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FATAL ERRORS AND FUNDAMENTAL TRUTHS, illustrated in a Series of Narratives and Essays. London: Baldwin, Cradock and Joy. 1824.
This book, we are told in its introduction, was penned by a deceased lady, who is called Corinna. She is represented as the wife of a faithless husband, for whom she entertained to the last, a deep and unalterable affection ; under the influence of which she composed a letter, breathing the amiable spirit displayed in the following extract:
"I pray you to pardon me, my husband, many occasional petulances and harshnesses, which I recall with the bitterest remorse, when I reflect how they alloyed the felicity which should have attended our once blessed union. Believe me, never, never was my heart tainted with one thought that it would wish to conceal from you. I acknowledge, with deep regret, that my attachment for you bad the character of a passion too intense and absorbing, that I ought to have regulated it better, that it may have been too selfish and exacting, that I required much, very much, from you, and that my disappointment was the natural result of miscalculation, and of unfounded, because exorbitant hope. Forgive me this wrong, by the memory of our early love."
We are told, that " when the pen dropped from her nerveless hand, it was discovered that the exertions she had made in tracing the last paragraph, had materially enfeebled her.” She called on the name of her husband, prayed for him, and expired.
Whether these circumstances be true or fictitious, it is out of our power, as it is out of our province, to decide : the merits of the work, and not the condition of its author, being the fit subject of the critic's animadversions. These Essays and Narratives are all more or less of a serious nature : some of them are highly religious, and those most so, are somewhat rhapsodical; but others are of a more sober cast, and while they inculcate precepts beneficial for men of all persuasions, are not so likely as the former, to deter mere worldlings from bestowing their attention upon them. The Essay upon “ Principle" evinces some depth of thinking and knowledge of life. The subject of “The Sabbath” is very well treated; and so is that of Ministerial Duties.” The tale of “ The Young Clergyman” is interesting, though it has too much the appearance of a parable, introduced for the sake of admonishing the clergy of our Establishment—a task which is pretty freely undertaken, now-a-days, by the laity of both sexes.
“At the house of my friend G I once passed a memorable sabbath-day. He warned me, in the morning, that the son of the late venerable rector would preach bis first sermon, and read the appointed offices of the church. I remembered to bave been pleased with his father some few years previous, and I felt immediately interested in the character of the son. I hastened, therefore, to the church, under the dominion of those softening sentiments of devotion and humau kindness, which naturally render the heart susceptible of favourable impressions.
“My first glance at Essex conveyed to my mind a sentiment of admiration. It was not his person, though the critic of beauty might perhaps have found there a subject of delightful contemplation-it was the emotions so legibly depicted on his countenance. Beneath the gravity which was its predominating characteristic, I thought I could trace that tender remembrance of paternal affection, which the scene around was. so calculated to awaken. The eye was cast down resolutely, but without affectation; the lip was.compressed, but it trembled. His step was firm, indicating that his thoughts were rather on the
objects of his mission, than on the manner of walking down the aiste. His dress,- be it remembered that such minutiæ reveal the real character more fully than stronger features, because in such points the man is unguarded,--his dress verged neither upon coxcombry por puritanical plainness; it affected neither singularity nor fashion. On entering the reading-desk, he knelt down; and when he arose, the glow of devotion had superseded earthly feelings, and bloomed beautifully on bis youthful face. He had evidently risen above himself, and entered into the presence of his God.
“ All the best feelings of his heart were interested in the successful performance of his duty. My friend directed my attention to the pew over against us. There sat his widowed mother, whose earthly hope was bound to him, and whose tearful eye beamed with images of the past which thronged into the present: here was his betrothed wife, trembling and anxious, yet happy and tender ; with à changing cheek, and an eye only upraised at intervals; yet sometimes her countenance was illuminated by all the serenity of perfect confidence in the strength of the beloved oue before her. Around was a congregation, all inpressed with curiosity, but not equally. Some remembered bis father, and wished that the early promise of the son might give earnest that that father would be revived'; some were there of pious habits, who were anxious to estimate the abilities, and to penetrate the religious principles, of the youthful tyro; some were there to criticise and ridicule, anxious to detect error and to indulge sarcasm at mistake. But it seemed that for all these bis charity was kindled; he was there on a high mission; and as love of God was the source of his love of man, so the original sentiment contributed to render its effect more ardent. He felt that his office was that of bringing souls to the fold of the eternal Shepherd.
“ The service commenced ; his voice was somewhat tremulous as he began the deprecatory sentence, Enter not into judgment with thy servant, Oh Lord !' but it gradually strengthened, and bad regained clearness and equality before he had finished the concluding clause. It was a fine full-toned tenor; well modulated, but entirely free from all affected cadences, or any thing that could possibly be exaggerated into an aim at theatrical effect; if its sounds were fine, and its intonations touching, these were the careless beauties' resulting from habit, and from a deep feeling and accurate conception of the appropriateness of the service. Very few clergymen do justice to our Liturgy, that compilation of the most sublime devotion. Never till now bad I felt, in my inmost soul, the glorious oomprehensiveness of the “Te Deum laudamus.' The ascription of praise, in union with all the earth,' with all angels,' «tbe heavens, and all the powers therein,' with cherubim and seraphim,' is made to the • Lord God of Sabaoth,' the Trinity being indicated by the repetition of the appropriate term "holy;' to this tri-une Divinity, the glorious company of the apostles,' the goodly fellowship of the prophets,' • the noble army of martyrs," are said to give praise; the three persons are then declared to be acknowledged by the holy church throughout all the world,' by their appropriate designations of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.' Then the Son alone, contemplated by man as the more immediate agent of his salvation, is addressed; bis manifestation in the flesh, his resumption of his original glory and his native seat, immediately precede the inimitable simplicity of that sublime sentence, “ We believe that thou shalt come to be our judge. We therefore pray thee help thy servants : whom thou hast redeemed with thy precious blood.' Here the object of our terror-judgment, is made the cause of our prayer for help, which is enforced by the plea of that promise which the death of Christ ensured. Then follow supplicatory sentences and assurances of worship--than which nothing can be more comprehensive, and which properly conclude this most sublime form of praise and prayer. As I listened to the youth before me, I questioned whether I had ever before perceived half its beauties, and I silently ejaculated a hope, that none might henceforward read this composition, who, not having the proper feeling of it himself, could not make it penetrate the hearts of others.
“The prayers ended; I confess I felt some trepidation, lest his sermon should disappoint the hopes his reading had excited. Happily approbation was heightened into a warmer feeling; as I went along with him in his discourse, I seemed
to advance to intimacy with him, and to tread the pathway to heaven in his society. He did not make any allusions to his particular situation; and, I think, the omission proved his good taste; such allusions must bring down the mind of the preacher from its proper elevation to a level with the ordinary concerns of life-and must occasion, to a modest and ingenuous mind, an embarrassment which should, by all possible means, be prevented from intruding on a person engaged in so sacred a duty.”
Eloquence had been so long studied, that it was now habitual to him, and it cost him no labour to speak correctly, or to produce the finest ideas. There was no affectation of quaintness, of religious patavinity ;' no mannerism. He was absorbed by concern for others, and had not one moment, one thought, to waste on the paltry object of their appreciation of his ability.
“ When the service was entirely concluded, I turned to look at the fair girl who had so much interested me at its commencement. Her eye was now elevated, and lighted up with an air of triumph, so bright, but so modest! There was one glance exchanged between her and Essex, but it was instantly withdrawn. It was so intelligent, so pure, so full of love and delight, that I regretted its immediate disappearance: it was abundant in the best feelings of youth and first love: alas, how fatal are time and experience to the bloom of such feelings."-pp. 67, 68.
Then follows a narrative of the most lamentable defection that can well be imagined, ending, however, in deep contrition, and a truly tragical catastrophe. The next chapter consists of sketches selected and modernized from Sir Thomas Overbury's characters—which come in agreeably enough (though perhaps not very judiciously) to dispel the gloomy impressions created by the foregoing tale. Some of these, though drawn with the old fashioned quaintness, are still true to nature. Take as specimens,
" Woman as she should be. “ The sweetness of her disposition barmonizes with the fierceness of man, as wool meets iron more easily than iron meets wool, and turns resisting into embracing. Her kindness of heart is apparent in every action, for she has no guilty designs to conceal. Her manners are not formed by any fixed rule, but bend to the occasion. She has so much knowledge as to love it; and for de iciency in this respect, she will sometimes, in a pleasant discontent, chide her
She lives at home, and adopts outward things to ber taste, not her taste to thein. She dresses well, but not beyond what decency absolutely requires in her station. Her mind is so bappily constituted, that she does not seek a husband, but finds him. Description is soon exhausted, when there is no variety of ill.. . When married, her chief sentiment is love for her husband; and his advantage is benceforth the end of her actions.”—pp. 85, 86.
“ A Fine Lady. “She is distinguished from man by two striking particulars—deficiency of strength and understanding. She simpers, as if indeed she bad lips but no teeth. She divides her eyes, keeping one half for herself, and the other for the most modish gentleman of her acquaintance. Being seated, she casts her face into a platform, which lasts during the whole meal. She drinks according to good manners, not according to thirst, and it is a part of their mystery not to profess hunger. She reads over her face every morning, and sometimes blots out pale, and writes red. She believes herself fair, although frequently her opinion has the advantage of being singular; and she loves ber glass, and candle. light, for lying. Her head is covered with ornaments and devices, like a tavern, to attract strangers. Her pbilosophy is an affected neglect of those who are too good for her. Her wit is very trifling, and it is uttered in treble tones, which are nevertheless too powerful for it. She gains much by the simplicity of her suitor, and for a jest she laughs at him without one. Thus she dresses a husband for herself, and afterward takes him for his patience. Her chief commendation is, she brings a man to repentance. Her devotion consists in fashion
able and splendid habits, which carry her to church, express their costliness, and are silent. If she be more devout, she lifts up a certain number of eyes instead of prayers—and takes the sermon, and measures out a slumber by it, of just the same length. She sends religion onwards to sixty, where she never overtakes it, or drives it before her again. In conclusion, she is delivered to old age and a chair, where every body leaves her.”—pp. 86, 87.
“ An Affected Traveller. “ He is a speaking fashion. He has taken infinite pains to be ridiculous, and has seen more than he has perceived. He censures every thing by gestures and shrugs, and speaks his own language with shame and lisping. He would rather be esteemed a spy, than not a politician; and maintains his reputation by naming great men familiarly. He makes opportunity of exhibiting jewels given to him for his splendid endowments, which were bought in Saint Martin's; and not long after, having with a mountebank's method pronounced them worth thousands, he pledges them for a few shillings. On gala-days he goes to court, and salutes without return. At night, in an ordinary, he canvasses state affairs, and seems as conversant with all designs and cabinet councils, as if he projected them. He disdains all things above his grasp, and prefers every country to his own.
He imputes his obscurity to that want of discernment which distinguishes the times; and breaks off in the midst of a sentence, leaving the rest to imagination. His religion is fashion, and both body and soul are governed by fame. He loves most voices better than that of truth."-pp. 90, 91.
“ A Noble Spirit “ Has surveyed and fortified his disposition, and converts every thing that occurs into experience. He regulates his purposes, and sees the end before he shoots. Men are the instruments of his art, and there is no man without his use. He loves glory, scorns shame, and governs and obeys with one countenance-for both actions proceed from one reflection. He calls not the variety of the world chances, for his meditation has travelled over them; and his eye, mounted upon his understanding, sees them as things underneath. Truth is his goddess, and he takes pains to obtain her, not to look like her. Knowing the circle of all courses, of all intents, of all things, to have but one centre or period, without any distraction he hastes thither and ends there, as his true and natural element. To mankind in general he is a sun, whose clearness directs their steps in regular motion ; of the wise man he is the friend; of the indifferent an example; of the vicious'a reproof. Thus time goes not from him, but with him, and he feels age more by the strength of his soul than the weakness of his body: thus he feels: no pain, but esteems all such things as friends, that desire to file off his fetters, and help him out of prison.”—pp. 92, 93.
“ A Mere Scholar. “ He speaks sentences more familiarly than sense. The antiquity of his university is his creed—and the excellence of his college, his faith. He speaks Latin better than his native language, and is a stranger in no part of the world but his own country. His ambition is, that he either is, or shall be, a graduate; but if ever he get a fellowship, he has then no fellow. His tongue goes always before his wit, like a gentleman-usher, but somewhat faster. He is able to speak more with ease, that any man can endure to hear with patience. University jests are his universal discourse, and his news the demeanour of the proctors. His phrase, the apparel of his mind, is made of divers shreds, like a cushion. The current of his speech is closed with an ergo ; and whatever be the question, the truth is on bis side. It is an injury to his reputation to be ignorant of any thing; and yet he knows not that he knows nothing. He gives directions for husbandry from Virgil's Georgics ;--for cattle, from his Bucolis ; for warlike stratagems, from his Æneid, or Cæsar's Commentaries. He is led more by his ears than his understanding, taking the sound of words for their true sense; and, therefore, confidently believes, that Erra Pater was the father of heretics-Rodolphus Agricola, a substantial farmer; and will not hesitate to affirm, that Systema's logic excels Keckerman's. His misfortune consists not so much in being a fool, as in being put to such pains to express it to the
world : for wbat in others is natural, in him is artificial. His poverty is bis happiness, for it makes some men believe he is not one of fortune's favourites. He is the index of a man, and the title-page of a scholar, or a puritan in morality, -much in profession, nothing in practice."--pp. 95—97.
“ An Excellent Actor. “ Whatever is commendable in the grave orator, is most exquisitely perfect in him ; for by a full and significant action of body he cliarms our attention. Sit in a full theatre, and you will think you see so many lines drawn from the circumference of so many ears, whilst the actor is the centre. He does not strive to make nature monstrous; she is often seen in the same scene with bim, but neither on stilts nor crutches. His voice is not lower than the prompter's, nor louder than the foil and target. By his action he fortifies moral precepts with example; for what we see bim personate, we think truly done before us. He adds grace to the poet's labours; for what in the poet is but words, in him is both words and music. All men have been of his occupation : and, indeed, what he does feignedly, that others do essentially: this day one plays a monarch; the next, a private person. Here one acts a tyrant ; on the morrow, an exile.- I observe, of all men living, a skilful actor in one kind is the strongest motive of affection that can be : for when he dies, we cannot be persuaded that any man can perform his characters like him. But to conclude, I value a worthy actor by the corruption of some few of that profession, as I would do gold in the ore; I should not mind the dross, but the purity of the metal.”Pp. 100, 101.
We are glad to observe the air of unaffected piety which appears in this work. The descriptions of character are in general natural and affecting, and all is made to harmonize with the important truth, that man's chief business here below is to fulfil the station allotted him by the Lord of Creation.
It has been well remarked by Foscolo, and it is a circumstance which appears to have escaped the attention of the generality of critics, that some of the finest passages in the Italian poetry of Petrarch, derive their origin from the sacred writings. Thus,
E femmisi all'incontra
A mezza via, come nemico armato.--P. 2. Son. 47. “So shall thy, poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man."-Prov. c. xxiv. v. 34.
E la cetera mia rivolta è in pianto.-P. 1. Son, 24.
Qual grazia, qual amore, o qual destino
Ch'io mi riposi, e leximi da terra ?-P. 1. Son. 60. “O that I had wings like a dove! for then would I flee away, and be at rest.”—Psalm Iv. v. 5.
Vergine bella, che di Sol vestita,
Coronata di stelle.----P. 2. Canz, ult. “ A woman clothed with the sun-and upon her head a crown of twelve stars." - Revel. c. xii. 1, 2.