Text: Various, Literary Reviews, Southern Literary Messenger, vol. III, no. 6, June 1837, 3:399-400


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[page 399:]

CONVERSATIONS ON THE BIBLE,

Between a Mother and her Children. By Mrs. Sarah Hall. Published by Harrison Hall, Philadelphia.

We wish, heartily, that we could recommend this book (as its author meant it) for schools, or for any other purpose, to which books are usually applied. For the author was (we believe) an excellent lady; good intentions are manifest throughout; and the piety is not at all disfigured by the sectarian zeal, too apt to characterize such works. But it seems to us, precisely one of those tomes, the multiplication of which forms the chief literary grievance of this age. It is (if we may be allowed the bull) mediocre in the extreme. It is “correctly cold, and regularly low.” Without violating, so far as we have observed, a single rule of grammar, or egregiously transgressing a single canon of good taste, aye, or startling any orthodox mind by a single heresy in doctrine, — it is so entirely devoid of force, originality, and sprightliness, as to be one of the least captivating, certainly, if not least instructive, of the many books which we see encumber the literature of these times. Indeed, to a certain extent, a book must be attractive, in order to instruct. It may lay down the most judicious precepts, or tell histories with the best moral, in the world, yet in so heavy a manner, that no reader will ever voluntarily go through them — or indeed can go through them, without great difficulty, by reason of their soporific tendencies.

But perhaps the reader may suppose, that what these “Conversations” want in sparkle and sprightliness, they make up in solidity and depth. It is a very natural mistake of his; but it is a mistake. Not only is the stream neither limpid nor dimpling; — it is shallow, too: dull, without being deep. It is very seldom, very seldom indeed, that 360 closely printed pages (and pages of such gravity!) have comprised so little of profound or useful observation. We will mention one particular sin of omission: a failure to explain and reconcile an apparent discrepancy between an important and well established physical truth, and the Scripture, — so as to vindicate the latter from cavils which infidelity has grounded upon that discrepancy.

Modern Astronomy has demonstrated, that the Earth moves round the Sun; instead of the Sun’s moving round the Earth, as the ancient’s imagined. Joshua, however, is represented in Holy Writ as commanding that luminary to stand still — and it stood still — whilst he [column 2:] pursued and slaughtered his routed enemies. Now, infidels, knowing the astronomical truth we have stated, to be proved by irresistible mathematical demonstration, have artfully striven to impeach the divine origin of the Scriptures, by asking whether an inspired author would have made such a blunder, as to talk of the Sun’s resting in his daily course — as if he were the moving body, and the earth a fixed one? — The true, and most satisfactory answer to this argument is, that the Author of the Bible meant not to correct erroneous ideas in any kind of mere science; but simply, to speak in a manner intelligible to the mass of those whom he addressed; recognizing as true, what they deemed obvious; and not going out of his way to combat even their prejudices, when these did not interfere with his great design, of inculcating religious truth. There are texts, which seem to countenance submission to despotism, and addiction to strong drink, as well as to other more confessedly sinful practices: but does any sound interpreter therefore consider the Almighty as intending to approve those enormities? Surely, no! — But our authoress does not seize the occasion to furnish her young readers with this plain answer, to a sophism which, in their walk through life, will be sure to meet and puzzle them. She contents herself with narrating the incident, and then dismisses the subject with the following colloquy, designed merely to vindicate the credibility of the miracle:

Charles. Dear mother, you cannot believe that the sun and the moon were literally stayed in their course.

Mother. Why should I question the reality of this miracle more than that of others? Our imagination cannot reach the immensity of unlimited power, to which all things are possible. Nor is this stupendous prodigy represented as of common occurrence. The inspired writer affirms, that’ there was no day like that either before, or since, that the Lord hearkened in such an extraordinary manner to the voice of a man,’ and he confirms his own relation by an appeal to another record — “the book of Jasher.’”

Thus is the reader given to understand, (maugre the lights of Astronomy) that the Sun did and does literally perform a daily “course” in the sky: no hint is given him, of the very truth: when he learns it in afterlife, his mind is unprepared (by aught the present work contains) to reconcile Scriptural History with mathematical demonstration: and scepticism, if not unbelief, makes him its prey. If such be not the result, one almost as bad ensues: he remains forever dead to the most sublime and beautiful truth of the material Universe: he lives and dies in the grovelling belief (fortified, as he thinks, by Holy Writ) that this paltry earth is the centre and main part of creation; around which the sun, and all the stars circle and shine, merely to please the eye and light the path of the worm, Man, that crawls for his brief span upon its surface! A good Providence, by a system of just compensations, does indeed equalize the happiness of all human conditions, if vice be excluded; and therefore ignorance doubtless has its amends, in some counterbalancing advantage. Yet we cannot help regarding that ‘grovelling belief’ with the profoundest pity, when we compare it with the dilated conceptions of him who

“looks abroad through Nature, to the range

Of planets, suns, and adamantine spheres,

Wheeling unshaken through the void immense:”

and sees, in every one of a hundred thousand fixed [page 400:] stars, the source of light and the centre of motion to a system of revolving planets, each as large as this earth, — peopled by intelligent and accountable beings, objects of an all — seeing and all — powerful FATHER’S care, who at once watches over the minutest bird or insect, and rolls those “ponderous orbs” eternally through boundless space —

“In easy state presides o’er all their motions,

Directs the planets with a careless nod,

Conducts the sun, and regulates the spheres.”*

A book, designed as an aid in education, yet pretermitting such an opportunity to guard against a fallacy so dangerous to Faith — nay, even countenancing it; and doing much to diffuse and perpetuate a notion which blinds those who entertain it, to the noblest views of the Creator’s power and goodness; — should possess extraordinary merits in other respects, to atone for that defect: merits of which the volume before us is quite destitute.

In many narrative passages, the author, departing from the simple, pathetic, and time — hallowed language of the Scripture, tells the story in her own words, with many explanatory and interjected remarks; almost always with prejudice to its beauty, and interest. The stories of Joseph, Naomi and Ruth, Esther and Job, are particularly marred by this paraphrase. But to our taste, the sacred text has suffered most in two versifications: viz: of the Song of Moses and Miriam, page 83, and that of Deborah and Barak, page 154. We give the former, that our readers may judge for themselves.

“SONG OF MOSES AND MIRIAM.

“Begin the sacred dance — the timbrels bring,

Daughters of Israel, arise and sing.

To him, my father’s God, my strength. the Lord

Who triumphed gloriously — the praise accord.

My fortress, and my Saviour, he became,

He leads to war — the Lord his holy name!

Let Jacob’s grateful sons prepare a place

Where he may dwell among their favored race.

The people he redeemed, his mercy led

Victorious, through the sea’s exhausted bed.

The seas are thine! Obedient to thy will,

The rolling waves of Araby stood still.

Raised by Jehovah’s blast, that awful night

Beheld the barrier, wave on wave, upright.

Thy desperate foes pursue the hallowed path,

Darkness and tempest speak thy wasting wrath:

The flood returns — proud Egypt’s vaunted host,

Their kin — their chiefs — their chariots, all, are lost!

Low in the whelming waters of the deep,

Israel’s oppressor, — Pharaoh’s armies sleep!

The men of Palestine shall trembling hear

Moab and Edlom melt with grief and fear.

Which of the gods to whom the nations bend

Can winds and floods to their deliverance send?

Glorious in holiness — thy power exceeds,

In praises fearful — doing wondrous deeds!

Thine is the sword and shield — thy own right hand

Shall lead thy chosen to the promised land.

To him my strength, my father’s God, the Lord,

Who triumphed gloriously — the praise accord.

Thou, Lord, shalt bring us to thine heritage,

And rule — our sovereign king, from age to age.”

Can any thing be more tame and spiritless, than this paraphrase, compared with the original?

We prefer, to this book, a Bible History published some years since by the Rev. Andrew Broaddus; but infinitely more do we prefer that miscellany called “The Misses’ Magazine,” (translated from the French) [column 2:] which used to delight our boyish days: comprising, amongst many other entertaining and instructive things, a series of Dialogues on the Scriptures, which is, we verily believe, the best of all extant introductions of the young, to a study of the sacred volume: an introduction at once the most informing, and the most enticing.

To conclude, — we think that the book of which we have felt obliged to speak so unfavorably, ranks among that larger number of the publications of the day, which had better have never been written, or printed: serving, as they do, only to distract or overload the public mind by their variety and multitude. That is an evil which we have too long deplored, to hesitate in doing our duty as literary censors, however much we regret the irksomeness of that duty.

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CRITICAL NOTICE.

The North American Review. No. XCV. April, 1837.

This number, though hardly equal to its immediate predecessor, is yet good, and worthy of its stock.

The first article, “Drake’s Indian History,” contains some interesting notices of the Aborigines of our country, particularly those of New England, and the best account of the origin of the present (or late) war with the Seminoles, that we have seen. The second, on “American Forest Trees,” is evidently written con amore, and deserves much praise for the valuable information which it communicates, and for the elegance of its style. We only regret in reading it, that the writer did not execute his first intention, and give us also a few practical hints upon the subject of planting, instead of lumbering his article with the account of the mode in which the business of procuring timber and boards is carried on in the principal timber regions of Maine. This, to be sure, as he says, is “interesting from its own merit, as well as from the importance of the branch of industry which it describes,” but the other topic, we think, would have been rather more german [[germane]] to the matter in hand, and much more pleasing. The article which follows, on “ Modern French Poetry,” is but indifferent, and indeed quite insipid to our taste. Some of the translations, too, inserted in it, we see are, and others we suspect must be, poor copies of the originals. “Laborde’s Journey in Arabia Petrata,” is a long and elaborate piece of geography which has apparently been very carefully compiled from various authorities, but is rather too abundant in topographical details to be very agreeable to the general reader. Unfortunately, too, it omits (again) the most proper and pleasing topic which it could have contained, that is, the striking illustrations of the writings of the Hebrew Prophets, afforded by the present state of the land of Edom. The article on “The Writings of Bulwer,” is laudable for its morality, but superficial, and hardly just. “Poussin on American Rail Roads,” gives us a general view of all the leading rail roads of our country, both along the Atlantic coast, and to the interior, which is very satisfactory, and, we suppose, pretty nearly complete. We notice, indeed, some slight errors in the accounts of those of them which run, or are to run, in our own and the adjoining state of North Carolina; but they are not worth pointing out. “The Great Metropolis” is well and handsomely written, and the description of London, particularly, which it contains, is a perfect picture in its way. The review of “Ion” is just and judicious, but hardly worthy of that classic poem. And the last article, on the “Massachusetts Common Schools,” furnishes some useful and interesting information upon the subject of the provisions which have been made by the public and local authorities of that truly liberal state, for diffusing education among all classes of the community — excellent indeed and worthy of general imitation — and concludes the defence (begun in the previous number) of the character of the people of New England against the misrepresentations of some of their enemies — entirely fair, and written in a just and manly spirit which we fully and warmly approve.

The Critical Notices which follow are various as usual, and generally all that such things are intended or expected to be.

We commend this truly valuable periodical to the continued favor of the public.

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 400, column 1:]

* Johnson’s “Irene.”


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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - SLM, 1837] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Criticism - SLM Literary Reviews (May 1837)