Huddersfield Chronicle (13/Apr/1850) - page 3
Huddersfield Philosophical Society, Lecture "On Poetry"
HUDDERSFIELD PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY, LECTURE "ON POETRY."
On Wednesday evening weck, a most instructive and amusing lecture on the subject of Poctry, was delivered to the members of the above institution, by Jammes MontCOMELY, Esq., of Sheffield. The attendance was numerous, and highly respectable.
Mr. TATIERSFIELD, president of the society, briefly introduced the lecturer, and alluded to the apparent want of taste which the inhabitants of Huddersfield evinced for poetry, as compared with those in other large towns in the neichbourhcod,
Mr. Montgomery then came forward to deliver his address, of which the following is but an abstract, our limits compelling us to be brief. He observed — " The age of chivalry is gone; that of economists and calculators has succeeded.? That indignant lamentation of Edmund Burke over the fall of monarchy, with all its gorgeous and antiquated appendages, in France, — may, with the variation of a single word, be taken up at this day, by the lovers of literature, who have melancholy cause to exclaim, — '" The age of poetry is gone; that of econemists and calculators:}.
has succeeded." The announcement of ns new publication excites less attention than that of a forthcoming poem ; in which, indeed, almost the only person interested is the author himself; and almost the only person who feels either surprise or regret at its early and utter failure is the same individual. This not only applied to the young, inexperienced adventurers, but to the few surviving veterans of the late brief but splendid era of their art, — of the latter of whom there seems not to be one who has the courage to hazard the fame he has already acquired, by producing some transcendent work to crown his former trimipls. Numberless and meritorious in their degree as arc the rising candidates for poetic honours — falling ia most instances as they rise — it would be hard to name one who has given proinise so clear as to warrant expectation that he will ultimately secure a place for himself among the more illustrious of his aged contemporaries, or the departed luminaries of the gencration before him. For 30 years, from 1795, while the French revolution was advancing towards its perihelium with accelcrated speed, brightening now pertentously, and stretching its fiery train more and fully over the earth at every stage of its progress, — when, literally like acomet in the dark ages, it was shaking "war, famine, and pestilence from its horrid hair," — till 1825, when the tremendous visitation had wholly passed away from the political system — from 1795 to 1825, all the passions and energies of the human miad, in our happily-insulated country — which knew war only by its:
indirect infiuences and remote issues — all those passions and energies being kept in continual excitement by the downfall of thrones, the destruction of commonwealths, and the experimental substitution of new forms of government, in lands conquered by new modes of warfare, of which the progressive details made the daily newspapers rival those pages of history which recorded the battles of Marathon and Canne ; the public mind, under such extraordinary excitement, in our sequestered and sea-girded isle, was prepared to be wrought upon to any degree of intensity in admiration of whatever was in opposition to the charms of delight, pure and beautiful — poetry. It is not a matter of surprise, then, that the genius of poetry, after the slumber of half a century from the death of Pope — during which she had occasionally walked and talked in her sleep, from the efiect of a golden dream, or even awoke for a brief, lucid interval at the voice of a Churchill or a Cowper, and sang, started up, as at the sound of the harp of Apollo, exclaiming, ' Awake ! arise! or, be for ever fallen." She did start up, and created, as it were, by the inspiration which had re-quickened herself, both readers and auditors. There never was a time when poetry was so universally relished and enjoyed as during the thirty years alluded to. For though the reigns of Queen Elizabeth, the two Charles, and Queen Anne were distinguished as highly poeticaLeras, :
the contemporary readers of those. three. pericds' put together did not in. number or intelligence equal those of the generation which welcomed with transport volune after volume, recommended by the names of Southey and Wordsworth, Coleridge, Campbell and Moore, Sir Walter Scott, and Lord Byron; whilst minstrels of every degree from these masters of the lyre down to Robert Bloomfield and John Clare, gathered groups of listening admirers around them at. the first note of a fresh lay which they sounded. But theage of poetry is gone ; that of econcmists and calculators has succeeded. The age of chivalry is gone also, and it can never return ; because chivalry itself was but the fashion of a barbarous age. Poetry, however, is not a fashion, and is not the creature of conventional circumstances. _ ' ' The lecturer then proceeded to notice by what means the great body of the reading public had become almost totally indifferent to the attractions of poetry, the main cause of which, he contended, was the intense and absorbing attention to politics, but which could not last for ever. He remarked that science and literature, which are, at this time, working under high pressure, are adverse to poetry, and mado suitable. comparisons to prove his assertions.. He also alluded te.the publications issued:from the press, and said that the contributions were got up-in.a masterly manner; but evidently for the purpose of producing the greatest possible effect — that they were positive experiments on the minds of the readers, and that authors wrote best for the public when they write for themsetves. In the higher ranks of publications, whereauthors venture forthin volumes, with their names'on the title pages as candidates, not for Iuere only, but for fame — beoks of science in its several forms, (including chemistry, mathematics, metaphysics, statistics, utilitarian works of every class,) are preferred to poetry, and rightly preferred, because in their kind they are better then poetry is-in its kind, such as poetry must be discountenanced and discouraged as it is, while excellence in any other guise is welcomed and rewarded, because_it supplies: intelligenee_ and. instruction which can ba: immediately applied' to valuable and practical purposes. After alluding to the results which were likely to be realised in the shape of peace. by cur mechanical and social progress, Mr. Montgomery went on to say that there might be economfSts and calculators, so cold-blooded, that. they weal save the crumbs which their little children scatter i : he robin red breasts in. winter ; beings of such algebraic temperaments that they would silence the cuckoo, for-
a ratr pW r: } + bid the return of the swallow and nightingals to cur. coast, and bereave the spring of its flowers and its sfreams, it fragrance and its luxuriance of vegetation. There may b> such loteless, joyless, heartless personages as these ; bu' it never can be that "man that is born of 4 woman" should cease to imbibe with his mother's milk and from his nurse's songs an intense delight in that art which youth and women love because it is the artofnature. Youth
'properly trained up cannot choose but love poetry, becavs->
it ministers to the affections, exalts the imagination, an purifies the heart. He rejoiced in the-triumphs of science» through all its departments ; and he rejoiced when th» diffusion, wniversally, of the means of instruction gives advantages to the multitude in our day, which studen?s the most favoured of former generations knew not. hailed the march of intellect, even while in the splendour of the former and the trapping of the latter the glory of his ari © appeared to be eclipsed, though it is not so in reality ; it is the eyes that look upon it that are dazzled by the icmporary ascendancy ef rival lumimaries; while, in ike manner, its music seems to be silenced, when it is only no& listened to, amidst the sounds of "gun, drum, trumpet, blunderbuss, and thunder," which accompany the railyin:and driiling of millions, who throng froia all quarters to the standard of " The schoolmaster abroad." Yet the poet xt home; and there they might find him still, the delichs of the young and the favourite of the fhir. After ths utmost that the economists and calculators have dene to obliterate all the incqualities and irregularities cf th» human character, and coin minds, like money, into pice — s of equal size and universal value, and stamp them with tho same image and superscription, there is yet such a powe> as poetry in this cent per cent age and working day workL — a power which rules extensively and will rule whils woman and youth exist, nor tif cur Utilitarians hav achisved the Utopian perfectibility of human nature, — discovered the elixir ofimmortality, and confined the sceres of both to the male population then living, so that a seneration of middle aged men, never growing older, shal monopolize the earth and none be born and none die in t — in a word, till they shall have abolished youth and woma::, poetry will maintain its supremacy in its place and in irs' season : youth will delight in it because it is the language of hope and realises all hope's visions : — woman wiil always love it, because it is the language of love, and perpetuates her youth, by often reminding her of the time when she wz wooed, and, "not unsought," was won.
Mr. Montgomery was several times applauded during bis able lecture.-
Ma: W. P. Encraxd moved a vote of thanks to tho' lecturer ; which was seconded by Mr. 8. Firth, the Intter calling upon the young men of Huddersfield to cherish the subject of poetry, and observed that as there was a peper about to be published in the town he had no doubt a corner would be set apart in it for their preductions.-
Mr. Montgomery briefly returned thanks, and the company then dispersed,
[In consequence of the pressing demands on our space the annexed notice was not msertod, as -ertthiall} intended, in civ Wrst uttinber. We trust that it will have lost none cf its Inieres% by being deferred to our cevond number. — Ep, H. C.]