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almost total absence of due distinction between the design and application of the several portions of which it is made up.


That such misconceptions should prevail, is, indeed, a lamentable but not a surprising instance of the liability of human nature to misapply the best gifts, whether of Providence or grace. And its influence has been unhappily cherished and confirmed by the prevalence of those theological systems which have dictated the practice of literalizing upon all the expressions of the sacred writers; so that the magnificent imagery of the finest passages of inspiration is reduced to the lowest standard of verbal dogmatism; and minds incapable of appreciating the Divine sublimity of those descriptions, think to add to the evidence of their truth by a forced and unnatural perversion of their meaning.

"With others, again, the sincere, (but as we must consider it,) misguided spirit of religious fanaticism, produces similar effects. Blinded to all but the internal light of his spiritual impressions, the enthusiast will always entertain a deeply-rooted and devoted hostility against any such distinctions as those here advocated. Maintaining the literal application of every sentence, every syllable of the Divine word, he rejects, as impious, the slightest departure from it. Human reason, along with all science which is its offspring, is at best carnal and unsanctified; and should any of its conclusions be advanced in contradiction to the letter of a scriptural text, this completely seals its condemnation as absolutely sinful, and equivalent to a rejection of revelation altogether.

"In such cases we may most readily make every allowance due to sincerity, however mistaken. But there are other instances in which, unfortunately, little claim to such indulgence can be found. There are some who join most vehemently in the cry against science in general, and geology in particular, as dangerous to religion, upon no sincere grounds of religious conviction.

"Their adoption of a certain form of faith is dictated by motives of expediency, and the mere value of its practical effects on society. Not themselves recognizing its claims as founded in truth, they uphold the established creed, as well as all received errors popularly engrafted upon it, as a convenient and effectual instrument for securing the influence of practical restraints on the multitude. Hence they condemn all inquiries which may come into collision with any portion of the popular belief; and against the agitation of any question which may shake established prejudices, or suggest any distinctions in the application of Scripture, there is an immediate and indiscriminate cry raised that they unsettle men's minds, and are heretical doctrines of a most dangerous tendency, and such as will weaken and efface all sense of religious and moral obligation.


But even among the best men and most sincere believers, there exists too often a sort of dread of meeting such questions in a strictly honest frame of mind. Those who have the most conscientious regard for truth, in every thing else seem to think it dispensed with in supporting the cause of religion. And while they earnestly condemn those who in former ages could justify the pious frauds' introduced in sup

port of the received faith, are yet themselves influenced by the very same spirit, only in a different form, in dreading the dissemination of knowledge, if even imagined to be at variance with established religious tenets.

"The one party seeking to support religion by the propagation of falsehood, the other by the suppression of truth, both agree in treating truth as if it were falsehood, and thus give its enemies the fairest ground to think it so.”—pp. 242-4.

Fearing that some parts of this notice may wear too much the appearance of the spirit of criticism, and too little of the spirit of sympathy, we have placed these passages together as favourable specimens, and once more cordially express our sense of the value of the work, and earnestly desire for it the attention its very important subject and its own merits deserve.

J. H. T.


WHAT is a sonnet? Dr. Johnson gives us two definitions :1st, "A short poem consisting of fourteen lines, of which the rhymes are adjusted by a particular rule. It is not very suitable to the English language; and has not been used by any man of eminence since Milton, of whose sonnets this is a specimen.' The oracular Doctor chose as a specimen a Satirical Sonnet of Milton: a mere squib against a party book of his own, called • Tetrachordon.' He had said that the sonnet 66 was not very suitable to the English language," and though he must have had under his eye two most beautiful sonnets of Milton-that which he addressed to Cyriac Skinner on his own blindness; the other, that intended to have been posted on the door of his house in case the royalist troops, then at Brentford, entered the city of London,-Dr. Johnson passed them over, by a pious Fraud, especially as the former contains a most noble sentiment in favour of Liberty, and the latter cannot but raise in the reader a deep sense of sympathy and reverence for the republican poet.

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The 2nd definition is, "A small poem." Smallness, it should seem, is the characteristic of this new species: so that, in proportion as a poem is small, in that same degree it will be a Sonnet! The Doctor's ground for this strange distinction between Sonnet and Sonnet, are these verses of Shakespeare:

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Let us into the city presently,

To sort some gentlemen well skill'd in musick;
I have a sonnet that will serve the turn.

Dr. Johnson had not the least knowledge of the history of the Sonnet, else from the circumstance that such a poem was proposed to be set to music, he would not have inferred that it was quite different from those with which he was acquainted in books.

The Sonnet is of Provençal Origin. It was either invented by the Troubadours, or borrowed by them from the Arabian poets; this is sufficient to prove that it was contrived with a particular view to singing. The Troubadours, like the ancient Lyrics, never separated their poetry from music. This is the reason of the minute regularity and symmetry of all their Forms of poetry, the Sestine, the Madrigal, the Rondeau, and especially the Sonnet. As many poetical compositions were sung to the same music, it was necessary that the divisions, or parts, should be strictly fixed: besides, every one acquainted

with music knows how essential to the beauty of Airs or Songs is the unity which proceeds from symmetry of their various portions.

This quality appears prominently in the Sonnet. It is distributed into two Quatrains, which open and propose the subject, and it closes with two Triplets, the rhymes of which, according to the true Italian model, are separated from each other by two intervening lines, the first verse rhyming with the fourth, the second with the fifth, the third with the sixth. The best English writers of Sonnets perceiving not the unsuitableness of that Form of poetry to the "English language," but the weakness of sound under which English rhymes generally labour, have frequently approximated them to each other in the last six lines of the Sonnet, making the first four to rhyme alternately, and reducing the two last to a couplet.

But is the Sonnet, after all, unsuited to the English language? We answer that it is, in the same proportion as the English language is unsuited to singing, and consequently to pure Lyric compositions, where the melody of the verse should supply, in a certain degree, the absence of music, recalling powerfully its effects to the mind. But the English language possesses some beautiful Sonnets, of which those of Milton, above-mentioned, those which Dr. Johnson would leave unknown, as much as it was in his power, may bear comparison with the best of the Italian.


Cyriac, this three years day these eyes, though clear
To outward view, of blemish or of spot,

Bereft of light, their seeing have forgot;
Nor to their idle orbs doth sight appear

Of sun, or moon, or star, throughout the year,
Or man or woman. Yet I argue not

Against Heaven's hand or will, nor bate a jot
Of heart or Hope: but still bear up and steer
Right onward. What supports me, dost thou ask?
The Conscience, friend, to have lost them overplied

In liberty's defence, my noble task,

Of which all Europe rings from side to side.

This thought might lead me through the world's vain mask,
Content, though blind, had I no better guide.


Captain or Colonel, or Knight in arms,

Whose Chance on these defenceless doors may seize,

If deed of honour did thee ever please,

Guard them, and him within protect from harms.

He can requite thee; for he knows the charms
That call fame on such gentle acts as these,
And he can spread thy name o'er lands and seas,
Whatever clime the sun's bright circle warms.
Lift not thy spear against the Muses' bower
The great Emathian Conqueror bid spare
The house of Pindarus, when temple and tower
Went to the ground: and the repeated air
Of sad Electra's poet had the power


To save the Athenian walls from ruin bare.

Why then, it may be asked, do English Sonnets so generally fatigue and annoy the reader of taste? The Answer is plain: because they are not Sonnets. There is no peculiar charm in fourteen lines; or, to speak more accurately, a limited number of verses, under the minute conditions of a certain arrangement, must be injurious to poetical effect, unless the thought is most happily suited to that external form; to the unchangeable Frame which is to contain it. I have always compared the Sonnet to a Cameo or Gem. If the artist cannot suit his drawing to the natural veins and colours of the substance, his labour is thrown away. To work under such restraints may be irksome; but let no one attempt it who finds it so. Why should the world be pestered with clumsy intaglios and drawling Sonnets? I say drawling, because it appears to me a word descriptive of the slow, inharmonious, tumbling of the broken sense from line to line, from compartment to compartment, till it is stopped by the end of the fourteenth verse.

But when the matter is suited to the form, when the poet has been struck with a thought which will naturally develope itself within the first Portion of the composition, and then close, strikingly, at the end of the nicely-distributed external Frame of verse and rhyme,-a sonnet is one of the most charming compositions in poetry. It is, I must repeat it, a perfect Cameo or Gem, which you may carry in your memory, as you have the Gem on your finger, and look at it for ever, and ever receive fresh delight from the sight. The Italian selections of poetry abound in specimens of such Sonnets. I would refer the reader especially to the well-known composition of Filicaja :


Italia, Italia, o tu, cui feo la sorte
Dono infelice di bellezza, ond’hai

Funesta dote d'infiniti guai,

Che in fronte scritti per gran doglia porte;
Deh fossi tu men bella, o almen piu forte

Onde assai più ti paventasse, o assai

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