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CHAPTER I.  The Literary Character of the Work.

Database

CHAPTER I. The Literary Character of the Work.

James Dodson

THE work before us, viewed as a mere literary production, possesses something charmingly peculiar. The learned author, disdaining to confine himself to the vocabulary of his predecessors, has, out of Greek materials, manufactured for his own special use, two beautiful tri-syllables—"Neodism" and "Psalmonism," which he defines thus:—"Neodism," from neos and o-dee—pleads for a new Psalmody. Psalmonism, from psalmos and monos—pleads for the exclusive use of the book of Psalms." This piece of service alone to the English language will be appreciated by all those who, like Mr. M. find their mother tongue too meagre to afford them the means of expressing all the thoughts which spring up in their prolific minds:—more especially if they take into consideration the fact, that these words came into our language, not alone; but accompanied by their respective derivatives, "Neodist" and "Neodistic" "Psalmonist" and "Psalmonistic."

His whole work abounds with such elegant forms of expression as—"It looks like as though"—"as to the manner in which the Doctor sets aside the argument contained in the passage is this"—"it testimony and law"—"nothing nor nobody," &c. To lay before our readers all those passages in which Mr. M. exhibits a similar elegance of diction, would be an endless task; nothing less, indeed, than to transfer to our pages a very considerable part of his book.

In a controversial writer and especially one who, like Mr. M., deals much in the exposition of scripture, no qualification can be more commendable than perspicuity. Let the following passages serve to exemplify the success enjoyed by our author, in adapting to the capacity of the "plainest people," (p. 3,) the information which he is pleased to communicate—p. 92. Again: though a duty enjoined by participial language, is always subordinate to a principal duty, yet it may be principal to a third duty, which is subordinate to itself." What can be plainer than that? And yet, perhaps it is excelled in perspicuity by the following, p. 191; "Doctor, do you not know, that prophetical language always speaks of something future, no matter what tense the verb may be in, whether it speaks of something that has occurred, is occurring or will occur?"—Surely this is "milk for babes."

The strength and activity of our author’s mind, as well the dignity of his modes of thought, and his skill in argumentation, are sufficiently evinced from the following specimen of extremely close reasoning, p. 150; "And this shows that his (Dr. Pressly’s) notion is utterly without foundation—no more defensible than that "the moon is made of green cheese!" He could offer as much proof for the one as he has done for the other, and it would be a good deal like what he has done, were he to start with this proposition: "The moon is beautiful, and is made of green cheese; and labor through eighteen pages to prove that she is beautiful, and then occupy only four pages in proving that she is nothing but a cheese. In proving what needs no proof his arguments are abundant: but in proving what needs proof his arguments are very scanty. Yet he could offer the same kind, and more abundant proof for the moon being cheese, than he offers for his own notion. His own notion appears to be the correct one; and the moon appears to be a cheese. A cheese is of a circular form, and the moon appears to be circular. A cheese is a kind of whitish color; and the moon appears to be a kind of whitish color. A cheese has a flat face; and the moon appears to have a flat face. And cheeses vary in size and the moon appears to vary in size too. And the proof is conclusive,—yes, more abundant, and more conclusive, than what the Doctor has offered in support of his own favorite notion." It would certainly be very wicked for a man who can reason in a style so masterly, to bury his talent. But Mr. M. (to his praise be it spoken,) shows no disposition to inflict upon the world so great a calamity. If the passage to which our attention has just been directed, is worthy of admiration, the following should not be read without rapture: "Suppose you had obtained a fine horse, and you would take off his head; and then cause him to grow all over with feathers; would he be the same you received? Yes, he would, all but;—all but what? All but the absence of the head, and the presence of the feathers, and the want of life. And these changes make him to be not the one you obtained. That one had a head, but this one has none: that one had no feathers, but this one has: that one was living, but this one is dead. Before you have the same, you must put on the head, take away the feathers, and give him life. And thus it is with Rouse’s paraphrase of the 18th Psalm: he has taken away the head; he has put on the feathers: and he has killed it!" (p. 30.) Any word spoken in commendation of this sublime passage would be worse than lost.

As Mr. M. writes for the "plainest people," he for the most part, curbs his genius, and restrains it from flights too lofty and sublime; but ever and anon it breaks over the bounds assigned to it, and mounts to its proper level. You have an instance of this on p. 80;—"You pass along the pleasant vale [What vale?] beautified with the various flowers that smile forth from besides your path. You see before you on a gentle elevation, the verdant grove [What grove?] in all its inviting and luxuriant loveliness. Delighted you enter; and as you pass up, [Up what?] the ear is charmed with melody and song, poured forth by the feathered songsters of the wood. You reach the opening above [What opening?]; and lo! at your feet there lies a spacious chrystal fountain [When did fountains first begin to lie?]. The margin, all around, is adorned with the choicest verdure and bloom. The myrtle, palm, and amaranth, the eglantine and rose. And the clear rocky bottom [Mark that; it is not the fountain itself, but the bottom of it that pours forth the stream.] of gems and gold, pours forth a constant pure, pellucid stream, in that sparkling fountain, ever flowing, and for ever full. With pleasing admiration you stand and gaze into the dear sparkling pool; and the sweet voice of the water nymph [The chrystal fountain, our author tells us, is the word of God; but what is meant by the water nymph in this sublime allegory?] calls you to drink. You quaff it, and O how refreshing! How exhilarating! how healing!" Our author’s fancy takes such liberty here, as evidently to carry him above the subject of Psalmody altogether; and yet the great mass of his readers are so utterly destitute of feeling and sense, as to consider this transporting passage nothing better than a piece of bombastical rant.

Mr. M. is not one of those morose and sullen spirits, who disdain all jests and flows of humor; and yet, (to his honor be it spoken,) his sallies of wit, are of that solemn, grave and serious kind which best becomes a minister of the gospel, having no tendency whatever to provoke the reader’s mirth, but rather serving to deepen his gravity. It were needless to give specimens of his wit, since they abound on almost every page of his work; and the reader will easily distinguish them by the accompanying notes of admiration.

He is a poet too;—see the following, p. 26.
 

"He would indite; and forged a wight,
To fit in tight and make it right."

and the following, p. 29:
 

"His human wisdom hard he plies,
Anon came forth the words, that flies;
And then to these he adds, that lies:
And thus his rhyme together ties."

It is much to he regretted that a poet so gifted, had not laid the world under obligations to him, by publishing a volume or two of poetry. After all, it is to be hoped that the judicious reader will conclude that the two specimens given above,—flaming as they do with poetic fire,—are almost as valuable as a volume of the same sort. Perhaps Mr. M. will take compassion on the church and furnish her with a book of hymns, of his own composition.

Indeed, to sum up all his virtues in one view, he possesses the true secret of book-making; viz: the art of expanding a few select ideas, into a volume of considerable size. Every reader will see that if our author had not paid some attention to this important rule, but like your impolitic scribblers, had always ceased writing when he had exhausted his ideas, his book instead of containing 248 pages, would not have amounted to one-fifth of that bulk; and, as a matter of course, would not easily have been sold for fifty cents per copy.