Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

of tragedy, to make it “ thick and slab.” Man's life was (as it appears to me) more full of traps and pitfalls; of hair breadth accidents by flood and field; more waylaid by sudden and startling evils; it trod on the brink of hope and fear; stumbled upon fate unawares; while the imagination, close behind it, caught at, and clung to, the shape of danger, or “snatched a wild and fearful joy” from its escape. The accidents of nature were less provided against; the excesses of the passions and of lawless power were less regulated, and produced more strange and desperate.catastrophes. The tales of Boccaccio are founded on the great pestilence of Florence, Fletcher the poet died of the plague, and Marlow was stabbed in a tavern quarrel. The strict authority of parents, the inequality of ranks, or the hereditary feuds between different families, made more unhappy loves or matches.

“ The course of true love never did run even.” Again, the heroic and martial spirit which breathes in our elder writers, was yet in considerable activity in the reign of Elizabeth. "The age of chivalry was not then quite gone, nor the glory of Europe extinguished for ever.” Jousts and tournaments were still common with the nobility in England and in foreign countries: Sir Philip Sydney was particularly distinguished for his proficiency in these exercises (and indeed fell a martyr to his ambition as a soldier), and the gentle Surrey was still more famous, on the same account, just before him. It is true, the general use of fire-arms gradually superseded the necessity of skill in the sword, or bravery in the person : and as a symptom of the rapid degeneracy in this respect, we find Sir John Suckling soon after boasting of himself as one

“Who prized black eyes, and a lucky hit

At bowls, above all the trophies of wit." It was comparatively an age of peace,

“Like strength reposing on his own right arm;" but the sound of civil combat might still be heard in the distance, the spear glittered to the eye of memory, or the clashing of armour struck on the imagination of the ardent and the young.

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

Lastly, to conclude this account; what gave a unity and common direction to all these causes, was the natural genius of the country, which was strong in these writers in proportion to their strength. We are a nation of islanders, and we cannot help it; nor mend our

VOL. I.

U

selves if we would. We are something in ourselves, nothing when we try to ape others. Music and painting are not our forte ; for what we have done in that way has been little, and that borrowed from others with great difficulty. But we may boast of our poets and philosophers. That's something. We have had strong heads and sound hearts among us.

Thrown on one side of the world, and left to bustle for ourselves, we have fought out many a battle for truth and freedom. That is our natural style; and it were to be wished we had in no instance departed from it. Our situation has given us a certain cast of thought and character; and our liberty has enabled us to make the most of it. We are of a stiff clay, not moulded into every fashion, with stubborn joints not easily bent. We are slow to think, and therefore impressions do not work upon us till they act in masses. We are not forward to express our feelings, and therefore they do not come from us till they force their way in the most impetuous eloquence. Our language is, as it were, to begin anew, and we make use of the most singular and the boldest combinations to explain ourselves. Our wit comes from us, “like birdlime, brains and all.” We pay too little attention to form and method, leave our works in an unfinished state, but still the materials we work in are solid and of nature's mint; we do not deal in counterfeits. We both under and over-do, but we keep an eye to the prominent features, the main chance.

We are more for weight than show; care only about what interests ourselves, instead of trying to impose upon others by plausible appearances, and are obstinate and intractable in not conforming to common rules, by which many arrive at their ends with half the real waste of thought and trouble. We neglect all but the principal object, gather our force to make a great blow, bring it down, and relapse into sluggishness and indifference again. Materiam superabat opus, cannot be said of us; we may be accused of grossness, but not of flimsiness; of extravagance, but not of affectation; of want of art and refinement, but not of a want of truth and nature. Our literature, in a word, is Gothic and grotesque ; unequal and irregular; not cast in a previous mould, nor of one uniform texture, but of great weight in the whole, and of incomparable value in the best parts. It aims at an excess of beauty or power, hits or misses, and is either very good indeed, or absolutely good for nothing. This character applies in particular to our literature in the age of Elizabath, which is its best period, before the introduction of a rage for French rules and French models; for whatever may be the value of our own original style of composition, there can be neither offence nor presumption in saying, that it is at least better than our second-hand imitation of others. Our understanding (such as it is and must remain to be good for any thing) is not a thoroughfare for commonplaces, smooth as the palm of one's hand, but full of knotty joints and jutting excrescences, rough, uneven, overgrown

with brambles; and I like this aspect of the mind (as some one said of the country), where nature keeps a good deal of the soil in her own hands. Perhaps the genius of our poetry has more of Pan than of Apollo; “ but Pan is a God, Apollo is no more!”

43.—Religious Knowledge.

ROBERT HALL. [The following · Half Hour' is from a Sermon entitled The Advantages of Knowledge to the Lower Classes,' preached (in recommendation of a school) at Leicester by the Reverend Robert Hall, and published by him in 1810. Robert Hall was the son of a minister of the Baptist persuasion, and was himself educated for the same course of usefulness. He was born in 1764, and died in 1831. His various Tracts and Sermons were collected by Dr. Olinthus Gregory, and published in 6 vols. They have recently been reprinted in a cheap form. Some of his works are of a polemical nature; but many of them recommend themselves to all Christians by their fervent piety and their flowing eloquence. Hemay be considered the most celebrated man, amongst the Dissenters, of modern times.]

Religion, on account of its intimate relation to a future state, is every man's proper business, and should be his chief care. Of knowledge in general, there are branches which it would be preposterous in the bulk of mankind to attempt to acquire, because they have no immediate connection with their duties, and demand talents which nature has denied, or opportunities which Providence has withheld. But with respect to the primary truths of religion the case is different; they are of such daily use and necessity, that they form not the materials of mental luxury, so properly, as the food of the mind. In improving the character, the influence of general knowledge is often feeble and always indirect; of religious knowledge the tendency to purify the heart is immediate, and forms its professed scope and design. “ This is life eternal, to know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” To ascertain the character of the Supreme Author of all things, to know, as far as we are capable of comprehending such a subject, what is his moral disposition, what the situation we stand in towards him, and the principles by which he conducts his administration, will be allowed by every considerate person to be of the highest consequence. Compared to this, all other speculations and inquiries sink into insignificance; because every event that can befall us is in his hands, and by his sentence our final condition must be fixed. To regard such an inquiry with indifference, is the mark not of a noble but of an abject mind, which, immersed in sensuality or amused with trifles, "deems itself unworthy of eternal life.” To be so absorbed in worldly pursuits as to neglect future prospects, is a conduct that can plead no excuse, until it is ascertained beyond all doubt or contradiction that there is no hereafter, and that nothing remains but that we eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.” Even in that case, to forego the hope of immortality without a sigh; to be gay and sportive on the brink of destruction, in the very moment of relinquishing prospects on which the wisest and best in every age have delighted to dwell, is the indication of a base and degenerate spirit. If existence be a good, the eternal loss of it must be a great evil; if it be an evil, reason suggests the propriety of inquiring why it is so, of investigating the maladies by which it is oppressed. Amidst the darkness and uncertainty which hang over our future condition, Revelation, by bringing life and immortality to light, affords the only relief. In the Bible alone we learn the real character of the Supreme Being; His holiness, justice, mercy, and truth; the moral condition of man, considered in his relation to Him, is clearly pointed out; the doom of impenitent transgressors denounced; and the method of obtaining mercy, through the interposition of a divine mediator, plainly revealed. There are two considerations which may suffice to evince the indispensable necessity of scriptural knowledge.

1. The scriptures contain an authentic discovery of the way of salvation.” They are the revelation of mercy to a lost world; a reply to that most interesting inquiry, What we must do to be saved. The distinguishing feature of the gospel system is the economy of

[ocr errors]

redemption, or the gracious provision the Supreme Being has thought fit to make for reconciling the world to himself, by the manifestation in human nature of his own Son. It is this which constitutes it the Gospel, by way of eminence, or the glad tidings concerning our Saviour Jesus Christ, on the right reception of which, or its rejection, turns our everlasting weal or woe. It is not from the character of God, as our Creator, it should be remembered, that the hope of the guilty can arise; the fullest development of his essential perfections could afford no relief in this case, and therefore natural religion, were it capable of being carried to the utmost perfection, can never supersede the necessity of revealed. To inspire confidence an express communication from heaven is necessary; since the introduction of sin has produced a peculiarity in our situation, and a perplexity in our prospects, which nothing but an express assurance of mercy can remove.

In what manner the blessed and only Potentate may think fit to dispose of a race of apostates, is a question on which reason can suggest nothing satisfactory, nothing salutary: a question, in the solution of which, there being no data to proceed upon, wisdom and folly fail alike, and every order of intellect is reduced to a level ; for “who hath known the mind of the Lord, or being his counsellor, hath taught him ?" It is a secret which, had he not been pleased to unfold it, must have for ever remained in the breast of the Deity. This secret, in infinite mercy, he has condescended to disclose: the silence, not that which John witnessed in the Apocalypse, of half an hour, but that of

ages, is broken; the darkness past, and we behold, in the gospel, the astonishing spectacle of “God in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing to them their trespasses,” and sending forth his ambassadors to “intreat us in Christ's stead to be reconciled to God.” To that strange insensibility with respect to the concerns of a future world, which is at once the indication and consequence of the fall, must we ascribe the languid attention with which this communication is received ; instead of producing, as it ought, transports of gratitude and joy in every breast.

This, however we may be disposed to regard it, is unquestionably the grand peculiarity of the gospel, the exclusive boast and treasure of the Scriptures, and most emphatically “ the way of salvation,” not only as it reveals the gracious intentions of God to a sinful world, but as it lays a solid foundation for the supernatural duties of faith and re

« VorigeDoorgaan »