Изображения страниц

in accordance with Christian principles-and others, very feebly employing themselves in vindicating the poet from this aspersion.

We consider the following short sentences as a sufficient answer to all that has been said, and a complete vindication of the Hebrew lyrist, viz.:That the sentiment expressed is not propounded as a maxim either of just feeling or of practical conduct.

That it was quite a natural sequence of the train of emotion in which the sacred melodist had been indulging-and,

Lastly, that it was prophetic-and meant to be so-the very atrocities here announced, having actually fallen on the nations that were the oppressors of the Jews, when their own day of retribution and chastisement had come. We think the whole concluding burst of indignation at once quite natural, and highly lyrical and poetic in its effect.

David's LAMENTATION over Saul and Jonathan is the next production of "the Harp of David," to which we now shortly direct the attention of our readers. It is not, of course, included among the sacred hymnsbeing composed for quite a different purpose-but it is incorporated with the historical records of the Jewish people-is an undoubted composition of "the Royal Minstrel"--and has been preserved, in all its integrity, as at once a choice specimen of the accomplishments of its composer, and as a fondly-cherished memorial of the singularly calamitous events it was designed to commemorate.

Of the preceding composition, familiarly entitled, "By the Waters of Babylon," we have remarked, that it belongs to a class of compositions so remarkable for pathetic simplicity and perfect accordance with nature, that no future translations or imitations can ever be expected to supersede the effect which the original compositions were intended to produce. And, respecting the lamentation over Saul and Jonathan, we may now observe, that it belongs to another class of pieces, for the due appreciation of the merits and rich beauty of which, a distinct recollection of the remarkable inc dents on which they are founded is absolutely necessary -as it is also true, that when such knowledge is in possession of the peruser of such poems, the longer the mind dwells on the merits of the composition, the more suggestive does it become of high or affecting recollections and the deeper is the admiration which is excited, both of the felicity of the topics suggested, and of the appropriate richness and spirit of the imagery and diction that have been employed.

This poem is not properly a war song-as has sometimes been represented that is to say, it is not, like the poem of Tyrtaeus among the Greeks, nor like some other well-known productions of modern times, a composition intended to inspire the love of war, and to diffuse among the perusers of it a martial and vindictive spirit. It is simply and appropriately "a lamentation" over the dead-the subjects of the lamentation being a king and his three sons, who had all fallen in a disastrous battle -the scene of the calamity being one familiar to the daily observation of the perusers of the poem, and the battle having been one which was long and justly recollected as among the most calamitous and melancholy incidents of the national history.

The poem goes by the name of "The Bow,"-from the emblem made use of by the minstrel in the description of Jonathan, one of the most lamented of the dead;-and in our translation it is said, not very correctly, that "David bade teach the use of the bow; (2. Sam. i. 13.) behold it is written in the book of Jasher;"-or, as it might be rendered, in the book of the Heroes or Worthies of Israel,-one of those ancient Hebrew books which are now lost, but which seem at one time to have been familiarly known to the whole nation of Israel,—and which recorded the most remarkable events of their early history, and the leading incidents in the lives of their most distinguished heroes or teachers. The meaning is, then, that David, after having composed the "lamentation," took means for making it familiarly known to all classes of his subjects, -and its title will readily suggest to the modern reader the corresponding lines of one of the greatest and most recent of our own national minstrels :

[blocks in formation]

The battle so disastrous to Saul and to his army has been painted by the sacred historian, with a few rapid but masterly touches. The routed army had been pressed onward to Gilboa,-the three sons of the king had already fallen during the conflict,—the army had lost all hopes of success, Saul still bearing on his head his kingly crown, and adorned by the other ensignia of royalty, had fallen on his spear, as his last refuge from the consciousness of defeat,-when there came a messenger unto David, by whom he was thus questioned ;-"How went the matter? I pray thee tell me. And he answered, the people are fled from the battle, and many of the people also are fallen and dead, and Saul and Jonathan his son are dead also. And David said unto the young man that told him, How knowest thou that Saul and Jonathan his son be dead? And the young man that told him said, As I happened by chance upon Mount Gilboa, behold, Saul leaned upon his spear; and lo, the chariots and horsemen followed hard after him ;-and he said unto me, Stand I pray thee, upon me, and slay me, for anguish is come upon me, because my life is yet whole in me. So I stood upon him, and slew him, because I was sure that he could not live after that he was fallen; and I took the crown that was upon his head, and the bracelet that was on his arm, and have brought them hither unto my lord."

The burden or refrain of the poem are these words, "How are the mighty fallen;"-words which commence the lament, and are three times repeated in the course of the composition,-and the topics selected for so interesting a subject are, first :

The scene of its occurrence. A natural suggestion of the heart of man, -which never fails to surround any such scene with all the melancholy associations which belong to the event itself :


Ye mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew, neither let there be rain upon you,-nor fields where offerings may grow; for there the shield of the mighty has been cast away, the shield of Saul, as though he had not been anointed with oil."

Then the personal accomplishments and warlike achievements of the princely sufferers :

"The bow of Jonathan turned not back, and the sword of Saul returned not empty. Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in death they were not divided ;-they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions."

Next comes the commemoration of the splendours that had accompanied the successful years of the reign of the fallen monarch :

"Ye daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you with scarlet, who put ornaments of gold upon your apparel."

And lastly comes the pathetic remembrance of the love that had existed between Jonathan, the most princely of the fallen monarch's sons, and the accomplished poet who was destined to be at once the chief mourner over this scene of disaster, and the chosen successor of the monarch, the concluding scene of whose history had been so full of sad incidents:

"How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! O Jonathan, thou wast slain in thine high places. I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan,—very pleasant hast thou been unto me; thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women. How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished."

We repeat, that the more attentively both the high diction, and the splendid but melancholy topics of this lament are considered, the more suggestive of interesting thoughts will it appear to be, and in every respect the more worthy, both of the accomplished composer, and of the singularly sorrowful events it was intended to commemorate.

Those who wish to see the whole of this subject treated with great powr by a modern author, will find themselves abundantly rewarded by a careful perusal of the "Saul" of Alfieri,-commencing with the words, "These are the mountains of Gilboa,"-words which even now cannot be pronounced without a deep feeling of melancholy, accordant in no small degree, with that which is excited by the name of "Flodden" in the breast of every native of Scotland.


The last poem which we mentioned at the commencement of this Article, as suitable to this section of our subject, is that short and simple, but, as we think, exquisitely natural and beautiful hymn, with which the Septuagint translators have concluded the whole collection of Psalms. It has not been admitted into our collection, probably because our translators did not consider it as having in itself sufficient evidence of its having actually been composed by David. Yet it is, unquestionably, a very ancient Hebrew composition, and was undoubtedly familiarly known to the Jews of very ancient times, was by them admitted as an early production of their favourite minstrel,-and at all events, is a pleasing summary of the striking events of his boyhood,-and such as might have been composed by him, before his hand had learnt, by practice, to bring out from his harp" the loftier and more artistic tones that were eventually to flow from it. It deserves to be more generally known than we


believe it to be. It is supposed to have been written by David, after the slaughter of the Philistine of Gath, and is as follows:

[blocks in formation]

I slew a lion and a bear;

I went out to meet the Philistine,
And he cursed me by his gods;
But I unsheathed his sword,

I cut off his head,

And I took away the reproach from my people."

The only passage in this singularly simple composition, which seems to rise to a higher order of thought, or in which, perhaps, there may seem to the reader to be any want of connection with the other parts of the poem, are the lines:

"Who shall give instruction to the Lord?
His ear is ever open."

The least reflection, however, upon the supposed situation of the poet, will shew that these two lines are indeed full of most beautiful meaning, -and fitted to touch a chord that has often vibrated to similar recollections in almost all thoughtful hearts. David means to say, I was then but the keeper of my father's sheep,-I was young and unnoticed,-I saw little prospect of distinguishing myself; but the seeds of high thought were even then striving for growth, and I only regretted that I had no apparent means of arriving at the destiny for which I felt myself to be in a state of preparation,-I thought the Lord had overlooked me,—but eventually I saw that there was no need of giving instruction to him,his eye was even then upon me, while I sat solitary and by the sheepfolds of the wilderness, his ear is open at all times,-no movement of the most secret impulses of the most apparently unobserved of his children is overlooked by him.

In this sense the lines correspond with the passage in Isaiah, (ch. xl. 27.) in which the prophet thus remonstrates with his people,-"Why sayest thou, O Jacob,-and speakest, O Israel, my way is hid from the Lord, and my right is passed away from the notice of my God? Hast thou not known, hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? There is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength."

We have already said, that perhaps there is no person, who, in look

ing back upon the incidents of his own youthful history, has not felt the sentiment, so piously expressed by the sacred poet, irresistibly forced upon his own mind. We are often preparing for important events, or offices of after life, at times when we are least aware of such preparation,-or amidst incidents so unpromising and apparently disastrous that we think "our way is forgotten by the Lord,—and our right is passed over from our God." Yet there is no need of any messenger to carry our case before his observation,-" his eye and his ear are ever open."

Even the heathen poet felt the same pious sentiment, however modified by his peculiar notions of a presiding and divine care, when, in well-known verses he thus recorded a remarkable incident of his early childhood.

[blocks in formation]

We proceed now to the Laudation Psalms,-which may be considered as commencing with the Hundred and Forty-Fifth, and are continued to the end of the collection. Generally, we may remark, that the arrangement of the Psalms, as they have come down to us, in the original Hebrew and in the Septuagint, has been managed with very obvious artistic effect,—and that this art is no where more apparent than in the order of the Psalms which terminate the entire series,-commencing as they do with apparently occasional snatches of invitation to a thankful spirit, and terminating in one vast burst of acclamation, in which not only all living and rational creatures, but the whole of nature is called on to join in one universal song of joyfulness and praise, and to swell the the grandeur of this anthem, by not only all the harmony of instrumental tones, but by all the voices which mountains, rivers, and trees, and the still loftier, though to us inaudible, sounds of the heavenly spheres, can put forth.

Every reader of the Hebrew poetry is aware that this personification of all nature, and this call to all its departments to join in celebration of the wonderful works of the Creator, and of his loving-kindnesses to the children of men, are among the most remarkable and frequently-recurring characteristics of the inspiration of the sacred writers. Both the Psalms and the Prophets are full of such passages. Thus, (Psalm xcvi. 11-12.) "Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof. Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein; then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice." Again, (Psalm xcviii. 7.) 'Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof; the world and they that dwell therein. Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills be joyful together." And, (Isaiah xlix. 13.) "Sing O heavens, and be joyful O

[ocr errors]
« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »