« הקודםהמשך »
the writings they have left us? How soon the personal peculiarities of Coleridge and Carlyle will be forgotten, yet how permanent and healthy their utterances! It is truth, rather than man, that lives and conquers and triumphs. Man is nothing, except as the instrument of almighty power.
Of the writings ascribed to Solomon, there are three books, each of which corresponds to the different periods of his life, — to his pious youth, to his prosperous manhood, and to his later years of cynicism and despair. They all alike blaze with moral truth, and appeal to universal experience. They present different features of human life, at different periods, and suggest sentiments which most people have realized at some time or another. And if in some cases they are apparently contradictory, like the Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, they are equally striking and convincing, and are not more inconsistent than the man himself. Who does not change, and yet remain individually the same? Is there not a change between youth and old age ? Do not most great men utter sentiments hard to be reconciled with one another, yet with equal sincerity? Webster enforces free-trade at one time and a high tariff at another, as light or circumstances change. Gladstone was in youth and middle age a pillar of the aristocracy ; to-day he is the oracle of the masses, yet a lofty realism underlies all his utterances. The writings of Solomon present life in different aspects, and yet they are alike true. They are not divine revelations, like the commandments given to Moses amid the lightnings of Sinai, or like the visions of the prophets respecting the future glories of the Church. They do not exalt the soul into inspiring ecstasies like the psalms of David, or kindle a holy awe like the lofty meditations of Job; but they are yet such impressive truths pertaining to human life that we invest them with more than human wisdom.
The Song of Songs, long ascribed to King Solomon, has been attended with some difficulty of explanation. It is a poem liable to be perverted by an unsanctified soul, since it is foreign to our modes of expression. For two hundred years it has been variously interpreted. It was the delight of Saint Bernard the ascetic, and a stumbling-block to Ewald the critic. To many German scholars, who have rendered great services by their learning and genius, it is only the expression of physical love, like the amatory songs of Greece. To others of more piety yet equal scholarship, like Origen, Grotius, and Bossuet, it is symbolic of the love which exists between Christ and the Church. It seems, at least, to be a contrast with the impure love of the heathen world. But whether it describes the ardent affection which Solomon bore to his young Egyptian bride; or the still more beautiful love of the innocent Shulamite maiden for her betrothed shepherd feeding his flock among the lilies, unseduced by all the influences of the royal court, and triumphant over the seductions of rank and power; or whether it is the rapt soul of the believer bursting out in holy transports of joy, like a Saint Theresa in the anticipated union with her divine Spouse, - it is still a noble tribute to what is most enchanting of the great certitudes on earth or in heaven; and it is expressed in language of exquisite and incomparable elegance. “Arise, my fair one, and come away! for the winter is past and gone, and the flowers appear upon the earth, and the voice of the turtle is heard in the land. Make haste, my beloved! Be thou like a roe on the mountains of spices, for many waters cannot quench love, nor the floods drown it; yea, were a man to offer all that he hath for it, it would be utterly despised.” How tender, how innocent, how fervent, how beautiful, is this description of a lofty love, at rest in its happiness, in the society of the charmer, exultant in the certainty of that glorious sentiment which nothing can corrupt and nothing can destroy!
If this unique and beautiful Song was the work of Solomon in his early days of innocence and piety, the book of Proverbs seems to be the result of his profound observations when he was still uncorrupted by prosperity, ruling his kingdom with sagacity and amazing the
world with his wisdom. How many of those acute sayings were uttered by Solomon we know not, but probably most of them are his, collected, it is supposed, during the reign of Hezekiah. They are written on almost every subject pertaining to ethics, to nature, to science, and to society. Some are allusions to God, and others to the duties between man and man. Many are devoted to the duties of women, applicable to the sex in all times. They are not on a level of the Psalms in piety, nor of the Prophecies in grandeur, but they recognize the immutable principles of moral obligation. In some cases they seem to be worldly-wise, — such as we might suppose to fall from the mouth of Benjamin Franklin or Cobbett, - recognizing worldly prosperity as the greatest of blessings. Sometimes they are witty, again ironical, but always forcible. In some of them there is awful solemnity.
There are no more terrific warnings and exhortations in the sacred writings than are found in the Pruverbs of Solomon. The sins of idleness, of anger, of covetousness, of gossip, of falsehood, of oppression, of injustice, of intemperance, of unchastity, are uniformly denounced as leading to destruction; while prudence, temperance, chastity, obedience to parents, and loyalty to truth are enjoined with the earnestness of a man who believes in personal accountability to God. The ethics of the Proverbs are based on everlasting righteous ness, and are iinbued with the spirit of divine philosophy; their great peculiarity is the constant exhortation to wisdom and knowledge, to which young men are especially exhorted. Like Socrates, Solomon never sepàrates wisdom from virtue, but makes one the foundation of the other. He shows the connection between virtue and happiness, vice and misery. The Proverbs are inexhaustible in moral force, and have universal application. There is nothing cynical or gloomy in them. They form a fitting study for youth and old age, an incentive to virtue and a terror to evil-doers, a thesaurus of inoral wisdom; they speak in every line a lofty and comprehensive intellect, acquainted with all the experiences of life. Such moral wisdom would be imperishable in any literature. Such utterances go far to redeem all personal defects; they show how unclouded is a mind trained in equity, even when the will is enslaved by iniquity. What is still more remarkable, the Proverbs never apologize for the force of temptation, and never blend error with truth ; they uniformly exalt wisdom, and declare that the beginning of it is the fear of the Lord. There is not one of them which seeks to cover up vice with sophistical excuses; they show that the author or authors of them love moral beauty and truth, and exalt the same, — as many great men, with questionable morals, give their testi