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visited by none but God himself, who visits after a different manner from the courtiers of the world.
Literature, also, was deeply tainted by the corruption of the times. Bad authors abounded, the Devil's amanuenses, and secretaries to the Prince of Darkness, who provided monstrosities of impiety and wickedness, which the people devoured, with the fire and brimstone flaming round them, and thus as it were digested death itself, and made a meal upon perdition. The sins of these infamous authors outlived themselves ; for a bad writer sins in his grave, corrupts others while he is rotting himself, and has a growing account in the other world, after he has paid nature's last debt in this ; and, in a word, quits this life like a man carried off by the plague, who, though he dies himself, yet does execution upon others by a surviving infection. In such traders for hell as these the pation abounded ; wretches who lived upon other men's sins, the common poisoners of youth, equally desperate in their fortunes and manners, and getting their very bread by the damnation of souls.
This is the representation South gives of his age, mostly in his own nervous language. He compares the monstrous increase of vice to the breaking of a sea upon the land, and affirms it too powerful to be within the reach of human remedies ; to be entirely remediless, “unless the great Governor of the world, who quells the rage and swelling of the sea, and sets bars and doors to it, beyond which the proudest of its waves cannot pass, shall, in his infinite compassion to us, do the same to that ocean of vice which now swells and roars, and lifts itself above all banks and bounds of human laws; and so, by his omnipotent word, reducing its power, and abasing its pride, shall at length say to it, “ Hitherto shalt thou come,
and no farther.' In all bis sermons relating to life and practical duty, in exposing the delusions of the passions, in ripping up the "concealing continents” of vice and error, in lashing sin and assisting struggling virtue, in the sharp analysis of all those thoughts and feelings which tend to deaden the conscience, South is eminently powerful, brilliant, and excellent. He is never misled by any sentiment or sentimentality from the direct path of virtue and truth. He calls every thing by its right name, and uses as little toleration to sin as to dissenters. His sermons on Covetousness, Education, Shamelessness in
Sin, Envy, the Misapplication of Names, Hypocrisy, Resignation, Prayer, Fasting, and many others, are full of admirable thoughts, expressed with a never-flagging life, directness, and splendor of language. His writings teem with important iruths, sharpened into epigrams or maxims. Thus, speaking of the heart, he says, “None knows how much villany lodges in this little retired room.” In exposing the sin of intemperance, he quaintly remarks, -" The conscience cannot stand up, when the understanding is drunk down. He who makes his belly his business will quickly come to have a conscience of as large a swallow as his throat.” In another connection he remarks, - “ It was the sop that slid the Devil into Judas, and the glutton that ushered in the traitor." Pride he defines to have been the Devil's sin and the Devil's ruin, and has been ever since the Devil's stratagem ; who, like an expert wrestler, usually gives a man a lift before he gives him a throw.” He is full of sly allusions to his time. Grub Street, with its squalor and bailiffs, was probably in his mind, when, in speaking of extemporary prayers, he remarked, God does not require us to beg our daily bread in blank verse, or show any thing of the poet in our devotions, but indigence and want.” At times his comparisons are arguments. Thus, he says finely of innocence, that “it is like polished armor ; it both adorns and defends." In referring to dunces occupying prominent situations, he tells them, — 6. If owls will not be hooted at, let them keep close within the tree, and not perch upon the upper boughs.” Again, he states the emptiness of fame, in a fine allusion :- 66 Those that are so fond of applause while they pursue it, how little do they taste it when they have it ! Like lightning, it only flashes upon the face, and is gone ; and it is well if it does not hurt the man.” It is rare that we ee a great truth more pertinently expressed than this :-“Guilt is that which quells the courage of the bold, ties the tongue of the eloquent, and makes greatness itself sneak and lurk, and behave itself poorly.” Joy, when perfect, he remarks, does not break out in violent eruptions, but “fills the soul, as God does the universe, silently and without noise.” In his sermon on Resignation, he anticipates Byron's line on man,
“ Degraded mass of animated dust,". calling the human being, as opposed to the divine, an “aspir
ing lump of dirt”; and again, "a pitiful piece of animated dirt.” To be angry under the dispensations of Providence he declares the height of folly as well as wickedness. “A man so behaving himself is nothing else but weakness and nakedness setting itself in battle-array against omnipotence; a handful of dust and ashes sending a challenge to all the host of heaven. For what else are words and talk against thunderbolts ; and the weak, empty noise of a querulous rage against Him who can speak worlds, who could word heaven and earth out of nothing, and can when he pleases word them into nothing again?” In a sermon on Education he speaks of some schoolmasters as executioners rather than instructers of youth, and remarks that “stripes and blows are fit to be used only on those who carry their brains in their backs." He calls the hypocrite a “masquerader in religion, as ever still dodging and doubling with God and man, and never speaking his mind, nor so much as opening his mouth in earnest, but when he eats or breathes.” Of the old, impotent, silverhaired sinner, “the broken and decrepit sensualist, creeping, as it were, to the Devil on all four,” he says that he is
a wretch so scorned, so despised, and so abandoned by all, that his very vices forsake him.” The covetous man he probes in this wise :
" The cries of the poor never enter into his ears ; if they do, he has always one ear readier to let them out than the other to take them in.
He is a pest and monster, greedier than the sea, barrener than the shore.” And further on he says, - “God may smite thee with some lingering, dispiriting disease, which shall crack the strength of thy sinews, and suck the marrow out of thy bones ; and then what pleasure can it be to wrap thy living skeleton in purple, and rot alive in cloth of gold, when thy clothes shall serve only to upbraid the uselessness of thy limbs, and thy rich fare stand before thee only to reproach and tanta. lize the weakness of thy stomach, while thy consumption is every day dressing thee up for the worms ?»
Several of South's sermons are devoted to peace. In these he gives a masterly reply to all the arguments urged in favor of duels and revenge. Of the successful duellist he says, " How fares it with him in the court of conscience ? Is he able to keep off the grim arrests of that? Can he drown the cry of blood, and bribe his own thoughts to let him alone? Can he fray off the vulture from his breast,
that night and day is gnawing his heart, and wounding it with ghastly and amazing reflections ?" One of his most magnificent images, conveyed with a rolling grandeur of expression, is devoted to the illustration of the seeming strength a revengeful spirit acquires from resistance.
“ As a storm could not be so hurtful, were it not for the opposition of trees and houses; it ruins nowhere, but where it is withstood and repelled. It has, indeed, the same force, when it passes over the rush, or the yielding osier ; but it does not roar nor become dreadful, till it grapples with the oak, and rattles upon the tops of the cedars.” Every one will confess that thiese extracts are in a higher strain of rhetoric than is commonly heard from the pulpit. They are not, however, isolated beauties, culled from a wide waste of verbiage and triteness, but characteristics of South's general style of thought and expression. His sermons are full of them; every page sparkles with wit, or glows with eloquence.
In reading the writings of a man evincing so much reach of thought and strength of nature as South, we cannot but be impressed with the injustice done to his talents, and to those of many other English divines, in the scale of precedence established among English authors. Thus, almost every commentator on English literature refers to Dryden's prose works, as evincing the relative perfection to which style had arrived in the age of Charles the Second. Men like Fox and Canning have expressed a fanatical admiration of his choice of terms and his powers of composition. Fox would not admit a word into his history of James the Second which had not been sanctioned by the use of Dryden. Yet, if any essay of Dryden be compared with a sermon by South or Barrow, both his contemporaries, no practised eye could fail to discern its inferiority in force, clearness, compactness, and richness of diction, as well as in depth and fertility of thought. We can account for this superior reputation enjoyed by a really inferior prose-writer, only by supposing that mere men of letters are indifferent to theological literature, and imbued with a prejudice that sermons afford little scope for originality, eloquence, wit, and the exhibition of striking traits of individual character ; and this prejudice we conceive to have arisen, in no slight degree, from the pious dilutions and debilities served weekly in this age from so many pulpits, by persons styled ministers of the gospel. It receives no support from Taylor, Chillingworth, Hall, South, Barrow, Butler, Newman, and Channing, – men separated from each other by as marked peculiarities as distinguish any celebrated poets and essayists, and from whose sermons alone an argument might be drawn for the vigor and versatility of the human intellect, and the exhaustless wealth of expression contained in the English language. Their purely literary merit places them far above many popular writers, who have had the luck to obtain a full recognition of their talents, by studiously disconnecting them from
virtue and religion.
This indifference to the treasures of thought and expression which lie unworked in the mines of old English divinity we deem an evil of some magnitude, as it indicates a decline in the standard by which theological literature is now tried. It is very easy to say, that this indifference is to be attributed to sin and worldliness in men ; but those most likely to urge this explanation had better decide first how much of it is due to mediocrity and dulness in preachers. It seems to us that theology is fast falling behind the other professions, in regard to the character and intelligence demanded in its professors. Depth, comprehension, a large knowledge of life, skill in dissecting evidence and motives, a general force of being which never yields to moral or intellectual timidity, are not now insisted upon as necessary to the clergyman. The toleration awarded to feeble sermons is the sharpest of all silent satires on the decline of divinity. Forcible men, men possessing sufficient vigor and vitality to “get along in the world,” rush almost universally into the other professions. Law and politics, in this country, draw into their vortex hundreds of scholars who ought to be preachers of God's word both to law and politics. If a youth of education does not evince enough understanding to sift evidence or tear away the defences of a sophism, — if he lacks sufficient nerve to badger a witness or amputate a leg, his parents think him eminently calculated for that other profession, whose members are to scatter the reasonings of Hume and Diderot, to smite wickedness in high places, to lay bare the baseness of accredited sins, to brave with an unflinching front the opposition of the selfish and the strong, and to dare, if need be, all the powers of earth and hell in the cause of justice and truth. This, we need not say, is