« PreviousContinue »
amazing pinnacle of rock looks like the spire of an interminable colossal Cathedral, with other pinnacles around it. No snow can cling to the summits of these jagged spires; the lightning does not splinter them; the tempests rave round them; and at their base, those eternal drifting ranges of snow are formed, that sweep down into the frozen sea, and feed the perpetual, immeasurable masses of the glacier. Meanwhile, the laughing verdure, sprinkled with flowers, plays upon the edges of the enormous masses of ice — so near, that you may almost touch the ice with one hand, and with the other pluck the violet. So, oftentimes, the ice and the verdure are mingled in our earthly pilgrimage; - so, sometimes, in one and the same family you may see the exquisite refinements and the crabbed repugnancies of human nature. So, in the same house of God, on the same bench, may sit an angel and a murderer; a villain, like a glacier, and a man with a heart like a sweet running brook in the sunshine.
The impetuous arrested cataract seems as if it were ploughing the rocky gorge with its turbulent surges. Indeed the ridges of rocky fragments along the edges of the glacier, called moraines, do look precisely as if a colossal iron plough had torn them from the mountain, and laid them along in one continuous furrow on the frozen verge. It is a scene of stupendous sublimity. These mighty granite peaks, hewn and pinnacled into the Gothic towers, and these rugged mountain walls and buttresses, — what a Cathedral! with this cloudless sky, by starlight, for its fretted roof - the chaunting wail of the tempest, and the rushing of the avalanche for its organ. How grand the thundering sound of the vast masses of ice tumbling from the roof of the Arve-cavern at the foot of the glacier! Does it not seem, as it sullenly and heavily echoes, and rolls up from so immense a distance below, even more sublime than the thunder of the avalanche above us?”— pp. 58, 59.
The reader will also find in the descriptions of the avalanches of the Jungfrau and the Pass of the Gemmi, and many others in these volumes, much to admire. It is grievous, that they should be so frequently marred by forced, obtrusive reflections, by solecisms and blunders. The devout spirit, which we must suppose governs the author in constantly connecting these exhibitions of nature's grandest features with the appropriate religious considerations, can meet with nothing but approbation. We doubt, however, whether the cause of religion or taste will allow of such a continual suggestion, even of the loftiest and most needful ideas; and we are sure, that their beauty and value are well nigh destroyed by the limits of special consequence
Love of Formula.
to which they are always reduced. Upon the mountains where Divinity almost seems to speak to us face to face, as with Moses of old on Sinai, that heart must indeed be grovelling and cold, that would not or could not sympathize with a devotion pure, grand, expansive as the scene that calls it forth. But when that magnificent picture of Omnipotence is retained in the author's hand and only presented to us framed to meet a special fashion, we feel a little as if we were cheated out of the common inheritance of humanity, out of our own self-respect and dignity, out of our right to look unimpeded and unjostled towards heaven. We are made instantly to feel, in the most uncomfortable manner, the wide difference between religion and sectarianism, - between devotion to God's attributes and man's hopes, and devotion to a party. The man of genius and the scholar can commit no more suicidal error than to cramp his soul within the limits of an austere and importunate love of a formula. The pæan of fanaticism is the dirge of reason, the burial-hymn of genius.
We hope that our American scholars will not adopt Dr. Cheever's fashion of writing books. It is allied to the hitching, uneven, grotesque, half-Germanic style which threatens in some quarters to innovate so much upon the simple, smooth and deep flow of our noble English tongue. Now in the highest clouds of enthusiastic feeling or aspiring reason, then dropping down to a childish barrenness and an offensive vulgarity of expression, dignity, manliness, true simplicity and good taste are all sacrificed alike in thought and diction. Some leading intellects have given currency to this pernicious change; but we hope that we shall at length come back to the solid gold of - English undefiled," - retaining at least only such admixture of this artificial and foreign ingredient as may improve the tenacity and ductility of our own standard metal.
It is grown of late much the fashion to depreciate sound and thorough learning, and to undervalue the discrimination and taste of accomplished scholarship. The “ingenuas didicisse fideliter artes” is sought to be postponed unceremoniously to more imperative claims upon the time of Americans. The literature of a country must share with every thing else the influence of its political and social institutions. It cannot be otherwise ; and to some extent, it
ought not. But it is necessary, where that influence is unfavorable, to restrict it within the narrowest possible limits.
Our institutions, though friendly to a general intellectual activity, are adverse to a thorough scholarship. We are nearly all of us much engrossed in the objects that unrestricted enterprise and unlimited ambition invite, and the lack of hereditary fortunes compels us to pursue. Neither the dusty roads of commerce, nor the cramped turnpikes of the law, nor the miry paths of politics, tend to Parnassus. Still a general taste and familiarity with the leading features of science, art and belles lettres are here, more than elsewhere, generally diffused : and energetic habits in the business of every day life afford a sound basis of literary exertion. Indeed it is one special excellence of our literature, that it has become part and parcel of every day life, with its labors and rewards, its exertions and pleasures apparent everywhere.
Yet want of wide and comprehensive attainments, and absence of consummate finish, must be among the necessary defects of a literature resting upon such a popular foundation, although in independent and vigorous thought, in manly consistency and dignity, it may challenge comparison with any other. How ill judged then, to aggravate rather than check the tendency alluded to. Whatever is practical and immediately applicable to the purposes of life, must of necessity assume, in most cases, the highest rank of importance; and we must freely allow the necessary sacrifices to physical needs and social position. But here let us stop. Else all genuine excellence must soon cease; and the standard of attainment, accommodated from day to day to the constantly falling scale of an average requirement, will soon be found approaching the confines of degeneracy.
And let not the mere man of the world fancy that an elevated literature and a pure taste are unimportant, even to his own most practical pursuits. He may do all that is needful on the wharf and in the counting-house or on 'change without them ; but if he will make them companions of his leisure, he will find that he can do even this drudgery the better with them. And where the lawyer and the merchant can trace no immediate and pecuniary profit, the man will unfailingly realize a rich and imperishable reiurn.
But we would warn the man of exclusively “practical objects,” that he cannot dispense with the existence of these things somewhere in society, if he can conduct his own business and spend his own life satisfactorily without recurrence to them. It is the scholar that has placed in his hands those very means which he now considers so independent of all learning, and it is to the scholar that he must look even for the possibility of continuing his own dry and material existence. Taste, virtue, sound philosophy, pure morals, elevated art, and religion, are the soul of that body politic of which he is an atomic member. Palsy the soul, and the body must soon wither; and as it crumbles to decay, our practical man, with all bis plans and schemings, independent and self-relying as he deems himself, must die with it, or at best give up his wide-spread operations and his keen speculations in the stock-market, to dig clams from the sand and roots from the woods, just as other savages are compelled to do. For civilization dwells, not in the splendid edifice, but in the genius and taste that could devise, and the skill and science that can erect it. When these are gone, the magnificent building soon becomes a melancholy ruin, only marking to the eye of degenerate descendants the spot where their fathers dwelt in power and in glory.
And more especially, we say again, are considerations like these imperative upon the professed scholar. It is due to the community and to his own fame, that he should maintain himself on high ground; and if he undertake to address the public mind, that he should offer to it a work of purity, elevation, good taste and pertinency. The high priest is inexcusable, if he bring to the altar an offering which he knows to be blemished and impure. The avowed man of letters should seek to neutralize, by special care and exertion, the injurious tendency, rather than yield to its influence or seek justification for indolence and imperfection in its example.
G. H. D.
- 4TH S. VOL. VI. NO. III.
Art. VII. — NEW HYMN BOOK.*
REGARDED as a volume of devotional poetry for private reading, this collection is one of the best that we have ever seen. The selection has evidently been made with much labor and care, and under the guidance of a taste deeply imbued both with the poetical and the religious sentiment. Whatever may be omitted, it contains few pieces which do not rightfully claim a place among the gems of religious poetry. It is not a collection so much as a selection, and determined, as it ought to be, by the individual peculiarities of the compilers. The result is, that it is so pervaded by one general tone of sentiment as to have the unity and interest which belong to a volume by a single author. It is eminently rich in hymns which express the ireligous aspirations of a confiding and devout heart. It is remarkable for the large number of new and excellent hymns which it has brought to light, many of which can scarcely fail of being permanent additions to the literature of our churches. And we may add, that among the best of them are some of those for which we are indebted, apparently, to the compilers or their friends. As a volume of religious poetry, giving expression to some of the highest religious emotions and suited to awaken them, we feel disposed to bestow upon it almost unqualified commendation.
But having said thus much, we must say more. The volume is good enough to have its defects pointed out, and all the more, because, if any new hymn book is hereafter prepared, we are sure it will draw largely from this. We have expressed our high sense of the literary taste it exhibits, but there are some things, which, even in this relation, we should regard as obnoxious to criticism. We do not object to alterations in hymns where they are improved by the change, and in a large proportion of cases the alterations which we have observed seem to us judiciously made. The criticism we should make relates rather to the peculiar, and we must think, somewhat contracted and unsympathetic taste, which like the key-note in music, governs the compilation. In reading the volume, it appears to us that the
* A Book of Hymns for Public and Private Devotion. Cambridge: Metcalf & Co. 1846. 12mo. pp. 380.