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NOTES AND DISCUSSIONS.
THE PHILOSOPHICAL ELEMENT IN SHELLEY.
BY GEORGE SPENCER BOWER.
The century in which we live has, according to Mr. Freeman, originated a fresh instrument of research, a new point of departure for the acquisition of knowledge, a sort of third Renaissance of the human intellect. This instrument he believes to exist in the Comparative Method as applied to different branches of inquiry. We see now, to a greater extent than formerly, that the principles of law, religion, politics, art, or philosophy, characteristic of a given people in a given age, are not final, but must be collated with those existing in other countries at the same epoch, or those existing at other epochs in the same country, if we would determine the grand elements of truth which underlie the various modes of its manifestation, and disengage the central mass of what is rational and eternal from the outlying margin of the merely temporary and conventional. Another tendency of mind, necessarily related to the above and proceeding on parallel lines with it, is the tendency to regard the genius of a great man in connection with precedent conditions and the past history of human endeavor, as well as in its isolation and heaven-derived strength; to see how such men are, in a manner, necessitated by the previous progress of humanity toward the attainment and realization of truth; and in what sense they mark a step forward on the well-beaten road. And not only so, but the minds of such men are considered also in their relation to contemporary influences, and are thus recognized as being intricate and complex totalities, with many other elements entering into their composition than the particular ones assigned to them in each case by popular opinion and speech, which, as it necessarily cannot spend time over a multitude of names, labels them once for all poetic, philosophic, critical, or statesmanlike, and has done with it. We see a great spirit as it is constituted by the delicate balance and interdependence of several different faculties, each with its bearing on the others,
spheres of contemporary intellectual activity. A really transcendent genius, of whatever cast, cannot except for purposes of convenience and brevity of expression-be enclosed within a stereotyped category, or characterized in terms of a stereotyped definition. Words must expand themselves beyond such limits if they are to become adequate to the elasticity of the mind whose inmost workings they wish to expound-if they are to satisfy the demands of philosophical accuracy and completeness. Can we understand Plato or Bacon by calling them philosophers? Shakespeare, Dante, or Goethe by calling them poets? Were not the former-though from different standpointsas much poets as philosophers, and the latter-also from different standpoints-as much philosophers as poets? Such spirits as these are complicated organisms, and must be judged as such. To dissect their wholeness, to disturb the existing harmony of parts and correlation of faculties-still more, to sever one faculty from its organic connection with the rest, and to describe it as being the life itself— this is to deprive these spirits, in our attempted explanation of them, of all that which makes them what they are.
In the productions of a really great mind there exist implicit many other elements than those which have procured for that mind its special designation in popular speech-elements which it is the task of criticism to render explicit. The true Master-spirit, the Finished Scholar, as Fichte would call him (meaning by the term a good deal more than is ordinarily meant), is one who exhibits-must, by the nature of him, exhibit—not only knowledge, but also Love of Wisdom; and not only Love of Wisdom, but also Power of Making; who is always, in fact, Man of Science, Philosopher, and Poet in one-and this by whatever distinctive appellation he may be known to the world. And thus it is that in any poetry which deserves the name-and such all would consider Shelley's to be-it is not unreasonable, and may perhaps be instructive, to seek out evidences of the more strictly speculative and philosophical side of its author's genius.
1 Mr. Masson, in his "Essay on Shakespeare and Goethe" ("English Poets," pp. 1-37), brings out the deeply philosophical element in the mind of the former. He says on p. 13, after objecting to such phrases as "William the Calm," "William the Cheerful," etc., when regarded as expressing the whole or even any considerable part of Shakespeare's mind, "If we were to select that designation which would, as we think, express Shakespeare in his most intimate and private relations to man and nature, we should rather say William the Meditative, William the Metaphysical, or William the
It is, indeed, sometimes objected that it is wrong and ridiculous to expect philosophical doctrine, moralizing rhetoric, or didactic purposes from poetry or productions of art. It is urged that the poet or the artist ought simply to interpret and combine and add coloring to whatsoever inward emotions and sympathies and enthusiasms of mind come within the range of his experience, or that of his country and age; or to translate the phenomena of outward Nature as affecting mind: and, in either case, to idealize and unify the otherwise chaotic fragments around him with sole reference to the beautiful, the simple, or the harmonious as standards; and that, therefore, it is not his province to strike attitudes as a pedagogue, or a dogmatizer, a preacher, or for the good of society. As Shelley himself says, in" Peter Bell the Third "
Is to delight, not pose."
Such is the principle on which Mr. Austin vigorously insists in an essay which appeared a few months ago in the "Contemporary Review." The principle itself is perfectly sound, and is approved by such excellent critics as Goethe' and De Quincey; but when Mr. Austin goes on to found on that principle his objection to all attempts such as that of Mr. Stopford Brooke, whom he selects for special condemnation-to find in poetic works and unearth therefrom latent elements of theology, philosophy, or morals, he appears to me to be confusing two separate things. Poetry must not consciously strive to make itself useful, to give pleasure, to produce moral effects, or to inculcate definite views on questions of metaphysics-all this is outside the proper aim and intention of the poet. So much is quite true; but surely it is not to be denied that all the above are (unintended, no doubt, but none the less actual) results of the poetical, as of most other forms of composition; though none would wish the author of such poetry to distort himself, and transcend his legitimate sphere, in the conscious endeavor to realize these results. So that neither is Mr. Stopford Brooke to be blamed for finding theology in Wordsworth, nor Conington for extracting the idea of the "Glorification of Labor" from Virgil's "Georgics," nor Plato for seeing moral lessons in Homer, and denouncing them, moreover, as bad moral lessons, nor, lastly-to come down to our
The reader will remember a fine passage in "Wilhelm Meister," where he protests against the "lightly moving, all-conceiving spirit of the poet" being chained to a ken
present subject-is it unreasonable or extravagant to attempt to evolve from Shelley's works those philosophical principles, which it would have been ridiculous in him to have consciously endeavored to inculcate by their means; just as it would have been ridiculous in Wordsworth, Virgil, or Homer to have proposed to themselves, as their several objects, the writing of treatises on divinity, farming, and ethics respectively.'
But, apart from this necessity in criticism of studying a great mind in all its aspects, and in all its relations to the various objects of thought, I would further claim consideration for my subject by drawing attention more particularly to the specially close relationship and mutual implication of Poetry and Philosophy, and to the many intellectual features which they possess in common. The "old quarrel" between the two no longer exists. Men see now, as they did not see in Plato's time, that the one is to a great extent involved in the other; that while Poetry reposes very frequently onif not developed, at all events, inchoate-principles of philosophy, Philosophy, on the other side, when of a constructive and not a merely negative and skeptical character, breathes aspirations which fairly entitle her, in some of her moods, to enter the legitimate domain of Toiŋoiç or Creation. It is the object of both to pierce beneath and behind the outward veil-the "schein "-of the phenomenal world to the inwardness and reality of things; or, if the less sombre of the twin sisters loves to linger awhile and hold converse with Nature in the outer courts of the temple, and on the lowest flights of steps, it is only because she knows that these are in truth nothing but encircling courts and ascending steps, and that she must mount upward and onward through the shrine, which is redolent of a far deeper and more spiritual incense than they, to the altar itself of Ideal Beauty. She uses Nature's forms merely as the firm setting the solid background-to the airy phantasms of her own conjuring. Philosophy endeavors to draw by main force, Poetry to lure by her enticements, the Earth-spirit from behind her lovely but (in itself) illegible vesture of Space, and the Spirit of the Time from behind the dial-face of recorded history; but both are products of a common root. Each is ever whispering to herself, half in tremulous awe, and half in tumultous rapture, that now at length
ὁ χεησμὼς οὐκέτ ̓ ἐκ καλυμμάτων ἔσται δεδορκώσ,
1 Shelley himself frequently expresses his horror of consciously didactic poetry. See especially his preface to the "Prom. Unbound," vol. I., p. 267, ed. Mrs. Shelley;
and that the secret of the universe will be laid open to view. (as regards the history both of the race and the individual) is born of wonder, of reverence toward the boundless expanse of the world around us, and the bottomless profundity of the world within us. They act alternately as vehicles for expressing one another. The poet is often, perhaps without being specially conscious of it, working out the severest problems of morals and metaphysics; the metaphysician, in his desperate endeavors to break down the barrier which divides him from the sanctuary of Truth, often uses language which kindles-cannot but kindle-into the ruddy flame of imaginative inspiration, and employs himself on ideas which finally land him in a region far beyond that where the mere discursive exercise of the understanding would be of any avail.1
Hence only is it that we can explain the significance and true value of the well-known "intellectual midwifery" practised by Socrates. He saw men burning with thought which could not find vent in the channels of ordinary language. Now, if the subject of such philosophic emotion happened to be a man of lively genius, a Plato, for instance, he solved the difficulty by finding an extraordinary language, burst forth into ecstatic song, and became, in fact, a mystic-I use the word in no bad sense-and a poet. The ordinary souls, however, felt what they could not put into words-they were vexed with "the pain of a great idea ;" and it was for this malady of thought that Socrates offered his services. The gifted spirits did not need them; but it was this blind yearning in the commoner intellects of essentially poetic impulses, without the means of poetic expression, which the great psychological doctor pitied and sought to alleviate. In both these orders of mind, however, honestly and earnestly grappling with philosophical problems, arises that creative longing (incipient, indeed, in the one class, and only fully developed and self-conscious in the other, but equally existing in both), which is usually considered proper to poetry alone as distinct from philosophy. In reality, however, both Poetry and Philosophy are aspirations toward the Infinite through the Finite, toward the Metaphysical (Behind- or Beyond-the-Physical) through the Physical, toward the Supernatural through the Natural. Plato's description. of the philosophic life-ouoiwois T OE-will also apply to that of the true poet. He, as much as the philosopher, seeks the general in the particular, the spiritual in the material, the ideal in the reality,