Sidor som bilder

the civil tribunal, where, having witnessed a good confession, and

а shown themselves invulnerable alike to private influence and to the threat of torture and death, they were sentenced to banishment, the mildest punishment which the law allowed.

The place of her exile was an obscure village on the African coast. Here, after many weary months, her solitude was still further deepened by the death of her only child, a part of the narrative which Mrs. Webb has elaborated with great pathos and beauty. At length Pagan bloodthirstiness itself began to be sated. The trials and executions constituted the chief business of magistrates, and still the blood of the martyrs was but the seed of the Church. At length the chief magistrate of Carthage resolved to send an embassy to his imperial master at Rome, representing that this fierce persecution was rapidly depriving the community of its most blameless and useful members, without, in the slightest degree, retarding the spread of the new religion. Marcus, as being favourably known to the Emperor, by his services in the Asiatic campaign, was appointed as the bearer of these representations, and no sooner arrived at the capital than he was promoted to a post of command in the Prætorian guards.

It was on the evening after a Roman festival that Marcus, while returning home, encountered a drunken party of Prætorian soldiers, pursuing a small band of humbly attired persons, who had just gained admission to a house, which was hastily opened to receive them; the violence of the assailants soon forced the doors of the dwelling, and their vindictive cursos apprised the young soldier that the Christians were the victims of their resentment. The heroic gentleness with which an aged pastor and his little flock resigned themselves to their murderous assailants, powerfully affected the mind of Marcus, and discovering himself as a Prætorian officer, he speedily relieved the unarmed party of their invaders. This adventure led to further intercourse, which resulted in the conversion of the Prætorian. Having obtained from the Emperor an edict staying the sanguinary persecution of his Christian subjects, Marcus returned to Africa, and speedily sought the scene of his wife's exile. They returned together to Carthage, and for many years enjoyed the blessings of their religion without the pains of persecution. At length, however, the spirit of antichristian tyranny revived with redoubled fury, and Marcus and Vivia were amongst the first to seal with their blood the profession of their faith.

Such are the principal materials of a story which the author has made at once interesting, pathetic, and instructive.

Amidst much that has excited our interest and claimed a VOL. XXVIII.

[ocr errors]

laudatory tribute in this tale, there are, nevertheless, a few things which will occasion to many readers both surprise and regret. The first defect is one of taste. It has been held, and perhaps justly, by some of the ancients who philosophized upon tragedy, that it was adapted to purify the heart by the emotions of terror and pity; but the earlier masters of dramatic art, with the singular exception, indeed, of Seneca, well knew that this effect was destroyed by too coarse and pungent an appeal to such emotions. Hence, Horace wisely banishes from the stage the visible representation of deeds of horror and bloodshed :

Ne pueros coram populo Medea trucidet;
Aut humana palam coquat exta nefarius Atreus.'

Epist. ad Pisones, ver. 185, 186, This obvious canon of literary propriety Mrs. Webb most flagrantly violates. She brings before the reader all the horrifying details of the rack and the stake, the foot-screw and the boiling pitch. Our author could scarcely have committed a mistake which would indicate a slighter acquaintance with the more latent mechanism of the human mind. We look for such revolting descriptions in the pages of Eugene Sue, and the scarcely less demoralizing revelations of Mr. Harrison Ainsworth ; but certainly not where the subject is religion, and the writer a Christian lady. That which it would injure the heart to witness, inflicts alike injury when brought before the imagination—and that in proportion to the vividness with which it is represented and realized. Nor are the moral sentiments more soiled and tainted by familiarity with the ultimate excesses of brutality and turpitude, than are the tender emotions when harrowed by the presentation, with a sickening particularity of detail, of the last extremities of human anguish.

But the work before us is chargeable with some defects of a graver kind. Mrs. Webb continually indicates so enlightened an appreciation of genuine spiritual religion, that we are not a little surprised at some passages which have, we hope accidentally, fallen from her pen. For example, we cannot well reconcile with any system of morals with which we are acquainted such a passage as the following :- Cruelty and ambition were the besetting sins of Severus; and his conduct towards his vanquished rivals, Albinus and Niger, has left a stain on his memory that all his conquests and all his talents can never wipe out.** We never supposed that a man's talents had any power to atone for his vices; and as to his conquests expiating his cruelty and injustice, a moment's reflection might have taught our author

* Vol. ii. p. 10.

[ocr errors]

that it is when acclimatized by conquest that these vices attain their rankest and most gigantic growth.

With the notions we had been led to entertain of Mrs. Webb’s theological views, we were surprised that the following stanzas, from the pen of Mr. Keble, had crept into her pages

• What sparkles in that lurid flood

Is water, by gross mortals eyed;
But seen by faith, 'tis blood

Out of a dear Friend's side.
A few calm words of faith and prayer,

A few bright drops of holy dew,
Shall work a wonder there

Earth's charmers never knew.'—Vol. i. p. 116.
We are surprised, we say, that, with her amount of knowledge
of the religion of Christ, she can tolerate even a tasteful trans-
lation (for it is nothing more) of the Popish mummery, which
occurs in the service of the Anglican Church, for the public
reception of infants who have been privately baptized. "Because,'
the clergyman is instructed to say, 'some things essential to this
sacrament may happen to be omitted, through fear or haste, in
such times of extremity, therefore I demand further of you,
With what matter was this child baptized? With what words
was this child baptized? And,' adds the rubric, if the minister
shall find, by the answers of such as bring the child, that all
things were done as they ought to be, (!) then shall not he
christen the child again, but shall receive him as one of the
flock of true Christian people, saying thus, “I certify you that
in this case all is well done, and according unto due order,
concerning the baptizing of this child, who, being born in original
sin and in the wrath of God, is now, by the laver of regeneration
in baptism, received into the number of the children of God and
heirs of everlasting life." ;

Mrs. Webb prepares us in her preface to expect some little irregularities in her performance. The principal facts and events,' she says, 'which are related in this story are for the most part historical ; and the trials and sufferings of the Christians are authentic. A few trifling anachronisms have, however, been wilfully committed.' The reader will judge whether such an explanation justifies the following description of a scene in a pure and persecuted Apostolic Church at the close of the second century : The appointed hour arrived, and Marcus and Vivia, attended by Camillus and the nurse and infant, proceeded to the church, where they found the sponsors and the rest of the congregation already assembled. The usual evening service was performed, and the baptismal ceremonies commenced. In

the name of the infant the sponsors pronounced the customary renunciations and rows, and then the requisite immersion took place.? If this is what our author calls a trifling anachronism,' we must take most serious exception against her application of terms. An anachronism, indeed, it is; but it is also something much worse.

In representing the manner in which the peculiar truths of the Christian religion were pressed on the convictions of heathen inquirers, the writer evinces no inconsiderable knowledge both of the letter and the application of Scripture. Why, then, has she not adduced the passages of Scripture by which intelligent Romans were reconciled to the hideous absurdity of godfathers and godmothers? Why not mention some one passage which any ingenuity may torture into the remotest apparent reference to the practice?' We confess that when, after admiring in these touching characters the noblest candidates for the crown of martyrdom, we found them represented as assisting at this wretched caricature of a sacrament, we felt the force of true bathos, the abrupt transition from the sublime to the ridiculous. With all her excellences, this lady has evidently yet to learn the truth, revealed alike by the study of history and the study of ourselves, that the human mind never was, and never can be, conquered by a system of faith that is built on the ruins of reason.

Art. VII.—A History of the Romans under the Empire. By Charles

Merivale, B.D., late Fellow of St. John's College, Cambridge.

Vols. I. and II. London: Longman. 1850. Mr. MERIVALE is already known to the public, by a meritorious volume on the Augustan age, published in a very unpretending form, by a Society, whose work, in favour of Useful Knowledge, has reached its goal. He had intended to write the whole history of Rome under the Empire, uniform with his first volume ; but being arrested, it seems, by the dissolution of the Society, he has been led to publish his history in handsomer volumes, worthy of the subject. Nevertheless, some readers will be disappointed to find that the 1083 pages before us, only carry us down to the death of Julius Cæsar ; that is, do not even touch upon the real commencement of the Empire. The best part of another volume will probably be requisite before we reach the battle of Actium, from which his former work rightly started. Yet, if the execution of these volumes had satisfied our expectation and our desires,

[ocr errors]

we should not think of objecting to the title. We find it impossible to include in one article all that we need to say on the subject; we propose, therefore, to reserve the career and character of Cæsar to another occasion, and at present shall confine ourselves to other persons and things.

The period here treated is one of deep interest, on which we have very numerous and full accounts, and in which a larger number of individual characters are fully developed to our knowledge, than in any other part of the Roman history, earlier or later. So abundant, indeed, is our information, that there might seem no room for diversity of opinion as to the real character of the principal actors. Do we indeed carry back party zeal into antiquity, and quarrel about Cato, Cæsar, and Pompeius, as about Peel, Russell, and Cobden? It is perplexing to answer. Respecting, as we do, Mr. Merivale's erudition and talents, it has been a painful mortification to us (especially after the high expectation which his former volume excited) to find ourselves in constant and irreconcileable collision with him as to the whole moral colouring of the history; and yet we do not think him either fanatically wilful, as many Germans are, nor deficient in desire to observe historical justice. - Having undertaken to review his book, we must not shrink from the unpleasant task of going into details where we think him wrong, although this is an inexhaustible topic ; for we should need to re-write a goodly proportion of his pages, before we could exterminate all that we think unjust, unwise, or untrue ; but he himself would desire us to oppose his views unceremoniously, provided that we do this only as lovers of truth. We presume that our opposition to him must, fundamentally, depend on a different value assigned to different authorities. It appears to us, that he believes far too readily Cæsar's own representations of his own case, and Cicero's off-hand remarks as to men's motives ; that he gives too much credit to Dion Cassius, and far too little to Plutarch; and neglects to estimate the moral character of the actors by the deliberate aim of their lives.

Dion Cassius wrote the history of Rome in the Greek language, and his work in this whole period is complete. Its value to us is very great; first, because of its continuity and its chronological form, which furnish to us the framework into which we may interpolate all the scattered knowledge which we pick up from miscellaneous sources ; secondly, because Dion wrote when the old constitution was forgotten by the public, but when documents abounded by means of which it could be fully ascertained ; and as he had a clear head and an insight into the great importance of constitutional history, he explains to us in detail numerous things to which Cicero would barely have alluded. Appian dot s

« FöregåendeFortsätt »