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bright and swift sense of the truth—a quality which we are sure to find when a good artist has occasion to speak of his own art and the theories current with respect to it. In this matter proscription and prescription are alike unavailing; it is equally futile to bid an artist forego the natural bent of his genius or to bid him assume the natural office of another. If the spirit or genius proper to himself move him for instance to write political poetry, he will write it; if it bid him abstain from any such theme and write only on personal or ideal subjects, then also he will obey; or if ever he attempt to force his genius into unnatural service, constrain it to some alien duty, the most praiseworthy purpose imaginable will not suffice to put life or worth into the work so done. Art knows nothing of choice between the two kinds or preference of the one to the other ; she asks only that the artist shall “ follow his star" with the faith and the fervour of Dante, whether it lead him on a path like or unlike the way of Dante's work; the ministers of either tribe, the savours of either sacrifice, are equally excellent in her sight.
The question whether past or present afford the highest matter for high poetry and offer the noblest reward to the noble workman has been as loudly and as long debated, but is really less debateable on any rational ground than the question of the end and aim of art. It is but lost labour that the champions on one side summon us to renounce the present and all its works, and return to bathe our spirits in the purer air and living springs of the past; it is but waste of breath for the champions of the other party to bid us break the yoke and cast off the bondage of that past, leave the dead to bury their dead, and turn from the dust and rottenness of old-world themes, epic or romantic, classical or feudal, to face the age wherein we live and move and have our being, to send forth our souls and songs in search of the wonderful and doubtful future. Art knows nothing of time ; for her there is but one tense, and all ages in her sight are alike present; there is nothing old in her sight, and nothing new. It is true, as the one side urges, that she fears not to face the actual aspect of the hour, to handle if it please her the immediate matters of the day; it is true, as the other side insists, that she is free to go back when she will to the very beginnings of tradition and fetch her subject from the furthest of ancient days ; she cannot be vulgarised by the touch of the present or deadened by the contact of the past. In vain, for instance, do the first poetess of England and the first poet of America agree to urge upon their fellows or their followers the duty of confronting and expressing the spirit and the secret of their own time, its meaning and its need; such work is worthy of a poet, but no worthier than any other work that has in it the principle of life. And a poem of the past, if otherwise as good, has in it as much of this principle as a poem of the present. If a poem cast in the mould of classic or feudal times, of Greek drama or mediæval romance, be lifeless and worthless, it is not because the subject or the form was ancient, but because the poet was inadequate to his task, incompetent to do better than a flat and feeble imitation ; had he been able to fill the old types of art with new blood and breath, the remoteness of subject and the antiquity of form would in no wise have impaired the worth and reality of his work ; he
would have brought close to us the far-off loveliness and renewed for us the ancient life of his models, not by mechanical and servile transcript as of a copying clerk, but by loving and reverent emulation as of an original fellow-craftsman. No form is obsolete, no subject out of date, if the right man be there to rehandle it. To the question “Can these bones live ?” there is but one answer; if the spirit and breath of art be breathed upon them indeed, and the voice prophesying upon them be indeed the voice of a prophet, then assuredly will the bones “come together, bone to his bone ;” and the sinews and the flesh will come up upon them, and the skin cover them above, and the breath come into them, and they will live. For art is very life itself, and knows nothing of death; she is absolute truth, and takes no care of fact; she sees that Achilles and Ulysses are even now more actual by far than Wellington and Talleyrand ; not merely more noble and more interesting as types and figures, but more positive and real ; and thus it is (as Victor Hugo has himself so finely instanced it) “ that Trimalchio is alive, while the late M. Romieu is dead.” Vain as is the warning of certain critics to beware of the present and abstain from its immediate vulgarities and realities, not less vain, however nobly meant or nobly worded, is the counter admonition to “mistrust the poet” who “trundles back his soul” some centuries to sing of chiefs and ladies “as dead as must be, for the greater part, the poems made on their heroic bones ;" for if he be a poet indeed, these will at once be reclothed with instant flesh and reinspired with immediate breath, as present and as true, as palpable and as precious, as anything most near and real; and if the heroic bones be still fleshless and the heroic poems lifeless, the fault is not in the bones but in the poems, not in the theme but in the singer. As vain it is, not indeed to invite the muse to new spheres and fresher fields whither also she will surely and gladly come, but to bid her “migrate from Greece and Ionia, cross out those immensely overpaid accounts, that matter of Troy, and Achilles' wrath, and Æneas', Odysseus' wanderings ;" forsake her temples and castles of old for the new quarters which doubtless also suit her well and make her welcome ; for neither epic nor romance of chivalrous quest or classic war is obsolete yet, or ever can be ; there is nothing in the past extinct; no scroll is “closed for ever,” no legend or vision of Hellenic or feudal faith “dissolved utterly like an exhalation :" all that ever had life in it has life in it for ever; those themes only are dead which never were other than dead. “She has left them all, and is here ;” so the prophet of the new world vaunts himself in vain ; she is there indeed, as he says, “by thud of machinery and shrill steam-whistle undismayed-smiling and pleased, with palpable intent to stay;” but she has not needed for that to leave her old abodes; she is not a dependent creature of time or place, “servile to all the skiey influences ;” she need not climb mountains or cross seas to bestow on all nations at once the light of her countenance ; she is omnipresent and eternal, and forsakes neither Athens nor Jerusalem, Camelot nor Troy, Argonaut nor Crusader, to dwell as she does with equal good-will among modern appliances in London and New York. All times and all places are one to her; the stuff she deals with is eternal, and eter.
nally the same; no time or theme is inapt for her, no past or present preferable. .
We do not therefore rate this present book higher or lower because it deals with actual politics and matter of the immediate day. It is true that to all who put their faith and hope in the republican principle it must bring comfort and encouragement, a sense of strength and a specialty of pleasure, quite apart from the delight in its beauty and power; but it is not on this ground that we would base its claim to the reverent study and thankful admiration of men. The first and last thing to be noted in it is the fact of its artistic price and poetic greatness. Those who share the faith and the devotion of the writer have of course good reason to rejoice that the first poet of a great age, the foremost voice of a great nation, should speak for them in the ears of the world ; that the highest poetry of their time should take up the cause they have at heart, and set their belief to music. To have with us Victor Hugo in the present as we have Milton and Shelley in the past is not a matter to be lightly prized. Whether or not we may be at one with the master-singer on all points is a matter of less weight; whether we have learnt to look to Rome or to Paris, regenerate and redeemed from imperial or sacerdotal damnation, for the future light and model of republican Europe, we can receive with equal sympathy the heroic utterance of the greatest Frenchman's trust in the country and the city of the Revolution. Not now, after so many days of darkness, after so many stages of terror and pity, can any lover of France be inclined to cavil at the utmost expression of loyalty, the utmost passion of worship,