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DR. Johnfon bath obferved concerning de votional poetry, that "the fanctity of the matter rejects the ornaments of figurative diction." Inferior fubjects may be heightened by the charms of rhetoric, but this is too fublime to receive any decoration from human eloquence; and we often debase it by making the attempt.
Dr. WATTS, in one of his hymns, hath faid,
Yet, fuch was the imperfection of one of the best of men, that we frequently find in his divine poems, pithets and allufions taken from "mortal beauties," and applied to the Saviour, with a license disgusting to the fpirit of devotion. It has been my aim to avoid thefe familiarities; and either to change or omit fuch epithets and allufions.
The names of the authors from whom this felection is made, are fubjoined to each pfalm or hymn ; excepting when they are unknown, or have requested concealment. Most of these names are familiar to the readers of poetry; but there is one, to whom I am largely indebted for fome of the most elegant of thefe productions, who is but little known in this country, and of whom I conceive the following ac count will be acceptable to every reader.
"ANNE STEELE was the eldest daughter of a diffenting minifter at Broughton, in Hampshire; a man of piety, integrity, benevolence, and the most amiable fimplicity of manners. She difcovered in early life, her love of the mufes, and often entertained her friends, with the truly poetical and pious productions of her pen. But, it was her infelicity, as it has been of many of her kindred spirits, to have a capacious foaring mind inclofed in a very weak and languid body. She lived, for the most part, a life of retirement in the fame peaceful village where fhe be gan and ended her days. The duties of friendship and religion occupied her time, and the pleafures of both conftituted her delight. Her heart avas apt to feel, often to a degree too painful for her own felicity; but always with the most tender and generous fympathy for her friends. Yet, foe poffeffed a native cheerfulness of which, even the agonizing pains fhe endured, in the latter part of her life, could not deprive ber. In every fhort interval of abated fuffering, fhe would in a variety of ways, as well as by her en livening converfation, give pleasure to all around her. Her life was a life of unaffected humility, warm benevolence, fincere friendship, and genuine devotion. She waited with chriftian dignity for the hour of her departure: When it came, he welcomed its approach; and having taken an affectionate leave of her friends, closed her eyes, with these animating words on her lips," I know that "I know that my Redeemer liveth."
*This account is taken from the preface to the third volume of her "miscellaneous pieces in profe and verfe,' published under the name of THEODOSIA, by the Rev. Caleb Evans, of Bristol, 1780, after her decease.
It is humbly apprehended, that a grateful and affectionate address to the exalted Saviour of mankind, or a hymn in honour of the Eternal Spirit, cannot be difagreeable to the mind of GOD. To ftigmatize fuch an act of devotion with the name of idolatry, is (to fay the least) an abuse of language. It cannot be justly charged with derogating from the glory due to the ONE God and Father of all, because he is the ultimate object of the honour which is given to his Son and to his Spirit.
In this felection, thofe Chriftians who do not feru ple to fing praifes to their Redeemer and Sanctifier, will find materials for fuch a fublime enjoyment; whilst others, whofe tenderness of confcience may oblige them to confine their addreffes to the Father only, will find no deficiency of matter fuited to their idea of the chafte and awful spirit of devotion."
BOSTON, May 10, 1795.
N. B. The characters denoting the sharp or flat key, are prefixed to each pfalm or hymn, at my requeft, by the Rev. Dr. MORSE, of Charlestown.