Page images
PDF
EPUB

ends, does by no means supersede the necessity or advantage of the study of the other also. In one particular, it occurs to us, that the "Night Thoughts” has the preference as a text book in schools: it abounds in figures of speech that are more or less faulty; and it will prove a valuable exercise to discover and point out the respects in which rhetorical propriety has been violated. In another particular it must be of eminent service in a course of education : it furnishes a great number of pithy sentences, easily remembered, and pregnant with the most important meaning, which, if lodged early in the mind, must exert a salutary influence in securing a wise improvement of time, a proper choice of objects of pursuit, a restraint upon the appetites and passions, an upward direction to the reason and affections, and a powerful auxiliary to the practice of the duties of religion.

Besides all this, the earnest effort to understand, and comprehend, and criticise a work so condensed and profound and vast in its conceptions, must powerfully. serve to enlarge and invigorate all the intellectual powers.

It being the aim of the editor, in part, to embrace in his plan a provision for the wants of young persons, to whom the study of the Night Thoughts is peculiarly valuable, he has explained many words, forms of expression, and allusions, that might be perfectly intelligible to others without explanation. He desired also to meet the necessities of all whose early advantages of education may have been limited or neglected, so that the Poem might be read by all understandingly, profitably, and thus with satisfaction.

As will be perceived, he has contributed much to the intelligibleness of the

poem, and to an easy discovery of its great outlines of thought, by designating in a conspicuous manner the principal topics upon which it treats. This feature of the plan has cost no incon siderable labour. The advantage thus afforded to the reader is two

fold. It furnishes a key to the several portions of the work, by which its treasures are laid open more readily to the mind : and it will be found very convenient for reference to subjects, when a person desires to employ but a few moments at a time in its perusal. The “Night Thoughts,” not being very closely connected in its component parts, is particularly susceptible of such a division ;

and what renders such a division the more convenient indeed, and needful, is that the thoughts are so weighty, so crowded often into a very limited

space, that it is not easy, without fatigue, nor perhaps desirable, to read more than one or two hundred lines at a single perusal.

To readers of all classes it seems a desideratum to offer such an edition of this admirable poem as shall be attractive, and adapted to bring its wonderful conceptions into close contact with the mind and heart; and that for these, among other reasons,—if read even occasionally, with due attention, and in the use of the explanatory notes, it will habituate the mind to just thoughts of death, that grand issue to which all are hastening; and of eternity, the interests of which it most concerns all of us to provide at an early day. It will impressively remind us of what we are all too apt to be forgetful and negligent, that

“This is the bud of being, the dim dawn,
The twilight of our day, the vestibule.
Life's theatre as yet is shut, and death,
Strong death, alone can heave the massy bar,
This gross impediment of clay remove,
And make us, embryos of existence, free."

It will convince us most effectually, our judgments at least, of the vanity of this world and of its pursuits, when compared with the claims of the world to come : that

“All, all on earth is shadow, all beyond

Is substance: the reverse is Folly's creed.
How solid all when change shall be no more:"

It will thus guard us against improper and undue excitement from worldly objects and pursuits : it will also furnish alleviations of the severity of earthly sorrows and disappointments.

It will admonish us of the too common vice of every age-an unprofitable, if not universal, waste of time, the value of which is nowhere so eloquently portrayed as in this volume.

“Each night we die,
Each morn are born anew; each day a life!
And shall we kill each day? If trifling kills,
Sure vice must butcher. O what heaps of slain
Cry out for vengeance on us !

Time destroyed
Is suicide, where more than blood is spilt.

Moments seize;
Heaven's on their wing: a moment we may wish,
When worlds want wealth to buy."

*

*

*

Again ; this poem is a well-filled magazine of offensive arms against scepticism, and of defensive arms for the security of the great Christian scheme of redemption. The sixth and seventh Nights are appropriated to this service. In the preface to the poem the author remarks : “The dispute about religion may be reduced, I think, to this single question ; Is man immortal, or is he not? If he is not, all our disputes are mere amusements, or trials of skill : but if man is immortal, it will behoove him to be very serious about eternal consequences, or, in other words, to be truly religious. And this great fundamental truth, unestablished or unawakened in tho minds of men, is, I conceive, the real source and support of all our infidelity ; how remote soever the particular objections advanced may seem to be from it.”

As a fair specimen of the grandeur and impressiveness, and useful

tendencies of this portion of the work, take the following, selected with no special care :

“Know'st thou the importance of a soul immortal ?

Behold this midnight glory: worlds on worlds !
Amazing pomp! Redouble this amaze:
Ten thousand add; and twice ten thousand more:
Then weigh the whole. One soul outweighs them all;
And calls the astonishing magnificence
Of unintelligent creation poor.
For this, believe not me: no man believe;
Trust not in words, but deeds; and deeds no less
Than those of the Supreme; nor his, a few :
Consult them all: consulted, all proclaim
Thy soul's importance.

Another great advantage of the frequent perusal of the poem will be found in its eloquent inculcation of those great Christian doctrines which lie at the foundation of pure morals and sound religion. Faith in those doctrines may be acquired, or greatly strengthened by a familiar intercourse with the sublime communings of the "Night-watcher." His address to the triune Godhead, in the last night, is wonderfully sublime and impressive. To the Son he says:

"O thou Patron-God!
Thou God and mortal! thence more God to man!
Man's theme eternal! man's eternal theme !
Thou can’st not ’scape uninjured from our praise.
Uninjured from our praise can He escape,
Who, disembosom’d from the Father, bows
The heaven of heavens, to kiss the distant earth!
Breathes out in agonies a sinless soul !
Against the Cross Death's iron sceptre breaks!
From famished Ruin plucks her human prey !
Throws wide the gates celestial to his foes !”

We have spoken of the “ Night Thoughts” as a peculiarly valuable study for young persons. We should be guilty of a gross offence against the poem, to omit to add that the general strain of its meditations is such as to seize hold upon the sympathies, and to be adapted to the wants of those who are beginning to feel the infirmities of age ; and there are but few poems,

if

any, so well suited to give their thoughts a profitable direction toward those grave realities, to the borders of which time is carrying them forward. If there is any class of persons to whom the high themes connected with death and immortality should be welcome, it must be they whose advanced years admonish them that the scenes of earth can be enjoyed but a short time longer. And how touchingly does the author describe the case of such !

“O my coevals! remnants of yourselves !
Poor human ruins tottering o'er the grave!
Shall we, shall aged men, like aged trees,
Strike deeper their vile root, and closer cling,
Still more enamored of this wretched soil ?
Shall our pale, withered hands be still stretched out,
Trembling, at once,

with eagerness

and age ? With avarice, and convulsions, grasping hand ? Man wants but little, nor that little long."

[ocr errors]

It is not then a useless labor to prepare this edition of the “Night Thoughts,” for the use of those who are on or within the precincts of old age ; since, in reading, as the poet in writing it, their experience inay accord with his :

“ I chase the moments with a serious song,
Song soothes our pain; and age has pains to soothe."

We have spoken of the importance of the use of this poem in the education of the youthful mind, on account of the weighty senti

« PreviousContinue »