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MUSINGS OVER THE CHRISTIAN YEAR
AND LYRA INNOCENTIUM.
SECOND SUNDAY IN ADVENT.
These two hymns are on the same Gospel-how different they are in substance, yet how the one illustrates the other! The first is all awe and gravity, the second all blitheness and joy. The first is the young man's admonition to himself, the second is the old man's song for little children, unconsciously fulfilling the precept of its predecessor.
Winter is pictured in the first verse of the Christian Year-winter as it is in December, ere the promise of spring dare shew itself; and then the question is put, why in times of danger and despondency should the Church look up and lift up her head? And when more than twenty years later the Lyra Innocentium was composed, assuredly times were darker still, dangers more threatening, unbelief smouldering more evidently, supporters falling away-yet what is the subject? Vernal Mirth!' The four stanzas have no mournful line;
What is the joy that young lambs know ?' they begin, and after twelve sunshiny lines comes the moral,
• Be thou through life a little child,
By manhood undefiled;
So shall no Angel grudge thy dreams
Of fragrance pure, and ever brightening beams.' The man who had written from his heart and acted on the grave exhortation of the Christian Year, had been through life a little child, had been carried on with the spirit of the Church, and thus even in the sadder and later times, he himself was aiding her to lift her head, and singing her rejoicing notes, inspired by her word of fire, her pledge of love that cannot tire.'
To such as with St. John can say, 'Even so, come, LORD JESUS,' the dread signs of the times are as precious a promise, as the buds or gems (gemma in Latin,) that lie in the bark of the tree are to those who hope for summer charms. But how comes the grave warning to those who heed no tokens, and keep out of sight that to them at least the end can be no further off than their own death, and forget that “Behold the Judge standeth at the door?' Then, awfully and practically, that Presence is set before us.
• Hush, idle words and thoughts of ill,
Mirth is not to be silent altogether, but her tone is to be qualified by Resignation, and by the sense that Christ is listening. It is like a paraphrase of the Epistle of two Sundays later, the preparation for the Christmas festivity. Rejoice evermore, and again I say unto you, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. At hand-whether in the sense of being close to us, and attentive to our words, or as being soon to come to judgement. If in that temperrejoicing because the Lord is benignly taking part in our joy, and because we shall soon see His face for ever ; but rejoicing with moderation because He hears us, and because the end of all things is at hand—we spend cur youth, assuredly we shall sing with Vernal Mirth in our latter days—for the bright fields beyond the sky' will then have become all the nearer and the clearer from the world's uncertain haze.'
THIRD SUNDAY IN ADVENT.
We believe that Mr. Keble only once was on the Continent, and that later in life than the writing of either of these two works; but he had a wonderful power of realizing scenery, and might have been taken as an illustration of Lord Lytton's curious assertion in the preface to his Strange Story,' that it is in the power of imagination to call up before it places unseen but described, so as to picture them vividly in words to other auditors. Whether he would not have shrunk, if the opportunity had been set before him, from 'tearing away the veil,' and actually visiting the holy places, we cannot tell ; but he certainly dwelt upon such descriptions and illustrations as fell in his way, with ardent love and a wonderful power of distinct mental vision, to which Dean Stanley has borne witness in his Palestine.
This poem, and that for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity, stand out as the most descriptive of all, and this one remarkably embodies his yearning towards the sacred East, and we fully believe has done much for the spirit in which travellers go through that great test and trial, a visit to Jerusalem in her present fallen state. Mr. Trollope himself, in his novel of The Bertrams, has drawn a deep and painful picture of the effect of such a pilgrimage-of the elevation and lofty aims that were produced by the gazing from the Mount of Olives, but dimmed to the degradation of the whole after life, by the frivolous worldly response of a woman of shallow heart and irreverent mind! And the Crusaders of old were great saints—or else grievous sinners.
A case has come to our knowledge, of an English clergyman, who when staying at Jerusalem, was grieved and pained by the scoffing tone of unbelief with which an American was discussing the scenes of Palestine. After a remonstrance, he lent the traveller his Christian Year. It was retained during the remainder of his sojourn there, read at the appropriate spots, and returned to its owner at last with warm thanks, and a hint that there was a complete change in the borrower's tone of thought. And no doubt this pilgrim dream has told upon many another traveller, whether in reality or in spirit. It was evidently prompted by some book of Eastern travel—Sir R. K. Porter's, probably; and it is of his own imagination following the traveller, that the poet asks,
• What went ye out to see,
O'er the rude sandy lea ?' echoing the demand of our Lord, 'What went ye out for to see ?' Was it for mere excitement or amusement that the mind went along with the description, and beheld stately Jordan in his ravine, or the blue lake of Gennesaret, with the mountains above, and the bordering of rosy blossoms? *
These scenes recall the Presence that consecrated them, and these hallowed thoughts next lead to a reflection on the worthlessness of other objects—the purposelessness of all pursuit that has not the glory of God for its object. The ring of “What went ye out for to see ? is still in his ears. The 'reeds that tremble in the wind' are made to represent the charms of scenery when viewed “in listless dalliance for mere amusement, or excitement, or compliance with fashion, instead of with devout contemplation and adoration of their Maker. And again, the purple and fine linen of those in kings' palaces, stand for wealth, power, and honour. From all these the pilgrim heart turns to trace the Saviour's footsteps around the Holy City; while in such contemplation the actual traveller is ever drawing daily nearer home,' his heavenly home ; and the dweller at home is day by day in spirit journeying to the truly glorious land. The veritable pilgrim heeds neither the fickle reeds of fancy, nor honour's purple meed, nor any valued prize of earth, but presses on until he shall be face to face with the greater than John the Baptist, the verily more than Prophet, more than Angels can adore.'
Still the same text heads the Lyra, but here a very different note is touched. A vivid picture is drawn of the rugged old oak, in his firmness and strength; and the likeness is traced to the true Priest and preacher of repentance carrying on the mission of the Baptist in grave strength and gentleness.
FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT.
The strains of to-day have much of the calm, peaceful, waiting joy that pervades the Lessons and the Epistle of the Sunday. This was one of the earliest composed of the whole work, and was one of those, that had the poet been left to himself, he would have kept by him for years longer, till something nearer his own standard should be reached. It bears his own especial marks, and has that strong air of spontaneousness and individual feeling which belongs to those poems which came fresh as outpourings of his own soul, and were afterwards applied to the day that best suited them, instead of being as it were reflections upon the services of the day.
* Here was the error marked by Dean Stanley: the rhododendrons, now corrected into oleanders.
Dimness' is the title given to it in the index, and it is the expression of that strong sense, which was with him through life, of inability to appreciate the full beauty even of those things on earth which have most of Heaven. It is this sense of imperfection, this straining beyond, which is above all the mark of true genius, and the secret of its natural humility. Dullness and conceit think they know the whole; it is only those who • know in part,' that feel that it is but a part that they do know.
So it is that the Christian poet expresses his feeling that our eye falls short of unraveling the secrets of nature's beauty, our memory will not recall that which is most precious to it, our ear fails to enter into all that music conveys-all is only grasped in part, and not held fast, not fully tasted.
But the consolation is first in the future hope, when the ear instead of missing the fulness of earthly music shall
scan aright Sounds that outring earth's drowsy chime, As heaven outshines the taper's light;'
the eyes shall
see the King's full glory break, Nor from the blissful vision shrink ;'
the memory shall be no longer needed when we dwell
• Ever in sight of all our bliss;
while for the present he likewise finds consolation. The imperfection of our faculties, if it prevents much enjoyment, also saves us from much suffering in the consciousness of the saddening sights which we lose. And on one side our perceptions do become clearer. Our bodily faculties cannot indeed go beyond their appointed limits, but the soul that looks upwards does increase in power of enjoyment and comprehension of the things of heaven ; while the ear, if incapable of 'threading the maze of harmony,' can attune itself to the secret of the harmony above-Thy will be done in earth, as it is in Heaven ; and thus may be trained to 'for ever rise and sing and shine.'
The Lyra gives us for to-day one of the very sharpest and most polished of all its shafts, in the striking meditation on the 'Danger of Praise,' deduced from the humble replies of St. John the Baptist. It is almost a cry of pain, and an appeal against the peril of being spoken well of by all men,' as well as the soundest counsel against taking home mortal commendation, 'yet more in heart than tongue.'
The last verse is one that surely can never be forgotten.
• Pray we our Lord one pang to send,
Of deep remorseful fear;
Praise be our penance here.'
FIRST SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS.
HEZEKIAH furnishes the subject of both the poems of to-day. That for the Lyra has no special connection with the season, and seems to have been allotted to the day because it is one when the Lessons chiefly relate to that good king. “Hezekiah's Display' is a poem which all whose love and exultation rests on their little ones, whether their children or their pupils,
*Shut fast the door, nor let the world discern
Assuredly shewing off is fatal to the little ones, whose only protection against its evils lies in that shyness which coaxing and flattery endeavours to destroy. Never perhaps did the true welfare of children more need that their friends should take home the admonition:
• Think of the babes of Judah's royal line ;
Display but touched them with her parching glare,
The fifth beheld them chained in Babel's lair.'
“The sun-dial of Ahaz' in the elder work is adapted not only to the Lesson on Hezekiah's sickness, but to the last Sunday in the year. It brings before us how Hezekiah might have felt that sun and moon might indeed stand still to prolong the day of victory of the wars of the Lord when Canaan was won for His chosen ; but how could it be that their course should be checked for the sake of one sick man?
Turning to ourselves, as the year passes away, the thought is suggested how gladly we too would recall the waves of time that have borne us on unfelt far into our lives, so that we might live our days over again. Then comes the retrospect, speaking to each one of us, the bright hopes,' the resolutions “too pure to be performed,' the prayers blown wide by gales of care;' well if no more positive sins weigh upon our conscience. What can make up for them ? Can the most bitter remorse ever atone for sin, even though it were the misery of a whole future life? Can the wildest demonstrations win us back one little day' to redeem the past?