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şele speculatio possessing maifficulties: "Othe
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presented itself to the minds of the Fathers, and to have induced them the more readily to clothe the Deity with an etherial and finely attenuated body.
I state these facts out of many others, which might be presented, as illustrating the free range of opinion and speculation, which was allowed among the Christian Fathers of what are generally termed the best ages of the Church. I have purposely selected those which have a bearing, more or less direct, on the speculations which now engage the attention of theologians, both as possessing more interest for us at the present time, and as showing that the difficulties, which now perplex the inquirer, are such as have been selt in other ages, and which, at certain periods of the world, and in certain intellectual states of society, are reproduced, and probably will always continue to be. They are not new, - difficulties which have recently sprung up. The question of inspiration has always been an embarrassing one; and the nature of the Divine Being has always presented difficulties, one of the chief of which is, to keep the middle point, if we can, between Anthropomorphism, on one side, and a sort of Pantheism, or impersonal Deity, amounting to little more than a metaphysical abstraction, on the other. Towards one or the other of these extremes the human mind has always oscillated.
I know of no new facts, or objections, which have been recently presented on subjects of theological inquiry. New theories there have been ; for example, theories of the Life of Jesus, and the origin of our present Gospels. But the objections and difficulties, which these theories are meant to meet and obviate, are all, I believe, old. There is scarcely one of them, indeed, which belongs even to modern times. Most of them belong to a very remote period of Christian antiquity.
As to novel speculations, or such as pass for novel, but which to the student of the past will seldom appear such in reality, I do not think that Ecclesiastical History teaches us that much danger is to be apprehended from them, if the right course be pursued. The lesson it conveys, I think, is that the utmost freedoin of thought is to be allowed. Freedom of thought is not to be repressed. For more and worse evils come, and have come from the attempt to suppress it, than from its injudicious exercise. Even the extravagances, which grow out of such exercise of it, may lead on to good, just as true science was proinoted by the follies of astrology, and the search for the philosopher's stone and the elixir of life.
This is the result in all instances, and it will be, I am confident, in the present; certainly so, if, as I said, the right course be pursued. And this, if I read history aright, is to admit great latitude of private speculation; to consider the individual alone as responsible for his conclusions, and not to convert every opinion, we may deem unsound, fanciful, or extravagant, which may be thrown out upon the public, into a question of party ; but either calmly to discuss it, if we think proper, — first, however, taking care that we comprehend it, and seize the author's stand-point, — or else to let it alone, and leave it to die out of itself, which it will probably do before long, if it be what we take it to be, a really unsound opinion, or mere visionary absurdity.
History is full of such examples. Opinions and hypotheses have their day; they produce a temporary impression ; they slightly agitate men's minds for a time, as a pebble thrown into the lake causes a gentle ripple, and are then engulfed and forgotten, or give place to others equally ephemeral. This has often happened, and will happen again, not in theology merely, but in other things; and the result is to produce, in philosophical minds, a distrust or even skepticism in regard to whatever contradicts, or seems to contradict, the experience of the past, which is to be overcome only by the most decisive evidence. This evidence may exist, or the suspected or condemned opinion may contain in it some portion, at least, of truth; and if so, that truth will stand, and we should rejoice that it is so. It is our consolation to believe that no great thought, or sublime principle, once proclaimed to the world, will finally perish. It may be buffeted or rejected for a time, but like the downy seed, it will be at length wasted to a congenial soil, where it will vegetate, and strike root, and yield fruit a hundred fold. Truth may be smothered for a while, but it is not in the power of man to destroy it. Truth never dies. But time soon dissipates the illusions of imagination, brings a remedy to imperfect and half views, and sobers extravagance. If it sometimes canonizes falsehood, in its further progress it unmasks it, and shows us that the divinities we have worshipped are but painted wood. We bow to it not as time the Corrupter, but time the Purifier.
But I must bring my remarks, already too far extended, to a close. You will perceive, that I do not rate very high the immediate and direct benefits the minister will derive from the study of Ecclesiastical History, in the ordinary discharge of his official duty, though, as I have endeavored to show, these are worth something. He will derive some light from it, which will guide him in questions of a practical nature, which will be continually presenting themselves. But viewed in reference to its indirect and more remote effects, as part of a liberal culture, of which a minister cannot well be destitute, if he would hold a high rank in his profession, and of which he should not be willing to be destitute, if he could, I certainly do attribute no small importance to the study. I think that many species of knowledge, and many intellectual accomplishments, are to be sought by the minister, which he cannot turn to any present and visible account, though he will turn all to account in the end. . There are many evils attending a partial culture and slender attainments in the minister. He will be in danger of sooner exhausting himself, and breaking down, in consequence, or will find himself in some way cramped and impeded in his exertions. On many subjects he will be apt to exhibit a one-sidedness or dogmatism, which are not desirable, and the chance is that he will, at one time or another, see cause to regret his deficiencies, or his friends will for him. The present, surely, is not the period in which high culture can be dispensed with. Many of the questions of the day, questions in which not the theologian merely, but the minister, must take an interest, upon which he can hardly avoid, at some time, and in some way, touching, require in their discussion a wide survey of the past history of the human mind. Some of the problems, which present themselves for solution, carry us back into remote ages. We must call on the past to surrender its facts. We must examine and interrogate those facts, that we may separate reality from illusion, history from fable, divine truth from its earthly envelope and mere time-vesture. The manifestation of the religious element in our nature, and revelations of truth to the human soul, are as old as the existence of man on earth; and there is no fact connected with their history, which may not have its use, and which will not have its use, with the reflecting mind, and often in a manner least anticipated.
THE POETS AND POETRY OF AMERICA.
Here is a large volume, whose plan seerns suggested by such works as “ Campbell's,” or “ Aiken's British Poets." It is designed “ to exhibit the progress and condition of poetry in the United States.” It is far more formidable in size, and more elegant in its outward getting-up (bating only the portraits in the Frontispiece, which are libels on the distinguished names beneath them) than any of the popular “ Selections," as they are called. It is a whole Museum of all the natural and artificial curiosities, peculiar to this region, which fall under the conventional term of poetry. It is a sort of Camera Obscura, which brings within a convenient circle of vision the whole country, with its natural features and its improvements. All our original and all our borrowed wealth are here fancifully paraded on long glittering tables, a true Poets' Fair. Faneuil Hall was never more loaded and decked out with specimens of our industrial mechanical powers. This last figure is most to our purpose, and shall suggest the divisions of our discourse. For as we go to a Faneuil Hall Fair, first, to gratify curiosity, secondly, to buy what we want, and thirdly, to indulge a patriotic pride in contemplating the fruits and future promise of our domestic industry and skill; so the book before us, the “Poets and Poetry of America,” may be regarded as a chapter in literary history for the curious; as a collection of poetry, where the hungry soul may feed itself on quickening thoughts; and as a practical answer to the much vexed question, whether there be any poetry, or any prospect of any poetry, which may be called American. The book has a historical, a poetic, and a patriotic interest ; curiosity, poetic sensibility, and national pride are the appetites to which it appeals.
The historical view of life under any aspect, of literature, of art, &c. almost necessarily engenders the love of completeness, which tyrannizes over the observer, prompting him to note down much which has no interest but its historical prox
[The Poets and Poetry of America. With an Historical Introduction. By Rurus W.
Griswold. Philadelphia : Carey and Hart. 1842. 8vo. pp. 468.] VOL. XXXIII. — 3D S. VOL. XV. NO. I.
imity to other, better, and more genuine things of the same kind. The questions which we asked of the stars, as we ignorantly gazed at the heavens, the astronomer with telescope and figures undertakes to answer ; but in getting the answer, he brings us back much more than we care or need to know; he catalogues many a star of quite inferior magnitude, many a one which we should never look for in the heavens, or anywhere but in his chart. Yet this is well. And equally so in literary history, in the cataloguing of those hosts of stars, called poets and philosophers, which shimmer through that other firmament, the dimly-lighted, boundless mystery of Mind. The love of philosophy and poetry suggests the love of literary history ; enamored of its work, this searches round and rescues from oblivion a thousand poets, whom no one ever thought of loving. It is a large class of minds who love these tabular views of literature ; the collectors of literary shells and coins are respectable, good people; and a streak of the same propensity lurks in almost every one who reads, even the man of genius, who is himself a poet. For such, among other things, is this collection of American poetry intended. If the end be laudable, the manner in which it is reached here is no less so. The execution of the work, as another chapter in the history of poetry, merits the praise of thoroughness, clearness, and good taste." As Mr. Griswold remarks, “ the judicious critic will be more likely to censure me for the wide range of my selections, than for any omissions he may discover.” And again ; “ In selecting the specimens in this work, I have regarded humorous and other rhythmical compositions, not without merit in their way, as poetry, though they possess but few of its true elements.” Accordingly he has given us, first, a very valuable historical introduction on the poetry of America before the Revolution, which, if it all falls under the head of “ humorous and other rhythmical compositions, not without merit in their way,” and reveals not much poetic genius in our ancestors, serves at least to show what poetry they read, and what the culture, not the sentiment of the times, prompted them to write. Then follows the body of the work, consisting of quite copious selections from the poems of no less than eighty-seven different authors; doing as much justice to each, probably, as could be done in a book of this kind; sometimes assigning more space to one author, not because he has more merit, but because he happens to be less known, or from some accidental consideration.