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The Poetry Of Sacred And Legendary Art
by [?]


{a} Fraser’s Magazine, March, 1849.–“Sacred and Legendary Art.” By Mrs. Jameson. 2 vols. London. 1848, Longman and Co.

Much attention has been excited this year by the alleged fulfilment of a prophecy that the Papal power was to receive its death-blow–in temporal matters, at least–during the past year 1848. For ourselves, we have no more faith in Mr. Fleming, the obsolete author, who has so suddenly revived in the public esteem, than we have in many other interpreters of prophecy. Their shallow and bigoted views of past history are enough to damp our faith in their discernment of the future. It does seem that people ought to understand what has been, before they predict what will be. History is “the track of God’s footsteps through time;” it is in His dealings with our forefathers that we may expect to find the laws by which He will deal with us. Not that Mr. Fleming’s conjecture must be false; among a thousand guesses there ought surely to be one right one. And it is almost impossible for earnest men to bend their whole minds, however clumsily, to one branch of study without arriving at some truth or other. The interpreters of prophecy therefore, like all other interpreters, have our best wishes, though not our sanguine hopes. But, in the meantime, there are surely signs of the approaching ruin of Popery, more certain than any speculations on the mystic numbers of the Revelation. We should point to recent books–not to books which merely expose Rome, that has been done long ago, usque ad nauseam–but to books which do her justice: to Mr. Maitland’s “Dark Ages;” Lord Lindsay’s “Christian Art;” and last, but not least, to the very charming work of Mrs. Jameson, whose title heads this review. In them, and in a host of similar works in Germany, which Dr. Wiseman’s party hail as signs of coming triumph, we fancy we see the death-warrant of Romanism; because they prove that Rome has nearly done her work–that the Protestants are learning the lesson for the sake of which Providence has so long borne with that monstrous system. When Popery has no more truth to teach us, but not till then, will it vanish away into its native night.

We entreat Protestant readers not to be alarmed at us. We have not the slightest tendency toward the stimulants of Popery, either in their Roman unmixed state, or in their diluted Oxford form. We are, with all humility, more Protestant than Protestantism itself; our fastidious nostril, more sensitive of Jesuits than even those of the author of “Hawkstone,” has led us at moments to fancy that we scent indulgences in Conduit-street Chapel, and discern inquisitors in Exeter Hall itself. Seriously, none believe more firmly than ourselves that the cause of Protestantism is the cause of liberty, of civilisation, of truth; the cause of man and God. And because we think Mrs. Jameson’s book especially Protestant, both in manner and intention, and likely to do service to the good cause, we are setting to work herein to praise and recommend it. For the time, we think, for calling Popery ill names is past; though to abstain is certainly sometimes a sore restraint for English spirits, as Mrs. Jameson herself, we suspect, has found; but Romanism has been exposed and refuted triumphantly, every month for centuries, and yet the Romish nations are not converted; and too many English families of late have found, by sad experience, that such arguments as are in vogue are powerless to dissuade the young from rushing headlong into the very superstitions which they have been taught from their childhood to deride. The truth is, Protestantism may well cry: “Save me from my friends!” We have attacked Rome too often on shallow grounds, and finding our arguments weak, have found it necessary to overstate them. We have got angry, and caught up the first weapon which came to hand, and have only cut our own fingers. We have very nearly burnt the Church of England over our heads, in our hurry to make a bonfire of the Pope. We have been too proud to make ourselves acquainted with the very tenets which we exposed, and have made a merit of reading no Popish books but such as we were sure would give us a handle for attack, and not even them without the precaution of getting into a safe passion beforehand. We have dealt in exaggerations, in special pleadings, in vile and reckless imputations of motive, in suppressions of all palliating facts. We have outraged the common feelings of humanity by remaining blind to the virtues of noble and holy men because they were Papists, as if a good deed was not good in Italy as well as in England. We have talked as if God had doomed to hopeless vileness in this world and reprobation in the next millions of Christian people, simply because they were born of Romish and not of Protestant fathers. And we have our reward; we have fared like the old woman who would not tell the children what a well was for fear they should fall into one. We see educated and pious Englishmen joining the Romish communion simply from ignorance of Rome, and have no talisman wherewith to disenchant them. Our medicines produce no effect on them, and all we can do is, like quacks, to increase the dose. Of course, if ten boxes of Morison’s pills have killed a man, it only proves that–he ought to have taken twelve of them. We are jesting, but, as an Ulster Orangeman would say, “it is in good Protestant earnest.”