Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

argument or error. Every thing is as it should be with them, and as it always has been. Some nations have broken up their idols of wood and stone; others have given up worshipping the sun to adore the Power which created it; and others again have left the stars to their course, to prostrate themselves before the reptile which crawled at their feet; but the Chinese are where they were thousands of years ago! There is no alteration, at least no material alteration, in them. Their kings, we believe, still trace their pedigree to the moon, and make cousins of all the planets; and their sacred books (which they also trace beyond the time of Moses) are older, better, wiser, and less controvertible than any other creed, written or traditionary, which has existed in the world from the time of Adam (the Chinese Adam !) down to the moment of this present writing. It is well, perhaps, for the stability of their holy structure that the native sceptics are dealt with in a summary way; and that the Phantom of Justice who presides in China (and who has long since quitted the balance for the sword) as little permits impudent curiosity to assail it from abroad, as heresy to sap it at home. An offender against the most trivial point of faith is tried for his life, equally with one who prints the scriptures and thereby extends the religion! In regard to downright unbelievers, their heads are cut off without ceremony. The consequence of all this is, that the Emperor, to this day, remains first cousin of the moon, and the people of China are Pagans still.

It is surely no violent instance of bigotry on our parts to assert the pre-eminent character of the Christian religion over those which we have mentioned, as well as over others of a similar fashion. We do not mean to defend or even to extenuate the blindness and enormity of our own intolerant zealots. The burnings at the stake (from the simple conflagration of a witch or nonconformist, up to the hideous grandeur of an auto da ) are no more to be contemplated without hate and contempt than any similar instance of damnable fanaticism which may have disgraced the annals of Rome or Egypt. It is not, indeed, so much of the practice of any religion that we would now speak, but of the theory and general aspect as shewn to us by writings and traditions. And upon this point we must maintain the supremacy of our own. The utility and moral beauty of its precepts (founded, as they generally are, upon pure reason, and calling into perpetual action the best qualities of our nature) are incomparably beyond the limitary dogmas of the sophists, or the ordinary dictates of other religions. They comprehend a far more extensive view of man, and are better adapted to his wants and nature. There is no other system of morals indeed, unless it

be the Mahometan (and that, having been framed subsequent to the introduction of Christianity, adopted, naturally, part of what was good in it) which can claim any competition with our own. And the Mahometan religion itself is, assuredly, more limited, sensual, and earthy. Its spirit is more carnal and craving, fuller of humbler policy and gaudier dreams; for, although its principle was originally sufficiently ascetic in some respects, it was indulgent in others, and its paths of virtue on earth were lost in a voluptuous distance, in which all delights were blended, and a Paradise of Houris opened for the eternal joy of the 'true believer. In this respect, the Greek superstition was better; but that, in its turn, never got beyond mere ideas of beauty and perfections of shape. They had, indeed, some personifications of goodness, as Prudence, Piety, Charity, &c. &c. but these were rather poetical than religious allegories, and were inferior to their Gods, who were brute specimens of deity, -incarnations, as it were, of mere physical power, and not remarkable, as we have said, either for intellect or virtue. Indeed, we may discover, even amongst 'nations generally reckoned tasteless and savage, more delicate and finer instances of imagination than in any of the flights of the Koran. What, in the Mahometan legends, can equal the Chinese superstition that Fohi's mother conceived him as she was encompassed by a rainbow ? or the tradition of the tribe of (we believe) Mexican Indians, in which the virgin mother of one of their deities sees a white plume descend floating from heaven, which falls into her bosom and is lost? These things are scarcely surpassed by our own account of the Spirit which embodied itself in the figure of a dove, and descended in a stream of light upon the forehead of Mary, a forerunner of the immaculate conception.-Of ideas like these, the pages of the Koran are destitute.

Passing by our own peculiar belief as to rewards and punishments, in which rank and power on earth are utterly set at nought, and a system of unerring and universal justice is supposed to be administered, with reference only to the sins and virtues of individual man, Christianity must also, in other respects, be considered as more refined and ideal than any other religion known to us. The shadowy aspect of our future is, assuredly, more poetical than even the dim Elysium of the ancients; and our Heaven beyond the stars, where eternal happiness and rejoicing are,—where winged spirits meet disencumbered of their clay–where the good man meets his friend, and patriot mingles with philosopher—where all is glowing with eternal life, stainless, untroubled, sublimer than a dream where Heaven is indeed Heaven, with its thrones, and dominations and hierarchies, its fiery seraphim, and cherubs flourishing in immortal youth ; its sanctities and troops of angels, when

H

With solemn adoration down they cast

Their crowns inwove of amaranth and gold;" and, lastly, its Great and immaculate Presence, “ high throned above all height;" are surely superior to the capricious elevation of heroes and legislators into planets, or all the “Hereafter' of the Pagan world. Our idea, too, of a supreme good,-invisible, immeasurable, and iminortal.omniscient and omnipresent -inaccessible to passion and temptation, and soaring above all the infirmities of the flesh, is utterly beyond the conception of the Greeks, whose Jove was à mere personification of power; sublime only as a giant is, the slave of every appetite, and the sport of every contemptible caprice. Our belief is in an abstraction of all excellence--a grand unity-commensurate with our largest ideas of goodness and power; whereas the Grecian notions were often confined to petty desires and grovelling wishes. Their God was split and subdivided into patrons of the passions, to suit the exigency of the moment. A constellation of excellence would have blinded them, and so they cut their heaven out “into little stars," and (not unlike our modern Catholics, who have saints for shipwreck, and travel, and other occasions) shaped, thereout, Cupid and Mars, Diana and Pallas, and the rest, whose several propensities were supposed to accord with the pursuits of different votaries, and who would therefore be more likely, as they fancied, to lend a willing ear to their own individual proselytes or worshippers, than if any one deity were perplexed by the clamour of contesting petitioners. These secondary gods were the friends at court,' who were more open to flattery than the monarch himself, and interceded for the yirgin and the philosopher and the soldier, &c. in proportion to the incense offered at their shrines.

As the aspect of Christianity is more sublime, so is the poetry in which its history is recorded of a loftier (or, as the case may be, of a purer and gentler) character than that of any other religion. The moral precepts of the Koran are laid down simply, but the mood of Mahomet seems never to have been divulged in the hour of his inspiration. The ancient sayings of the Greeks were neat, pithy, and sententious, and the Delphian Oracles more than sufficiently mystic. But where, elsewhere, is to be found that extraordinary union of the grand and the beautiful, of the terrible, the simple, the argumentative, and the pathetic, which the books of the Old and New Testament perpetually exhibit? In these strange and inspired writings, we may contemplate the perfections of almost every style, from the plaiu phraseology of the ancient patriarchs to the sounding denunciations of the prophets,-from the sublime story of .

Creation to the frenzied lamentings of Jeremiah and the cloudy revelations of the times to come.

The style of the Old Testament is essentially oriental. It has more of detail, and, occasionally, more simplicity, indeed, than what is generally attributed to the Eastern writers, but, otherwise, it is ample, sonorous, picturesque, and awful; glittering with innumerable similes, and enlisting into its service every plant of the earth and wind of Heaven, the mountains and their offspring, the ocean and its brood, the leviathan, the mammoth, the fox, the wolf, and the lion, the cedar of Libanus and the pictured palm, the rose, the lily, the ruby, the beryl and the amethyst, the soaring eagle and the home-returning dove; in a word, every thing which the wonderful prodigality of nature offered was accepted without hesitation, and used without stint, for the purpose of enriching the marvellous history of Man. There was nothing ascetic in the dispositions of the writers, and there is, consequently, no niggardliness or poverty in their verse. Every thing is full, even to redundancy, as is becoming a subject so replete with wonder. The facts have no appearance of having been pared down to suit the limit which the historian has imposed upon himself. A grand incident is not heightened to shew where the author has thought proper to task his powers to the utmost. But all is as though certain events were related without any view to their individual insignificance or importance, but only so as that “the truth and the whole truth” might be set down, without either exaggeration, or curtailment, for the use and benefit of after ages.

The different events of the Bible pass by us like a succession of distinct panoramas. Its figures and metaphors (if they have occasionally a little sameness) are almost always sparkling and beautiful; and its words are like those of an oracle. It is as though we listened to the music of a pleasant river-or the voice of the mighty ocean on the sounding shore -to a tempest in its anger-or a mother lamenting by her child. Its stories of remorse and exile, its pictures of Eastern manners, its cedars and cypresses, its burning sands, its stately palaces, ceiled with the fir-tree and overlaid with amethysts and gold, its courts and armies, its pastoral tents and fountains of water in the wilderness, can never be forgotten. There is a pomp in its diction which never loses its importance, a freshness and beauty in its images from which we never turn aside. Its names even (read in our childhood) carry with them a vague grandeur into our imaginations, and become invested with a patriarchal dignity, or with a state and princely splendour which nothing of later times produces. We remember when our ears first thrilled with admiration before these things,

so weetly lamentedan, the son could read thee in the valle who

and our spirit bowed down within us. The old enchantment still prevails, and all is as awful and as fine as ever. There are still glimpses in our memory of Nimrod, the mighty hunter--and the star-soaring towers of Babel--the desolate Hagar-the true and gentle Ruth-Egyptian Pharaoh and his host the stern lawgiver Moses—Nebuchadnezzar the Babylonian prince, struck prone for his impiety-Joshua, who checked the sun and moon in their course in the valley of Ajalon'- Daniel, who alone could read the awful writing on the wall-Jonathan, the son of Saul, (over whom David so sweetly lamented)-the terrible witch of Endor, who saw Gods ascending out of the earth—the glittering visions of Ezekiel-the epic grandeur of Isaiah--the sadness of Jeremiah -the wisdom of Solomon-and Job, tempered in the winter of adversity, who “died old and full of days,”, perhaps the sublimest of them all.

We are so accustomed to hear the words of the Bible read (often, indeed, slurred over in a careless or sleepy manner) in our churches, that we are apt to pass by or rate at nothing the incomparable splendour of its' diction. But of all books in all languages

• The ancient Hebrew clad with mysteries ; :

The learned Greek rich in fit epithets,
Blest in the lovely marriage of pure words;
The Chaldee wise; the Arabian physical;
The Roman eloquent, •and Tuscan grave,

The braving Spanish, and the smooth-tongued French;'it is the first in point of sublimity, and equal, perhaps, to any other for pictures of tenderness, for pastoral simplicity, and deep and passionate human interest. It is the history of a world (of our own world)-its morning, its meridian, its many changes, and its dark decline. The countless multitudes of antiquity pass before our eyes, the heroes, and tyrants, and martyrs of old time, their enormous wealth, their glittering palaces, and mighty cities. We hear the tumult of their armies and the fame of their kings proclaimed, Assyrian and Persian, Babylonian, Egyptian, and "Mede; and all is suddenly swept away ;-and another king or conqueror comes, and another army, more numerous than the last-and that, too, perishes before our eyes ;-and another after rises up,—and then another! And all these men were our fathers, whose virtues and vices are recorded in blazing letters, and whose punishment or reward is made known to the uttermost regions of the earth, for the benefit and guidance of us, their sons. Were it but the ruin of a history, it would be venerable; were it a fiction only, it would be a grand one. But it is complete and true; it is full

« AnteriorContinuar »