Sidor som bilder

separately, and in many editions, is a volume not to borrow, not to take out of a library, but to own, to hold it as a possession. Without attempting to speak of Barrow, or the other great English divines of a former age, I can only remark, that the literature is abundant in specimens of pulpit, wisdom and oratory; and that in our own day, the strength and beauty of the olden time in this respect have come back again in some of the contemporary sermon literature. The history of the Christian church is another subject on which English literature gives us reading at once most agreeable and instructive. All the gharms of Southey's prose my please you in his “Book of the Church;” or turning to the old church historian, Thomas Fuller, you may find in his History of the Church in Great Britain (one of the most remarkable works in the language) the varied powers of learning, Sagacity, pathos, an overflowing wit, humour, and imagination, all animating the pages of a church history. The interest on this subject may be expanded and deepened by the studious reading of that poetic commentary on church history, the series of Wordsworth's Ecclesiastical Sonnets, in which the poet-historian, with all a poet's truthfulness and feeling, has traced the course of Christian faith, from the trepidation of the Druids at the first tidings of the Gospel, onward through the various fortunes of the church, down-to-the-consecration of the first American Bishop. This series of poems is a beautiful and salutary study in connection with English history, for there is not an important event, or period, or influence, or saintly character in the annals of the church in England, on which there is not shed the

light of wise, imaginative, and feeling commentary. You have not forgotten, perhaps, the lines which in a former lecture I quoted, on the conversion of the Saxon king, and the incident that led to it. Much appropriate Sunday reading is supplied by the biography of the good men and women of early and late times. Amid the large variety of such records, one may be named—none more modest in origin, more unambitious in plan, but none more admirable as a memorial. I refer to Izaak Walton's Lives, of which the poet has said:

“There are no colours in the fairest sky
So fair as these. The feather, whence the pen
Was shaped that traced the lines of these good men
Dropped from an angel's wing.”

Passing to the imaginative side of our literature, there is the sacred prose allegory, “The Pilgrim's Progress,” {work second, I believe, only to Robinson Crusoe in the largeness of the audience it has gained in the world. Allegory has been beautifully revived in our own day in “The Old Man's Home.”f

To any one who justly appreciates the moral uses of poetry as a spiritual ministry, it will be apparent that it should enter, well chosen, into our Sunday reading; and there is no more marked characteristic of English literature than the abundance and excellence of its sacred poetry. The seventeenth century contributed largely to it— beautifully so in the well-known poems of that Saintly country parson, George Herbert, and in the poetry, almost unknown, till its recent reproduction, fit to be associated with Herbert's—the poems of Henry Vaughan; and in later times the English muse has not been regardless of its peculiar sacred functions. Imust hasten, however, to the great Sacred poems of the language, and recur first to Milton's epics. Of these poems, considered with reference to imaginative power, and all its accessories of wondrous verse, no language could express too strongly one's sense of their sublimity and beauty. Not only for poetic description of nature and regions supernatural, but also in deep human interest, the Paradise Lost stands among the world’s great poems. But when we study it as a sacred poem, and ask ourselves carefully as to the religious impressions it gives, the character becomes questionable. This is chiefly in two respects: the character of Satan, and the bold handling of the Divine nature. The Miltonic Satan is undoubtedly one of the most stupendous and awful creations of poetry; one of its grandest studies, but there is a heroic grandeur in it which wins, do what you will, a human sympathy. It is impossible to look on the Apostate Angel without awe, and somewhat of admiration, rather than abhorrence; sometimes perhaps with something of pity, as in that famous passage, where, having called his followers, myriads of the fallen angels thronged around their chief, and the peerage of Pandemonium stood in mute expectation of his

* Wordsworth, p. 306. Somnet on Walton's Book of Lives. of The Old Man's Home, by the Reverend William Adams, M.A., Author of “The Shadow of the Cross,”

voice. -
“Thrice he essay’d, and thrice, in spite of scorn,
Tears, such as angels weep, burst forth.”

It was from such a representation of Satan as is given throughout the poem, that Arnold's deep religious feeling

revolted, remarking, that “by giving him a human like

ness, and representing him as a bad man, you necessarily get some images of what is good as well as of what is bad; for no living man is entirely evil. Even banditti have some generous qualities; whereas the representation of the devil should be purely and entirely evil, without a tinge of good, as that of God should be purely and entirely good, without a tinge of evil; and you can no more get the one than the other from any thing human. With the heathen it was different; their gods were themselves made up of good and of evil, and so might well be mixed up with human associations. The hoofs and the horns and the tail were all useful in this way, as giving you an image of something altogether disgusting. And so Mephistophiles in Faust, and the other contemptible and hateful character of the Little Master, in Sintram, are far more true than the Satan of the Paradise Lost.”* With regard to Milton's hardihood in carrying his imagination into the mysteries of the being of the Most High, and the unreserved freedom with which the Father and the Saviour are set before us in this dramatic epic, I believe that even the least sensitive reader must be conscious of an instinctive shrinking from many passages of the poem. It is in this, even more than in the character of the Arch-fiend, that the Paradise Lost—and the Paradise Regained also—may blunt the sense of adoration, and lower, instead of raising, some of the emotions which sacred poetry ought to inspire. There are passages in the poems which, perhaps, it would be better never to read a second time. I should be loth to read them aloud here, because it would be difficult to divest them of a certain air of

* Arnold's Life and Correspondence, in a note to Appendix C., p. 468.

irreverence, which was not a purposed irreverence in the pure and lofty soul of Milton, but was an unconscious manifestation of the intellectual pride which was part of his character, and of the spiritual pride which belonged to his times. - There is an impressive contrast between the spirit with which Milton and Shakspeare have treated the most sacred subjects. A reverential temper, less looked for in the dramatic bard, marks every passage in which allusion is made to such subjects—a feeling of profound reverential reserve; and as this may not have been generally observed, let me group some brief and characteristic passages together. There is the beautiful allusion to Christmas in Hamlet: “Some say, that ever 'gainst that season comes Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated, This bird of dawning singeth all night long : And then, they say, no spirit dares stir abroad; The nights are wholesome ; then no planets strike, No fairy takes, no witch hath power to charm, So hallow'd and so gracious is the time.”

The mention, in Henry the Fourth, of the Holy Land–

“ those holy fields Over whose acres walk'd those blessed feet,

Which, fourteen hundred years ago, were mail'd,

For our advantage, on the bitter cross.” Again, the single-line-in-Winter's Tale, in which Polyxenes refers to Judas and the betrayal

“my name
Be yok'd with his, that did betray the best "

The allusion to the scheme of Redemption and to the Lord's Prayer in Portia's plea for mercy

“Though justice be thy plea, consider this—
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation; we do pray for mercy;

« FöregåendeFortsätt »