« PreviousContinue »
Ages-Lights and shadows--Methods of study – The
THE BIBLE IN MANY TONGUES.
THE BIOGRAPHY OF BOOKS IN GENERAL, AND OF THB
BIBLE IN PARTICULAR.
What an interesting volume might be written on the lives of books—their origin, history, and influence! By whom were these pages written, and under what circumstances ? who have read them, and with what results ?-are questions which any great book may prompt us to ask. The answers, could we hear them, would be found to connect the books themselves with the highest temporal, and even with the eternal interests of our race.
Here, for example, is the "tale of Troy divine.” In which of the seven cities that contend for the honour of being the birthplace of the poet was it written? Did he sing these lines through the streets of his native place? How did he live, and where is he now? Is he himself a fiction, the shadow of a great name, the representative of a school of poets, whose fame is lost in his ? These pages Plato has read. Hence he gathered, perhaps, the conviction that in his model republic, the deities which are here clothed with worse than human
passions should have no place. Hence, perhaps, his doctrine of the final absorption of all souls in one great Spirit gathered strength; for the souls of the heroes who were slain go, we are here told, to the shades below, while the heroes themselves lie bleaching on the shore. This book Alexander studied and admired while meditating fiercer struggles and wider conquest. Hence Virgil borrowed his measure and history. Milton mastered its mythology and rhythm while preparing his “Paradise Lost." Pope has rivalled the music of its numbers in a translation that has all the merit and (what in a translation must be called) the faults of an original work. In studying these pages, Cowper has found relief from the burden of well-nigh intolerable despondency, has caught the simplicity of his author, and has even thanked God that Homer lived. Millions of men, probably, have read or listened to those lines; and many have gathered impressions from them for good or for evil which have never been effaced.
Or let us open a very different volume. These Commentaries of Cæsar were written amidst the turmoil of conflict. These are lines penned, one might suppose, in the fastnesses of ancient Germany, or during the harassing attacks of the fickle Gauls, or in the fogs and privations of our own Britain. The whole was evidently composed by snatches, and is the work of a man of action, who could as easily conquer a country as describe it. But little BAXTER'S WORKS.
7 fancy is needed to discover on the page the mark of his spear, the dust of his tent, or the stains which attest the narrow escape of its author when he swam with it to the shore. This volume has lain under the pillow of soldiers in every country of Europe. It has formed the character and fixed the destinies of thousands even under this dispensation of the gospel.
This “Novum Organum ” of Bacon againwhat power it has exerted ! It has brought science home to “men's business and bosoms." It has endowed their “lives with new commodities." In influence it is second only to the treatise of the great logician, which suggested its name, and the place of which it sought to assume. It recommended that a college should be formed for questioning nature, and compelling her to disclose her secrets ; and the Royal Society sprang up to carry out the recommendation. Among all civilized nations, this book is in matters of science the code of law and guide of inquiry. Men travel and study under the teaching of him who was
one of the greatest” and, alas ! (for the line of Pope is too true) one of “the meanest” of men.
Books of less name have exerted in some respects even greater influence.
Who can measure the results of the labours of Richard Baxter ?. His memory is still fragrant in Kidderminster, and his nervous English will never cease to be popular. He owed his first serious impressions of religion to an old torn book, lent to his father by a poor man.
8 DODDRIDGE'S “RISE AND PROGRESS," ETC. book was written by a Jesuit of the name of Parsons, and altered (much against the Jesuit's will) by Edmund Bunny, rector of Bolton Percy, a man of apostolic zeal; and was thence called Bunny's Resolutions. Two other eminent nonconformist ministers were first impressed by it, and Baxter states that he had heard of its success with many others.
The writings of Wycliffe, our countryman, were the means of the conversion of Huss, and the writings of Huss first excited the ardent, inquiring mind of Luther. The works o. Jerome and Augustine originated thoughts and feelings in the mind of John Knox which were never forgotten ; and John Wesley ascribed to them his first religious convictions. A nonconformist pastor at Northampton, the friend and correspondent of Tillotson and Secker, relieved the dulness of metaphysical study by writing a treatise on "The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul.” To that treatise in part, and in part to conversations with Isaac Milner, Wilberforce traced his conversion. Amidst the struggles of public life, that joyous, energetic man penned his "Practical View of Christianity.” A copy of it was sent to some college friend of Legh Richmond's, with a request that he would give the donor his opinion of the book. This friend devolved the task on Richmond, and his conversion was the result. *
* “Little Jane" among the first evidences of this change, and
• The same book consoled and delighted Burke on his dying bed.