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Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 443 Volume 17, New Series, June 26, 1852   By:

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No. 443. NEW SERIES. SATURDAY, JUNE 26, 1852. PRICE 1 1/2 d.


There are some phrases that convey only a vague and indefinite meaning, that make an impression upon the mind so faint as to be scarcely resolvable into shape or character. Being associated, however, with the feeling of beauty or enjoyment, they are ever on our lips, and pass current in conversation at a conventional value. Of these phrases is the 'poetry of life' words that never fail to excite an agreeable though dreamy emotion, which it is impossible to refer to any positive ideas. They are generally used, however, to indicate something gone by. The poetry of life, we say, with sentimental regret, has passed away with the old forms of society; the world is disenchanted of its talismans; we have awakened from the dreams that once lent a charm to existence, and we now see nothing around us but the cold hard crust of external nature.

This must be true if we think it is so; for we cannot be mistaken, when we feel that the element of the poetical is wanting in our constitutions. But we err both in our mode of accounting for the fact, and in believing the loss we deplore to be irretrievable. The fault committed by reasoners on this subject is, to confound one thing with another to account for the age being unpoetical as it unquestionably is by a supposed decay in the materials of poetry. We may as well be told that the phenomena of the rising and setting sun of clouds and moonlight of storm and calm of the changing seasons of the infinitely varying face of nature, are now trite and worn out. They are as fresh and new as ever, and will be so at the last day of the world, presenting, at every recurring view, something to surprise as well as delight. To each successive generation of men, the phenomena both of the outer and inner world are absolutely new; and the child of the present day is as much a stranger upon the earth as the first born of Eve. But the impression received by each individual from the things that surround him is widely different as different as the faces in a crowd, which all present the common type of humanity without a single feature being alike. This fact we unconsciously assert in our everyday criticism; for when any similarity is detected in a description, whether of things internal or external, we at once stigmatise the later version as a plagiarism, and as such set it down as a confession of weakness.

But although the manifestations of nature, being infinite, cannot be worn out, the capacity to enjoy them, being human, may decay. It may, in fact, in some natures, be entirely wanting, and in some generations at least partially so. Seamen, for instance, who live, move, and have their being in a world of poetry and romance, are the least poetical of men; even in their songs they affect the prosaic and matter of fact, and discard everything appertaining to the fanciful.[1] Here is a direct instance of the materials of poetry being present, and its spirit wanting. So common, however, is it to confound the poetical with the faculty of enjoying it, that we find a hygienic power ascribed as an absolute property to the beauty of that very element, from which they who view it, both in its sweetest and grandest aspects, derive no elevation of feeling whatever. Hufeland, who reckons among the great panaceas of life the joy arising from the contemplation of the beauties of nature, in estimating the advantage of sea bathing as the chief natural tonic, attributes it in great part to the action of the prospect of the sea upon the nervous system. 'I am fully convinced,' says he, 'that the physical effects of sea bathing must be greatly increased by the impression on the mind, and that a hypochondriac or nervous person may be half cured by residing on the sea coast, and enjoying a view of the grand scenes of nature which will there present themselves such as, the rising and setting of the sun over the blue expanse of the waters, and the awful majesty of the waves during a storm... Continue reading book >>

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