페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

not, is already showing, that a loose and easy parental government is dictated by anything but a true regard for human well-being. It is certain, however, that Wesley was popular with the children of his own day. They recognized in his beaming aspect none of those stern and repulsive lineaments which bigotry and prejudice have drawn. To them the very face of the loved and venerated octogenarian was as a benediction; and hence it was nothing uncommon for him to find "all the street lined with these little ones," waiting to greet him with their glad smiles and joyous welcome. He says: “Before preaching they only ran round me and before; but after it a whole troop, boys and girls, closed me in, and would not be content till I shook each of them by the hand.”—Vol. ii,

p. 557.

These imperfect glimpses of his character may suffice for a just estimate of the "enthusiasm" of the apostle of Methodism. On this point it seems idle to waste words; for it is well known that the writer, who, of all, has been most eager to apply that term to Wesley in an opprobrious sense, was himself the fiercest and most visionary of ochlocrats, till in due time he all at once came out a convert to kingcraft, and a poet laureate. The enthusiasm of the author of the “ Journal” was certainly of a rare type. “The wonder of his character," said Robert Hall, “is the self-control by which he preserved himself calm, while he kept all in excitement around him. He was the last man to be infected by fanaticism. His writings abound in statements of preternatural circumstances; but it must be remembered that his faults in these respects were those of his age, while his virtues were peculiarly his own." True, he may have been credulous, but surely in an age of most unsparing skepticism a little leaning to the opposite extreme was quite venial. We are not solicitous to vindicate him from the seeming aspersion. All must see that in the estimation of those who have been most sedulous to fix the charge upon him, every development of religion which transcends their reason or experience is sheer fanaticism. So far as the charge relates to certain “preternatural circumstances,” it will be seen that Mr. Wesley usually records these without note or comment, and in the true spirit of inductive philosophy; and to all “orthodox” skeptics, we commend an acute remark of President Edwards, in his work on the affections. He says :-“I know of no reason why being affected by God's glory should not cause the body to faint, as well as being affected with a view of Solomon's glory."

In respect to preternatural appearances, Mr. Wesley may have believed with Prince Hamlet, that

“There are more things in heaven and earth

Than are dreamed of in your philosophy.” And though we incline to that side of the question which has suffered least from ridicule, we cannot but think it much easier to sneer at, than refute, the doctrine of demoniacal possessions. It seems to us, moreover, that credulity—that sort of credulity that “makes the virtue it believes in”-is inseparable from a nature like Mr. Wesley's, so lively and boundless in its sympathies with all that is lovely and good, so soon incensed at every species of wrong and oppression. A single example may serve to place this characteristic in a most amiable light. During one of his visits to the capital of North Britain, he stops at Holyrood House, the ancient palace of the Scottish kings. As he glances at the gallery of royal portraits, his eye rests with peculiar emotion upon that of the beautiful, but ill-fated and “much-injured,” Mary :-“It is scarce possible,” he exclaims, "for any who looks at this, to think her such a monster as some have painted her;" or, "for any who considers the circumstances of her death, equal to that of a martyr!” “But how, then, can we account for the quite contrary story that has been almost universally received ? Most easily: it was penned and published in French, English, and Latin, (by Queen Elizabeth's order,) by George Buchanan, who was secretary to Murray, and in Queen Elizabeth's pay.---Nor was she at liberty to answer for herself.” From various entries in the “Journal” he appears to have studied Queen Mary's history very carefully, and to have thoroughly sifted the mass of conflicting testimony. Upon the whole, therefore, “that much-injured queen appears to have been far the greatest woman of that age, exquisitely beautiful in her person, of a fine address, of a deep, unaffected piety, and of a stronger understanding, even in youth, than Queen Elizabeth had at threescore. And probably the despair wherein Queen Elizabeth died was owing to her death, rather than that of Lord Essex.”

But not by royal sufferings and wrongs alone were his sympathies stirred. None were so humble or obscure as to escape his notice. How touching the scene in which we behold the holy man of fourscore years, intent upon spreading, if possible, some rays of heavenly light over the dreary waste of a "mind in ruins!" “I spent some time with poor, disconsolate Louisa. Such a sight in the space of fourteen years I never saw before! Pale and wan, beaten with wind and rain, having been so long exposed to all weathers, with her hair rough and frizzled, and only a blanket wrapped round her, native beauty gleamed through all. Her features were small and finely turned, her eyes had a peculiar sweet

ness, her arms and fingers delicately molded, and her voice soft and agreeable; but her mind was in ruins.” The lunatic asylum, at which this scene occurred, he thought to be the best in the three kingdoms. Having “particularly inquired into the whole method” of the superintendent, Mr. Wesley concluded that “he had a. peculiar art of governing his patients, not by fear, but by love. The consequence is, many speedily recover and love him ever after." This regard for the more neglected classes was a sore puzzle to some of his admirers : but “ I have more need of heat than of light," was his sole reply to those who could not see how a distinguished Oxonian could pass so much time in the cottages of the pious poor, and meanwhile be so jealous of the encroachments of the great and learned upon his leisure.

We need not be surprised that such a heart should have ventured a hope for the futurity of even the brute creation. Perhaps the wish was father to the thought, or it may have been suggested by some such incident as the following :-“I preached, [June 2d, 1768,] at noon, at a farmer's house near Brough, in Westmoreland. The sun was hot enough; but some shady trees covered both me and most of the congregation. A little bird perched on one of them, and sung without intermission from the beginning of the service unto the end.” Not that he was in danger of confounding the distinctions between man and the inferior animals. In fact no one, perhaps, ever distinguished here more philosophically or clearly. So, at least, thought Mr. Hallam. “I have somewhere read," says this able writer, “a profound remark of Wesley, that, considering the sagacity which many animals display, we cannot fix upon reason as the distinction between them and man: the true difference is, we are formed to know God and they are not. ."* Indeed, no one can fail to see that, in the beautiful philosophy that pervades all the writings of this great master, soul, or the possession of spiritual faculties, is what confers upon man his peculiar dignity and excellence.

In reading the “Journal” no one will fail to remark that the spirit of the writer is uniformly cheerful, kind, and conciliating; and those who think him severe and unsparing in controversy, can know but little of the men he had to do with. Wesley never provoked controversy, never engaged in it con amore. In a polemical tract, which bears the date of 1740, he says :-"I now tread an untried path with fear and trembling: fear, not of my adversary, but of myself, I fear my own spirit, lest I fall where many mightier have been slain."" To the same purport he says, Nov. 19, 1751 :-"I began writing a

* Hist. Lit., vol. ii, p. 67. See, also, Wesley's Sermons, vol. ü, p. 51.

letter to the Comparer of the Papists and Methodists:-heavy work; such as I should never choose, but sometimes it must be done. Well might the ancients say, 'God made practical divinity necessary: the devil, controversial.?” But of the spirit, and, indeed, the style, of the “Journal,” we have a perfect transcript in the language it speaks in 1739, the natal year of Wesleyan Methodism :

-“Let me think and speak as a little child. Let my religion be plain, artless, simple. Meekness, temperance, patience, faith, and love, be these my highest gifts; and let the highest words, whenever I teach them, be those I learn from the book of God.” In another place he says :-“I labor to avoid all words which are not easy to be understood; all which are not used in common life.” Memorable words! noble sentiment! Well were it for every student of oratory, and of sacred oratory in particular, to adopt it as his motto. It is the language, alınost verbatim, which in our own day has been ascribed to the Demosthenes of the American senate. Such a style may have few charms for the admirers of Bulwer, or of Carlyle. It may have still fewer charms for those lovers of the magniloquent whose notion of fine writing seems to consist in substituting Greek and Latin synonyms,

“ Of learned length and thundering sound,” for the sweet household words of our own matchless Anglo-Saxon. If such be a fine style, then Wesley was altogether defective. But if he erred, he did so advisedly and ex industria. He says: “As for me, I never think of my style at all; but just set down the words that come first. Only when I transcribe anything for the press, then I think it my duty to see that every phrase be clear, pure, and proper. If, after all, I observe any stiff expression, I throw it out neck and shoulders."* To one who asked, “What is it that constitutes a good style ?” he replies, “Perspicuity, purity, propriety, strength, and easiness, joined together.” He says nothing of harmony-he thought it infinitely beneath a “Christian minister, speaking and writing to save souls,” to amuse sinners with measured cadences and nicely balanced periods. He could no more write in a fine style than wear a fine coat.” And these literary exquisites who think it “a pity,” might think it a pity, too, that Raphael forgot to “set off” his Madonna with a profusion of curls, and that the Apollo Belvidere has not the advantage of the latest Parisian costume. For our own part, we believe that Wesley very justly places the foplings of literature and of fashion in the

• This reminds one of the still more modern aphorism : “In composing, be sure to discard every word or phrase which strikes you as particularly fine."

same category; and that herein his better taste and judgment were eminently conspicuous. In the “Journal” we should expect the diction to be somewhat careless, compared with that of his sermons and more elaborate performances. But even here it appears in purity, clearness, and strength, to approach as near perfection as the genius of our language will permit. It has the chastened and simple beauty, the naturalness and life-likeness, of the statue that enchants the world. The model which he proposed to himself was the Epistles of John: “Here are sublimity and simplicity together -the strongest sense and the plainest language.” Still we cannot but think that he was enamored, however unconsciously, of the beautiful simplicity of the most perfect language of which we have any memorials. He did not study the great masters of antiquity to no purpose. We never read the “Journal” without being forcibly reminded of the pictured pages of Herodotus. Such a style is, “when unadorned, adorned the most.” It not only possesses those qualities of transparency and precision which enable the writer to make everything plain and appreciable, but it is also in admirable consonance with the man, the subject, and the occasion.

The subject matter of the “Journal” is exceedingly rich and diversified. We should hardly know what to think of the tastes dr attainments of such as could peruse it without instruction and pleasure. The mere novel-monger may here find much that is strange, "stranger than fiction." It was but lame and halting praise in Allan Cunningham, to say that “the labors of Wesley in propagating the gospel have all the interest of romance.” Few imaginations, however fertile, have succeeded in pleasing their hearers in such a variety of interesting situations, or investing them with so much dramatic interest.

To the mere scholar the shrewd observations on men and books interspersed throughout these volumes would amply repay the most careful perusal. Glancing lately at passages presented ad aperturam, we noticed within the compass of about three pages the calm but withering retort upon that would-be historian, Smollett; and critiques upon Baron Swedenborg's “Account of Heaven and Hell,” Blair's “Sermons,” and Bryant's "Ancient Mythology." Another passage we had quite forgotten, relating to Georgia and its Indian tribes, presented much food for thought. The Indian is to most persons a picturesque being. They see him only in the pictured pages of Irying, Cooper, or Campbell; and hence he seems a creature of more than Spartan virtue, or Arcadian simplicity and innocence. Hence, too, they dream, that in some " boundless contiguity of shade” the golden age may be reproduced,

« 이전계속 »