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It is a testimony alike to the superlative greatness of Christianity and the unerring truthfulness of the art-instinct, that, since the birth of the Saviour of Men, the greatest artists have found their noblest inspirations in the sublime events and scenes that signalized the advent of the Christian religion. The Annunciation, the Virgin Mother and her Heaven-begotten Child, the early Conversation with the Doctors in the Temple, the Miracles, the Agony in the Garden, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the Lord's Supper and the Ascension, have furnished the favorite subjects of the great painters, throughout all the eighteen centuries of Christian history. Sculpture has also paid its highest tributes to Christian themes; and architecture has honored our holy religion by rearing for its worship its grandest and most graceful monuments. Nor has poetry been behind its sisterhood of arts in devotion to the divine truth and beauty it has found in the character and mission of Jesus, and the heroic lives of his early followers. There is, indeed, no department of English poetry so rich and so extensive as that which is properly denominated "sacred.” Within the last few years, this mine has been worked by collectors and compilers with astonishing results. Not less than twenty volumes have recently been collected, in different departments of sacred verse, that were not intended for public worship; while the hymnology of the language has been swelled by the different sects to such a catalogue that it would seem to embrace the lyrical expression of every phase of Christian doctrine and devotional feeling.
The majority of these collections, both for private reading and public worship, are, however, of a devotional character. They do not so much grow out of events and scenes in the life of Christ and his chosen apostles, as they spring from human want and human aspiration and adoration. They are the offspring of Christian feeling, Christian desire, Christian worship; and they leave unfilled a department which the present volume aims to occupy.
Several years ago, Rev. Rufus W. Griswold and Rev. H. Hastings Weld, both recognized poets, and both critically familiar with the best poetry of the language, were associated in the preparation of a collection of poems, descriptive of the principal personages of the Old and New Testaments, and of the leading scenes and events of their lives. The design was very comprehensive-so comprehensive, indeed, as to render it necessary that only a single poem should be devoted to the grandest as well as the least remarkable of the events described. The volume embraced, also, a hundred pages or more of historical prose. This book, on coming into the possession of the publishers of the present volume, was adopted as the basis of a collection which should embrace only those relating to Christ and his chosen Twelve. This would materially reduce the size and cost of the book, while it would retain all the poems most interesting to the Christian reader, and give an opportunity to gather around the more important and significant of the scenes in the life of the Saviour, a larger number than the old design permitted. The finest tributes of the muse have been paid to these; and it seemed to the present editor particularly desirable that they should be grouped in such numbers and relations as would indicate their pre-eminent significance and honor their inspiring power. His work, has, therefore, been simple; and, in whatever light his readers may regard the results of his own labor, he takes the privilege of testifying to the value of the original collection, which he has endeavored to enrich. Into whatever field of sacred poetry he has entered, he has found that the original editors
had been there before him; and he has really introduced only those poems which their broad design and not their critical judgment compelled them to set aside.
The simplest scenes in the life of the humblest man, and the homeliest facts and features of nature, have their poetical aspects. The poetry of every nation abounds in pastorals, idyls, and other productions devoted to the affairs of rural life; and if these have their poetical aspects and inspirations, how much more those which relate to the sublimest facts of history, and to those more elevated truths which concern the spiritual life! It has been the habit of the Christian world to regard the great facts of Christianity and the relations of the soul to them only from a practical point of view. Christ as the practical Saviour of men from sin and its consequences; religion as a scheme of duty and of privilege, and the lives of the early disciples as its illustrations;-these have held almost an exclusive place in the mind of practical Christendom. Where Christianity is new, this is necessarily the case. This practical view is the rude and thrifty trunk of the tree whose branches are to fill the earth; but it is neither foliage nor flowers. These latter are to be apprehended by an advanced and more thoroughly spiritualized Christianity. The new love of sacred poetry which is manifested in these latter days, betrays an absolute popular advance in Christian life, and shows that the popular mind is emerging from the bare practicalities of religion, as a scheme of saving and reforming faith, into a lively apprehension of the divine beauty of the things of God and the Kingdom of His Son. We are coming to look more and more upon God as He lived in the flesh, upon the wonderful events that accompanied and proceeded from this incarnation of Divinity, and upon those holy men whom He chose as the vehicles of his mission to mankind, as the imbodiments and illustrations of a life of heavenly loveliness. They appeal to our sense of the sublime, of the wonderful, of the divinely harmonious, of the beautiful; and we turn with instinctive delight to the words of those poetic souls that with quicker vision and subtler spirituality have been
before us into this rarer realm, as prophets and revelators. They see into the heart of glories whose robes of purple and pearl are only faintly perceived by us; they weave into golden fabrics the scattered filaments of our own emotions and apprehensions; they pave with precious stones a path for our clumsy feet to tread, as they climb the mount of vision; they pluck fruit from the heavenly hills with which to feed our starving imaginations. To Experience, weary and sorefooted in the straight path of duty, or among the labyrinths of truth and error, Song brings wings that bear it to fields of exhilaration or
To those who have arrived at the point where the poetical aspect of religion and of those characters and events which were associated with its birth and infancy, is alike a want and a satisfaction, is this volume presented. The songs of the best Christian singers are here. Milton, Keble, Bowring, Milman, Croly, Montgomery, Heber, Cowper and Bonar, with a host of lesser poets, equal in piety, perhaps, though inferior in power, contribute their separate rills to feed the tide of song which celebrates the greatest events of human history, and honors the divinest personages and characters the world has known. Though distinctly descriptive in their character, many of these poems, in expression and influence, are devotional. No attempt has been made to curtail any of the poems because they have in many instances slid from description into adoration, or risen from contemplation into ecstacy, or stated a fact for the purpose of instruction. The editor has not been restrained by a rigid design in the particulars of the book, content that the collection, as a whole, contains the best poems of the language that could be found to fill the design; and he confidently commends the book to the patronage of the Christian public. J. G. H.
VISION FROM "THE DRAMA OF EXILE”..E. B. BROWNING........
HYMN TO THE SAVIOUR.
.H. H. MILMAN
THE BIRTH-SONG OF CHRIST.
HORATIUS BONAR... 20
.E. H. SEARS.....
ALFRED DOmmett.. 23 .ROBERT LOWELL.... 25
THOMAS CAMPBELL.. 26
THE HOLY FAMILY.
THE OFFERING OF THE MAGI.....
IN THE TEMPLE.......
CHRIST EXPOUNDING THE LAW.......
A VOICE FROM THE DESERT...
THE BAPTISM OF CHRIST......
.N. P. WILLIS..........
THE VICTORY IN THE WILDERNESS........JOHN MILTON....
S. G. BULFINCH..
THE MARRIAGE OF CANA..
THE GOOD CENTURION.
THE WIDOW OF NAIN...........
MISSION OF JOHN'S DISCIPLES.
........ MRS. HEMANS..
CHRIST STILLING THE TEMPEST..........
.N. P. WILLIS
N. P. WILLIS.