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Study of the King James Bible Part 8

"Was it not so, great Locke? and greater Bacon?

Great Socrates? And Thou Diviner still, Whose lot it is by men to be mistaken, And Thy pure creed made sanction of all ill?

Redeeming worlds to be by bigots shaken, How was Thy toil rewarded?"

In a note on this passage Byron says: "As it is necessary in these times to avoid ambiguity, I say that I mean by 'Diviner still' Christ. If ever God was man--or man God--He was both.

I never arraigned His creed, but the use or abuse of it. Mr. Canning one day quoted Christianity to sanction slavery, and Mr. Wilberforce had little to say in reply. And was Christ crucified that black men might be scourged? If so, He had better been born a mulatto, to give both colors an equal chance of freedom, or at least salvation." Byron could live far from the influence of the Bible in his personal life; but he never escaped its influence in his literary work.

Of Coleridge less needs to be said, because we think of him so much in terms of his more meditative musings, which are often religious.

He himself tells of long and careful rereadings of the English Bible until he could say: In the Bible "there is more that finds me than I have experienced in all other books together; the words of the Bible find me at greater depths of my being." Of course, that would influence his writing, and it did. Even in the "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" much of the phraseology is Scriptural. When the albatross drew near,

"As if it had been a Christian soul, We hailed it in God's name."

When the mariner slept he gave praise to Mary, Queen of Heaven. He sought the shriving of the hermit-priest. He ends the story because he hears "the little vesper bell" which bids him to prayer. When you read his "Hymn Before Sunrise in the Vale of Chamounix" you find yourself reading the Nineteenth Psalm. He calls on the motionless torrents and the silent cataracts and the great Mont Blanc itself to praise God. Coleridge never had seen Chamounix, nor Mont Blanc, nor a glacier, but he knew his Bible. So he has his Christmas Carol along with all the rest. His poem of the Moors after the Civil War under Philip II. is Scriptural in its phraseology, and so is much else that he wrote.

Frankly and willingly he yielded to its influence.

In his "Table Talk" he often refers to the value of the Bible in the forming of literary style. Once he said: "Intense study of the Bible will keep any writer from being vulgar in point of style."[1]

[1] June 14, 1830.

The very mention of Coleridge makes one think of Wordsworth. They had a Damon and Pythias friendship. The Wordsworths were poor; they had only seventy pounds a year, and they were not ashamed. Coleridge called them the happiest family he ever saw. Wordsworth was not narrowly a Christian poet, he was not always seeking to put Christian dogma into poetry, but throughout he was expressing the Christian spirit which he had learned from the Bible. His poetry was one long protest against banishing God from the universe. It was literally true of him that "the meanest flower that grows can give thoughts that too often lie too deep for tears." If this were the time to be critical, one would think that too much was sometimes made of very minute occurrences; but this tendency to get back of the event and see how God is moving is learned best from Scripture, where Wordsworth himself learned it. If you read his "Intimations of Immortality," or the "Ode to Duty," or "Tintern Abbay," or even the rather labored "Excursion," you find yourself under the Scriptural influence.

There remains in this Georgian group the great prose master, Walter Scott. Mr. Gladstone said he thought Scott the greatest of his countrymen. John Morley suggested John Knox instead. Mr. Gladstone replied: "No, the line must be drawn firmly between the writer and the man of action--no comparison there."[1] He went on to say that Burns is very fine and true, no doubt, "but to imagine a whole group of characters, to marshal them, to set them to work, and to sustain the action, I must count that the test of highest and most diversified quality." All who are fond of Scott will realize how constantly the scenes which he is describing group themselves around religious observances, how often men are held in check from deeds of violence by religious conception. Many of these scenes crystallize around a Scriptural event.

Scott's boyhood was spent in scenes that reminded him of the power the Scripture had.

He was drilled from his childhood in the knowledge of its words and phrases, and while his writing as a whole shows more of the Old Testament influence than of the New, even in his style he is strongly under Bible influence.

[1] Morley, Life of Gladstone, vol. iii, p. 424.

The preface to Guy Mannering tells us it is built around an old story of a father putting a lad to test under guidance of an ancient astrologer, shutting him up in a barren room to be tempted by the Evil One, leaving him only one safeguard, a Bible, lying on the table in the middle of the room. In his introduction to The Heart of Midlothian, Scott makes one of the two men thrown into the water by the overturned coach remind the other that they "cannot complain, like Cowley, that Gideon's fleece remains dry while all around is moist; this is the reverse of the miracle." A little later a speaker describes novels as the Delilahs that seduce wise and good men from more serious reading. In the dramatic scene when Jeanie Deans faces the wretched George Staunton, who has so shamed the household, she exclaims: "O sir, did the Scripture never come into your mind, 'Vengeance is mine, and I will repay it?' " "Scripture!" he sneers, "why I had not opened a Bible for five years." "Wae's me, sir," said Jeanie--"and a minister's son, too!"

Anthony Foster, in Kenilworth, looks down on poor Amy's body in the vault into which she has fallen, in response to what she thought was Leicester's whistle, and exclaims to Varney: "Oh, if there be judgment in heaven, thou hast deserved it, and will meet it! Thou hast destroyed her by means of her best affections--it is the seething of the kid in the mother's milk!"

And when, next morning, Varney was found dead of the secret poison and with a sneering sarcasm on his ghastly face, Scott dismisses him with the phrase: "The wicked man, saith the Scripture, hath no bonds in his death."

His characters use freely the familiar Bible events and phrases. In the Fortunes of Nigel, a story of the very period when our King James version was produced, Hildebrod declares that if he had his way Captain Peppercull should hang as high as Haman ever did. In Kenilworth, when Leicester gives Varney his signet- ring, he says, significantly: "What thou dost, do quickly." Of course, Isaac, the Jew in Ivanhoe, exclaims frequently in Old Testament terms.

He wishes the wheels of the chariots of his enemies may be taken off, like those of the host of Pharoah, that they may drive heavily. He expects the Palmer's lance to be as powerful as the rod of Moses, and so on.

Scott was writing of the period when men stayed themselves with Scripture, and his men are all sure of God and Satan and angels and judgment and all eternal things. His son-in- law vouches for the old story that when Sir Walter was on his death-bed he asked Lockhart to read him something from the Book, and when Lockhart asked, "What book?" Scott replied: "Why do you ask? There is but one book, the Bible."

All this is scant justice to the Georgian group; but it may give a hint of what the Bible meant even at that period, the period when its grip on men was most lax in all the later English history.

It is in the Victorian age (1840-1900) that the field is most bewildering. It is true, as Frederick Harrison says, that "this Victorian age has no Shakespeare or Milton, no Bacon or Hume, no Fielding or Scott--no supreme master in poetry, philosophy, or romance whose work is incorporated with the thought of the world, who is destined to form an epoch, to endure for centuries."[1] The genius of the period is more scientific than literary, yet we would be helpless if we had not already eliminated from our discussion everything but the works and writers of pure literature. The output of books has been so tremendous that it would be impossible to analyze the influences which have made them.

There are in this Victorian period at least twelve great English writers who must be known, whose work affects the current of English literature.

Many other names would need mention in any full history or any minute study; but it is not harsh judgment to say that the main current of literature would be the same without them.

A few of these lesser names will come to mind, and in the calling of them one realizes the influence, even on them, of the English Bible.

Anthony Trollope wrote sixty volumes, the titles of most of which are now popularly unknown.

He told George Eliot that it was not brains that explained his writing so much, but rather wax which he put in the seat of his chair, which held him down to his daily stint of work. He could boast, and it was worth the boasting, that he had never written a line which a pure woman could not read without a blush. His whole Framley Parsonage series abounds in Bible references and allusions. So Charlotte Bronte is in English literature, and Jane Eyre does prove what she was meant to prove, that a commonplace person can be made the heroine of a novel; but on all Charlotte Bronte's work is the mark of the rectory in which she grew up. So Thomas Grey has left his "Elegy" and his "Hymn to Adversity," and some other writing which most of us have forgotten or never knew. Then there are Maria Edgeworth and Jane Austen. We may even remember that Macaulay thought Jane Austen could be compared with Shakespeare, as, of course, she can be, since any one can be; but neither of these good women has strongly affected the literary current. Many others could be named, but English literature would be substantially the same without them; and, though all might show Biblical influence, they would not illustrate what we are trying to discover. So we come, without apology to the unnamed, to the twelve, without whom English literature would be different. This is the list in the order of the alphabet: Matthew Arnold, Robert Browning (Mrs. Browning being grouped as one with him), Carlyle, Dickens, George Eliot, Charles Kingsley, Macaulay, Ruskin, Robert Louis Stevenson, Swinburne, Tennyson, and Thackeray.

[1] Early Victorian Literature, p. 9

It is dangerous to make such a list; but it can be defended. Literary history would not be the same without any one of them, unless possibly Swinburne, whose claim to place is rather by his work as critic than as creator.

Nor is any name omitted whose introduction would change literary history.

Benjamin Jowett thought Arnold too flippant on religious things to be a real prophet. At any rate, this much is true, that the books in which Arnold dealt with the fundamentals of religion are his profoundest work. In his poetry the best piece of the whole is his "Rugby Chapel."

His Religion and Dogma he himself calls an "essay toward a better apprehension of the Bible."

All through he urges it as the one Book which needs recovery. "All that the churches can say about the importance of the Bible and its religion we concur in." The book throughout is an effort to justify his own faith in terms of the Bible. The effort is sometimes amusing, because it takes such a logical and verbal agility to go from one to the other; but he is always at it. He is afraid in his soul that England will swing away from the Bible. He fears it may come about through neglect of the Bible on one hand, or through wrong teaching about it on the other. Not in his ideas alone, but markedly in his style, Arnold has felt the Biblical influence.

He came at a time when there was strong temptation to fall into cumbrous German ways of speech. Against that Arnold set a simple phraseology, and he held out the English Bible constantly as a model by which the men of England ought to learn to write. He never gained the simplicity of the old Hebrew sentence, and sometimes his secondary clauses follow one another so rapidly that a reader is confused; but his words as a whole are simple and direct.

There is no need of much word on the spell of the Bible over Robert Browning and Mrs.

Browning. It is not often that two singing- birds mate; but these two sang in a key pitched for them by the Scripture as much as by any one influence. Many of their greatest poems have definite Biblical themes. In them and in others Biblical allusions are utterly bewildering to men who do not know the Bible well. For five years (1841-1846) Browning's poems appeared under the title Bells and Pomegranates. Scores of people wondered then, and wonder still, what "Pippa Passes" and "A Blot in the Scutcheon "

and the others have to do with such a title.

They have never thought, as Browning did, of the border of the beautiful robe of the high priest described in the Book of Exodus. The finest poem of its length in the English language is Browning's "Saul"; but it is only the story of David driving the evil spirit from Saul, sweeping on to the very coming of Christ. "The Death in the Desert" is the death of John, the beloved disciple. "Karshish, the Arab Physician" tells in his own way of the raising of Lazarus. The text of "Caliban upon Setebos" is, "Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself."

The text of "Cleon" is, "As certain of your own poets have said." In "Fifine at the Fair" the Cure expounds the experience of Jacob and his stone-pillow with better insight than some better- known expositors show. In "Pippa Passes,"

when Bluphocks, the English vagabond, is introduced, Browning seems to justify his appearance by the single foot-note: "He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust"; and Mr.

Bluphocks shows himself amusingly familiar with Bible facts and phrases. Mr. Sludge, "the Medium," thinks the Bible says the stars are "set for signs when we should shear sheep, sow corn, prune trees," and describes the skeptic in the magic circle of spiritual "investigators" as the "guest without the wedding-garb, the doubting Thomas." Some one has taken the trouble to count five hundred Biblical phrases or allusions in "The Ring and the Book." Mrs. Browning's "'Drama of Exile" is the woman's side of the fall of Adam and Eve. Ruskin thought her "Aurora Leigh" the greatest poem the century had produced at that time. It abounds in Scriptural allusions. Browning came by all this naturally. Raised in the Church by a father who "delighted to surround him with books, notably old and rare Bibles," and a mother Carlyle called "a true type of a Scottish gentlewoman,"

with all the skill in the Bible that that implies, he never lost his sense of the majesty of the movement of Scripture ideas and phrases.

We need spend little time in discussing the influence of the English Bible on Thomas Carlyle.

He does not often use the Scripture for his main theme; but he is constantly making Biblical allusions. On a railway journey when I was rereading Carlyle's Historical Sketches, I found a direct Biblical reference for every five pages, and almost numberless allusions beside.

The "Everlasting Yea," of which he says much, he gets, as you at once recognize, from the Scripture. His "Heroes and Hero Worship"

is based on an idea of heroism which he learned from the Bible. He is an Old Testament prophet of present times; and, while he degenerated into a scold before he was through with it, he yet spoke with the thunderous voice of a true prophet, and much of the time in the language of the prophets. Some one said once that the only real reverence Carlyle ever had was for the person of Christ. Certainly there is no note of sneer, but of the profoundest regard for the teaching, the ideas and the history of the Scripture.

The name of Charles Dickens suggests a different atmosphere. He is a New Testament prophet. Where Carlyle has caught the spirit of rugged power in the Old Testament, Dickens has caught the sense of kindly love in the New Testament. Dickens's love for the child, the fact that he could draw children as he could draw no one else and make them lovable, suggests the value to him of those frequent references which he makes to Christ setting a child in the midst of the disciples. It is notable, too, how often Dickens uses the great Scripture phrases for his most dramatic climaxes. There are not in literature many finer uses of Scripture than the scene in Bleak House, where the poor waif Joe is dying, and while his friend teaches him the Lord's Prayer he sees the light coming. A Christmas season without Dickens's Christmas Carol would be incomplete; but there again is the Scripture idea pressed forward.

George Eliot surely, if any writer, was under the spell of the Scripture. One of her critics calls her the historian of conscience. All of her heroes and heroines know the lash of the law.

She knows very little about the New Testament, one would judge; but the one thing about which she has no doubt is certainly the reign of moral law. If a man will not yield to its power, it will break him. There is no such thing as breaking the moral law; there is nothing but being broken by it. Her characters are always quoting the Bible. They preach a great deal. She tells that she herself wrote Dinah Morris's sermon on the green with tears in her eyes. She meant it all. While her own religious faith was clouded, her finest characters are never clouded in their religious faith, and she grounds their faith quite invariably on their early training in the Scripture.

It is an interesting fact that George Eliot has no principal story which has not in it a church, and a priest or a preacher, with all that they involve.

Charles Kingsley is grouped hardly fairly in this list, because he was himself a preacher, and naturally all his work would feel the power of the Book, which he chiefly studied. Professor Masson says that "there is not one of his novels which has not the power of Christianity for its theme." No voice was raised more effectively for the beginning of the new social era in England than his. Alton Locke and Yeast are epoch- making books in the life of the common people of England. Even Hypatia, which is supposed to have been written to represent entirely pagan surroundings, is full of Bible phrases and ideas.

Lord Macaulay had been held up for many a day as one of the masters of style. Such great writing is not to be traced to any one influence.

It could not have been easy to write as Macaulay wrote. Thackeray may have exaggerated in saying that Macaulay read twenty books to write a sentence, and traveled a hundred miles to make a description; but all his writing shows the power of taking infinite pains. It becomes the more important, therefore, that Macaulay held the Bible in such estimate as he did. "In calling upon Lady Holland one day, Lord Macaulay was led to bring the attention of his fair hostess to the fact that the use of the word 'talent' to mean gifts or powers of the mind, as when we speak of men of talent, came from the use of the word in Christ's parable of the talents. In a letter to his sister Hannah he describes the incident, and says that Lady Holland was evidently ignorant of the parable. 'I did not tell her,' he adds, 'though I might have done so, that a person who professes to be a critic in the delicacies of the English language ought to have the Bible at his fingers' ends.' "

That Macaulay practised his own preaching you would quickly find by referring to his essays.

Take three sentences from the Essay on Milton: "The principles of liberty were the scoff of every growing courtier, and the Anathema Maranatha of every fawning dean. In every high place worship was paid to Charles and James, Belial and Moloch, and England propitiated these obscene and cruel idols with the blood of her best and brightest children. Crime succeeded to crime, and disgrace to disgrace, until the race, accursed of God and man, was a second time driven forth to wander on the face of the earth and to be a by-word and a shaking of the head to the nations." In three sentences here are six allusions to Scripture. In that same essay, in the paragraphs on the Puritans, the allusions are a multitude. They are not even quoted.

They are taken for granted. In his Essay on Machiavelli, though the subject does not suggest it, he falls into Scriptural phrases over and over. Listen to this, "A time was at hand when all the seven vials of the Apocalypse were to be poured forth and shaken out over those pleasant countries"; or this, "All the curses pronounced of old against Tyre seemed to have fallen on Venice. Her merchants already stood afar off lamenting for their great city"; or this, "In the energetic language of the prophet, Machiavelli was mad for the sight of his eyes which he saw."

And if Macaulay is baffling in the abundance of material, surely John Ruskin is worse. Carlyle's English style ran into excess of roughness; Macaulay's ran into excess of balance and delicacy.

John Ruskin's continued to be the smoothest, easiest style in our English literature. He also was a Hebraic spirit, but of the gentler type.

Mr. Chapman calls him the Elisha to Carlyle's, Elijah, a capital comparison.[1] Ruskin is one of the few writers who have told us what formed their style. In the first chapter of Praeterita he pays tribute to his mother. He himself chose to read Walter Scott and Pope's Homer; but he says: "My mother forced me by steady daily toil to learn long chapters of the Bible by heart, as well as to read it, every syllable aloud, hard names and all, from Genesis to the Apocalypse about once a year; and to that discipline-- patient, accurate, and resolute--I owe not only a knowledge of the Book which I find occasionally serviceable, but much of my general power of taking pains and the best part of my taste in literature." He thinks reading Scott might have led to other novels of a poorer sort.

Reading Pope might have led to Johnson's or Gibbon's English; but "it was impossible to write entirely superficial and formal English"

while he knew "by heart the thirty- second of Deuteronomy, the fifteenth of I Corinthians, the One hundred and nineteenth Psalm, or the Sermon on the Mount." In the second chapter of Praeterita he is even more explicit. "I have next with deeper gratitude to chronicle what I owed to my mother for the resolute persistent lessons which so exercised me in the Scripture, as to make every word of them familiar in my ear as habitual music, yet in that familiarity reverenced as transcending all thought and ordering all conduct." He tells how his mother drilled him. As soon as he could read she began a course of Bible work with him.

They read alternate verses from the Genesis to the Revelation, names and all. Daily he had to commit verses of the Scripture. He hated the One hundred and nineteenth Psalm most; but he lived to cherish it most. In his old Bible he found the list of twenty-six chapters taught by his mother.

[1] English Literature in Account with Religion.

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