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TRANSLATED FROM THE ORIGINAL LATIN BY G. GREGORY, F. A.S.
A NEW EDITION WITH NOTES
CALVIN E. STOWE, A.M.
Opus enim de Sacra Poesi absolutissimum, nemo est, opinor, in his studiis versatus, qui non
PRINTED AT THE CODMAN PRESS BY FLAGG AND GOULD,
FOR CROCKER & BREWSTER,
No. 47, WASHINGTON ST. BOSTON,
DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS, to wit:
District Clerk's Office.
JOHN W. DAVIS,
Clerk of the District
Ar different periods in the history of mankind, Providence raises up men who are destined to effect a complete revolution in the intellectual character of their age, and to exert an influence which will not cease while time endures. These are the leaders of the human race in the career of improvement, an office for which they are fitted only by unyielding independence and hardihood of understanding, the result of a peculiarly happy mental structure cooperating with peculiar circumstances; and they deserve, more than any others, the title of vicegerents of God on earth, for under Him and by His appointment they rule the world of mind.
Of this number was Robert Lowth, a name which will ever be held in veneration by the student of Sacred Literature. His father, the Rev. William Lowth, who was Chaplain to the Bishop of Winchester and Prebendary of a Cathedral Church in * that See, is known as the author of commentaries on several books of the Old Testament, which rank among the best of their time; and to the favourite pursuits of the father we are perhaps indebted for the labours and celebrity of the son. ROBERT was born at Winchester in the year 1710, and received the first rudiments of his education at the school founded in that city by William Or WYKEHAM. He there distinguished bimself, at a very early age, as a classical and Hebrew scholar, and a poet. In 1728 he was sent to New College, Oxford; of which he was elected Fellow in 1734; took the degree of M. A. in 1737; and in 1741 succeeded Joseph Spence as Professor of Poetry in that University. It was in discharge of the duties of this office that he delivered his justly celebrated Lectures entitled : De Sacra Poesi Hebraeorum Praelectiones Academicae ; of which the first
edition was published in 1753, about a year after the expiration of the term of bis Professorship, and a second in 1763.
Though Lowth, when he accepted his Professorship, had but just completed the thirtieth year of his age, and had never before appeared in a public character, he immediately formed a design which would have done honour to mature age and long experience. This was no other than to reclaim from the dust of ages and the rubbish of allegorizing mystics, the relics of primeval poetry preserved in the Sacred Writings of the Hebrews, to set them in their true light, and prove them worthy the attention and favour of men of taste. It was his purpose to discover the true spirit and meaning of the genuine oracles of God, and to disjoin them from the rude and tasteless additions of upinspired interpreters. Calvin and Grotius had already given noble examples of acute and logical exegesis of the Scriptures ; Simon and LECLERC had prepared the way for the investigation of their history ; Selden had searched out the numerous hints which they give respecting ancient manners and domestic life; Milton had explored their rich stores of poetic imagery; and many other distinguished scholars, as VITRINGA, BUXTORF, Bochart, and Lightroot, had laboured successfully in different departments of Sacred Literature : but no one had yet arisen to survey accurately the whole ground, to assign the boundaries of safe investigation, to present the student with a clue that would guide him through the labyrinth of conjecture and mysticism, to collect and arrange the more important results which lay scattered in the writings of others, to look on the Hebrew Scriptures with the eye of a critic and the heart of a poet, and to give to Sacred Interpretation the form and dignity of a science. Notwithstanding all that had been done, but few general and correct principles of exegesis had as yet been settled, the Bible had never been viewed in its true light as a work of taste, the uppatural and barren expositions of the Rabbins were still deemed authoritative ; and Christian interpreters were wandering in the dark wilds of mysticism, or exhausting their strength and wasting their time in the useless search of etymologies and various readings. No one, indeed, bad ever ventured to express the opinion that the prophets wrote in poetry, excepting the eccentric HERMANN VAN DER HARDT, who threw out this
the other fancies of his prolific brain, and the idea then lost all reputation by appearing in such company); and the learned VITRINGA, who had given a bint to that effect in his Commentary on ISAIAA.
Under these circumstances Lowth appeared, with the determination and the ability to breathe a new spirit into the whole business of sacred study. He was peculiarly qualified for a task so delicate and arduous. To an enthusiastic love for the Scriptures he added a remarkable vigour and comprehensiveness of mind, a singular acuteness and accuracy of judgement, a fine poetic taste chastened and corrected by an intimate acquaintance with the Classics of Greece and Rome, which prevented his being misled by the errors of others or blinded by fancies of his own; and he was gifted with a command of language and a felicity of illustration, and withal, a modesty and reserve of manner, which secured the attention and engaged the affections of all who listened to his instructions.
With such talents and such qualifications, success could not long remain doubtful. Lowth broke through the trammels of false taste and erroneous theology, penetrated to the secret retirements of the Hebrew Muse, discovered and developed the true nature and genuine sources of the Sacred Poetry, marked out the boundaries of its several departments and assigned to each its appropriate characteristics, and led the way to a new and more perfect mode of Scriptural interpretation; and by the exquisite specimens of translation with which he illustrated and enriched his Lectures, he proved that the soaring genius and refined taste of the poet may be united with the severe accuracy of the critic, the gravity of the theologian, and the religious sensibility of the devout Christian. The effect was wonderful. Lowth was immediately caressed and honoured by all the patrons of learning in his own country, and hailed on the continent of Europe as the former of a new era in the literary world; for it was his work on the Hebrew Poetry which first directed the attention of the studious Germans to a department of literature which they have since pursued with such untiring zeal and astonishing success. In England he has had many admirers, but no successor.