Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

large bodies of the people, who cannot or will not read extensively, are enabled to obtain an image of the imaginative literature of a great age. And what a world of thought and feeling does its contemplation reveal to us! Here are garnered up chronicles of the insight and experience of highly-gifted natures, many of them sorely tried by sorrow and temptation, and uttering words of profoundest meaning while bending beneath the burden of actual life. Here flame the woes and wrongs that stung their spirits; here shine the majestic and ennobling thoughts by which calamity was consecrated. Here Passion revels in fantasies of maddening beauty; here the unselfish affections beam on our souls in the softest and most witching hues of fancy; here Imagination illumines the page with light from heaven, and sheds on the hut and the palace a glory not of earth; here Religion beckons to the skies. Love is here; Love, “whose familiar voice wearies not ever,” speaking a language which

“Trembles and sparkles as with ecstasy;”

and here are suffering and pain and death. Wise words are here; words which “beacon the rocks on which high hearts are wrecked”—which bear messages of measureless import to thrill the soul with gladness, or awe it into meekness—which teach the awful significance of God's handwriting on the heart. All grades of beauty are here, from the sylvan quiet of pastoral scenery to the “tempestuous loveliness of terror,”—all aspects of sorrow, from the most pensive melancholy to that agony and anguish which cries aloud in bitterness of spirit. The veil which conceals the workings of powerful but perverted hearts is rent; and we gaze with shuddering interest into the chaotic depths of passion, wrought into consuming intensity by maddening calamities. That a poetry so various, so “rammed with life,” must contain much exaggerated representation, much false and morbid feeling, much varnishing of vice and beautifying of corruption, is true; but then it contains much more to purify and exalt; to give us knowledge and power; to infuse into our souls a thirst to promote human liberty and happiness; to make us feel the holiness of disinterested affection; to kindle in our hearts a passionate love for all that is beautiful and good; to lift our thoughts into serener regions of existence than actual life furnishes; to fill our imaginations with images of loveliness and grandeur, which shall solace disappointment and people solitude; to enable us to interpret aright the sublime language, written all over the universe, in which nature teaches her lessons of wisdom and power; and to penetrate our whole being with an intense enthusiasm for virtue and truth, which shall bear the soul bravely up amid the coldness and baseness of the world, and inspire it with a lofty confidence in those eternal realities, before which all the world's games and gauds shrivel into ashes.

SOUTH's SERMONS."

No explorer of the thorny tracts of theology can ever forget his exhilaration of spirit on first reading the sermons of Dr. South, the shrewdest, sharpest, bitterest, and wittiest of English divines. His character, formed by a curious interpenetration of strong prejudices and great powers, and colored by the circumstances of his age and position, is one of the most peculiar in English literature, and, as displayed in his works, repays the most assiduous study. In some points he reminds us of Sydney Smith, though distinguished from him by many striking individual traits, and utterly opposed to him in political sentiment and principle. He is a grand specimen of the old tory; and he enforced his toryism with a courage, heartiness, and wealth of intellectual resources, to which the warmest radical could hardly refuse admiration and respect.

South was born in 1633. He was the son of an emiment London merchant. In 1647, he was admitted a king's scholar at Westminster, at the period when Dr. Busby was master of the school. On the day of the execution of King Charles the First, or, to use his own words, “on that black and eternally infamous day of the king's murder, an hour or two before his sacred head was cut off,” the Doctor prayed for the king by name, while reading Latin prayers at the school. In 1651, he entered Oxford, at the same time that John Locke was admitted,—the future champion of the divine right of kings, in company with the future champion of freedom. In 1655, he took his degree of Bachelor of Arts, and wrote a copy of Latin verses congratulating Cromwell on the peace made with the Dutch. Although this was a college exercise, and the theme probably selected for him, and not by him, it must have been a most galling recollection, in after years, when he was writing down the great Protector as an “execrable monster,” and comparing him to Baal and Beelzebub. At college he seems to have been a severe student, both in the acquisition of knowledge and in the training of his faculties for the gladiatorial contests of professional life. He was ordained by one of the deprived bishops in 1658; and soon won the good-will of the Presbyterians by a sermon directed against the Independents. In 1660, he was made University Orator, and in July of the same year, he preached his celebrated discourse, “The Scribe Instructed,” before the king's commissioners, who met at Oxford soon after the restoration, for the visitation of the University. South at this time was twenty-seven years old; and the sermon, in respect to style, arrangement, and strength of intellect and character, is one of his greatest and most characteristic productions, and indicates both the bias and energy of his mind. It especially displays that masterly arrangement of his matter, that thorough comprehension of his subject, and that vitality and vividness of expression, which have given his sermons with some a place in literature even higher than in divinity.

* Sermons preached upon several Occasions. By Robert South, D.D., Prebendary of Westminster, and Canon of Christ's Church, Oxford. A new edition, including the Posthumous Discourses. Philadelphia: Sorin & Ball. 4 vols. 8vo. — North American Review, October, 1846.

The object of the discourse is to set forth the qualifications of the Christian preacher, and to show by ridicule and argument the absurdity and wickedness involved in assuming to be a minister of the word without competent ability, knowledge, and preparation. He especially insists on intellectual qualifications, and their improvement by habitual exercise. Defining divinity as “a doctrine treating of the nature, attributes, and works of the great God, as he stands related to rational creatures, and the way how rational creatures may serve, worship, and enjoy him,” he asks if a doctrine of that “depth, that height, that vast compass, grasping within it all the perfections and dimensions of human science, does not worthily claim all the preparations whereby the wit and industry of man can fit him for it !” He opposes levity and stupidity as the two faults of most sermon-mongers, —those who put their prayers in such a dress as if they did not “supplicate, but compliment Almighty God,” and those who lie “grovelling on the ground with a dead and contemptible flatness,” passing off dulness as a mark of regeneration. The most splendid part of the sermon is the passage relating to the eloquence of the Bible, in which South enforces the duty of the minister to employ rich and significant expression in conveying the truths of the Gospel. As he fears that this may bring down the opposition of such as call speaking “coherently upon any sacred subject an offering of strange fire, and account the being pertinent.even the next door to the being profane,” he adduces Scripture authority for magnificence of language, and boldly pronounces the Bible a system of the best rhetoric, as well as a body of religion. “As the highest things,” he says, “require the highest expressions, so we shall find nothing in Scripture so high

« ПредишнаНапред »