« AnteriorContinuar »
from the second and third kinds of fiction we have alluded to. Imaginary incidents and conversations, if they present no false views of life, and breathe no corrupt or improper sentiments, can certainly do no injury. Evil results, follow only where false or falsely colored pictures are presented to
hero false or fold e r the eye, alluring the reader away from the world of reality, to the romantic and unearthly regions it creates, and unfitting him for the sober duties and enjoyments of his actual station, by the fascination of scenes into which he never can enter; or where false opinions and corrupt principles are instilled into the mind, through the example or the sentiments of some vicious but fascinating hero.
We may arrange the fictitious works which are professedly designed to enforce moral and religious truth, and now acting, most extensively, on the public mind, under the following heads.
1. Stories for children, the scenes of which are laid in real life. Miss Edgeworth's, and Mrs. Opie's, and Mrs. Sherwood's works may be taken as specimens. The greatness of the influence exerted by such works on childhood, can be conceived only by those who had free access, in early life, to such stories as “ The Barring Out,” “ Forgive and Forget,” and “ Black Giles, the Poacher.” Miss Edgeworth has been extensively condemned by Christian parents, for totally excluding religion from her pages. She has chosen for her work, the cultivation of the moral virtues alone, and this work, it is admitted that she has most successfully performed. She takes the ground that an author has a right to choose her subject, and if she treats what she thus chooses, in an effectual and proper manner, she ought not to be condemned for not discussing what she never professed to discuss. To this it can only be replied, that there may be cases where two subjects are so indissolubly connected, that silence on the one, is inconsistent with fidelity to the other. Whether this is the case with the cultivation of moral virtue, and the enforcement of religious obligation, is a difficult question to decide. It would seem, however, that any parent who should read “ Frank,” and allow his children to read it, would not hesitate in regard to its tendencies, whatever his opinions in the abstract may be.
Some of the writings of this class, are designed, expressly, as illustrations of religious truth, though in many such cases the religious advice and instruction on the one hand, and the
incidents of the narrative on the other, are so distinct, they come together so clumsily, that the little reader goes over the pages, and with a literary ingenuity worthy of a better cause, devours the story and omits the advice-deriving about as much spiritual benefit from the work, as a moth would receive by eating out the paste with which a religious book is bound. This result, however, is the fault of the execution, not of the plan. It would be difficult for a child to read the story of “ The Little Merchants," without learning, in some degree, the lesson of honesty which it teaches. He certainly cannot avoid understanding the lesson.
2. Religious Novels. There is a certain period in human life, when subjects connected with love and marriage are all in all. Into this region, an immense crowd of writers have pressed, sagaciously concluding, that the strength of the appetite on the part of their readers, will make up for any deficiency there may be in the character of the food they can offer. The appetite has not been overrated. These books are read more, perhaps, than all others besides.
Now religious novels enter into this scene, but, as in other cases, by entering into bad company, they find it hard to sustain a good character. Some, as Cælebs, are really written for the purpose of throwing the light of religious principle upon these relations, and others are apparently intended to accomplish merely the same purposes, with other novels; religious principle being brought in as a new element, to give additional interest to the work, or to sanctify it, in the opinion of the good.
3. The last class we shall mention, consists of works intended to illustrate and enforce general religious truth for mature minds. The World without Souls, Bunyan's Allegories, Hannah More's Tracts, and Law's Serious Call, are of this character.
The writings which come under these heads, cannot be condemned or approved in the mass. They must be judged in detail. Each must rest on its own foundation, and stand or fall, according to its own individual character. Is its tendency to increase or diminish the reader's interest in his own daily lot ? Does it nourish, or does it intoxicate him? That is, is the interest it excites, of such a character, that it simply raises him to renewed efficiency and faithfulness, in the discharge of his own appropriate duties? Or does it awaken such exciting and absorbing emotions as unfit for
Yritten for the Phese relations, anthe same purposes a new
these duties while they last, and leave a gloomy depression behind ? Does the truth, which is to be illustrated or enforced, shine out clearly in the very narrative itself, so as to be inseparable from it, and is the incident and the narrative really made subservient to the inculcation of moral and religious sentiments ? Or are these sentiments only introduced, to give greater effect to the story? In a word, does the reader rise from the perusal of the book, impressed with the lessons it has been pretending to teach, and eager to put them into practice in his own daily duties? Or is the impression which is left, mainly a feverish interest in imaginary persons and scenes ? It is by such tests, that these books are to be individually tried.
After all the apparent difference of opinion there is, on the subject of fictitious writing, as expressed in general statements, there is, in fact, but little real disagreement. Every man, however he may speak on this subject in the abstract, does in practice condemn or acquit each individual work, according to its own individual tendencies. If in the general statement of his opinions he condemns this class of writing, he will contrive, when he comes to particulars, to except a great number of fictions which he considers in a different light from the rest. At the head of this list will stand the parables of the Saviour, and next perhaps will come the Pilgrim's Progress. He may say, of these and of similar works, that they are parables, allegories, entirely different in principle from other fictitious writings; but this does not prevent their being fiction. No ingenuity can transform the story of the Good Samaritan, or of the Interpreter's House, into historical records of matters of fact. All that we can say of them is, that the truth shines out so clearly, and predominates so decidedly, that we hardly consider them fiction ; which is no more nor less than saying, that the work is skilfully done ; the object of making fiction the vehicle of truth, is successfully and safely accomplished.
THE PAST, AND THE PRESENT.
By RICHARD H. Dana.
“Oh! that he were thus pervaded
That distinguished divine, John Owen, said long ago, “ The world is at present in a mighty hurry, and being in many places cast off from all foundations of steadfastness, it makes the minds of men giddy with its revolutions, and disorderly in the expectations of them.”
If this was a truth in the days of Owen, it is equally a truth now; if men in his time tore themselves violently off from old associations, and went wild after change, no less are they ridding themselves of all that is old, and quite as wild are they after alteration, in our day.
There is nothing new under the sun, said Solomon. Men seein resolved upon bringing the time speedily about, when they may look around them, and reversing the declaration of the wise man, be able to say, There is nothing old under the sun!
What a spirit is there in that word old! Who would live in a world where there was nothing old ? Experience would not, could not; nor sedateness, nor reflection slow and thoughtful. Fancy might, perhaps; but not imagination, that deeper power of the soul. And could the heart let go all its old attachments, and yet live? And hope, even beautiful hope, though the future may be its nourisher, is the child of the past, and waits by the bed of weariness or sorrow :
A woman-saint, who bare an angel's face,
And how large would be the discourse of reason, looking before, and never after ? What would prospect be to us, without retrospect? A strange land without a guide. And
what is the present to us, without a lingering feeling for the past? A state of self-complacency, strangely blended with restlessness, and an impatient desire to be something we are not, no matter what, to gain something we have not, no matter how.
If this be indeed the age of change, it may be well to stop awhile, and ask ourselves, whether all we have cast behind us, is quite so useless as we have presumed? Whether that which we may have retained, is only to be tolerated for a time, and soon to be thrown by as worthless ? Whether the present, in comparison with the old and despised past, is every thing, and compared with the vague but exciting future, nothing ?
It is not, however, my present purpose, to go into the question of the relative merits of past and present times ; but to speak, first, of the influence which a respect for the past has upon the mind; and, then, of the influence which an exclusive attention to the present has upon it.
I must not be understood as confining myself to the remote, when I speak of the past ; but as coming down and including both that which has more lately gone by us and taken its place in the memory, and sometimes even that which may still remain with us, but bearing the marks of age and the aspect of the past. This subject lies broad and deep in human nature; but all I can now do, is to set down a few of those thoughts which such a subject must call up in every reflecting mind, and to give utterance to only a part of those feelings which grow from it, and which are dear to me, because of my inward conviction of their truth.
The question naturally arises, in the outset, Is change, in itself considered, a good, or an evil ?
Existence may be so unvaried, as to bring a sluggishness into the feelings, and a sleepiness over the intellect; uniformity may settle down into dulness, and content be the mere absence of sensibility. There may also be a pertinacious adherence to what is old, growing out of a morose pride in it, rather than out of a kindly love of it; a sulky rejection of the new, merely because it is new, and not from a heartsense that “the old is better :"—there may be a more surly dislike of the one, than of considerate esteem, or mellowed affection for the other. Age sometimes bears youth a grudge, because not possessing that of which youth is full-buoyancy of spirits, hopefulness, and health.