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but it breaks the very springs of genius, and men of otherwise great powers and parts are dwarfed by its narrowing tendency into mere sayers of smart things, mere coiners of literary conceits, until they get so entangled and limed, so to speak, in their own impurity, that they cannot be great if they would.
" In such cases Men's natures wrangle with inferior things, Though great ones are their object.”
Even in our greatest authors who have mixed with the pure fire of their genius more than enough of the grosser elements of earth, it will be found that their true fame rests altogether on the pure metal, and never, as some would almost hint, upon the earthy ore with which it is alloyed, however enhanced such impurity may be by the brilliancy of the talent which accompanies it. Where in such a case there exists real worth in a man's writings, time seems to serve them in the capacity of a vessel wherein the whole is held in solution, until all that is impure falls to the
bottom like a useless precipitate, and the real nectar only is left. I know no better illustration of this than in the case of Burns. It is not now
the outward dash of his boisterous license that we
revere in him, with whatever genius he wield his weapon, but the abiding grandeur of his name, and what we really love above all to remember in him, is the central fire of the man, that in spite of himself continually flashes out behind the blackest cloud of his earthiness, revealing a character whose deep foundations are built upon a rock of the rarest humanity and the stanchest truth, and on a morality, indeed, whose basis is rigidly and essentially biblical.
Amongst the many good things that fell from the pen and lips of the late professor George Wilson, of Edinburgh, it used to be a common regret of his that the readers of the present age did not sufficiently peruse “their Bibles and their Shakspeares.” And if the character of the general literary taste of the day may be determined in any measure by the quality of a great part of the supply, we must admit that the age yields abundant proof that the censure is only too well deserved. The literature of the day—more particularly in its periodical forms, which have so amazingly increased upon us of late-has in many cases almost supplanted the literature of the ages. But of course a great deal of this evil is inevitable, as it is impossible to increase the facilities of obtaining and cultivating a luxury such as reading—or, indeed, any other luxury—without also increasing the facility and probability of its abuse. It is to be deplored, however, that the reverence for our best books seems to have decayed in almost the same ratio as their cheapness and plentifulness has increased. Like all our other best blessings, their very commonness blinds us to their true value, so that they do not carry that weight and authority with them they deserve; and even in the case of the Book of books, I make bold to say that the literature of the sixty or seventy years that embraced the names of Shakspeare, Bacon, Hooker, Taylor, Milton, and a few others, carries upon it deeper and more abiding marks of biblical influence and spirit than the literature of any subsequent era, our own remarkable times of steam-presses and fourpence-halfpenny Testaments included. With the great majority, the duty of reading has gradually degenerated into the pleasure of it. We seldom sit down to a book as our forefathers used to do, when books cost a deal of money, with the deliberate view of getting profit and instruction out of it; we seldom read with a definite object, but for the most part merely to stop up with pleasure to ourselves the gaps that occur in the intervals of business. With a large class the case is even worse- -a class of readers ill to define—who live as if all their lives they were waiting for a train, and who take up a book, as they take up anything else, merely “pour passer le temps."
In conclusion, I have only to add that I trust the readers of these parallels may experience some of the interest and pleasure the compiler has had in ferreting them out and arranging them, and that the attempt may perhaps induce some others to make some further search for additional illustrations of the subject, in the glorious mines from which these are but broken fragments. The writer can speak for the pleasantness of the work, for although it has occupied the greater part of the leisure hours of a few years, it has been altogether of that nature which only enables him to subscribe with greater emphasis his testimony to the truth of the Shakspearean proverb that tells us “The labour we delight in physics pain."