Studies in Religion . . .

STUDIES IN RELIGION; By the Author of “Words in a Sunday School,” New-York: C. Shepard, 191 Broadway.

  This little book is the record of the experiences of a mind which has chosen the better part, which views life only as one lesson in the long and glorious study of the divine purposes of creation, and therefore finds fullness of instruction and sweet content on every side. As a composition it does not pretend to literary merit, and has the great defect of reminding of the style of another. Imitation is painful, even when it is unconscious imitation; we demand entire individuality as a first requisite in style as in manners;—give us grace, finish, beauty, if possible, but at any rate individuality. The thoughts and feelings, however, are truly the writer’s own, part originally, the rest by assimilation. The little book will win its way to the eyes of those who yearn for sympathy in similar aspirations; there are such in America, with all its tendency to gross materialism; there are such in New-York, notwithstanding its deep taint of covetousness and sensuality. In case this notice should meet the eye of such we add a couple of extracts as indicative of the character of the book:*

  “The loftiest in the gifts of head and heart cannot escape from the bond that unties them to the lowest. * * What has the poor savage, whose thought is, at best, a glimmering twilight, in common with him who stands beside him, with a brow like a god’s, and a knowledge that has taken possession of the lower world and apportioned it a place and name? And between these distant points are interminable varieties. Some are born kings in the world of mind, possessing supremacy from their cradle, asking leave of none, but assigning all things their own law; modeling customs, society, religion, after their own thought. So are there lords and princes, each in their beautiful sphere, giving and having wherewith to give, calm, complacent, full: then follow the tribe of beggars of the heart and mind; some unashamed, indifferent to their poverty; others, again, tortured by it, ready to rise upon the monopolizers of thought, and ask, Why oh poet, why, oh prophet, art thou full and clothed, and we naked and hungry? Surely, there is no equality in Nature. Is not one stone from her laboratory clear, beautiful, reflective of the rays of the immeasurable sun, an agate, a cornelian, a topaz, and another, dull, worthless grey pebble, lying by the road-side? Does not one star differ from another? Is the gnarly shrub of the same lineage as the graceful elm? Oh, miserable savin, with your twisted, stunted branches, dost not shrink before the regal chestnut, the far-spreading oak? Far and wide go out their leaves for the inhaling of the atmosphere; in what large draughts do they take it in; but as for thee, a little sufficest thee. And what tie is there between genius and mediocrity? Genius, the gift of thought, the blending of the divine with the human, the partaking of the essence of God, the becoming another person in the Trinity. It knows no want, for it is the maker of wealth: it dwells in the palaces of thought; wanders in gardens of love; worships in temples of illimitable arch, to the swell of organs of unfathomable sound. All outward objects are to it an infinite succession of mirrors, repeating and reflecting every other, according to the light, the form, the position. In the conscious fullness of power, genius can revel in the “Syrian sweets of leisure;” he is not a slave at his task, a hireling at his labor, but sits as a prince at the banquet; not driven to snatch a fearful hour, lest his opportunity vanish, but infinite time and space are his; he has leisure for smiles and sport, and playfulness: he does not toil for his daily bread of thought; it comes to him as he wishes it. Yet let this god deny himself to be the son of man, seek, ever so little, to escape from the mesh of humanity that environs him, and it tells back fearfully upon him in weakness and doubt, in care and pain. Let not the weak in will, the feeble in mind, bow down with any unmanly awe, before the great of intellect and virtue. What are they there for, but as beacons to the race—but to show to every individual that shares in their nature, that such is his own possibility? Could not Peter walk the water, like his lord? Ah, he was weak then; another time he shall have more strength. Genius and virtue have but entered upon their inheritance in advance. The record of their life and consciousness is the mirror in which we may behold our future destiny. How should we bless these angel faces that smile and beckon to us here and there, from out the clouds of mortal life.”

  “How shall we find out what we believe? By noting that upon which we act. That upon which we act is our own faith,—that upon which we do not act is not our faith, fancy it as we may. This is a good test. What opinion, or principle, or feeling, do we act upon? What is the food of every day? To one it may be a conviction, to another a sentiment; but, whatever it be, that produces action,—is our belief, nothing else. Jesus refers to his acts, as proofs of his divinity: “My works bear witness to me.” Just so do our works bear witness to us. Our faith cannot be hidden. Life is a traitor, and tells the secret we would keep. We imagine we believe one thing, and do, in reality, believe another. Let us say that we believe virtue is the only good, but if, in life, we seek other good; if we are unhappy at not obtaining it, does not this show that we were quite mistaken, that many things rival virtue with us, perhaps surpass it? Let us say, that a chivalric generosity is the most ennobling sentiment; that to give without pay, to pour forth talent, time, kindness, without thought of return, is regal and sublime; is the sign and token of intellectual and moral wealth: that it is only the poor in intellect, the feeble in virtue, who would be paid in kind for what they do, let us rejoice in the fancied lavish of our mental treasures, thoughts, and convictions, and feelings: yet, if we find ourself touched by neglect, hurt by unkindness from those to whom we have done kindness, pining with the indifference of those to whom we have given of our mind or heart, it shows that we were under an error; that we gave not in regal profuseness, but lent or sold only. What is our desire to have our kindnesses or powers felt, but a wish to be paid for what we do? We are made to be givers, each in our way; but we descend from our rank and hire ourselves out for praise, for love, for approbation. Who gives most like a king, he who would have others count his money as they take it, and tell him how much each piece is worth, or he who throws in handfulls the uncounted gold, and lets it be gathered for more or less? If a sovereign be indiscriminately taken with a heap of farthings, shall the regal giver heed it? Suppose we impart to others knowledge that we have wrung from the fathomless mine of toil and sorrow, and they receive it as carelessly as if it were the merest commonplaces of experience; suppose we manifest to another kindness and friendliness, that with us have been the victory over resentment and pride, and myriad wounded sensibilities, and he or she to whom we show it, take it as a due, unknowing or uncaring what it cost,—will our gift be less for that? We are sons of God, let us give, as sons of God, time, thought, forbearance, and forgiveness, patience and help: what though they who receive, neither know nor care for the giver, cannot we afford to throw away,—we, whose treasure-house is the perpetual inspiration of the eternal Fathers? That which we live, we believe: every living thing hath faith in somewhat, for faith is the food of life. If we believe in God, we shall live to God: if we believe in vanity, in falseness, we shall live to them. There is not difficulty in finding out what we believe; but, for this purpose, we need not think over what we have heard others say, or have said ourself, but simply ask, From what motive, in what sentiment, did I act or speak yesterday, to-day, now? This belief or sentiment is the home we are dwelling in: we will not hide our eyes to it, and fancy we are living in other mansions: if we wish to go on, we must find out where we are: if we would attain to the true home of the soul, we must learn in what shanty it is now cowering.”

“Studies in Religion . . .” New-York Daily Tribune, 11 September 1845, p. 1.