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Deity as the fear involves do not multiply believers less rapidly than scoffers.
The Poets have, with some exceptions, been in advance of the theologians in giving us ideas of Providence and a future life, consistent with the wants and analogies of our nature, and not at variance with the teachings of revelation. Poetry, from the time of Job, has been the mother tongue of devotion and prophecy; and the poets, in their highest moods, have generally been true to those inmost assurances of the soul, which represent a God and an after life in keeping with our best ideas of omnipotent benignity and love. Poetry falters in its lofty and confident tone, and gives us for its winged words of inspiration a mere vulgar catalogue of horrors, when it would depict a material hell, or set forth the doctrine of everlasting perdition for any human soul. Even those poets who are regarded as theologically "orthodox" are often poetically heterodox; for, at times, they seem to exult in their escape from their narrow sectarian enclosure-to have a clear glimpse of the all-embracing mercy of the universal Father-and to give utterance to a strain, breaking like a clarion's voice through sounds of groaning and lamentation, and rebuking the gloomy creed, which the heart unerringly rejects, however the intellect,
succumbing to supposed authority, may labor to accept it. This fact, which no one who critically studies the religious poets can fail to recognize, will explain why, in this "Testimony of the Poets,” contributions from Milton, Young, Montgomery, and even Watts, may be found.
Much that will be new to American readers is presented in this volume. In the "Sermons in Sonnets," by the Rev. Chauncey Hare Townshend, an esteemed clergyman of the established Church of England, the doctrine of Universal Salvation is set forth with the learning of the profound theologian, and the fervid eloquence of the true poet. The poems of Hartley Coleridge, Horace Smith, Leigh Hunt, Thomas Hood, John Sterling, P. J. Bailey, Charles Mackay, Mrs. Browning, and Mary Howitt, are no less decided in their tone in reference to this subject; and it will be found that Wordsworth, Southey, Keble, Bernard Barton, Bowring, Wilson, and other poets of hardly inferior note, including several of American origin, have given utterance to sentiments which admit of but one construction, and that opposed to the theological interpretation of God and Scripture which would consign more than nine-tenths of every generation of men to everlasting anguish in another life.
It will require but a casual glance to see that this is no sectarian book. It will have fulfilled its mission if it help to indicate that the highest human conceptions of the Beautiful and the True are in accordance with the faith which, in the spirit of Christ's teaching, can sincerely and consistently address the Omnipotent as "our Father," and which can look through death in the serene assurance that He "doeth all things well," and that justice will, in this and every future stage of being, be ever tempered with mercy.