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We can scarcely imagine what Christianity was to the first converts ;--we can scarcely conceive the powerful and almost totally engrossing passion-for so we may call it-which it must have been. In those days of darkness and doubt, when the greatest philosophers expressed their uncertainty even of the being of a God, what must have been the mighty effect of that religion which assured immortality—not upon tedious reasonings, which even Cicero acknowledged left no impression when they ceased to sound in his ear ;-but by the word of him whose actions, doctrines, death, and resurrection proved him a God-proved him worthy of implicit trust, and of that religion, whose precepts are so consolatoryso pure--so admirably fitted to the weak yet heavenly soul of man!
We can scarcely picture to ourselves the lofty and transporting change which a Pagan of the Roman age must have experienced ; and we sometimes think, that the general enlightenment which has followed Christianity, and has enabled modern deists to trace and describe the moral duties, and the nature and attributes of the Godhead with so much more certainty than the ancients pretended to do-has rendered us forgetful of all the worldly blessings we enjoy since the advent of our Saviour; and has deadened the feelings of gratitude which we should experience for the light and knowledge with which we are filled. It is as the sun--we have looked on it since childhood, and feel none of those transporting joys which are experienced by those who have recovered their eyes after long blindness. To revert to the work before us.
The poem opens with a hymn to Apollo. The scene is laid at Antioch, where the worship of Apollo was pre-eminent. Mr. Milman says in his Preface, that he has s opposed to Christianity the most beautiful and most natural of heathen superstitions—the worship of the sun.” From this, one would be led more to expect the simple and sublime worship of the Peruvians, than the cumbrous mythology of ancient Rome, did one not know that the Peruvians could have nothing in common with Antioch. The opening hymn is long, but it has little lyrical enthusiasm and inspiration. The following is the manner in which the heroine is introduced ; the verses have much softness and tender beauty :
My way is through the dim licentious Daphne,
Oh, thou polluted, yet most lovely grove!
Oh, second Eden, like the first defiled
To silence and to God-Pp. 26-27. The midnight meeting of the Christians in the burying-ground reminds us strongly of the parallel scene in Valerius-we think it, however, more powerfully wrought out in the prose-work.
The following soliloquy of Margarita to her lyre has more poetry than most passages in the volume:
MAR. Yet once again I touch thy golden strings,
Toild up the steep of Calvary - Pp. 42–43. The most powerful part of the poem is, perhaps, the scene in which Margarita makes known to her father her conversion to Christianity. The father is the highpriest of Apollo ; and she was the maiden-priestess, whose lyre and enthusiastic song were wont to charm all the frequenters of the temple. The father feels proportionate pride in his child :
CALLIAS. Oh, my child ! my pride!
How shall I gaze on thee, through Daphne gliding
Amid thy white-robed choir of sacred maids,
MAR. ( apart). Ah me! and how t’unbarb the dart,
Çal. Thrice-dearest of our god !
No, father, no, thou couldst not,
How? what? mine ears
By Jesus Christ — by him
Lightnings blast-not thee,
Hymns, both of the Heathens and the Christians, are thickly interspersed through the volume. The following is a favourable specimen of Mr. Milman's lyrical style :
Come, the busy day is o'er,
The concluding scene of the death of the martyred Christians is got up with considerable pomp and power. We can afford room only for the account of Margarita's death.
Hear me but a while.