Page images
PDF
EPUB

tality," says Hume,“ was the source of vice, disorder, sedition and idleness.” The pensioned wits and literary parasites of the age caught the infection and many of them became abandoned profligates. Anthony Wood who lived in the age of Charles II. alludes with great severity to "the vices of the poets” and the grossly immoral habits of the literary men of his own and the preceding age. Of one, he says, “ he wrote to maintain that high and loose course of living which poets generally follow," of another, who was perhaps the most celebrated wit of the age of Charles II. he remarks, being naturally inclined to excess of pleasure and mirth, dissolute men for some years heightened his spirts (inflamed with wine) into one almost uninterrupted fit of wantonness and intemperance. In short, we may, with justice, say of the productions of many of the poets of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries what one of the boon-companions of “rare Ben Johnson” said of a work of his,

How could that poem heat and vigor lack,
When each line of 't cost Ben a cup of sack.

The age of Queen Anne was somewhat improved though still distinctly marked with the same vices. The papers of Addison and Steele abound in the discussion of principles which are now taken for granted, and the avowed object of these essays was the reformation of popular vices. Yet Steele and Addison taught morals better by precept than example, for Steele was notoriously intemperate ; and Addison, says his biographer, was fond of the pleasures of tavern life and destroyed his constitution by habitual excess in wine. Prior, another celebrated poet of that age was said to be fond of low pleasures and ale-house companions. We are told by Spence also that “he cohabited with a despicable drab of the lowest species.” Pope being naturally of a feeble constitution could not bear the excitement of the convivial entertainment which the literati of the age so freely indulged in. Yet some of his minor poems betray a polluted imagination and exhibit greater wantonness and indecency than the works of his less temperate associates. The biographer of Sterne says, “ we may collect from his correspondence that without much warmth of heart he was a decided sensualist.” All his works bespeak the unprincipled libertine though sometimes concealed beneath the sacred surplice. He was

undoubtedly more solicitous about the gratification of his own pleasures than the welfare of mankind. Thompson preferred the transient pleasures of the voluptuary to the quiet of domestic life. He was a decided sensualist. Johnson could practice abstinence but not temperance. “Many a day," says Boswell, “did he fast, many a year refrain from wine ; but when he did eat it was voraciously; when he did drink it was copiously.” “ Poor Goldsmith" was dissipated, but his follies injured none but himself. The same may be said of Thompson and Johnson. These three last named authors deserve the gratitude of mankind that they did not suffer their private vices to poison the well spring of human sympathies nor make their own undying thoughts the vehicle of intemperance and sensuality. Would that their successors had imitated their example. Many of the most admired poems of a more recent date are redolent with the fumes of wine. Byron often drank his inspiration from the bottle. His Don Juan is the offspring of lust and inebriation, and its sentiments are fit only for the dram shop and the brothel. Some of the most spirited productions of Charles Lamb were penned in the very delirium of intoxication. Let us in imagination, for a moment, look in upon this charming favorite of the muses as he is finishing one of his delightful essays. See him, at midnight, shrouded in tobacco smoke with one hand grasping a pen and the other a drinking glass, with a bottle in front; and after sipping his favorite beverage, hear himn exclaim, “must I then leave you gin, rum, brandy, aqua vitæ, pleasant jolly fellows ? Hang temperance and him that first invented it." Let his biographer now explain the enigma. “ Drinking with him except so far as it cooled a feverish thirst was not a sensual but an intellectual pleasure. It lighted up his fading fancy; enriched his humor and impelled the struggling thought or beautiful image into day.” It is a pity that intemperate authors should have their boon companions for their biographers, who either positively commend their vices or apologise for them. Thus the influence of their crimes is not only perpetuated by their works but by their eulogists.

Perhaps it may be said that this exposure of the vices of literary men diminishes our respect for men of genius and dishonors those whom we wish to admire and love. D’Israeli in his “ Quarrels of Authors,” has furnished us with a perti. nent reply: “ This chapter is not honorable to authors—but it may be useful ; and that is a quality not less valuable to the public. It lets. in their readers to a kind of knowledge, which opens a necessary comment on certain works, and enlarges our comprehension of their spirit.” Besides, we wish to know the character of those with whom we associate. When Byron died, the libertine did not die. He still lives and his works have given to him a sort of ubiquity. He is now the intimate associate of thousands who might never have heard his name had he not written “ Don Juan.” Were that accomplished libertine bodily present, in every family where his licentious poetry is now read with all the fascination of manners, brilliancy of wit, sprightliness of conversation and seductive arts of intrigue that characterized him while living, his influence would scarcely be increased. He has embodied his infamous principles in his works. He has thrown around them the charms of sentiment, of wit and of eloquence. The living voice and captivating manner of the author could scarcely render them more seductive. Here, the solitary student and the modest maiden may become acquainted with the nobleman without the formalities of an introduction. Impelled by a desire for forbidden knowledge they receive, from his hand, the proffered volume, and like the monarch in Eastern story, inhale death while they turn the poisoned pages.

When Burns died the drunkard did not die.—He still lives, and by his admired songs, commending strong drink and good fellowship, whispers encouragement to many a hesitating student as he first takes his seat in the social circle. Burns is still the life and soul of many a convivial party and many a toper, who never heard the name of Burns, has joined in the chorus,

“We'll take a cup of kindness yet,

For auld lang syne." In conclusion, let us revert once more, to the comparatively feeble influence of ancient literature in respect to intemperance and licentiousness. The student who seeks corruption as his element may undoubtedly find it in the compass of ancient literature. Few, however, have the diligence to seek it there, when they can find it more to their taste in their vernacular tongue. “ It is not” says an American writer, “ the man who keeps Homer, Sophocles and Virgil upon his table, in whose

bosom one might expect to see the foulness and damp of impurity, but he who has neither industry to learn nor elevated feeling to appreciate the productions of such minds, and who finds his lazy level in communion with the corrupting novels of Fielding or the poetry of Byron and Moore.” The licentious poetry of antiquity is generally too gross and the drinking songs too insipid to excite the jaded appetite of the inebriate or inflame the passions of the sensualist, till dressed out in a modern suit. It is not probable that any student's imagination was ever fired and his drooping spirits roused for a drunken revel by reading the “Nunc est bibendum” of Horace, as they are by the delicate and insinuating address of that “ sentimental foolTom Moore (as he is significantly named by the author of the Puritan) :

“ Friend of my life this wine cup sip,
'Twill chase away thy care,” etc.

or that other drinking song of Campbell:

" Drink ye to her that each loves best,” etc. Such sentiments are committed to memory by the student, and are garnered in the store-house of the soul as the choicest flow. ers of poesy,the beauties” of these admired authors. There, like a slow poison, they sap the moral constitution and gradually introduce moral death.

Licentiousness when dressed in the simple costume of anti. quity has comparatively little to kindle unhallowed emotions, but, “ tricked out in the tawdry finery of modern sensualism, with all the meretriciousornaments of a refined voluptuousness, it easily attracts the attention of the unsophisticated, decoys the unwary, and steals upon the prudent even in retirement." Thus the mind of the reader is debased, his imagination polluted, his passions inflamed, his appetites vitiated, and his soul ruined.

SECOND SERIES, VOL. III. NO. II.

ARTICLE III.

THE LAND OF GOSHEN, AND THE EXODUS OF THE

ELITES.

By Edward Robinson, D. D., Prof. Bib. Lit. New-York Theol. Sem., New-York.

To the Editor of the Biblical Repository: Dear Sir,

In the number of the Biblical Repository for Oct. 1832, Vol. II. p. 743, sq., there is an article by me on the Land of Goshen, and the miraculous passage of the Red Sea by the Israelites. That article was prepared with the best helps which were then accessible, particularly the Travels of Niebuhr and Burckhardt; and I am not aware that any better than these are yet extant. But having been permitted to visit the country in question in the spring of 1838, in company with the Rev. Eli Smith, the same subject naturally claimed a first place among the objects of our attention. We both entered upon the inquiry, I believe, with a sincere and earnest desire to arrive only at the truth ; without regard to the opinions of former travellers, or our own previous views. We could have no other wish or interest, than to serve the cause of truth. The reader will find in the present article, that the result of our investigations led only to a stronger conviction of the general correctness of my former view. Indeed, the nature of the country, and the circumstances of the case, are so marked, that I hardly think any candid person acquainted with the whole subject, who should view the Red Sea and the adjacent country on the spot, would find it possible to come to any other conclusion.

The following pages comprise an extract from the account of our Journey, which will not be published for several months to come. Whoever chooses to compare this article with the former one, will not be slow, I think, to perceive the difference between the report of an eyewitness and that of a mere compiler.

E. R. Berlin, Oct. 9th, 1839.

« PreviousContinue »