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Oh, now descend! and with your harpings deep,
Of music-such as soothes the saint's last sleep,
And teach me how to exalt the high mysterious theme.
And raise to feeling and to fire his note!
And thou, Urania! who dost still devote
'lumin'd what Isaiah wrote, Throw o'er thy bard that solemn stole of thine,
And clothe him for the fight with energy divine. I shall avail myself of this opportunity to speak a little farther upon the subject of the Invocations of Poets.
The heathens believing in a plurality of gods, and in Muses presiding over the different Arts and Sciences, very naturally requested their aid in their undertakings. Having them as models of excellent versification and imagery, succeeding poets, living under a very different system of Religion, have nevertheless copied their manners and opinions, and invoked their deities ; whereas they should surely have reasoned thus, If Homer, Horace, and Virgil, believed in the existence of Muses, and implored their aid in their writings, shall not Christians, believing that it is from God alone, that “all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed,"* implore
Pope, however, in his Ode upon St. Cecilia's Day, (Cecilia being a Roman Catholic Saint) begins with, " Descend ye Nine," he then relates the heathen story of Orpheus, and institutes a comparison between his powers in music and St. Cecilia's, with an odd jumble of “angels leaning from heaven to hear," and Orpheus " raising a shade from hell."
Some of our more pious poets seem to have been aware of the impropriety of this mixture of heathenism and Christianity, and have endeavoured to shake it off, though not always successfully.
* See the Second Collect at Evening Prayer. Also the Collects for the fifth Sunday after Easter, and the nineteenth after Trinity.
MILTON begins with a HEAVENLY Muse, whom he supposes
to have inspired Moses, and then goes on to address the HOLY SPIRIT himself:
And chiefly thou, O SPIRIT! that dost prefer
may assert eternal Providence, And justify the ways of God to man. Par. Lost, B. I. l. 17. And at the beginning of the 7th Book, he invokes Urania and calls her goddess, 1. 1–40.
POPE, in his Poem of Messiah, says,
O Thou my voice inspire, Who touch'd Isaiah's hallow'd lips with fire! Dr. Young's address to the Deity has been quoted before,
MR. CUMBERLAND begins his Calvary with a profession of forsaking Aonian haunts and the unhallowed Nine." His 4th Book begins with an address to the “ Mount of Agony," and then proceeds,
Ah! where is now
Thy hallow'd solitude! And at the opening of B. V. he “invokes” the Evangelists to « aid him from Heaven.”
DR. JOHNSON, before he sat down to write his Rambler, by which he intended to instruct, as well as to amuse, mankind, considered the matter in its true light, and implored the only aid which is effectual :
Almighty God, the giver of all good things, without whose help all labour is ineffectual, and without whose grace all wisdom is folly ; grant, I beseech Thee, that in this my undertaking, thy Holy
Spirit may not be withheld from me, but that I may promote thy glory, and the salvation both of myself and others; grant this, O Lord, for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.” (See Johnson's Prayers, p. 8. Edition 3. See also his Prayer before any nezo Study, p. 16. and Thomas Aquinas's Prayer before Study, in Bishop Horne's Essays and Thoughts, Article, Devotion, s. 12.)
Dr. Hey begins his Seaton's Prize Poem on The Redemption, with
Whom shall the bard that dares of themes to sing,
Whom shall he call but thee? And Mrs. MORE, in the Introduction to her Sacred Dramas, prays for the same divine aid that Pope does in his Messiah, and invokes the Holy Spirit himself, not addressing any inferior being :
O For the sacred energy which struck
I THY aid invoke,
That none, who ask in faith, should ask in vain. It seems to me that the Poet, in making his addresses to Muses, &c. must confess, either that they mean nothing, in which case they must be considered as common-place nonsense, or else that they are profane and impious. Let no works be undertaken but “Good Works,” and then there need be no fear of making a direct address to Him from whom alone all holy desires and words do proceed.
B b. p. 26. line 18. (N.B. The reference to this note was omitted.) There are some passages in the Play of The Mountaineers, which I think must be highly offensive to every mind that has but a common share of piety. The character of Sadi, a Moor, is introduced as upon the point of turning Christian, which is the topic of
many observations, which appear to be as little in character, as they would be proper to speak were they even natural. He seems to think that the whole of Christianity consists in drinking wine, ard tal of it in the lightest manner. Seeing a cag of wine, he says, “ Wine by the Koran! To see what Providence will do for a Christian." A. II. S. 3. “Dost think, Agnes, I am Christian enough, yet to venture!
Agnes. There is much virtue in good wine.
Sadi. Nay, an there be virtue in it-(drinks) By Saint Francis, Agnes, thy religion is marvellous comfortable. Ditto.
Agnes. Thờu knowest not the strength of liquor-too much on't would work to thy brain, and weaken reason.
Sadi. That must be because my skull is not, yet, altogether Christian. A. III. S. 2,
Agnes. When the liquor mounts, then thou wilt flatter me, and prate nonsense, like the best Christian-toper of them all.
Sadi. — My love for wine is but of a few hours growth - yet though I was enamour'd at first taste, I mean to stick by it with true Christian constancy.
I will pour a flask of wine down his throat-an' that comfort him not, he is past cure in this world, and must look elsewhere for consolation. I have now near two full flagons of Christianity within me.”
Ditto. Speaking of the bad road, he says,
“ Of all the roads to Christianity, this is the vilest that ever good fellow travelled.” A. II. S. 3.
Whilst noticing this Play, there are two passages, which I think exceptionable, and which it is right to bring forward for exposure:
Agnes. Father Sebastian, a captive here, good soul! says, that when a Moor turns Christian, faith will work any thing. I wonder if it ever whitens the skin.” A. I. S. 2.
The other is speaking irreverently of Providence. Roque asks Octavian if he does not remember his countenance? he answers,
No-Providence has slubber'd it in haste.
A. III. S. 3,
In the Opera of Inkle und Yarico, by the same author, when Trudge refuses to sell Wowski to the Planter, the Planter says, “ He's not fit to live amongst us Christians :" and goes out. Trudge
“ Christians ! ah! tender souls they are to be sure.” By which I suppose he means to say, notwithstanding he comes from England, from a Christian country, himself, that he is not a Christian. The following song then occurs, which, though it be marked, together with the foregoing speech, as omitted in the representation (which is certainly something) yet it is nevertheless relained for the reader.
Tender souls as e'er can be !
Who so careful cattle drive;
Whip in hand, and drive like males;
Worry dogs, hunt cats, kill flies;
And give their noble friend black eyes. A. II. S. I. In another place Inkle says,
“ We Christians, girl, hunt money." A. III. S. 3. This is retained on the Stage.
I consider these passages as highly insidious and injurious to the cause of Christianity. The cruelties here mentioned, are certainly contrary to the spirit of Christianity, and whoever practises any one of them, is not, in that respect, a Christian. But it is not being born in a Christian country, nor even belonging nominally to a society of Christians, which constitutes a man a Christian indeed.