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NOTES ON LITERATURE.
TRE LIFE AND TIMES OF Joan Calvin, the great Reformer. Translated from the German of Paul Henry, D. D., Minister and Seminary-Inspector in Berlin, by Henry Stebbing, D. D., F. R. S., in two volumes. New York: Robert Carter å Brothers.
This is a full and complete life of one who is, in a wide sense, a representative man. The book is rightly called “Life and Times," for it unfolds to us in nearly one thousand pages the general workings of the Reformation life during more than the first half of the 15th century. This was necessary in order to portray fully the life of the Reformer whose influence was so mighty a factor in the bistory of the times. Though there have been lives of Calvin before this, yet the theological public is agreed that this is the only work at all adequate to the theme. It is learned, thorough, and drawn from the best sources. The author inspires you with confidence on every page. Its great excellence is its sober dignified tone. It is not dramatical, in the style of De Aubigne, making characters frisk lightly before you, but a picture of earnest men with an earnest age as its background. Dr. Henry brings out the mind of Calvin, not only as it appears in his public acts, but also as it lies in his written works. How much of the true and most earnest life of a man like Calvin, after all, is found preserved as the soul of what he has written. This is frequently overlooked by biographers. There is much brought out in this volume which, if candidly read, will modify the views and feelings of many in regard to Calvin's peculiar theological viers; especially in regard to his relation to the melancholy case of Servetus. What gives this indication more force to the reader's mind is the fact that Dr. Henry gives evidence abundantly, as he passes along, that he has not taken up Calvin as a hero, but with a steady hand records his faults as well as his virtues. We earnestly comidend this Life of Calvin to all who seek true information in regard to this man of history. His deep and strong sacramental spirit, however difficult, perhaps impossible, it may be to reconcile it with his views concerning the divine decrees, is inuch needed at the present day as a check to Reformers of the Reformation. The Carters', of whose list of theological publications we have frequently spoke in praise, have done a good work in bringing out this excellent Life of Calvin.
ORIGIN AND ANIMUS OF THE GERMAN REFORMED CHURCH: A Discourse. By Rer. Geo, B. Russell, A. M., Pittsburg, Pa. Chambersburg: M. Kieffer & Co. 1:56.
This treatise inay be safely recommended to such as seek correct information in regard to the history and doctrinal spirit of the German Reformed Church. The sketch is necessarily brief, yet it is comprehensive, and breathes a spirit of openness and candor. Mr. Russell handles the pen well; and shows, moreover, in this discourse, that he has studied the deeper elements of modern church history with earnestness and care.
A COLLETION OF THRtY THOUSAND NAMES (F GERMAN, Swiss, DUTCH, FRENCH, Pos
TUGUESE AND OURER IMMIGRANTS IN PENNSYLVANIA; Chronologically arrangel from 1727 to 1776. By I. Daniel Rupp. Harrisburg. 1856.
This work is to be issued in monthly numbers till completed at $1 for the whole work, is paid in advance. A copy will be sent gratis to any one sending $10 with ten subscribers. Mr. Rupp deserves much praise for this work of patience. It will place in the hands of subscribers the means of tracing their ancestors, which must prove a great satisfaction to all who have not, under a false training, grown indifferent to their own earthly origin. We are among those who believe that any who care not about their earthly origin, care also as little as to anything higher. We are much mistaken if this work will not be much sought for.
THE GUARDIAN: A Magazine Devoted to týe Interests of Young Men and Ladies.
INJURIOUS LITERATURE OF THE DAY.
BY WM. C. SCOTT.
THERE is a classification of literature which consists of what are termed works of pleasure and amusement entertaining but innocent. Their claim of innocence may, perhaps, be conceded to this extent, that they avoid making a direct assault on any one of the social virtues; but, while yielding this concession, we are compelled to object to faults of another kind, as chargeable on this class of literature. A grand moral error, inseparable from such works, is an undue prominence given to pleasure as an object of pursuit. Connected with this error is another, viz., a fatal mistake as to what constitutes true pleasure. That there is an innocent diversion of mind, no one but a morose ascetic will for a moment deny. But this diversion should be to the mind what relaxation is to the body, an occasional relief from the more severe labors of life. But, if life itself is converted into a holiday; if the mind has no higher aim than pleasure, and the body no other employment than the gratification of its senses, then nature itself, in maintaining such an unnatural system of life, is forced to the necessity of obtaining variety and zest in its enjoyment by adopting artificial, stimulating and destructive ingredients, and pursuing a career of dissipation and profligacy, disastrous alike to the health of the body and the happiness of the mind. Man was not placed in this world merely to be diverted: and he who makes diversion his only aim in life, sacrifices both his duty and his happiness. Pleasure, when innocent, is always subordinate to duty; and he who holds duty supreme, takes the only course to secure real and permanent pleasure.
Here, then, is the grand defect of the class of writers under consideration. They make pleasure the great end of life; and they fail to discriminate between true and false pleasure. They take for granted that pleasure is the chief good_the one thing needful;" and they do not pause to inquire how it stands related to other interests, or to ask even if there be any interest apart from this. Nor do they deem it incumbent on them to ascertain what qualities are necessary to constitute true pleasure. This is not their office. They do not aspire to be teachers and guides, that they may instruct mankind what paths to choose and what to avoid. They aim only to be entertaining and amusing companions, to divert the tedium of the journey. It is not their part to correct the tastes and tendencies of the age. They must consult the popular taste, and fall in with the fashionable current, in order to render themselves as agreeable and pleasant as possible. They are well aware, too, what kind of entertainment the public taste demands. They know that in this reading age, most men read, not to be instructed and edified, but to be amused and diverted—that they desire to find in books not a sound, rational, and above all, not a religious entertainment; but wit, humor, novelty and a gay variety of painted scenes and images, passing like a comic panorama before the eye. In furnishing a supply for this public demand, they ply their colors to paint amusing caricatures of truth and nature. If they are admonished that there are other and higher interests, which are sacrificed by this indiscriminate and exclusive devotion to mere amusement; that it is indulged to the neglect of moral duty, and at the expense of rational happiness-inasmuch as it excludes that serious reflection which is indispensable to the knowledge of our duty, and maintains a frivolity of spirit, which is inconsistent with the experience of happiness, they will profess to be unable to discriminate in such subtle casuistry—they will say that a benevolent Creator doubtless designed that man should find enjoyment in life, and that any form of pleasure would be more agreeable to his will than habits of gloom and moping melancholy.
**" is tell such men, that pleasure all their bent,
And therefore 'tis a mark fools never hit." With them ple.. ure is everything or nothing. A proper medium, a due proportion, ani . subordinate relation to other interests, are conditions which they cannot conceive in their application to this subject. They see only the two extremes of incessant gaiety and unalleviated gloom; and the whole world to them is divided into but two classes, the devo. tees of pleasure and the victims of sorrow.
But what are the sources of this vaunted pleasure? Buoyancy of animal spirits, successive scenes of festive mirth, and a uniform frivolity of mind easily diverted and averse to habits of serious thought. This is the sum of all its attributes. How unworthy the character of a rational being! How incapable of satisfying the thirst of an immortal spirit! How entirely opposed to the attainment of that pure and permanent pleasure which christianity proffers to our acceptance! The one awakens the soul to the right exercise of its rational and moral powers, opens its vision on the surrounding scene, enables it to triumph over the evils of life, and draws its light and animation from an unfailing source. The other suspends the powers of the soul, blinds the mind to the inevitable realities of life, assumes a gay delusion which hides the features of truth, and a levity of spirit which shakes off the impressions of duty. The one is an ever-flowing stream, springing from perennial
fountains, sparkling here and there in many a sportive eddy, but still rolling on, spreading fertility and beauty in its course, and growing broader and deeper as it flows on forever. The other is an artificial reservoir, confined in its position, fed by temporary supplies, liable at any moment to escape by a sudden rupture of its embankment; or, if retained, it is only to grow putrid from stagnation, and exhale in deadly vapors under a blasting sun.
Now, these two systems of pleasure are obviously opposed to each other in their very nature. The very habits of mind and traits of character, which these amusing writers encourage and confirm, involve a permanent hostility to that entire scheme of happiness which is founded on rational and christian principles.
Nor is it merely a passive enmity of nature by which this vain system of pleasure stands opposed to christianity. It breaks forth in direct and aggressive hostility. Destitute of resources within itself, it makes predatory incursions on the sacred territory of truth, and converts the most awful solemnities of religion into subjects of mockery and sport. One of the most common instruments employed by these writers is ridiculea weapon most effective in the defence of prejudice, whatever may be its pretended value as a test of truth. This is a mere pretence, however, without a shadow of reason for its support; for it can be maintained only on the supposition that the blind prejudices of the multitude and the reigning fashions of the hour are in every instance identical with truth. For where lies the sense of ridicule? Not in opposition to abstract truth, but in opposition to the existing current of popular sympathy. This imparts oddity to an event, and absurdity to an opinion. This gives authority to a sneer, and a currency to a laugh. What, then, are the conditions of ridicule? Power of fancy to represent an object in a grotesque position; an arrogance of spirit which dares to despise it; and a coincidence of public sentiment which sustains the act and echoes the laugh. Again, to what feeling does ridicule make its appeal, but a feeling of shame? And what occasions shame, but a regard to public sentiment? Then, to make existing public sentiment a test of truth, would render truth a mere chameleon. Instead of being immutable in its nature, it would change its color and form with every . change of location. For not only in dress and diet, but in conduct and character, that which is the extreme of absurdity in one community is the sublime of dignity in another.
Such is the nature of the instrument chiefly used by writers of amusement.
They deal extensively in caricature. And where do they generally find their materials? What class of subjects do they select for the exercise of their ridicule? Errors that are popular ? Vices that are fashionable? The various forms of cant and hypocrisy that prevail in the more polite and polished circles of society ? Folly and guilt in any of the high places of the world ? Ah, no; that would be rather too serious an affair! There is influence-patronage-power to affect popularity in such quarters. The founders of fashion, the oracles of taste, the connoisseurs of refinement preside in these departments. The laugh might be turned against us. It would be more prudent to let them alone. So reason these polite authors. They turn to the
christian church, and select the peculiarity of christian character, as the most suitable subjects for satire. Here they find fair game and an open field. Here caricature may paint its distortions, and waggery may twirl its grimace and its attitudes, not only with impunity to themselves, hut to the infinite amusement of those gay and polished circles, whose propitious smile is so essential to literary reputation. .
Let any one revert in memory to the list of works of fiction which he has read, and then ask himself how many of the specimens of christian character introduced in such works have been faithful likenesses; and how many have been disgusting caricatures. And he will, perhaps, be surprised at the result. The christian name is represented as concealing under a mask of outward devotion, a character of malignity, or worldliness, or sensuality; and even when the outward profession is not made the veil of hypocrisy, it is openly associated with a character of fierce fanaticism, or contracted bigotry, or superstitious credulity, or ignorant stupidity. If a priest or parson be introduced, he is either some dark scheming scoundrel, or some effeminate fop of fashion, or some rubicund and roystering boon companion of the bottle, the card table and the fox chase; or some fanatical stickler for creeds and dogmas; or some devout ignoramus, whose piety, though sincere, excites pity instead of respect. Now, we admit that there are exceptions to this description; but they are so rare, as to be only exceptions to a general rule. The christian name is generally associated with some psalm-singing, sourvisaged, sanctimonious pretender to piety, with a jargon of religious cant, whose character exhibits most unlovely and distorted features, and whose life displays the most vile and contemptible conduct; while men of the world who make no pretension to piety, are set off in contrast with every noble and generous trait of character, and all high-minded and honorable actions of life.
Now, it is true, it may be replied to all this, that such unworthy characters have existed in the christian church; and the apology of Burns for his satires on religion, may be adopted:
“To stigmatize false friends of thine
Can ne'er defame thee.” But, we ask, why are evil examples so generally, introduced, and worthy ones so rarely? Is there any caveat or any intimation implied or expressed, that these examples were intended to represent only "false friends” and insincere pretenders to piety? Is there any thing in the manner in which they are introduced, to show that it was designed “to stigmatize" them, in order to relieve religion from the odium of their example? Or rather, does not the whole spirit of the performance indicate the deliberate purpose to injure the cause of religion by means of their example? At all events, whether intended or not, the practical result of such representations is to bring christian piety into contemptto identify the sincere devotion of an honest heart, and the straightforward consistency of christian principle, with superstitious cant and sanctimonious hypocrisy; and to induce irreligious men to feel contented and secure in their neglect of the whole subject of religion.
But in many instances, such writers go even beyond the point of ridiculing the christian name and profession. They make the solemu