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It seemed to be a favorite task with Taylor to write such letters of condolence to his friends. In the Preface to his Holy Dying, there is an admirable Epistle Dedicatory to Richard, Earl of Carbery, on the occasion of his Lady's death. The solemn, and majestic, yet graceful expressions of Taylor on such occasions, make us think of him as a willow, standing at the door-way of a house where sorrow was many years since bidden as a constant inmate, and this beautiful tree, with its pensile and trailed branches, though flung by every passing wind in the carelessness of grief, returns constantly to the bending attitude of sorrow. “My Lord,” says the pious and faithful Bishop,
“I am treating your Lordship, as a Roman gentleman did St. Augustine and his mother; I shall entertain you in a charnel house, and carry your meditations awhile into the chambers of death, where you shall find the rooms dressed up with melancholic arts, and fit to converse with your most retired thoughts, which begin with a sigh, and proceed in deep consideration, and end in a holy resolution. The sight that St. Augustine most noted in that house of sorrow, was the body of Cæsar, clothed with all the dishonours of corruption, that you can suppose in a six months' burial. But I know, that, without pointing, your first thoughts will remember the change of a greater beauty, which is now dressing for the brightest immortality, and from her bed of darkness calls to you to dress your soul for that change, which shall mingle your bones with that beloved dust, and carry your soul to the same quire, where you may both sit and sing for ever. My Lord, it is your dear Lady's anniversary, and she deserved the greatest honour, and the longest memory, and the fairest monument, and the most solemn mourning : and in order to it, give me leave, my Lord, to cover her hearse with these following sheets. This book was intended first to minister to her piety; and she desired all good people should partake of the advantages which are here recorded : she knew how to live rarely well, and she desired to know how to die; and God taught her by an experiment. But since her work is done, and God supplied her with provisions of his own, before I could minister to her, and perfect what she desired, it is necessary to present to your Lordship those bundles of cypress, which were intended to dress her closet, but come now to dress her hearse. My Lord, both
your Lordship and myself have lately seen and felt such sorrows of death, and such sad departure of dearest friends, that it is more than high time we should think ourselves nearly concerned in the accidents. Death hath come so near to you, as to fetch a portion from your very heart; and now you cannot choose but dig your own grave, and place your coffin in your eye, when the angel hath dressed your scene of sorrow and meditation with so particular and so near an object : and, therefore, as it is my duty, I am come to minister to your pious thoughts, and to direct your sorrows, that they may turn into virtues and advantages.”
There has doubtless been a great degree of indiscriminate praise lavished upon Taylor's writings, for the name of Jeremy Taylor is associated in the minds of many with the perfection of the English tongue. It is true, without doubt, that the simplicity of his heart, and the beauty of his thoughts, and the air of pensive reflection which pervades his pages, has, in a great measure, disarmed criticism of its severity. In regard to the character of his intellectual powers, Bishop Heber remarks:
“ The powers of Taylor's mind were not devoted to the investigation of fresh fields of science, or to enlarge the compass of the human intellect, by ascertaining its legitimate boundaries. He was busied through life in defending truths already received, or in clearing away errors by which those ancient truths had been disfigured."
He was not a logical so much as a rhetorical reasoner, carrying his points by means of striking illustrations, and gaining assent from the heart by appeals to its consciousness. To this are added a host of strange allusions to persons and events. In regard to many of them we are half inclined to suspect that they had their existence only in his or some other mind, though they are introduced with the soberness of truth, and relied upon in confirmation of a subject. They are frequently so quaint, and sometimes so ridiculous, that they do no credit to the writer's understanding, though we must bear in mind the great fondness of the readers of that age
for such matters. Learned references are brought forward, one aster another, to establish a truism. Curious incidents in the lives of the ancients are interspersed without measure. In the chapter on Contentedness, in the Holy Living, we open to a place where, in illustration of the truth that splendid fortunes have many interruptions and allays, he tells us that Pittacus was a wise and valiant man, but at a large dinner party, his wife, in a fit of passion, overset the table, whereupon the good man remarked, that “
every man had one evil, and he was most happy that he had but that one alone.”
“ And this consideration is also of great use to them, who envy at the prosperity of the wicked, and the success of persecutors, and the baits of fishes, and the bread of dogs. God fails not to sow blessings in the long furrows, which the ploughers plough upon the back of the church: and this success, which troubles us, will be a great glory to God, and a great benefit to his saints and servants, and a great ruin to the persecutors, who shall have but the fortune of Theramenes, one of the thirty tyrants of Athens, who escaped, when his house fell upon him, and was shortly after put to death with torments by his colleagues in the tyranny."
He tells us that it is useless to live in continual fear of death.
“For if you fear death, you shall never the more avoid it, but you make it miserable. Fannius, that killed himself for fear of death, died as certainly as Porcia, that ate burning coals, or Cato that cut his own throat."
Speaking of restitution for unintentional injuries he says,
“And when Ariarathes, the Cappadocian king, had, but in wantonness, stopped the mouth of the river Melanus, although he intended no evil, yet Euphrates being swelled by that means, and bearing away some of the strand of Cappadocia, did great spoil to the Phrygians and Galatians; he therefore by the Roman senate was condemned in three hundred talents, towards reparation of the damage. Much rather therefore, when the lesser part of the evil was directly intended.”
We are also told, when he speaks of “care of our time,” either for the sake of illustrating his subject or his own lore,
“ Thus Nero went up and down Greece, and challenged the fiddlers at their trade. Æropus, a Macedonian king, made lanterns. Harcatius, the king of Parthia was a mole-catcher : and Biantes, the Lydian, filed needles. He, that is appointed to minister in holy things, must not suffer secular affairs and sordid arts to eat up great portions of his employment: a clergyman must not keep a tavern, nor a judge be an innkeeper : and it was a great idleness in Theophylact, to spend his time in his stable of horses, when he should have been in his study, or the pulpit, or saying his holy offices. Such employments are the diseases of labor, and the rust of time which it contracts, not by lying still, but by dirty employment.”
The style of Taylor abounds in Latinisms, and he frequently shows his erudition by the use of a literal instead of VOL. I.
the usual derivative. He speaks of an “excellent pain," because excellent means great. He speaks of " serpents” in the grave, because “ creeping things” is expressed in Latin by serpentes. Again, the gospel is said to have been preached IdIwcais, to the common people, but Taylor will have it, idiots.
But another archaism, obvious to the most cursory reader, and one which gives a peculiar and remarkable effect to his style, is his use of the comparative degree unconnected with any comparison. He speaks of "a ruder breath of wind," "a new and stranger baptism,” “ the air's looser garment, or the wilder fringes of the fire.”
In common with most men of his age, he was under the influence of the schoolmen, “whose subtle distinctions and endless subdivisions were made the model of style, as well as the land-marks of intellect.” Preaching once upon the gunpowder plot, from the passage where the apostles wished to call down fire from heaven upon the Samaritans, he labors to show that both the plot and the request of the disciples were of apostolic origin, inasmuch as the church of Rome, founded by the apostle Peter, has given encouragement to such atrocious projects !
His sermons, though abounding in learned references and conceits, were, most of them, preached to rustics, at Golden Grove, the residence of Lord Carbery. It may be that Taylor added these accomplishments of style in preparing his sermons for the press; but it is well known that the most ignorant audiences in those days were remarkably fond of learned sermons. The well known saying of the countrymen, in regard to the great and learned but simple and unaffected Pocock, is a confirmation of this remark; for they were pleased to say of him, “that though he was a kind and neighborly man, he was no Latinist.”
We cannot omit to insert several passages as specimens of Taylor's manner and style. The first is a well known passage, exquisitely beautiful, but forced in its application, and leaving the impression upon the mind of the reader, that it was made like a wonderful piece of fine gold net work, expressly for ornament.
" For so have I seen a lark rising from his bed of grass, and soaring upwards, singing as he rises, and hopes to get to heaven, and climb above the clouds; but the poor bird was beaten back with the loud sighings of an eastern wind, and his motion made irregular and inconstant, descending more at every breath of the
tempest, than it could recover by the libration and frequent weighing of his wings; till the little creature was forced to sit down and pant, and stay till the storm was over; and then it made a prosperous flight, and did rise and sing, as if it had learned music and motion from an angel, as he passed sometimes through the air about his ministries here below. "So is the prayer of a good man.”
He is speaking of the prayers of unclean and wicked persons.
“A good man will not endure them ; much less will God entertain such reekings of the Dead sea and clouds of Sodom. For so an impure vapor, begotten of the slime of the earth by the fevers and adulterous heats of an intemperate summer-sun, striving by the ladder of a mountain to climb up to heaven, and rolling into various figures by an uneasy, unfixed revolution, and stopped at the middle region of the air, being thrown from his pride and attempt of passing towards the seat of the stars, turns into an unwholesome flame, and, like the breath of hell, is confined into a prison of darkness, and a cloud, till it breaks into diseases, plagues, and mildews, stink and blastings : so is the prayer of an unchaste person ; it strives to climb the battlements of heaven, but because it is a flame of sulphur, salt, and bitumen, and was kindled in the dishonorable regions below, derived from hell, and contrary to God, it cannot pass forth to the element of love, but ends in barrenness and murmur, fantastic expectations, and trifling imaginative confidences; and they at last end in sorrows and despair. Every state of sin is against the possibility of a man's being accepted; but these have a proper venom against the graciousness of the person, and the power of the prayer. God can never accept an unholy prayer, and a wicked man can never send forth any other; the waters pass through impure aqueducts and channels of brimstone, and therefore may end in brimstone and fire, but never in forgiveness, and the blessings of an eternal charity.”
On early death :
" But so have I seen a rose newly springing from the clefts of its hood, and at first it was as fair as the morning, and full with the dew of heaven, as a lamb's fleece; but when a ruder breath had forced open its virgin modesty, and dismantled its too youthful and unripe retirements, it began to put on darkness, and to decline to softness and the symptoms of a sickly age; it bowed the head, and broke its stalk, and at night, having lost some of its leaves and all its beauty, it fell into the portion of weeds and outworn faces."