the common efforts, and
preserved by the common care, should be distributed according to
the just claims of each individual; if not, although the quantity
produced should be the same, the end of society would remain
unfulfilled. The object is in a compound proportion to the quantity
of happiness produced, and the correspondence of the mode in which
it is distributed, to the elementary feelings of man as a social

The disposition in an individual to promote this object is called
virtue; and the two constituent parts of virtue, benevolence and
justice, are correlative with these two great portions of the only
true object of all voluntary actions of a human being. Benevolence
is the desire to be the author of good, and justice the apprehension
of the manner in which good ought to be done.

Justice and benevolence result from the elementary laws of the
human mind.


SECT. 1. General View of the Nature and Objects of Virtue.--2.  The
Origin and Basis of Virtue, as founded on the Elementary Principles
of Mind.--3. The Laws which flow from the nature of Mind regulating
the application of those principles to human actions;--4. Virtue,
a possible attribute of man.

We exist in the midst of a multitude of beings like ourselves, upon
whose happiness most of our actions exert some obvious and decisive

The regulation of this influence is the object of moral science.
We know that we are susceptible of receiving painful or pleasurable
impressions of greater or less intensity and duration. That is called
good which produces pleasure; that is called evil which produces
pain. These are general names, applicable to every class of causes,
from which an overbalance of pain or pleasure may result. But when
a human being is the active instrument of generating or diffusing
happiness, the principle through which it is most effectually
instrumental to that purpose, is called virtue. And benevolence,
or the desire to be the author of good, united with justice, or
an apprehension of the manner in which that good is to be done,
constitutes virtue.

But wherefore should a man be benevolent and just? The immediate
emotions of his nature, especially in its most inartificial state,
prompt him to inflict pain, and to arrogate dominion. He desires
to heap superfluities to his own store, although others perish with
famine. He is propelled to guard against the smallest invasion of
his own liberty, though he reduces others to a condition of the most
pitiless servitude. He is revengeful, proud and selfish. Wherefore
should he curb these propensities?

It is inquired, for what reason a human being should engage
in procuring the happiness, or refrain from producing the pain of
another? When a reason is required to prove the necessity of adopting
any system of conduct, what is it that the objector demands? He
requires proof of that system of conduct being such as will most
effectually promote the happiness of mankind.  To demonstrate this,
is to render a moral reason. Such is the object of virtue.

A common sophism, which, like many others, depends on the abuse of
a metaphorical expression to a literal purpose, has produced much
of the confusion which has involved the theory of morals. It is said
that no person is bound to be just or kind, if, on his neglect, he
should fail to incur some penalty. Duty is obligation. There can
be no obligation without an obliger. Virtue is a law, to which it
is the will of the lawgiver that we should conform; which will we
should in no manner be bound to obey, unless some dreadful punishment
were attached to disobedience. This is the philosophy of slavery
and superstition.

In fact, no person can be BOUND or OBLIGED, without some power
preceding to bind and oblige. If I observe a man bound hand and
foot, I know that some one bound him. But if I observe him returning
self-satisfied from the performance of some action, by which he has
been the willing author of extensive benefit, I do not infer that
the anticipation of hellish agonies, or the hope of heavenly reward,
has constrained him to such an act.

       .      .      .      .      .       .       .

It remains to be stated in what manner the sensations which
constitute the basis of virtue originate in the human mind; what
are the laws which it receives there; how far the principles of
mind allow it to be an attribute of a human being; and, lastly,
what is the probability of persuading mankind to adopt it as a
universal and systematic motive of conduct.


There is a class of emotions which we instinctively avoid. A human
being, such as is man considered in his origin, a child a month
old, has a very imperfect consciousness of the existence of other
natures resembling itself. All the energies of its being are
directed to the extinction of the pains with which it is perpetually
assailed. At length it discovers that it is surrounded by natures
susceptible of sensations similar to its own. It is very late before
children attain to this knowledge. If a child observes, without
emotion, its nurse or its mother suffering acute pain, it is
attributable rather to ignorance than insensibility. So soon as
the accents and gestures, significant of pain, are referred to the
feelings which they express, they awaken in the mind of the beholder
a desire that they should cease. Pain is thus apprehended to be evil
for its own sake, without any other necessary reference to the mind
by which its existence is perceived, than such as is indispensable
to its perception. The tendencies of our original sensations, indeed,
all have for their object the preservation of our individual being.
But these are passive and unconscious. In proportion as the mind
acquires an active power, the empire of these tendencies becomes
limited. Thus an infant, a savage, and a solitary beast, is selfish,
because its mind is incapable of receiving an accurate intimation
of the nature of pain as existing in beings resembling itself.
The inhabitant of a highly civilized community will more acutely
sympathize with the sufferings and enjoyments of others, than
the inhabitant of a society of a less degree of civilization. He
who shall have cultivated his intellectual powers by familiarity
with the highest specimens of poetry and philosophy, will usually
sympathize more than one engaged in the less refined functions
of manual labour. Every one has experience of the fact, that to
sympathize with the sufferings of another, is to enjoy a transitory
oblivion of his own.

The mind thus acquires, by exercise, a habit, as it were, of
perceiving and abhorring evil, however remote from the immediate
sphere of sensations with which that individual mind is conversant.
Imagination or mind employed in prophetically imaging forth its
objects, is that faculty of human nature on which every gradation
of its progress, nay, every, the minutest, change, depends. Pain
or pleasure, if subtly analysed, will be found to consist entirely
in prospect. The only distinction between the selfish man and the
virtuous man is, that the imagination of the former is confined within
a narrow limit, whilst that of the latter embraces a comprehensive
circumference. In this sense, wisdom and virtue may be said to be
inseparable, and criteria of each other. Selfishness is the offspring
of ignorance and mistake; it is the portion of unreflecting infancy,
and savage solitude, or of those whom toil or evil occupations
have blunted or rendered torpid; disinterested benevolence is the
product of a cultivated imagination, and has an intimate connexion
with all the arts which add ornament, or dignity, or power,
or stability to the social state of man. Virtue is thus entirely
a refinement of civilized life; a creation of the human mind; or,
rather, a combination which it has made, according to elementary
rules contained within itself, of the feelings suggested by the
relations established between man and man.

All the theories which have refined and exalted humanity, or those
which have been devised as alleviations of its mistakes and evils,
have been based upon the elementary emotions of disinterestedness,
which we feel to constitute the majesty of our nature. Patriotism,
as it existed in the ancient republics, was never, as has been
supposed, a calculation of personal advantages. When Mutius Scaevola
thrust his hand into the burning coals, and Regulus returned
to Carthage, and Epicharis sustained the rack silently, in the
torments of which she knew that she would speedily perish, rather
than betray the conspirators to the tyrant [Footnote: Tacitus.];
these illustrious persons certainly made a small estimate of their
private interest. If it be said that they sought posthumous fame;
instances are not wanting in history which prove that men have even
defied infamy for the sake of good. But there is a great error in
the world with respect to the selfishness of fame. It is certainly
possible that a person should seek distinction as a medium of
personal gratification. But the love of fame is frequently no more
than a desire that the feelings of others should confirm, illustrate,
and sympathize with, our own. In this respect it is allied with all
that draws us out of ourselves. It is the 'last infirmity of noble
minds'. Chivalry was likewise founded on the theory of self-sacrifice.
Love possesses so extraordinary a power over the human heart, only
because disinterestedness is united with the natural propensities.
These propensities themselves are comparatively impotent in cases
where the imagination of pleasure to be given, as well as to be
received, does not enter into the account. Let it not be objected
that patriotism, and chivalry, and sentimental love, have been the
fountains of enormous mischief. They are cited only to establish the
proposition that, according to the elementary principles of mind,
man is capable of desiring and pursuing good for its own sake.


The benevolent propensities are thus inherent in the human mind.
We are impelled to seek the happiness of others. We experience
a satisfaction in being the authors of that happiness. Everything
that lives is open to impressions or pleasure and pain. We are
led by our benevolent propensities to regard every human being
indifferently with whom we come in contact. They have preference
only with respect to those who offer themselves most obviously
to our notice. Human beings are indiscriminating and blind; they
will avoid inflicting pain, though that pain should be attended
with eventual benefit; they will seek to confer pleasure without
calculating the mischief that may result. They benefit one at the
expense of many.

There is a sentiment in the human mind that regulates benevolence
in its application as a principle of action. This is the sense of
justice. Justice, as well as benevolence, is an elementary law of
human nature. It is through this principle that men are impelled
to distribute any means of pleasure which benevolence may suggest
the communication of to others, in equal portions among an equal
number of applicants. If ten men are shipwrecked on a desert island,
they distribute whatever subsistence may remain to them, into equal
portions among themselves. If six of them conspire to deprive the
remaining four of their share, their conduct is termed unjust.

The existence of pain has been shown to be a circumstance which the
human mind regards with dissatisfaction, and of which it desires
the cessation. It is equally according to its nature to desire that
the advantages to be enjoyed by a limited number of persons should
be enjoyed equally by all. This proposition is supported by the
evidence of indisputable facts. Tell some ungarbled tale of a number
of persons being made the victims of the enjoyments of one, and he
who would appeal in favour of any system which might produce such
an evil to the primary emotions of our nature, would have nothing
to reply. Let two persons, equally strangers, make application for
some benefit in the possession of a third to bestow, and to which
he feels that they have an equal claim. They are both sensitive
beings; pleasure and pain affect them alike.


It is foreign to the general scope of this little treatise to encumber
a simple argument by controverting any of the trite objections of
habit or fanaticism. But there are two; the first, the basis of all
political mistake, and the second, the prolific cause and effect
of religious error, which it seems useful to refute.

First, it is inquired, 'Wherefore should a man be benevolent and
just?' The answer has been given in the preceding chapter.

If a man persists to inquire why he ought to promote the happiness
of mankind, he demands a mathematical or metaphysical reason for
a moral action. The absurdity of this scepticism is more apparent,
but not less real than the exacting a moral reason for a mathematical
or metaphysical fact. If any person should refuse to admit that all
the radii of a circle are of equal length, or that human actions
are necessarily determined by motives, until it could be proved that
these radii and these actions uniformly tended to the production of
the greatest general good, who would not wonder at the unreasonable
and capricious association of his ideas?

The writer of a philosophical treatise may, I imagine, at this
advanced era of human intellect, be held excused from entering into
a controversy with those reasoners, if such there are, who would
claim an exemption from its decrees in favour of any one among those
diversified systems of obscure opinion respecting morals, which,
under the name of religions, have in various ages and countries
prevailed among mankind. Besides that if, as these reasoners have
pretended, eternal torture or happiness will ensue as the consequence
of certain actions, we should be no nearer the possession of a
standard to determine what actions were right and wrong, even if this
pretended revelation, which is by no means the case, had furnished
us with a complete catalogue of them. The character of actions as
virtuous or vicious would by no means be determined alone by the
personal advantage or disadvantage of each moral agent individually
considered. Indeed, an action is often virtuous in proportion to
the greatness of the personal calamity which the author willingly
draws upon himself by daring to perform it. It is because an
action produces an overbalance of pleasure or pain to the greatest
number of sentient beings, and not merely because its consequences
are beneficial or injurious to the author of that action, that it
is good or evil. Nay, this latter consideration has a tendency to
pollute the purity of virtue, inasmuch as it consists in the motive
rather than in the consequences of an action. A person who should
labour for the happiness of mankind lest he should be tormented
eternally in Hell, would, with reference to that motive, possess as
little claim to the epithet of virtuous, as he who should torture,
imprison, and burn them alive, a more usual and natural consequence
of such principles, for the sake of the enjoyments of Heaven.

My neighbour, presuming on his strength, may direct me to perform
or to refrain from a particular action; indicating a certain arbitrary
penalty in the event of disobedience within power to inflict.
My action, if modified by his menaces, can no degree participate
in virtue. He has afforded me no criterion as to what is right or
wrong. A king, or an assembly of men, may publish a proclamation
affixing any penalty to any particular action, but that is not
immoral because such penalty is affixed. Nothing is more evident
than that the epithet of virtue is inapplicable to the refraining
from that action on account of the evil arbitrarily attached to it.
If the action is in itself beneficial, virtue would rather consist
in not refraining from it, but in firmly defying the personal
consequences attached to its performance.

Some usurper of supernatural energy might subdue the whole globe
to his power; he might possess new and unheard-of resources for
enduing his punishments with the most terrible attributes or pain.
The torments of his victims might be intense in their degree,
and protracted to an infinite duration. Still the 'will of the
lawgiver' would afford no surer criterion as to what actions were
right or wrong. It would only increase the possible virtue of those
who refuse to become the instruments of his tyranny.


The internal influence, derived from the constitution of the mind
from which they flow, produces that peculiar modification of actions,
which makes them intrinsically good or evil.

To attain an apprehension of the importance of this distinction,
let us visit, in imagination, the proceedings of some metropolis.
Consider the multitude of human beings who inhabit it, and survey,
in thought, the actions of the several classes into which they are
divided. Their obvious actions are apparently uniform: the stability
of human society seems to be maintained sufficiently by the uniformity
of the conduct of its members, both with regard to themselves,
and with regard to others.  The labourer arises at a certain hour,
and applies himself to the task enjoined him. The functionaries
of government and law are regularly employed in their offices and
courts. The trader holds a train of conduct from which he never
deviates. The ministers of religion employ an accustomed language,
and maintain a decent and equable regard. The army is drawn forth,
the motions of every soldier are such as they were expected to be;
the general commands, and his words are echoed from troop to troop.
The domestic actions of men are, for the most part, undistinguishable
one from the other, at a superficial glance. The actions which
are classed under the general appellation of marriage, education,
friendship, &c., are perpetually going on, and to a superficial
glance, are similar one to the other.

But, if we would see the truth of things, they must be stripped of
this fallacious appearance of uniformity. In truth, no one action
has, when considered in its whole extent, any essential resemblance
with any other. Each individual, who composes the vast multitude
which we have been contemplating, has a peculiar frame of mind,
which, whilst the features of the great mass of his actions remain
uniform, impresses the minuter lineaments with its peculiar hues.
Thus, whilst his life, as a whole, is like the lives of other men,
in detail, it is most unlike; and the more subdivided the actions
become; that is, the more they enter into that class which have
a vital influence on the happiness of others and his own, so much
the more are they distinct from those of other men.

      Those little, nameless, unremembered acts
          Of kindness and of love,

as well as those deadly outrages which are inflicted by a look,
a word--or less--the very refraining from some faint and most
evanescent expression of countenance; these flow from a profounder
source than the series of our habitual conduct, which, it has
been already said, derives its origin from without. These are the
actions, and such as these, which make human life what it is, and
are the fountains of all the good and evil with which its entire
surface is so widely and impartially overspread; and though they are
called minute, they are called so in compliance with the blindness
of those who cannot estimate their importance. It is in the due
appreciating the general effects of their peculiarities, and in
cultivating the habit of acquiring decisive knowledge respecting
the tendencies arising out of them in particular cases, that the
most important part of moral science consists. The deepest abyss
of these vast and multitudinous caverns, it is necessary that we
should visit.

This is the difference between social and individual man. Not that
this distinction is to be considered definite, or characteristic
of one human being as compared with another; it denotes rather two
classes of agency, common in a degree to every human being. None
is exempt, indeed, from that species of influence which affects, as
it were, the surface of his being, and gives the specific outline
to his conduct. Almost all that is ostensible submits to that
legislature created by the general representation of the past
feelings of mankind--imperfect as it is from a variety of causes,
as it exists in the government, the religion, and domestic habits.
Those who do not nominally, yet actually, submit to the same power.
The external features of their conduct, indeed, can no more escape
it, than the clouds can escape from the stream of the wind; and
his opinion, which he often hopes he has dispassionately secured
from all contagion of prejudice and vulgarity, would be found, on
examination, to be the inevitable excrescence of the very usages
from which he vehemently dissents. Internally all is conducted
otherwise; the efficiency, the essence, the vitality of actions,
derives its colour from what is no ways contributed to from any
external source. Like the plant which while it derives the accident
of its size and shape from the soil in which it springs, and is
cankered, or distorted, or inflated, yet retains those qualities
which essentially divide it from all others; so that hemlock
continues to be poison, and the violet does not cease to emit its
odour in whatever soil it may grow.

We consider our own nature too superficially. We look on all that
in ourselves with which we can discover a resemblance in others;
and consider those resemblances as the materials of moral knowledge.
It is in the differences that it actually consists.

[1815; publ. 1840]



The period which intervened between the birth of Pericles and the
death of Aristotle, is undoubtedly, whether considered in itself,
or with reference to the effects which it has produced upon
the subsequent destinies of civilized man, the most memorable in
the history of the world. What was the combination of moral and
political circumstances which produced so unparalleled a progress
during that period in literature and the arts;--why that progress,
so rapid and so sustained, so soon received a check, and became
retrograde,--are problems left to the wonder and conjecture of
posterity. The wrecks and fragments of those subtle and profound
minds, like the ruins of a fine statue, obscurely suggest to us the
grandeur and perfection of the whole. Their very language--a type
of the understandings of which it was the creation and the image--in
variety, in simplicity, in flexibility, and in copiousness, excels
every other language of the western world. Their sculptures are
such as we, in our presumption, assume to be the models of ideal
truth and beauty, and to which no artist of modern times can
produce forms in any degree comparable. Their paintings, according
to Pliny and Pausanias, were full of delicacy and harmony; and some
even were powerfully pathetic, so as to awaken, like tender music
or tragic poetry, the most overwhelming emotions. We are accustomed
to conceive the painters of the sixteenth century, as those who
have brought their art to the highest perfection, probably because
none of the ancient paintings have been preserved. For all the
inventive arts maintain, as it were, a sympathetic connexion between
each other, being no more than various expressions of one internal
power, modified by different circumstances, either of an individual,
or of society; and the paintings of that period would probably bear
the same relation as is confessedly borne by the sculptures to all
succeeding ones. Of their music we know little; but the effects
which it is said to have produced, whether they be attributed to
the skill of the composer, or the sensibility of his audience, are
far more powerful than any which we experience from the music of
our own times; and if, indeed, the melody of their compositions
were more tender and delicate, and inspiring, than the melodies of
some modern European nations, their superiority in this art must
have been something wonderful, and wholly beyond conception.

Their poetry seems to maintain a very high, though not so
disproportionate a rank, in the comparison. Perhaps Shakespeare, from
the variety and comprehension of his genius, is to be considered,
on the whole, as the greatest individual mind, of which we have
specimens remaining. Perhaps Dante created imaginations of greater
loveliness and energy than any that are to be found in the ancient
literature of Greece. Perhaps nothing has been discovered in the
fragments of the Greek lyric poets equivalent to the sublime and
chivalric sensibility of Petrarch.--But, as a poet. Homer must be
acknowledged to excel Shakespeare in the truth, the harmony, the
sustained grandeur, the satisfying completeness of his images, their
exact fitness to the illustration, and to that to which they belong.
Nor could Dante, deficient in conduct, plan, nature, variety, and
temperance, have been brought into comparison with these men, but
for those fortunate isles laden with golden fruit, which alone
could tempt any one to embark in the misty ocean of his dark and
extravagant fiction.

But, omitting the comparison of individual minds, which can afford
no general inference, how superior was the spirit and system of
their poetry to that of any other period! So that had any other
genius equal in other respects to the greatest that ever enlightened
the world, arisen in that age, he would have been superior to all,
from this circumstance alone--that had conceptions would have assumed
a more harmonious and perfect form. For it is worthy of observation,
that whatever the poet of that age produced is as harmonious and
perfect as possible. In a drama, for instance, were the composition
of a person of inferior talent, it was still homogeneous and free
from inequalities it was a whole, consistent with itself. The
compositions of great minds bore throughout the sustained stamp of
their greatness. In the poetry of succeeding ages the expectations
are often exalted on Icarian wings, and fall, too much disappointed
to give a memory and a name to the oblivious pool in which they

In physical knowledge Aristotle and Theophrastus had already--no
doubt assisted by the labours of those of their predecessor whom
they criticize--made advances worthy of the maturity of science.
The astonishing invention of geometry, that series of discoveries
which have enabled man to command the element and foresee future
events, before the subjects of his ignorant wonder, and which have
opened as it were the doors of the mysteries of nature, had already
been brought to great perfection. Metaphysics, the science of man's
intimate nature, and logic, or the grammar and elementary principles
of that science received from the latter philosophers of the Periclean
age a firm basis. All our more exact philosophy is built upon the
labours of these great men, and many of the words which we employ
in metaphysical distinctions were invented by them to give accuracy
and system to their reasonings. The science of morals, or the
voluntary conduct of men in relation to themselves or others, dates
from this epoch. How inexpressibly bolder and more pure were the
doctrines of those great men, in comparison with the timid maxims
which prevail in the writings of the most esteemed modern moralists!
They were such as Phocion, and Epaminondas, and Timoleon, who formed
themselves on their influence, were to the wretched heroes of our
own age.

Their political and religious institutions are more difficult to
bring into comparison with those of other times. A summary idea
may be formed of the worth of any political and religious system,
by observing the comparative degree of happiness and of intellect
produced under its influence. And whilst many institution and
opinions, which in ancient Greece were obstacles to the improvement
of the human race, have been abolished among modern nations, how
many pernicious superstitions and new contrivances of misrule, and
unheard-of complications of public mischief, have not been invented
among them by the ever-watchful spirit of avarice and tyranny!

The modern nations of the civilized world owe the progress which
they have made--as well in those physical sciences in which they
have already excelled their masters, as in the moral and intellectual
inquiries, in which, with all the advantage of the experience of
the latter, it can scarcely be said that they have yet equalled
them,--to what is called the revival of learning; that is, the study
of the writers of the age which preceded and immediately followed
the government of Pericles, or of subsequent writers, who were,
so to speak, the rivers flowing from those immortal fountains.
And though there seems to be a principle in the modern world,
which, should circumstances analogous to those which modelled
the intellectual resources of the age to which we refer, into so
harmonious a proportion, again arise, would arrest and perpetuate
them, and consign their results to a more equal, extensive, and
lasting improvement of the condition of man--though justice and
the true meaning of human society are, if not more accurately, more
generally understood; though perhaps men know more, and therefore
are more, as a mass, yet this principle has never been called into
action, and requires indeed a universal and an almost appalling change
in the system of existing things. The study of modern history is
the study of kings, financiers, statesmen, and priests. The history
of ancient Greece is the study of legislators, philosophers,
and poets; it is the history of men, compared with the history of
titles. What the Greeks were, was a reality, not a promise. And what
we are and hope to be, is derived, as it were, from the influence
and inspiration of these glorious generations.

Whatever tends to afford a further illustration of the manners and
opinions of those to whom we owe so much, and who were perhaps, on
the whole, the most perfect specimens of humanity of whom we have
authentic record, were infinitely valuable. Let us see their errors,
their weaknesses, their daily actions, their familiar conversation,
and catch the tone of their society. When we discover how far the
most admirable community ever framed was removed from that perfection
to which human society is impelled by some active power within each
bosom to aspire, how great ought to be our hopes, how resolute our
struggles! For the Greeks of the Periclean age were widely different
from us. It is to be lamented that no modern writer has hitherto
dared to show them precisely as they were. Barthelemi cannot
be denied the praise of industry and system; but he never forgets
that he is a Christian and a Frenchman. Wieland, in his delightful
novels, makes indeed a very tolerable Pagan, but cherishes too many
political prejudices, and refrains from diminishing the interest of
his romances by painting sentiments in which no European of modern
times can possibly sympathize. There is no book which shows the
Greeks precisely as they were; they seem all written for children
with the caution that no practice or sentiment, highly inconsistent
with our present manners, should be mentioned, lest those manners
should receive outrage and violation. But there are many to whom
the Greek language is inaccessible, who ought not to be excluded by
this prudery from possessing an exact and comprehensive conception
of the history of man; for there is no knowledge concerning what man
has been and may be, from partaking of which a person can depart,
without becoming in some degree more philosophical, tolerant, and

One of the chief distinctions between the manners of ancient Greece
and modern Europe, consisted in the regulations and the sentiments
respecting sexual intercourse. Whether this difference arises from
some imperfect influence of the doctrines of Jesus, who alleges
the absolute and unconditional equality of all human beings, or
from the institutions of chivalry, or from a certain fundamental
difference of physical nature existing in the Celts, or from a
combination of all or any of these causes acting on each other, is
a question worthy of voluminous investigation. The fact is, that
the modern Europeans have in this circumstance, and in the abolition
of slavery, made an improvement the most decisive in the regulation
of human society; and all the virtue and the wisdom of the Periclean
age arose under other institutions, in spite of the diminution
which personal slavery and the inferiority of women, recognized by
law and opinion, must have produced in the delicacy, the strength,
the comprehensiveness, and the accuracy of their conceptions, in
moral, political, and metaphysical science, and perhaps in every
other art and science.

The women, thus degraded, became such as it was expected they
would become. They possessed, except with extraordinary exceptions,
the habits and the qualities of slaves. They were probably not
extremely beautiful; at least there was no such disproportion in
the attractions of the external form between the female and male
sex among the Greeks, as exists among the modern Europeans. They
were certainly devoid of that moral and intellectual loveliness
with which the acquisition of knowledge and the cultivation of
sentiment animates, as with another life of overpowering grace,
the lineaments and the gestures of every form which they inhabit.
Their eyes could not have been deep and intricate from the workings
of the mind, and could have entangled no heart in soul-enwoven

Let it not be imagined that because the Greeks were deprived of
its legitimate object, they were incapable of sentimental love; and
that this passion is the mere child of chivalry and the literature of
modern times. This object or its archetype for ever exists in the
mind, which selects among those who resemble it that which most
resembles it; and instinctively fills up the interstices of the
imperfect image, in the same manner as the imagination moulds and
completes the shapes in clouds, or in the fire, into the resemblances
of whatever form, animal, building, &c., happens to be present to
it. Man is in his wildest state a social being: a certain degree
of civilization and refinement ever produces the want of sympathies
still more intimate and complete; and the gratification of the
senses is no longer all that is sought in sexual connexion. It
soon becomes a very small part of that profound and complicated
sentiment, which we call love, which is rather the universal thirst
for a communion not only of the senses, but of our whole nature,
intellectual, imaginative and sensitive, and which, when individualized,
becomes an imperious necessity, only to be satisfied by the complete
or partial, actual or supposed fulfilment of its claims. This want
grows more powerful in proportion to the development which our
nature receives from civilization, for man never ceases to be a
social being. The sexual impulse, which is only one, and often a
small part of those claims, serves, from its obvious and external
nature, as a kind of type or expression of the rest, a common basis,
an acknowledged and visible link. Still it is a claim which even
derives a strength not its own from the accessory circumstances
which surround it, and one which our nature thirsts to satisfy. To
estimate this, observe the degree of intensity and durability of
the love of the male towards the female in animals and savages and
acknowledge all the duration and intensity observable in the love
of civilized beings beyond that of savages to be produced from
other causes. In the susceptibility of the external senses there
is probably no important difference.

Among the ancient Greeks the male sex, one half of the human race,
received the highest cultivation and refinement: whilst the other,
so far as intellect is concerned, were educated as slaves and were
raised but few degrees in all that related to moral of intellectual
excellence above the condition of savages. The gradations in the
society of man present us with slow improvement in this respect.
The Roman women held a higher consideration in society, and were
esteemed almost as the equal partners with their husbands in the
regulation of domestic economy and the education of their children.
The practices and customs of modern Europe are essentially different
from and incomparably less pernicious than either, however remote
from what an enlightened mind cannot fail to desire as the future
destiny of human beings.

[1818; publ. 1840]



The dialogue entitled The Banquet was selected by the translator
as the most beautiful and perfect among all the works of Plato.
[Footnote: The Republic, though replete with considerable errors
of speculation, is, indeed, the greatest repository of important
truths of all the works of Plato. This, perhaps, is because it is
the longest. He first, and perhaps last, maintained that a state
ought to be governed, not by the wealthiest, or the most ambitious,
or the most cunning, but by the wisest; the method of selecting
such rulers, and the laws by which such a selection is made, must
correspond with and arise out of the moral freedom and refinement
of the people.] He despairs of having communicated to the English
language any portion of the surpassing graces of the composition,
or having done more than present an imperfect shadow of the language
and the sentiment of this astonishing production.

Plato is eminently the greatest among the Greek philosophers, and
from, or, rather, perhaps through him, his master Socrates, have
proceeded those emanations of moral and metaphysical knowledge,
on which a long series and an incalculable variety of popular
superstitions have sheltered their absurdities from the slow contempt
of mankind. Plato exhibits the rare union of close and subtle logic
with the Pythian enthusiasm of poetry, melted by the splendour
and harmony of his periods into one irresistible stream of musical
impressions, which hurry the persuasions onward, as in a breathless
career. His language is that of an immortal spirit, rather than
a man. Lord Bacon is, perhaps, the only writer, who, in these
particulars, can be compared with him: his imitator, Cicero, sinks
in the comparison into an ape mocking the gestures of a man.  His
views into the nature of mind and existence are often obscure, only
because they are profound; and though his theories respecting the
government of the world, and the elementary laws of moral action,
are not always correct, yet there is scarcely any of his treatises
which do not, however stained by puerile sophisms, contain the
most remarkable intuitions into all that can be the subject of the
human mind. His excellence consists especially in intuition, and
it is this faculty which raises him far above Aristotle, whose
genius, though vivid and various, is obscure in comparison with
that of Plato.

The dialogue entitled the Banquet, is called [word in Greek], or
a Discussion upon Love, and is supposed to have taken place at the
house of Agathon, at one of a series of festivals given by that
poet, on the occasion of his gaining the prize of tragedy at the
Dionysiaca. The account of the debate on this occasion is supposed
to have been given by Apollodorus, a pupil of Socrates, many
years after it had taken place, to a companion who was curious to
hear it.  This Apollodorus appears, both from the style in which
he is represented in this piece, as well as from a passage in the
Phaedon, to have been a person of an impassioned and enthusiastic
disposition; to borrow an image from the Italian painters, he seems
to have been the St. John of the Socratic group. The drama (for so
the lively distinction of character and the various and well-wrought
circumstances of the story almost entitle it to be called) begins
by Socrates persuading Aristodemus to sup at Agathon's, uninvited.
The whole of this introduction affords the most lively conception
of refined Athenian manners.

[1818; publ. 1840] [UNFINISHED]



According to one mode of regarding those two classes of mental
action, which are called reason and imagination, the former may be
considered as mind contemplating the relations borne by one thought
to another, however produced; and the latter, as mind acting upon
those thoughts so as to colour them with its own light, and composing
from them, as from elements, other thoughts, each containing within
itself the principle of its own integrity. The one is the [word
in Greek], or the principle of synthesis, and has for its objects
those forms which are common to universal nature and existence
itself; the other is the [word in Greek], or principle of analysis,
and its action regards the relations of things, simply as relations;
considering thoughts, not in their integral unity, but as the
algebraical representations which conduct to certain general results.
Reason is the enumeration of quantities already known; imagination
is the perception of the value of those quantities, both separately
and as a whole. Reason respects the differences, and imagination
the similitudes of things.  Reason is to the imagination as the
instrument to the agent, as the body to the spirit, as the shadow
to the substance.

Poetry, in a general sense, may be defined to be 'the expression
of the imagination': and poetry is connate with the origin of man.
Man is an instrument over which a series of external and internal
impressions are driven, like the alternations of an ever-changing
wind over an Aeolian lyre, which move it by their motion to
ever-changing melody. But there is a principle within the human
being, and perhaps within all sentient beings, which acts otherwise
than in the lyre, and produces not melody alone, but harmony,
by an internal adjustment of the sounds or motions thus excited
to the impressions which excite them. It is as if the lyre could
accommodate its chords to the motions of that which strikes them,
in a determined proportion of sound; even as the musician can
accommodate his voice to the sound of the lyre. A child at play
by itself will express its delight by its voice and motions; and
every inflexion of tone and every gesture will bear exact relation
to a corresponding antitype in the pleasurable impressions which
awakened it; it will be the reflected image of that impression;
and as the lyre trembles and sounds after the wind has died away,
so the child seeks, by prolonging in its voice and motions the
duration of the effect, to prolong also a consciousness of the
cause. In relation to the objects which delight a child, these
expressions are, what poetry is to higher objects. The savage (for
the savage is to ages what the child is to years) expresses the
emotions produced in him by surrounding objects in a similar manner;
and language and gesture, together with plastic or pictorial imitation,
become the image of the combined effect of those objects, and of
his apprehension of them. Man in society, with all his passions and
his pleasures, next becomes the object of the passions and pleasures
of man; an additional class of emotions produces an augmented
treasure of expressions; and language, gesture, and the imitative
arts, become at once the representation and the medium, the pencil
and the picture, the chisel and the statue, the chord and the
harmony. The social sympathies, or those laws from which, as from
its elements, society results, begin to develop themselves from
the moment that two human beings coexist; the future is contained
within the present, as the plant within the seed; and equality,
diversity, unity, contrast, mutual dependence, become the principles
alone capable of affording the motives according to which the
will of a social being is determined to action, inasmuch as he is
social; and constitute pleasure in sensation, virtue in sentiment,
beauty in art, truth in reasoning, and love in the intercourse of
kind. Hence men, even in the infancy of society, observe a certain
order in their words and actions, distinct from that of the objects
and the impressions represented by them, all expression being
subject to the laws of that from which it proceeds. But let us
dismiss those more general considerations which might involve an
inquiry into the principles of society itself, and restrict our
view to the manner in which the imagination is expressed upon its

In the youth of the world, men dance and sing and imitate natural
objects, observing in these actions, as in all others, a certain
rhythm or order. And, although all men observe a similar, they
observe not the same order, in the motions of the dance, in the
melody of the song, in the combinations of language, in the series
of their imitations of natural objects. For there is a certain
order or rhythm belonging to each of these classes of mimetic
representation, from which the hearer and the spectator receive
an intenser and purer pleasure than from any other: the sense
of an approximation to this order has been called taste by modern
writers.  Every man in the infancy of art observes an order which
approximates more or less closely to that from which this highest
delight results: but the diversity is not sufficiently marked, as
that its gradations should be sensible, except in those instances
where the predominance of this faculty of approximation to the
beautiful (for so we may be permitted to name the relation between
this highest pleasure and its cause) is very great. Those in whom
it exists in excess are poets, in the most universal sense of the
word; and the pleasure resulting from the manner in which they
express the influence of society or nature upon their own minds,
communicates itself to others, and gathers a sort or reduplication
from that community. Their language is vitally metaphorical; that
is, it marks the before unapprehended relations of things and
perpetuates their apprehension, until the words which represent
them become, through time, signs for portions or classes of thoughts
instead of pictures of integral thoughts; and then if no new poets
should arise to create afresh the associations which have been thus
disorganized, language will be dead to all the nobler purposes of
human intercourse. These similitudes or relations are finely said
by Lord Bacon to be 'the same footsteps of nature impressed upon
the various subjects of the world'; [Footnote: De Augment. Scient.,
cap. i, lib.  iii.] and he considers the faculty which perceives
them as the storehouse of axioms common to all knowledge. In the
infancy of society every author is necessarily a poet, because
language itself is poetry; and to be a poet is to apprehend the
true and the beautiful, in a word, the good which exists in the
relation, subsisting, first between existence and perception, and
secondly between perception and expression. Every original language
near to its source is in itself the chaos of a cyclic poem: the
copiousness of lexicography and the distinctions of grammar are the
works of a later age, and are merely the catalogue and the form of
the creations of poetry.

But poets, or those who imagine and express this indestructible
order, are not only the authors of language and of music, of the
dance, and architecture, and statuary, and painting; they are the
institutors of laws, and the founders of civil society, and the
inventors of the arts of life, and the teachers, who draw into a
certain propinquity with the beautiful and the true, that partial
apprehension of the agencies of the invisible world which is
called religion. Hence all original religions are allegorical, or
susceptible of allegory, and, like Janus, have a double face of
false and true. Poets, according to the circumstances of the age and
nation in which they appeared, were called, in the earlier epochs
of the world, legislators, or prophets: a poet essentially comprises
and unites both these characters. For he not only beholds intensely
the present as it is, and discovers those laws according to which
present things ought to be ordered, but he beholds the future in
the present, and his thoughts are the germs of the flower and the
fruit of latest time. Not that I assert poets to be prophets in
the gross sense of the word, or that they can foretell the form as
surely as they foreknow the spirit of events: such is the pretence
of superstition, which would make poetry an attribute of prophecy,
rather than prophecy an attribute of poetry. A poet participates
in the eternal, the infinite, and the one; as far as relates to
his conceptions, time and place and number are not. The grammatical
forms which express the moods of time, and the difference of persons,
and the distinction of place, are convertible with respect to the
highest poetry without injuring it as poetry; and the choruses of
Aeschylus, and the book of Job, and Dante's Paradise, would afford,
more than any other writings, examples of this fact, if the limits
of this essay did not forbid citation. The creations of sculpture,
painting, and music, are illustrations still more decisive.

Language, colour, form, and religious and civil habits of action,
are all the instruments and materials of poetry; they may be called
poetry by that figure of speech which considers the effect as a
synonym of the cause. But poetry in a more restricted sense expresses
those arrangements of language, and especially metrical language,
which are created by that imperial faculty; whose throne is curtained
within the invisible nature of man. And this springs from the nature
itself of language, which is a more direct representation of the
actions and passions of our internal being, and is susceptible
of more various and delicate combinations, than colour, form, or
motion, and is more plastic and obedient to the control of that
faculty of which it is the creation. For language is arbitrarily
produced by the imagination and has relation to thoughts alone;
but all other materials, instruments and conditions of art, have
relations among each other, which limit and interpose between
conception and expression The former is as a mirror which reflects,
the latter as a cloud which enfeebles, the light of which both are
mediums of communication. Hence the fame of sculptors, painters,
and musicians, although the intrinsic powers of the great masters
of these arts may yield in no degree to that of those who have
employed language as the hieroglyphic of their thoughts, has never
equalled that of poets in the restricted sense of the term, as
two performers of equal skill will produce unequal effects from a
guitar and a harp. The fame of legislators and founders of religions,
so long as their institutions last, alone seems to exceed that of
poets in the restricted sense; but it can scarcely be a question,
whether, if we deduct the celebrity which their flattery of the
gross opinions of the vulgar usually conciliates, together with
that which belonged to them in their higher character of poets,
any excess will remain.

We have thus circumscribed the word poetry within the limits of that
art which is the most familiar and the most perfect expression of
the faculty itself. It is necessary, however, to make the circle
still narrower, and to determine the distinction between measured
and unmeasured language; for the popular division into prose and
verse is inadmissible in accurate philosophy.

Sounds as well as thoughts have relation both between each other
and towards that which they represent, and a perception of the order
of those relations has always been found connected with a perception
of the order of the relations of thoughts. Hence the language of
poets has ever affected a certain uniform and harmonious recurrence
of sound, without which it were not poetry, and which is scarcely
less indispensable to the communication of its influence, than the
words themselves, without reference to that peculiar order. Hence
the vanity of translation; it were as wise to cast a violet into a
crucible that you might discover the formal principle of its colour
and odour, as seek to transfuse from one language into another the
creations of a poet. The plant must spring again from its seed,
or it will bear no flower--and this is the burthen of the curse of

An observation of the regular mode of the recurrence of harmony
in the language of poetical minds, together with its relation to
music, produced metre, or a certain system of traditional forms of
harmony and language. Yet it is by no means essential that a poet
should accommodate his language to this traditional form, so that the
harmony, which is its spirit, be observed. The practice is indeed
convenient and popular, and to be preferred, especially in such
composition as includes much action: but every great poet must
inevitably innovate upon the example of his predecessors in the
exact structure of his peculiar versification. The distinction
between poets and prose writers is a vulgar error. The distinction
between philosophers and poets has been anticipated. Plato was
essentially a poet--the truth and splendour of his imagery, and the
melody of his language, are the most intense that it is possible
to conceive. He rejected the measure of the epic, dramatic, and
lyrical forms, because he sought to kindle a harmony in thoughts
divested of shape and action, and he forbore to invent any regular
plan of rhythm which would include, under determinate forms, the
varied pauses of his style. Cicero sought to imitate the cadence
of his periods, but with little success. Lord Bacon was a poet.
[Footnote: See the Filum Labyrinthi, and the Essay on Death
particularly]. His language has a sweet and majestic rhythm, which
satisfies the sense, no less than the almost superhuman wisdom
of his philosophy satisfies the intellect; it is a strain which
distends, and then bursts the circumference of the reader's mind,
and pours itself forth together with it into the universal element
with which it has perpetual sympathy. All the authors of revolutions
in opinion are not only necessarily poets as they are inventors,
nor even as their words unveil the permanent analogy of things
by images which participate in the life of truth; but as their
periods are harmonious and rhythmical, and contain in themselves
the elements of verse; being the echo of the eternal music. Nor are
those supreme poets, who have employed traditional forms of rhythm
on account of the form and action of their subjects, less capable
of perceiving and teaching the truth of things, than those who
have omitted that form. Shakespeare, Dante, and Milton (to confine
ourselves to modern writers) are philosophers of the very loftiest

A poem is the very image of life expressed in its eternal truth.
There is this difference between a story and a poem, that a story
is a catalogue of detached facts, which have no other connexion
than time, place, circumstance, cause and effect; the other is the
creation of actions according to the unchangeable forms of human
nature, as existing in the mind of the Creator, which is itself
the image of all other minds. The one is partial, and applies only
to a definite period of time, and a certain combination of events
which can never again recur; the other is universal, and contains
within itself the germ of a relation to whatever motives or actions
have place in the possible varieties of human nature. Time, which
destroys the beauty and the use of the story of particular facts,
stripped of the poetry which should invest them, augments that of
poetry, and for ever develops new and wonderful applications of the
eternal truth which it contains. Hence epitomes have been called
the moths of just history; they eat out the poetry of it. A story
of particular facts is as a mirror which obscures and distorts that
which should be beautiful: poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful
that which is distorted.

The parts of a composition may be poetical, without the composition
as a whole being a poem. A single sentence may be a considered as
a whole, though it may be found in the midst of a series of unassimilated
portions: a single word even may be a spark of inextinguishable
thought. And thus all the great historians, Herodotus, Plutarch,
Livy, were poets; and although, the plan of these writers, especially
that of Livy, restrained them; from developing this faculty in
its highest degree, they made copious and ample amends for their
subjection, by filling all the interstices of their subjects with
living images.

Having determined what is poetry, and who are poets, let us proceed
to estimate its effects upon society.

Poetry is ever accompanied with pleasure: all spirits on which it
falls open themselves to receive the wisdom which is mingled with
its delight. In the infancy of the world, neither poets themselves
nor their auditors are fully aware of the excellence of poetry:
for it acts in a divine and unapprehended manner, beyond and above
consciousness; and it is reserved for future generations to contemplate
and measure the mighty cause and effect in all the strength and
splendour of their union. Even in modern times, no living poet ever
arrived at the fullness of his fame; the jury which sits in judgement
upon a poet, belonging as he does to all time, must be composed
of his peers: it must be impanelled by Time from the selectest of
the wise of many generations. A poet is a nightingale, who sits
in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds;
his auditors are as men entranced by the melody of an unseen
musician, who feel that they are moved and softened, yet know not
whence or why. The poems of Homer and his contemporaries were the
delight of infant Greece; they were the elements of that social
system which is the column upon which all succeeding civilization
has reposed. Homer embodied the ideal perfection of his age in
human character; nor can we doubt that those who read his verses
were awakened to an ambition of becoming like to Achilles, Hector,
and Ulysses the truth and beauty of friendship, patriotism, and
persevering devotion to an object, were unveiled to the depths in
these immortal creations: the sentiments of the auditors must have
been refined and enlarged by a sympathy with such great and lovely
impersonations, until from admiring they imitated, and from imitation
they identified themselves with the objects of their admiration.
Nor let it be objected, that these characters are remote from moral
perfection, and that they can by no means be considered as edifying
patterns for general imitation. Every epoch, under names more
or less specious, has deified its peculiar errors; Revenge is the
naked idol of the worship of a semi-barbarous age; and Self-deceit
is the veiled image of unknown evil, before which luxury and satiety
lie prostrate. But a poet considers the vices of his contemporaries
as a temporary dress in which his creations must be arrayed, and
which cover without concealing the eternal proportions of their
beauty. An epic or dramatic personage is understood to wear them
around his soul, as he may the ancient armour or the modern uniform
around his body; whilst it is easy to conceive a dress more graceful
than either. The beauty of the internal nature cannot be so far
concealed by its accidental vesture, but that the spirit of its
form shall communicate itself to the very disguise, and indicate
the shape it hides from the manner in which it is worn. A majestic
form and graceful motions will express themselves through the most
barbarous and tasteless costume. Few poets of the highest class
have chosen to exhibit the beauty of their conceptions in its
naked truth and splendour; and it is doubtful whether the alloy
of costume, habit, &c., be not necessary to temper this planetary
music for mortal ears.

The whole objection, however, of the immorality of poetry rests
upon a misconception of the manner in which poetry acts to produce
the moral improvement of man. Ethical science arranges the elements
which poetry has created, and propounds schemes and proposes
examples of civil and domestic life: nor is it for want of admirable
doctrines that men hate, and despise, and censure, and deceive,
and subjugate one another. But poetry acts in another and diviner
manner. It awakens and enlarges the mind itself by rendering it
the receptacle of a thousand unapprehended combinations of thought.
Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes
familiar objects be as if they were not familiar; it reproduces all
that it represents, and the impersonations clothed in its Elysian
light stand thenceforward in the minds of those who have once
contemplated them as memorials of that gentle and exalted content
which extends itself over all thoughts and actions with which it
coexists. The great secret of morals is love; or a going out of our
own nature, and an identification of ourselves with the beautiful
which exists in thought, action, or person, not our own. A man,
to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he
must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the
pains and pleasures of his species must become his own. The great
instrument of moral good is the imagination; and poetry administers
to the effect by acting upon the cause. Poetry enlarges the
circumference of the imagination by replenishing it with thought of
ever new delight, which have the power of attracting and assimilating
to their own nature all other thoughts, and which form new intervals
and interstices whose void for ever craves fresh food. Poetry
strengthens the faculty which is the organ of the moral nature
of man, in the same manner as exercise strengthens a limb. A poet
therefore would do ill to embody his own conceptions of right and
wrong, which are usually those of his place and time, in his poetical
creations, which participate in neither By this assumption of the
inferior office of interpreting the effect in which perhaps after
all he might acquit himself but imperfectly, he would resign a
glory in a participation in the cause. There was little danger that
Homer, or any of the eternal poets should have so far misunderstood
themselves as to have abdicated this throne of their widest dominion.
Those in whom the poetical faculty, though great, is less intense,
as Euripides, Lucan, Tasso, Spenser, have frequently affected a
moral aim, and the effect of their poetry is diminished in exact
proportion to the degree in which they compel us to advert to this

Homer and the cyclic poets were followed at a certain interval
by the dramatic and lyrical poets of Athens, who flourished
contemporaneously with all that is most perfect in the kindred
expressions of the poetical faculty; architecture, painting, music
the dance, sculpture, philosophy, and, we may add, the forms of
civil life. For although the scheme of Athenian society was deformed
by many imperfections which the poetry existing in chivalry and
Christianity has erased from the habits and institutions of modern
Europe; yet never at any other period has so much energy, beauty,
and virtue, been developed; never was blind strength and stubborn
form so disciplined and rendered subject to the will of man, or
that will less repugnant to the dictates of the beautiful and the
true, as during the century which preceded the death of Socrates.
Of no other epoch in the history of our species have we records
and fragments stamped so visibly with the image of the divinity in
man. But it is poetry alone, in form, in action, or in language,
which has rendered this epoch memorable above all others, and the
storehouse of examples to everlasting time. For written poetry
existed at that epoch simultaneously with the other arts, and it is
an idle inquiry to demand which gave and which received the light,
which all, as from a common focus, have scattered over the darkest
periods of succeeding time. We know no more of cause and effect than
a constant conjunction of events: poetry is ever found to coexist
with whatever other arts contribute to the happiness and perfection
of man. I appeal to what has already been established to distinguish
between the cause and the effect.

It was at the period here adverted to, that the drama had its birth;
and however a succeeding writer may have equalled or surpassed
those few great specimens of the Athenian drama which have been
preserved to us, it is indisputable that the art itself never was
understood or practised according to the true philosophy of it,
as at Athens. For the Athenians employed language, action, music,
painting, the dance, and religious institutions, to produce a common
effect in the representation of the highest idealisms of passion
and of power; each division in the art was made perfect in its kind
by artists of the most consummate skill, and was disciplined into
a beautiful proportion and unity one towards the other. On the modern
stage a few only of the elements capable of expressing the image
of the poet's conception are employed at once. We have tragedy
without music and dancing; and music and dancing without the highest
impersonations of which they are the fit accompaniment, and both
without religion and solemnity. Religious institution has indeed
been usually banished from the stage. Our system of divesting the
actor's face of a mask, on which the many expressions appropriated
to his dramatic character might be moulded into one permanent
and unchanging expression, is favourable only to a partial and
inharmonious effect; it is fit for nothing but a monologue, where
all the attention may be directed to some great master of ideal
mimicry. The modern practice of blending comedy with tragedy,
though liable to great abuse in point of practice, is undoubtedly
an extension of the dramatic circle; but the comedy should be
as in KING LEAR, universal, ideal, and sublime. It is perhaps the
intervention of this principle which determines the balance in
favour of KING LEAR against the OEDIPUS TYRANNUS or the AGAMEMNON,
or, if you will, the trilogies with which they are connected; unless
the intense power of the choral poetry, especially that of the
latter, should be considered as restoring the equilibrium. KING
LEAR, if it can sustain this comparison, may be judged to be the
most perfect specimen of the dramatic art existing in the world;
in spite of the narrow conditions to which the poet was subjected
by the ignorance of the philosophy of the drama which has prevailed
in modern Europe. Calderon, in his religious AUTOS, has attempted
to fulfil some of the high conditions of dramatic representation
neglected by Shakespeare; such as the establishing a relation
between the drama and religion and the accommodating them to music
and dancing; but he omits the observation of conditions still
more important, and more is lost than gained by the substitution
of the rigidly-defined and ever-repeated idealisms of a distorted
superstition for the living impersonations of the truth of human

But I digress.--The connexion of scenic exhibitions with the
improvement or corruption of the manners of men, has been universally
recognized: in other words, the presence or absence of poetry in
its most perfect and universal form, has been found to be connected
with good and evil in conduct or habit. The corruption which has
been imputed to the drama as an effect, begins when the poetry
employed in its constitution ends: I appeal to the history of manners
whether the periods of the growth of the one and the decline of the
other have not corresponded with an exactness equal to any example
of moral cause and effect.

The drama at Athens, or wheresoever else it may have approached
to its perfection, ever co-existed with the moral and intellectual
greatness of the age. The tragedies of the Athenian poets are
as mirrors in which the spectator beholds himself, under a thin
disguise of circumstance, stript of all but that ideal perfection
and energy which every one feels to be the internal type of all that
he loves, admires, and would become. The imagination is enlarged
by a sympathy with pains and passions so mighty, that they distend
in their conception the capacity of that by which they are conceived;
the good affections are strengthened by pity, indignation, terror,
and sorrow; and an exalted calm is prolonged from the satiety of
this high exercise of them into the tumult of familiar life: even
crime is disarmed of half its horror and all its contagion by being
represented as the fatal consequence of the unfathomable agencies
of nature; error is thus divested of its wilfulness; men can no
longer cherish it as the creation of their choice. In a drama of
the highest order there is little food for censure or hatred; it
teaches rather self-knowledge and self-respect. Neither the eye
nor the mind can see itself, unless reflected upon that which it
resembles. The drama, so long as it continues to express poetry, is
as a prismatic and many-sided mirror, which collects the brightest
rays of human nature and divides and reproduces them from the
simplicity of these elementary forms, and touches them with majesty
and beauty, and multiplies all that it reflects, and endows it with
the power of propagating its like wherever it may fall.

But in periods of the decay of social life, the drama sympathizes
with that decay. Tragedy becomes a cold imitation of the form of
the great masterpieces of antiquity, divested of all harmonious
accompaniment of the kindred arts; and often the very form
misunderstood, or a weak attempt to teach certain doctrines, which
the writer considers as moral truths; and which are usually no
more than specious flatteries of some gross vice or weakness, with
which the author, in common with his auditors, are infected. Hence
what has been called the classical and domestic drama. Addison's
CATO is a specimen of the one; and would it were not superfluous
to cite examples of the other! To such purposes poetry cannot be
made subservient. Poetry is a sword of lightning, ever unsheathed,
which consumes the scabbard that would contain it. And thus we
observe that all dramatic writings of this nature are unimaginative
in a singular degree; they affect sentiment and passion, which,
divested of imagination, are other names for caprice and appetite.
The period in our own history of the grossest degradation of the
drama is the reign of Charles II, when all forms in which poetry
had been accustomed to be expressed became hymns to the triumph of
kingly power over liberty and virtue. Milton stood alone illuminating
an age unworthy of him. At such periods the calculating principle
pervades all the forms of dramatic exhibition, and poetry ceases
to be expressed upon them. Comedy loses its ideal universality:
wit succeeds to humour; we laugh from self-complacency and triumph,
instead of pleasure; malignity, sarcasm, and contempt, succeed to
sympathetic merriment; we hardly laugh, but we Obscenity, which
is ever blasphemy against the divine beauty in life, becomes, from
the very veil which it assumes, more active if less disgusting: it
is a monster for which the corruption of society for ever brings
forth new food, which it devours in secret.

The drama being that form under which a greater number of modes
of expression of poetry are susceptible of being combined than any
other, the connexion of poetry and social good is more observable
in the drama than in whatever other form. And it is indisputable
that the highest perfection of human society has ever corresponded
with the highest dramatic excellence; and that the corruption or the
extinction of the drama in a nation where it has once flourished,
is a mark of a corruption of manners and an extinction of the
energies which sustain the soul of social life. But, as Machiavelli
says of political institutions, that life may be preserved and
renewed, if men should arise capable of bringing back the drama
to its principles. And this is true with respect to poetry in its
most extended sense: all language, institution and form, require not
only to be produced but to be sustained: the office and character
of a poet participates in the divine nature as regards providence,
no less than as regards creation.

Civil war, the spoils of Asia, and the fatal predominance first of
the Macedonian, and then of the Roman arms, were so many symbols
of the extinction or suspension of the creative faculty in Greece.
The bucolic writers, who found patronage under the lettered tyrants
of Sicily and Egypt, were the latest representatives of its most
glorious reign. Their poetry is intensely melodious, like the odour
of the tuberose, it overcomes and sickens the spirit with excess
of sweetness; whilst the poetry of the preceding age was as a
meadow-gale of June, which mingles the fragrance all the flowers
of the field, and adds a quickening and harmonizing spirit of its
own, which endows the sense with a power of sustaining its extreme
delight. The bucolic and erotic delicacy in written poetry is
correlative with that softness in statuary, music and the kindred
arts, and even in manners and institutions, which distinguished the
epoch to which I now refer. Nor is it the poetical faculty itself,
or any misapplication of it, to which this want of harmony is to
be imputed. An equal sensibility to the influence of the senses
and the affections is to be found in the writings of Homer and
Sophocles: the former, especially, has clothed sensual and pathetic
images with irresistible attractions. Their superiority over these
succeeding writers consists in the presence of those thoughts which
belong to the inner faculties of our nature, not in the absence
of those which are connected with the external: their incomparable
perfection consists in a harmony of the union of all.  It is not
what the erotic poets have, but what they have not, in which their
imperfection consists. It is not inasmuch as they were poets, but
inasmuch as they were not poets, that they can be considered with
any plausibility as connected with the corruption of their age. Had
that corruption availed so as to extinguish in them the sensibility
to pleasure, passion, and natural scenery, which is imputed to them
as an imperfection, the last triumph of evil would have been achieved.
For the end of social corruption is to destroy all sensibility
to pleasure; and, therefore, it is corruption. It begins at the
imagination and the intellect as at the core, and distributes itself
thence as a paralysing venom, through the affections into the very
appetites, until all become a torpid mass in which hardly sense
survives. At the approach of such a period, poetry ever addresses
itself to those faculties which are the last to be destroyed, and
its voice is heard, like the footsteps of Astraea, departing from
the world. Poetry ever communicates all the pleasure which men
are capable of receiving: it is ever still the light of life; the
source of whatever of beautiful or generous or true can have place
in an evil time. It will readily be confessed that those among the
luxurious citizens of Syracuse and Alexandria, who were delighted
with the poems of Theocritus, were less cold, cruel, and sensual
than the remnant of their tribe. But corruption must utterly have
destroyed the fabric of human society before poetry can ever cease.
The sacred links of that chain have never been entirely disjoined,
which descending through the minds of many men is attached to those
great minds, whence as from a magnet the invisible effluence is
sent forth, which at once connects, animates, and sustains the life
of all. It is the faculty which contains within itself the seeds
at once of its own and of social renovation.  And let us not
circumscribe the effects of the bucolic and erotic poetry within
the limits of the sensibility of those to whom it was addressed.
They may have perceived the beauty of those immortal compositions,
simply as fragments and isolated portions: those who are more
finely organized, or born in a happier age, may recognize them as
episodes to that great poem, which all poets, like the cooperating
thoughts of one great mind, have built up since the beginning of
the world.

The same revolutions within a narrower sphere had place in ancient
Rome; but the actions and forms of its social life never seem to
have been perfectly saturated with the poetical element. The Romans
appear to have considered the Greeks as the selectest treasuries
of the selectest forms of manners and of nature, and to have
abstained from creating in measured language, sculpture, music, or
architecture, anything which might bear a particular relation to
their own condition, whilst it should bear a general one to the
universal constitution of the world. But we judge from partial
evidence, and we judge perhaps partially Ennius, Varro, Pacuvius,
and Accius, all great poets, have been lost. Lucretius is in the
highest, and Virgil in a very high sense, a creator. The chosen
delicacy of expressions of the latter, are as a mist of light which
conceal from us the intense and exceeding truth of his conceptions
of nature. Livy is instinct with poetry. Yet Horace, Catullus,
Ovid, and generally the other great writers of the Virgilian age,
saw man and nature in the mirror of Greece. The institutions also,
and the religion of Rome were less poetical than those of Greece,
as the shadow is less vivid than the substance. Hence poetry in
Rome, seemed to follow, rather than accompany, the perfection of
political and domestic society. The true poetry of Rome lived in
its institutions; for whatever of beautiful, true, and majestic,
they contained, could have sprung only from the faculty which creates
the order in which they consist. The life of Camillus, the death of
Regulus; the expectation of the senators, in their godlike state,
of the victorious Gauls: the refusal of the republic to make peace
with Hannibal, after the battle of Cannae, were not the consequences
of a refined calculation of the probable personal advantage to
result from such a rhythm and order in the shows of life, to those
who were at once the poets and the actors of these immortal dramas.
The imagination beholding the beauty of this order, created it out
of itself according to its own idea; the consequence was empire,
and the reward everliving fame. These things are not the less poetry
quid carent vate sacro. They are the episodes of that cyclic poem
written by Time upon the memories of men. The Past, like an inspired
rhapsodist, fills the theatre of everlasting generations with their

At length the ancient system of religion and manners had fulfilled
the circle of its revolutions. And the world would have fallen into
utter anarchy and darkness, but that there were found poets among
the authors of the Christian and chivalric systems of manners and
religion, who created forms of opinion and action never before
conceived; which, copied into the imaginations of men, become as
generals to the bewildered armies of their thoughts. It is foreign
to the present purpose to touch upon the evil produced by these
systems: except that we protest, on the ground of the principles
already established, that no portion of it can be attributed to
the poetry they contain.

It is probable that the poetry of Moses, Job, David, Solomon, and
Isaiah, had produced a great effect upon the mind of Jesus and his
disciples. The scattered fragments preserved to us by the biographers
of this extraordinary person, are all instinct with the most vivid
poetry. But his doctrines seem to have been quickly distorted.
At a certain period after the prevalence of a system of opinions
founded upon those promulgated by him, the three forms into which
Plato had distributed the faculties of mind underwent a sort of
apotheosis, and became the object of the worship of the civilized
world. Here it is to be confessed that 'Light seems to thicken,'

       The crow makes wing to the rooky wood,
       Good things of day begin to droop and drowse,
       And night's black agents to their preys do rouze.

But mark how beautiful an order has sprung from the dust and
blood of this fierce chaos! how the world, as from a resurrection,
balancing itself on the golden wings of knowledge and of hope, has
reassumed its yet unwearied flight into the heaven of time. Listen
to the music, unheard by outward ears, which is as a ceaseless and
invisible wind, nourishing its everlasting course with strength
and swiftness.

The poetry in the doctrines of Jesus Christ, and the mythology and
institutions of the Celtic conquerors of the Roman empire, outlived
the darkness and the convulsions connected with their growth and
victory, and blended themselves in a new fabric of manners and
opinion. It is an error to impute the ignorance of the dark ages to
the Christian doctrines or the predominance of the Celtic nations.
Whatever of evil their agencies may have contained sprang from the
extinction of the poetical principle, connected with the progress
of despotism and superstition. Men, from causes too intricate to be
here discussed, had become insensible and selfish: their own will
had become feeble, and yet they were its slaves, and thence the
slaves of the will of others: lust, fear, avarice, cruelty, and
fraud, characterized a race amongst whom no one was to be found
capable of CREATING in form, language, or institution. The moral
anomalies of such a state of society are not justly to be charged
upon any class of events immediately connected with them, and those
events are most entitled to our approbation which could dissolve
it most expeditiously. It is unfortunate for those who cannot
distinguish words from thoughts, that many of these anomalies have
been incorporated into our popular religion.

It was not until the eleventh century that the effects of the
poetry of the Christian and chivalric systems began to manifest
themselves.  The principle of equality had been discovered and
applied by Plato in his Republic, as the theoretical rule of the
mode in which the materials of pleasure and of power, produced by
the common skill and labour of human beings, ought to be distributed
among them. The limitations of this rule were asserted by him
to be determined only by the sensibility of each, or the utility
to result to all. Plato, following the doctrines of Timaeus and
Pythagoras, taught also a moral and intellectual system of doctrine,
comprehending at once the past, the present, and the future condition
of man. Jesus Christ divulged the sacred and eternal truths contained
in these views to mankind, and Christianity, in its abstract purity,
became the exoteric expression of the esoteric doctrines of the
poetry and wisdom of antiquity. The incorporation of the Celtic
nations with the exhausted population of the south, impressed
upon it the figure of the poetry existing in their mythology and
institutions. The result was a sum of the action and reaction of
all the causes included in it; for it may be assumed as a maxim that
no nation or religion can supersede any other without incorporating
into itself a portion of that which it supersedes. The abolition of
personal and domestic slavery, and the emancipation of women from
a great part of the degrading restraints of antiquity, were among
the consequences of these events.

The abolition of personal slavery is the basis of the highest
political hope that it can enter into the mind of man to conceive.
The freedom of women produced the poetry of sexual love.  Love
became a religion, the idols of whose worship were ever present.
It was as if the statues of Apollo and the Muses had been endowed
with life and motion, and had walked forth among their worshippers;
so that earth became peopled by the inhabitants of a diviner world.
The familiar appearance and proceedings of life became wonderful
and heavenly, and a paradise was created as out of the wrecks of
Eden. And as this creation itself is poetry, so its creators were
poets; and language was the instrument of their art: 'Galeotto fu
il libro, e chi lo scrisse.' The Provencal Trouveurs, or inventors,
preceded Petrarch, whose verses are as spells, which unseal the
inmost enchanted fountains of the delight which is in the grief of
love. It is impossible to feel them without becoming a portion of
that beauty which we contemplate: it were superfluous to explain
how the gentleness and the elevation of mind connected with these
sacred emotions can render men more amiable, more generous and wise,
and lift them out of the dull vapours of the little world of self.
Dante understood the secret things of love even more than Petrarch.
His Vita Nuova is an inexhaustible fountain of purity of sentiment
and language: it is the idealized history of that period, and those
intervals of his life which were dedicated to love. His apotheosis
of Beatrice in Paradise, and the gradations of his own love and her
loveliness, by which as by steps he feigns himself to have ascended
to the throne of the Supreme Cause, is the most glorious imagination
of modern poetry. The acutest critics have justly reversed the
judgement of the vulgar, and the order of the great acts of the
'Divine Drama', in the measure of the admiration which they accord
to the Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. The latter is a perpetual
hymn of everlasting love. Love, which found a worthy poet in Plato
alone of all the ancients, has been celebrated by a chorus of the
greatest writers of the renovated world; and the music has penetrated
the caverns of society, and its echoes still drown the dissonance
of arms and superstition. At successive intervals, Ariosto, Tasso,
Shakespeare, Spenser, Calderon, Rousseau, and the great writers
of our own age, have celebrated the dominion of love, planting
as it were trophies in the human mind of that sublimest victory
over sensuality and force. The true relation borne to each other
by the sexes into which human kind is distributed, has become
less misunderstood; and if the error which confounded diversity
with inequality of the powers of the two sexes has been partially
recognized in the opinions and institutions of modern Europe, we
owe this great benefit to the worship of which chivalry was the
law, and poets the prophets.

The poetry of Dante may be considered as the bridge thrown over
the stream of time, which unites the modern and ancient world. The
distorted notions of invisible things which Dante and his rival
Milton have idealized, are merely the mask and the mantle in which
these great poets walk through eternity enveloped and disguised.
It is a difficult question to determine how far they were conscious
of the distinction which must have subsisted in their minds between
their own creeds and that of the people. Dante at least appears to
wish to mark the full extent of it by placing Riphaeus, whom Virgil
calls justissimns unus, in Paradise, and observing a most heretical
caprice in his distribution of rewards and punishments. And Milton's
poem contains within itself a philosophical refutation of that
system, of which by a strange and natural antithesis, it has been
a chief popular support. Nothing can exceed the energy and magnificence
of the character of Satan as expressed in Paradise Lost. It is a
mistake to suppose that he could ever have been intended for the
popular personification of evil. Implacable hate, patient cunning,
and a sleepless refinement of device to inflict the extremest
anguish on an enemy, these things are evil; and, although venial
in a slave are not to be forgiven in a tyrant; although redeemed
by much that ennobles his defeat in one subdued, are marked by
all that dishonours his conquest in the victor. Milton's Devil as
a moral being is as far superior to his God, as one who perseveres
in some purpose which he has conceived to be excellent in spite of
adversity and torture, is to one who in the cold security of undoubted
triumph inflicts the most horrible revenge upon his enemy, not from
any mistaken notion of inducing him to repent of a perseverance in
enmity, but with the alleged design of exasperating him to deserve
new torments. Milton has so far violated the popular creed (if this
shall be judged to be a violation) as to have alleged no superiority
of moral virtue to his God over his Devil. And this bold neglect of
a direct moral purpose is the most decisive proof of the supremacy
of Milton's genius.  He mingled as it were the elements of human
nature as colours upon a single pallet, and arranged them in the
composition of his great picture according to the laws of epic
truth; that is, according to the laws of that principle by which a
series of actions of the external universe and of intelligent and
ethical beings is calculated to excite the sympathy of succeeding
generations of mankind. The Divina Commedia and Paradise Lost have
conferred upon modern mythology a systematic form; and when change
and time shall have added one more superstition to the mass of
those which have arisen and decayed upon the earth, commentators
will be learnedly employed in elucidating the religion of ancestral
Europe, only not utterly forgotten because it will have been stamped
with the eternity of genius.

Homer was the first and Dante the second epic poet: that is,
the second poet, the series of whose creations bore a defined and
intelligible relation to the knowledge and sentiment and religion
of the age in which he lived, and of the ages which followed it:
developing itself in correspondence with their development. For
Lucretius had limed the wings of his swift spirit in the dregs of
the sensible world; and Virgil, with a modesty that ill became his
genius, had affected the fame of an imitator, even whilst he created
anew all that he copied; and none among the flock of mock-birds,
though their notes were sweet, Apollonius Rhodius, Quintus Calaber,
Nonnus, Lucan, Statius, or Claudian, have sought even to fulfil
a single condition of epic truth. Milton was the third epic poet.
For if the title of epic in its highest sense be refused to the
Aeneid, still less can it be conceded to the Orlando Furioso, the
Gerusalemme Liberata, the Lusiad, or the Fairy Queen.

Dante and Milton were both deeply penetrated with the ancient
religion of the civilized world; and its spirit exists in their
poetry probably in the same proportion as its forms survived in
the unreformed worship of modern Europe. The one preceded and the
other followed the Reformation at almost equal intervals. Dante
was the first religious reformer, and Luther surpassed him rather
in the rudeness and acrimony, than in the boldness of his censures
of papal usurpation. Dante was the first awakener of entranced
Europe; he created a language, in itself music and persuasion, out
of a chaos of inharmonious barbarisms. He was the congregator of
those great spirits who presided over the resurrection of learning;
the Lucifer of that starry flock which in the thirteenth century
shone forth from republican Italy, as from a heaven, into the
darkness of the benighted world. His very words are instinct with
spirit; each is as a spark, a burning atom of inextinguishable
thought; and many yet lie covered in the ashes of their birth, and
pregnant with a lightning which has yet found no conductor. All
high poetry is infinite; it is as the first acorn, which contained
all oaks potentially. Veil after veil may be undrawn, and the
inmost naked beauty of the meaning never exposed. A great poem
is a fountain for ever overflowing with the waters of wisdom and
delight; and after one person and one age has exhausted all its
divine effluence which their peculiar relations enable them to
share, another and yet another succeeds, and new relations are ever
developed, the source of an unforeseen and an unconceived delight.

The age immediately succeeding to that of Dante, Petrarch, and
Boccaccio, was characterized by a revival of painting, sculpture,
and architecture. Chaucer caught the sacred inspiration, and the
superstructure of English literature is based upon the materials
of Italian invention.

But let us not be betrayed from a defence into a critical history
of poetry and its influence on society. Be it enough to have pointed
out the effects of poets, in the large and true sense of the word,
upon their own and all succeeding times.

But poets have been challenged to resign the civic crown to reasoners
and mechanists, on another plea. It is admitted that the exercise
of the imagination is most delightful, but it is alleged that that
of reason is more useful. Let us examine as the grounds of this
distinction, what is here meant by utility. Pleasure or good, in a
general sense, is that which the consciousness of a sensitive and
intelligent being seeks, and in which, when found, it acquiesces.
There are two kinds of pleasure, one durable, universal and
permanent; the other transitory and particular. Utility may either
express the means of producing the former or the latter. In the
former sense, whatever strengthens and purifies the affections,
enlarges the imagination, and adds spirit to sense, is useful. But
a narrower meaning may be assigned to the word utility, confining
it to express that which banishes the importunity of the wants of
our animal nature, the surrounding men with security of life, the
dispersing the grosser delusions of superstition, and the conciliating
such a degree of mutual forbearance among men as may consist with
the motives of personal advantage.

Undoubtedly the promoters of utility, in this limited sense, have
their appointed office in society. They follow the footsteps of
poets, and copy the sketches of their creations into the book of
common life. They make space, and give time. Their exertions are
of the highest value, so long as they confine their administration
of the concerns of the inferior powers of our nature within the
limits due to the superior ones. But whilst the sceptic destroys
gross superstitions, let him spare to deface, as some of the
French writers have defaced, the eternal truths charactered upon
the imaginations of men. Whilst the mechanist abridges, and the
political economist combines labour, let them beware that their
speculations, for want of correspondence with those first principles
which belong to the imagination, do not tend, as they have in
modern England, to exasperate at once the extremes of luxury and
want. They have exemplified the saying, 'To him that hath, more
shall be given; and from him that hath not, the little that he hath
shall be taken away.' The rich have become richer, and the poor
have become poorer; and the vessel of the state is driven between
the Scylla and Charybdis of anarchy and despotism. Such are the
effects which must ever flow from an unmitigated exercise of the
calculating faculty.

It is difficult to define pleasure in its highest sense; the
definition involving a number of apparent paradoxes. For, from an
inexplicable defect of harmony in the constitution of human nature,
the pain of the inferior is frequently connected with the pleasures
of the superior portions of our being. Sorrow, terror, anguish,
despair itself, are often the chosen expressions of an approximation
to the highest good. Our sympathy in tragic fiction depends on this
principle; tragedy delights by affording a shadow of the pleasure
which exists in pain. This is the source also of the melancholy
which is inseparable from the sweetest melody. The pleasure that
is in sorrow is sweeter than the pleasure of pleasure itself. And
hence the saying, 'It is better to go to the house of mourning, than
to the house of mirth.' Not that this highest species of pleasure
is necessarily linked with pain. The delight of love and friendship,
the ecstasy of the admiration of nature, the joy of the perception
and still more of the creation of poetry, is often wholly unalloyed.

The production and assurance of pleasure in this highest sense
is true utility. Those who produce and preserve this pleasure are
poets or poetical philosophers.

The exertions of Locke, Hume, Gibbon, Voltaire, Rousseau, [Footnote:
Although Rousseau has been thus classed, he was essentially a
poet. The others, even Voltaire, were mere reasoners.] and their
disciples, in favour of oppressed and deluded humanity, are entitled
to the gratitude of mankind. Yet it is easy to calculate the degree
of moral and intellectual improvement which the world would have
exhibited, had they never lived. A little more nonsense would have
been talked for a century or two; and perhaps a few more men, women,
and children, burnt as heretics. We might not at this moment have
been congratulating each other on the abolition of the Inquisition
in Spain. But it exceeds all imagination to conceive what would have
been the moral condition of the world if neither Dante, Petrarch,
Boccaccio, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Calderon, Lord Bacon, nor Milton,
had ever existed; if Raphael and Michael Angelo had never been
born; if the Hebrew poetry had never been translated; if a revival
of the study of Greek literature had never taken place; if no
monuments of ancient sculpture had been handed down to us; and if
the poetry of the religion of the ancient world had been extinguished
together with its belief. The human mind could never, except by
the intervention of these excitements, have been awakened to the
invention of the grosser sciences, and that application of analytical
reasoning to the aberrations of society, which it is now attempted
to exalt over the direct expression of the inventive and creative
faculty itself.

We have more moral, political and historical wisdom, than we know
how to reduce into practice; we have more scientific and economical
knowledge than can be accommodated to the just distribution of the
produce which it multiplies. The poetry in these systems of thought,
is concealed by the accumulation of facts and calculating processes.
There is no want of knowledge respecting what is wisest and best
in morals, government, and political economy, or at least, what
is wiser and better than what men now practise and endure. But we
let '_I_ DARE NOT wait upon I WOULD, like the poor cat in the adage.'
We want the creative faculty to imagine that which we know; we
want the generous impulse to act that which we imagine; we want the
poetry of life: our calculations have outrun conception; we have
eaten more than we can digest. The cultivation of those sciences
which have enlarged the limits of the empire of man over the
external world, has, for want of the poetical faculty, proportionally
circumscribed those of the internal world; and man, having enslaved
the elements, remains himself a slave. To what but a cultivation
of the mechanical arts in a degree disproportioned to the presence
of the creative faculty, which is the basis of all knowledge,
is to be attributed the abuse of all invention for abridging and
combining labour, to the exasperation of the inequality of mankind?
From what other cause has it arisen that the discoveries which should
have lightened, have added a weight to the curse imposed on Adam?
Poetry, and the principle of Self, of which money is the visible,
incarnation, are the God and Mammon of the world.

The functions of the poetical faculty are two-fold; by one it
creates new materials of knowledge and power and pleasure; by the
other it engenders in the mind a desire to reproduce and arrange
them according to a certain rhythm and order which may be called
the beautiful and the good. The cultivation of poetry is never more
to be desired than at periods when, from an excess of the selfish
and calculating principle, the accumulation of the materials of
external life exceed the quantity of the power of assimilating them
to the internal laws of human nature. The body has then become too
unwieldy for that which animates it.

Poetry is indeed something divine. It is at once the centre and
circumference of knowledge; it is that which comprehends all science,
and that to which all science must be referred. It is at the same
time the root and blossom of all other systems of thought; it is
that from which all spring, and that which adorns all; and that
which, if blighted, denies the fruit and the seed, and withholds
from the barren world the nourishment and the succession of the
scions of the tree of life. It is the perfect and consummate surface
and bloom of all things; it is as the odour and the colour of the
rose to the texture of the elements which compose it, as the form
and splendour of unfaded beauty to the secrets of anatomy and
corruption. What were virtue, love, patriotism, friendship--what
were the scenery of this beautiful universe which we inhabit; what
were our consolations on this side of the grave--and what were our
aspirations beyond it, if poetry did not ascend to bring light and
fire from those eternal regions where the owl-winged faculty of
calculation dare not ever soar?  Poetry is not like reasoning, a
power to be exerted according to the determination of the will. A
man cannot say, 'I will compose poetry.' The greatest poet even cannot
say it; for the mind in creation is as a fading coal, which some
invisible influence, like an inconstant wind, awakens to transitory
brightness; this power arises from within, like the colour of a
flower which fades and changes as it is developed, and the conscious
portions of our natures are unprophetic either of its approach or
its departure.  Could this influence be durable in its original
purity and force, it is impossible to predict the greatness of the
results; but when composition begins, inspiration is already on the
decline, and the most glorious poetry that has ever been communicated
to the world is probably a feeble shadow of the original conceptions
of the poet. I appeal to the greatest poets of the present day,
whether it is not an error to assert that the finest passages of
poetry are produced by labour and study. The toil and the delay
recommended by critics, can be justly interpreted to mean no more
than a careful observation of the inspired moments, and an artificial
connexion of the spaces between their suggestions by the intertexture
of conventional expressions; a necessity only imposed by the
limitedness of the poetical faculty itself; for Milton conceived
the Paradise Lost as a whole before he executed it in portions; We
have his own authority also for the muse having 'dictated' to him
the 'unpremeditated song'. And let this be an answer to those who
would allege the fifty-six various readings of the first line of
the Orlando Furioso. Compositions so produced are to poetry what
mosaic is to painting. This instinct and intuition of the poetical
faculty, is still more observable in the plastic and pictorial arts;
a great statue or picture grows under the power of the artist as
a child in the mother's womb; and the very mind which directs the
hands in formation is incapable of accounting to itself for the
origin, the gradations, or the media of the process.

Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest
and best minds. We are aware of evanescent visitations of thought
and feeling sometimes associated with place or person, sometimes
regarding our own mind alone, and always arising unforeseen
and departing unbidden, but elevating and delightful beyond all
expression; so that even in the desire and regret they leave, there
cannot but be pleasure, participating as it does in the nature
of its object. It is as it were the interpenetration of a diviner
nature through our own; but its footsteps are like those of a wind
over the sea, which the coming calm erases, and whose traces remain
only, as on the wrinkled sand which paves it. These and corresponding
conditions of being are experienced principally by those of the
most delicate sensibility and the most enlarged imagination; and the
state of mind produced by them is at war with every base desire.
The enthusiasm of virtue, love, patriotism, and friendship,
is essentially linked with such emotions; and whilst they last,
self appears as what it is, an atom to a universe. Poets are not
only subject to these experiences as spirits of the most refined
organization, but they can colour all that they combine with the
evanescent hues of this ethereal world; a word, a trait in the
representation of a scene or a passion, will touch the enchanted
chord, and reanimate, in those who have ever experienced these
emotions, the sleeping, the cold, the buried image of the past.
Poetry thus makes immortal all that is best and most beautiful in
the world; it arrests the vanishing apparitions which haunt the
interlunations of life, and veiling them, or in language or in form,
sends them forth among mankind, bearing sweet news of kindred joy
to those with whom their sisters abide--abide, because there is
no portal of expression from the caverns of the spirit which they
inhabit into the universe of things. Poetry redeems from decay the
visitations of the divinity in man.

Poetry turns all things to loveliness; it exalts the beauty of that
which is most beautiful, and it adds beauty to that which is most
deformed; it marries exultation and horror, grief and pleasure,
eternity and change; it subdues to union under its light yoke,
all irreconcilable things. It transmutes all that it touches, and
every form moving within the radiance of its presence is changed
by wondrous sympathy to an incarnation of the spirit which it
breathes: its secret alchemy turns to potable gold the poisonous
waters which flow from death through life; it strips the veil of
familiarity from the world, and lays bare the naked and sleeping
beauty, which is the spirit of its forms.

All things exist as they are perceived; at least in relation to
the percipient. 'The mind is its own place, and of itself can make
a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.' But poetry defeats the curse
which binds us to be subjected to the accident of surrounding
impressions. And whether it spreads its own figured curtain,
or withdraws life's dark veil from before the scene of things, it
equally creates for us a being within our being. It makes us the
inhabitants of a world to which the familiar world is a chaos.
It reproduces the common universe of which we are portions and
percipients, and it purges from our inward sight the film of familiarity
which obscures from us the wonder of our being. It compels us to
feel that which we perceive, and to imagine that which we know. It
creates anew the universe, after it has been annihilated in our
minds by the recurrence of impressions blunted by reiteration.
It justifies the bold and true words of Tasso: Non merita nome di
creatore, se non Iddio ed il Poeta.

A poet, as he is the author to others of the highest wisdom, pleasure,
virtue and glory, so he ought personally to be the happiest, the
best, the wisest, and the most illustrious of men. As to his glory,
let time be challenged to declare whether the fame of any other
institutor of human life be comparable to that of a poet.  That
he is the wisest, the happiest, and the best, inasmuch as he is
a poet, is equally incontrovertible: the greatest poets have been
men of the most spotless virtue, of the most consummate prudence,
and, if we would look into the interior of their lives, the most
fortunate of men: and the exceptions, as they regard those who
possessed the poetic faculty in a high yet inferior degree, will
be found on consideration to confine rather than destroy the rule.
Let us for a moment stoop to the arbitration of popular breath, and
usurping and uniting in our own persons the incompatible characters
of accuser, witness, judge, and executioner, let us decide without
trial, testimony, or form, that certain motives of those who are
'there sitting where we dare not soar', are reprehensible. Let
us assume that Homer was a drunkard, that Virgil was a flatterer,
that Horace was a coward, that Tasso a madman, that Lord Bacon was
a peculator, that Raphael was a libertine, that Spenser was a poet
laureate. It is inconsistent with this division of our subject
to cite living poets, but posterity has done ample justice to the
great names now referred to. Their errors have been weighed and found
to have been dust in the balance; if their sins 'were as scarlet,
they are now white as snow'; they have been washed in the blood of
the mediator and redeemer, Time. Observe in what a ludicrous chaos
the imputation of real or fictitious crime have been confused in
the contemporary calumnies against poetry and poets; consider how
little is, as it appears--or appears, as it is; look to your own
motives, and judge not, lest ye be judged.

Poetry, as has been said, differs in this respect from logic, that
it is not subject to the control of the active powers of the mind,
and that its birth and recurrence have no necessary connexion with
the consciousness or will. It is presumptuous  to determine that
these are the necessary conditions of all mental causation, when
mental effects are experienced unsusceptible of being referred to
them. The frequent recurrence of the poetical power, it is obvious
to suppose, may produce in the mind a habit of order and harmony
correlative with its own nature and its effects upon other minds.
But in the intervals of inspiration, and they may be frequent
without being durable, a poet becomes a man, and is abandoned to
the sudden reflux of the influences under which others habitually
live.  But as he is more delicately organized than other men, and
sensible to pain and pleasure, both his own and that of others, in
a degree unknown to them, he will avoid the one and pursue the other
with an ardour proportioned to this difference. And he renders
himself obnoxious to calumny, when he neglects to observe the
circumstances under which these objects of universal pursuit and
flight have disguised themselves in one another's garments.

But there is nothing necessarily evil in this error, and thus
cruelty, envy, revenge, avarice, and the passions purely evil, have
never formed any portion of the popular imputations on the lives
of poets.

I have thought it most favourable to the cause of truth to set down
these remarks according to the order in which they were suggested
to my mind, by a consideration of the subject itself, instead of
observing the formality of a polemical reply; but if the view which
they contain be just, they will be found to involve a refutation
of the arguers against poetry, so far at least as regards the first
division of the subject. I can readily conjecture what should have
moved the gall of some learned and intelligent writers who quarrel
with certain versifiers; I confess myself, like them, unwilling
to be stunned, by the Theseids of the hoarse Codri of the day.
Bavius and Maevius undoubtedly are, as they ever were, insufferable
persons. But it belongs to a philosophical critic to distinguish
rather than confound.

The first part of these remarks has related to poetry in its
elements and principles; and it has been shown, as well as the narrow
limits assigned them would permit, that what is called poetry, in
a restricted sense, has a common source with all other forms of order
and of beauty, according to which the materials of human life are
susceptible of being arranged, and which is poetry in a universal

The second part will have for its object an application of these
principles to the present state of the cultivation of poetry, and
a defence of the attempt to idealize the modern forms of manners and
opinions, and compel them into a subordination to the imaginative
and creative faculty. For the literature of England, an energetic
development of which has ever preceded or accompanied a great and
free development of the national will, has arisen as it were from a
new birth. In spite of the low-thoughted envy which would undervalue
contemporary merit, our own will be a memorable age in intellectual
achievements, and we live among such philosophers and poets
as surpass beyond comparison any who have appeared since the last
national struggle for civil and religious liberty. The most unfailing
herald, companion, and follower of the awakening of a great people
to work a beneficial change in opinion or institution, is poetry.
At such periods there is an accumulation of the power of communicating
and receiving intense and impassioned conceptions respecting man
and nature. The persons in whom this power resides may often, as far
as regards many portions of their nature, have little apparent
correspondence with that spirit of good of which they are
the ministers. But even whilst they deny and abjure, they are yet
compelled to serve, the power which is seated on the throne of
their own soul. It is impossible to read the compositions of the
most celebrated writers of the present day without being startled
with the electric life which burns within their words. They measure
the circumference and sound the depths of human nature with a
comprehensive and all-penetrating spirit, and they are themselves
perhaps the most sincerely astonished at its manifestations; for
it is less their spirit than the spirit of the age. Poets are the
hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration; the mirrors of the
gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present; the words
which express what they understand not; the trumpets which sing
to battle, and feel not what they inspire; the influence which is
moved not, but moves.  Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of
the world.


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