To my next friend, and more than brother, the Rev. William Croswell, rector of Christ Church, Boston, these precious breathings of a kindred spirit are most affectionately inscribed.
St Mary's Parsonage.
Burlington, May 27, 1834.
The Editor's first acquaintance with the "Christian Year" was accidental. In a little volume of Conversations on the Sacraments and Services of the Church of England, written by a lady, those beautiful lines, at the opening of the piece entitled "Holy Baptism"--
"Where is it, mothers learn their love?
In every Church a fountain springs
O'er which the eternal Dove
Hovers on softest wings:"--
attracted his attention, and led him to order it through his bookseller. This was in 1828, the year after its publication. The book, when received, was read with unmingled delight; and no volume of uninspired poetry has ever given him such rich and continued satisfaction. It has seemed to him, as Charles the Emperor thought of Florence, a book too pleasant to be read "but only on holydays;" and he has thought of nothing more expressive of its delightful, tranquilizing spirit, than those lines of holy George Herbert,
"Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright,
The bridal of the earth and sky."
From the time of its first reading, the Editor has never ceased to recommend it to his personal friends; and in the "Banner of the Church," and in other ways, to call the public attention to its merits. Many copies have been imported; and there is now an increasing circle of admiring and delighted readers, realizing for our Christian poet, what the greatest of that name desired for himself,
"Fit audience, though few;"--
the "magnanimi pochi," to whom Petrarch, kindred in more respects than one with Milton, made his sublime appeal.
Strangely enough, though the "Christian Year" has passed through more than fifty editions in England, it found no avenue to the American press, until brought, last summer, to the notice of the intelligent and liberal publishers under whose auspices it now appears. In contemplating an American edition, it was an obvious consideration, that, to a large portion of the admirers of religious poetry, much of the charm of Keble's volume would be lost, by their want of familiarity with the arrangement of the "Christian" or Ecclesiastical "Year," which forms it ground work, the string on which his pearls are hung. The Editor undertook to supply this deficiency; and in doing so, he has aimed to perform a service far beyond the additional interest which may thus be given to these "Thoughts in verse."
He frankly avows the purpose of rendering the present enterprise subservient to the higher object of extending the knowledge and the influence of religion, as it is exhibited in the order, institutions and serves of the Church. The arrangement of the Ecclesiastical Year, he has always regarded as one of the happiest possible contrivances for arresting the attention, and maintaining the interest of men, in regard to the great facts of Christianity, while it appeals most powerfully to the purest and strongest sympathies of the human heart in their behalf. It is an acknowledge principle of philosophy, that whatever is to make the strongest impression on men must be made visible, either to the bodily, or to the "mind's eye." How extensively this principle is applied in practice to the promotion of secular interests, by pictures, statues, processions, pageants, every one has seen. The blessed Saviour recognised its value in the institution of his few simple, beautiful, visible sacraments. In the reasonable, scriptural and most becoming appointments of the "Christian Year," the Church, following the example of the divine appointments under the law, has applied this obvious principle to the commemoration of the great facts of Christianity. In the festivals of the Nativity, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the Ascension, the divine Saviour seems, year by year, to be visibly set forth in his mighty and merciful acts, performed for our redemption: while in the minor festivals, the blessed weekly feast of Sunday, and the solemn days of preparation and of commemoration, the glorious and endearing theme is constantly kept up before our eyes and hearts: and "the rolling year" in a sense far higher than the poet's, "is full of" Him. [Thomson's Hymn to the Seasons.] The effect of this practice, where it has been adopted, has been well seen in the increase of the knowledge of salvation, and in the familiarity, to which even children attain, with the "first principles of the doctrine of Christ. In the additional interest which this little volume will create in these, the most important of all subjects, the Editor expects to find his sufficient reward.
The Author of these pieces, it has come incidentally to the knowledge of the Editor, while he holds the most honourable office of Professor of Poetry in the University of Oxford, is the exemplary and faithful pastor of an humble country congregation, and devotes himself unsparingly to the spiritual welfare of a rustic flock, in which there is scarcely a single family of rank or education. It is in such a school, that the sweetest and most Christian poet of modern days is fitly taught. So it was that Bemerton, and Little Gidden, and Hodnet, became nurseries of strains that shall never die. God be thanked, that along the tract of ages he still scatters spirits like Hooker's, and Herbert's, and Walton's, and Ken's, and Ferrar's, and Jeremy Taylor's, and Heber's, and Keble's,--to show how nearly the human nature may by grace attain to the angelic nature, to enchant our spirits here by the profusion of those seraphic strains which in heaven are the continual occupation and enjoyment of the saints,--"singing on earth," as Isaak Walton said of Herbert, "such hymns and anthems as the angels, and he, and Mr. Ferrar now sing in heaven."
In conclusion, the "Christian Year," apart from its high poetical merit, is recommended most earnestly for its pure, affectionate, and elevating character, as a family book. The taste which can appreciate its excellencies, is a Christian taste. The meditation of its eminently spiritual strains will tend to spiritualize the heart. And the Christian home, where it is made a household book, will find it fruitful, above almost every book of human origin, in homebred charities and innocent delights. "Then came the long quiet evening," writes one who can well estimate the various merits of a volume which she has done much to draw into general use, "when some of us gathered, as closely as possible, round the bright fire, and listened, while one another dear voice read some passage from Keble's Christian Year. Soothing, beautiful poetry! Well calculated to lift the heart above the cares of this troublesome world, and to light the path with the sunshine of heaven." [Scenes in our Parish, by a Country Parson's Daughter.]
St. Mary's Parsonage,
Burlington, July 1, 1834.