Sivut kuvina
PDF
ePub

nor does he fear that circle will be ultimately much contracted, should he be compelled to read in behalf of his country, and of a meritorious though neglected class of men, an occasional sermon to a committee, or even to call a church leader to account."

Had he been content to sink into one of those mere mercenaries of the newspaper-press who frame special pleadings in the cause of party, the opportunity, not unbacked by pecuniary argument, was presented to him at least two years ere he came forward, in conscious weakness, to contend for a good cause against the hostile press of a kingdom. Had he looked to merely secular advantage, he would have quitted his exposed and thankless post of duty long ago.

These remarks are unwillingly extorted, nor shall we advert further to the purely personal matter on which they touch, than in the words of our noble motto, “I am in the place where I am demanded of conscience to speak the truth, and, therefore, the truth I speak, impugn it whoso list.” Unfortunately for his own peace, rigid adherence to his motto who never feared the face of man, brought the editor of the Witness into antagonism with church leaders on other topics than popular education. On the college question, on the question of rating and kindred subjects, he was generally found leading the opposition. In most instances, we think, his hostility was well-founded; but unhappily the misunderstandings that arose, the heats and jealousies kindled, had a corroding influence upon his spirit, and ultimately almost

completely alienated him from taking part in the discussion of church policy. But though mingling little more in the strife of tongues, the freedom with which he had canvassed the schemes of ecclesiastical leaders, at a time when something very like a dictatorship had destroyed presbyterian parity in the general assemblies of the Free Church, bore fruit. It has been the misfortune of Dr. Candlish that his majorities in the Assembly have too often been made up of the least enlightened of her presbyteries. No one who has been present at any division in that venerable court, can have failed to note that the dexterous church leader mainly owes his success to the adroitness with which he is able to manage the "Highland Host." The prejudices of the north, and the bigotry of the west, have been the buttresses of his power. To humour northern prejudices, and to flatter western bigotry, substantial injustice has not seldom been done to the best interests of the Free Church. Hugh Miller has the honour to have been the first to break up this vicious alliance. His labours were the prelude of that liberal opposition, which, under the leadership of Dr. Hanna, is now gradually leavening the Free Church with more genial sympathies, broader views, and a higher culture, than under the old regime she was ever likely to attain.

CHAPTER XVII.

MODERN LIGHT LITERATURE.

TURNING aside from the thorny path of ecclesiastical polemics, Hugh Miller instinctively fell back with renewed ardour upon his favourite topics, literature and geology. As might have been anticipated, he who had so completely mastered the great novelists and essayists of the eighteenth century, had scanned with an eye scarcely less keen, if, perhaps, a little less loving, the great novelists of our own age. It was no more than to be expected that early associations would render a man like Hugh Miller partial to the favourites of his youth. Possibly, were Foster alive to subject the great writers of this age to the same terribly-impartial interrogation as that to which, in his Essays, he subjected the great writers of a past age, they too might be found wanting in much the Christian thinker desiderates. But though still far from perfect, the literary man is not now what he was in the days of Johnson and Addison, Steele and Sterne, Swift and Pope, Wycherley and Congreve. Our

age will no longer tolerate the trifling of other and earlier days. In the eighteenth century even the purest litterateurs did not escape the taint of the times. The noxious atmosphere of the court of the Second Charles yet radiated all around. So universally had the contagion diffused itself, that Addison—the gentlest spirit of his age-Addison, who wrote of the immortality of the soul and on Christian evidences, and of whom Macaulay has said he deserved as much love and esteem as can justly be claimed by any of our infirm and erring race -even he permitted the vice of his times to become his master, and exposed himself to the coarse wit of Voltaire, who said, The best thing which he had seen come out of Joseph Addison, was the wine he had put in him. In that age literary men seem to have felt none of the responsibility which many of them are now beginning to feel.

It was this utter want of all sense of responsibility which produced that singular combination of frivolousness and fierceness by which the literature of the eighteenth century is characterized.

Mingling with the pleasing and innocent prattle of Addison and Steele, might be heard the stinging and waspish satires of Pope, and the savage howl of the dean of St. Patrick's, Jonathan Swift.

We have now healthy race of writers than that age could boast.

The age of which we write might be called the Augustan age of English literature, so far as the encouragement of literary men was concerned: they basked in the sunshine of royal favour. Addison was a secretary of state, Steele was a commissioner of the

a more

stamp-office, Prior was ambassador to France, Tickell held a similar office to Addison. Congreve, Gay, and Dennis all held offices to which very considerable emoluments were attached. But this profusion of patronage purified neither our literature nor our litterateurs. The muse of Wycherley and Congreve, and even Dryden, was tainted with the grossest impurity; and not until one whom there was no possibility of mistaking for a Puritan—not until Jeremy Collier lashed into decency the “godless, reckless Jezebel of his age "—was there any improvement. For a time, indeed, Congreve maintained with Collier an unequal struggle in defence of what was utterly indefensible. At length, however, the literary libertine was compelled to succumb beneath the vigorous blows dealt by the witty high-church parson. Looking back upon that sin-stained and polluted page of our national annals, and contrasting those times with these, we think we may say, without egotism and without presumption, that the relations of literary men to society, are now of a more healthy kind than they have ever been before. No doubt there is still a large mass of our literature requiring an infusion of the moral element to tone and fit it for blessing the nation. But notwithstanding every drawback, this much has been gained: no eminent name in literature would venture to serve up to the nation the grossness and impurity in which some of the most distinguished writers of the eighteenth century revelled. Vice has not yet altogether hid its

« EdellinenJatka »