Page images
PDF
EPUB

our

of conscience, it echoes beneath the vaulted diate dealing with his rational and responsidome of the cathedral and shakes the trem- ble creatures, is so filled with the true me

bling multitude. The list companion of the lody of language, as to harmonize with all li dying and the destitute, it seals the bridal most tender, refined, and elevated

vow, and crowns the majesty of kings. thoughts. With our established ideas of Closed in the heedless grasp of the luxu- beauty, and grace, and pathos, and subrious and the slothful, it unfolds its awful re- limity, either concentrated in the minutest cord over the yawning grave. Sweet, and point, or extended to the widest range, we gentle, and consoling to the pure in heart, it can derive froin the Scriptures a lund of thunders and threatens against the un gratification not to be found in any other awakened mind. Bright and joyous as the memorial of past or present time. From morning star to the benighted traveller, it the worm that grovels in the dust beneath

rolls like the waters of the deluge over the our feet, to the track of the leviathan in the | path of him who wilfully mistakes his way. foaming deep-from the moth that corrupts

And, finally, adapting itself to every the secret treasure, to the eagle that soars shade of human character, and to every above his eyry in the clouds—from the wild grade of moral feeling, it instructs the igno ass of the desert, to the lamb within the rant, woos the genile, consoles the afflicted, shepherd's fold—from the consuming locust, encourages the desponding, rouses the neg to the cattle upon a thousand hills-from the ligent, threatens the rebellious, strikes home rose of Sharon to the cedar of Lebanon to the reprobate, and condemns the guilty. from the crystal stream gushing forth out of

It may be observed, that all this might the flinty rock, to the wide waters of the have been effected without the instrumen- deluge—from the barren waste to the fruittality of the principle of poetry; and so un ful vineyard, and the land flowing with milk questionably it might, had the Creator of and honey-from the lonely path of the the human heart seen meet to adapt it to wanderer, to the gathering of a mighty muldifferent means of instruction; but as that titude--from the tear that falls in secret, to heart is constituted, the delicate touches of the din of battle, and the shout of a triumfeeling to be found in every part of the Holy phant host-from the solitary in the wilderScriptures accord peculiarly with its sensi- ness, to the satrap on his throne--from the bilities ; the graceful ornaments which mourner clad in sackcloth, to the prince in adorn the language of the Bible correspond purple robes-from the gnawings of the to the impressions it has received, the ideas worm that dieth not, to the seraphic visions which have consequently been formed of

of the blest-from the still small voice, to the principles of taste and beauty; and by the thunders of Omnipotence-from the no other medium that we are capable of depths of hell, to the regions of eternal conceiving, could the human heart have glory, there is no degree of beauty or debeen more forcibly assured of' the truths to formity, no tendency to good or evil, no which belong eternal life.

shade of darkness or gleam of light, which Had the Bible been without its poetical does not come within the cognizance of the character, we should have wanted the voice Holy Scriptures; and therefore there is no of an angel to recommend it to the accept- impression or conception of the mind that ance of mankind. Prone as we are to neg- may not find a corresponding picture, no lect this banquet upon which the most ex

thirst for excellence that may not meet with alted mind may freely and fully feast, we its full supply, and no condition of humanity should then have regarded it with tenfold necessarily excluded from the unlimited disdain. But such is the unlimited goodness scope of adaptation and of sympathy comof him who knew from the beginning what prehended in the language and the spirit of was in the heart of man, that not only the the Bible. wide creation is so designed as to accord How gracious then-how wonderful, and with our views of what is magnificent and harmonious, is that majestic plan by which beautiful, and thus to remind us of his one ethereal principle, like an electric chain glory • but even the recond of his imme- l of light and life, extends through the very

elements of our existence, giving music to ing in no way essential to our spiritual language, elevation to thought, vitality to progress. Upon precisely the same prinfeeling, and intensity, and power, and beau-ciples it might be argued, that beauty does ty, and happiness, to the exercise of every not necessarily form any part of utility, faculty of the human soul!

and that happiness is not essential to the moral constitution of man. The same answer will apply in both cases; and it is one

which ought to be sufficient for creatures of 'THE POETRY OF RELIGION. limited perceptions like ourselves. It has

seemed meet to the Author of our existence Nor are the Holy Scriptures the utmost so to construct our mental and bodily funcbounu of the sphere through which poetry tions, that we shall derive pleasure from the extends. With that religion which is the principle of beauty diffused throughout the essence of the Bible, it may also be associated. external world, and that we shall be lured The power of human intellect has never on by a perpetual thirst for enjoyment to yet worked out from the principles of thought that which is our only true and lasting hapand feeling, a subject more sublime than piness; as well as so to constitute our perthat of an omnipotent Being presiding over ceptions and feelings that poetry shall be a universe of his own creating. There have one of our chief sources of intellectual gratibeen adventurous spirits who have dared to fication, at the same time that it is intimatesing the wonders of a world without a God, ly blended with the highest objects of our but as a proof how much they felt the desire; so that in the pursuit of ultimate and want of this higher range of poetical interest, eternal good, we have no need to resign the they have referred the creation and govern- society of this unwearying friend, whose ment of the external world to an ideal spirit companionship is a constant refreshment and of nature—a mysterious intelligence, single delight. or multiplied, smiling in the sunshine, and I would humbly refer both these subjects frowning in the storm, with the mock majes- to the unlimited goodness of a gracious God. ty of omnipotence.

If the beauty and magnificence of the visible Again, the propensities of our nature—the creation is not essential to practical utility, low grovelling hopes and fears that agitate let us look upon it as a free gift, liberally ofthe human heart, when centred solely in fered for the promotion of our happiness; what is material, without connection with, or and il poetry does not appear to our finite reference to eternal mind, as subjects for the views to be in reality a part of religion, let genius of the poet, are robbed of half their us consider how they are associated, and interest, and all their refinement; but when gratefully acknowledge their connexion, rathe feelings which form the sum of our ex

ther than presumptuously attempt to sepaperience are regarded as the impress of the rate what the principles of our nature teach hand of our Creator, when the motives which us to unite. lead us on to action are considered as deriving We will first speak of the poetry of relitheir stimulus and strength from almighty gion as it is exhibited to the world, in some power, and when the great chain of circum- of the various modes of worship which mark stances and events which influence our lives the civil and religious history of man. are linked in with the designs of a superin Under the terrific rule of tyranny and tending Providence, they assume a character superstition, religion has ever been the first atonce poetical and sacred, a colouring which to suffer and the last to yield; and whether blende the light of heaven with the shades we contemplate the martyr at the stake, of earth, and an importance which raises singing his triumphant hymns amongst the them from what is ordinary and familiar, to circling flames; or pursue the silent devowhat is astonishing and sublime.

tee to the secret recesses of the mountain, The most serious objection ever advanced or the wilderness, where the bond of Chrisagainst poetry, is that of its not necessarily tian brotherhood is strengthened and conconstituting any part of our religion, and be- / firmed by the horrors of an impending fate

which threatens to leave that bond alone heard above the crackling embers, and the unbroken, of all that have sweetened and shouts of brutal acclamation, hymning to supported life, we see and feel, that the heaven the pure melodious strains of a might of mortal suffering, gives even to the seraphic joy. Fresh from the fount of domost humble victims of cruelty and oppres- mestic peace, young, innocent bosoms have sion, a dignity which entitles them to the been torn to bleed and writhe in the centre highest place in the scale of poetical inte-, of the torturing fire, and trembling with the rest."

last throbs of mortal agony, have borne So far as poetry is connected with the their unflinching testimony to the servour exercise of fortitude, resignation, and ardent of their faith. The cry of an agonized pazeal, it is exhibited by the martyr in its holi- rent bursting from the surrounding throng, est character. Suffering even to death, may have reached the sufferer in the flames, and such a death! yet suffering triumphantly, the eye that was once the beacon of his that the glory of God may shine with addi- hopes may have glanced upon him through tional brightness before the eyes of men, the dense and thickening smoke, and and that unbelievers may behold the majesty thonghts dear as the memory of early love, and the power of the faith for which he dies. may have rushed upon his soul even there, Nor has it been always the man of iron bathing it in the tenderness of childhood, mould, of unshaken nerve, and inflexible and melting down his high resolve, which, resolve, who has died triumphant at the but for that sustaining and unquenchable stake. Creatures of delicate and gentle zeal, would yet have sent him forth a worthform have been led forth from the hall and less wreck upon the troubled ocean of life the bower, and they too have raised the cry after the promised haven had been in sight, of exultation that they were deemed worthy the pilot near, and the anchor of eternal to set the seal of suffering to the cause they hope ready to be cast for ever into the founloved. Eyes that have never dwelt cave on

dation which no storms can shake. Yet the fairest page of human life have gleamed even here his faith remains immoveable, out from amidst the lurid Aames, and looked and he shakes off the lingering weakness up in calmness and in confidence to the of humanity, his joyful spirit already anticimercy that lies hid beyond the skies; hands pating the unbounded fruition of its promised whese gentle office had been the constant felicity. ministration of tenderness and charity, have Let us contemplate the awful scene one been clasped in servent prayer, until they moment lunger. The excitement has submingled with the ashes of the sinking pile; sided; the cry of the merciless spectators is brows around which the cherub locks of heard no more; the smoking pile becomes youth were woven, have borne the fatal one universal ruin; and the living form so ordeal, and betrayed no sign of shrinking lately quivering with the intensity of quickfrom the fiery blast; and voices whose ened and agonized sensation, is mingled sweet tones were once the natural min-with the silent dust. Are there not footstrelsy of happiness and love, have been steps lingering near that fatal spot? Are

there not looks too wild for tears, still fixed • In justice to herself, the writer must here observe, upon the white ashes with which the idle in speaking of the poetry of religion, how forcibly she is

breezes are at play? Are there not hearts struck with what some would call the puerility of the task she has undertaken; because this subject necessa.

whose inmost depths are filled with bitterrily brings under serious observation the all important ness, and thoughts of vengeance, and dreams truths for which we ought to be willing either to live or

of impious daring, and fierce, bold scrutiny die as duty may require: and before which all intellec. tual considerations, even that of poetry itself, vanish into

of the ways of Providence, and presumpcomparative nothingness

. She would however hope tuous questioning if these are the tender that her task may be pursued without irreverence, and mercies of the Most High ? Yes, such that she may point out the poetry of religion with a dis. tinct feeling of its weightier and more essential attri has ever been the effect of persecution upon butes, in the same way that a beholder may expatiate the human mind, and never is the infidel so npon the architecture of a cathedral, without reference to the purpose for which the building was originally de

firmly fortified against conviction, as when signed and to which it is still appropriated.

he contemplates the wrongs and the wretch

edness which man, infuriated with a blind some the hollow bed of the wintry torrent, and superstitious zeal inflicts upon his bro- whose thundering waters have worked out thier.

for themselves a rugged pathway down the We turn from this scene of horrors to the hills; but all are accompanied by the same aspect presented by religion under a milder | deep sense of outward danger, and internal form of persecution, or rather under one peace-all have the same bright stars to whose influence is more remote, and we light them on their silent way, and the same follow a little company of faithful worship- spiritual help to support their weary steps. pers to their tabernacle in the mountains, They know not but the homes they are where their canopy is the starry sky, and seeking may have become a heap of ruins ; their altar the rude rocks of the wilderness, but they have learned to look for an everUpon the summit of a beetling precipice, a lasting habitation where the spoiler may sentinel keeps watch, and while he looks to not come. They know not but the sword the sombre woods, the hollow caves, or the of persecution may have severed the chain dim and distant heights, if haply he may of their domestic happiness; but they feel discern the movements of an insiduous en that every link of that chain can be reunited emy, hymns of praise and adoration are in a world of peace. They know not but heard from the congregation in the valley, the shadow of destruction may bave fallen as, echoing from crag to crag, the deep full upon all that beautified and cheered their anthem of devotion rises on the evening earthly path ; but they are pilgrims to a breeze. Then the devout and heartfelt better land, and they have only to press onprayer is offered up, that the true Shepherd ward in the simplicity of humble Christians, will vouchsafe to look down upon and visit and the gates of the celestial city will soon the scattered remnant of his flock, that his be won. voice may yet call them into safe pastures, Religion, stigmatized with the world's conand that he will pour out the waters of eter- tempt, and hunted from the earth by the nal life, for the support of the feeble, the powerful emissaries of public authority, is refreshment of the weary, and the consola ever the religion of the heart and the affection of the "sore distressed.”

tions. Were it otherwise it could not stand It is in such scenes and circumstances, its ground; but dignity and disgrace, temthat the followers of a persecuted faith be- poral enjoyment and temporal suffering, even come indeed brethren in the fellowship of life and death, become as nothing in comChrist. Suffering in a common cause, ap- parison with that righteous cause which men prehending the same danger, and led on by feel themselves called upon faithfully to upone purpose, the vital bond of the society ex hold before a disbelieving people, for the tends and lives through all its members. glory of God and the benefit of their fellow Discord enters not into their communion, creatures. If it be a test of the love which for the world is against them, and they can a man bears for bis brother, that he will lay stand under its cruelty and oppression by no down his life for him, the test of susering other compact than that of Christian love; must also apply to his religion; and pure and jealousy pours not its rankling venom into devoted must be the love of him, who holds their hearts, for they are hoping to attain a himself at all times in a state of readiness to felicity in which all are blest; ambition lay down the last and dearest sacrifice upsows not the seeds of selfishness amongst on the altar of his faith. Yes; that must be them, for their reward is one that admits of love indeed, which overweighs all earthly and no monopoly—of which all may partake, natural affections, which separates the mowithout diminishing the portion of any: and ther from her weeping child, the husband after this pure and simple worship, how sa from his wife of yesterday, the friends who cred, how fervent is the farewell of the had been wont to take sweet counsel togethbrethren on separating for their distant er, and last, but not least, which tears away home. Some have to trace the dubious the fond endearing thoughts of promised sands of the sea-beaten shore, some the happiness from the heart around which they lonely sheep-track on the mountains, and cling when it beats with the fervour of youth

ful hope, and rejoices in the anticipated sun troubled sea. We listen, and the measured suine of bright days to come, in which the tread of sober feet is the only sound that dislovely and the loved may dwell together in turbs the silence of that sacred place--we, peace and safety even upon earth. It is not listen, till the beating of our own hearts bea light or common love that can thus sever comes audible, and we almost fear that a the strongest ties of human life, and fortify “stir- a breath" should break the slumbers the soul not only to endure all that our na- of the dead-we listen, and suddenly the ture shrinks from, but to resign all that our tremendous peal of the deep-toned organ nature teaches us to hold dear.

bursts upon our ear, and sweet young voices, From the worship of the heart, we turn to like a symphony of pure spirits, join the heathat of the sanctuary—from religion robbed venly anthem as it rises in a louder strain of of its external attributes, restrained, and per- liarmony, and echocs though every arch of secuted, and driven inward to the centre of the resounding pile. The anthem ceases, volition, and sealed up in the fountains of and the sound of prayer ascends from a spiritual lite ; to that which powerful nations thousand hearts, as variously formed as the combine to support, before which suppliant lips from whence that prayer proceeds, yet monarchs bow, and which, supreme above all uniting in the worship of one God-all the regal sceptre, sends forth its awful and reverentially acknowledging his right to imperious mandates through distant regions reign and rule with undisputed sway. i of the peopled world.

Perhaps it is the hour of evening worahip, We enter the magnificent and stately edi- and instead of the bright sunbeams glanc1

fice consecrated to the worship of a God no ing through the many-tinted windows, and longer partially acknowledged, or reverenced penetrating into the distant recesses of the at the risk of life, and we mark the pomp cathedral pile, artificial lights of inferior lusand the ceremonial designed to recommend tre gleam out here and there, like stars in that worship to the general acceptance of the midnight sky, making the intervening mankind. Through the richly variegated darkness more palpable and profound. It is | windows, bright beams of golden splendor the hour when “every soft and solenn inare glancing on the marble Hoor, and light-fuence” is poured most profusely upon the ing up the monumental tablets of departed prostrate soul, when the sordid and merceworth. Deeds of' heroic virtue, long since nary cares of the day are over, and religion, | forgotten but for that faithful record, are like an angel of peace, descends upon the dimly shadowed out upon the tombs, and troubled spirit that knows no other resting the sculptured forms that bend in silent beau- place than her sanctuary--no other shelter ty over the unbroken slumbers of the dead, than her brooding wing. It is the hour point with an awful warning to the inevitable when all our warmest, purest, and holiest doom of man. Above, around, and beneath affections gush forth like rills of sweetness us, are the storied pages on which human and refreshment, watering the verdure of labour has inscribed the memorial of its the path of life, and producing fresh lovelipower--the barriers raised by art against | ness, and renewed delight. It is the hour the encroachments of time-the landmarks when prayer is the natural language of the graven upon stone, which denote the intel-devoted soul, and here the humble penitent lectual progress of past ages. We gaze up- is kneeling to implore the pardon promised on the tessellated aisle, intersected with al- to the broken and contrite heart-there the ternate light and shadow, where the stately parent devoutly asks a blessing upon bis lacolumns, terminating in the solemn arch, mily, and his household, upon the wife of rise like tall pælm trees in the desert plain, his bosom, and the children of his love-whose graceful branches meet in stately here the poor mendicant bares his pale grandeur above the head of the wayia-ing brow before the eye of heaven, and stands traveller, while he pauses to bless their wel without a blush in that presence to which come shade, and thinks how lovely are the wealth is no passport, and from which pogreen spots of verdure in the wilderness- verty affords no plea for rejection—there the the fertile islands that beautify a waste and rich arbitrer of'magisteriallaw, humbly bends

« PreviousContinue »