« EelmineJätka »
that the encomiums lavished opon her have oftentimes been extravagant. There is a great deal of fashion, even in religion ; and when one has been set up as a saint and an oracle, every one calls him so without knowing or inquiring why. It is not to be suspected, no, not for a moment, that he has any faults.' Jo the present case, something is perhaps to be aitributed to the sex of tbe anthor. Something of her popularity may be owing, too, to the popularity of the system she is known to support,- for we all love to read those, whom we know to be right because they agree with us. Much has been owing to the very severity and rigidness of her principles ; for men are ready to affix a notion of something almost supernatural to any extraordinary sanctity. And not a little is to be attributed to qualities in her style of writing, which are striking and dazzling, though not altogether in good taste ;--to her imposing emphasis and occasional bombast; ber perpetual sententiousness, and love of antithesis. No one will understand us to say, that these circumstances affect the moral merits of her works; but we are quite certain that they have insensibly operated to increase their worth in the estimation of many.
As we shall probably never have another opportunity, we must be permitied now to speak wore largely, than we should otherwise do, of the general defects and merits of one, who bas 80 much attracted the attention of the religious pablic. With respect, then, to her faults as a writer, they are so great, that we hazard little in saying, that she cannot be permanently popular. They are sustained now by personal associations with her name and character and connexions, vivid in the minds of this generation, but which must be lost in the next, and with them will be lost the charm of her eloquence and the power of her' remonstrances. With them will be removed the veil which has concealed her imperfections, and she will be forgotten. This age owes her much-the next must owe the same to anotber. All will perceive then, what many complain of now, that her arrangement in the treatment of subjects is so entangled and obscure, that the memory can bring away little ; oftentimes, in fact, she has nothing of method. What she berself says of a particular chapter in the work before us, is equally true of her writings in general. “ It consists rather of miscellaneous observations on a variety of topics, than in an attempt at a systematic view of religion or morals.” Her essays frequently present no train of thought at all; the reader is not conscious of any progress; be is led about and about through a wilderness of fine sentences, and sparkling thoughts, and striking appeals, and when he comes to the end, can neither tell where he has been wandering, nor show any thing which he has brought away. However much she may have impressed us while we were reading, there is no author of whom we remember less. Then, she is too much given to writing for effect; she is all the time striving to make an impression. We acknowledge she sometimes admirably succeeds; but the attempt is too apparent; we see that she meant to strike, to dazzle, to overwhelm; and we become wearied by the appearance of unintermitted effort. She is extravagantly fond of figurative writing ; she sometimes obscures the sense by an ill judged metaphor, where plain talking would have been better; and sometimes utterly disconcerts us by a mixture of the figurative and the literal. Indeed she bas less than could be wished of that simplicity, which is so necessary in the serious matters of religion, and which is one of the principal things that give so much power to Law's Serious Call. She is too fond of bringing every thing to a point ; she is “ambitiously sententious;" sbe would have every other sentence a proverb. She is in love with assertions that sound like paradoxes; and is perpetually stringing together antitheses, one after another ; in the last of which, that crowns the climax, she is sometimes obliged to use strange words for which the reader must consult his dictionary. In a word, we think her faults is prose are very much the same with those of Young in poetry; and her excellencies too. They have both the same strain of deep, and solemn, and affecting feeling; the same rich fund of fine imposing and striking thought; and the same rage for antithesis, and point, and happy turns of expression that shall startle you like an epigram.
But enough of her faults; especially as they refer s ) much to the mere wanner. We did not know how to omit tbe notice of them, and are glad to dismiss them. Examples of them may be readily found by those who think it worth while to look for them; to adduce them here would be to encumber our few pages to no profit. We have higher objects than this sort of criticism ; though we were willing to give one moment to it, that we might explain how it is that so many serious people of cultivated minds and taste take no pleasure in the works of so popular a writer. Having accomplished this, we shall reserve what we may have to say concerning faults of sentiment, till we speak particularly of the work before us. They are such as are little likely to injure in any way those who can read ber pages with interest. She confines herself almost exclusively to practical Christianity, to vital and experimental religion, which rests on those large principles which are common to be. lievers of every nawe.
She has little bostility to any errors, but those which lie in a bad heart, and little zeal for any troth, that is not inanifested to be truth by its guod influence over the conscience, the dispositions, and the life.
We pass gladly therefore to subjects of praise. And-to finish at once all that we have to say about her manner of communicating thought--some of her excellencies are those of style. She has a peculiar felicity of expression when a bold and powerful statement is to be made to stand out from the page. She can be very forcible and pointed and pungent. cels in hitting off a character at a single stroke, and drawing a full description in few words.
She oftentimes describes classes of men with very great felicity: telling their imperfections and displaying their incon sistencies with unsparing hand, and thus adıninistering, in fine satire, the most wholesome admonition and reproof. In the volume before us is the following sketch of a certain class, whom she very aptly calls the Phraseologists.
These are persons who, professing to believe the whole of the Gospel, seein to regard oply one half of it. They stand quite in opposition to the useful and laborious class whom we last considered. None will accuse these of that virtuous excess, of that unwearied endeavour to promote the good of others, on which we there animadverted. These are assiduous hearers, but indifferent doers; very valiant talkers for the truth, but remiss workers. They are inore addicted to hear sermons, than to profit by them.
" Their religion consists more in a sort of spiritual gossipping, than in holiness of life. They diligently look out after the faults of others, but are rather lenient to their own. They accuse of being legal, those who act more in the service of Christianity, and dispute less about certain opinions. They overlook essentials, and debate rather fiercely on, at best, doubtful points of docirine; and form their judgınent of the piety of others, rather from their warmth in controversy, than in their walking buibly with God.
• They always exhibit in their conversation the idiom of a party, and are apt to suspect the sincerity of those whose bigher breeding, and more correct babits, discover a better taste. Delicacy with them, is want of zeal; prudent reserve, want of earnestness ; sentiments of piety, couveyed in other words than are found in their vocabulary, are suspected of er ror. They make no allowance for the difference of education, habits, and society: all must have one standard of language, and that standard is their
“Even if, on some points, you hold nearly the same sentiments, it will not save your credit; if you do not express them in the same language, you are in danger of having your principles suspected. By your deficiency or declension in this dialect, and not by the greater or less devotedness of your heart, the increasing or diminishing consistency in your practice, they take the guage of your religion, and determine the rise and fall of your spiritual therinometer. The language of these technical Christians indisposes persons of refinement, who have not had the adrantage of seeing religion under a more engaging form, to serious piety, by leading them to make a most unjust association between religion and bad taste.
“When they encounter a new acquaintance of their own school, these reciprocal signs of religious intelligence produee an instantaneous sisterhood; and they will run the chance of what the character of the stranger may prove to be, if she speaks in the vernacular tongne. With them, words are not only the signs of things, but things themselves.
• If the phraseologists meet with a well-disposed young person, whose opportunities are slender, and to whom religion is new, they alarm her by the impetuosity of their questions. They do not examine if her principles are sound, but "does she pray extempore ?" This alarms her, if her ioo recent knowledge of her Bible and herself has not yet enabled her to make this desirable proficiency. “Will she tell her experience ?" These interrogations are made without regard to that humility which may make her afraid to appear better than she is, and to that modesty which restrains a loud expression of her feelings. She does not, perhaps, even know the meaning of the term, in their acceptance of it.
“Do we then ridicule experimental religion? Do we think lightly of that interior power of Divine grace upon the heart, which is one of the strongest evidences of the truth of Christianity? God forbid! But surely we may disapprove the treating it with flippancy and unhallowed familiarity; we may disapprove of their discussing it with as little reserve and seriousness, as if they were speaking of the state of the weather, or of the hour of the day ; we may object to certain equivoca) feelings being made the sole criterion of religion-feelings to which those who have them not may pretend-which those wbo have them may fear to communicate, before they have acquired a strength and permanency which may make them more decisive; we may blame such injudicious questions to inci. pient Christians, who barely know the first elements of Christianity."pp. 127-130.
As this is an example of her judicious observation of character, so others might be brought to show her intimate knowledge of the heart. She is peculiarly fitted by this knowledge for the kind of writing to which she has devoted herself the great object of which is to lay open men's bosoms and shew them to themselves, that tbey may see the necessity of a system of strict watchfulness. She appears to have made the humay beart her study; she has minutely acquainted herself with its variety of operations, its use of motives, its secret biases, its slippery evasions, and is able to follow them all up till she detects and exposes them. She has a perfect understanding of the multifarious equivocations of conscience respecting duly, and a curious skill in anticipating and defeating the excuses which will be brought by the unwilling, the indolent, and the slaves of habit. To use a phrase that is well understood, she is very close and searching; she gets the soul, as it were, into her power, and she pursues it through every shifting and turning in its attempt to escape, as perseveringly as it is represented to be pursued by Death, in Blair's poem of the Grave :
-the frantic soul Raves round the walls of her clay tenement,
Runs to each avenue, and sbrieks for help,
In connexion with this feature in her character as a writer, may be mentioned her very rigid principles of morals, and her exalted, unbending notions of the standard of christian excellence. Few place so high the requisitions of duty, or allow so little to the excuses of Christians for their imperfections, and their compliances with the customs of the world, and the inconsistency of their practice with their faith, or of one part of their practice with another. She does not admit any degree of indulgence, which is merely indulgence; and insists, strenu. ously and decidedly, that nothing is to determine a Christian to act except the certain conviction—the well grounded and intelligent, not the careless conviction,-1hat it is right, that it is the will of God. Nothing is to be done, which will not bear to be examined by this principle. It will not do to compromise ; it will not do to hesitate ; whatever is not unquestionably right, is unquestionably wrong and sinful. It is not remarkable that one should say this ; but it is a little remarkable that one should in all cases rigidly and consistently adhere to it. Others state such a principle in the abstract; but do not strictly abide by it; in its application they permit a thousand deviations; and so explain it away as to pronounce many things innocent, which, actually tried by this principle, would not be innocent; and, indeed, might perhaps be amongst the first to laugh at the scrupulosily of one, who should fetter bimself by it in his wbole conduct. But in Mrs. More there is no such deviation ; she brings all her remarks, rules, and illustrations upon every subject to this point; she never loses sight of it; and there is, of consequence, a rigid severity every where in her moral requisitions. She demands of the disciples of Jesus a blamelessness of life, an elevation of motive, a spirituality of heart, which are so rarely attained, that many regard them as fanciful; as wearing the air of romance ; and hence was the saying of some one, that “her Practical Piely contains more piety than can be practised.” But we are persuaded that by this means she affects many others, who would be little affected by the representation of excellence more immediately within their reach; she excites in them ardor of pursuit; creates lofty ideas of the holiness which is possible; and gives an air of meanness and insufficiency to moderale attaininents. Many are captivated by excellence when painted as a thing se