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ARTICLE VI.-JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL AND ROBERT

BROWNING.

The Cathedral. JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL. Boston: Fields,

Osgood, & Co. 1870. 16mo. pp. 53. Christmas Eve. RUBERT BROWNING. Boston: Ticknor & Fields. 1864.

We have been accustomed to account Mr. James Russell Lowell as among the foremost of American poets. Brightminded and cheerful, open-eyed and objective, in his diction fluent and clear, with a humor as bubbling and as changing as a mountain spring, and a sprightliness of fancy as light as the leap of a bounding fawn, he rarely fails fully to satisfy his expectant readers. The announcement of a new poem upon so fruitful a theme as “ The Cathedral ” raised our expectations more than ever. We could not repress the belief that, with a topic so elevating and suggestive, he would rise above his wonted excellence. We are sorry to confess our disappointment. Speculation and theology evidently do not suit his genius. They are “heavy as nightmare” to his generally cheerful and believing spirit. He had better leave such themes to Mr. Emerson. It is better that one poet should be spoiled than two, by the nebulous philosophy that resolves into “ a toul and pestilent congregation of vapors ” the ordinary world of poetry and of faith, with its brave, o'erhanging firmament, its majestical roof fretted with golden fire.” It is a thousand pities that even in the cathedral of Chartres, on that memorable day that never could be matched by another,

“Cloudless of care, down-shod to every sense,

And simply persect from its own resource," Mr. Lowell could not forget

“the homelike sounds, At Concord and by Bankside heard before;" that, instead of giving himself up to the inspiring influences

of the scene, he should have fallen into a brown study concerning the relations of Faith to Science and of Science to Faith.

Had he left all thoughts of Concord at hoine, and given himself to the legitimate inspiration of the Cathedral, the father's faith to which, as he informs us and we believe most truly, “he is not recreant,” would have found new stimulus and confirmation, and the truths which he learned “at his mother's knee” would have caught a fresh glory froin “the soul's east window of divine surprise.” Surely the Cathedral's inspiration is fitted to suggest thoughts more elevating and more poetic than those expressed in the lines,

Whilere, men burnt men for a doubtful point,
As if the mind were quenchable with fire,
And Faith danced round them with her war-paint on,
Devoutly savage as an Iroquois:
Now Calvin and Servetus at one board
Snuff in grave sympathy a milder roast,
And o'er their claret settle Comte unread."

We would not be unjust to the poetic merits of “ The Cathedral,” even when we express our regret that its specnlative character has been very unfortunate in its influence. We are certain Mr Lowell never wrote snch a poem before, so artificial in its structure, so indirect and elaborate in its style, and 80 remote in its allusions. We can ascribe this to no other than the fact that he has given to speculation the mind that was made for faith and poetry. Very painfully, in this in

stance, has

"he beat his music out. There is more faith in honest doubt, Believe me, than in half the creeds."

We have, however, still graver objections to his philosophy than to the poetry which it has so seriously marred. We object to its assumptions and its conclusions. Mr. Lowell is correct in assuming that with many of the thinking men of the day the old Christian faith has died out; that to them its history and its miracles are untrue, its worship is wearisome, and its hopes and consolations are undefined, and, above all, its Christ is little more than a sublime and attractive ideal, in the interpretation of which each man is at liberty to use his

individual discretion. But he is not justified in the assumption that, because these tendencies are widely prevalent, they are therefore destined to be universal, nor that, because many men of thought and science give way to them, therefore any resistance or dissent is to be taken as something exceptional and nnnatural, which in the next generation is certain to be outgrown and laid aside. Mr. Lowell's reading of history is certainly too liberal not to have informed him that a similar tone has been assumed in other generations and even in other centuries by the rejectors of Christianity, and that the same conflict has been said to exist between the Science of other days and the Faith of other days, which is now affirmed to be irreconcilable between the Faith and the Science of the present. Or, if he had been at fault, his learned friend, the Rev. Hosea Biglow, would have informed him that much which he has intimated in this canticle has been bravely uttered by the classic Herbert of Cherbury, the elegant Shaftesbury, to say nothing of the vulgar Paine and the sentimental Rousseau.

He is too generous and too courteous not to be ready to concede that there are some, whose culture and honesty he respects, who firmly believe that the two are not irreconcilable. Why, then, should he assume, as one of those axioms which poetry is allowed to accept for the common mind, that the one must give way to the other? In answer to this qnestion, he would donbtless say that this is the farthest from his intent, so much so, that it is his very design and intent to save a place for Faith against the claims of Science; rather is it the aim of his argument to show that the two are not inconsistent. Of this we are aware.

We doubt not the earnestness of his claim and the warmth of his sympathies in this direction. He knows that man cannot live without faith in the divine. He strives to show that this faith will and must surrive all the analyses of Science and even the coarse and practical measurements of the democratic spirit. The passages in which he asserts for faith indestructible endurance and final triumph are among the finest of the poem, as indeed they must be, from the necessary relation of the believing to the poetic spirit. What we object to is that he assumes that the worship of the Christian and preëminently of the Protestant

Church at the present honr is so largely insincere as to be properly offensive and wearisome to a man of insight and to culture, and that its faith in the supernatural and miraculous is very largely a hindrance rather than a help to a true and earnest belief in that living God, who is more effectively received when self-revealed to the soul, than He can be by the medium of a Christ or the agency of a miracle.

“Where others worship I but look and long,
For, though not recreant to my father's faith,

Its forms to me are weariness."
“ Alas! we cannot draw habitual breath

In the thin air of life's supremer heights;

We cannot make each meal a sacrament."
“ Perhaps the deeper faith that is to come

Will see God rather in the strenuous doubt,
Than in the creed held as an infant's hand
Holds purposeless whatso is placed therein.”
O Power! more near my life than life itself.

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I fear not thy withdrawal; more I fear,
Seeing, to know thee not, hoodwinked with dreams
Of signs and wonders, while, unnoticed, Thou,
Walking Thy garden still, commun’st with men,

Missed in the common place of miracle." We are compelled to observe that in this Platonic communing with God by nature, however earnest it may be, there fails entirely that recognition of human weakness and guilt which were extorted from Plato in “the garden” in which he earnestly sonight to know himself, and passionately longed for a teacher divinely commissioned to give him light and relief. Nor are there expressed in any part of this poem those sober and graver views of the inoral order of the universe and of its sterner aspects mingled with pity, which lend snch pathos to the reflections of the Greek tragedians. The search after God which this poein expresses wants the earnestness which not a few have felt who, finding themselves shut up to the light of nature, have sought after God, “if haply they inight feel after and find Him, though He be not far from every one of us.”

So far as the poet finds occasion to learn tolerance from his meditations in a cathedral, he cannot go beyond the measure of the New Testainent, " that in every nation he that feareth

God and worketh righteousness is accepted of Him." His weariness and disgaet at all formal worship, and his ill-concealed distaste for those apostles and prophets whom the Church commemorates, and who, if they were mistaken respecting their special calling and the scope of their mission, did yet accomplish a noble work and give forth a nobler example, strike us, as ill-befitting the theme.

It is also worthy of notice, that in all this poem no mention is made of the Christ in whose namo, at least, all cathedrals were erected, and in whose honor all their imposing splendor of worship is conducted. It is most honorable to the taste and feeling of the writer that this should be so. His poetic sense and reverent spirit must have taught him, either conscionsly or unconsciously to himself, that it were better to leave Christ unnamed and unnoticed than to give him the humble place and to render to him the scanty honor which Mr. Lowell's speculative theory accords to the name and the life which as he confesses still “gway the world.” To a reflecting mind there is food for pensive musing as well as for sad surprise in the only recognition of the divine sufferer which he gives in the lines,

“yet he, unconscious heir
To the influence sweet of Athens and of Rome,
And old Judea's gift of secret fire,
Spite of himself shall surely learn to know
And worship some ideal of himself,
Some divine thing, large-hearted, brotherly,
Not pice in trifles, a soft creditor,
Pleased with his world, and hating only cant.
And if his Church be doubtful, it is sure
That, in a world made for whatever else
Not made for mere enjoyment-in a world
Of toil but half requited, or, at best,
Paid in some futile currency of breath,—
A world of incompleteness, sorrow swift
And consolation laggard, whatsoe'er
The form of building or the creed professed,
The Cross, bold type of shame to homage turned,
Of an unfinished life that sways the world,

Shall tower as sovereign emblem over all."
While reading this poem of “The Cathedral,” we could not
avoid being reminded of the “Christmas Eve” by Robert
Browning, as like it in some points and greatly unlike it in oth-
VOL. XXIX.

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