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their selectest and purest conceptions, is an argument of fact against all speculative objections, in favor of the intrinsic excel. lence and unparalleled perfection of the sonnet.”
He adds :
“ Mr. Wordsworth has redeemed the English language from the opprobrium of not admitting the legitimate sonnet in its se verest, as well as its most elegant construction. The following, though according to the strictest precedents, and therefore the least agreeable to unaccustomed ears, is full of deep harmony, strong sentiment, and chastened, yet impassioned feeling. The Tyrolese, amid their Alpine fastnesses, are represented as return. ing this lofty answer to the insulting demand of unconditional surrender to French invaders. If their own mountains had spoken, they could not have replied more majestically.
“The land we, from our fathers, had in trust,
And to our children will transmit, or die;
Our virtue, and to vindicate mankind.". (See the sketch of Wordsworth, Part VI., sec. xxiii.]
CHAPTER XVII. THE LITERARY MERIT AND STYLE OF THE ENGLISH BIBLE.
[Dr. G. Spring, of New York, in a recent course of lectures, bas presented this subject in a just and striking light. The following remarks are gleaned from one of his lectures.]
The world is filled with books that are the product of the mightiest sons of genius; but they are sterile and jejune, deformed and ungainly, in comparison with the riches of thought, the extent of research, the accuracy, the grace, and beauty which distinguish the Bible.
Without the Scriptures, the world would be profoundly ignorant of some of the most important and interesting points of historical inquiry. The narrative of Moses coma pletely covers that period of history which, with other nations, is called fabulous, and which is merged in the regions of fabrication and conjecture.
There are multitudes of facts and phenomena, both in the natural and moral world, that never could be accounted for, but for the Mosaic history. The Bible is the great source and standard of ancient chronology. It may, indeed, be justly considered as the standard of a polished and useful literature. The characteristic style of the Bible is, that it is always adapted to the subjects of which it speaks. A chaste, nervous diction distinguishes all its compositions. It is strongly marked by its simplicity, its strength, and often its unrivaled sublimity and beauty. Its manner of writing, with regard to the choice and arrangement of words, is at all times dignified and serious, and at a great remove from the pomp and parade of artificial ornament. Every where we see that its great object is to inculcate truth, and that it uses words only to clothe and render impressive the thoughts it would convey. There is both rhetoric and inspiration in the Bible ; but amid all the boldness and felicity of its inventions, there is no over-doing—no making the most of every thing — no needless comment — but every thing is plain, concise, and unaffectedly simple.
In the historical compositions of the Scriptures, we have the most simple, natural, affecting, and well-told narratives in the world. For impartiality and fidelity, unvarnished truth, choice of matter, unity, concise and graphic descriptions of character, and, above all, its usefulness, the historical parts of the Bible are without a parallel. The characters walk and breathe. They are nature, and nothing but nature. By a single stroke of the pencil you often have their portrait. You see them—you hear them. And hence the finest subjects for historic painting within the circle of the Fine Arts have been selected from the Scriptures. The best artists have awarded to them this distinguished honor, and one reason why they have done so obviously is, that profane history furnishes no such themes.
And what is there to equal the didactic and argumentative portions of the Scriptures, furnished by the prophets, or in the discourses of our Savior and the epistles of Paul ? Read the fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters of Matthew, the third, fourth, fifth, fourteenth, fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth chapters of John, the eighth and eleventh of Romans, the fifteenth of 1 Corinthians, the thirty-eighth, thirty-ninth, fortieth, and forty-first of Job. No where, out of the Bible, can be found passages of equal force, sublimity, and simplicity. Their flowers do not fade, nor does their fruit lose
its freshness. They are always new, and more and more deeply interest a classical mind, the oftener they are read and the better they are known.
In reference to the poetical parts, where is there poetry that can be compared with the song of Moses, at his victory over Pharaoh; with the Psalms of David, and with the prophecies of Isaiah, and some others? Where is there an elegiac ode to be compared with the song of David upon the death of Saul and Jonathan, or the Lamentations of Jeremiah ? Like the rapid, glowing argumentations of Paul, the poetic parts of the Bible may be read a thousand times, and they have all the glow and freshness of the first perusal. Where, in the compass of human language, is there a paragraph, which, for boldness and variety of metaphor, delicacy and majesty of thought, strength and invention, elegance and refinement, equals the passage in which “God answers Job out of the whirlwind ? I can not but love the poetic associations of the Bible. Now, they are sublime and beautiful, like the mountain torrent, swollen and impetuous by the sudden bursting of the cloud. Now, they are grand and awful as the stormy Galilee, when the tempest beat upon the fearful disciples. And, again, they are placid as that calm lake when the Savior's feet have pressed upon its waters and stilled them into peace,
English literature is no common debtor to the Bible. There is not a finer character, nor a finer description in all the works of Walter Scott, than that of Rebekah, in Ivanhoe. And who does not see that it owes its excellence to the Bible? Shakspeare, Milton, Bryant, Young, and Southey, are not a little indebted for some of their best scenes and inspirations to the same source.
May it not be doubted, whether scholars have been sufficiently sensible of their obligations to our common English Bible? It is the purest specimen of English, or anglo-Saxon, to be found in the world. As a model of style, “
“it is," says Cheever, “pure, native, uneorrupted, idiomatic English. It is the best preservation of our language in all our literature. It has most of the old, honest, simple, vigorous, expressive Saxon, which is the main body of the excellence of our language." Addison has remarked, that “there is a certain coldness in the phrases of European languages, compared with the Oriental forms of speech; that the English tongue has received innumerable improvements from an infusion of Hebraisms, derived from the practical passages in
Holy Writ; that these warm and animate our language, giving it force and energy, and conveying our thoughts in ardent and intense phrases, and setting the mind in a flame.”
I know of no standard by which the character of literary and scientific men may be so safely and successfully formed. The more he reads, the more, I am confident, an accomplished scholar will study the Bible. There are no finer English scholars than the men educated north of the Tweed; and there are none who, from their childhood, are so well acquainted with the Bible. I have heard it said that the characteristic wit of Scotchmen is attributable to their early familiarity with the Proverbs of Solomon. No well-informed man is ignorant of the Bible. We can better afford to part with every other book from our family libraries, our schools and colleges, than this finished production of the Infinite Mind.
QUESTIONS ON THIS CHAPTER. 1. What is said of the highest productions of human genius compared with the Bible ?
2. What do we learn from the Bible not found in other ancient books? 3. Of what may it be considered the standard ? 4. What are the characteristics of its style ? 5. What is said of its historical portion ? 6. What of its didactic and argumentative ? 7. What of its poetical ? 8. What of the indebtedness of English literature to the Bible ? 9. What of our obligations to our common English version of it?
THE FORM OF BIBLE POETRY.
AMONG certain portions of the books of the Old Testament, there is such an apparent diversity of style, as sufficiently discovers which of them are to be considered as poetical, and which as prose compositions.
In Exodus, chap. xiv., an historical account is given of the drowning of the Egyptians in the Red Sea; in chap. XV., the same event is poetically described. Says the history,“ Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.” Says the same
writer, as a poet, “With the blast of thy nostrils, the waters were gathered together, the floods stood upright in a heap, and the depths were congealed in the heart of the sea." The “ strong east wind" becomes "the blast of the Almighty's nostrils ;" the “divided waters” stand" upright, are congealed.” The poet is dramatic. The enemy said, " I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my lust shall be satisfied upon them; I will draw the sword, my hand shall destroy them.” This, by-the-way, is also a beautiful example of a poetic climax. | The difference is thus clearly seen in the style of the same book; at one time historic, at another poetic.
Take another illustration from the same connection. "The waters returned,” says the historian,“ and covered the chariots and the horsemen, and all the hosts of Pharaoh, that came into the sea after them : there remained not so much as one of them."
The same event is thus described poetically in the song of Moses : “ Thou didst blow with thy wind; the sea covered them. They sank as lead in the mighty waters. Who is like unto Thee, O Lord, among the gods?
Who is like Thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders ?”—(See Bib. Repository for April, 1842.)
For another illustration, compare the style of the first and second chapters of the Book of Job, with Job's speech in the beginning of the next chapter. You pass at once from the region of prose to that of poetry. There is an alteration in the cadence of the sentence and in the arrangement of words, as well as the figures of speech, to assure you of this
Didactic poetry is found in the Book of Proverbs ; elegiac, in the Lamentations of Jeremiah, and in that of David and Jonathan ; pastoral, in the Song of Solomon ; lyric, in the whole Book of Psalms, the Song of Moses, and of Deborah; dramatic, as some suppose, in the Book of Job..
The Hebrew poetry is singular, and unlike any other in its construction. It consists in dividing every period