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THE HOMILETIC REVIEW.
JULY, 1890.- No. 1.
REVIEW SECTION. I.-PERIODICAL LITERATURE: ITS USE FOR THE
MINISTRY. BY PROF. J. 0. MURRAY, D. D., DEAN OF PRINCETON COLLEGE.
Is there evolution in literature? There is certainly a “survival of the fittest.” How vast the amount of printed matter in the shape of books, theological, political, biographical, historical, poetical, which have their “ little day" and "cease to be," except for the antiquarian or the book collector! The best only survive, as having in them what John Milton called the precious life-blood of a master spirit embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.” So in the changes of form, which come upon literature, we may trace a species of evolution. The perfected drama of Shakespeare had its rude predecessor in the crude Miracle Play. The novels of Scott or Thackeray find their ancestry in the humble chap-books which amused our forefathers. We doubt if any department of literature has experienced more transformations than that of the periodical. Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe, has been called the father of the English novel in its present form. With equal or greater justice he may be said to be the father of our periodical literature. When for the luckless irony of his Short Way with Dissenters, he was cast into Newgate Prison and sent to the pillory by the High Church party, he, as is well known, started his Review. This was in 1702. It ran for eight years, and contains matter political, social, moral, and is by turns satirical, statistical and didactic in its treatment of subjects. Then came Steele's Tatler in 1709, followed by Addison's Spectator in 1711, the latter a very small sheet, 6 in. by 4, containing 8 or 9 pages and issued weekly. I have no space to follow the fortunes of the Guardians, Examiners and Freeholders, the political periodicals which followed in the wake of the Spectator; they were all shortlived. Even the Spectator, with all its brilliant coterie of contributors, lasted only a few years. In the middle of the century Dr. Johnson tried his hand at periodical literature in his Rambler and Idler. Of these, also, the course was very brief.
Then, with the opening of this century came the great quarterlies, Blackwood, the Edinburgh, the Quarterly, call up to us the names of Professor Wilson and Gifford, and Jeffrey, and Sydney Smith. Slashing critics they were; the world has not yet forgiven their treatment of Keats and Wordsworth. But they established a form of periodical literature in the Quarterly, which has lasted for a century, which still flourishes in vigorous life, and which has done a very noble work. What masterly writing in many of the articles ! There Macaulay and Carlyle made their first reputations in their brilliant essays, a noted part of our literature. But the Quarterly no longer holds absolute sway in the realm of periodical literature. Its successful rivals in the bi-monthlies and monthlies have gained a lasting hold on English and American readers. They have their own field, they have tilled it well. It has borne the best of fruit, and the readers of to-day cannot dispense with their invaluable articles. If we look abroad (and in this article we shall consider only English periodicals*) we find such as the Contemporary Review, the Nineteenth Century and the Fortnightly Review, to hold the highest rank in this department of literature. At home, the well-known Harper's Monthly first in this field-and the Century, and the Forum, and the North American, which has gone through that process of literary evolution by which a venerable and dignified quarterly becomes a bold, dashing, incisive monthly, with others that might be named, sufficiently show the extent of ground covered by the enterprise of the publishers. Then, too, in Science we have the Popular Science Monthly, invaluable in its sphere; and at last what was long needed, a Missionary Review of the World, worthy of the cause, and which no pastor can wisely be without.
This glance-for it does not pretend to be an exhaustive catalogue—at the extent of periodical literature in monthly or bimonthly form, will satisfy every one that its influence is wide growing and strongly determinative of public opinion. I cannot agree with those who think this later development a decadence from the staid and noble old quarterlies. These still live. The Edinburgh and Quarterly Review are still doing efficient work. Far distant be the day when they shall find no constituency among English and American readers. But the monthlies fill a different and needed place. They have their own sphere and fill it admirably. It seems to hold a sort of middle ground between the powerful “leaders" of the daily newspaper and the elaborate, heavy-weighted article of the quarterly. It nearly takes the place of the political pamphlet. What this has been as an instrument in moulding public opinion every student of English history and literature knows. What a weapon it was in the hands of Dean Swift! The story goes that his pamphlet on the
* The periodical literature of both France and Germauy is of the highest order.
Conduct of the Allies, brought about the peace of Utrecht. In the colonial struggle with Great Britain, and in the War of Independence, it had a high part to play; and the pamphlet played it well, as our historical archives show. But the pamphlet disappeared when the daily press in its well-studied “leaders” began to discuss public matters. At length, however, the reading public demanded more thorough and lengthened treatment of public questions than the dailies, could give; nor could they wait till the quarterly put in an appearance three months later. Accordingly the monthly comes to the fore and takes up such matters in well-considered, condensed, effective form. Besides, they blend with the weightier matters of the law an element of lighter nature-literature in some form-a story, a short poem, a criticism, & descriptive article. This is but the condiment for the “meat” of the weightier discussion. But a good sauce is no unimportant thing, outside the ouisine. The inventor of a good literary sauce deserves well of his country. In this position, and in this manner, we find the monthly discussing social, philosophical, political, moral and religious questions. The old predominance of literary articles is gone. The age is deeply interested in such questions as we have specified above. Our periodical literature is making, I think, worthy response to this demand. It will illustrate precisely what is meant if I transcribe the table of contents of the Contemporary Review for January, 1890. The number is taken at random—the first that came to hand. Authors are not given, as this is not essential to the illustration.
1. Two New Utopias.
Without going into any very close analysis of the contents of these articles, it will suffice to say that of the twelve, one-fourth would be of direct use to any clergyman and one-half, of direct or indirect service to him in his calling. No intelligent reader of our periodical literature but must have been struck by the large amount of space they give to the discussion of what are called the “live” questions of the day. The Century Magazine, in its projected series on social questions, of which Mr. Dike's admirable article on the Family is the