« PreviousContinue »
TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE
LADY ARBELLA DENNY.
MADAM, Your extreme unwillingness to admit the address of my former volumes to your Ladyship should preclude this, were it not that the still greater necessity of a patronage for the present compels me to throw it at your feet without asking your permission. For my boldness in both instances I most humbly beg your Ladyship’s pardon. Be not alarmed however. I am not going again to tell you and the world, who you are, nor what you have been always doing: particulars, your humility will with difficulty learn from the voice of this, and more kingdoms than this. No, madam, the purport of this address is rather prefatory than dedicatory. The acrimonious reader, &c. I fear, the judicious too, will find failures enough here to please the former, and disgust the latter. But the candid and good-natured, with your Ladyship, will pardon this, as written after the seventy-sixth year of the author's life. Yet even the most candid may say, why write at all so late in life? The prevalence of infidelity, and the almost deserted cause of truth and virtue, may possibly apologize for my standing forth once more, after having formerly published too much, and having resolved, from the year 1777, never to transgress in the same manner again. There are three pieces contained in this volume.*
The first, an Appeal to Common Sense on the Subject of Christianity, written, the author hopes, in so plain a style as to render it intelligible to the meanest capacity, and yet so supported by the word of God, and sound reason, as to justify itself, wherever common sense is not banished by philosophy from the minds of the more learned. Your Ladyship may possibly judge, some parts of this Appeal not inapplicable to the instruction and reformation of the Magdalens, about which you have been, all along, so exceedingly anxious; and the rather, as it includes a very short and plain Catechism, containing just all, and nothing more, than every Christian ought to know, and also five or six short questions of self-examination, to be answered only by the self-examiner.
* In the present edition “ Senilia" has been added to this volume.
The second part of this volume carries the title of Thoughts on Common Sense itself, and is a sort of essay or rhapsody, wherein the author attempts to settle (not hitherto sufficiently settled) the idea of the common sense at least, to which he had appealed. In this he is not careful to keep down the style, because the matter is above the comprehension of plain readers, and rather unfit, if they could anderstand it, for their perusal; for, in this among other matters, he endeavours by reason, and sometimes by ridicule, to expose the infinite absurdities, into which the most eminent philosophers, and some of the most considerable philosophical divines, have deviated from common sense, particularly when their philosophy presumes to interfere with religion, which it too often does in a degree and manner, almost as far from being tolerated by common sense, as by the Author of religion.
The third part consists of Hymns, the first and last, made up of religious contemplations, were defectively printed in one of the former volumes, but here corrected, and somewhat improved. These, however meanly performed, are intended to excite in such minds, as may happen not wholly to contemn them, a spirit of piety and devotion. The author, in his youth, was addicted to poetry, for which he was thought to have a little talent. But his sacred employment having confined him, for above fifty years, to prose, he bardly ever thought of versifying his then very sober conceptions. Hence it is, that, in his seventy-sixth year, he awkwardly returned to poetry. Herein, like Socrates, who, at an age, not less advanced, versified the fables of Æsop, he employed some part of his leisure, in a state of sequestration from business and the world, by thus dilating that poor remainder of warınth, which a sense of religion still kept alive in his aged heart, as your Ladyship will see with regret in these Hymns. When he compared them with the dignity of their subjects, and with the superior excellence of other men's performances on subjects, vastly inferior, he was really ashamed of them, and tried in vain to get others to improve them. Indifferent as they are, you, Madam, will perhaps sometimes observe the ruins, if not of a palace, yet of a decent cottage, which had once given shelter to the humility and piety of a peasant. You will also, he hopes, sometimes taste the juice of fruit, stunted like the tree it falls from, but more concentered, if not better concocted, than the larger productions, which shine among the leaves of a younger plant. Contrary to the practice of supercilious critics, the better stanzas will apologize for the worse with your Ladyship’s candour, especially if you happen to recollect an observation of Dryden, that in a building, howsoever magnificent, brickbats, pinnings, &c. though but of poor appearance, must often find a place. If, having little better than these to build with, the author should bere and there make somewhat of them above mediocrity, you will look at it, in passing, just as you do at some tolerable cabin on the rock.
So much for bis poetical, and as to his moral and religious confessions, he therein levels all mankind, himself among the rest, with the Magdalens, being of opinion with our church, that penitentials should lead the way in all our devotions, he can no more admit a possibility of too high expression for any other congregation, in regard to our sense of sin, than for that in the gallery of your asylum. If the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, and if no less in our beds, than at the gallows, we all die as criminals, there can be no room left for pride, and self-preference, especially in our confessions, to lean on comparisons or extenuations.
Unfortunately for me, and my poor Hymns, all attempts of the kind have been lately condemned by some of our ablest critics, on this maxim, that human genius must for ever sink under the dignity of the subjects. This is so true, that I seize it as an excuse for the impotence of my attempt, while I bow to it as a sentence of condemnation. But the critics, one of them at least, will be concerned when they consider, how much too far the censure goes; for, if it is admitted, it equally condemns, not only the utmost efforts of human genius, but all the psalms dictated by Divine inspiration, and even the hosannas and hallelujahs of heaven, inasmuch as the subjects, God, his wisdom, his power, his
mercy, are infinitely above all created abilities of celebration. If I am not able to bring an ox to the altar of God, may I not bring my young pigeon ? Yes, you say, provided it is unblemished ; and I answer, my High Priest will not judge my offering according to the rigour of the law, if he sees my poverty can afford no better; neither will God expect perfection in the works of men. In all sacrifices and praises the heart is that which gives the value. All, but this, whether brought by the highest order of angels, or the lowest order of men, is, in the sight of infinite Majesty, but a mite. You, Madam, I dare say, are well pleased, that the above criticism was not the opinion of Addison, Parnel, or dean Bayly. That which led the critics into this gross mistake was certainly the observation, that so much more of human genius hath been exhausted, and more strenuously exerted in epic and tragic poetry, nay, and in lovesongs and drunken catches, than in the few Hymns that have been published; and that the success of the former hath been universal, while the latter are treated with distaste and contempt, although among all the Hymns that have ever been published, there is not one to two thousand ballads, love-songs, and drunken catches, that in the judgment of a fair critic (religion out of the question) would not be found superior both in sentiment and diction; so very little of piety is found in our taste for poetry and music. Among the men of genius very few felt any thing of religious warmtb ; and they wrote for the applause of a world, whereof not one in a hundred thousand, they were sensible, had a single nerve in unison with a hymn. Of this they had too many experimental proofs in our churches, where a sorry clerk, little more affected than the organ, performs a solo in the midst of a thousand pretended Christians, who have not a single note for the psalm, nor for God who gave them all they are so proud of, particularly those voices and those musical powers, which are wholly at the devotion of intoxication over a bottle, and of loose desires in the celebration of beauty.
This alienation is not less lamented by your Ladyship, than it is by
Your most respectful,
In whatsoever degree Mr. Skelton may be thought to have availed himself of books published before the following dates, it cannot be supposed, that he owes any thing to such as have had a posterior birth. The first edition of Deism Revealed was published in London
1748 The second, London
1750 The third edition, Dublin
1777 The first edition of his first two volumes of Sermons, London
1754 The second edition of said Sermons, and the sole edition of the third, Dublin
1777 The sole edition of Thoughts on Predestination, Dublin
1777 Letter to the authors of Divine Analogy and of the
Minute Philosopher ;-Truth in a Mask ;-
these were published between the years 1734 & 1745 His other Opuscula were not published before 1777