Page images
PDF
EPUB

NOTICES OF NEW BOOKS.

Are our readers aware that our Church is actually taking the lead in the number of original publications ? Amidst all the pressing cares and peculiar responsibilities of their position, our clergy find time to produce an amount of literature that will surprise any one who has not looked at the matter. We do not mean that these works are all of equal value, but we beg leave to call attention to their number, equally with their character, as significant of much to the thoughtful. And for this purpose, before we notice any others, we will ask our readers to look at the recent

AMERICAN PRESBYTERIAN PUBLICATIONS. I. Sermons on Various Subjects. By Joel Parker, D. D. With a

portrait of the Author. Philadelphia : Lippincott, Grambo & Co. 1852. pp. 361.

Another of our editors has written a book. We hope we may notice it in a quiet way.

Dr. Parker, having to the regret of his people, and all his other friends in Philadelphia, felt it to be his duty to accept a call to the Bleecker street Church in New York, a number of his parishioners “desiring to retain some lasting memorial of his teachings as their pastor,” requested him to publish this volume, composed of sermons to which they had listened.

The power of Dr. Parker is essentially dramatic. We mean by the word, that when he is most interesting, moistens your eyes as well as his own, and carries your heart away captive, it is not so much when he argues, or presents abstract truth, or pays special attention to polish of style or rhetorical fineness, as when he makes you see what he sees with great vividness, the concrete actions of men, with their motives and their consequences. No one can have been privileged, as we have been, to converse familiarly with him, without feeling this dramatic power thrilling along every nerve. It is in illustration and narrative, it is in unsought pathos, it is in the subdued humor which is the almost unfailing accompaniment of pathos, that he so much excels. And we confess to a feeling, whenever he wanders far from this path, that the church is losing a power which is her right through one of her chosen ministers

We will give the reader an illustration of our meaning. The subject is “Sinners emboldened by forbearance.” It is clearly discussed, but you do not, we think, feel the electric thrill until you reach page 190:

At twenty years of age, “the admirable Crichton" had run through the whole circle of the sciences, and could speak and write ten languages in perfection. He visited the Universities on the Continent, and foiled all of the learned professors in debate, on theses of their own choosing. He was as remarkable for his bodily agility, and his power in athletic exercises, as he was for the endowments of his mind. Nor was he less distinguished for

elegance of manners, and a singular amenity of temper. While travelling in Italy, the Duke of Mantua was so well pleased with him, that he appointed him tutor to his son. One day while walking in the streets of Mantua, Crichton was suddenly attacked by six men in masks. Their number proved no defence against his dexterity and strength. They were all disarmed. The leader threw off his mask, and falling on his knees, begged for his life. It was Crichton's pupil. The astonished master, overwhelmed with the discovery, presented his own weapon to his pupil, and baring his bosom, told him to take his life if he desired it. The ungrateful wretch plunged the weapon to the heart of Crichlon.

Observe how in the following, the impression strengthens just in proportion as there is a gathering to a pictnre. The subject is “Concealed Religion :"

An undisguised frankness in regard to our religious character and relations brings to us this two-fold advantage. First, the exercise of the principles of holiness by a manly and open assertion of them, enhances their vigor. Second, the circle of faithful friends of holiness that are thus brought to stand around the soul with approving eyes, and cheering voices, to commend every successful struggle for the right, affords one of the most efficient motives for steadfastness in well doing. But the moment that a man attempts to practice concealment, he loses both of these advantages. His principles are relaxed by declining such an action as the crisis demanded, and the incitements of human approbation are removed. When Peter followed afar off, and when he sat down with the servants, waiting to see the end before he should commit himself, his principles of attachment to Christ became languid. Then, too, when he more needed than ever before, the encouragements of the avowed friends of his tried principles, he had separated himself from all such influences. If he had stood close by the calm and heroic John, and watched for the encouraging look, ever and anon, from his Master, he might have risen above that miserable craven fear which led to the denial. p. 99.

Some of Dr. Parker's warmest friends think, that if the making of paper, pens and ink, should suddenly be amongst lost arts, hardly any sermonmaker in America would suffer so little as he. Our great exemplar, He who spake as never man spake, preached especially, in two ways. The first was pure illustration, a grouped picture to fill the fancy and the heart, and then pervade soul and conscience. A Good Samaritan, a Prodigal Son, the Sparrow falling to the ground, the Lilies of the field arrayed as Solomon never was, the Man that built his house upon the sand. The other, was like the lightning cleaving its way direct to its victim, a levin-bolt of inimitable force, a concentration sometimes of a universe or an eternity, into one pregnant, awful, fiery sentence:

“ Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.” “He that exalteth himself shall be abased.” “Agonize to enter in at the strait gate." " Where their worm dieth not and their fire is not quenched.” “It had been good for that man if he had not been born.” “No fruit grow on thee henceforth for ever."

The first of these, a rare gift, the gift of Shakspeare and Defoe, of Bunyan and of Washington Irving, Dr. Parker, if he only knew it, has in no small degree. If he allows it to rust from disuse, or from the effort to attain a vastly lower power, that of a merely clear, chaste, polished, didactic instructor, it will be our loss as well as his own, for “unto whom much is given, from him much shall be required.”

Suppose Charles Dickens should imagine that the power of reaching the common heart of humanity, which has made him a marked man in both hemispheres, were far inferior to the capabilities of Addison, and should write ordinary essays, instead of world-famous stories, he would be pursuing a similar path with Dr. Parker, when he is tempted to ignore a keen, graphic, dramatic power that hardly any of us have, to do what many can accomplish with tolerable success.

II. The Three Great Temptations of Young Men : with several Lec

tures addressed to business and professional men. By Samuel W. Fisher. Cincinnati : Moore and Anderson. 1852. pp. 336.

We very much like the way, which obtains, we think, more among our ministers than elsewhere, of placing their names without any additions, upon the title-pages of their books. There is a simplicity in it, worthy, we think, of the best days of the Church. But would it not be better to add, for the sake of information, the position or office of the writer, without any reverend, or right reverend, or D. D., or LL. D., or fellow, or member of any of the thousand and one associations at home or abroad? Would it not be well to say, as in the case, for example, of our friend Dr. Fisher, “ Pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati ?" These sermons owe a part of their special significancy to the fact, that in the presence of wealth, fashion and numbers such as are gathered in one of the strongest churches of the West, the truth was plainly and fearlessly spoken.

However this may be, Dr. Fisher has given us an admirable book. The Introduction is called “ The Sirens," in which after some excellent remarks on city and country training, and the character they form, the fable of the Three Sirens is made to serve a purpose in full accordance with its original invention. The Sirens are here Wine, Women and Play. Sermons follow on each of these “great temptations,” then three more successively on the Theatre, the Web of Vice and the Path of Infidelity. Three other sermons, on the Christian Lawyer, the Mosaic Law of Usury, and Commercial Morality complete the volume. We will give the reader an idea of the style by one or two selections.

The following well-aimed shaft pierces to the heart of almost the only plea for the theatre that has any plausibility in it:

But this refined and intellectual class, removed in part from the evils that press our fallen humanity to the earth, often care little for the moral tendencies of that which they most admire in art. It is enough for them that there is the divine power of creation displayed in it. Little does it concern them how this display of power is to affect the masses of uncultivated minds ; little care they how extensively the accessories of art may sensual. ize and dishonor the multitude. * * Divine art is too pure to corrupt, in their opinion, and hence they idolize it whenever found, to whatever foul and polluting associates it may be allied. The drama, as embodying some of the finest creations of the intellect, and as opening a field on which the creations of the poet may be made visible to the eye of sense, is for that reason a favorite. They think not of its moral tendency; its thousands of vile and impure productions ; its corrupt servitors; its disgusting accompaniments. They lose sight of the fact that it is not what they admire, that attracts the people and forms the character of the theatre-goers, and gives the real impulse to its teachings, and constitutes its most powerful and widespread influence upon society. They seem insensible to the fact, that a play-house conducied on principles of pure art, that should avoid the sources of popular corruption, and accommodate its arrangements to the claims of a high morality, and the standard of the Christian religion, would not last for a single month. The church needs no such auxiliary; the world tolerates no such puritanical institution ; so between the two, no place would be found for it, no support would be given to it, and it must inevitably fall. Yet, I am bound to say, that it is just these men, apparently without any cordial sympathy with Christianity, and any spirit of self-sacrifice for the advancement of its interest, or the substantial interests of human life; men who view society through the haze of their own feelings, which, however they may be gilded by the imagination, adorned by learning, refined by the love of the intellectually beautiful, are in essence the purest and most inveterate kind of selfishness, deserving the wrath of Him who hath bound us to love our neighbor as ourselves; it is just such men who write the stage into fashion, and in the eyes of many, redeem it from its gross and sensual anti-Christian influence, by their enthusiasm for the poetry and the art which are there displayed. Small as this class may be, yet it is powerful; as educated mind and fine talents for composition are, and always have been mighty to move mankind, especially in the direction of pleasure and earthly excitement. Such men are like the childish helmsman, who, when at sea, steers his bark toward the Aurora Borealis, and, in the transports which this splendid display of natural art inspires, forgets the ice-berg, the rocks, and the lee-shore, until bark, helmsman, and crew, go down together in the all-embracing waters.” Pp. 162-4.

It does one's soul good to see gambling handled thus:

Gambling is of such a character, that no man can enter into it heartily, without cherishing the same designs and the same purpose with the footpad and the burglar: the design of getting another's possessions without productive labor, or the least valuable return. The man becomes a scoundrel in the very working of the game; he cherishes principles hostile to justice and the peace of society, the moment he sets himself about obtaining the money of another without rendering anything valuable in return. Now this is a point of immense importance to the true understanding of the nature and effects of this vice. ** It is in vain here to talk of honor amongst gamesters. Admitting the fairest statement of the case, admitting that they do not mean to use underhand measures to fleece their victim, yet the plain and undeniable fact is, that they imagine themselves possessed of a certain knowledge, or a certain skill, or a certain lucky hand, which will secure to them another man's property; and that too, not only without returning an equivalent in any form, but with the certainty of inflicting upon him suffering and disgrace. Whichever way he may turn and twist, this principle of villany is at the bottom of his muvements, and infects with its leprous breath all his soul.

Nor will it at all affect the principle before us, that he gives his victim an equal chance with himself. Were this true, the principle is the same; it yet remains a fact that he has no idea of losing at all that he does not mean to lose—that he designs to win another's property; and it is on this hope and purpose he gambles. * * The fact that men are willing thus to hazard their property, simply proves the height of their expectations, and the determination of their purpose to get that which belongs to another. They stake a fortune, because they mean to win a fortune. They are voluntary in the hazard, but never in the loss; they are voluntary in their purpose to win, but never to lose. And it is just here lies the vice and wickedness of the whole thing. pp. 69–71.

Our limits forbid our extracting at greater length. We rejoice that Dr. Fisher has grasped so firmly, and expressed so fearlessly, the temptations and vices of young men and their seducers, and we hope that multitudes of them may be induced to read his friendly and earnest counsels, and obtain a hearty hatred of all manner of villany, and a deep love of virtue. To see such men on the high places of the field, especially amidst the seething masses of the West, inspires us with brighter hopes for our Church and our country.

In our quality as critics we object to any yielding to the new-fangled · way of spelling, such as “center," " theater." We represent too old and

steady a Church not to stand firm for the purity of the “ well of English undefiled.” Dr. Fisher writes a classical style, but it would be improved by compression, a rigorous pruning off of every superfluous word, and the use of a larger proportion of Saxon. We do not object to Latin and Greek words, but the basis of a strong English style is Saxon, and a very large proportion of words of foreign origin takes away from the clear piercing force of expression.

III. The Path of Life. By Henry A. Rowland, Author of a work

“On the Common Maxims of Infidelity.” Second edition. New

York: M. W. Dodd, 1851. pp. 194. Light in a Dark Alley. By Henry A. Rowland, Author of a work

“On the Common Maxims of Infidelity," and of “The Path of Life.” New York: M. W. Dodd, 1852. pp. 178.

There is a difference which every one must have felt, between the manner in which religion is presented in the books now written, and those of almost any other age since the Reformation. It is one which greatly increases the responsibility of irreligious men, because diminishing their excuse. Formerly the style was involved, the illustrations recondite or unpleasing, the treatises voluminous and frequently heavy, the terminology peculiar, and to worldly men, difficult to understand. But there has been a gradual change. It has not reached its full results, but its tendencies are visible. Religion is now presented more plainly, directly, in a simple, one is almost inclined to say, business-like aspect. The minister is nearer to the people. The power of caste, of the mere prestige of profession, has fallen away. The minister has something which he desires to accomplish in the most direct and practical manner. It is to show irreligious men that they

« PreviousContinue »