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ART. II.--Memoires biographiques, litteraires et politiques de MIRABEAU; écrits par lui même; par son frère; son oncle; et son fils adoptif. 8 vols. 8vo. Paris: 1834-6.
Eloquence, like poetry, seems a natural gift, and not an acquired talent. Efficiency, and even superiority, may be attained in both, without decided genius; though no one will rise, by mere labour, to the highest development of the powers and resources of these arts, without some talent greater than the acquired. Cicero, with that true fidelity and affection which every one feels for the means of his elevation, ranks elequence as the first of the arts; and, without acceding to this opinion in its full extent, but making some allowance for prejudice and vanity, it cannot be denied that it is a very great possession-a tremendous instrument for talent to hold, and one of the highest and noblest attainments the human mind can reach, or to which human genius can aspire. It is then no condescension, with the greatest mind, if it lie within the direction of its pursuits and purposes, to attempt, if nature is deficient, the increase of its resources, by adding the accomplishment of oratory. Still there can be no doubt that the elements of eloquence are gifts of nature; that it is a peculiar and uncommon power; that the different faculties which are required in its creation, seldom meet in one individual, and are beyond the reach of most men, even in the humblest degree. The great Roman orator says, with some exultation, see how many mathematicians there are-how many poets-how many distinguished in every department of knowledge--but how few orators; and the assertion appears as true as it is forcible. It is borne out by the history of nations. Whether it is the creature of circumstance, a mere accident of intellect, or the production of a highly cultivated condition of society, or to whatever cause our speculations may extend, the fact appears to be, that a great orator is a very infrequent and extraordinary event.
Multo tamen pauciores oratores, quam poetæ boni reperientur, which, as it is true, elevates oratory to a higher place than is usually assigned to it; though it does not depress, at the same time, its noble sister art. Greece, in the midst of her refinement, through all the struggles of ambition, with all her magnificent attainments in every department in which the human intellect has excelled or can excel--in the beauty and perfection of her philosophy-her political changes and convulsions--her freedom--and with a people of the most apt and acute genius, and possessing every other attribute that has made her the admiration of ages--had, or has left, but few orators. There was every variety of incident in her career to
call forth all the various powers of mind--all those hues of hope, and shades of depression, that excite and gladden, or try the firmness and energies of the soul. Nothing was wanting, in her character or condition, to aid and exalt every display of intellect, and nurture into greatness every aspirant for fame. Yet she had but one great orator; though, indeed, one whose existence is an era, and whose name stands as the emblem of perfection in his art; whose glory not only surpasses, but overshadows and consumes the merit of every contemporary, and has come down to the present time with the brilliancy of fame and vivid reality, which belong to a living power. The great rival of Greece had but two of high reputation, and only one of the first order. This certainly bears out Cicero, and proves that the gift of eloquence is seldom granted; or that there are difficulties to contend with, in its attainment, that are insuperable to most minds. Like most things in which the highest efforts of intellect are concerned, there must be, to develope them fully, a correspondence between the moral, mental and political condition of society; or, in other words, the highest degree of civilization is, if not essential, still extremely important in bringing out the refinements of art. An individual of extraordinary genius, governed by that irrepressible instinct that leads him on in pursuit of the object he is best fitted to attain, may succeed in his design. He does it in defiance of society, in defiance of all the obstacles of a rude age or personal circumstances. He acts not through his will, but by an impulse of nature, to which his will is obedient. He is in so far an inspired person--one who is beyond the common relations of men, and forms no example of the necessity or the value of an improved social state, in drawing forth and shaping the objects and aspirations of intellect. Great minds do not, to all appearance, come when they are the most wanted. They visit the earth at times when their whole career must be a struggle; when the difficulties they must surmount, task all their powers; when the conflict is not only with those external influences that are strong, but with their effects, that control and overlay every energy. They must war not only with the prejudices of others, but with their own; hold a contest, hand to hand, not with the peculiar feelings alone that society regards as its great defences, but with all the corruptions with which time and ignorance incrust it, and, what is still more painful, and demands still greater exertion, with all those impressions that are found associated with every movement and every emotion of the individual's own heart and faculties. A mind that conquers such difficulties, and issues from so desperate a struggle, not only victorious, but with its character stamped indelibly on the age, and affecting those which succeed it, is not to be brought within
or judged by common rules. He sets forth his own decrees: he executes his own judgments. The world is guided by him, and not he by the world. There is no mutual relation between him and society; no influence on the one side-no dependence on the other. It is difficult, then, to say how far such a man might be injured or improved by living in times of more refinement; but one thing is certain, that the nature, if not the quality, of what he does, would be much affected by the circumstances in which he lives. The poet is, perhaps, the only form in which genius appears, that would be exempt from this influence: though not altogether, yet quite enough so to preserve his powers unbiassed, and his claims to originality entire. It is difficult to conceive Shakspeare, if he had lived in the age of Pericles, more extraordinary than he is, or very different. His creations would not have been more perfect, though his language might have been more polished. We should have had his humour, his knowledge of human nature, all the strength of his imagination, the brilliancy of his fancy, and acuteness of his wit, in some other shape. He would have moulded the spiritualized grandeur, that appears an attribute in the drama of Greece, into shapes as stately and lovely as any we now have, though they might have been imbued with more of the passions and sympathies of our nature. Still, it is a deep homage to pay to the strength of great genius, to suppose that even Shakspeare would not have undergone some serious change, if he had lived in that remarkable era. The imagination rests upon it with such pleasure and amazement, that a species of awe and veneration mingles with our thoughts. There is a visionary splendour attached to that period, a halo of intellect and glory, that makes it difficult to individualize our associations, and not to elevate, into something more than mortal, the men of that time. The poet, however, is less dependent on things around him, than any other of the cultivators of intellect. He models himself by no rules; he is no part of the commonplace of society. He stands, if not aloof, still distinct, from those minor regulations which direct the thoughts of others. His movements are in a sphere of his own. He is the type of his own errors-the master and director of his own pursuits. In what way then is he likely to be affected by the conduct or condition of those minor and trifling matters which hold, but are only meant to hold in obedience inferior minds? We do not, by this, design to say that there is no reaction, even on the greatest genius, by circumstances for the fact is too evident to be denied. It is altered by them; it is withered by them; it seems to lose all sense of an independent existence, beneath the weight of the opposing opinions and counteracting laws and feelings of the position in which it is cast. Yet, we think, poetry feels these less than the VOL. XXI.-NO. 42. 37
rest of its kindred arts. The wild and wilful child of song bears no dictation. He trusts to himself: he meets and subdues difficulties by surrendering his mind to the impulses of his nature. He does not betray the powers which are entrusted to him; or show a want of confidence in their strength and guidance, by submitting to the checks which circumstances or the cold rules and unequal decisions of social regulation would have thrown in his way. Would Homer have been less or more a great poet, if, instead of being born in the rudest age of the world, and on the rocky shores of an obscure island, he had been nurtured among the great spirits of the most refined period in Grecian annals, and been bathed in the pure and exalting air of her intellectual glory? Or would Dante, if thrown back to the times of the greatness of Rome, but to the ruins of her virtue, and commencement of her decline, or thrown forward to the present period of her wreck, instead of being cast among the petty jealousies, the distraction and agitation of rival republics and their factions, have given birth the less to some great work? It might not have been the dark and extravagant fiction we now have; in so far, he would have yielded to circumstances; but it would have been some other, equal in power, and, perhaps, analogous in character. If, then, we relieve poetry from the disastrous suspicion that its very being depends on the state of things in which it happens to exist, we cannot do the same with the other fine arts. They seem, beyond a doubt, to depend on some general power, acting equally on society and the individual-the result of a due and intimate relation between those external influences which act on and through the mass, and those internal impulses that form the peculiar nature of the individual. This complete correspondence between the intellect of the man and the many, is one of the advantages of civilization, and the cultivation which follows it; and it is probably the source of all that calling forth of genius, which gives splendour to, and renders illustrious, certain eras of the world. Nothing then is forbidden to mind; it may be pampered and over refined, but it still can pursue its inclinations, and find an audience in the incessant desire of excitement and morbid love of novelty, which, at such times, so widely prevails; the two principles which always accompany a high state of improvement, that come forth in the midst of the grandeur of states-that prove the utmost bound to which the human mind can reach-the nearness of perfection, and that the limit between the ideal and the actual, towards which genius is ever extending itself, has at length been met; but which, as truly as the flight of vultures, indicate commencing decay, and that nations have outlived their energies.
If, then, we relieve poetry from the necessity of the hothouse nursing of high excitement for its excellence, if not existence, and
choose to regard it as a plant that will grow on any soil, spread its leaves, and throw its perfume among the rocks and across the barrens of social life, not only as well, but with far more strength and beauty than in the extreme of artificial cultivation, we do not depress but elevate it in the scale of intellectual attainments. It shows consideration and homage for hunan genius, to conceive that its lustre and almost perfection come from a loftier source than mere culture; that if inspiration is too strong a term to apply to the result and exercise of mind devoted to things of the world alone, yet that so noble a possession as great poetic power is a gift of infinite importance, and evidently designed for some extraordinary purpose. It needs no analysis of its value to make this evident. The most superficial observation shows it clearly enough. The admiration with which men receive it; the wonder with which they regard it; the exquisite pleasure that it produces; the echo with which it bounds from bosom to bosom; the hold with which it grasps our affections, and the murmur of delight with which it runs through the present and the dark revolutions of ages-are all sufficient testimony that, like the incendiary's firebrand, it is not thrown at random among the inflammable matter of human passion, but is directed towards some deep and mysterious but still useful and necessary end. It matters not, then, when or where the individual being is brought out. Whether it be in the heavy forest gloom of barbarous times; under the soul-crushing sway and deadening influence of ignorance and superstition; in the untutored simplicity of rural life, or among all the resources of the most perfect civilization; still the poet fulfils his purpose. The elements of his character are the same; the true extent and bearing of his faculties are unchanged by the waywardness of fortune. He builds on the iron foundation and solid ground of nature; and, wherever the heather blooms, or a blossom or a flower opens to the spring; wherever the mountain streams roll, the notes of birds chime upon the air; wherever he is told, by the sympathy of his emotions, that his spirit holds alliance throughout the whole broad surface of nature--the poet finds opportunity for his existence. It is in his favour that poverty rocks his cradle--virtue is the more likely to be his companion; that humility ushers him on the stage of life--the false glare of pride is the less likely to charm or dazzle. It is in his favour that no friend counsels as to his course--he chooses his own; that there is no dictation, no restraint-the spirit then bounds forward, with perhaps an intractable and irregular impetuosity, but with decision and vigour. There is then room for the swell of his emotions-a wild freedom for his thoughts. He escapes the early blasts of vice; he is not the pampered fondling of a dangerous admiration; his feelings are