(2) Sentiment of Hebrew Poetry. The or linary train of thought and feeling presented in He brew poetry isentirely of a moral or religious kind; hut there are occasions when other topics are in troduced. The entire Song of Solomon the pres ent writer is disposed to regard, on high author ity, as purely an erotic idyl, and considered as such it possesses excellencies of a very high de scription. (See CANTICLES.) In Amos vi:3, sq., may be seen a fine passage of satire in a denuncia tion of the luxurious and oppressive aristocracy of Israel. Subjects of a similar secular kind may he found treated, yet never without a moral or religious aim, in Is. ix:3; Jer. xxv :to; xlviii :33: Rev. xviii :22. sq. But. independently of the Song of Solomon, the most worldly ode is perhaps the forty-fifth Psalm, which Herder and Ewald con sider an epithalainium. The latter critic, in the account which he gives of it, states that it was sung during the time when the new queen was led in pomp to take her seat in her husband's palace.
(3) Reasons for Lack of Appreciation. The literature of the Bible, as such, is by no means adequately appreciated in the minds of many. Ow ing, in part, to the higher claims of inspiration, its literary merits have not received generally the attention which they deserve, while the critical world, whose office it is to take cognizance of lit erary productions, have nearly confined their at tention to works of profane authors, and left the biblical writings to the exclusive possession of the religious public. This severance of interests is to be regretted as much for the sake of litera ture as of religion. The Bible is a book—a lit erary production—as well as a religious reposi tory and charter; and ought, in consequence, to be regarded in its literary as well as in its relig ious bearings, alike by those who cultivate litera ture and by those who study religion. And when men regard and contemplate it as it is, rather than as fancy or ignorance makes it, then will it be found to present the loftiest and most precious truths enshrined in the noblest language. Its poetry is one continued illustration of this fact. Indeed, but for the vicious education which the first and most influential minds in this country receive, biblical literature would long ere now have held the rank to which it is entitled. What is the course of reading through which our di vines, our lawyers, our statesmen, our philos ophers, are conducted? From early youth up to manhood it is almost entirely of a heathen com plexion. Greek and Latin, not Hebrew, engage the attention; Homer and Horace, not Moses and Isaiah, are our class-books, skill in understanding which is made the passport to wealth and distinc tion. Hence Hebrew literature is little known, and falls into a secondary position. Nor can a due appreciation of this priceless book become prevalent until, with a revival and general spread of Hebrew studies, the Bible shall become to us, what it was originally among the Israelites, a literary treasure, as well as a religious guide. Nor, in our belief, can a higher service be ren dered either to literature or religion than to make the literary claims of the Bible understood at the same time that its religious worth is duly and impressively set forth. The union of litera ture and religion is found in the Bible, and has, therefore, a divine origin and sanction. Those who love the Bible as a source of religious truth, should manifest their regard both towards the book and towards Him whose name and impress it bears, by carefully preserving that union, and causing its nature, requirements, and applications to he generally understood. No better instrument
can he chosen for this purpose than its rich, va ried and lofty poetry.
There is no poetic cyclus that can he put into comparison with that of Hebrew but the cyclus of the two classic nations, Greece and Rome, and that of India. In form and variety we grant that the poetry of these nations surpasses that of the Hebrews. Epic poetry and the drama, the two highest. styles so far as mere art is concerned, were cultivated successfully by them, whilst among the Israelites we find only their germs and first rudiments. So in execution we may also ad mit that, in the higher qualities of style, the He brew literature is somewhat inferior. But the thought is more than the expression ; the kernel than the shell ; and in substance, the Hebrew po etry far surpasses every other. In truth, it dwells in a region to which other ancient literatures did not, and could not, attain, a pure, serene, moral, and religious atmosphere—thus dealing with man in his highest relations, first anticipating, and then leading onwards, mere civilization. This, as we shall presently see more fully, is the great characteristic of Hebrew poetry; it is also the highest merit of any literature, a merit in which that of the Hebrews is unapproached.
(4) A Source of Inspiration for Poets and Painters. To this high quality it is owing that the poetry of the Bible has exerted on the loft iest interests and productions of the human mind, for now above two thousand years, the most de cided and the most beneficial influence. Moral and religious truth is deathless and undecaying; and so the griefs and the joys of David, or the far-seeing warnings and brilliant portrayings of Isaiah, repeat themselves in the heart of each successive generation, and become coexistent with the race of man. Thus of all moral treasuries the Bible is incomparably the richest. Even for forms of poetry, in which it is defective, or al together fails, it presents the richest materials. Moses has not, as some have dreamed, left us an epic poem, but he has supplied the materials out of which the Paradise Lost was created. The sternly sublime drama of Samson Agonistes is constructed from a few materials found in a chap ter or two which relate to the least cultivated period of the Hebrew republic. Indeed, most of the great poets, even of modern days, from Tasso down to Byron,all the great musicians, and nearly all the great painters have drawn their best and highest inspiration from the Bible. This is a fact as creditable to religion as it is important to lit erature, of which he who is fully aware will not easily be turned aside from faith to infidelity by the shallow sarcasms of a Voltaire, or the low ribaldry of a Paine. That book which has led civilization, and formed the noblest minds of our race, is not destined to be disowned because it presents states of society and modes of thought the very existence of which, however half-witted unbelief may object, is the best pledge of its real ity and truth. The complete establishment of the moral and spiritual preeminence of the Bible, considered merely as a book, would require a vol ume, so abundant are the materials.