Page images
PDF
EPUB

its First Book. In point of eloquence, the work is at this day, perhaps, the very noblest monument which our language possesses: it is certainly unapproached by anything that appeared in the next century. More than Ciceronian in its fulness and dignity of style, it wears, with all its richness, a sober majesty which is equally admirable and rare.

* RICHARD HOOKER.

no.

From the First Book of the Treatise Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity ;

published in 1594. Albeit much of that we are to speak in this present cause may seem to a number perhaps tedious, perhaps obscure, dark, and intricate; (for many talk of the truth, which never sounded the depth from whence it springeth; and therefore, when they are led thereunto they are soon weary, as men drawn from those beaten paths wherewith they have been inured ;) yet this may not so far prevail as to cut off that which the matter itself requireth, howsoever the nice humour of some be therewith pleased or

They unto whom we shall seem tedious are in no wise injured by us, because it is in their own hands to spare that labour which they are not willing to endure. And if any complain of obscurity, they must consider, that in these matters it cometh no otherwise to pass, than in sundry the works both of art and also of nature, where that which hath greatest force in the very things we see, is notwithstanding itself oftentimes not seen. The stateliness of houses, the goodliness of trees, when we behold them, delighteth the eye: but that foundation which beareth up the one, that root which ministereth unto the other nourishment and life, is in the bosom of the earth concealed; and if there be at any time occasion to search into it, such labour is then more necessary than pleasant, both to them which undertake it and for the lookers-on. In like manner, the use and benefit of good laws all that live under them may enjoy with delight and comfort; albeit the grounds and first original causes from whence they have sprung be unknown, as to the greatest part of men they are. But when they who withdraw their obedience pretend that the laws which they should obey are corrupt and vitious ; for better examination of their quality, it behoveth the very foundation and root, the highest well-spring and fountain of them, to be discovered.

[blocks in formation]

Now, if nature should intermit her course, and leave altogether, though it were but for a while, the observation of her own laws; if those principal and mother elements of the world, whereof all things in this lower world are made, should lose the qualities which now they have; if the frame of that heavenly arch erected over our heads shoukl loosen and dissolve itself; if celestial spheres should forget their wonted motions, and by irregular volubility turn themselves any way as it might happen; if the prince of the lights of heaven, which now as a giant doth run his uuwearied course, should, as it were, through a languishing faintness, begin to stand and to rest himself; if the moon should wander from her beaten way, the times and seasons of the year blend themselves by disordered and confused mixtures, the winds breathe out their last gasp, the clouds yield no rain, the earth be defeated of heavenly influence, the

[ocr errors]

“ His periods, indeed, are generally much too long and too intricate; but portions of them are beautifully rhythmical; his language is rich in English idiom without vulgarity, and in words of a Latin source without pedantry. He is perhaps the first in England who adorned his prose with the images of poetry. But this he has done more judiciously, and with greater moderation, than others of great name; and we must be bigots in Attic severity, before we can object to some of his grand figures of speech.” *

Of the turn of theological writings in the times of James, an adequate idea might probably be gained from the pulpit-oratory of two of its divines. The first who has already been named for his eminent learning and his position as an ecclesiastical leader, was the most popular preacher of the day: the other, whom we took as the representative of the poetry of his time, transferred himself in middle age from civil life to the church, and appears to have become particularly acceptable to refined and well instructed hearers. 6. 1565.)

sermons of Bishop Andrewes exemplify, very perd. 1626. ) tinently, the chief defects in style that have been attributed to the writers of his period; while to these they add other faults, incident to the effusions of a mind poor in fancy, coarse in taste, ingeniously rash in catching at trivial analogies, and constantly burying good thoughts under a heap of useless phrases. Yet, though they were corrupt models, and dangerous in proportion to the fame of the author, it is not surprising that they made the extraordinary impression they did. They contain, more than any other works of their kind and time, the unworked materials of oratory; and of oratory, too, belonging to the most severe and powerful class. There is something Demosthenic in the impatient vehemence with which the pious bishop showers down his short, clumsy, harsh sentences; and the likeness becomes still more exact, when we hear him alternating stern and eager questions with sad or indignant answers. His Latin quotations, though incessant, are always brief; his field of erudite illustration is prudently confined ; and his multiplied divisions and sub-divisions, being quite agreeable to the growing fashion, may have helped to increase the respect of the hearers for the great strength and ingenuity of

[ocr errors]

fruits of the earth pine away as children at the withered breasts of their mother no longer able to yield them relief: what would become of man himself, whom these things now do all serve? See we not plainly that obedience of creatures unto the law of nature is the stay of the whole world ?

* Hallam: Introduction to the Literature of Europe.

thought which the preacher so often showed. There is often much aptness in the parallels

, which it is his besetting fault to accumulate so thickly, and overdraw so grotesquely ; and an overpowering effect must sometimes have been produced by the dexterous boldness with which, anticipating an adverse opinion or feeling, he throws it back in the teeth of those who are likely to entertain it. Thus, in a charity sermon, catching at a phrase of Latimer's, which it appears) was not yet forgotten, and briefly admitting the justice of the censure which it implied, he suddenly turns away, to work out, in an opposite direction, the very vein of thought which we found in the martyr's Sermon on the Plough.* Donne’s Sermons are of a very different cast. They are im

measurably superior in every point bearing on style; d. 1631. / and, if the taste of the writer cannot be called pure, it errs, as in his poetry, by being fantastic, not by being coarse. The poet's fancy sometimes prompts images, and figures of speech, that are full of a serious and thoughtful beauty; and

b. 1573.

* BISHOP ANDREWES

From the Sermon (1 Tim. vi. 17, 18, 19,) preached at Saint Mary's Hospital.

Well then! if to “do good” be a part of the charge, what is it to do good! It is a positive thing (good); not a privative to do no harm. Yet, as the world goeth now, we are fain so to cominend men:

“ He is an honest man: he doth no lurt:" of which praise any wicked man, that keeps himself to himself, may be partaker. But it is to do some good thing :—What good thing? I will not answer as in the schools: I fear I should not be understood. I will go grossly to work.

This know, that God hath not given sight to the eye to enjoy, but to lighten the members; nor wisdom to the honourable man, but for us men of simple, shallow forecast; nor learning to the divine, but for the ignorant; so neither riches to the wealthy, but for those that want relief. Think you Timothy hath his depositum, and we ours, and you have none ? It is sure you have. We ours in inward graces and treasures of knowledge; you yours in outward blessings and treasures of wealth. But both are deposita ; and we both are feoffees of trust.

I see there is a strange hatred, and a bitter gainsaying, everywhere stirred up against unpreaching prelates (as you term them), and pastors that feed themselves only: and they are well worthy. If I might see the same hatred begun among yourselves, I would think it sincere. But that I cannot see. For that which a slothful divine is in things spiritual, that is a rich man for himself and nobody else in things carnal: and they are not pointed at. But sure you have your harvest, as well as we ours; and that a great barvest. Lift up your eyes and see the streets round about you, the harvest is verily great, and the labourers few. Let us pray (both) that the Lord would thrust out labourers into both these harvests: that, the treasures of knowledge being opened, they may have the bread of eternal life: and the treasures of well-doing being opened, they may have the bread of this life: and so they may want neither.

[ocr errors]

the language, while it flows on with a sustained though not very musical fulness, reaches, in some passages, though not so often as might have been expected, a fine felicity of phrase, not unlike that which adorns so many of his verses. But, when regarded as oral addresses, these interesting compositions are not only not comparable to those of Andrewes, but much below many others of the time. Their tone is essentially meditative, not oratorical. The structure of the style, and the turn of the thoughts, are alike appropriate to the writer in the closet, not to the speaker in the church. While, also, the reflections are sometimes profound, and very often striking, many of them are as subtle and farfetched as those which deform his lyrical pieces. Many of his most dazzling illustrations are made plausible only by feats of rhetorical sleight-of-hand: the likeness between the objects vanishes, the moment we translate the thoughts into plain terms. In one place he remarks, that east and west are opposite in a flat

map, but are made to unite by rolling the map on a globe; and he detects in this, a parallel to the application of religion to a dejected conscience, which causes tranquillity to take the place of trouble. He produces a very impressive effect, by odd means, in treating the text, “Who hath believed our report? He declines at first to say where the words are to be found; he dwells on the frequency with which the sacred writers repeat truths that are momentous; and then, announcing that the complaint of the text is made three times in scripture, he uses the fact as a proof of the prevalence of unbelief in all ages. The discourses of Donne derive a touching interest from the course of his history. They are memorials of those twenty years of devotion to charity, of religious study and action, which, when youth had been wasted in the search of worldly fame, when manhood had been left solitary, closed the life of a man eminent both for genius and for learning

5. The theological literature of the reign of Charles, is represented in its most brilliant light by two of his celebrated prelates. Joseph Hall and Jeremy Taylor are the most eloquent of all our Old English Divines; and their works were, in themselves, enough to make an epoch in the religious literature of the nation. It may reasonably be questioned, however, whether the younger of the two does not receive more than justice, in the comparisons usually drawn between them.

Alike eminent for Christian piety and conscientious zeal, alike warmed by feelings of deep devotion, they yet exhibit mental characteristics distinguishing them as clearly, as did those differences in opinion and inclination, which exposed the former to the imputation of puritanism, and intrenched the latter impregnably in his reverence for ecclesiastical antiquity and ritual pomp. Much inferior to Taylor in wealth of imagination, Hall stands immeasurably higher in strength of reasoning. Both abound in originality of thought: but the one is clear, systematic, and often profound, in tracing out the relations of the ideas that have suggested themselves to him; the other is hardly ever methodical or exact, is often inconsistent, and still oftener confused. Taylor has no command over his fancy: it continually hurries him away from his path, wafting him so far that we, who are irresistibly carried along with him, lose ourselves in the attempt to find our way back. Hall, on the contrary, hardly ever loses sight of the road for a moment: the finest images which he conjures up (and many of them are wonderfully fine) never displace in his mind the great truths, for the sake of which they are admitted. He is remarkable also, for the practical plainness and directness of the appeals he makes ; nor is he less so for the shrewdness of observation with which he enforces them. Beginning his literary career as a writer of poetical satires, he never forgot the habit of looking around him, on the scenes of life, as well as those of inanimate nature. Hall is as pedantic as Taylor, but not in the same way. His Latin quotations, or his old story, is usually allowed to work its effect without much pains on his part: it is while he developes the course of his own reflections, that he imagines and presents his illustrative sketches of scenery or society. Taylor, while he hardly ever, in his oratorical works at least, stoops to describe familiar life, seems always to have his imagination most actively kindled, not when he is prosecuting his own track of thought, but when a first hint has been given by a book studied, or by a striking event recollected and repeated to us. In the conception and representation of emotion, both of these eloquent men are very powerful. But Taylor's moods of passion bear him onward through long and equably sustained flights : Hall's depth of feeling, often more intense than that of the other, comes in quick bursts, which speedily die away into argument and reflection, or are interrupted and chilled by thoughts suggesting quaint antithetic comparisons. In this last point, not improbably, lies the reason why the former was so much more effective in public oratory than the latter. 6. Among those works of Hall's which are not controversial,

the best known, as well as the largest, is his series of d. 1656. & * Contemplations” on historical passages of the Bible. These are equally admirable for their soundness of judgment, their correctness of commentary, and the devoutness which con

b. 1574.

« PreviousContinue »