Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

their way to wealth and immortality. Now this rule, I maintain, applies, in all its breadth, to the case in hand. It is to the sweet solemn powerful harmonies, and not to the sweetness, solemnity, or power of the language of our oratorios, that we are to trace their influence on the mind. They affect us, not because their themes are grave,

and true, and scriptural, but because the measure of the music is mighty and majestic-mighty as the voice of the storm, and majestic as the march of night.

But the other mistake is, that these feelings are religious. Persons generally, when they hear a sweet and solemn anthem, and are strongly moved thereby, have, as it were, the very depths of their being stirred within them, give themselves credit straightway for being very devout, whereas it is demonstrable, from the philosophy of sound, to which I simply refer, that the effect upon their frame is purely physical. Certain vibrations have been produced in the air by the boards and strings of the instruments performing ; these have prodnced a corresponding vibration on their organs of sense, and their nature has been affected in consequence in a definite manner-in a manner which an accurate physiologist can clearly describe as generally applicable, and which an intimate friend, acquainted with the peculiar temperament of the individual, could find no difficulty of predicting in his particular case.

In this simple statement, without entering into detail or illustration, the whole secret is out—the riddle read. It is a physical effect, bearing exact relation to the amount of the physical cause. The devotion of the affair becomes purely a question of nervous susceptibility, a devotion that, in the East, would probably dance with the whirling derweeshes as readily as here it melts or glows, adores or weeps, at the oratorio.

Now, be it borne in mind, that no feeling is religious which has not direct reference to God; which does not spring from a right motice-a heart-love for him; is not shaped in its actings by a right rule-respect for his word; and is not aiming at a right end his glory. Compare with this the religion of the oratorio. People go to it either ignorant of what they are to experience, or to renew their past feelings at the entertainment, with no higher object, however, in either case, than mere amusement; and their pleasurable feeling assumes, it may be, a serious and pensive cast, (the richest, sweetest shape it can put on,) and thus, pleasure their motive, aim, and experience, they can so deceive themselves as to miscall it piety! We surely do such persons no more than justice when we say, they are neither correct philosophers, nor acute analysts, nor scriptural theologians, nor experimental pietists. The motive, the rule, the end, are thronghout wrong; therefore the oratorio cannot, in the sense assumed, be, by any means, the band-maid of true devotion.

But, II. The character of the performers justifies me in raising my voice against this entertainment on religious grounds.

Granting that an oratorio is a religious exercise, (the ground the gravest sticklers for such an amusement wish to put it upon, and which I have already combated in my animadversions,) I have objected to any thing religious being considered in the light of an entertainment. I have contended that it does not produce emotions in any thing like correctness of nomenclature religious; and I now object that, allowing that representation of it to be true, none should take any part in the performance but religious people. Sacred music should be confined, I believe, not only to religions purposes, but also to religious men. Now whether we look at the more social, less imposing, and certainly less censurable performance of amateurs, or the oratorio on its scale of greatest magnitude, and metropolitan publicity and grandeur, character is never matter of inquiry concerning the artists. A good voice and brilliant execution is all that is sought to give effect to sentiments the loftiest inspiration could dictate, and themes the most solemn that can interest the mind. To my judgment this is most unscriptural, consequently indefensibly wrong. The whole spirit of Christianity condemns the interference of worldly or wicked men with any office of religion. Now I argue against this as such ; for so the man who would claim for it special exemption from censure demands. He says, “ I cannot take my sons and daughters to the concert or the play; they are worldly, and often corrupt and licentious amusements; but nothing can be more moral than this; it is all scripture !" I reply, so much the worse, if the performers are not all' devout Christians, if they are not all the children of God. I have already told you, that I consider praise the loftiest act of worship. On that principle, then, I had rather see a profane swearer preaching, or a convicted adulterer administering the Lord's Supper, than hear opera singers, whose character and habits in general are notoriously corrupt, singing the solemn words of some of our oratorios. 0, it is an offence that smells rank in the nostrils of Him who is jealous of the honour of his revelations, and who is therefore represented to have magnified his “ WORD,” above all, his “ name.” Psalm cxxxviii. 2.

My censure, however, goes not the length of making every hired or gratuitous performer, on these occasions, a person of immoral life. That I never could be so uncharitable as to affirm; and they would do me injustice who supposed I meant so much. The simple fact that a man is a mere worldling makes him obnoxious to my condemnation in the line of my present argument; that the spirituality of any performer's mind is no recommendation, and the irreligiousness of a gifted one no disqualification. I could name, (if need were,) whoremongers, adulterers, drunkards, swearers, blasphemers, aye, and persons whose sins were not done in a corner, but blazed abroad in the face of day, contributing the chief attraction to festivities of this kind. Your own memory and experience will supply you with abundant corroboration of the truth of my assertion; as, indeed, will the daily prints, which register the engagements of our principal vocalists and musicians. That an unconverted man, then, though free from every grosser blemish, should invite me to hear him utter religious sentiments, while his mind and heart are evidently uninfluenced by them, is a paradox I cannot understand, while it is an invitation my religion will not allow me to accept. I cannot but involuntarily apply to such a one the description of Paul—“intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind.” Col. ii. 18. If this entertainment be a religious one, an irreligious performer has no right to meddle with it; if, on the other hand, it be (the only correct way of viewing it) but one of the protean forms of worldly amusement—but a serious operathen a Christian has no right to be present at it. In either case, to my mind, the question is settled beyond cavil. But further,

III. The subject matter of oratorios being sacred, is, to my apprehension, sufficient for their condemnation, upon the grounds of reason and good taste. God, the soul, heaven, hell, eternity, made the matter of a song! that song intended as a pastime for a pleasant hour; not a preparative and assistant to devotion ! It is awful to think of, repnlsive, shocking! It is offensive to reason, to common sense. Of this, the excellent and venerable John Newton makes a strong and lively representation in his Messiah :

« • Whereunto shall we liken the people of this generation.' I represent to myself a number of persons, of various characters, involved in one common charge of high-treason. They are already in a state of confinement, but not yet brought to their trial. The facts, however, are so plain, and the evidence against them so strong and pointed, that there is no doubt of their guilt being fully proved; and that nothing but a pardon can preserve them from punishment. In this situation, it should seem their wisdom to avail themselves of every expedient in their power for obtaining mercy. But they are entirely regardless of their danger, and wholly taken up with contriving methods of amusing themselves, that they may pass away the term of their imprisonment with as much cheerfulness as possible. Among other resources, they call in the assistance of music; and, amidst a variety of subjects in this way, they are particularly pleased with one. They choose to make the solemnities of their impending trial, the character of their Judge, the methods of his procedure, and the awful sentence to which they are exposed, the ground-work of a musical entertainment; and as if they were quite unconcerned in the event, their attention is chiefly fixed on the skill of the composer, in adapting the style of his music to the very solemn language and subject with which they are trifling. The King, however, out of his great clemency and compassion towards those who have no pity for themselves, prevents them with his goodness. Undesired by them, he sends them a gracious message. He assures them that he is unwilling they should suffer. He requires, yea he entreats them to submit He points out a way in which their confession and submission shall certainly be accepted ; and in this way, which he condescends to prescribe, he offers thein a free and full pardon. But instead of taking a single step towards a compliance with his goodness, they set his message likewise to music; and this, together with a description of their present state, and of the fearful doom awaiting them, if they continue obstinate, is sung for their diversion, accompanied by the sound of cornet, fute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of instruments. Surely, if such a case as I have supposed, could be found in real life, though I might admire the musical taste of these people, I should commiserate their insensibility.

“ But is not this case more than a supposition? Is it noi, in the most serious sense, actually realized among ourselves? I should insult your understandings, if I judged a long application necessary. I know my suppositions must already have led your thoughts to the subject of The Messiah, and to the spirit and temper of at least the greater part of the performers, and of the audience.

“ The Holy Scripture concludes all mankind under sin. It charges them all with treason and rebellion against the great Sovereign, Lawgiver, and Benefactor ; and declares the misery to which, as sinners, we are obnoxious. But God is long-suffering, and waits to be gracious. The stroke of death, which would in

O

N. 3. VOL. III.

stantly place us before his awful tribunal, is still suspended. In the mean time, he affords us his Gospel, by which he assures us there is forgiveness with him. He informs us of a Saviour, and that of his great love to sinners, he has given his only Son to be an Atonement and Mediator, in favour of all who shall sue for mercy in his name. The character of this Saviour, his unspeakable love, his dreadful sufferings, the agonies he endured in Gethsemane and upon the cross, are made known to us; and as his past humiliation, so his present glory, and his invitation to come to him for pardon and eternal life, are largely declared. These are the principal points expressed in the passages of The Messiah. Mr. Handel, who set them to music, has been commemorated and praised many years after his death, in a place professedly devoted to the praise and worship of God; yea, (if I am not misinformed,) the stated worship of God, in that place, was suspended for a considerable time, that it might be duly prepared for the commemoration of Mr. Handel. But, alas ! how few are disposed to commemorate, and praise the Messiah himself! The same great truths, divested of the music, when delivered from the pulpit, are heard by many admirers of the oratorio with indifference—too often with contempt.”

But it is equally condemned by good taste and decent sensibility. While this general objection lies against all representations of this nature, it applies with special emphasis to the subject matter of some oratorios, which are more than commonly censurable. Who, for instance, could bear to see the death of some dear relation, a father, or a mother, enacted upon the stage; or, if thrown into numbers, make it an amusement to listen to the song ?

Is not such an event one of those desolating calamities, from the contemplation of which the mind instinctively recoils, and which you would fain blot out of the memory for ever? Be your feelings, however, on this subject, strong or weak, you could not, at least, countenance those, nor feel any sympathy with those, whose sensibilities on the subject being less lively than your own, conld make the sanctities of that death chamber an antidote to ennui-a pleasant contrivance to kill time. You look at the event in one point of view, the irreparable loss it occasioned; you recur to it with an undying grief, and never think of the last groan, gasp, look of the dead, but you exclaim with sickening heart, “ It is no dream, and I am desolate.” They look upon it simply as a very clever show, a vastly interesting spectacle.

But, to bring ur analogy still closer; who could bear to see the death of a martyred friend-a bosom friend and generous benefactor,-made the subject of a tragedy, a spectacle to amuse the vulgar; or the theme of a song, intended as much to show the composer's skill who prepared the accompaniment, or the singer's mastery of the gamut, as the virtues of the deceased ? Suppose all that poetry, and inusic, and execution, and voice, could do to represent the atrocious deed in all its atrocity—the mournful catastrophe in all its mournfulness—who, with the feelings of a man, much less those of a friend, could sit out to see the deceased again expire; to hear again the unrighteous sentence of the judge, the ribald execration of the crowd, the forgiving prayer, the god-like benediction of the victim, and, at last, with painful and vivid verisimilitude, the cries, the groans, the convulsed and choking sobs of the dying man? No man, I venture to predict, with the heart of a man, could endure such a representation as this, the sufferer being his friend and benefactor. It would call for nerves of adamant and not of human fibre to endure it. It would be a moral crucifixion ; it would be a torture only second to that of the hapless hero of the play or song; and it would be a sin, not only against all that is high and honourable, and noble and generous, and endearing and delicate, but against humanity itself. How then will they exculpate themselves from the blackness of this sin, who can, at the oratorio, hear the sufferings and death of the Son of God, it may be, alternate with chorus from the opera, or the air from the concert room? How can they endure the scene which the witchery of poesy and music has conjured up in living semblance before their eyes? Methinks if they felt any thing like human beings, the place would be one Bochim-one place of tears. The voice of loud weeping would drown the sad music of the piece, and the air vibrate less to trump and quivering string than the frame of the audience with the strong spasm of sympathetic agony. Did we feel it as we ought, nature would writhe under the infliction at the oratorio as it writhes under the knife, and we shonld shun it as enfeebled patients do the rush and onset of over excitement.

For, oh! where is the friend, where the benefactor, where the martyr, like the Son of God ? Where one with such claims upon our veneration, gratitude, and love? Where was there ever such stainless purity? where such lofty benevolence? where such unmurmuring patience? where such unbroken obedience, where such self-denial, self-sacrifice, self-forgetfulness ? and where, oh where, such sufferings and such love?

Forgive us, O thou bleeding Lamb! that we feel so little sympathy with thee, thou first, best, changeless friend of man! Forgive us that we hear, read, speak of unmoved, “thy sore dismay, thy deep distress.” Forgive us that we are steeped in such Lethean apathy of soul, that we can make thy tears, and sighs, and groans, the pastime of our leisure, and the pabulum of our appetite for pleasure ; thy cries our sport, thine agonies our delight! O deep degeneracy of our nature! O accursed fruit of our fail! O diabolic hardness of onr heart! God alone can forgive such aggravated sin. “ O Lamb of God! that takest away the sins of the world,

“ Have mercy upon us ! “ O Lamb of God! that takest away the sins of the world,

“ Grant us thy peace!". To thee, uncreated Son of the Eternal, look we for forgiveness ! To thee, who wert “ slain for ns," is our plea, appeal, earnest supplication ! And well to thee may we appeal, thou insulted Lamb! though thee we have offended-though thee we have thus “ crucified afresh," and appeared almost consenting unto thy death! For thou art God, and not man, else we had been consumed in our misdeeds. Divine clemency alone could pardon such unnatural guilt; creature forbearance would have wasted away under this gross outrage upon decency, propriety, devotion, love. Spare us then, in mercy spare, and we will thus offend no more!

Pastor, Sussex. (To be continued.)

« ПредишнаНапред »