Imágenes de páginas

multitude of people, as little acquainted as he was with a book whose name is familiar to every body. There never was an age in which reading was a more universal employment than this; and I am sorry to add, there never was one, in which the works usually read, so little deserved it. The unlucky disposition to things that are new, is not peculiar to my correspondent; every body falls too much into it; and to such a height is the custom growing, that a man is hardly qualified for conversation, who is not as well acquainted with the characters of the last romance, as with the names of the heroes and heroines on the stage of life. Novelty, I own, is a very interesting plea to us ; but, surely, it is not the period of time elapsed, but the acquaintance we have formed with the work, that makes it new or old to our acquaintance. Things which we have never heard before, are new to us, though transacted in the most distant era; and books, which we have not read, must be equally possessed of that charm, thoug coeval with the creation.

A chapter in the bible, it is too certain will be, to the generality of modern readers, as much a novelty as one in Tom Jones could be, when new fallen from the almost creative pen of its author; and I have so good an opinion, or, to use a juster phrase, so much knowledge of the present state of the polite world, that, in spite of all their flights and wildnesses, I am persuaded a man who could give a good account of the one, would be at least as well received by the company, as he who could exert himself in comments on the other.

There is, indeed, no work in which we meet with so much to delight and to improve, to ravish and to instruct us; no work in which lessons of morality are delivered with so pleasing a familiarity, or so compulsive an authority ;-strange combination! but inviolably preserved !—none, in which facts so great or so interesting are related, nor any other that has language equal to the subjects.

If Longinus knew any thing of the sublime in writing, the scriptures must be full of it; since his whole work, compared with their several parts, seems but a comment on their beauties; and if there be any thing in what has been written by Quinctilian of the force of oratory, the power of selfassistant arguments, there we behold it all. No work was ever at once so animated, and so correct; so plain, and so full of elegance. What is said of architecture, is equally true of style ; that simplicity is the source of all true beauty, and that a profusion of misplaced ornaments and figures, while they strike the eyes of children and idiots, accuse the structure, to the discerning eye, of barbarism. Different authors have made approaches toward excellence, in the different manners of writing, but it is in this work alone, that we are to look for perfection in all; nor is this a wonder, when we recollect that the others are the products of limited and imperfect conceptions, this of unbounded and infallible ; that they are human, this divine. We admire Livy for his historic fire, and Seneca for his morality ; but let us compare Livy with Moses, or Seneca with the author of the Proverbs, and we shall be ashamed of the preeminence we have been used to give them, in their several capacities ; nor among the poets, will Homer and Pindar make any better figure, under an impartial eye, in the comparison with the Psalmist and Isaiah.

The scriptures are the language of the Creator to his creatures ; they convey to us the duties from those who have received blessings, to him from whom they flow; they inform us what imports our happiness, not for a few transient years, but for an eternity; and lead the way to the enjoying that eternity in bliss. He who formed us with organs capable of enjoyment, has placed that enjoyment before our eyes; and, that we may not be called off from the pursuit by shadows and pretences on the way, he tells us they are but such; that this existence is our journey to happiness, not our period for it; and, in these works, he has given us infallible precepts for the employing the means so as to obtain the end.

The first article advanced in the sacred writings is the existence of a God. The next thing we are informed of, is, that we and every thing about us are the works of his hands. We are told, that he intended us for happiñess, and that he exacted no conditions but our obedience. His laws are afterwards laid down, and dreadful instances produced of the effects of violating them. His peculiar favor to the people who most, though that very imperfectly, obeyed his institutions, is delivered with a warmth that ought to animate every reader in the cause of obedience; and lessons of morality, histories of amazing works, songs of praise to him, and promises of his mercy, his favor, and protection to those who pay due reverence to his will, are interspersed in every other part. We cannot but form, from the first, an idea of the Creator as full of beneficence and truth, of goodness and of wisdom; and every article of the sacred writings contains proof of all. We are taught to think with a proper respect of his nature, and are informed of the imperfections as well as the advantages of our own. These lead us to the general offices of religion, and from these we are carried, step by step, to the more particular.

To be at once entertained and improved, is the full intent in reading; nor is it worthy a rational creature to accept the amusement without the advantage. He who would have both in the highest degree, must look up to the highest foundation of knowledge for them; he must drink from that eternal spring from which the purest of the others are but obscure and vague emanations.



Next to the character of Christ, his religion might be shown to abound in circumstances which contradict and repel the idea of a human origin. For example, its representations of the character of God; its inculcation of a universal charity; the stress which it lays on inward purity; its substitution of a spiritual worship for the forms and ceremonies which every where had usurped the name, and extinguished the life, of religion ; its preference of humility, and the mild, unostentatious, passive virtues, to the dazzling qualities which had monopolized men's admiration; its consistent and bright discoveries of immortality; its adaptation to the wants of man as a sinner; its adaptation to all the conditions, capacities, and sufferings of human nature; its pure, sublime, yet practicable morality; its high and generous motives; and its fitness to form a char

« AnteriorContinuar »