Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

With this class of men, however, we are not now to deal. There is another description of religious persons who seem to us to come to much the same result, so far as a cordial communion with works of genius is concerned, from feelings widely different. They are actuated, not by a spirit of severity or sectarian narrowness of thinking, but by the spirit of fear. Their care being fixed, "to fill their odorous lamps with deeds of light," they would not willingly hold communion with that which, though possibly lawful, may not be expedient. Now works of genius in their eyes are mere amusements. Any special good they would not therefore expect to derive from them. On the contrary, they seem to fear lest they should be tempted, by a cordial communion with these products of imagination, to wander in flowery paths, diverging widely from the narrow way of religion. The same effects would be apprehended from them as from all other dissipation. Meanwhile they suppose all this evil can be mingled with no good-no good at least for them. The spirit of literature and the fine arts, and the spirit of religion, are regarded as being by no means friends, and therefore in prudence to be considered as enemies.

Such has seemed to us to be the real state of mind in many religious persons of no ungentle spirit, in relation to this subject. Not that they have seriously settled the matter upon thorough reflection; more probably they have not reflected upon the subject by itself at all. But rather from an unconscious sense, which wonld find its expression in the language which we have given it, they gradually lay aside all works of imagination, or mere literature. The only exception usually made is in favor of Cowper or Young; but not that these may be read as creations of "the vision and the faculty divine;" they lie upon the table with Thomas à Kempis, or Doddridge, and like these, are meant to minister solely to their devotional feelings.

Much as we are grieved to see the productions of genius treated as if they could afford no positive good, worthy of the religious mind, we could bear it all with greater contentment, if such of our friends would confine themselves to their Bible and books of devotion. If they would come to the conclusion, that no good is to be sought for in other books but that which shall be immediately useful in their business, or profession, and would limit their reading accordingly, we could be better pleased. But they do by no means feel themselves to be so restricted. They hold themselves perfectly at liberty to read books which are neither devotional nor professional, so that—along with rational amusement-they only be "useful." A good, or utility

is thus admitted aside from that which is immediately needful to them as Christians, or men of a particular calling. Denying such good to works of mere literature, they seek it in "Libraries of useful knowledge," "Dictionaries of all arts and sciences." et id genus omne; wherein they read with great delight of useful arts for which they have no use, of facts which to them are mere lumber, of sciences (too superficially treated to serve the purpose of mental discipline) which have no reference to their professions. These works are vaguely called useful. They are supposed to minister, even to the Christian, knowledge of great worth to him, which he may with unmixed benefit spend much valuable time to acquire. Many religious persons, accordingly, who very properly feel it to be their duty to cultivate their minds, would seem to think they are discharging that duty with peculiar faithfulness, while they are restricting themselves to storing their memories from these repositories of useful facts. The views of utility upon which such a course of reading is founded, are evidently encouraged by the "spirit of the age." Nay, they are parts and specimens of that spirit. We shall not be so presumptuous as to condemn that spirit so far as it simply claims a high value for knowledge concerning the arts and sciences which have been so much advanced by the inventions and discoveries of the age. We will not deny, that the collections of "Useful knowledge" so favored by the "spirit of the age," may have their appropriate place in reading, to which the Christian resorts in fulfilling the acknowledged duty of cultivating his mind. We only venture to protest against such views of utility in reference to books, as would exclude, from being proper instruments in such cultivation, the productions of genius in literature.

The part which we should assign to the study of works of genius in the Christian's cultivation of his mind, may, however, seem too large. For we should maintain, that there is a branch of mental cultivation which has a close connection with the exhibition of religion in its beauty and perfection as an all-pervading principle; and that the useful reading in question has no part nor lot-while the study of works of higher literature has an important place-in promoting such cultivation. Could we make this double proposition clear to our readers, we should convince them, (we trust) that works of genius need not and should not be thrown aside, as affording merely a seductive and profitless amusement, better dispensed with by the Christian; but that they rather should be resorted to as having no small share in producing that species of cultivation which is nearly connected with religion.

VOL. I.-NO. I.

22

We begin by showing the grounds of that cultivation which is connected with religion, as they lie in the constitution of the mind itself. We would call the attention of our readers to a grand distiction between the faculties of the human mind, acknowledged in the ordinary language of men. By it the mind is spoken of as having its higher and its lower powers, which are variously termed moral and intellectual, reason and sense, reason and the understanding, and (in the Bible) flesh and spirit. The terms are by no means exactly parallel. Nor are we now interested to draw the line of the distinction which they may indicate with any great precision. It is enough to say, that the ordinary language of men, being the expression of a self-knowledge common to all, authorizes us to assume that there is a distinction between the faculties of the mind, which we may as well express in the most general terms, higher and lower. The nature of that distinction may be indicated in terms equally general. The lower faculties are those, obviously, which are most nearly connected with the senses, which generalize the notices received through those inlets, into maxims, and rules, and probable truths-which teach us the arts of civilized life, which, in short, fit us for our sojourning in this life of time and space. They are the faculties by which man stands as an animal above the rest of creation, far superior, but the same in kind. The higher faculties, on the other hand, are those which have not so close a connection with the senses. Through them we become conscious (as occasions arise) of ideas above the grasp of sense. That which our lower faculties have pronounced fit as a means to an end, is here tried by another, a moral standard. On all appropriate subjects we come hereby to an absolute and more essential truth. Our higher faculties are, in short, those which raise man above the animal in kind, and which mark him as the candidate for a life above that of time and sense, the subject of eternal responsibilities.

Now religion is a something added to the mind-a separate element of being, dwelling apart by itself-or it is simply the mind placed under the influence of the Spirit of God. The latter will he admitted of course. But if so, religion is manifested only through that part of our mind which is most capable of such manifestation. Which part that must be-whether the higher or the lower faculties-will be decided without hesitation. We should not then blame those who (with perfectly sound views as to our natural character) still call man a religious being, and who speak, likewise, of his religious faculties. They cannot mean, that man has a religious or holy nature, which by self-education alone can be raised up to the spiritual

life. Far from it. They simply mean, that man is endowed with an order of faculties through which religion can manifest itself; but which, without the actuating spirit of God, are still organs destitute of their proper enlivening and governing principle.

Here again we are to inquire, do the faculties through which religion is to manifest itself, exist in all in the same relative proportions, or in each individual in always the same state of perfection? If not, then religion must take some hue from the various minds, and conditions of the various minds, through which it makes itself seen. The essential marks of religion are common to all constitutions and epochs of mind. But who does not know, from his own observation, what a difference of temper and polish, of depth and extent, there is in the religion of different men? Who, that is entitled to judge, does not know how different, in these respects, he himself has been from himself at the several eras of his religious life?

We have, then, in this distinction in the human mind, and in the proportions and variableness of our higher and religious faculties, a firm ground on which to rest the conclusion, that there is room for an intellectual cultivation which may be in the highest degree favorable to the best growth and manifestation of religion. There is room for increasing the number of the modes by which the mind may exhibit itself under the guidance of religious principle; and appliances may be admitted to maintain or restore that general health of the mind, which is, as it were, the atmosphere wherein alone all intellectual or moral effort is made with freedom. Thus, and thus alone, by making the law of education or cultivation universal-as necessary to the adequate manifestation of religion as to successful intellectual effort—may religion be seen in all its beauty and extent, and practically acknowledged to be an all-pervading principle.

It will be a sad day for religion when it shall be generally thought otherwise-when the character of piety shall be held to have no relation to the cultivated or neglected state of those higher faculties through which it manifests itself. Religion will not then be exhibited in the profound, meditative life of a Leighton or Hale, or be incorporated in the sublimest efforts of such powers as those of Cudworth and Howe and Milton. It will be a superficial layer spread over all minds alike-affecting and calling into action no powers but those which are common to the highest and lowest minds of the race. Having but a narrow foundation in the distinctively religious elements of our being, it can never properly be progressive: it can never

gather depth and strength in the closet of meditation, but will seek a momentary enkindling in scenes of excitement, and find its chief theatre of display in plans of mere external activity, calling chiefly into play the mere powers of contrivance- -the skillful combination of palpable means to outward ends.

If we have been at all successful in the brief indication we have given of the grounds on which the cultivation in question rests, we are prepared to take up our second proposition, which denies to the knowledge claimed to be so eminently "useful" any part or lot-and claims for works of creative genius an important place-in effecting that noble work. For when we have seen the grounds on which the distinction in the subjects of cultivation rests, we are prepared for a corresponding distinction in the means. We see that each branch of mind must be addressed by influences in some degree kindred. That such is the process, with respect to the ordinary means established by Providence, a moment's reflection will teach us. We are placed in a state of civilization, or society at least, in which the powers of the understanding are called into action to provide for the common wants of life, and, by attaining a greater mastery over nature, to increase our enjoyments. In this school our lower faculties necessarily receive a degree of education. At the same time we are placed in public and private relations which call into exercise and cultivate the higher part of our mind. Many other influences are at work in either direction, which it is not to our purpose to enumerate. But in all, a distinction will be observed to reign, as to their source and character, corresponding to the distinction in the mind itself.

But of the many instruments of cultivation none is confessedly more important than the influence of mind upon mind, especially (what alone we are now called upon to consider) through books. And here we are required to show that the same distinction obtains. We think we discover it clearly. We see a class of works, produced by an order of men in whom mere talent predominates, which address themselves peculiarly to the lower faculties. This is the same class that claims for itself so peculiarly the name of useful. The ground of sympathy or kindred between the means and the subject of cultivation here is, that in such works the same faculties are addressed, which-existing in a higher degree-produce the works. The man of talent is a man of acquisition, not of original wealth. As the mere understanding is dependent on its inlets, the senses, so he must be ever gathering from without himself that which he would impart to other minds. His own mind originates nothing. Not that we would seem to

« ÎnapoiContinuați »