The Life and Soul of Poetry and Art

Sentiment leads us to love sacred spots, to create commemorative days, and to sing songs of gratitude together. It makes life of far greater worth to us in every way. ..

An Excerpt from You Can Be a Great American! 39 Steps to True and Lasting Greatness (a Growing Up Great Guide for American Boys and for the Parents and Teachers Who Love Them), by W. F. Markwick and W. A. Smith

Entry #28 in the Raising Great Americans Project! Click Here to learn More!






Sentiment is nothing but thought blended with feeling.

–J. F. Clarke

Sentiment takes part in the shaping of all destinies.

–R. Southey

A little child is the sweetest and purest thing in the world.

–J. S. White

Sentiment is the life and soul of poetry and art.

–J. Flaxman

Sentiment is emotion precipitated in pretty crystals by the fancy.

–J. R. Lowell


It is quite difficult to define sentiment. This has been done, however, by the use of the following figures. “We may think of it as color, without which nothing in nature or art is complete. A colorless character is as unsatisfactory as a colorless landscape. We may also think of it as cement; for it serves to bind together the ordinary facts and incidents of life. Just as the bricks and stones of a building are useless until held in the places designed for them under some governing plan, so we may say that a selfish and gross character is not bound together by noble sentiments. Or we may say, again, that sentiment is the wing-power of man, whereby he has ability to fly away from the commonplace and unworthy. By it the ordinary citizen becomes a glowing patriot; the drudging youth turns into the devoted statesman; and life is made better in a thousand ways.”

In one of our memory gems we find it asserted that “sentiment is the life and soul of poetry and art.” Perhaps this statement may help us here. Pure poetry is the perfection of prose, or prose idealized. “It is a dream drawn from the infinite, and portrayed to mortal sense.” It takes a great mind, a great genius to weave into a gossamer web, complete and perfect in every part, a story, a tale, an idea, which alike charms the mind, enthralls the sense, and enchains the spirit. Poetry is the perfection of language. It is not a mere mechanical contrivance of words, but a glorious picture in which the outward execution is lost in a glory of expression.

The poet Holmes was brimful of sentiment. Listen to him as he talks about the flowers:

“Do you ever wonder why poets talk so much about flowers? Did you ever hear of a poet who did not talk about them? Don’t you think a poem, which, for the sake of being original, should leave them out, would be like those verses where the letter ‘a’ or ‘e’ or some other is omitted? No,–they will bloom over and over again in poems as in the summer fields, to the end of time, always old and always new.

“Are you tired of my trivial personalities,–those splashes and streaks of sentiment, sometimes perhaps of sentimentality, which you may see when I show you my heart’s corolla as if it were a tulip? Pray, do not give yourself the trouble to fancy me an idiot, whose conceit it is to treat himself as an exceptional being. It is because you are just like me that I talk and know that you listen. We are all splashed and streaked with sentiments,–not with precisely the same tints, or in exactly the same patterns, but by the same hand and from the same palette.”

To say, as some do, that there is no place for sentiment in life, would be almost equal to saying that life is devoid of joy. But who says there are no joys in life? Take, for example a good pure natural laugh. We hear it bubbling, gushing, pealing out, every now and then, from some glad child of nature; and we say, there is joy in life. The gloom of ages has been lightened with laughter and song.

There is much to awaken deep and real sentiment in us as we gaze on the tree-tops, the mountains and hillsides, the gurgling waters and sweeping billows; on sunlight, shadow, and storm. Behind the forest-leaf we suddenly discover a songster, the gleam of an oriole’s breast in a bed of mantling green. Nature always rejoices. She has been singing and laughing all down the ages. She does her part grandly for the happiness of man; and as we come into closer touch with her, sentiment arises as naturally in our hearts, as does the water in her bubbling springs.

We may find a place for sentiment in all life’s changeful affairs. Even the stern realities of war do not entirely eradicate from the heart that feeling for suffering humanity, which is the highest expression of sentiment.

There were but few who were so thoughtless as not to be stirred with the feeling which possessed the heart of Captain Phillips, and the crew of the battleship Texas, when, as they stood on the deck, with uncovered heads and reverent souls, on the afternoon of the engagement before Santiago, the knightly old sailor said: “I want to make public acknowledgment here that I believe in God. I want all you officers and men to lift your hats, and from your hearts offer silent thanks to the Almighty for the victory he has given us.” But it was not the mere victory over a foe that caused this general and thoughtful lifting of heart; it was exultation at the triumph of justice and the progress of freedom.

The presence or absence of sentiment in our lives is largely accounted for by the fact that we usually find what we are looking for. The geologist sees design and order in the very stones with which the streets are paved. The botanist reads volumes in the flowers and grasses which most men tread thoughtlessly beneath their feet. The astronomer gazes with rapt soul into the starry heavens, while his fellows seldom glance upward. If we seek for the beautiful and the pure, it will be quickly revealed to us; and the sentiment of loving gratitude will arise within us as the result.

Nature takes on our moods; she laughs with those who laugh, and weeps with those who weep. If we rejoice and are glad, the very birds sing more sweetly; the woods and streams murmur our song. But if we are sad and sorrowful, a sudden gloom falls upon nature’s face; the sun shines, but not in our hearts; the birds sing, but not to us. The beauty of nature’s music is lost to us, and everything seems dull and gray. The lack of sentiment narrows and belittles us; and, for that reason, we cannot afford to be without it.

We must always strive to keep in mind how important sentiment is to a happy and useful career, whatever position in life we may happen to occupy. Noble sentiments are the richest possession we can have. They cheer us when we are despondent, they sing to us when we are lonesome, and they help to keep us young. They are like brilliant poets and divine musicians; by whom the true, the good, and the beautiful are kept constantly before our minds.

It is this trait of character which has to do greatly with worship, reverence, and aspiration. Morality needs to be touched by sentiment or emotion. Sentiment leads us to love sacred spots, to create commemorative days, and to sing songs of gratitude together. It makes life of far greater worth to us in every way. We must also glance at what is known as public sentiment. Public sentiment is not voluntary or self-creative. It is generally a thing of slow growth, springing from a gradual accumulation and development of evidences, impressions, and circumstances. It is a matter of education, impressed upon the masses by the most intelligent or the most influential forces of a community; and as it is often merely the adoption by the masses of the opinions of a class, clique, or ring, it is as likely to be wrong as right, since it frequently serves to popularize evils, the existence and the continuance of which, minister only to the benefit of a few.

But public sentiment, is after all, quite largely a personal matter. We all help in making it; and we should therefore be exceedingly careful as to the sentiments we personally cherish; for these are a very real part of the sentiments of the community as a whole.




Perhaps we should be safe in saying that the kingdom of music is especially the realm of sentiment. Music raises us to a loftier plane of thought and feeling. It has been beautifully said that “The composer’s world is the world of emotion; full of delicate elations and depressions, which like the hum of minute insects hardly arrest the uncultivated ear.”

We select as our special illustration Ludwig van Beethoven, who was born at Bonn, Prussia, in the year 1770. His father was a musician, and suffered from two great foes,–a violent temper, and a habit of drink. The family being poor, young Ludwig was made to submit to a severe training on the violin from the time he was four years old, in order to obtain money. By the time he reached the age of nine, he had advanced so far in music that his father could not teach him anything more, and he was passed over to others for further education. When he was fifteen years old he was appointed assistant to the court organist; and, in a description of the various musicians attached to the court, he is described as “of good capacity, young, of good, quiet behavior, and poor.”

At the court he was an object of admiration, and his popularity was constantly on the increase. Absorbed in meditation, he forgot ordinary affairs. One illustration is as good as a dozen. He loved the sound of flowing water, and frequently would let it run over his hands until, lost in some musical suggestion from the murmur, he would allow the water to pour over the floor of his apartment until it soaked down and astonished the dwellers below.

He was very democratic, and desired that all men should enjoy freedom and equal rights before the law. When asked once, in court, to produce the proof of his nobility, he pointed to his head and heart, saying, “My nobility is here, and here.” His high-strung nervous system would account for many of his peculiarities. By those who did not understand him he was called “a growling old bear.” On the other hand, those who appreciated his genius called him “a cloud-compeller of the world of music.” He is in music what Milton is in poetry,–lofty, majestic, stately.

Beethoven died on March 26, 1827, during a terrible thunderstorm. His funeral was attended by all the musicians of Vienna. The crowd of people was so enormous that soldiers had to be called in to make a way for the procession; and it took an hour and a half to pass the little distance from the house to the church.

Sentiment in music leaves one in an uplifted and wholesome state of mind. Sentimentality in music may give a momentary pleasure, but it is really hostile to strength of character; and this truth applies, with equal force, to every other feature of our lives.

This Article is an Excerpt from You Can Be a Great American! 39 Steps to True and Lasting Greatness (a Growing Up Great Guide for American Boys and for the Parents and Teachers Who Love Them), by W. F. Markwick and W. A. Smith, which is available from Better Days Books in quality hardbound, sturdy trade paperback and convenient .PDF e-book editions starting at just $4.95.

Industry, Ambition, Self Control, Self-Respect, Courtesy, Faithfulness, Courage, Duty, Honesty, Enthusiasm, Humility, Patriotism… In every era of our Nation’s history, the true alchemy by which ordinary boys have been transformed into Great American Men has always and only occurred where these indispensible moral principles have been successfully applied. In an age like our own, where such manly ideals are openly mocked and derided by our popular culture, it’s time to turn to the past to recapture a clear vision of what it takes to be a Great American, and the true moral and ethical ladder that leads reliably to its attainment.

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Whether you are an adult raising boys in a Traditional family setting, the single parent of a son, or a boy abandoned to no or poor parenting, left to grab your own bootstraps and lift yourself up to a life of achievement, success and All-American Greatness (or an adult who knows a boy in such sad straits), You Can Be a Great American!: 39 Steps to True and Lasting Greatness is the only guidebook you’ll ever need.

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