« VorigeDoorgaan »
incidents of the narrative on the other, are so distinct, they come together so clumsily, that the little reader goes over the pages, and with a literary ingenuity worthy of a better cause, devours the story and omits the advice-deriving about as much spiritual benefit from the work, as a moth would receive by eating out the paste with which a religious book is bound. This result, however, is the fault of the execution, not of the plan. It would be difficult for a child to read the
a story of “ The Little Merchants,” without learning, in some degree, the lesson of honesty which it teaches. He certainly cannot avoid understanding the lesson.
2. Religious Novels. There is a certain period in human life, when subjects connected with love and marriage are all in all. Into this region, an immense crowd of writers have pressed, sagaciously concluding, that the strength of the appetite on the part of their readers, will make up for any deficiency there may be in the character of the food they can offer. The appetite has not been overrated. These books are read more, perhaps, than all others besides.
Now religious novels enter into this scene, but, as in other cases, by entering into bad company, they find it hard to sustain a good character. Some, as Cælebs, are really written for the purpose of throwing the light of religious principle upon these relations, and others are apparently intended to accomplish merely the same purposes, with other novels ; religious principle being brought in as a new element, to give additional interest to the work, or to sanctify it, in the opinion of the good.
3. The last class we shall mention, consists of works intended to illustrate and enforce general religious truth for mature minds. The World without Souls, Bunyan's Allegories, Hannah More's Tracts, and Law's Serious Call, are of this character.
The writings which come under these heads, cannot be condemned or approved in the mass. They must be judged in detail. Each must rest on its own foundation, and stand or fall, according to its own individual character. Is its tendency to increase or diminish the reader's interest in his own daily lot? Does it nourish, or does it intoxicate him?
, That is, is the interest it excites, of such a character, that it simply raises him to renewed efficiency and faithfulness, in the discharge of his own appropriate duties? Or does it awaken such exciting and absorbing emotions as unfit for
these duties while they last, and leave a gloomy depression behind ? Does the truth, which is to be illustrated or enforced, shine out clearly in the very narrative itself, so as to be inseparable from it, and is the incident and the narrative really made subservient to the inculcation of moral and religious sentiments ? Or are these sentiments only introduced, to give greater effect to the story? In a word, does the reader rise from the perusal of the book, impressed with the lessons it has been pretending to teach, and eager to put them into practice in his own daily duties? Or is the impression which is left, mainly a feverish interest in imaginary persons and scenes ? It is by such tests, that these books are to be individually tried.
After all the apparent difference of opinion there is, on the subject of fictitious writing, as expressed in general statements, there is, in fact, but little real disagreement. Every man, however he may speak on this subject in the abstract, does in practice condemn or acquit each individual work, according to its own individual tendencies. If in the general statement of his opinions he condemns this class of writing, he will contrive, when he comes to particulars, to except a great number of fictions which he considers in a different light from the rest. At the head of this list will stand the parables of the Saviour, and next perhaps will come the Pilgrim's Progress. He may say, of these and of similar works, that they are parables, allegories, entirely different in principle from other fictitious writings; but this does not prevent their being fiction. No ingenuity can transform the story of the Good Samaritan, or of the Interpreter's House, into historical records of matters of fact. All that we can say of them is, that the truth shines out so clearly, and predominates so decidedly, that we hardly consider them fiction ; which is no more nor less than saying, that the work is skilfully done ; the object of making fiction the vehicle of truth, is successfully and safely accomplished.
THE PAST, AND THE PRESENT.
By RICHARD H. DANA.
"Oh! that he were thus pervaded
With the Past! were thus persuaded
That distinguished divine, John Owen, said long ago, “ The world is at present in a mighty hurry, and being in many places cast off from all foundations of steadfastness, it makes the minds of men giddy with its revolutions, and disorderly in the expectations of them."
If this was a truth in the days of Owen, it is equally a truth now ;
if men in his time tore themselves violently off from old associations, and went wild after change, no less are they ridding themselves of all that is old, and quite as wild are they after alteration, in our day.
There is nothing new under the sun, said Solomon. Men seemn resolved upon bringing the time speedily about, when they may look around them, and reversing the declaration of the wise man, be able to say, There is nothing old under the sun!
What a spirit is there in that word old! Who would live in a world where there was nothing old ? Experience would not, could not; nor sedateness, nor reflection slow and thoughtful. Fancy might, perhaps ; but not imagination, that deeper power of the soul. And could the heart let go all its old attachments, and yet live? And hope, even beautiful hope, though the future may be its nourisher, is the child of the past, and waits by the bed of weariness or
A woman-saint, who bare an angel's face,
And how large would be the discourse of reason, looking before, and never after ? What would prospect be to us, without retrospect? A strange land without a guide. And
what is the present to us, without a lingering feeling for the past? A state of self-complacency, strangely blended with restlessness, and an impatient desire to be something we are not, no matter what, to gain something we have not, no matter how.
If this be indeed the age of change, it may be well to stop awhile, and ask ourselves, whether all we have cast behind us, is quite so useless as we have presumed? Whether that which we may have retained, is only to be tolerated for a time, and soon to be thrown by as worthless? Whether the present, in comparison with the old and despised past, is every thing, and compared with the vague but exciting future, nothing ?
It is not, however, my present purpose, to go into the question of the relative merits of past and present times; but to speak, first, of the influence which a respect for the past has upon the mind; and, then, of the influence which an exclusive attention to the present has upon it.
I must not be understood as confining myself to the remote, when I speak of the past; but as coming down and
; including both that which has more lately gone by us and taken its place in the memory, and sometimes even that which may still remain with us, but bearing the marks of age and the aspect of the past. This subject lies broad and deep in human nature; but all I can now do, is to set down a few of those thoughts which such a subject must call up in every
reflecting mind, and to give utterance to only a part of those feelings which grow from it, and which are dear to me, because of my inward conviction of their truth.
The question naturally arises, in the outset, Is change, in itself considered, a good, or an evil ?
Existence may be so unvaried, as to bring a sluggishness into the feelings, and a sleepiness over the intellect; uniformity may settle down into dulness, and content be the mere absence of sensibility. There may also be a pertinacious adherence to what is old, growing out of a morose pride in it, rather than out of a kindly love of it; a sulky rejection of the new, merely because it is new, and not from a heartsense that “the old is better :"—there may be a more surly dislike of the one, than of considerate esteem, or mellowed affection for the other. Age sometimes bears youth a grudge, because not possessing that of which youth is full—buoyancy of spirits, hopefulness, and health.
Nevertheless, after all that may be said about old-fashioned notions, obstinate prejudices, a brutish indifference to improvement, or a provoking unbelief in it, there is no less of clearheadedness, and quite as much of true-heartedness in this clinging to things as they were, as will be found at work in our eagerness after so-called improvements, in other words, change.
Through a long acquaintance with any thing, no matter how insignificant in itself, it becomes imperceptibly inwrought with our accustomed associations of feelings and thoughts, and, thus, partakes of their common life, and by sharing in it, adds to it. How much is there in the term, wonted' to a thing! We cannot utter it without being conscious of a gentle stirring among the affections. It is something that took life early in our hearts, and grew up, unobserved, it may be, branching in among our gentler feelings and quieter meditations, till the whole shoots up into a beautiful tree-top; and when the air of some outward circumstance comes upon it, how easily it moves back and forth, altogether? and what a melody there is in its low murmur? Look at it! Listen to it; for I know you are not so lost in the present, as to be no longer able to see it, to hear it, ay, to feel it.
Having thus grown up in and with us, it is become a part of ourselves, or rather, may it not be said ? is become very self; not the whole self, but so in and of self as to take away the thought of parts or portions, and thus has acted in the way of increment, without breaking up the integrity of the man. Nay, the unity of the character is the more perfect for it, for where unity does exist, its perfectness will be according to its intensity, and its intensity will be according to that which goes to make up its one simple element of living consciousness :—the more life, the more perfect oneness.
So it is, that the past, resolved within us into the principle of self, and thence, taking form early in us, becomes a constituent of our inward growth; and our enlargement has an all-pervading unity, and our variety is harmony. There is consistency in the man; and there has so long been a blending of thoughts and feelings, that they are, as it were, elemented of one, and the result is a whole man.
Hence comes strong individuality; for the growth being mainly from within, it partakes of the character of that from which it springs, and all the nourishment it absorbs from without, is transformed into this individuality, and then trans