Page images
PDF
EPUB

1846.]

Qualities of Style.

393

essays. The editor, who has brought together these "scattered pieces” of his father's composition, would, we think, have anticipated a natural curiosity on the part of the reader, if he had named the sources whence they were drawn. The want of such information is the only defect, and a small one it is, of the present volume.

Dr. Greenwood's excellencies as a writer are easily described. The first thing that every one notices is the exquisite polish of his style. It has the refinement without the weakness of elegance, and the firmness without the roughness of sincerity. Unlike the style of many writers, who are praised for the copiousness or strength of their diction, it would be an admirable model to put into the hands of a young composer. Let him not hope, however, to rival it till long use has made him familiar with the delicate forms of expression, which adorn as well as convey a meaning. If there be a fault in Dr. Greenwood's composition, it is that we see what care he must have bestowed on his language. The last perfection of the art of writing, as of many other arts, — that which conceals the effort beneath an apparent unconsciousness, he did not reach. Yet our discovery of the attention which he must have given to the structure of his sentences, scarcely lessens the delight with which we observe their finished proportions. The choicest expressions are continually recurring, to please us like those inimitable tints of nature's coloring which detain the eye in a well arranged cabinet of shells. Nothing is gaudy or excessive, but much is very beautiful. The accuracy of the language is also an important attribute of the style. The word which is wanted to describe the object, whether material or mental, is adopted, and we at once feel the propriety of the selection. Let any one sit, as we have, in sight of the ocean, with this volume dividing his attention, and as the facts and associations which belong to “the sea crowd upon his mind, let him mark how faithful is the record presented on these pages. It is this rare union of the fit and the beautiful in language, which gives such a charm to everything that come from Dr. Greenwood's pen.

The genuine and right sentiment which runs through all his writings, is a still higher excellence. There is an honesty of feeling which no one can mistake. And it is the feeling which he ought to have had, and which we all

ought to have, as we look on the works of God or the ways of man. It does us good to read such a book, for it gives a proper direction to our thoughts and inspires us with just sentiment. We see that his mind was free alike from morbid emotion and selfish apathy. He was a man of deep but subdued sensibility, of earnest but calm piety, of serious purposes and pleasant fancies, of mingled thoughtfulness and playfulness. His writings represent his personal qualities.

Dr. Greenwood never offends good taste. In all that he wrote, a severe criticism finds nothing to condemn. We feel ourselves safe with such a writer or preacher, and give up ourselves without distrust to the luxury of his instruction. This feeling of security is a great help to the teacher who can inspire it in his auditory. They are not repelled, nor is the influence which he acquires over them disturbed, by any violation of rhetorical propriety, which with a person of cultivated mind has much the same effect that false pronunciation is said to have had with an Athenian audience. In the possession of the full confidence of his hearers or readers Dr. Greenwood cannot be surpassed.

The single defect which seems to us to belong to his writings, may have had its origin rather in the occasions for which they were prepared than in the character of his mind. The greater part of what has been published under his name consists of sermons, which must necessarily present an incomplete discussion of a theme. Yet we cannot but think that the want of thorough examination which appears to us to mark his treatment of a subject, resulted in part from his intellectual attributes; and we are confirmed in this opinion by the truthfulness, which gave the complexion of his own being to whatever he did. He never exhausts nor goes all round a subject, but leaves it just when we feel that there is yet much to be said by one who has shown himself so competent to deal with its details. We have often experienced this disappointment, and it creates a distrust of the writer's ability to gather up all the principles and bearings of his theme into one comprehensive view. All that he says is excellent. We are instructed by his remarks, every one of which approves itself to our consenting judgment, but we want to hear yet more, before we can believe that we have been placed

1846.]

Mental Characteristics.

395

where the whole field of observation lies under our eye. That delicacy of discrimination which was so prominent a distinction of Dr. Greenwood, must have in some measure unfitted him for the largeness of philosophical criticism. We may not say that he did not possess logical power, for only a mind which reasoned correctly could carry others along in such a ready concurrence with its own persuasions; but the reasoning faculty was exercised on particulars. He is deficient in breadth of discussion. To borrow an illustration from his own favorite study of natural history, while we admire the fidelity with which flower and stem and leaf are described, we are reminded that a stronger hand is needed to tear the plant from its soil, and expose its naked roots — the sources of its growth and the bonds of its connexion with the life around it.

But for this defect, if we are right in imputing it to Dr. Greenwood's writings, we have abundant compensation in that moral healthfulness which, as we have said, distinguishes whatever he wrote. A feeling of calmness and strength comes over us as we turn page after

page

of this, as of all the previous volumes with which he has enriched our libraries. Whether it be the eternity of God, or the freedom of man, the religious associations of the sea, or the moral influences of the village graveyard, on which he discourses, we notice the same right-minded judgment, the same grateful faith, the same pure purpose and serene temper; and we are made better by communion with the thoughts which such a mind has elaborated in its secret exercises.

Particularly do we value the example of such a writer at a time when too many are ready to think, that honesty of speech can never stop short of rudeness, and that he alone discovers a true manliness who scorns the familiar sympathies of life. Dr. Greenwood would rank among the conservatives of our day, yet how free was his judgment, and how distinct his enunciation of truth. If any one would learn the elements and conditions of mental freedom, let him read the remarks on “the spirit of reform,” which might better have been entitled an essay on personal independence. What is there described, was exemplified by Dr. Greenwood in the pulpit, in society, in daily life.

A single paragraph from the essay, or discourse, on the

eternity of God may illustrate his manner of treating subjects, on which many writers lose themselves in theological metaphysics or turgid declamation.

“The contemplation of this glorious attribute of God is fitted to excite in our minds the most animating and consoling reflections. Standing, as we are, amid the ruins of time, and the wrecks of mortality, where everything about us is created and dependent, proceeding from nothing, and hastening to destruction, we rejoice that something is presented to our view which has stood from everlasting, and will remain forever. When we have looked on the pleasures of life, and they have vanished away; when we have looked on the works of nature, and perceived that they were changing; on the monuments of art, and seen that they would not stand; on our friends, and they have fled while we were gazing; on ourselves, and felt that we were as fleeting as they; when we have looked on every object to which we could turn our anxious eyes, and they have all told us that they could give us no hope nor support, because they were so feeble themselves; we can look to the throne of God; change and decay have never reached it; the revolution of ages has never moved it; the waves of an eternity have been rushing past it, but it has remained unshaken ; the waves of another eternity are rushing toward it, but it is fixed, and can never be disturbed.” — pp. 205

pp. 205-206. In connexion with this passage we may copy one from the “ Religion of the Sea.”

“There is nothing among the earthly works of God, which brings the feeling — for it can hardly be termed a conception

the feeling of eternity so powerfully to the soul, as does the wide, wide sea.' We look upon its waves, succeeding each other continually, one rising up as another vanishes, and we think of the generations of men, which lift up their heads for a while and then pass away, one after the other, from all the noise and show they make, even as those restless and momentary waves. Thus the waves and the ages come and go, appear and disappear, and the ocean and eternity remain the same, undecaying and unaffected, abiding in the unchanging integrity of their solemn existence. We stand upon the solitary shore, and we hear the surges beat, uttering such grand, inimitable symphonies as are fit for the audience of cliffs and skies; and our minds fly back through years and years, to that time, when, though we were not, and our fathers were not, those surges were yet beating, incessantly beating, making the same wild music, and heard alone by the overhanging cliffs, and the overarching skies, which silently gave heed to it, even as they do

1846.)

The Sea.

397

now. In the presence of this old and united company we feel on what an exceedingly small point we stand, and how soon we shall be swept away, while the surges will continue to beat on that very spot, and the cliffs and the skies will still lean over to hear. This is what may be called the feeling of eternity. Perhaps the feeling is rendered yet more intense, when we lie on our bed, musing and watching, and hear the sonorous cadences of the waves coming up solemnly and soothingly through the stillness of night. It is as the voice of a spirit — as the voice of the spirit of eternity. The ocean seems now to be a living thing, ever living and ever moving, a sleepless influence, a personification of unending duration, uttering aloud the oracles of primeval truth.

• Listen! the mighty being is awake,
And doth with his eternal motion make

A sound like thunder, everlastingly.' Where are the myriads of men who have trodden its shores, and gone down to it in ships? They are passed away. Not a single trace has been left by all their armaments. Where are the old kingdoms which were once washed by its waves? They have been changed, and changed again, till a few ruins only tell where they stood. But the sea is all the same. Man can place no monuments upon it, with all his ambition and pride. It suffers not even a ruin to speak of his triumphs or his existence. It remains as young, as strong, as free, as when it first listened to the Almighty Word, and responded with all its billows to the song of the morning stars.

• Time writes no wrinkle on thine azure brow;
Such as creation's dawn beheld, thou rollest now.'”

pp. 282–284. If we had room, we would extract the whole of that exquisite piece entitled “The Sea." A sentence or two is all that we can give.

""The sea is his, and he made it.' Its majesty is of God. What is there more sublime than the trackless, desert, allsurrounding, unfathomable sea? What is there more peacefully sublime than the calm, gently heaving, silent sea ? What is there more terribly sublime than the angry, dashing, foaming sea ? Power, resistless, overwhelming power, is its attribute and its expression, whether in the careless, conscious grandeur of its deep rest, or the wild tumult of its excited wrath. It is awful when its crested waves rise up to make a compact with the black clouds, and the howling winds, and the thunder, and the thunderbolt, and they sweep on in the joy of their dread alliance, to do the Almighty's bidding. And it is awful, too, when it TOL. XLI. - 4TH. S. VOL. VI. NO III.

34

« PreviousContinue »