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CORRESZONDENCE. *** The length to which the Critique on Dr. Williams's work has onexpectedly extended, compels us to reserve many articles of literary information till our next number. We were unwilling to divide the first article, it being a continuation of what appeared in our January number : we feel persuaded that the importance of the subjects which it discusses, will amply atone with our readers, for the unusual portion of our pages which it occupies.
We have received a letter with the signature X, and feel onrselves much obliged to the unknown writer. We hope that our future gumbers will furnish the best reply to his
friendly suggestion. If the Friend who signs himself Justitius will acquaint the Publisher with his real name and address, his communication shall be immediately attended to.
We have pleasure in laying before oor readers the following communication from the Rev. A. Creak, relative to the question, which has been lately agitated, as to Dr. Watts's latest sentiments, on the doctrine of the Trinity.
To the Editor of the Eclectic Review.
Yarmouth, March 18, 1814. As a Pamphlet, entitled “ A fajthful Enquiry after the Ancient and Original Doctrine of the Trinity taught by Christ and his Apostles,” has been involved in the recent discussions respecting the genuine sentiments of Dr. Watts, I will thank you to insert the following remarks apon it.
It was prepared for the press, and a small edition of it was taken off, in the year1745. The whole of this edition, with the exception of a very few copies, was destroyed, in consequence, as tradition informs us, of the representations of some of the Doctor's friends. Since the publication of the Eclectic Review of the late Rev. Mr. Palmer's piece on this subject, I have been favoured, through the kindness of Joseph Parker, Esq. of Mettingham, Suffolk, with the perusal of Dr. Watts's printed copy of the Enquiry, &c. On the outside of it, there are written, with his own hand, the words " not corrected fully;" and, in the body of it, there are twelve erasements and interlineations. Several of them are merely verbal, and no one of thein is of the least possible importance in the controversy respectiug his sentiments.
As Mr. Parker's father was amanuensis to Dr. Watts, his family and some of his connexions are well acquainted with the Doctor's hand-writing, and are qualified, if it were necessary, to give the most satisfactory parole evidence, derived from the purest traditionary sources, of the Doctor's reputed and substantial orthodoxy.
The particulars which have been just recited, will, it is presumed, be allowed to be decisive of two points, viz. the genuineness of the pamphlet in question, and the real sentiments of Dr. Watts, within three years of his death. Some of toe abettors of the Doetor's orthodoxy have thought it right to deny the one, and the assertors of his heterodoxy have laboured under a misconception of the other. It is hoped, that, as the public are now in possession of the whole evidence of the case, the Doctor's friends will renounce their scepticism, -and his enemies abate their triumph.
I have made these observations, not with the view of implicating myself in any particolar theological speculations, but of placing, as far as lay in my power, an historical question on its true grounds.
I will just add, that the edition of Dr. Watts's pamphlet which was printed in 1802, is, so far as I have compared them, an exact reprint of the edition of 1745, with the exception of the “ Extracts from the Author's other writings on the Trinity,” which, of course, were not appended to the original edition.
FOR MAY, 1814.
Art. I. The World before the Flood, a Poem, in Ten Cantos; with
other occasional Pieces. By James Montgomery, Author of the Wanderer of Switzerland, the West Indies, &c. 2d Edit. 12mo. pp. xvi. 328. Price 9s. 1819. Longman and Co.
IF it comported with established usage, or with the dignity of
our office, to make apologies in any instance of apparent neglect, either to our readers, or to the writers whose works form the subject of our criticism," Mr. Montgomery would have a peculiar claim upon us for a confession of protracted dilatoriness. The public, however, have not waited for our judicial sanction, a second edition of this volume having long since been called for. We thus find ourselves anticipated in our decision upon its merits; and though we have so far gained by the delay, that we can give our opinion with the greater confidence, we fear that it will be received with a degree of diminished interest.'
We confess that we were not of the number of those who were led by the announced title of Mr. Montgomery's poem, to expect from him a panoramic epic, an heroic chronicle of a former world, which should either add to our scanty 'stock of knowledge, in regard to our antediluvian ancestors, or unfold to our imagination regions of novelty and forms of wonder ditfering at all from daily, experience, or corresponding in any degree to those indefinite fancies which we are apt to entertain of the strange and distant past. To those who liave never contemplated the peculiar difficulties which the poet has to overcome in adapting such a subject to his purpose, it may appear surprising, that the ground which Mr. Montgomery Vol. XI.
has taken, should not long since have been occupied. Nothing would be easier than to imagine all manner of imrossible ways in which the subject of the World before the Flood' might have been laboured into a poem. It is probable that many an abortive effort, prompted by such vague conceptions, has been, at different periods, made by others, who, when they attempted to fix into some definite outline, the dreams-like shapes which flitted before them, found themselves confused by the disorderly variety of images, and the opposite associations, which composed the unsubstantial vision, and resigned the peneil with a sense of hopeless incompetency. Among these opposing associations, if in their youth they were familiar with the classical fictions of antiquity, the fascinating delusion of a golden age of blissful innocence, would not fail to occupy their imagination. It is not without reluctance that we part with our early credulity in regard to fables, so soothing to the pride of our nature, and consecrated to our feelings, by the charm which time has thrown over these fair creations of genius. We are apt to believe, that in the infancy of the world, there prevailed, in the human race, a simplicity, a peacefulness of character, analogous to that of childhood; and the pensiye fondness with which we often look back on the careless pleasures of our youth, is insensibly extended to the retrospect of man's fancied primeval happiness. It is, however, obvious, that these fictions are extremely remote from historic truth; and that the ideas which they awaken, are absolutely irreconcilable with the scriptural representation of the older world. Not only are we compelled to give up, as worthless fancies, the descriptions of the poets, so rich in beauteous imagery, but we are introduced to a scené little congenial with the feelings, or, rather, wholly repulsive to the predilections of human vanity. In the place of the picture of peaceful innocence, we are presented with a briet but forcible narrative of outrageous wickedness,--a detail of crimes, commencing with fratricide, and terminating in universal catastrophe. Instead of spontaneous plenty, we find the earth groaning under a curse, for the sake of man, fertile only in thorns and briars, and circumscribed by tyranny and the lust of conquest. The events, indeed, which distinguish this period, are of a character stupendously sublime ; but they are such as are little susceptible of poetical embellishment ; and the emotions which they awaken, are far from being akin to those of taste. As to the apocryphal supplements which tradition furnishes to the sacred records, they are not less at variance with all poetical associations, than they are with rational probability, and the dignity of truth. They exhibit a humiliating instance of that decrepitude which superstition induces on the kuman faculties, in the absence of pure religion; while they serve to shew, at the same time, the hopeless folly of attempting to blend, with the simple record of eternal truth, the pitiful figments of human invention
It is not without reason, then, that Mr. Montgomery confesses, that the subject is impromising'-thať "its difficulties are numerous ; and the objections that might be urged against it formidable.". Still, the antecedent presumption in favour of the subject; the general'notion, however indefinite or erroneous, of its suitableness for poétical effect; the universality of the interest attached to all the particulars of the history, and the highly moral tendency to which a' poem, embracing those particulars, might be made subservient :-all these would combine to oppose a desponding relinquishment of the plan, if it liad oncc sufficiently captivated the fancy; and the sense of difficulty would but instigate an ardent mind to persevere in the noble undertaking. It would become, indeed, an object worthy to employ the energies or a Dlilton's genius, to reconquer, for the imagination, the World, before the Flood, from the lawless usurpation of heathey or rabbinical fiction; to overcome the false associations which have pre-occupied' our minds, and to reconcile the truth of history with those natural feelings of complacent interest, with which 'we have been accustomed to contemplate the fables of the poets. To render truth interesting,, by, making its affecting qualities predominate over that insensibility, or those prejudices, which indispose us to its reception, and by calling in the aid of scenic beauty and impressive circumstance, to enforce its appeal to our feelings, are, without doubt, the noblest purposes to which the efforts of genius can be directed. The illustration of trath was the original, and is the only legitimate design of fiction. Though it may sound paradoxical, we will' venture the assertion, that the only use of fiction is to rescue our imagination and our taste from the influence of falsehood, and to beguile us into a love of reality. Falsehood consists, not in what is ideal or imaginary, but in what is contrary to the truth of things; in mistaken yiews, in incorrect estimates, in the misappropriation of our passions to inadequate or unworthy objects, and in 'erroneous associations of sentiments. There is a fiction that represents truth, and that is truth,--truth' in the essence, though not in the name; truth' in the spirit though not in the letter.' To this character the poem before us lays its prétensions; and, certainly, the highest praise that could be con
ferred on such a production would be, that it justifies its claim. After all that has been said and subg by poets in praise of themselves and their art, we know not of any thing which could so highly exalt their character, or give such value to their productions, as the merit of conducing in this way, not
to the imaginary interests, but to the moral well-being of society. Let their works be tried by their moral purpose and their efficiency for this purpose, and, if they will not endure the test, they are, after all, however specious may be their beauty, worthless, or something worse than worthless.
We are unwilling to trespass on the patience of our readers by the length of our prefatory observations ; yet there is another point, in relation to the difficulties which opposed the execution of a poem on such a subject, on which we wish, in justice to Mr. Montgomery, to make a few remarks. With our views of the subject, whatever might be, in the judgement of some per sons, its poetical capabilities, there was but one way in which a Christian poet could treat the theme. To have attempted, under the shelter of the supposed authority of Milton, in a case where no successful precedent could confer the sanction of authority, to interweave allegorical truth with historical narrative, or to add any thing in the shape of ostensible fact to the sacred records, would have been injudicious and vain. Still more objectionable would it have been, to have borrowed from classical fiction, materials for a poem founded on scripture history. Yet, the particulars to be gathered from the inspired pages are so few and simple, that some expedient was, of necessity, to be sought for in the imagination, in order to, expand and accommodate them to the purposes of poetry. It is evident also, that whatever method had been adopted, even were the scripture narrative exceedingly more explicit, the detail of circumstance, the delineation of specific character, and the disposition of the whole subject, must still have been purely imaginary. Nor could any objections lie against such a poem, which would not bear, with equal force, against not only poetry in general, but the greater part of those writings which pass for history. Nothing could justify a work of this kind,' observes Mr. Montgomery, if it were, in any way, calculated
to impose on the credulity, pervert the principles, or corrupt • the affections of its approvers. Here then, he continues, • the appeal lies to conscience rather than to taste; and the • decision on this point is of infinitely more importance to the
poet than his name among men or his interest on earth. It • was his design, in this composition, to present a similitude • of events, that might be imagined to have happened in the «
first age of the world, in which such scripture characters as are introduced would probably have acted and spoken, as they are here made to act and speak. The story is told as a parable only, and its value in this view must be determined by
its moral, or rather by its religious influence on the heart. P. X.