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O, 'tis a thought sublime, that man can force
To lend their untamed wings, and bear him on
As 'twere a common thing-thy soul unawed,
"Tis wonderful!-and yet, my boy, just such
And thou must sail upon this sea, a long
To ride upon the waves, and catch the breeze,
To station quick eyed Prudence at the helm,
Farewell-Heaven smile propitious on thy course,
June, 4, 1818.
Moral Sketches of prevailing Opinions and Manners foreign and domestic with Reflections on Prayer. By HANNAH MORE. From the London Edition. Boston: Wells and Lilly. 12mo. pp. 208.*
It is impossible to take up a book written by this distinguished woman without feelings of great respect. She has been devoting her time and talents during a long life to the religious improvement of her fellow christians. She has laboured assiduously from first to last for this one great object. She has striven to be not merely innocent in her occupations, but useful; she has not thought it enough, to do no harm by the books she has sent out into the world, but has conscientiously attempted by all of them to do good. The high praise is her's, of having uniformly intended the best. This none can doubt, however some may question the real value of her writings.And she has her reward, in still being, in a good old age, one of the most admired and popular of religious writers. It is no small reward to be able to look back from the close of a long pilgrimage, and see its whole course marked with praiseworthy efforts in the cause of religion; to know that many have received from her, not in vain, admonition, counsel and comfort; that she has helped to correct and form many characters; and aided in staying the stream of corruption that was deluging society, and in upholding the firm barrier of religious principle ;-to see, too, that her labors are not forgotten nor slighted, but are every where acknowledged with the full meed of praise
We have much of this feeling ourselves. We highly appreciate her services; we admire the apparent depth and ardor of her piety; we respect one who maintains so rigid a system of christian morals, and pleads so strongly for consistency in faith and practice. But we cannot avoid thinking, notwithstanding that her merits have been greatly exaggerated, and
*Wells & Lilly have also published a superior edition in two small volumes, 18mo.
that the encomiums lavished upon her have oftentimes been extravagant. There is a great deal of fashion, even in religion; and when one has been set up as a saint and an oracle, every one calls him so without knowing or inquiring why. It is not to be suspected, no, not for a moment, that he has any faults. In the present case, something is perhaps to be attri buted to the sex of the author. Something of her popularity may be owing, too, to the popularity of the system she is known to support,-for we all love to read those, whom we know to be right because they agree with us. Much has been owing to the very severity and rigidness of her principles; for men are ready to affix a notion of something almost supernaturai to any extraordinary sanctity. And not a little is to be attributed to qualities in her style of writing, which are striking and dazzling, though not altogether in good taste;--to her imposing emphasis and occasional bombast; her perpetual sententiousness, and love of antithesis. No one will understand us to say, that these circumstances affect the moral merits of her works; but we are quite certain that they have insensibly operated to increase their worth in the estimation of many.
As we shall probably never have another opportunity, we must be permitted now to speak more largely, than we should otherwise do, of the general defects and merits of one, who has so much attracted the attention of the religious public. With respect, then, to her faults as a writer, they are so great, that we hazard little in saying, that she cannot be permanently popular. They are sustained now by personal associations with her name and character and connexions, vivid in the minds of this generation, but which must be lost in the next,-and with them will be lost the charm of her eloquence and the power of her remonstrances. With them will be removed the veil which has concealed her imperfections, and she will be forgotten. This age owes her mucb-the next must owe the same to another. All will perceive then, what many complain of now, that her arrangement in the treatment of subjects is so entangled and obscure, that the memory can bring away little ; oftentimes, in fact, she has nothing of method. What she herself says of a particular chapter in the work before us, is equally true of her writings in general. "It consists rather of miscellaneous observations on a variety of topics, than in an attempt at a systematic view of religion or morals." Her essays frequently present no train of thought at all; the reader is not conscious of any progress; he is led about and about through a wilderness of fine sentences, and sparkling thoughts, and striking appeals, and when he comes to the end, can neither
tell where he has been wandering, nor show any thing which he has brought away. However much she may have impressed us while we were reading, there is no author of whom we remember less. Then, she is too much given to writing for effect; she is all the time striving to make an impression. We acknowledge she sometimes admirably succeeds; but the attempt is too apparent; we see that she meant to strike, to dazzle, to overwhelm; and we become wearied by the appearance of unintermitted effort. She is extravagantly fond of figurative writing; she sometimes obscures the sense by an ill judged metaphor, where plain talking would have been better; and sometimes utterly disconcerts us by a mixture of the figurative and the literal. Indeed she has less than could be wished of that simplicity, which is so necessary in the serious matters of religion, and which is one of the principal things that give so much power to Law's Serious Call.-She is too fond of bringing every thing to a point; she is "ambitiously sententious;" she would have every other sentence a proverb. She is in love with assertions that sound like paradoxes; and is perpetually stringing together antitheses, one after another; in the last of which, that crowns the climax, she is sometimes obliged to use strange words for which the reader must consult his dictionary. In a word, we think her faults in prose are very much the same with those of Young in poetry; and her excellencies too. They have both the same strain of deep, and solemn, and affecting feeling; the same rich fond of fine imposing and striking thought; and the same rage for antithesis, and point, and happy turns of expression that shall startle you like an epigram.
But enough of her faults; especially as they refer so much to the mere manner. We did not know how to omit the notice of them, and are glad to dismiss them. Examples of them may be readily found by those who think it worth while to look for them; to adduce them here would be to encumber our few pages to no profit. We have higher objects than this sort of criticism; though we were willing to give one moment to it, that we might explain how it is that so many serious people of cultivated minds and taste take no pleasure in the works of so popular a writer. Having accomplished this, we shall reserve what we may have to say concerning faults of sentiment, till we speak particularly of the work before us. They are such as are little likely to injure in any way those who can read her pages with interest. She confines herself almost exclusively to practical Christianity, to vital and experimental religion, which rests on those large principles which are common to believers of every name. She has little hostility to any errors,
but those which lie in a bad heart, and little zeal for any truth, that is not manifested to be truth by its good influence over the conscience, the dispositions, and the life.
We pass gladly therefore to subjects of praise. And-to finish at once all that we have to say about her manner of communicating thought-some of her excellencies are those of style. She has a peculiar felicity of expression when a bold and powerful statement is to be made to stand out from the page. She can be very forcible and pointed and pungent. She excels in hitting off a character at a single stroke, and drawing a full description in few words.
She oftentimes describes classes of men with very great felicity telling their imperfections and displaying their inconsistencies with unsparing hand, and thus administering, in fine satire, the most wholesome admonition and reproof. In the volume before us is the following sketch of a certain class, whom she very aptly calls the Phraseologists.
"These are persons who, professing to believe the whole of the Gospel, seem to regard only one half of it. They stand quite in opposition to the useful and laborious class whom we last considered. None will accuse these of that virtuous excess, of that unwearied endeavour to promote the good of others, on which we there animadverted. These are assiduous hearers, but indifferent doers; very valiant talkers for the truth, but remiss workers. They are more addicted to hear sermons, than to profit by them.
"Their religion consists more in a sort of spiritual gossipping, than in holiness of life. They diligently look out after the faults of others, but are rather lenient to their own. They accuse of being legal, those who act more in the service of Christianity, and dispute less about certain opinions. They overlook essentials, and debate rather fiercely on, at best, doubtful points of doctrine; and form their judgment of the piety of others, rather from their warmth in controversy, than in their walking humbly with God.
"They always exhibit in their conversation the idiom of a party, and are apt to suspect the sincerity of those whose higher breeding, and more correct habits, discover a better taste. Delicacy with them, is want of zeal; prudent reserve, want of earnestness; sentiments of piety, conveyed in other words than are found in their vocabulary, are suspected of error. They make no allowance for the difference of education, habits, and society: all must have one standard of language, and that standard is their
"Even if, on some points, you hold nearly the same sentiments, it will not save your credit; if you do not express them in the same language, you are in danger of having your principles suspected. By your deficiency or declension in this dialect, and not by the greater or less devotedness of your heart, the increasing or diminishing consistency in your practice, they take the guage of your religion, and determine the rise and fall of your spiritual thermometer. The language of these technical Christians indisposes persons of refinement, who have not had the advantage of seeing religion under a more engaging form, to serious piety, by leading them to make a most unjust association between religion and bad taste.