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Purity of life and heart are recommended by example, but never by precept. Thus, if the effect of her teachings is less obvious than that of Miss Edgeworth's, it is more permanent. During her lifetime Miss Edgeworth enjoyed a greater measure of popularity, while Miss Austen's fame is chiefly posthumous. If her own age did not quite do her justice, posterity has made her ample amends. Her influence cannot well be over-estimated. For our young authors, who affect the intense style, and load their books with meretricious ornament, she is the best of models. The issue of a new American edition of her novels should therefore be heartily welcomed, as sure to revive the interest of old, and to create many new admirers.
Art. VI. — NEW BOOKS OF PIETY..
T'wo Friends. By the Author of “The Patience of Hope ” and “A
Present Heaven.” Boston : Ticknor and Fields. 1863.
A GREAT improvement has taken place in the books which furnish spiritual reading to the people. The religious novel continues to be execrable, as by nature it must ever be, whether constructed in the interest of liberal or evangelical sects. It is either a clergyman masquerading in some second-hand livery of the ideal, or else a man in a surplice, and partially asphyxiated by the regulation cravat. When total immersion, immediate regeneration, the vicarious sacrifice, absolution and the dear confessional, and Dr. Pusey, get into the garret where a spinster Romance has hung the garments which she considers too poor to wear and too good to give away, they are certain to emerge in the plight which crows despise and the farmer himself distrusts. Doctrines, like medicine, may be thus smuggled into the interior, where they become a disease greater than any they expel. Still, if a man must make a case out of himself by getting his functions scientifically disordered by an adroit apothecary, the religious novel may con
VOL. LXXIV. — 5TH S. VOL. XII. NO. III. 36
tinue to wreak upon his system the prescribed amount of invalidism.
But the books which are filled with the spiritual meditations of individual minds are in these days in many respects better than the noted ones that were produced during the ages which have been called religious. There is a narrowness in all of those, which hurts their sweetness and purity. They are simply quietistic, or ascetic, or conventual; they are given up to ecstasy or to the blood of Christ. They express the famous moods of men who founded sects or thought to improve the religious life by starting some fine fantasy or opening some neglected tendency. They are on hands and knees, groping through a cave for the inner light, which is the daylight of God they left behind; it seems very intense as it streams through the crevice, but it is neither so available nor so exhilarating as all out-doors. Every kind of twilight strains the eyes. These books of interior life commit the metaphysical mistake of their epoch, by yearning after subjective impressions, ideal formulas, with a lively idiosyncrasy that calls itself the life of God in the soul. The Lord's Prayer is vapid and colorless to the amorous imagination of the pietists : yet its clauses suggest a future earth that shall blossom with spiritual intelligence. St. Bridget and St. Theresa never thought that they aspired until they could feel the marks of the nails in their palms and the spear-rent in their sides. They were consumed by desire, when they thought they were absorbed by the real presence.
These books strictly represented the amount of knowledge about God and Nature which was then the property of mankind. And all the canonized founders of sects, and the discoverers of some new luxury for the brooding soul, have spoken concerning intercourse with God from the total contents of their minds, as well as from their peculiar tenderness and longing. What they have had to report or recommend concerning Divine communion has never been able to transcend their ignorance of the laws, facts, and habits of the Divine Mind in man and Nature. But the Real Presence is in all things, and in all creatures, and can be worshipped only according as it is known.
Ecstasy has men and women to lift. Superior tackle and a novel purchase cannot lift more than the weight which the man ties on. Perhaps he thinks he is lifted when he is only straining away at the two handles of himself, and he does not budge an inch from the ground of his knowledge. If piety be the mere indulgence of interior sensations, it would be superfluous to make eternal life consist in knowing God. Then the best religious books would be always written by the spiritual Soyers who carry their pickles and flavors nicely packed about with them, ready to convert the impalpable and the obscure into ravishing pottage for the famished million. A great many such Barmecide feasts have been projected out of the interior consciousness; for it is one thing to be vividly conscious of what one feels or imagines, and quite another thing to become acquainted with the substantial and immanent God.
Among the knowable facts which ought to construct a substantial worship is the man himself who proposes to offer up this worship. The better man knows himself, the better will he distinguish between the efflorescence of his fancy, the caprices of his temperament, or the megrims of his body, and the natural spring-tides of his intelligent emotion, when the finite thought is drawn by the Infinite thought and piled up heavenward. This is human aspiration. It takes up the whole man and floats him on the moment's billow ; not a portion of him, or some exaggerated or diseased peculiarity, not a schirrous aggravation of some doctrine, nor a fit of spleen, nor a congested cerebellum, not the abjectness which waits upon monastic vice, nor the vanity of a struggle with something unnaturally repressed, not an access of hysteria, nor the spurious exaltation which is nothing but derangement of some central organ; but it is the whole feeling, the whole understanding, and the sense of human dependence, penetrated with intelligence concerning the inner and the outer world. Upon that tide the lily of devotion floats to let the sun draw sweet and natural fragrance from its sun-like cup.
Religious books are still a great way from expressing this tendency of mankind to love God with four things, heart, soul, mind, and strength, to let the actual, instead of the imaginary, worship. But an improvement has commenced in the direction of admitting into the texture of spiritual meditation those threads of God's loom which are fed to it by science, beauty, knowledge, and the social life. There is a good deal, for instance, in the little book whose title has been given, that is in harmony with what the people need to find in such spiritual meditations. Its beginning is too fanciful and strange, and through the mist of words there is a lift which might be mistaken for the land ; but after this effusory vein has been worked off, the book touches here and there, with grace and nobility of feeling, upon some of the best ideas of the time, and connects them with the aspirations of the soul for a more perfect inward life. We still detect the old vagueness which infests books of this class, and which is mistaken for remote and interior feeling. And there are sentimental pages which will pass with many ill-nourished minds for piety. But when the writer speaks of the communion of men, and strives to show that the true life of the soul results from the interdependence of many souls, and not from isolated rapture or individual goodness, she takes a great step out of the old cenobitic restrictions of pious books, and connects her pure thoughts with the wants of the age, with every project and movement that strives to bless mankind. Sometimes she seems to confound this tendency with the narrower notion of a combination among all Protestant and Roman sects, and she speaks warmly of a cosmopolitan catholic church to which she would love to see all people belonging. But the right key is touched when she says, “ A time comes to the soul when individualism becomes cramping, narrowing; when we feel conscious that we cannot breathe and move freely, either in work or prayer, except through the universal organic whole. ..... What is Christianity itself, but living to the whole instead of living to the part ?” Roman Catholicism “ has testified that the human race, whether in Adam or in Christ, is one ; but it has missed the contingent necessary truth, that because we are one, because we possess organic life, that life will assume different manifestations." The true Catholicity “ works ever towards the whole, its task is to bring back the One to the One, humanity to God. It looks also upon the individual man as one, a being spiritual, rational, and sensitive, and as such provides him
with food convenient for him ; it gives us no manna of mere spirituality, angels' food, thin and unsatisfying, but sets before us bread. It does not throw the whole strain of spiritual life upon a moment, a feeling, a movement of the heart, of which, at some other moment, and under some other feeling, the heart itself may doubt.”
This is well expressed, but the thought is not vigorously pressed into all its social and scientific ultimates. There is no pretence of doing this, however, and the excellence of the words consists in their suggestion that knowing, living, and feeling are the material of piety. “How can one, being laone, be warm?” The flame of the quietist is a will-o'-wisp, flickering in damp and midnight places; the rapture of the monk is a prairie-fire that roars sudden through the solitary stubble ; and all private aspiring is like a dim taper compared with the day that broadens heavenward, to mix with kindred day, through ranks of souls who are taking hands in order that the file may reach the hand of God. A watchman may carry his candle-end brilliantly in a lantern; perhaps he will help some belated or maudlin traveller home, or at least light the solace of a cigar for one whose matches are all spent. The runners at the Promethean race carried the single torch from hand to hand, which symbolized the divine spark once stolen for the man of clay, and its procession through the generations of men. . But when all hearts touch, the holy spark that informs them all leaps forth, and fire-light is kindled for the wants of mankind.
“I remember, last year, when I was recovering from a fever, lying one evening between sleeping and waking, too weak and restless to command my thoughts, which drifted out far beyond every known boundary into that dark, confused, diffused idea of God, in which he is at once everywhere and nowhere. Gently, gradually, I was drawn back by the low tones of my mother and sister pleasantly talking over some little household incidents in the fire-light; their gentle, subdued voices seemed to change the world from the void and chaos of nature into my Father's house; they led my spirit into His presence who rejoices in the habitable parts of the earth, and makes His delight in the sons of men.”
Such a passage as that would be a mere pleasant bit of sentiment, were it not for the facility with which it fits and turns