Page images











Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1831, by Gray & Bowen, in the

Clerk's Office of the District Court of Massachusetts.


Printers to the University.


Cop. 2




The Book of Psalms has been styled by some of the German critics, in allusion to a portion of Grecian literature, THE HEBREW ANTHOLOGY; that is, a collection of the lyric, moral, historical, and elegiac poetry of the Hebrews. Regarded in this light alone, it presents a most interesting subject of literary taste and curiosity. Many of these psalms must have been composed some hundreds of years before the period, which is commonly assigned to the existence of the Iliad of Homer. But it is not with them as with many of the productions of the classic muse, of which the antiquity constitutes their greatest claim upon the attention of the scholar; and of which the subjects possess little or no interest for the world in its manhood. It was the privilege of the Hebrew bards to be employed upon subjects, possessing an interest as enduring as the attributes of God, and the nature of dependent man. Their poetry has the deep foundation of eternal truth. It comes, for the most part, in language the most glowing from the very depths of the soul, rich in sentiments adapted to the soul's most urgent wants. Hence its living spirit, its immortal freshness. Hence its power of reaching the hearts of all men, in all countries and in all ages. Where in the whole compass of literature can one find more of the thoughts that breathe and words that burn, than in the Hebrew Anthology? Then, too, what variety is there in the subjects of these ancient compositions ! How diverse the states of heart and fortune that occasioned them! How various the strains of joy, sorrow, love, hope, fear, remorse, and penitence, which come from the sacred lyre! Surely his must be a singular human soul, that is not touched by some of them.

What a sensation would be produced in the literary world by such a collection of poetry as is presented in the Book of Psalms, could it come recommended by the attraction of novelty. But the truth is, that, in general, the ear is accustomed to these admirable productions, before the mind can comprehend their meaning, or feel their beauty ; so that, in maturer life, it requires no inconsiderable effort to give them that attention, which is necessary for the reception of the impressions they are adapted to impart.

Another obstacle to a proper estimate of the sacred poetry is the very imperfect translation, and wretched arrangement, in which it has been presented to English readers. Let the lover of poetry imagine what impressions he should receive from the odes of Collins or Gray, cut up into fragments like the verses in the common version of the Bible, and he may comprehend what injustice has been done to the Hebrew poets.

The compositions in the Book of Psalms are the productions of various authors and periods, belong to different species of poetry, and possess various degrees of poetic merit. While some of them present the fresh gushes of excited feeling, or the calmer expression of the sublimest sentiments, in the boldest language of poetry; others consist only in the artificial arrangement of moral maxims, in a sententious style; or in elaborate and imitative prayers and praises, prepared for the public worship of God.

The peculiar religious character of the Psalms, which distinguishes them from the productions of other nations of antiquity, is well worthy of the attention of such as are disposed to doubt the reality of the Jewish Revelation. I do not refer to the prophetic character, which some of them are supposed to possess, but to the comparative purity and fervor of religious feeling, which they manifest; the sublimity and justness of the views of the Deity and of his government of the world, which they present; and the clear perception of a spiritual good, infinitely to be preferred to any external possession, which is found in them. Let them be considered as the expression and fruit of the principles of the Jewish religion, as they existed in the minds of pious Israelites, and do they not bear delightful testimony to the reality of the successive revelations, alleged to have been made to the Hebrew nation, and of the peculiar relation, which the Most High is said to have sustained towards them?

Let the unbeliever compare the productions of the Hebrew poets with those of the most enlightened periods of Grecian literature. Let him explain how it happened, that in the most celebrated cities of antiquity, which human reason had adorned with the most splendid trophies of art, whose architecture it is now thought high praise to imitate well, whose sculpture almost gave life to marble, whose poetry has never been surpassed, and whose eloquence has never been equalled, a religion prevailed so absurd and frivolous, as to be beneath the contempt* of a child at the present day; while in an obscure corner of the world, in a nation in some respects imperfectly civilized, were breathed forth those strains of devotion, which now animate the hearts of millions, and are the vehicle of their feelings to the throne of God. Let him say, if there be not some ground for the conclusion, that whilst the corner-stone of the heathen systems of religion was unassisted human reason, that of the Jewish was an immediate revelation from the Father of lights.

The hearts of the pious for ages have felt the value of the Psalms, as helps to devotion; and many have labored for expressions, in which to set forth their praise. For its truth as well as beauty we quote the following description by Bishop Horne, who yet saw some things in them, which modern views of interpretation will not permit us to find.

'In them,' says he, we are instructed to conceive of the subjects of religion aright, and to express the different affec

* I speak of the prevailing religion. I do not regard the excellent views of God and providence, entertained by a few of the Grecian philosophers, such, for instance, as those attributed to Socrates in the Memorabilia of Xenophon, as inconsistent with the tenor of my remarks.

« PreviousContinue »