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A WORTHY gentleman“, who is a collector of things rare and curious in their several kinds, shewed me a large shoeing-horn, which as tradition reports had been the property of an ancient abbot of Glastonbury. This relic of antiquity is very handsomely engraved with figures representing the seven works of charity; which are, the giving of bread to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, cloaths to the naked, lodging to strangers, visiting the sick, and prisoners, and burying the dead. On this my learned friend took occasion to remark, that in the ages before the Reformation, the subjects of the ornamental arts, which are now so universally
· The late Rev. Mr. Gostling, of Canterbury.
taken from the Heathen Mythology, were then generally borrowed from the Holy Scripture, and had some pious relation to the doctrines of Christianity. Of this he shewed me another remarkable instance in the powderhorn of King Henry VIII. which is adorned with the history of St. Stephen's martyrdom, in elegant figures of ivory. Whereas, had an artist of this age been set to invent a device for a powder-horn, his imagination would inmediately have suggested to him the fall of Phaeton, the Cyclops forging thunderbolts, or some like allusion to the history and effects of fire from the stores of the Heathen My, thology.
I shall not stop here to dispute which of these two sources, Paganism or Christianity, will furnish the best subjects for poets, painters, and sculptors to work upon: but I cannot help observing, that the general state of religion and manners may be judged of by the style and taste adopted in the ornamental
There might be a faulty superstition, with a mixture of simplicity bordering upon ignorance, in the works of former ages; but the style of them shewed that Christianity was the religion of the country, and that the several particulars of the sacred history were
then held in honour, as the subjects most worthy to be offered for admiration, and recommended by all the efforts of human ingenuity.
This was certainly the persuasion of those times: but in the present age the public taste can seldom find any thing but Heathen matter to work upon : from which it is natural to infer, that Heathenism is in better repute than formerly; and thence it will follow, that the public regard to Christianity, and all that relates to it, is proportionably declined.
Polydore Virgil, in his work De rerum inventoribus, tells us how in the middle
ages of the church, they christened the ceremonies of the Pagan superstition, and adapted their fables to the mysteries of the Christian worship: which observation will undoubtedly account for much of the pomp that appears in the celebrities of the modern church of Rome. There might possibly be a very good intention in thus attempting to reclaim what had been misapplied, in order to make an impression upon vulgar minds in their own way; but there was often great weakness and want of judgment in the manner, which should never be proposed for imitation. Thus much of their humour ought to be retained, that the true religion should, in all places, and on all occasions, be seen to preserve its superiority over the false; not merely because one is better than the other, but because the one is worthy of God, and will raise honourable sentiments in men, while the other was never intended for any thing but an engine of the devil, to infuse sentiments of impurity, obscenity, pride, and vanity, dishonourable to God, and destructive to man. Yet the taste for Heathen learning, which began to prevail about the times of the Reformation, hath been productive of an evil, which hath been growing upon us for two hundred years past, and hath at length given to Heathenism the upper hand in almost every subject. The fabulous objects of the Grecian mythology have even got possession of our churches; in one of whicho I have seen a monument, with elegant figures as large as the life, of the three Fates, Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, spinning and clipping the thread of a great man's life : by which species of memorial, he is taken as it were out of the hands of the true