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Two stern-faced men set out from Lynn,
Through the cold and heavy mist;
With gyves upon his wrists.
319.—THE POET'S YEAR.
GOETHE. (From a Criticism on the Poems of J. H. Voss, translated by
Every author, in some degree, portrays himself in his works, even be it against his will. In this case he is present to us, and designedly; nay, with a friendly alacrity, sets before us his inward and outward modes of thinking and feeling; and disdains not to give us confidential explanations of circumstances, thoughts, views, and expressions, by means of appended notes.
And now, encouraged by so friendly an invitation, we draw nearer to him ; we seek him by himself; we attach ourselves to him, and promise ourselves rich enjoyment, and manifold instruction and improvement.
In a level northern landscape we find him, rejoicing in his existence, in a latitude in which the ancients hardly expected to find a living thing
And truly, Winter there manifests his whole might and sovereignty. Storm-borne from the Pole, he covers the woods with hoar frost, the streams with ice ;- -a drifting whirlwind eddies around the high gables, while the poet rejoices in the shelter and comfort of his home, and cheerily bids defiance to the raging elements. Furred and frost-covered friends arrive, and are heartily welcomed under the protecting roof; and soon they form a cordial confiding circle, enliven the household meal by the clang of glasses, the joyous song, and thus create for themselves a moral summer.
We then find him abroad, and braving the inclemencies of the wintry heavens. When the axle-tree creaks heavily under the load of fire-wood—when even the footsteps of the wanderer ring along the ground-we see him now walking briskly through the snow to the distant dwelling of a friend ; now joining a sledgeparty, gliding, with tinkling bells over the boundless plain. At length a cheerful inn receives the half-frozen travellers; a bright flickering fire greets them as they crowd around the chimney; dance, choral song, and many a warm viand are reviving and grateful to youth and age. But when the snow melts under the returning sun, when the warmed earth frees itself somewhat from its thick covering, the poet hastens with his friends into the free air, to refresh bimself with the first living breath of the new year, and to seek the earliest flowers. The bright golden clover is gathered, bound into bunches, and brought home in triumph, where this herald of the future beauty and bounty of the year is destined to crown a family festival of Hope.
And when Spring herself advances, no more is heard of roof and hearth; the poet is always abroad, wandering on the soft pathways around his peaceful lake. Every bush unfolds itself with an individual character, every blossom bursts with an indi. vidual life, in his presence.
As in a fully worked-out picture, we see, in the sun-light around him, grass and herb, as distinctly as oak and beech-tree; and on the margin of the still waters there is wanting neither the reed nor any succulent plant.
Here his companions are not those transforming fantasies, by whose impatient power the rock fashions itself into the divine maiden, the tree puts off its branches and appears to allure the hunter with its soft lovely arms. Rather wanders the poet solitary, like a priest of nature ; touches each plant, each bush, with gentle hand; and hallows them members of a loving harmonious family.
Around him, like a dweller in Eden, sport, harmless, fearless creatures—the lamb on the meadows, the roe in the forest. Around him assemble the whole choir of birds, and drown the busy hum of day with their varied accents.
Then, at evening, towards night, when the moon climbs the heaven in serene splendor, and sends her flickering image curling to his feet on the surface of the lightly ruffled waters; when the boat rocks softly, and the oar gives its measured cadence, and erery stroke calls up sparkles of reflected light; when the nightingale pours forth her divine song from the shore, and softens every heart; then do affection and passion manifest themselves in happy tenderness; from the first touch of a sympathy awakened by the Highest himself, to that quiet, graceful, timid desire, which flourishes within the narrow inclosure of domestic life. A heaving breast, an ardent glance, a pressure of the hand, a stolen kiss, give life to his song. But it is ever the affianced lover that is emboldened; it is ever the betrothed bride that yields; and thus does all that is ventured, and all that is granted, bend to a lawful standard ; though, within that limit, he permits himself much freedom.
Soon, however, he leads us again under the free heavens ; into the green; to bower and bush; and there is he most cheerfully, cordially, and fondly at home.
The Summer has come again ; a genial warmth breathes through the poet's song. Thunders roll; clouds drop showers; rainbows appear; lightnings gleam; and a blessed coolness overspreads the plain. Everything ripens; the poet overlooks none of the varied harvests; he hallows all by bis presence.
And here is the place to remark what an influence our poets might exercise on the civilization of our German people—in some places, perhaps, have exercised.
His poems on the various incidents of rural life, indeed, do represent rather the reflections of a refined intellect than the feelings of the common people ; but if we could picture to ourselves that a harper were present at the hay, corn, and potato harvests, —if we recollected how he might make the men whom he gath. ered around him observant of that which recurs to them as ordinary and familiar; if, by his manner of regarding it, by his poetical expression, he elevated the common, and heightened the enjoyment of every gift of God and nature by his dignified representation of it, we may truly say he would be a real benefactor to his country. For the first stage of a true enlightenment is, that man should reflect upon his condition and circumstances, and be brought to regard them in the most agreeable light. Let the song of the potato be sung in the field, where the wondrous mode of increase, which calls even the man of science to high and
curious meditation, after the long and silent working and inter weaving of vegetable powers, comes to view, and a quite unintel. ligible blessing springs out of the earth; and then first will be felt the merit of this and similar poems, in which the poet essays to awaken the rude, reckless, unobservant man, who takes everything for granted, to an attentive observation of the high wonders of all-nourishing nature, by which he is constantly surrounded.
But scarcely are all these bounties brought under man's notice, when Autumn glides in, and our poet takes an affecting leave of nature, decaying, at least in outward appearance. Yet he abandons not his beloved vegetation wholly to the unkind winter. The elegant vase receives many a plant, many a bulb, wherewith to create a mimic summer in the home seclusion of winter, and, even at that season, to leave no festival without its flowers and wreaths. Care is taken that even the household birds belong. ing to the family should not want a green fresh roof to their bow. ery cage.
Now is the loveliest time for short rambles,-for friendly converse in the chilly evening. Every domestic feeling becomes active; longings for social pleasures increase; the want of music is more sensibly felt; and now, even the sick man willingly joins the friendly circle, and a departing friend seems to clothe himself in the colors of the departing year.
For as certainly as spring will return after the lapse of winter, so certainly will friends, lovers, kindred meet again; they will meet again in the presence of the all-loving Father; and then first will they form a whole with each other, and with everything good, after which they sought and strove in vain in this piecemeal world. And thus does the felicity of the poet, even here, rest on the persuasion that all have to rejoice in the care of a wise God, whose power extends unto all, and whose light lightens upon all. Thus does the adoration of such a Being create in the poet the highest clearness and reasonableness; and, at the same time, an assurance that the thoughts, the words, with which he comprehends and describes infinite qualities, are not empty dreams and sounds; and thence arises a rapturous feeling of his own and others' happiness, in which everything conflicting, peculiar, discordant, is resolved and dissipated.
320.— DECISION OF CHARACTER.
JOAN FOSTER. (JOHN FOSTÉR, born in 1770, was a native of Yorkshire. He was educated for the Baptist ministry; but subsequently devoted himself to literary occupation, residing at Stapleton, near Bristol, where he died in 1843. His · Essays' were first published in 1805—a remarkable book, that will live as long as the language. His other chief work is · Essay on the Evils of Popular Ignorance.')
I have repeatedly remarked to you, in conversation, the effect of what has been called a ruling passion. When its object is noble, and an enlightened understanding directs its movements, it appears to me a great felicity; but whether its object be noble or not, it infallibly creates, where it exists in great force, that active ardent constancy, wbich I describe as a capital feature of the decisive character. The subject of such a commanding passion wonders, if indeed he were at leisure to wonder, at the persons who pretend to attach importance to an object which they make pone but the most languid efforts to secure. The utmost powers of the man are constrained into the service of the favorite cause by this passion, which sweeps away, as it advances, all the trivial objections and little opposing motives, and seems almost to open a way through impossibilities. This spirit comes on him in the morning as soon as he recovers his consciousness, and commands and impels him through the day with a power from which he could not emancipate himself if he would. When the force of habit is added, the determination becomes invincible, and seems to assume rank with the great laws of nature, making it nearly as certain that such a man will persist in his course as that in the morning the sun will rise.
A persisting untameable efficacy of soul gives a seductive and pernicious dignity even to a character and a course which every moral principle forbids us to approve. Often in the narrations of history and fiction, an agent of the most dreadful designs compels a sentiment of deep respect for the unconquerable mind dis