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pleasing captivity? Was it for this she was furnished with so many intellectual charms; that she might seduce the heart from God, the original beauty, and the most lovely of beings? Can I ever be persuaded, that those sweet and resistless forces of metaphor, wit, sound, and number, were given with this design; that they should be all ranged under the banner of the great malicious spirit, to invade the rights of Heaven, and to bring swift and everlasting destruction upon men? How will these allies of the nether world, the lewd and profane versifiers, stand aghast before the great Judge, when the blood of many souls, whom they never saw, shall be laid to the charge of their writings, and be dreadfully required at their hands? The reverend Mr. Collier has set this awful scene before them in just and flaming colours. If the application were not too rude and uncivil, that noble stanza of my lord Roscommon, on Psalm cxlviii, might be addressed to them:
Ye dragons, whose contagious breath
And praise your Maker with your forked tongues. This profanation and debasement of so divine an art has tempted some weaker Christians to imagine, that poetry and vice are naturally akin; or at least, that verse is fit only to recommend trifles, and entertain our looser hours, but is too light and trivial a method to treat any thing that is serious and sacred. They submit, indeed, to use it in divine psalmody, but they love the driest translation of the psalm best. They will venture to sing a dull hymn or two at church, in tunes of equal dulness; but still they persuade themselves and their children, that the beauties of poesy are vain and dangerous. All that arises a degree above Mr. Sternhold is too airy for worship, and hardly escapes the sentence of “ unclean and abominable.” It is strange, that persons that have the Bible in their hands should be led away by thoughtless prejudices to so wild and rash an opinion. Let me entreat them not to indulge this sour, this censorious humour too far, lest the sacred writers fall under the lash of their unlimited and unguarded reproaches. Let me entreat them to look into their Bibles, and remember the style and way of writing that is used by the ancient prophets. Have they forgot, or were they never told, that many parts of the Old Testament are Hebrew verse) and the figures are stronger, and the metaphors bolder, and the images more surprising and strange, than ever I read in any profane writer. When Deborah sings her praises to the God of Israel, while he marched from the field of Edom, she sets the “ earth a-trembling, the heavens drop, and the mountains dissolve froin before the Lord. They fought from heaven, the stars in their courses fought against Sisera : when the river of Kishon swept them away, that ancient river, the river Kishon. O my soul, thou hast trodden down strength.” Judg. v. &c. When Eliphaz, in the book of Job, speaks his sense of the holiness of God, he introduces a machine in a fision :
“ Fear came upon me, trembling on all my bones; the hair of my flesh stood up; a spirit passca by and stood still, but its form was undiscernible; an image before mine eyes; and silence; then I heard a voice, saying, Shall mortal man be more just than God ?” &c. Job iv. When he describes the safety of the righteous, he “hides him from the scourge of the tongue, he makes him laugh at destruction and famine, he brings the stones of the field into league with him, and makes the brute animals enter into a covenant of peace.” Job v. 21, &c. When Job speaks of the grave, how melancholy is the gloom that he spreads over it! “ It is a region to which I must shortly go, and whence I shall not return; it is a land of darkness, it is darkness itself, the land of the shadow of death; all confusion and disorder, and where the light is as darkness, This is my house, there have I made my bed: I have said to corruption, Thou art my father; and to the worm, Thou art my mother and my sister: As for my hope, who shall see it? I and my hope go down together to the bars of the pit.” Job x. 21, and xvii. 13. When he humbles himself in complainings before the almightiness of God, what contemptible and feeble images doth he use! “Wilt thou break a leaf driven to and fro? Wilt thou pursue the dry stubble? I cousume away like a rotten thing, a garment eaten by the moth.” Job xiii. 25, &c. “ Thou liftest me up to the wind, thou causest me to ride upon it, and dissolvest my substance.” Job xxii. 22. Can any man invent more despicable ideas, to represent the scoundrel herd and refuse of mankind, than those which Job uses? chap. xxx. and thereby he aggravates his own sorrows and reproaches to amazement: “ They that are younger than I have me in derision, whose fathers I would have disdained to have set with the dogs of my flock: for want and famine they were solitary; fleeing into the wilderness desolate and waste: They cut up mallows by the bushes, and juniper roots for their meat: They were driven forth from among men, (they cried after them as after a thief) to dwell in the cliffs of the valleys, in the caves of the earth, and in rocks: Among the bushes they brayed, under
the nettles they were gathered together ; they were children of fools, yea, children of base men; they were viler than the earth: And now I am their song, yea, I am their by-word,” &c. How mourful and dejected is the language of his own sorrows! “ Terrours are turned upon him, they pursue his soul as the wind, and his welfare passes away as a cloud; his bones are pierced within him, and his soul is poured out: he goes mourning without the sun, a brother to dragons, and a companion to owls; while his harp and organ are turned into the voice of them that weep." I must transcribe one half of this holy book, if I would show the grandeur, the variety, and the justness of his ideas, or the pomp and beauty of his expression ; I must copy out a good part of the writings of David and Isaiah, if I would represent the poetical excellencies of their thoughts and style : nor is the language of the lesser prophets, especially in some paragraphs, mạch inferior to these.
Now, while they paint human nature in its various forms and circumstances, if their designing be so just and noble, their dispositions so artful, and their colouring so bright, beyond the most famed human writers, how much more must their descriptions of God and heaven exceed all that is possible to be said by a meaner tongue! When they speak of the dwelling-place of God, “ He inhabits eternity, and sits upon the throne of his holiness, in the midst of light inaccessible.” When his holiness is mentioned, “ The heavens are not clean in his sight, he charges his angels with folly: He looks to the moon, and it shineth not, and the stars are not pure before his eyes : He is a jealous God, and a consuming fire.” If we speak of strengh, “Behold, he is strong: He removes the mountains, and they know it not : He Gerturns them in his anger: He shakes the earth from her place, and her pillars tremble: He makes a path through the mighty waters, he discovers the foundations of the world : The pillars of heaven are astonished at his reproof.” And after all, “ These are but a portion of his ways: The thunder of his power who can understand ?” His sovereignty, his knowledge, and his wisdom, are revealed to us in language vastly superior to all the poetical accounts of heathen divinity. “ Let the potsherds strive with the potsherds of the earth; but shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? He bids the heavens drop down from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness. He commands the sun, and it riseth not, and he sealeth up the stars. It is he that saith to the deep, Be dry, and he drieth up the rivers. Woe to them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the Lord ! His eyes are upon all their ways, he understands their thoughts afar off. Hell is naked before him, and destruction hath no covering. He calls out all the stars by their names, he frustrateth the tokens of the liars, and makes the diviners mad: He turns wise men backward, and their knowledge becomes foolish.” His transcendent eminence above all things is most nobly represented, when he “ sits upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers : All nations before him are as the drop of a bucket, and as the small dust of the balance: He takes up the isles as a very little thing; Lebanon, with all her beasts, is not sufficient for a sacrifice to this God, nor are all her trees suíñcient for the burning: This God, before whom the whole creation is as nothing, yea, less than Dothing, and vanity. To which of all the heathen Gods then will ye compare me, saith the Lord, and what shall I be likened to?” And to which of all the heathen poets shall we liken or compare this glonous orator, the sacred describer of the Godhead? The orators of all nations are as nothing before him, and their words are vanity and emptiness. Let us turn our eyes now to some of the holy writings, wbere God is creating the world : How meanly do the best of the Gentiles talk and trifle upon this subject, when brought into comparison with Moses, whom Longinus himself, a Gentile critic, cites as a master of the sublime style, when he chose to use it ! “ And the Lord said, Let there be light, and there was light; Let there be clouds and seas, sun and stars, plants and animals, and behold they are:" He commanded, and they appear and obey : “ By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth :” This is working like a God, with infinite ease and omnipotence. His wonders of providence for the terrour and ruin of his adversaries, and for the succour of his saints, is set before our eyes in the Scripture with equal magnificence, and as becomes divinity. When " he arises out of his place, the earth trembles, the foundations of the hills are shaken because he is wroth: There goes a smoke up out of his nostrils, and fire out of his mouth devonreth, cals are kindled by it. He bows the heavens, and comes down, and darkness is under his feet. The mountains melt like wax, and flow down at his presence.” If Virgil, Homer, or Pindar, were to prepare an equipage for a descending god, they might use thunder and lightnings too, and clouds and fire, to form a chariot and horses for the battle, or the triumph; but there is none of them provides him a Eight of cherubs instead of horses, or seats him in “chariots of salvation.” David beholds him riding upon the heaven of heavens, by his name Jah: He was mounted upon a cherub, and did fy; he flew on
" at thy
the wings of the wind; and Habakkuk sends “the pestilence before him.” Homer keeps a miglity stir with his vosanyapità Ziù , and Hesiod with his Zeus inf. Eferétns ; Jupiter, that raises up the clouds, and that makes a noise, or thunders on high. But a divine poet makes the “clouds but the dust of his feet ;” and when the Highest gives his voice in the heavens, “hail-stones and coals of fire follow.” A divine poet discovers the channels of the waters, and lays open the foundations of nature; rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of the breath of thy nostrils.” When the Holy One alighted upon Mount Sinai, “his glory covered the heavens : He stood and measured the earth: He beheld and drove asunder the nations, and the everlasting mountains were scattered: The perpetual hills did bow; his ways are everlasting.". Then the prophet “saw the tents of Cushan in affliction, and the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble.” Hab. iii. Nor did the blessed spirit which animated these writers forbid them the use of visions, dreains, the opening of scenes dreadful and delightful, and the introduction of machines upon great occasions : the divine license in this respect is admirable and surprising, and the images are often too bold and dangerous for an uninspired writer to imitate. Mr. Dennis has made a noble essay to discover how much superior is inspired poesy to the brightest and best descriptiuns of a mortal pen. Perhaps, if his proposal of criticism had been encouraged and pursued, the nation might have learnt more value for the word of God, and the wits of the age might have been secured from the danger of deism; while they must have been forced to confess at least the divinity of all the poetical books of Scripture, when they see a genius running through them more than human.
Who is there now will dare to assert, that the doctrines of our holy faith will not indulge or endure a delightful dress ? Shall the French poet affright us by saying,
De la foy d'un Chrétien les mystères terribles
D'ornemens égayez ne sont point susceptibles ? But the French critic?, in his reflections upon Eloquence, tells us, “ That the majesty of our religion, the holiness of its laws, the purity of its morals, the height of its mysteries, and the importance of every subject that belongs to it, requires a grandenr, a nobleness, a majesty, and elevation of style, suited to the theme: sparkling images and magnificent expressions must be used, and are best borrowed from Scripture : let the preacher that aims at eloquence, read the Prophets incessantly, for their writings are an abundant source of all the riches and ornaments of speech.” And in my opinion, this is far better counsel than Horace gives us, when he says,
Vos exemplaria Graca
Nocturnâ versate manu, versate diurna. As, in the conduct of my studies with regard to divinity, I have reason to repent of nothing more than that I have not perused the Bible with more frequency; so, if I were to set up for a poet, with a design to exceed all the modern writers, I would follow the advice of Rapin, and read the Prophets night and day. I am sure, the composures of the following book would have been filled with much greater sense, and appeared with much more agreeable ornaments, had I derived a larger portion from the Holy Scriptures,
Besides, we may fetch a further answer to Monsieur Boileau's objection, from other poets of his own country. What a noble use have Racine and Corneille made of Christian subjects, in some of their best tragedies! What a variety of divine scenes are displayed, and pious passions awakened, in those poems! The martyrdom of Polyeucte, how doth it reign over our love and pity, and at the same time animate our zeal and devotion! May I here be permitted the liberty to return my thanks to that fair and ingenious band 3 that directed me to such entertainments in a foreign langnage, which I had long wished for, and sought in rain in our own? Yet I must confess that the Davideis, and the two Arthurs, have so far answered Boileau's objection, in English, as that the obstacles of attempting Christian poesy are broken down, and the vain pretence of its being impracticable is experimentally confuted 4.
It is true, indeed, the Christian mysteries have not such need of gay trappings, as beautified, or rather composed, the Heathen superstition. But this still makes for the greater ease and surer success of the poct. The wonders of our religion, in a plain narration and a simple dress, have a native grandeur, a 1 Boileau.
3 Philomela. 4 Sir Richard Blackmore, in his admirable preface to his last poem, entitled Alfred, has more copiously refuted all Boileau's arguments on this subject, and that with great justice and elegance. 1723. I am persuaded that many persons who despise the poem would acknowledge the just sentiments of that preface.
dignity, and a beauty in them, though they do not utterly disdain all methods of ornament. The book of the Revelations seems to be a prophecy in the forni of an opera, or a dramatic poem, where divine Art illustrates the subject with many charming glories; but still it must be acknowledged, that the naked thernes of Christianity have something brighter and bolder in them, something more surprising and celestial, than all the adventures of gods and heroes, all the dazzling images of false lustre that form and gamish a Heathen song: here the very argument would give wonderful aids to the Muse, and the heavenly theme would so relieve a dull hour, and a languishing genius, that when the Muse nods, the sense would burn and sparkle upon the reader, and keep him feelingly awake.
With how much less toil and expense might a Dryden, an Otway, a Congreve, or a Dennis, furnish out a Christian poem, than a modem play! There is nothing among all the ancient fables, or later romances, that have two such extremes united in them, as the eternal God becoming an infant of days; the possessor of the palace of Heaven laid to sleep in a manger; the holy Jesus, who knew no sin, bearing the sins of men in his body on the tree; agonies of sorrow loading the soul of him who was God over all, blessed for ever; and the Sovereign of life stretching his arms on a cross, bleeding and expiring. The Heaven and the Hell in our divinity are infinitely ore delightful and dreadful than the childish figments of a dog with three heads, the buckets of the Belides, the Furies with snaky hairs, or all the flowery stories of Elysium. And if we survey the one as themes divinely true, and the other as a medley of fooleries which we can never believe; the advantage for touching the springs of passion will fall infinitely on the side of the Christian poet; our wonder and our love, our pity, delight, and sorrow, with the long train of bopes and fears, must needs be under the command of an harmonious pen, whose every line makes a part of the reader's faith, and is the very life or death of his soul.
If the trifling and incredible tales, that furnish out a tragedy, are so armed by wit and fancy as to become sovereign of the rational powers, to triumph over all the affections, and manage our smiles and our tears at pleasure ; how wondrous a conquest might be obtained over a wild world, and reduce it, at least, to sobriety, if the same happy talent were employed in dressing the scenes of religion in their proper figures of majesty, sweetness, and terrour! The wonders of creating power, of redeeming love, and renewing grace, ought not to be thus impiously neglected by those whom Heaven has endued with a gift so proper to adorn and cultivate them; an art whose sweet insinuations might almost convey piety in resisting nature, and melt the hardest souls to the love of virtue. The affairs of this life, with their reference to a life to come, would shine bright in a dramatic description ; nor is there any need or any reason why we should always borrow the plan or history from the ancient Jews, or primitive martyrs ; though several of these would furnish out noble materials for this sort of poesy : but modern scenes would be better understood by most readers, and the application would be much more easy. The anguish of inward guilt; the secret stings and racks and scourges of conscience; the sweet retiring hours and seraphical joys of devotion ; the victory of a resolved soul over a thousand temptations; the inimitable love and passion of a dying God; the awful glories of the last tribunal; the grand decisive sentence, from which there is no appeal; and the consequent transports or horrours of the two eternal worlds; these things may be variously disposed, and form many poems. How might such performances, under a divine blessing, call back the dying piety of the nation to life and beauty! This would make religion appear like itself, and confound the blasphemies of a profligate world, ignorant of pious pleasures.
But we have reason to fear, that the tuneful men of our day have not raised their ambition to so divine a pitch; I should rejoice to see more of this celestial fire kindling within them; for the flashes that break out in some present and past writings betray an infernal source. This the incomparable Mr. Cowley, in the latter end of his preface, and the ingenious sir Richard Blackmore, in the beginning of his, have so pathetically described and lamented, that I rather refer the reader to mour with them, than detain and tire him here. These gentlemen, in their large and laboured works of poesy, have given the world happy examples of what they wish and encourage in prose; the one in a rich variety of thought and fancy, the other in all the shining colours of profuse and Aorid diction.
If shorter sonnets were composed on sublime subjects, such as the Psalms of David, and the holy transports interspersed in the other sacred writings, or such as the moral odes of Horace, and the ancient Lyrics; 1 persuade myself that the Christian preacher would find abundant aid from the poet, in his design to diffuse virtue, and allure souls to God. If the heart were first inflamed from Heaven, and the Muse were not left alone to form the devotion, and pursue a cold scent, but only called in as an assistant to the norship, then the song would end where the inspiration ceases; the whole composure would be of a piece, all meridian light and meridian fervour; and the same pious flame would be propagated, and
kept glowing in the heart of him that reads. Some of the shorter odes of the two poets now mentioned, and a few of the rev. Mr. Norris's Essays in verse, are convincing instances of the success of this proposal.
It is my opinion also, that the free and unconfined numbers of Pindar, or the noble measures of Milton without rhyme, would best maintain the dignity of the theme, as well as give a loose to the devout soul, nor check the raptures of her faith and love. Though, in my feeble attempts of this kind, I have too often fettered my thoughts in the narrow metre of our Psalm translators; I have contracted and cramped the sense, or rendered it obscure and feeble, by the too speedy and regular returns of rhyme.
If my friends expect any reason of the following composures, and of the first or second publication, I entreat them to accept of this account.
The title assures them that poesy is not the business of my life; and if I seized those hours of leisure, wherein my soul was in a more sprightly frame, to entertain them or myself with a divine or moral song, 'I hope I shall find an easy pardon.
In the First Book are many odes which were written to assist the meditations and worship of vulgar Christians, and with a design to be published in the volume of Hymns, which have now passed a second impression; but upon the review, I found some expressions that were not suited to the plainest capacity, and the metaphors are too bold to please the weaker Christian: therefore I have allotted them a place here.
Among the songs that are dedicated to Divine Love, I think I may be bold to assert, that I never composed one line of them with any other design than what they are applied to here; and I have endeavoured to secure them all from being perverted and debased to wanton passions, by several lines in them that can never be applied to a meaner love. Are not the noblest instances of the grace of Christ represented under the figure of a conjugal state, and described in one of the sweetest odes, and the softest pastoral that ever was written? I appeal to Solomon 5, in his Song, and his father David, in Psalm xiv. if David was the author: and I am well assured, that I have never indulged an equal licence: it was dangerous to imitate the sacred writers too nearly, in so nice an affair.
The Poems sacred to Virtue, &c. were formed when the frame and humour of my soul was just suited to the subject of my verse: the image of my heart is painted in them; and if they meet with a reader whose soul is akin to mine, perhaps they may agreeably entertain him. The dulness of the fancy, and coarseness of expression, will disappear; the sameness of the humour will create a pleasure, and inșensibly overcome and conceal the defects of the Muse. Young gentlemen and ladies, whose genius and education have given them a relish of oratory and verse, may be tempted to seek satisfaction among the dangerous diversions of the stage, and impure sonnets, if there be no provision of a safer kind made to please them. While I have attempted to gratify innocent fancy in this respect, I have not forgotten to allure the heart to virtue, and to raise it to a disdain of brutal pleasures. The frequent interposition of a devout thought may awaken the mind to a serious sense of God, religion, and eternity. The same duty that might be despised in a sermon, when proposed to their reason, may here, perhaps, seize the lower faculties with surprise, delight, and devotion at once; and thus, by degrees, draw the superior powers of the mind to piety. Among the infinite numbers of mankind, there is not more difference in their outward shape and features, than in their temper and inward inclination. Some are more easily susceptive of religion in a grave discourse and sedate reasoning : some are best frighted from sin and ruin by terrour, threatening, and amazement; their fear is the properest passion to which we can address ourselves, and begin the divine work: others can feel no motive so powerful as that which applies itself to their ingenuity, and their polished imagination. Now I thought it lawful to take hold of any handle of the soul, to lead it away betimes from vicious pleasures; and if I could but make up a composition of virtue and delight, suited to the taste of well-bred youth, and a refined education, I had some hope to allure and raise them thereby above the vile temptations of degenerate nature, and custom, that is yet more degenerate. When I have felt a slight inclination to satire or burlesque, I thought it
proper suppress it. The grinning and the growling Muse are not hard to be obtained; but I would disdain their assistance, where a manly invitation to virtue, and a friendly smile, may be successfully employed. Could I persuade any man by a kinder method, I should never think it proper to scold or laugh at him.
Perhaps there are some morose readers, that stand ready to condemn every line that is written upon the theme of love ; but have we not the cares and the felicities of that sort of social life represented to us in the sacred writings? Some expressions are there used with a design to give a mortifying influence
5 Solomon's Song was much more in use among preachers and writers of divinity when these poems were written, than it is now, 1736.