« PreviousContinue »
In heartless, hypocritic show of love,
In giddy nonsense, in contempt of truth,
Of mind, of strength, of wealth. Think, thoughtless
How many fatherless and widows pine
In some poor hovel, pressing to their breasts
Ye might wipe off with lenient sympathy!
THE SPIRIT OF POLITE LITERATURE COMPARED WITH THAT OF CHRISTIANITY.
It is a prominent characteristic of the christian revelation, that, having declared this life to be but the introduction to another, it systematically preserves the recollection of this great truth through every representation of every subject, so that the reader is not allowed to contemplate any of the interests of life in a view which detaches them from the grand objects and conditions of life itself. An apostle could not address his friends on the most common concerns, for the length of a page, without these final references. He is like a person whose eye, while he is conversing with you about an object, or a succession of objects immediately near, should glance every moment towards some great spectacle appearing on the distant horizon. He seems to talk to his friends in somewhat of that manner of expression with which you can imagine that Elijah spoke, if he remarked to his companion any circumstance in the journey from Bethel to Jericho, and from Jericho to the Jordan; a manner betraying the sublime anticipation which was pressing upon his thoughts. The correct consequence of conversing with our Lord and his apostles would be, that
the thought of immortality should become almost as habitually present and familiarized to the mind as the countenance of a domestic friend; that it should be the grand test of the value of all pursuits, friendships, and speculations; and that it should mingle a certain nobleness with every thing which is permitted to occupy our time. Now how far will the discipline of modern polite literature coincide?
I should be pleased to hear a student of that literature seriously profess that he is often and impressively reminded of futurity, and to have it shown that ideas relating to this great subject are presented in a sufficient number, and in a proper manner, to produce an effect which should form a respectable portion of the whole effect produced by these authors on susceptible minds. But there is no ground for expecting this satisfaction. It is true that the idea of immortality is so exceedingly grand, that many writers of genius, who have felt but little genuine interest in religion, have been led, by their perception of what is sublime, to introduce an allusion which is one of the most powerful means of elevating the imagination. And the energy of their language has been worthy of the subject. In these instances, however, it is not always found that the idea is presented exactly in that light, which both shows its individual grandeur, and indicates the extent of its necessary
connexion with other ideas. It appears somewhat like a majestic tower, which a traveller in some countries may find standing in a solitary scene, no longer surrounded by that great assemblage of buildings, that ample city, of which it was raised to be the centre, the strength, and the ornament. Immortality has been had recourse to in one page of an ingenious work as a single topic of sublimity, in the same manner as a stupendous natural phenomenon, or a brilliant achievement, has been described by another. The author's object might rather seem to have been to supply an occasional gratification of taste, than to reduce the mind and all its feelings under the perpetual dominion of á grand practical principle.
Taking this defective kind of acknowledg ment of a future state, together with that entire oblivion of the subject which prevails through an ample portion of elegant literature, I think there is no hazard in saying, that a reader who is satisfied without any other instructions, will learn almost every other lesson sooner than the necessity of habitually living for eternity. Many of these writers seem to take as much care to guard against the inroad of ideas from this quarter, as the inhabitants of Holland do against the irruption of the sea; and their writings do really form a kind of moral dyke, against an invasion from the other world. They do not instruct a man to act,
to enjoy, and to suffer, as a being that may by tomorrow have finally abandoned this orb; every thing is done to beguile the feelings of his being 'a stranger and a pilgrim on the earth.' The relation which our nature bears to the circumstances of the present state, and which individuals bear to one another, is mainly the ground on which these considerations of duty proceed and conclude. And their schemes of happiness, though formed for beings at once immortal and departing, include little which avowedly reaches to that world to which they are removing, nor reach beyond the period at which they will properly but begin to live. They endeavour to raise groves of an earthly paradise, to shade from sight that vista which opens to the distance of eternity.
THE INSANITY OF NEBUCHADNEZZAR.
THE circumstance of Nebuchadnezzar's insanity is related in language so strongly figurative, that it has perplexed many common readers not conversant with scripture phraseology. There is no ground, however, to call the fact in question. It is perhaps a vain attempt to endeavour to reconcile the contradictory computations of chronologers relative to many occurrences, which hap