« AnteriorContinuar »
this article. But though of necessity devoid of literary matter, yet it is a publication so intimately connected with every branch of knowledge, the maps are engraved and coloured in such a superior style, and in a size so convenient for every purpose, and the book has such an appearance of elegance, both internally and externally, that it forms of itself a strong inducement to the study of geography. It comprises, we believe, nothing more than the maps already published in the “Family Cabinet Atlas:” but it is intended to be re-issued every year with such improvements as new discoveries may render necessary. Thus, in fact, it will become, as it deserves to be, a perennial rather than an annual, and we have no doubt that it will long continue to deserve the liberal and distinguished patronage, which it has already received.
ART. V.-The Drama brought to the Test of Scripture, and found wanting. Edinburgh, 1830.
THE morality of the Gospel has been praised, not only by all descriptions of Christians, but by Deists, and even by absolute unbelievers. The splendid panegyric pronounced on it by Rousseau is probably known to all our readers. It adds to the wonder of its excellence, that it was produced in a country almost bereft, as far as we know, of science and literature; and Rousseau justly derives from this circumstance, an argument in favour of its divine origin. It confessedly exceeds, in the purity and sublimity of its precepts, the noblest lessons of the philosophers of Greece and Rome. It adds to the merit of its general system, that the rules of the Gospel are applicable to every condition of life, and may be practised in all combinations and circumstances of which human nature is susceptible. Yet, some Christians have endeavoured to improve upon the Gospel, and to aim at a sublimer spirituality, than it seems to them to exhibit. In an early age of the Gospel the Gnostics, in our own the evangelical sects, have made this daring attempt. In the middle ages it was made by the Platonicians. In the hands of them all it equally failed, and the general fate of all such attempts has been, to expose both the leaders and followers to just ridicule and contempt. One of the modes by which those who engaged in these preposterous designs, have attempted to construct their sublime spirituality, has been the rejection of harmless pleasure. Man is so constituted as to require an alternation of labour and ease, of privation and enjoyment. The means by which he obtains ease and indulgence, are often beneficial to his fellow-creatures. Even a blameable excess of gratification is often productive of social good, by the number of individuals whom it employs. It injures few, and is a cause of happiness to ony. It often, therefore, happens, O O 2
that we should rather encourage than reject these modes of pleasure, though in some points of view objectionable. Surely a man of wealth; who spends the superfluity of his fortune on those objects, which engage the exertion and skill of the agriculturist, the navigator, the commercial portion of the community, the artist, or the man of learning or taste, does much more good than by daily accumulating money for the benefit of a future generation. Yet, to this unproductive accumulation, the superfluity which we have mentioned must be consigned, if the gratification of pleasure, within its due limits, were not allowed. With respect, therefore, to the drama, the chief subject of the work before us, the mere circumstance of its being a mental or sensual gratification is no objection to it. But, if a scenic representation be criminal in any respect, or if it excite irregular appetites, it is unlawful pleasure, and abstinence from it is virtue. Mrs. Wesley's advice to her son, the celebrated John Wesley, is very good —“If you doubt whether any gratification be lawful, see whether it weakens your impressions of virtue, strengthens the vicious appetite, or obscures reason. If it do, whatever it may be to others, to you an indulgence of it is criminal.” By this test, the objections to the drama should be tried, The only question then for consideration is, whether the drama be liable to this objection. Yet, even here, we should not be too rigid. If the drama be generally free from reproach, some passages in a particular play which may be justly censurable, may, nevertheless, be passed over. The imperfection of all human performances is such, that we should be satisfied with effecting as much good as the circumstances allow, without abandoning our exertions, because they do not effect all the good we could wish. Solon’s answer, when the imperfection of his laws was objected to him, that “ though they were not as good as might be framed, they were as good as the Athenians, for whom they were designed, could bear,” was the language of a man of sense and experience. For the same reason, the morality of the stage may be entitled to praise, as the best which such an exhibition will admit of, though it falls very far short of the exalted code of the Gospel. Another attempt to improve on the Christian system has been made, by an endeavour to refine upon devotional language and sentiment. The prayers, or rather hymns, which we find in the works of the ancients, if we consider them as addresses to the Deity, or to beings of a divine nature, are almost always disgusting and ridiculous. Many such hymns are to be found among the Odes of Horace. We are sensible that the mythology of Greece and Rome cannot be put in comparison with the theology of the Christians, or of the Jews, their ancestors. This furnishes some excuse for the imperfection of the Greek and Roman hymns, when ‘compared with those of the Jews or Christians.
But how it was possible, that a well instructed Grecian or Roman should have pronounced, with internal devotion or reverence, the hymns which have descended to us from antiquity, is inconceivable. The Book of Psalms abounds with the sublimest and most affecting passages; with the noblest conceptions of the Deity and his attributes; with the most impressive exhortations to virtue, and with the soundest lessons of justice and morality. If we compare them with the hymns of Pagan antiquity, we may justly exclaim with Salazar, Illam homines dices, hunc posuisse Deum. We therefore think, that the founders of Christian Churches did right in introducing the Psalms of David into their different liturgies. But we have some suspicion, that the whole of them are not proper subjects for popular devotion ; we doubt whether the imprecations which are found in them, should be read as prayers. We think that a large portion of them are not intelligible by common readers, and that the very rare mention in them of a future state of reward or punishment, renders them an imperfect compilation for Christian readers. Still, their merit is immense, and we wish to see such a translation of them, as, while it should preserve the idiom, and exactly render the sentiments of the original, would be perfectly easy to be understood by the most ordinary capacity. We are not aware that such a translation of the Psalms into the English language, has yet appeared. The prayers in the Common Prayer Book, are, generally speaking, excellent. The attempts of the Methodists to improve upon them, have, too often, miserably failed. One of their greatest errors has been, expressing the love of God in terms applicable to profane love; and this is sometimes done by them in strains, which a delicate taste, would, even in that case, reprobate. In the middle ages mystical writers were frequent. All their works, except the celebrated “Imitation of Christ,” attributed to Thomas à Kempis, are now wholly forgotten. That work is yet read and highly esteemed by Christians of every denomination. Fontenelle and Leibnitz speak of it in the language of the most exalted eulogy: it is scarcely possible to describe the union between a pious soul and the Deity, in terms of greater clearness or delicacy. About two centuries ago, an attempt to introduce this mystical speculation into England, was made by Dr. Mores, the Rev. Mr. Norris, and the author (we believe his name was Waring) of the Effigies Amoris, a book that once had many readers and admirers. Speaking generally, the Methodist writers to whom we allude, have none of the learning of these gentlemen. They abound with expressions only fit for an amatory songster. How different such language is from that of the Psalms' These are full of expressions of the most ardent love of God, but never deviate into the preposterous and disgusting language we have mentioned. The mistake has been chiefly owing to its being considered necessary to a love of God, that the person should feel it in the same manner, as he feels the love of an earthly object. But this is impossible. The Divine Being and his infinite perfections, are above the conceptions of the human soul, while she remains in her mortal frame. The highest tribute of admiration, which we can pay them, is an humble sentiment of adoration. But the Deity is as much entitled to our love as to our homage. And both the Old and New Testament exhibit a multitude of reasons, which shew that the Almighty Author of nature, and his divine Son, are entitled to our love and gratitude. But respect should find its place in all we say or think of the Divine Being. The most perfect model of prayer which we possess, is the Our Father. It expresses our love of God by calling him our Father, the tenderest relation known to human mature. On this prayer, and the sentiments which it excites, we may dilate, but we should never diverge from them, and every attempt to improve upon them is impiety. To what a pitch of extravagance such efforts may rise, is visible in the disgusting scenes, which a celebrated preacher has allowed to take place in an evangelical chapel in the neighbourhood of London. They were preluded to by the strange revelations of Joanna Southcote. These are now almost forgotten, and the present exhibitions will soon undergo the same fate ; (this is the end of all such fooleries). But God and his holy truth will remain for ever. The work which has given rise to the preceding remarks, contains many useful observations; but we think it fails in its object, by attempting to prove too much ; for there scarcely is any recreation of a public nature, or any public assembly for pleasure or amusement, to which the author's objections to the drama, do not, in some measure at least, equally apply. This, shows that the system of the author, however ingeniously developed, or piously supported, is not suitable to the present state of society, and therefore is, to a certain degree, visionary : we must add, that his objections to the drama, apply with equal force to many of the gratifications which the Methodists allow themselves. There is nothing which the scriptures reprobate in a higher degree, than a love of riches, or the pursuits of ambition. Yet it never has been remarked, that the Methodists are more indifferent to either of these objects, than any other denomination of Christians. We therefore recommend to the author of the treatise before us, and to all those who think like him, that they never should neglect the advice of the apostle, “to be wise with sobriety.”
ART. VI.—Fables, and other Pieces in Verse, by Mary Maria Colling. With some account of the Author, in Letters to Robert Southey, Esq. By Mrs. Bray, Author of “Fitz of Fitzford,” &c. 8vo, pp. 178. London: Longman and Co., 1831.
MR. South EY’s “Attempts in Verse, by John Jones,” have set
the world of literature once more agog in pursuit of humble poets.
We have had ourselves manuscripts put into our hands by versifying gardeners and tailors, which they thought were at least as good as those of John Jones, and fully as worthy of being published. We unfortunately, or rather, perhaps, fortunately, were unable to agree in this opinion, and the manuscripts still remain in the rumpled and disordered state in which we first saw them. We have little doubt, that if we took the trouble of polishing up for the religious part of the community, the hymns of a very worthy man, who discharges the office of chief horticulturist in the service of an esteemed friend of ours, we might collect some subscriptions which would be soon exhausted in the expense of printing his volume; we might obtain from him a most grateful dedication, expressive of our humanity, taste, critical acumen, &c.; we might get sundry letters of thanks from him, and print them all ; we might gather various particulars of his life, and tell the world by what mysterious means he became a poet, and so gain a little fame for ourselves, but very little money for the poor man; and end in giving him so much disgust for his present honest and industrious mode of living, as to render it necessary for him, in a short time, to solicit what he has never had occasion yet to seek, the assistance of his parish. In truth, with whatever indulgence we may have occasionally considered productions of this description, we must allow that almost universally they are mere moonshine. They have very seldom any sterling merit about them ; the sentiment may be good, ... but it is feebly expressed; the metaphors are low and confused, the verse halts, the melody is deficient, and we perceive in them none of those many nameless graces, which a thorough education, and the elevation of mind, that is its consequence, can alone impart to good poetry. It is an absurdity to suppose, that a man who has been all his life digging the earth, or mending old shoes, can attain to those flights of imagination, without which poetry cannot be produced; or that even if the thoughts should come of themselves, he, all unskilled in the beauties of our language, can select the phrases that are best adapted to express his ideas, and to sustain the dignity of verse. We hear of stanzas being indited by persons in inferior stations, and we wonder that, with their limited means of knowledge, they can write so well. But this ought to be no reason for printing the quantity of trash, which such persons accumulate in their leisure hours. . In most of the cases of this description, we may discover that the vanity of the patron, or the patroness, has had quite as much to do with the publication of such compositions, as the much more excusable ambition, or supposed interest of the humble author himself. Mrs. Bray is a notable sort of a lady, exactly the person fitted to be the lady patroness of village poets. Imagining that she has acquired no mean reputation for herself in the literary republic, she fondly believes that she can now become the dispenser of fame