« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
It were impossible to gaze upon the Pyramids, those vast sepulchres, which rise, colossal, from the Libyan desert, without solemn feeling. They exist, but where are their builders ? Where is the fulfilment of their large ambition ? Enter them. In their silent heart there is a sarcophagus with a handful of dust in it, and that is all that remains to us of a proud race of kings.
Histories are, in some sort, the Pyramids of nations. They entomb in olden chronicle, or in dim tradition, peoples which once filled the world with their fame, men who stamped the form and pressure of their character upon the lives of thousands. The historic page has no more to say of them than that they lived and died. “ Their acts and all that they did” are compressed into scantiest record. No obsequious retinue of circumstance, nor pomp of illustration, attend them. They are handed down to us, shrivelled and solitary, only in the letters which spelt out their names. It is a serious thought, sobering enough to our aspirations after that kind of immortality, that multitudes of the men of old have their histories in their epitaphs, and that multitudes more, as worthy, slumber in nameless graves.
But although the eårlier times are wrapt in a cloud of fable; though tradition, itself a myth, gropes into mythic darkness; though Æneas and Agamemnon are creations rather than men-made human by the poet's “vision and faculty
divine;" though forgetfulness has overtaken actual heroes, once “content in arms to cope, each with his fronting foe,” it is interesting to observe how rapid was the transition from fable to evidence, from the uncertain twilight to the historic day. It was necessary that it should be so. “ The fulness of times" demanded it. There was an ever-acting Divinity caring, through all change, for the sure working of His own purpose. The legendary must be superseded by the real ; tradition must give place to history, before the advent of the Blessed One. The cross must be reared on the loftiest platform, in the midst of the ages, and in the most inquisitive condition of the human mind. The deluge is an awful monument of God's displeasure against sin, but it happened before there was history, save in the Bible, and hence there are those who gainsay it. The fall has impressed its desolations upon the universal heart, but there are scoffers who “contradict it against themselves.” But the atonement has been worked out with grandest publicity. There hangs over the cross the largest cloud of witnesses. Swarthy Cyrenian, and proud son of Rome, lettered Greek and jealous Jew, join hands around the sacrifice of Christ—its body-guard as an historical fact-fencing it about with most solemn authentications, and handing it to after ages, a truth, as well as a life, for all time. In like manner we find that certain periods of the world-epochs in its social progress-times of its emerging from chivalric barbarism-times of reconstruction or of revolution— times of great energy or of nascent life, seem, as by divine arrangement, to stand forth in sharpest outline ; long distinguishable after the records of other times have faded. Such, besides the first age of Christianity, was the period of the Crusades, of the Reformation, of the Puritans, and such, to the thinkers of the future, will be the many-coloured and inexplicable age in which we live. The men of those times are the men on whom history seizes, who
are the studies of the after-time; men who, though they must yield to the law by which even the greatest are thrown into somewhat shadowy perspective, were yet powers in their day: men who, weighed against the world in the balance, caused “a downward tremble” in the beam. Such times were the years of the seventeenth century in this country. Such a man was JOHN BUNYAN.
Rare times they were, the times of that stirring and romantic era. How much was crowded into the sixty years of Bunyan's eventful life! There were embraced in it the turbulent reign of the first Charles—the Star-chamber, and the High Commission, names of hate and shuddering-Laud with his Papistry, and Strafford with his scheme of Thorough; --the long intestine war; Edgehill, and Naseby, and Marston, memories of sorrowful renown-a discrowned monarch, a royal trial, and a royal execution. He saw all that was venerable and all that was novel changing places, like the scene-shifting of a drama ; bluff cavaliers in seclusion and in exile ; douce burghers acting history, and moulded into men. Then followed the Protectorate of the many-sided and wondrous Cromwell; brief years of grandeur and of progress, during which an Englishman became a power and a name. Then came the Restoration, with its reaction of excesses— the absolutism of courtiers and courtezans—the madness which seized upon the nation when vampyres like Oates and Dangerfield were gorged with perjury and drunk with blood; the Act of Uniformity, framed in true succession to take effect on St. Bartholomew's-day, by which “at one fell swoop,” were ejected two thousand ministers of Christ's holy gospel ; the Conventicle Act, two years later, which hounded the ejected ones from the copse and from the glen—which made it treason for a vesper-hymn to rise from the forest-minster, or a solemn litany to quiver through the midnight air ; the great plague, fitting sequel to enactments so foul, when the