Literature And The Religious Feeling -- By: A. A. Berle
BSac 50:198 (April 1893) p. 261
Literature And The Religious Feeling
NEAR the close of his introductory lecture on the “Nature and Elements of Poetry,” Mr. E. C. Stedman, after contrasting the material spirit of an age of discovery and mechanical invention with the spirit and the feeling of the poet, applying the principle which he finds in the contrast, has this to say about Immortality and Poetry: “Theology teaching immortality now finds science deducing the progressive existence of the soul as an inference from the law of evolution. Poetry finds science offering it fresh discovery as the terrace from which to essay new flights. While realizing this aid a temporary disenchantment is observed. The public imagination is so intent upon the marvels of force, life, psychology, that it concerns itself less with the poet’s ideals. Who cares for the ode pronounced at the entrance of this Exposition while impatient to reach the exhibits within the grounds? Besides, fields of industrial achievement are opened by each investigation, enhancing human welfare and absorbing our energies. The soldiers of this noble war do not meditate and idealize; their prayer and song are an impulse, not an occupation.”
These words, together with the argument and plea of which they form a part, contain the essence of a contrast which is one of the most significant in the history and development of literature. They point out what is the exact nature of the Zeit-geist, and also what the idealizing arts and professions have to expect so long as it prevails. They are
BSac 50:198 (April 1893) p. 262
a simple and truthful presentation of the eternal opposition of two abiding principles in life and civilization.
It is the function of literature to be perpetually the medium through which the ruling motives and impulses of mankind find their expression. It may take the highest or the lowest form, from the daily record of current events to the profoundest exposition of the most philosophic themes, it still derives its being from the intimacy of its matter with the facts and experiences of the common life. It is the attempt of the human mind and heart to perpetuate itself in visible symbols, and ally itself with the great world movements which make the sum of the human hope in all ages and places. How truly this function stands out as the real inner motive and power of literature can be seen in some of its broader relations as these have unfolded themselves in the development of both literature and history.
Literatures have always found their bloom periods when the tides of national feeling have been the highest. This rule is exactly the same, whether the literature be ancient, mediaeval, or modern. Take, for example, the literatu...
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