« ZurückWeiter »
his famous address before the Bible Society in London, which I will not repeat, it is so familiar. But it is hardly probable that a more splendid example of brilliant extempore rhetoric can be found in the whole range of English literature. In the later years of bis life, when his powers were not at their best and brightest, he went into St. Paul's Methodist Church in this city to worship there as a stranger. He was recognized by a gentleman, who went to the pulpit and informed the preacher that Dr. Cox was in the congregation. He was invited to preach, and taking a text, which he gave in two or three languages, he preached two hours with such variety of learning, copiousness of illustration, and felicity of diction as to entertain, delight, instruct, and move the assembly. This habit of preaching long sermons grew upon him, and he became tedious in his old age. Many others do likewise. It is the last infirmity of great preachers. Especially is it true of those who, like Dr. Cox, are fond of preaching expository sermons. There is no convenient stopping-place for a man who takes a chapter and attempts a little sermon on each clause or word. Dr. Cox rarely approved of the translation in the Bible before him. His Greek Testament was always at hand, and after a severe, sometimes a fierce denunciation of the text in the received version, he would give his own rendering, and enforce that with the ardor of genius and the power of Christian eloquence. As long ago as when he was pastor in Laight Street one of his parishioners, a prominent and wealthy merchant, tired of hearing his sermons, went over to Brooklyn to spend the Sabbath with a friend. They attended church, and lo! Dr. Cox had exchanged pulpits with the pastor, and now the parishioner was compelled to hear the preacher from whom he was running away.
I have been told that the gentleman was converted by this discourse which he heard against his will, and he lived to be one of the most useful and distinguished among the merchant-princes of New York. But I am wandering.
I began this letter with the intent of telling you another Mrs. Partington remark which the Rev. Dr. S. H. Hall mentioned to me this summer when I met him in the Catskill Mountains. Dr. Hall was pastor of the church in Owego after Dr. Cox-whether his immediate successor or not, I am unable to say. In his congregation was a venerable lady who was never tired of sounding the praises of her former pastor, whose explanatory preaching had been her spiritual food for many years. “Oh," said she to Dr. Hall, “you should have heard him explain away the gospel !”
This was just what Dr. Cox did not. It was his forte to get the gist of the true meaning of the word, the mind of the Spirit, to explain the gospel ; and the modern Mrs. Partington, like the more ancient dame, had the ill-luck to twist her own words so as to make them convey a sense quite the reverse of what she meant. But it is very certain that the remarks of the two ladies have a very decided application to the preaching in which some of our modern teachers indulge, to the confusion of their hearers. The Bible is a much simpler book than many preachers would have the people believe. There are some things in it hard to be understood, undoubtedly. But these are not the things they attempt to explain or explain away. They find the words of the inspired penman in the way of their views, and they go at the words, tooth and nail, hammer and tongs, and manage to give an interpretation to them which will bolster or at least not oppose their favorite theories. The Bible is the simplest book in the world, and there is no work of its size treating so great a variety of subjects which is more intelligible to the common mind. Errors, heresies and corruptions in doctrine and practice do not arise from the misconceptions which the common people” get from reading the Bible, with the Spirit of God alone to guide them. The fundamental truths which all evangelical Christians love to believe are on the surface as well as in the depths of holy scripture. He who runs may read. The Bible is a revelation. The author did not employ language to conceal his thoughts. The entrance of his words gives light. They make wise the simple. And that preacher is the best who is the most scriptural, bringing the truth as therein revealed directly to the conscience and the heart.
BORN in Scotch Plains, N. J., 1813. DIED at Monterey, Cal., 1891.
THE “DIES IRÆ."
[Dies Ire, in Thirteen Original Versions. 1859. Fifth Edition. 1868.-Latin Hymns,
with Original Translations. 1868.]
tion to which a profounder interest attaches than to that magnificent canticle of the Middle Ages, the DIES IRÆ. Fastening on that which is indestructible in man, and giving fitter expression than can elsewhere be found, to experiences and emotions which can never cease to agitate him, it has lost after the lapse of six centuries none of its original freshness and transcendent power to affect the heart. It has commanded alike the admiration of men of piety and men of taste.
Among gems it is the diamond. It is solitary in its excellence. Of Latin hymns, it is the best known and the acknowledged masterpiece. There are others which possess much sweetness and beauty, but this stands unrivalled. It has superior beauties, with none of their defects. For the most part they are more or less Romish, but this is Catholic, and not Romish at all. It is universal as humanity. It is the cry of the human. It bears indubitable marks of being a personal experience.
The author is supposed to have been a monk: an incredible supposition truly did we not know that a monk is also a man. One thing is certain, that the monk does not appear, and that it is the man only that speaks. He no longer dreams and drivels. He is effectually awake. The veil is lifted. He sees Christ coming to Judgment. All the tumult and the terror of the Last Day are present to him. The final pause and syncope of Nature; the shuddering of a horror-struck Universe; the downrushing and wreck of all things—all are present. But these material circumstances of horror and amazement, he feels are as nothing compared with “ the infinite terror of being found guilty before the Just Judge." This single consideration swallows up every other. The interests of an eternity are crowded into a moment.
One great secret of the power and enduring popularity of this Hymn is, undoubtedly, its genuineness. A vital sincerity breathes throughout. It is a cry de profundis; and the cry becomes sometimes—so intense are the terror and solicitude—almost a shriek. It is in the highest degree pathetic. The Muse is “Mater Lachrymarum, Our Lady of Tears." Every line weeps. Underneath every word and syllable a living heart throbs and pulsates. The very rhythm, or that alternate elevation and depression of the voice, which prosodists call the arsis and the thesis, one might almost fancy were synchronous with the contraction and the dilatation of the heart. It is more than dramatic. The horror and the dread are real: are actual, not acted. A human heart is laid bare, quivering with life, and we see and hear its tumultuous throbbings. We sympathize—nay, before we are aware, we have changed places. We, too, tremble and quail and cry aloud.
All true lyric poetry is subjective. The Dies Iræ is, as we have seen, remarkable for its intense subjectivity; and whoever duly appreciates this characteristic will have little difficulty in understanding its superior effectiveness over everything else that has been written on the same theme. The life of the writer has passed into it and informs it, so that it is itself alive. It has vital forces and emanations. Its life mingles with our life. It enters into our veins and circulates in our blood. A virtue goes out from it. It is electrically charged, and contact is instantly followed by a shock and shuddering.
Springing from its subjectivity, if not identical with it, we would further notice the intensifying effect of what may be called its personalism ; in other words, its egoism. It is I and not We. Substitute the plural pronoun for the singular, and it would lose half its pungency. We have had occasion to observe the weakening effect of this in translation. The truth is, the feeling is of a kind too concentrated and too exacting to allow itself to be dissipated in the vagueness of any grouping generality. The heart knoweth its own bitterness. There is a grief that cannot be shared, neither can it be joined on to another's. It is not social nor common. It is mine and not yours. It is exclusive, not because it is selfish, but because it has depths beyond the soundings of ordinary sympathy.
The Hymn is not only lyrical in its essence, but also in its form. It is instinct with music. It sings itself. The grandeur of its rhythm, and the assonance and chime of its fit and powerful words, are, even in the ears of those unacquainted with the Latin language, suggestive of the richest and mightiest harmonies. The verse is ternary; and the ternary number, having been esteemed anciently a symbol of perfection and held in great veneration, may possibly have had something to do with the choice of the strophe. Be this as it may, its metrical structure, as all agree, constitutes by no means the least of its extraordinary merits. Trench, in his Selections from Latin Poetry, speaks of the metre as being grandly devised, and fitted to bring out some of the noblest powers of the Latin language; and as being, moreover, unique, forming the only example of the kind that he remembers. He notices the solemn effect of the triple rhyme, comparable to blow following blow of the hammer on the anvil. Knapp, in his Liederschatz, likens the original to a blast from the trump of resurrection, and declares its power inimitable in any translation.
DAY of wrath, that day of burning,
Seer and Sibyl speak concerning,
Oh, what fear shall it engender,
Trumpet, scattering sounds of wonder,
All aghast then Death shall shiver,
Volume, from wbich nothing's blotted,
When shall sit the Judge unerring,
What shall I say, that time pending?
Dreadful King, all power possessing,
Think, O Jesus, for what reason
Seeking me Thy worn feet hasted,
Righteous Judge of retribution!
Culprit-like, I plead, heart-broken,
Thou, who Mary gav'st remission,
Though my prayers be void of merit,
Be there, Lord, my place decided
When th' accursed away are driven,
I beseech Thee, prostrate lying,