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Mitchison's Hand-Book of the Songs of Scotland. Glasgow, Mitchison
This is a collection of songs which were wont to be sung by the celebrated vocalist, John Wilson, in his popular concerts. A short memoir of that gentleman is prefixed, written by a friendly hand. We prefer the descriptive and historical notes to the pictorial illustrations, which do not reflect much credit upon the designers. The work otherwise is elegantly got up, and we doubt not will command a large sale. In a second edition, we would advise the publishers to omit the portrait of John Wilson, which is no likeness.
We quote the following interesting account of Wilson's Musical Education, from the Memoirs.
“ His musical education seems to have been instigated by nature, and yet it must altogether be regarded as exhibiting a remarkable triumph over unfavourable circumstances; for his voice, so rich and mellow in after years, was, in his early youth, thin in quality, and husky in expression. He was, however, passionately fond of singing; indeed, his attachment to it was quite a singularity of character: he never tired of it, and seemed to find intense delight in the constant exercise of his voice. This peculiarity he preserved to the latest period of his career ;—we have heard him estimate his practice at a thousand notes a-day; and to this natural bent of inclination much of his eminent vocal power may undoubtedly be traced. It is recorded that Mr. John Mather, leader and teacher of a musical association called The Edinburgh Institution,' and Mr. Benjamin Gleadhill, of the Tron Church Band, of both of whom Wilson received the early vocal lessons on which his taste was formed, whilst afterwards delighted and astonished at the display of his abilities, owned that they could never have predicted his excellence, and that they certainly never had discerned his capabilities. Such, however, are the results of enthusiasm, practice, and perseverance. These three gave new qualities to the originally thin and husky voice of Wilson, although the conscious genius of song must all along have been tugging at his heart; for long before his better powers were developed, would he essay a public appearance in some obscure precentor's desk; and when the Rev. Mr. Thomson of Duddingstone, the celebrated landscape painter, a perfect devotee to music, established a little band in his rural church at Duddingstone Loch, it was the delight of John Wilson to accompany the precentor from Edinburgh on the Sunday mornings to this romantic spot, and assist in the singing, or occasionally to officiate in his absence. By these incessant vocal efforts Wilson's voice began to be developed ; and the accomplished minister of Duddingstone was amongst the earliest to discover its latent qualities, and urge its careful cultivatian. Such encouragement incited a diligent application to his musical education; and at length he felt justified in becoming a candidate for the precentorship of Roxburgh Place Relief Church, an appointment which he obtained. The salary was seventeen guineas per annum. It was here that his beautiful tenor voice and admirable musical taste, becoming the subjects of town talk, attracted crowded audiences to the church in which he officiated. The congregation, in admiration of their precentor, bestowed upon him a piece of plate. After the lapse of several years, in 1826, his celebrity induced the Town Council of Edinburgh to select him out of a number of candidates, one of whom was Mr. Templeton, his rival in Scottish and operatic song, to fill the precentor's desk of the New Church of St. Mary's, where the Rev. Henry Grey was then in the height of his popularity. This was a decided step in advance for Wilson, whose modest and amiable demeanour not only procured him access to the tables of many members of this the most fashionable congregation in Edinburgh, where he readily made himself welcome by the beautiful style in which he executed the melodies of Scotland, but even led to his employment in the vocal tuition of their children. Having quitted the employment of Mr. Ballantyne, chiefly on the strength of his employment as a teacher of singing, he now strove to perfect his attainments under the able instruction of Mr. Finlay Dun, to whom Mr. Wilson often warmly and gratefully acknowledged his professional obligations.
Revolution, and other Poems, by SusannA HARTHILL. Edinburgh,
W. Whyte and Co. Miss Harthill cannot write poetry, and never will. The only respectable thing in this work is the name of the publishers.
Village Scenes ; a Poem, in Two Parts. Edinburgh, Johnston and Hunter.
This is one of the many works which daily issue from the press at the author's expense, and from the sale of which he may probably expect to realize a handsome profit and a glorious reputation. It is dedicated to the Rev. Dr. Guthrie by his permission. We shall take the liberty to bury it, in the words of our author :
“I charge thee with my dying breath,
To take me where my children (MSS.) sleep,
Ordination.-Parish of Cambusneth- Rev. Mr. M.Dougall has been elected an. The ordination of the Rev. Robert to this charge, vacant by the translation Shaw Hutton, A.M. (formerly of New- of the Rev. Mr. Buchanan to St. Thoington Chapel, Edinburgh,) as Minister mas's Church, Leith. of the Church and Parish of Cambus- Glasgow College. We learn that Dr. nethan, in the Presbytery of Hamilton, T. T. Jackson, Professor of Theology in took place on Thursday the 17th inst. St. Andrews, has been appointed by the The Rev. W. M. Watt of Shotts pre- Crown, to the Chair of Ècclesiasticcal sided on the occasion. On the conclu- History in Glasgow College, vacant by sion of the Services, Mr. Hutton re- the death of the late Dr. Reid. ceived a most cordial welcome from his The Rev. James Cuthbert, who, for parishioners, a large number of whom eighteen months past, has acted as aswere present. Mr. Hutton was introdu- sistant to th Rev. Mr. M.Laren of ced to his new sphere of labour on Sab- Larbert, has been unanimously appointbath the 20th, by the Rev. John Wilson ed to succeed the Rev. Mr. Hutton in of Forgandenny.
the charge of Newington Church, EdinLadyloan Church, Arbroath.--The burgh.
H. AND J. PILLANS, PRINTERS, EDINBURGH.
EDINBURGH ECCLESIASTICAL JOURNAL.
The Bards of the Bible. By GEORGE GILFILLAN. Edinburgh :
James Hogg. 1851.
It is told of the famous Robert Hall, that when some student, in his presence, attempted summarily to show the superior merits and claims of the Bible, by asserting that God was its author, he replied, that that statement was nothing to the purpose, since God had also made the meanest reptile and the most tiny insect. This was most contemptible trifling on the part of the great preacher; and we wonder that the youth did not address him to the following effect :- True, Sir; God has made worms and flies, and will not these stand a rather favourable comparison with the worms and flies which man has attempted to create ? - Yet not a greater contrast would there be between these, than between the book of God and all the books of men. Whatever God is the author of, whether it be an insect or a book, must be infinitely superior to whatever, in the same department, is the product of man. Nay, divine Thoughts have this grand difference even from divine Works, that whilst the latter may be and often are temporary and evanescent, the former are stereotyped for eternity, and shall ever be revelations shining upon the mysterious face of the Infinite. The breath of God, whether turned into souls or words, gives a su 'e immortality. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but not one word that God has spoken, nor a single soul of which He is the father.
On a first view, any criticism upon the literary merits of the Bible seems a grand impertinence, if not a gross profanity. Reviewing the Bible, or sketching the genius of the sacred writers, has a repulsive sound ; and the critic's chair, with the holy volume on the table before it, is almost as unpleasant a sight as the chair of the scorner. It must also be confessed, that very much of the criticism expended upon the poetry of the Bible, has possessed such a trifling character as greatly to
aggravate the appearance of irreverence. It has shewn only a sense of petty conventional taste, pronouncing one grand oracle from heaven
elegant,” another “ beautiful,” and a third “ truly Homeric or Ossianic.” It only alighted upon certain portions of the Bible, as if these alone were poetical, quite forgetting that, from the proper point of view, all inspired Scripture is essential poetry, just as, from the proper point of view, a mass of clay and water is a shining planet in the firmament. A Cockney, paying his compliments to the rising sun or to some lofty mountain, has a close alliance with the most of our critics on the Bards of the Bible.
Mr. Gilfillan was entitled to say of the criticism of his predecessors, “Rarely did it reach, in any of its altitudes of praise, a term higher than
elegant, - term which, while accurately measuring Pope and Addison, looks, when connected with Moses and Isaiah, ludicrously inadequate. The age of which this was the superlative, could scarcely measure the poetry of that which saw and sung the highest beauty and the loftiest grandeur, embracing each other in the temple, under the shadow of
“Jehovah thundering out of Zion, throned
Between the cherubim.'"
, it is not only unobjectionable, but most precious. We have full leave to speak of the beauty of God's works ; and why not also of the beauty of his many authentic words? If to recite a passage of Scripture, and show the poetry which lies in and shines through it, be profane ; then it is equally so to point upwards to the starry hosts, and utter a rhapsody of admiration. All philosophy, science, and literature, are really, though often indirectly, a set of criticisms on the manifestations of Deity; and why should a criticism on the grandeur and beauty of the verbal Revelation be deemed irreverent or blasphemous ? A glorious office it is to describe the poets and the poetry of the Bible
. Mr. Gilfillan fills this office incomparably better than all who have hitherto attempted it; and we doubt much if any successor will be his equal. The volume exceeds our expectations, high as these were, and will remain, we venture to predict, the standard book on Hebrew Poetry. Wilson's criticisms upon Homer, are not more worthy of the theme than are those of Gilfillan upon the Bible.
The formidable difficulty which besets all criticism upon the poetry of the Bible, Mr. Gilfillan has not got rid of; and we believe no man ever will. That difficulty is the comparison which is always, whether consciously or unconsciously, made between human genius and divine inspiration. Whatever theory of inspiration be adopted, inspiration is still something essentially and utterly different from genius. Genius is human intuition; inspiration is intuition superhuman. The first indicates the highest natural mood of the soul; the second indicates a purely supernatural mood. No criticism can say any thing about the latter; for we know nothing of it either as a possession or an operation. Yet inspiration necessarily expresses itself through and by genius. Now, are the characteristics of the different sacred writers, the peculiarities arising from inspiration, or those arising from genius in their individual minds? Any solution of this most pertinent question must leave insuperable obstacles in the way of a description of the idiosyncracies of the Bards of the Bible. What Mr. Gilfillan says of Isaiah, could, with equal force and propriety, be applied either to Jeremiah or Ezekiel. There are no such distinctions between the sacred writers as between Shakspeare and Milton, Scott and Byron, Wordsworth and Southey, Coleridge and Wilson. They have not even the differences which mark the brethren of one family; for petty varieties of dialect are not worth the consideration of any but a pedantic grammarian, and the same writer might have used them all in succession, if living at different periods. With the exceptions of the author of the book of Job, and Paul, the sacred penmen have almost every quality of genius in common.
We shall briefly endeavour to give our readers some idea of the comprehensive plan of Mr. Gilfillan's book, along with one or two quotations, to show how admirably he builds upon his plan. Many admirers of his genius have hitherto doubted whether he possessed constructiveness ; but the noble plan of the “ Bards of the Bible,” and the singular closeness with which he keeps to it, will remove all such doubts. For unity, it is a poem, rather than a series of essays upon the Bible.
The First Chapter is occupied with a discussion of the circumstances creating and modifying Old Testament poetry. These were, the creation of the world, the flood, the call of Abraham, the awful scene of Sinai --sufficient in itself “ to create a volcanic stream of national imagination"—the peculiar economy of the Jews, the no less peculiar set of doctrines placed before them-such as the Divine Unity, the Divine Omnipresence, the coming Messiah, a millennium on the earth, and a future state. Amongst the minor circumstances are noted the climate and scenery of the country in which the Bards lived, and the characteristies of the language which they spoke.
The Second Chapter is on the general characteristics of Hebrew Poetry, its universal and tropical imagery, its simplicity, its boldness, and its high moral tone and constant religious reference,—for, as the author justly remarks, the Hebrew poet was nothing, if not sacred. “The grand theocracy around, ruled all the soul and all the song of the bard. Wherever he stood, under the silent starry canopy, or in the congregation of the faithful, musing in solitary places, or smiting, with high, hot, rebounding hand, the cymbal, his feeling was, 'How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the House of God, this is the gate of heaven. In him, surrounded by sacred influences, haunted by sacred recollections, moving through a holy land, and overhung by a heavenly presence, religion became a passion, a patriotism, and a poetry. Hence, the sacred song of the Hebrews stands alone ; and hence we may draw the deduction, that its equal we shall never see again, till again religion enshrine the earth with an atmosphere as it then enshrined Palestine till poets are the organs not only of their personal belief, but of the general sentiment around them, and have become but the high priests in a vast sanctuary, when all shall be worshippers because all is felt to be divine."
The Third Chapter contains a critical discussion of the varieties of.