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worth relating, except for the importance of the consequences, was Ireland subdued and annexed to the English crown.” He might have added, and thus a form of frail beauty became the sad cause which led to the subjugation of a gallant people, and has involved in untold wretchedness the households of a nation for twenty generations. How little did that uncouth barbarian think that a glance of his eye on the fair queen of Ororick would be more disastrous to his nation, than if a pestilence had depopulated half the island! How little did the beautiful Dovergilda know that her flight commenced such a fatal era in her country's history! An infidel historian could not be expected to mark this unnoticed era as an inscrutable dispensation of Providence, the design of which, wise though it doubtless was, cannot even yet be fully comprehended; yet such it was. It is the misfortune of the world that two of its greatest historical works have been written by sceptics. The design of history is not merely to state facts, nor is it in connection with the narrative of events only to suggest lessons of practical wisdom. It has, when viewed aright, a still higher design. It ought to acknowledge a Sovereign Ruler over men ; it ought to recognize His governmental plan ; and as that plan is steadily carried on amid the changing events of earth, the historian ought to mark its development and trace results below up to their source in Heaven. A sceptic, a disbeliever in revelation, lacks a primal requisite to a complete historian. He is about as competent to write history as a man would be to explain the phenomena of the solar system who was ignorant of the law of gravitation; or to instruct us in the motions of a watch, when he was not aware that it had a main-spring.
It is well to mark the course of Providence, for though we may not always understand it, we may yet learn wisdom from it.
When we behold such slight causes followed by issues so permanent and sometimes so disastrous, how obvious is the reflection that means are neither great nor feeble in themselves, but great or feeble according to the power of the being who makes use of them. The armor of the giant Saul cannot help the stripling David, but Sampson with the jaw of an ass will slay a thousand men. How different are instrumentalities in the hands of God and man! Some potent monarch undertakes an enterprise of vast magnitude, and in its projection displays a perfect congruity of means and end. He gathers from all sides resources for the issue, brings the wealth and strength of nations under contribution, and makes the earth shake beneath the tread of his armed hosts. To human view he seems about to accomplish his purpose with the certainty of destiny. But what is the end of it all ? See Xerxes fleeing across the Hellespont in a little boat, and Napoleon, baffled at Moscow, returning to Paris in a private carriage. How differently God uses instrumentality! He brings no armies to battle ; no legions of angels gath. er to war for him; but as if in mockery of human strength, at the blast of a ram's horn, the walls of a proud city fall, and the countless hosts of Midian and Amelek fly at the breaking of an empty pitcher.
When such a thought as this impresses us, we feel with John Foster, that "it is a humble thing to be a man." Siruck with the impotence of human
energy, we retreat into our own insignificance, that we may contemplate in silence the wonder-working of a God.
To be thus impressed with striking marks of divine interposition, is not difficult. We naturally regard them with such feelings. A prominent epoch, a great crisis, always arouses attention ; but how often do we forget a circumstance, apparently trivial, on which the existence of that crisis hung. Who can contemplate without a shudder, the battle between Western Europe and the Saracens, when Charles Martel met the Moslem host, three hundred thousand strong? It was perhaps the most momentous battle ever fought. Europe looks on with giddy interest while for seven long days such tremendous results are pending ; and when the trumpet of Charles Martel bids the world to hope, Christendom from her deep bosom heaves a long breath of infinite relief.* That is an era which we mark. Yet there was an unmarked era which occurred a century before, upon whose humble issue depended the very existence of this mighty conflict. Mohammed had just begun his career. Opposed with deadly animosity, he fled, and with his remorseless foes upon his track, took refuge with Abu Beker in a solitary cave. Terrified at the impending danger, his adherent in trembling accents said, “We are but two." No," answered the dauntless prophet, with heroic courage worthy of a holier cause, “there is another-it is God himself.” And Mohammed answered well, for God was there to work out by him prophetic issues. But mark the mode. Over the mouth of that cave a spider is weaving his web. Unmarked, unconscious, humble instrument of Heaven, he is silently weaving the web of destiny. His work is done ; and as the wind shakes its tremulous fibres, a band of horsemen come to that cave's mouth. They mark the unbroken strands of that attenuated fabric-pass on—and that rescued Arab comes forth to complete a system which has changed the course of empire, made monarchs topple from their thrones, and now after the lapse of twelve hundred years, controls the temporal and eterval weal of more than one hundred and forty millions of human beings. Thus in the hand of the Sovereign Ruler, shall“ a spider's most attenuated thread” become a strong link in the adamantine chain of destiny.
This was an unnoticed era, yet one more worthy of commemoration than the Hegira. History would furnish many another, and doubtless many an one unwritten by the pen of man is in the record book on high. Who can estimate the influence of a single thought on the destiny of a human being! and who shall tell what strange developments may be made hereafter, when many a man may find that one thought marked an era in his life unnoticed by himself! that so far as any subsequent act tended to change his final state, it may with truth be said, that then the last line was written in his book of fate, and the volume closed for ever. Yes! a thought may be a soul's Rubicon, and sometimes it may be a nation's. One only illustration of this last remark, and we have done. Ere Rome was yet a century old, and when her power was only felt by a few border tribes, there was war between the infant state and Alba. We need not relate the story of the three fraternal champions, so familiar to all, but may be pardoned for speaking of the vast stake at issue, and on what that issue turned. While the two armies look on with breathless interest, two of the Romans fall, and there is a momentary pause, while the third one meditates whether to stand or fly. Upon that thought what interests are pending! A world is held in equilibrium there! Now could there by an act of anticipated creation, be brought as spectators into one vast amphitheatre, all who were to be affected by that day's results, what intense emotion would be shown by that stupendous gathering! Hannibal and Scipio would be gazing down, for Cannæ and Zama are in embryo there—Cæsar and Pompey, for there Pharsalia is to be decided-Anthony and Augustus, for Actium is at issue there— Theodoric and Attila, for on that arena the carnage of Chalons is foreshadowed. The thought is over, and the Roman flies; and as he turns again and strikes down his pursuers one by one, methinks could the future find a voice, we might hear from that world of anticipated being the muttered groan of the future vanquished, and from the multitude of victors the plaudit shout like the sound of mighty thunderings, “ Roman, well done! thou art a mightier conqueror than we.”
* A curious chapter might be written upon the consequences which would have resulted had the issue of this battle been different. But sometimes a single phrase will serve the same purpose as a labored description, as when Scott in Ivanhoe so admirably gives us a complete picture of the condition of the lower orders of the Saxon population in the days of John, by the brief description of Gurth, around whose neck a collar was fastened, on which was inscribed, "Gurth the son of Beowulph is the born thrall of Cedric of Rotherhood.” We may be allowed in humble imitation to remark, that had the Moslems conquered, the Koran would have been our Bible, Oxford might now be propagating Islamism instead of Puseyism, and “we should have been wearing turbans instead of hats, and combed our beards instead of shaving them.”
Of all the questions which have ever come under human observation, undoubtedly the most obscure in their nature and the most difficult of decision, are those which relate to the faculties and phenomena of the mind. In most other departments of learning the results are known with far greater precision and often beyond a doubt. In the abstract relations of numbers, for instance, the deductions and conclusions are certain and incontrovertible. In the physical sciences too, observation and experiment have reduced many of the laws and properties of matter to mathematical certainty and decision. Even that part of mental philosophy termed ethics, which treats of morals and political economy, is capable of much more decisive proof than the intellectual part, which considers the powers, faculties, and affections of the mind; and to which last our subject in a great measure belongs. Could we as easily trace the growth of the intellect as we can often the formation of material substances, observing from what germ every particular feature originates, and what conduces to nourish and mature it, the task we have proposed to ourselves would not be so very
difficult. We conceive of four principal objects, one or the other of which men usually seek in their reading-namely, pleasure, knowledge, culture-whether of intellect or taste—and moral improvement. With regard to some of these objects, we believe novel reading to be entirely useless or actually injurious ; and though with respect to others the end proposed may be attained, we shall endeavor to show that there are other means of accomplishing it, which answer equally well and even better, without any of the objections that attend this.
By far the greater number of that class who are accustomed to spend their time in perusing works of fiction, profess to have no other object in view than the mere pleasure of the moment. Perhaps some seek recreation, and would unbend the mind from severe studies and pursuits over some amusing though trivial tale ; regardless whether injury or profit result therefrom. Leisure hangs so heavily upon the hands of others, that they gladly rid themselves of Time's burthen by any means in their power; and resort to light literature for much the same purpose that others do to the grog shop, for artificial stimulant and excitement. Others again, endeavor thus to beguile the weary hours of bodily sickness, even though thereby they are sowing the seeds of disease and death in the immortal mind.
Had life no other object than the mere passing the present moment agreeably,—was there no dissipation to the mind, unfitting it for more important duties; no injury to the morals; there would not be the objections to such means of relaxation that now exist; though even then it would be a matter of doubt whether it does not require a polluted taste to relish such productions; and whether to the unvitiated palate there is not greater delight in the study of those sciences which contemplate important truths ; delight too unalloyed with pain and which is removed far above satiety and disgust. At least where recreation for the mind is desired, it is far more natural and far better to seek it in some employment that shall give necessary exercise and health also to the body. This purpose might be fulfilled by walking abroad amid Nature's scenes, which inspire feelings of no ordinary pleasure, but pleasure that excites no morbid passion, no disquietude or unhealthy sensibility.
We believe the most strenuous advocate of novel reading, never claims for them the propagation of any thing more than a sort of negative knowledge. Their very design is to make Fancy wear the garb of Truth. The amount of direct information they contain, though christened with the name historical, and affecting to portray the light and transient shades that flit upon the surface of society ; those evanescent hues which otherwise they say would soon pass off and be forgotten, is at best small and without authenticity. Generally written long after the times they profess to describe, and relying mostly upon the fancy of the author for those facts and scenes that they set forth, they seldom give a very correct idea of men and things. The false impres
sions they thus usually produce, little entitle them to be called the hand-maids of History. Biography can much more justly claim this distinction. It is the province of this to descend to all the minute details that History overlooks. In painting the lives of individuals it is its business to give also the less important scenes and influences among which they moved, and which must have tended to color their minds and give bent to their character. Not only do these furnish a substitute for novels in delineating the manners of society, but the autobiographies of eminent men which are becoming so common at the present day, serve an additional purpose which novels can seldom reach. They show what may have been the peculiar habits and manner of thinking, belonging to those who from their genius or station exerted an extended influence upon their country and age ; and what relates to them is of far greater moment than the more general and more obvious features of the mass.
The knowledge of human nature too, that their clamorous supporters often assert, is derived from works of fiction, is by far too slight and imperfect to warrant the benefit claimed in that respect. We apprehend an impartial examination would rather prove that they tend to teach false views of life ; that they fill the already too romantic mind with expectations so high, that this rough world of ours is altogether unable to realize them; and as a necessary result, that they produce bitter disappointment and despair. It is better, far better, that he who would know the bright and the dark side of man's character, should gain his knowledge from actual observation by buffeting the rude waves of the world and mingling among his fellow beings in the busy scenes where they congregate. The experience thus obtained is based on no false assumption, and shall be a clear guidance in the dark day of trouble-a support that shall not prove treacherous in the hour of need. Or shrinks he from such trials, let him study the drama, and he shall find in those master productions of human genius, even which our own language contains, all the intricate passions and minutest traits of man's character unfolded far truer and better than in any external description which has ever dropped from the most brilliant pen of the most talented novelist that has ever existed.
Again, of what use are novels in intellectual culture ? Do they expand the mind, improve the style or give a command of language ?' We cannot but believe that their efficacy in all these respects has been much overrated. An easy and flowing diction is not obtained by the hasty perusal that works of this kind usually receive. It is rather acquired by the habitual and patient study of the choicest productions, ancient and modern, that can be found in the literature of the world; productions in which the strength of thought—the purity of style—the delicate touches of fancy, and the bold figures of the imagination sending every sentiment with force to the heart, shall repay a frequent and careful reading. It is such works, and such only, that give spirit to the mind, and a ready, fluent and graceful expression to ideas. Nay, more, novel reading is not merely negative in regard to this, but it is actually detrimental. Its votaries acquire such facility at despatch that they run through