A greater poetry than his is indeed conceivable and possible, for nature and God are indispensable factors in the imaginative interpretation of the universe, and these play no great part in Shakespeare's verse. But human nature reflects the divine nature, and in studying huTHE GREATEST POET OF SECULAR HUMANITY 219
manity we gain material for the study of God. What our great poet has told us about humanity is of inestimable value to theological thought.
I have not intended to compare the poetry of Shakespeare with the poetry of the Bible. Shakespeare has neither the eloquence of Isaiah nor the sublimity of Job. What Shakespeare does not profess to do, Job and Isaiah do profess to do—namely, to teach of God and duty. Nor have I intended to compare the merits of the great uninspired poets, or to call one greater and another less. It is better to call each great in his peculiar sphere. But in the creation of character Shakespeare so far surpasses all others, that by common consent we have come to regard him as the greatest secular poet of the world. Will the world ever see a poet who shall surpass him? It can only be by adding Dante's vision of God and Wordsworth's vision of nature to Shakespeare's vision of humanity. Until some inspired bard shall touch all these several strings with simultaneous and equal mastery, we may well content ourselves with Shakespeare.
We can subscribe to the judgment of James Russell Lowell when he says that "For those who know no language but their own there is as much intellectual training to be got from the study of his writings as from those of any, I had almost said, of all, of the great writers of antiquity." And the chief reason for this is that beyond all other poets Shakespeare has a faculty for the universal, a power of seizing upon the types of things, and an art of evoking living characters in which these types are concretely represented.
Dewey, in his " Psychology" (200), comes very near to expressing the noblest lesson of our theme, when he says : "All products of the creative imagination are unconscious testimonies to the unity of spirit which binds man to man, and man to nature, in one organic whole." We would add only the one remark and explanation, that the spirit which thus binds all things together, and makes possible the poet's insight into universal truth and beauty, is none other than the omnipresent Spirit of God, whose specifically religious work is inspiration, but who is also working in all secular literature, and is making it the progressive revelation of his own divine life.