The spacious firmament on high,
With all the blue etherial sky,
And spangled heavens, a shining frame,
Their great Original proclaim.
The unwearied sun from day to day
Does his Creator’s power display;
And publishes to every land
The work of an almighty hand.
Soon as the evening shades prevail,
The moon takes up the wondrous tale;
And nightly to the listening earth
Repeats the story of her birth;
Whilst all the stars that round her burn,
And all the planets, in their turn,
Confirm the tidings as they roll,
And spread the truth from pole to pole.
What though in solemn silence all
Move round the dark terrestrial ball?
What though no real voice nor sound
Amidst their radiant orbs be found?
In reason’s ear they all rejoice,
And utter forth a glorious voice,
For ever singing as they shine:
“The hand that made us is divine.”
The very use of the words spangled and frame seems—to my fancy only, it may be—to indicate a tendency towards the unworthy and theatrical. Yet the second stanza is lovely beyond a doubt; and the whole is most artistic, although after a tame fashion. Whether indeed the heavenly bodies teach what he says, or whether we should read divinity worthy of the name in them at all, without the human revelation which healed men, I doubt much. That divinity is there—Yes; that we could read it there without having seen the face of the Son of Man first, I think—No. I do not therefore dare imagine that no revelation dimly leading towards such result glimmered in the hearts of God’s chosen amongst Jews and Gentiles before he came. What I say is, that power and order, although of God, and preparing the way for him, are not his revealers unto men. No doubt King David compares the perfection of God’s law to the glory of the heavens, but he did not learn that perfection from the heavens, but from the law itself, revealed in his own heart through the life-teaching of God. When he had learned it he saw that the heavens were like it.
To unveil God, only manhood like our own will serve. And he has taken the form of man that he might reveal the manhood in him from awful eternity.
But Addison’s tameness is wonderfully lovely beside the fervours of a man of honoured name,—Dr. Isaac Watts, born in 1674. The result must be dreadful where fervour will poetize without the aidful restraints of art and modesty. If any man would look upon absurdity in the garb of sobriety, let him search Dryden’s Annus Mirabilis: Dr. Watts’s Lyrics are as bad; they are fantastic to utter folly. An admiration of “the incomparable Mr. Cowley” did the sense of them more injury than the imitation of his rough-cantering ode could do their rhythm. The sentimentalities