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THE favour with which our former compilation -the “Cyclopædia of Poetical Quotations”—was received, and the numerous calls which we had for an extension of the plan of that work, induced us to determine on the issue of this companion volume, which, although exactly similar in size and price, and method of arrangement, yet possesses a decidedly distinctive feature in the sacred character of all the pieces included. We have endeavoured to make it one of the most complete collections of RELIGIOUS POETRY ever offered to the public; and cannot doubt that, as such, it will be acceptable to a very large class of readers. As the matter in this volume had to be arranged under a far less number of distinct headings than that of the work above named, there was space for the introduction of longer pieces, and thus many of the most beautiful specimens of devotional poetry, which are to be found in the literature of this and other nations, are given with little or no curtailment. Although there is much poetry of a religious character seattered through the former volume, yet—inasmuch as it is presumed
that most persons who possess the one will also desire to have the other—none of the pieces which may there be found are admitted into this compilation, except in some cases where it was felt that by re-uniting the portions there arranged under several headings, so complete and beautiful a whole could be presented, that its insertion here was almost rendered necessary.
As we wished to make our volume entirely unsectarian in its character, we have endeavoured to avoid the insertion of poems which involve merely doctrinal points. Those grand truths and principles of Christianity on which all denominations of the Saviour's professed followers are agreed, offered ample scope for poetic illustration; and happily, we could, alike from the pages of a Milton, a Watts, a Doddridge, a Wesley, a Montgomery, and a Keble, find plenty of matter for our purpose, without entering at all upon the thorny paths of controversy. The introduction of Scripture quotations at the head of each subject will, we apprehend, be considered a useful feature of our compilation. As might be expected, the noblest poetry that ever was written is to be found in the inspired volume, and those passages which we have selected therefrom, as specimens of poetic composition alone, will, we apprehend, be considered the true gems of the collection.
While we are upon the subject of Scripture quotations, we may perhaps be allowed to place before our readers a fine passage from Gilfillan's “Bards of the Bible,” in reference thereto:— .
“The charm which Scripture quotation adds to writing, let those tell who have read Milton, Bunyan, Burke, Foster, Southey, Croly, Carlyle, Macaulay, yea, and even Byron, all of whom have sown their pages with this orient pearl and brought thus an impulse from divine inspiration, to add to the effect of their own. Extracts from the Bible always attest and vindicate their origin. They nerve what else in the sentence in which they occur is pointless; they clear a space for themselves, and cast a wide glory around the page where they are found. Taken from the classics of the heart, all hearts vibrate more or less strongly to their voice. It is even as David felt of old toward the sword of Goliath, when he visited the high-priest, and said, “There is none like that, give it me;' so writers of true taste and sympathies feel on great occasions, when they have certain thoughts and feelings to express, a longing for that sharp two-edged sword, and an irresistible inclination to cry 'None like that, give it us; this right Damascus blade alone can cut the way of our thought into full utterance and victory.'”
From the Psalms of David, as giving expression in the most poetical and devotional form, to almost
every variety of passion and emotion of which the human mind is cognizant, we have, of course, taken a large proportion of our scripture passages, and therefore do we think it well to quote the above author's apostrophe to these sublime compositions.
“Wild, holy, tameless strains, how have you run down through ages in which large poems, systems, and religions have perished, firing the souls of poets, kissing the lips of children, smoothing the pillows of the dying, stirring the warrior to heroic rage, perfuming the chambers of solitary saints, and clasping into one the hearts and voices of thousands of assembled worshippers; tinging many a literature, and finding a home in many a land; and still ye seem as fresh, and young, and powerful as ever; yea, preparing for even mightier triumphs than when first chaunted! Britain, Germany, and America now sing you; but you must yet awaken the dumb millions of China and Japan.”
It has been beautifully and truly observed by the eloquent and learned Bishop Lowth, that “We shall think of Poetry much more humbly than it deserves, unless we direct our attention to that quarter where its importance is most eminently conspicuous, or unless we contemplate it as employed on sacred subjects, and in subserviance to religion. This indeed appears to have been the original office and destination of Poetry, and this it still so happily
performs, that in all other cases it seems out of character, as if intended for this purpose alone. In other instances Poetry appears to want the assistance of art, and in this to shine forth with all its natural splendour, or rather to be animated by that inspiration, which on other occasions is spoken of without being felt.”
These observations apply more especially to Hebrew Poetry, that loftiest and noblest manifestation of true poetic inspiration; and are quoted by Dr. Caunter in his able and judicious treatise on "The Poetry of the Pentateuch,” in reference to which the learned writer observes that “Sacred themes have inspired the greatest poets of almost every age, and of every civilized country where the true God has been adored, the doctrine of redemption promulgated, and the divine attributes avowed. Those sublime themes have called forth the highest intellectual endowments of man.” Herder, another profound critic, and lover of Poetry in its most sublime forms, says of it, that "without God it is a showy Papyrus without moisture; every system of morals without Him is a mere parasitical plant. It makes a flowery display in fine words, and sends forth its branches hither and thither; nay, it insinuates itself into every weak spot and crevice of the human soul; but the sun rises and it vanishes."
All true Poets have felt and known this, although