« PreviousContinue »
in a brief notice published in the “ Independent," from which he will venture to quote the following:
“ Mr. Bickersteth states in the preface that the design of this poem has been laid up in his heart for more than twenty years.' The execution of it, however, at last, occupied two years only; and it comes forth with all the freshness of a new creation. In common with a large number in the Church of England, he understands prophecy as indicating a personal reign of Christ on earth, to commence at a day now not distant; and his poem is constructed in accordance with this theory. But it is by no means necessary to adopt his views on this particular topic in order to enjoy his fine poetical conceptions. Apart from its interpretations of the prophetic symbols, the volume is eminently worthy to be read.
“One of the questions in relation to the Paradise Lost' — often discussed, but never quite decided by the critics - has been whether or not that can properly be called an epic poem. The same question, on precisely the same grounds, may be raised in respect to the ‘Yesterday, To-day, and Forever.' Both poems abound in epic narrative; yet both lack the unity of plan and action that characterize the Iliad, which proposes, at the outset, Achilles's wrath and its consequences as the subject to be treated. Both are pervaded by the epic spirit, although in neither are the different acts bound together by their relation to the fortunes of one hero. In common with the sublime work of Dante, both are, in fact, magnificent visions, richly diversified, and exhibiting all the essential elements of heroic poetry, but not limited to the range allowed in the evolution of the deeds and fortunes of a chief central actor. These three visions are, indeed, but different views of the same grand objects of human thought and interest, - sin, redemption, and salvation. But, as Milton, because he wrote out of the depths of his own intellect and heart, and from the inspiration of his own genius, neither copied nor imitated Dante, so Bickersteth has shown himself a great and original poet, by treating substantially the same thenies as Milton, without the least appearance of treading in his steps, and in a style singularly original and fresh. He has conceived his subject for himself, has handled it after a fashion of his own; and, while embodying in it the type of religious thought and feeling which belongs distinctively to his time, bas impressed on the whole work his own intellectual and moral image, as completely as either of his illustrious predecessors did on his.
“Beginning with the death of the Seer, and his entrance into Paradise, the poem recounts the whole drama of earth's moral history, in the form of a narrative from the lips of Oriel, his guardian angel. Our limits will not allow us to go into any analysis of the action represented. We can only say that it exhibits a rich and creative imagination, an exquisite purity of taste, and a power of delineation that leaves little to be desired. Nothing is vague and half-conceived, or indistinctly told. The language is simple and precise, rarely turgid or strained, or marred with affectations of any sort. In the mode of conceiving and describing the scenery and life of the invisible world, there is a felicitous medium between the grossness of sheer materialism on the one hand, and the shadowy tenuity of an unreal spiritualism on the other. Aside from the brief and simple statements of the Scriptures themselves, we have read nothing, to our thought, at all comparable to these pictures of the intermediate state of departed souls. In the progress of the dramatic development of the plan, the interest is well sustained, and holds the unflagging attention of the reader to the last. If, along with a power to appreciate charming language and the harmonies of verse, one has also a heart warm with devout affection and in quick sympathy with what is truly spiritual and divine, he cannot but find pleasure, absorbing and intense, yet altogether healthful, in this noble contribution to English sacred literature. No Christian heart, it would seem, can fail to be refreshed and made permanently better by finding itself borne up, as on mighty wings, into the highest regions of religious thought, and enabled to study, in one comprehensive view, the great scheme of Eternal Providence for the recovery of the human race to holiness and life. We have felt, on laying down this volume, as if we had been for some time wandering through the bewildering loveliness of Paradise ; breathing its vital air, communing with angels and the spirits of the just made perfect, and beholding the face and hearing the voice of the Blessed One whom the holy in all worlds adore. Such, we can hardly doubt, will be the experience of many who will read and re-read its quickening and inspiring pages.”
Our maturer judgment has confirmed these first impressions. The popular heart, too, has responded at last to the touching power of this great poem. Although so far removed from the materialistic and sceptical spirit which extensively pervades the current literature, it has attracted even the worldly to its pages. Though as full of
Though as full of Christian truth and feeling as that enchanting dream, the “ Pilgrim's
Progress,” like that inimitable book, it has arrested and held the attention of widely different classes. More than twenty thousand copies have been sold in this country. Many lovers of heavenly things have found themselves spiritually refreshed and quickened, while feasting both intellect and imagination amidst its magnificent visions. instance within our knowledge, an intelligent sceptic, who had retired from business to enjoy his wealth, was indebted to the reading of it for a renovated faith and a Christian hope that brightened as he entered, soon after, within the vale to behold for himself the invisible realities. If the captious critic should maintain that it is no certain proof of high artistic merit in a poem, that it has produced practical results that might have been reached by means of words in simple prose as well, we grant it. But when you have an original and splendid poem that artistically satisfies the critical intellect and the discriminating taste, it is high praise to be able to say that, in addition to all this, it speaks effectively to that which is divinest in the human soul, — its moral and religious nature. indeed, fully of the opinion that poetry, to be of the highest order, must always be subservient to an end, or ends, beyond that of merely affording a transient pleasure. As one of the noblest of the