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We are not accustomed to recognize the existence of any such general laws regulating the department of Literature, as those that operate in the world of Science. In the latter, every thing seems fixed and definite-in the former, accidental and changing. We think, however, it may be shown, that Literature is not the growth of accident, but that it is based on certain general principles, not perhaps as unexceptionable as those that regulate science, yet sufficiently constant in their operations to entitle them to the name of laws.
We shall use the word “ Literature” in this essay, not in its usual acceptation, as including all works not scientific, but in a more limited sense, embracing what we sometimes term elegant Literature, such as Poetry, Fiction, and Romance. We confine our remarks to these particular branches, because they are in fact the most accidental, and seemingly owe their existence merely to the fertility of human invention. We wish to show that even these, casual as they may seem, are based on general laws; and that were our race to commence its course anew, they would naturally spring up in the progress of human events. It were but giving utterance to an almost self-evident truth, to assert the same of History. Every mind can perceive how naturally it originates, and how rapidly it adapts itself to the wants
The weakness of human memory—the incessant changing of actors in the great drama of life-the wide-spread field inhabited by our race--all demand that a record of events should be carefully kept, that men of other lands, and of other times, may read. But that this other department is regulated by such general rules, seems by no means clear. If we examine the Literature of any nation, we shall find, that in some prominent features it is distinguished from that of all other na
tions. The basis of this difference is to be found in the fact, that a nation's Literature rests ultimately upon its past history.
If we seek for any one event in the history of the past, that has more than all others been made the theme of poetry, we shall find that event to be the fall of Troy. This is the starting point of the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Eneid. come to later times we shall find no institution, that can compare with Chivalry as the fruitful source of Poetry, Fiction, and Romance. Had this institution never been known, it is not hard to see that the Literature of modern times could not have had its present form, and that many of our choicest works could never have existed. Where but from this sprang the old songs and ballads, or the beautiful allegory of the “Faery Queen ?" What but this put in motion the mind of Scott? And even in works that do not owe their origin primarily to this source, we find innumerable modifications that can be accounted for only by reference to it.
If we seek now for the origin of such a poem as the Iliad in the Poets mind, are we to suppose that he first conceived the idea of writing something of the kind, and then cast about him for a subject, as one does who writes an essay, or an address ? Shall we not rather believe that the spirit of the poem had long been within him, as it had in the hearts of his countrymen, until it had kindled his mind and fired his imagination, and he was urged by a kind of inward compulsion to give it utterance. The stern old warriors that fought around the walls of Troy, had long been in their graves ;—but the stories they had told on their return from the war, were still alive. They were told from father to son. The Poet had heard them in his childhood, and had drank in their fiery spirit. They pervaded all his thoughts. They mingled with his dreams. Then he felt within him the power of developing this hidden feeling. It was a national sentiment, but it was for the Poet alone to develop it. Had he set himself in a calm, unimpassioned mood, to find out a subject for a poem, would he naturally have fixed upon the overthrow of Troy? Was this the most important event that had occurred in the history of the past? Why might he not have taken for his theme the wanderings of Israel in the wilderness, and the conquest of Canaan? In their calm and godlike leader, he might have found a loftier hero, than in the wrathful Achilles. But Nature directed him to his subject. This was the event that interested him as a Grecian. It was by this that the Trojan power and glory was transferred to his own land. It was in this that the old heroes of his nation, in whom he had felt a near and romantic interest, had participated. The Odyssey has an equally close connection with scenes