« AnteriorContinuar »
the nation shall become sound and elevated, and as improved modes of mental culture shall tend more to produce the harmonizing development of all the faculties, in the same degree this ancient learning will be more appreciated and respected, and more thoroughly incorporated into our systems of education. Our national literature is yet in its youth. As it grows older it will acquire vigor. As our intellectual vision becomes stronger, it will penetrate farther beneath the surface of knowledge, and discover treasures of which it was not before aware.
For the Methodist Magazine and Quarterly Review.
ART. VIII.-DR. FISK'S TRAVELS.
Travels on the Continent of Europe, &c. By WILBUR FISK, D.D. New-York. Harper & Brothers. 8vo. Pp. 688. 1838.
WE hope that few of our readers have omitted to secure for themselves the gratification attendant upon the careful and deliberate perusal of this large, but not too large volume of travels. Some idea of the interest we have found in it may be educed from the fact, that, in examining it for the purpose of review, we find that we have made no less than sixty-seven references to passages of so much moment as required comment-if we could by possibility afford the room for quotation and such comment as would be suitable; and this, too, in going over ground that has been so often and so diligently traversed in this age of travel. In truth, to give a fitting review of Dr. Fisk's labors-a review including even a very condensed summary of the numerous and important facts which he has collected, and of the shrewd and striking commentaries upon them which his active mind has suggested, a volume would be necessary; and in the preparation of such a volume it would be a trial, even of critical fortitude, to omit all the pleasing descriptions and entertaining incidents which impart so much of pleasurable animation to his pages.
It may be, and probably will be, a question with some who have not read the work, how it could be possible for any traveler in countries so well known as Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland, and Great Britain, to fill a volume of nearly seven hundred pages with matter at once new, interesting, and important; but the answer to this question will readily present itself to those who are acquainted with the character and habits of the writer: still more readily to those who have followed him in his journeyings, as they and their results are recorded in these pages. Although there have been many travelers in Europe, English as well as American, within the last twelve or fifteen years; and although very many of them have published, yet the fact presents itself with exceeding force to every reader of Dr. Fisk, that there was still much ground remaining to be explored; that ample room was left for an observer possessing qualifications of a peculiar kind, and provided with the inclination as well as the ability for examining in a different spirit and with different objects from those of the majority of travelers. We have had volumes upon volumes-and those, too, from distinguished men-the predominant spirit of which was a mere desire to enterVOL. IX.-Oct., 1838. 57
tain the reader with glowing descriptions of remarkable objects, or characteristic accounts of national peculiarities, as they present themselves to the stranger; some have been written, also, with the higher view of instruction; but the number of these latter has been comparatively small, and we are constrained to say that very few have come under our observation displaying much comprehensiveness of inquiry or soundness of judgment. It is one of the excellences of the work before us, that it combines with singular felicity all the requisites that make a book of travels interesting and valuable. Dr. Fisk possesses that facility of mind, united with generality of knowledge, which qualifies a man, in an eminent degree, for comprehensive and varied observation. All subjects receive his attention, and of all he speaks not only with interest but with understanding, and of course with clearness. He seems equally at home in analyzing the great influences that affect communities and nations, or in the details of a school-in describing the political changes of a kingdom and the proportions of a statue-in discussing the gravest questions of theology and the beauties of natural sceneryin appreciating the refinements of the most polished society and the comforts of a good hotel, or the rustic enjoyments of a swiss village.
But it is in depicting and reasoning upon the great moral features of society in Europe that he exhibits to most advantage his admirable fitness for the highly important work of presenting other countries to the people of his own. For this he was amply qualified by habit and occupation, as well as by the natural bent and powers of his mind. As the president of one of our most distinguished literary institutions, and a minister of the gospel, high in esteem not only among his own denomination, but among all others, it was natural for him to bestow much attention upon the state of morals and religion in the several countries which he visited, and upon all the agencies and circumstances by which these are affected-first among which, of course, ranks education, with the means provided for its improvement. The investigations of Dr. Fisk in this great field of inquiry were unremitting, and conducted, we need scarcely say, in an enlightened spirit and with an intelligence such as was to be expected from his practical acquaintance with the subject and his intimate knowledge of its importance. And the results of his inquiries, as we find them in this volume, do honor to his zeal and his ability, not merely by their extent and accuracy, but by their applieability to the advantage of education in our own country, where, above all others, good and universal education is of the highest importance, because the participation of the people in the conduct of the government, and by consequence in all that affects the national welfare, is most immediate and extensive.
But the religious and moral condition of the various countries through which Dr. Fisk traveled, did not by any means engross his whole attention. He examined them closely, also, in their physical aspects with reference to their natural and artificial productions, their commerce, manufactures, government, roads, canals, public buildings in short, every thing that might properly claim the notice of an enlightened and instructed utilitarian; for such is Dr. Fisk, in the highest and most honorable sense of the term, and such must every traveler be who would visit strange lands for his own benefit and that of his countrymen. We acknowledge our obligations to
him for a clearer and more comprehensive idea of the great changes which time and the progress of events are causing in Europechanges of the most extensive and momentous nature-than we had been able to acquire from much study directed to that especial object, and for a better understanding of many principles now at work among the continental nations, the limit of whose operation it is impossible to foresee, although it is apparent that the consequences of their influence must be of vast importance, not only to those nations but to the whole civilized world.
But there is one excellence about this work which may almost be pronounced peculiar to it, and which gives it a remarkable value in this country. It is the only book, of the comprehensive and utilitarian character to which we have adverted, that has been written, at all events within several years, by one of our own countrymen. And this, when properly understood, will be found a consideration of the very highest moment. It is a consequence of the very constitution of the human mind that every traveler bears with him a standard of comparison erected upon the usages, institutions, manners, &c., of his own country, by which he estimates, sometimes perhaps unconsciously, the usages, institutions, and all other incidents of the lands through which he passes. If he be a man of enlarged and cultivated intellect, he turns this moral necessity of his nature to advantage by noting such peculiarities as may be either adopted or avoided by his own countrymen: guiding all his observations by a constant reference to their advantages and wants, and with an eye always to their mental or physical improvement. Therefore it is that the record of an intelligent and candid American's travel is of far greater value to us than that of a tourist belonging to any other nation, however well qualified by disposition, knowledge, and understanding. We take great pleasure in bearing testimony to the excellent spirit in which Dr. Fisk has performed his duty as an American traveler, in reference to this point of national interest and utility. Although he never speaks of other countries, their institutions, or their people, without the courtesy that belongs to the Christian and the gentleman, and is never guilty of the too common fault of decrying and contemning what he finds different from the usages of his own country, merely because it is different, yet he never forgets his native land, or his duties and privileges as one of her children.
But we have to view Dr. Fisk in another capacity. He was appointed by the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States to represent that body to the Wesleyan Conference in England. This appointment was alike honorable to him and creditable to the wisdom of the General Conference in the choice of a representative. Few men could have been selected better fitted for the discharge of such a trust.
It is understood that in the elements of their creed and moral discipline, as well as in the general outlines of their economy, Wesleyan Methodists harmonize throughout the world. In regard to these their unanimity is indeed signal, if not without a parallel These general features of this large and rapidly increasing denomination have acquired a permanency which gives them all the weight and influence of first principles; and the intercourse kept up between the English and American branches of this great Wesleyan
family, through the medium of intelligent and well qualified delegates mutually sent and received by them alternately, based, as it is, upon those fundamental principles which are held sacred alike by both, is calculated to have a happy influence in cherishing and extending that fraternal spirit which subsists between them, and perpetuating the bond of union that holds them together.
It will naturally occur, however, to every reflecting mind, that though these two great branches of the Methodist family build upon the same foundation, and aim at the same object, from the very necessity of the case they must act separately in carrying on their work, and consequently vary considerably in their practice, compelled, as they must be, to conform their plans and systems to the circumstances under which they are severally placed.
It appears, indeed, from that part of the work before us in which Dr. Fisk incidentally adverts to the organization of the British Conference, compared with the institution of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States, that Mr. Wesley acted with reference to this discrepancy in their circumstances in providing for each a permanent ecclesiastical establishment. While for the one he furnished a plan embracing all the elements of a regular episcopal organization, under the government and control of a General Conference, and the supervision of general superintendents, &c., he provided to perpetuate the ecclesiastical identity of the other, and to give a legal existence to its powers and functions, by a sort of close corporation in the form of a poll deed, which he executed and caused to be enrolled in the high court of chancery, adapted in all its provisions to the peculiar circumstances in which that primary branch of his growing Connection was placed. With these distinct charts to direct them in the course they were to pursue, while laboring simultaneously for the one object of spreading Scriptural holiness through the land, it is natural to suppose that in the more minute details of their plans of operation much variety may be witnessed. In each of them, probably, errors may be detected which the other has been successful in avoiding; and measures productive of increased efficiency in the common cause may be discovered in the practice of the one, which have been overlooked and neglected by the other. Hence it will be acknowledged that much benefit may result to each by the alternate visitations of well qualified representatives, possessed of both talents and disposition impartially to compare the practices and customs of the two in all their various parts and aspects, and faithfully to report the result of their observations.
With similar views respecting what would probably be expected of him, Dr. Fisk appears to have entered upon his mission as delegate to the British Conference; and he accordingly applied himself with his usual assiduity to making such observations upon the customs and usages of that body, in connection with all departments of their work, as he thought might be rendered subservient in suggesting lessons of instruction and improvement to those whom he represented.
In regard to fundamental principles, of course, there was no occasion that he should institute any very rigid comparison. There is no ground for any. We cannot avoid observing, however, that in an incidental remark to which we just now alluded a thought is
elicited that may be of use to some in both countries. The remark relates to Mr. Wesley's poll deed as a basis of the powers and prerogatives of the English Conference, and, consequently, an illustration of what is original Wesleyan Methodism, according to his own definition of it. That this subject may be placed fully before our readers, most of whom, being identified in all their feelings and interests with Wesleyan Methodism, are concerned to understand the principles it involves, we will quote the section relating to it entire.
"The basis of the powers of the Conference, in all questions of this nature, is a poll deed, executed by Mr. Wesley, February 28, 1784, and enrolled in the high court of chancery on the 9th of March, 1784; by which he gave legal existence to the Methodist Conference, which, by that instrument, is always to consist of one hundred, the vacancies being filled annually in the manner prescribed by the deed. By this deed, also, the power of appointing preachers and expounders of God's word to occupy the chapels, which before had belonged to Mr. Wesley, was granted and secured to the Conference; and, in addition, that the Methodist chapels might never be perverted from their original design, in the trust deeds of all the chapels a clause is inserted, in which reference is made to this poll deed of Mr. Wesley's, and also to the first four volumes of Mr. Wesley's Sermons, and to his Notes on the New Testament; and it is declared that 'no person or persons whatsoever shall be permitted to preach or expound God's Holy Word in the said chapel who shall maintain any doctrine contrary to what is found in these works.' By the decision of the chancellor, Mr. Wesley's deed is confirmed and established, and the Conference is recognized as a legal body; and all their constitutional acts, therefore, are sanctioned by the law of the land. Hence their trust deeds, with all their provisions, are sanctioned; thus the unity of the body is secured, a uniformity of doctrine is established, and the power to maintain and enforce moral discipline in the church is confirmed to the Conference and their official organs and members. The Wesleyan Methodists, therefore, may claim Mr. Wesley's poll deed as their Magna Charta, and the chancellor's decision as confirming to them all the rights and immunities therein contemplated. This is one among many evidences of the reach of Mr. Wesley's mind, and of his remarkable adaptation to and fitness for the office of a reformer, and of a founder of a religious society of extraordinary comprehension and efficiency."
This exhibit of the character and legal bearing of Mr. Wesley's poll deed, the corresponding deeds of the chapels, and the chancelÎor's decision, strikes us as important-we know not how it may appear to others-on account of its furnishing a determinate and final answer to the question, What are the cardinal doctrines and fundamental moral principles of Wesleyan Methodism? No answer to this question can be relied on with more safety than that furnished by Mr. Wesley himself. And here we have it as both the Conference and the chancellor appear to have understood it. The elements of the doctrines and ethics of primitive Methodism, then, are to be found in the works herein alluded to; and every thing claimed to be essentially Wesleyan, in regard to faith or morals, must be interpreted by these standard productions. It is not to be inferred, however, that other parts of the writings of this great man are to be less