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Platonic dexterity, availed himself of the rhetorical artifice of substituting the singular God for the plural Gods. It were, indeed, worse than cruelty to blame him. He felt, no doubt, and naturally felt—who does not sympathize with him in the feeling ?-that the coincidence of the faith here so eloquently recommended, with the faith that could be decently required of a Christian man, would be awkwardly (to say the least of it) interfered with, if THE FACT were placed prominently before his readers, that the belief which it is here assumed to be impiety to doubt, was neither more nor less than belief in the Pagan mythology ;-if the reader were, from the outset, set on his guard and warned to take notice that all these circumstances of parental fondness-of time-hallowed honour—of national and universal authority—of touching tenderness—of splendour-of solemnity-of beauty-of feeling-of majesty-were associations connected with the basest, the hollowest, the most degrading superstition that ever held the human mind in dishonourable and flagitious thraldom. « With these and such-like fables,” exclaims Minucius Felix, after recounting some of the venerable testimonies of the sons of the Gods.
- With such fables and lying stories their minds, when children, are corrupted—they grow up to manhood with such fables deeply rooted in their belief-and infatuated with such false opinions the wretched victims pass on to old age; while truth is still ready to present herself, though only to those who seek her.”
But Plato, according to Mr. Sewell, was no Polytheist : we quote the conclusion of a remarkable passage, in which Plato's discovery of certain supposed intelligences presiding in the heavenly orbs of fire is paralleled with Moses' recognition of the presence of God in the burning bush :
“ In attributing certain creations and movements, so full of order, to spiritual beings, watching over them and tending them as their care-beings who, in his view, deserve our reverence and worship, Plato only infers a fact, which Christianity distinctly asserts, of the existence of ministering spirits. He does not infringe in the least on the unity of the one supreme God. He represents them as creatures. He only makes the mistake, impossible for a Heathen not to make, that the mediation between God and man is carried on through a spiritual hierarchy of angels, not through the deity in the person of our blessed Lord.”-(p. 287.)
We have now neither room nor inclination to enter that vexed sea of controversy which covers the question respecting the theogonies of Plato—we cannot stop to inquire, in what sense the generation of particular intelligences from the great universal mind can be called a creation, or the generated Dæmons creatures—nor how far Mr. Sewell can be justified in his fine transition from the Platonic principle, that the heavenly bodies are “in some way or
other” connected with mind, to the assumption that those heavenly bodies might fairly come in for the reverence which “it was impossible for a heathen” not to render to the Genii thus ambiguously connected with them. Neither can we now expose the gross confusion which makes no distinction between the unpersonal, unreal abstraction which passed with Plato for the supreme and the living God of the Christians. We take the statement as we find it, and we beg leave to say that in publishing such a statement, Mr. Sewell has consulted neither for his own honour, nor the good of his scholars, nor the credit of the university which made him a privileged instructor of youth. If Plato's theology had advanced no farther than to suppose the motions of the heavenly spheres, and the concerns of men, to be managed through a permanent hierarchy of subordinate intelligences, we should readily have confessed that such a theology infringed in no degree the unity of God, neither in a metaphysical nor a moral
But when a similar claim of acquittal is made for a theology which prescribes the worship of these beings—whose several privileges, characters, powers, capacity of hearing prayer, or of answering it, no man could tell or even guess—nay, whose existence was but a probable conjecture; when we are called on to acquit of the charge of infringing the moral unity of God, a philosopher who, without the shadow of warrant, either from nature or revelation, presumed to pay that honour which, of natural right none but the Most High can claim, to beings whom, out of his own head, he had invested with certain immunities and powers which God had never given them—nay, to sanction their public worship, to the exclusion of the public worship or even mention of the Most High—we must be pardoned if we hesitate at so unusual an extension of our charity.
Let those who gravely defend the pure theism of the ancient philosophers shew us when or where, before the preaching of Christianity, any one of the tribe established or recommended the public worship or recognition of the one supreme Creator and Governor as such. This is a moral test of their sincerity in teaching the unity of God, liable to none of the difficulties and ambiguities of metaphysical or critical disquisition.
The subject tempts us to linger; but our contracting limits warn us to break off. Yet we must try to find room for one or two more observations, before we conclude.
We consider Mr. Sewell's account of the Platonic theory of ideas to be exceedingly inadequate and superficial. The Platonic system of ideas, like every other system of realism, must, when fairly and legitimately pressed to its consequences, terminate in a subtle and spiritualized Pantheistic theory: the same process by which the lowest grade of individuals is resolved into its next superior genus, holding on still until all varieties and differences have vanished before the magic of refined analysis, and nothing is left but one perfect objective uncompounded unity. That this was the real drift of the theory, the intelligent reader of the Parmenides can scarcely doubt; and it is peculiarly necessary at the present time to guard the reader against such a tendency; as it is one in which the popular philosophic taste participates in no ordinary degree.
We may add that there is another danger against which Mr. Sewell has by no means sufficiently warned the student: we mean that which arises from the elaborate sensuality which colours the whole texture of a great portion of the dialogues of Plato; sometimes, as in the Symposion, appearing in the disgusting nakedness of the grossest and most degrading obscenity; oftener, insinuated in the form of sly allusion or sportive pleasantry,
Where Mr. Sewell refers to this subject, it is in the character of the apologist of Plato; and his remarks principally consist of excuses and extenuations. Extenuations we gladly accept ; but, if the severe judgment of truth be required, no excuse can be allowed. Let us allow as much as we may to the depravity of the age, still no condescension of this nature-condescension to vices which God and nature have stamped as the blackest that can disgrace humanity—could be excuseable in any one who saw and acknowledged their deformity. Nor are those apologies for the ancients which dispose us to hear with toleration, if not with pleasure, from them, what could not fail to fill us with horror and disgust, if spoken by any other lips, without serious peril to the integrity of our moral sentiments. Let us consider, when we put the writings of Plato indiscriminately into the hands of the youthful student, that the pictures of vice are such as cannot fail to strike the fancy,—to be understood and felt; while the tedious disquisitions upon metaphysics and morality, by which that effect is to be corrected, require a vigorous effort of the understanding to attain their meaning, and a considerable degree of calm reflection to fix their practical influence.
LUTHER: a Poem. By ROBERT MONTGOMERY, M.A. London:
Baisler. 1842. THE BAPTISTERY; or, the Way of Eternal Life. By the
Author of « The Cathedral.” 8vo. Oxford: Parker. 1842.
In what we are now about to write, we must be understood to speak unwillingly. When we are unable to approve a book, and yet feel no vital principle endangered by its circulation, our usual course is to leave it unnoticed, and pass onward to some topic which more urgently requires either furtherance or opposition. In the present case, however, we are scarcely permitted to adhere to this rule. We are called upon to express an opinion, and if we do so, it must be an honest and outspoken one. We shall differ from many friends in the judgment we have formed; but of such we have only to claim the justice of having our remarks calmly considered, and their truth admitted where the evidence suffices.
We have coupled with Mr. Montgomery's work, that of Mr. Williams,-of the theology of which we have said something in a former number. We then said that we might speak of the poetical character of the book in another article, and that expectation we now proceed to realize. Various reasons unite to lead us to class these two works together. We dislike them both, but for very opposite reasons. The contrast is nearly entire between the two. The first (“Luther,”') is in doctrine and sentiment generally sound. It is also the work of a man of talent. The second is full of false views,—we might say, of heresy,—and it bespeaks a man of very little genius. Johnson told us, that “Matrimony had many cares, but celibacy few pleasures.” We might parody the antithesis, and say of these two verse-makers, that “ Montgomery has many
faults; but Williams few excellencies.” But after what we have said of Mr. Montgomery, why do we dislike his work ?
Because, as in former instances, Mr. M. chooses a high and noble theme ; and treats it with a freedom of touch (we had almost said, flippancy) which quite revolts all our better feelings. Are we unjust ? Take a few specimens, of the style in which Mr. M. bandles a topic so sacred, as “ Christ the centre and circumference of Truth:”_
“ Thee the Spirit proves,
“ Therefore in the Cross
“ Here dust and Deity in clash appear."-(p. 12.) Again, in subsequent chapters :
“ Hark! the live Scriptures, toned with Godhead, peal
Salvation's tidings."—(p. 24.)
That mental structure, for whose living walls
“A high-paced thought,
“ Thine was Life indeed
For thy companions."-(p. 55.)
Shall sound the tocsin of Creation's doom,
“ The lion heart
It throbs with Deity and great design."-(p. 90.)
Concentred Godhead on his plans employ'd, -
Acting on earth some vast conception out."--(p. 101.)
An eaten Saviour,-a digested God!"-(p. 108.)
“ And soft damnation, musical and sweet.”—(p. 114.) Having given these few samples, out of hundreds, we must leave them to our readers. All we shall say, is, that they are not to our taste; nor can we read with satisfaction, a book, wherein such phrases occur at nearly every page.
But it is not merely for a rash expression or two, or rather, for many such, that we put aside the volume. Whether in verse, or in what ought to be “sober prose," Mr. Montgomery is perpetually running into pruriency; and uttering what only looks as if it meant something, whereas, in fact, it means nothing. For instance, take twenty lines of his Preface; and having read them twice over, let