صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

party was bent upon making its own views prevail, rather than on bringing about that state of government which should best secure the rights of all; and the leading spirits in a disturbed age had naturally more sympathy with the men of action than the men of thought, whose dominant interests were not those of the majority; and in such circumstances the side taken by the more contemplative and wide-reaching spirits is often determined by considerations which have but slight connexion with their deepest convictions. Questions of prelacy or no-prelacy sever men who are agreed on the great questions of faith and charity.

But a heavy charge is made against Taylor, that having been an advocate for toleration when the Church of England was oppressed, he abandoned his principles and advocated oppression when the Church of England triumphed. Let us examine this; for, if it be well grounded, it is a deep stain on a great reputation. One ground of this charge, that he so changed the • Liberty of Prophesying' after 1660 as to weaken its characteristic arguments may be at once dismissed. It reappeared in successive editions of his 'Controversial Tracts,' of which one (the second) was published when he was a bishop and his party triumphant. Changes there are certainly; additions are made in later editions, from books published since the date of the first;* but the argument in favour of toleration is as clear in the last edition as in the first. A more tenable ground of reproach is that Taylor, in his sermon before the Parliament of Ireland in 1661, depreciated the rights of conscience in a manner inconsistent with the liberal principles which he formerly held. But this too is founded on a mistake; what he does maintain in the sermon in question is simply what is maintained by all jurists, that 'tenderness of conscience' cannot be pleaded against the law of the land; if it could, the execution of the law would depend upon individual caprice, and there would, in fact, be an end of all law. And he maintained the very same proposition in the

Liberty of Prophesying 'itself; 'if the laws be made so malleable as to comply with weak consciences, he that hath a mind to disobey is made impregnable against the coercitive power of the law by this pretence; for a weak conscience signifies nothing in this case but a dislike of the law upon a contrary persuasion.'t A man may wish for a change in the law, and yet be anxious that the respect due to existing laws should be maintained. So

* The famous apologue of Abraham and the fire-worshipper, for instance, taken from a book published in 1651, is found in the second and all subsequent editions. This is illustrative of the widest possible tolerance, and as such was adopted by Benjamin Franklin and by Lord Kaimes from him.

of Sec. 17, s. 1.

far,

far, Taylor is not inconsistent; but we are somewhat startled to find him in the sermon inverting his favourite argument from the uncertainty of human opinion. In the Liberty' he had contended, that in the great uncertainty of opinions, states and churches should enforce upon their members the fewest and simplest opinions possible; in the sermon he contends on the contrary that, as opinion is uncertain, the individual should be ready to resign bis own at the bidding of the government, which has prescription in its favour. He exalts to the utmost the prerogative of the King, and it must be confessed that the tone of the sermon is somewhat hard and unsympathising. The truth probably is, that the preacher thought, not unreasonably, that the first task which lay before the Irish Parliament was to restore order, to which end it was his duty to preach obedience; and his own experience had probably convinced him that to include in one church the Irish Presbyterians and the Irish Prelatists was a consummation rather to be wished than hoped for. He is still careful to maintain that an 'opinion which does neither bite nor scratch, if it dwells at home in the house of understanding, and wanders not into the outhouses of passion and popular oration, is not subject to the animadversion of the ruler ; but he warns dissidents that it is one thing to be tolerated, another to be endowed and privileged. When they think they cannot enjoy their conscience unless you give them good livings ... they do but too evidently declare, that it is not their consciences but their profits they would have secured.'* In truth, his glorious vision of a national church founded simply on the acknowledgment of the great Christian verities, a church in which there should be difference of opinion without wrath and envying, had passed away ; his mood was changed, nor is there any need to charge him with insincerity if years of trial bad somewhat embittered his gentle spirit. Probably no other prelate of the newly restored Anglo-Irish Church could have been found who would not have declaimed against the late oppressors with far greater vehemence.

To pass from books which, like those we have just been discussing, bear a strong impress of the tumults of the seventeenth century to the devotional works, is like passing from the bustle of a street to the silence of a church. We must content ourselves with but a brief notice of these ; for, in truth, prayers, and meditations, and directions for the conduct of Christian men in the most solemn incidents of their lives, are not fair subjects for criticism ; the real test of the value of a devotional work is the amount of comfort which it has supplied to generations of earnest worshippers. And there can be no doubt that the · Holy Living,' and • Holy Dying,' the Golden Grove,' and other like works, have stood this test; they have helped to raise the thought and comfort the hearts of many worshippers. Yet we cannot but believe that men are fast losing the taste for such works as the • Holy Living and Dying ;' works, that is, which aim at suggesting the right thoughts, the right actions, and the right prayers under given circumstances. Men like Lord Conway and John Evelyn, women like Lady Carbery and Mrs. Philips, now-a-days aim rather at that general right-mindedness from which right conduct springs than at the cautious guidance of particular actions. The difference in tone between Taylor's * Holy Living' and Dean Goulburn's Thoughts on Personal Religion,' measures very fairly the difference between the Christian gentleman of Taylor's time and the Christian gentleman of our own.

* Dedication of the Sermon before the Parliament.'

amount

The Life of Christ' and the Sermons may be classed together, for they are, in fact, works of the same kind. Of the first, we may say that nothing can be more unlike the · Lives of Jesus' of which we have had more than enough in these latter days. Criticism there is none; Taylor simply arranges the facts of the Lord's life in historical sequence, and inserts from time to time discourses on topics suggested by the history. The work may possibly have been suggested by · Vita Jesu Christi’of Ludolphus de Saxonia ; but the two works only resemble each other in the circumstance that in both prayers and moral reflections are mixed with the narrative; the discourses themselves, which form the greater portion of Taylor's · Life of Christ,' are entirely his own, and differ little in style and manner from those which were published under the title of Sermons.' His object was not to criticise facts or harmonize apparent discrepancies; in an age of strife, when men hugged their own opinions dressed up in the imagery’ of truth, and went on to 'schisms and uncharitable names, and too often dipped their feet in blood,' he wished to withdraw them from the serpentine enfoldings and labyrinths of dispute' to contemplate the love and mercy displayed in the

Great Exemplar. To fill the rooms of the understanding with airy and ineffective notions is just such an excellency as it is in a man to imitate the voice of birds ;' but if a man lives in the religion and fear of God, in justice and love with all the world,' he is certain that he will not fail of that end which is perfective of human nature.' *

* Dedication of the Life of Christ' to Christopher, Lord Hatton; one of the noblest of Taylor's many excellent dedications.

The The discourse in the Life of Christ' and the Sermons contain the richest specimens of their author's gorgeous eloquence. In the polemical and practical treatises the style is comparatively subdued, though even here it is figurative and allusive beyond that of most of his other contemporaries; but in the Sermons he gave the reins to his fancy. He claims for them the praise, that they are on subjects of great and universal interest, which are the concern of all. Here and there he touches on his favourite pursuit, the resolution of cases of conscience, but generally he confines himself to the tracing of the greater lines of duty;': he cares but little if any' witty censurer' shall say that he has learned from them nothing but he knew before ; for no man ought to be offended, that sermons are not like curious inquiries after new nothings, but pursuances of old truths. And his description of his own work is fair enough; the Sermons are in substance, if not in form, plain, practical discourses. The subjects are those on which the greatest amount of common-place has been written and preached; he discourses of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come,' of zeal and prayer, of feasting and marriage, rather than of those abstruse points of metaphysical theology where men 'find no end, in wandering mazes lost;' the plans of his Sermons are simple, the topics for the most part obvious, so that an analysis of one of them gives no truer impression of the effect of the whole than an outline of a Titian does of the subtle colouring of the original. It is not ingenuity of structure nor newness of topic that distinguishes the sermons of Taylor; in these respects he is surpassed by many of his contemporaries; it is the extraordinary wealth of illustration which he bestows upon old truths and simple schemes. In no sermons that we know of are obvious truths adorned with so gorgeous an array of thought, and fancy, and learning. His fancy was quick, his reading immense, and his memory retentive; not a subject can be suggested to him but there come trooping into his glowing mind illustrative images; struggles that he has beheld in the civil war; gentle landscapes from Golden Grove; words of Homer and Euripides, of Virgil and Lucan, of Dante and Tasso, of the singers of his own land ; stories from the

Fathers and the Lives of the Saints, from Hebrew Rabbis or *Persian fabulists. Nothing comes amiss to him; he empties his cornucopiæ before us without stint or grudging; if the plan of his sermon is simple and unpretending, every part of it is garnished and decorated with the most luxuriant wealth of rhetorical and poetic trappings. We may compare one of his discourses to such a country church as we sometimes see in these days, where some loving hand has covered the simple work of

village

village masons with rich carvings, and filled the old windows with prophets pictured on the panes.

He has often been compared to Chrysostom, and there can be no doubt that the mind of the English preacher was largely influenced by his study of the great orator of Antioch and Constantinople. There is in both the same peculiar union of real earnestness of purpose with rhetorical form and florid imagery; there is the same tendency to a gentle melancholy, and, in spite of the difference of language, there is even a resemblance in style: Taylor's style reflects Chrysostom's in much the same way that Hooker's does Cicero's. But Chrysostom, though exuberant in comparison with Demosthenes, is chaste compared with Taylor; he shows the training of the Athenian schools, which still formed an academy of Greek style ; he has none of Taylor's multifarious learning; Chrysostom and Photius together might have formed a Jeremy Taylor. In truth, we can recal only one other who unites wealth of learning, of fancy, and of expression, in the same degree as Jeremy Taylor-his contemporary, John Milton. The reading of these two extended in great measure over the same fields; we trace in both the same fondness for the Greek, Latin, and Italian poets—the same tendency to decorate Christian thought with Pagan imagery—the same delight in the modulation of long-drawn sentences—the same dissatisfaction with the discords and divisions of an age which must needs discuss prelacy and presbytery, synods and classic hierarchies,' while government could hardly be maintained, and Christianity itself was in danger. But with these points of likeness, how wide is the gulf between the two men ! Nothing can be less like the fiery scorn of Milton than the gentle melancholy of Taylor; while Milton plunges into the arena, eager to enforce his own views of right and truth, unsparing in denunciation of those who oppose him, Taylor tenderly laments the evils of the time, and would fain persuade men and set them at one again: in Milton we are always conscious of strong will and fixed resolve; Taylor sometimes seems to be hardly master of himself to float passively on the full stream of his own learning and fancy. It is hardly likely that the two great masters of English prose were known to each other personally; in early Cambridge days, no doubt, the young scholar of Caius may have met face to face the scholar of Christ's, though in after times it is difficult to imagine that Cromwell's secretary can have had occasion to meet King Charles's chaplain. But with each other's works they were no doubt acquainted : it is not to be supposed that so omnivorous a reader as Taylor would remain ignorant of his great contemporary's 'Allegro,' and •Comus,' and Lycidas,' or that Milton would neglect a work

« السابقةمتابعة »