페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

erary dyspepsia, is assuming more and more the type of a sweeping and dementating epidemic; and should it continue to spread and to rage, the consequences must be deplorable indeed. Such aliment as is now almost exclusively demanded by the young, even of pious families, and by many professors of religion too, must needs produce a race of puny, and as Shakspeare would call them, lily-livered' exquisites of mere feeling and romance. For who will think of calling for Connecticut River roastbeef, after having free and constant access from childhood, to fruit, cake, floating islands, blue jelly, ice creams, whipt sillabub, and all the other sweet and fragrant temptations of the most celebrated confectioners ? In like manner, should what is now called 'polite literature,' moulded as it is into a thousand seductive forms, continue to gain upon the public taste for a few years longer, who will think of plodding through Rollio, or Hume, or any other writer of sober history? How few will consent to pass their winter evenings, with such prosing and antiquated personages as Milton, and Johnson, and Cowper? Who now thinks of offering to the public, new editions of the most valuable English classics ? What prudent bookseller would embark his capital in such an undertaking ? Who of the trade' is so blind as not to see, that if he would get bread for his children, he must fill his shelves with trash and fiction ?

I speak now comparatively, but with emphasis and alarm-for sure I am, that while the standard of education is rising in our public seminaries, the more useful and substantial books, which were till lately familiar to the upper and middling

and middling classes of the community, are falling into neglect, and giving place to a species of writing, which, however amusing, or elegant, can never sus

tain, much less expand and exalt, the intellectual energies of a free people. Some of the more immediate causes of this lamentable depreciation of literary taste, as I shall venture to call it, are obvious. Certain writers (some of whose names have already been mentioned,) of losty genius and surprising powers of invention, have devoted themselves too much to the amusement, and too little to the instruction of their adınirers. With the sway which such minds must always bear in the empire of literature, what might they not have accomplished, for the enduring benefit of their species? By making their great talents, directly subservient to the permanent interests of virtue and religion, what a high claim might they have left, to be enrolled among the distinguished benefactors of the age. As it is, however, I am convinced that after generations will not be able, with a clear conscience, to award them this enviable distinction :-for even the far-famed Waverly novels will, I fear, be found in the end, to have done incomparably more harm than good. Not so much perhaps by flagrant moral blemishes, or other positive demerits, as by their number; by the taste which they create for this kind of fiction; and by paving the way, for a multitude of bankrupt adventurers, in the same line, who, but for the unparalleled success of this author, would never have gained the public ear. А few such volumes as Waverly, and the Tales of my Landlord, might have been a valuable addition upon the whole, to the stock of English literature. A moderate indul. gence at such an intellectual banquet, might help to enrich the fancy and give tone to the mind, but here is a surfeit, which must inevitably impair the appetite for solid nutriment, and gradually undermine the most vigorous constitution. I am well aware of the scorn that may

be excited by such speculations, among the worshippers of the great divinities, who now sit enthroned in the empire of song and of fiction ; and I should not, in this place, have touched upon these topics, but for their intimate connection with others, of paramount interest and importance. As it is, I have thought it right to speak freely; and I feel a strong confidence, that my fears and deprecations will prove in the end, to be much better founded than even many of the pious are willing to believe.

But I must hasten to the other part of my subject, which directly embraces the religious character and taste of the times in which we live. And here, there is certainly a great deal to excite the gratitude, encourage the efforts, and strengthen the faith of every friend of the Redeemer. Blessed be God, for those mighty wrestlings and yearnings of christian benevolence, which are now spreading dismay over the kingdom of darkness, and which cannot be unavailing before the throne of infinite mercy. It is not the character of this age, to exhaust its energies in fruitless wishes that something might be done to save the heathen: nor to comfort itself with the assurance that God in his own time will convert them, whether his people engage heartily in the enterprise or not. No. The church feels that she has a great work to do,' and that unbelief has slumbered over it too long. Never, certainly since the Apostolic age, were her sons and daughters more busily engaged in behalf of a perishing world, than at the present moment. Never were more hearts and hands opened; and never was there a greater number of faithful heralds on the march to sum. mon the strong holds of the enemy, and to blow the gospel trumpet in every land. At what former period, did

the river of life flow so copiously from beneath the sanctuary, and deepen so fast, and spread its healing waters so wide, over the parched places of the wilderness ?' When was there so holy an emulation in doing good, among christians of every name and nation ? When were the signs of the times so bright, and so rich in ripening and clustering promises ? When did every gale from the far-off pagan continents and savage isles, wast such glad intelligence to the christian's ear? When were so many eyes turned, and when did so many prayers of faith go forth, to meet the rising glories of the millennial day? These are some of the heart-cheering reflections, which offer themselves spontaneously to every mind, that is alive to the interests of Zion. And truly, it is good for the church, thus to stand on her favored eminences, to watch the preparations and to anticipate the triumphs of her King.

But it is not permitted us to look with unmingled satisfaction, upon even the holiest enterprises of human benevolence. As the best of men engaged in the best of causes are still imperfect, it would be a miracle, if there were no errors in judgment, no failure in prudence, no alloy of unsanctified motive or feeling, among the thousands who manage the prudential concerns, and go forth as the accredited agents of Missionary, Bible, and other kindred societies. Equally in vain would it be, to expect a perfect balance of judgment and feeling, in the most enlightened christian community taken together : so difficult is it to find and to preserve the golden mean--to keep the mind always at the right temperature--to adjust every thing as it should be, between the understanding and the heart. Even the best of men, are liable to fall into opposite extremes. In bearing away from Charyb

dis, they are driven upon Scylla, and in avoiding the rocks, they are ingulphed by the whirlpool. This vacillancy seems to be a kind of secondary law of our nature. I call it a law, on account of its extensive and controlling influence; and a secondary law, because it was not implanted in man at his first creation. It was superinduced by that great apostacy, which gave the throne of his heart to another than his Maker, and destroyed the primeval equilibrium of his moral faculties. It holds true in religion, as well as in politics and philosophy, that the mind often pushes its speculations so far upon some favorite topic, as to throw every thing else into the back ground, and encroach upon those essential relations, which things bear to one another, in the divine economy.

There is what may be called fashion and taste, in religious opinions and feelings, as well as in dress, or architecture, or music. Thus, at one time, christian doctrines are regarded as comparatively unimportant; and all stress is laid upon a good moral life. At another time, deep and bold theological speculation is exalted far above christian experience and practice. And then, again, clear and discriminating views of divine truth, are contemptuously discarded as mere head knowledge,' while nervous agitations, animal affections, and enthusiastical excitement, are hailed as the true and joyful evidences of saving conversion. The legalists and the antinomians have each repeatedly had their day. Men at one time, have been bigots, and at another, fierce for liberality.

The religious taste, (as I use the term,) of the present age, differs in some important respects, from any thing that has extensively prevailed in the church, at any former period; and remarkably corresponds, in its leading characteristics, with the literary taste of the day, to which

« 이전계속 »