The Influence of the King James Version on English Literature
THE Bible is a book-making book. It is
literature which provokes literature.

It would be a pleasure to survey the whole
field of literature in the broadest sense and to
note the creative power of the King James version;
but that is manifestly impossible here.
Certain limitations must be frankly made.
Leave on one side, therefore; the immense body
of purely religious literature, sermons, expositions, commentaries, which, of course, are the
direct product of the Bible. No book ever
caused so much discussion about itself and its
teaching. That is because it deals with the
fundamental human interest, religion. It still
remains true that the largest single department
of substantial books from our English presses is
in the realm of religion, and after the purely
recreative literature they are probably most
widely read. Yet, they are not what we mean
at this time by the literary result of the English

Leave on one side also the very large body
of political and historical writing. Much of it
shows Bible influence. In the nature of the
case, any historian of the past three hundred
years must often refer to and quote from the
English Bible, and must note its influence. An
entire study could be devoted to the influence
of the English Bible on Green or Bancroft or
Freeman or Prescott -- its influence on their
matter and their manner. Another could be
given to its influence on political writing and
speaking. No great orator of the day would fail
us of material, and the great political papers
and orations of the past would only widen the
field. Yet while some of this political and historical writing is recognized as literature, most
of it can be left out of our thought just

It may aid in the limiting of the field to
accept what Dean Stanley said in another connection: "By literature, I mean those great
works that rise above professional or commonplace
uses and take possession of the mind of
a whole nation or a whole age."[1] This is one
of the matters which we all understand until
we begin to define it; we know what we mean
until some one asks us.

[1] Thoughts that Breathe.

The literature of which we are thinking in this
narrower sense is in the sphere of art rather than
in the sphere of distinct achievement. De
Quincey's division is familiar: the literature of
knowledge, and the literature of power. The
function of the first is to teach; the function of
the second is to move. Professor Dowden
points out that between the two lies a third
field, the literature of criticism. It seeks both
to teach and to move. Our concern is chiefly
with De Quincey's second field -- the literature
of power. In the first field, the literature of
knowledge, must lie all history, with Hume and
Gibbon; all science, with Darwin and Fiske;
all philosophy, with Spencer and William James;
all political writing, with Voltaire and Webster.
Near that same field must lie many of those
essays in criticism of which Professor Dowden
speaks. This which we omit, this literature of
knowledge, is powerful literature, though its
main purpose is not to move, but to teach.
We are only reducing our field so that we can
survey it. For our uses just now we shall
find pure literature taking the three standard
forms: the poem, the essay, and the story. It
is the influence of the English Bible on this
large field of literature which we are to observe.

Just for safety's sake, accept another narrowing
of the field. The effect of the Bible and its
religious teaching, on the writer himself is a
separate study, and is for the most part left out
of consideration. It sounds correct when Milton
says: "He who would not be frustrate of
his Power to write well ought himself to be a
true poem." But there is Milton himself to
deal with; irreproachable in morals, there are
yet the unhappy years of his young wife to
trouble us, and there were his daughters, who
were not at peace with him, and whom after
their service in his blindness he yet stigmatizes
in his will as "undutiful children." Then, if
you think of Shelley or Byron, you are troubled
by their lives; or even Carlyle, the very master
of the Victorian era -- one would not like to scan
his life according to the laws of true poetry.
Then there is Coleridge, falling a prey to opium
until, as years came, conscience and will seemed
to go. Only a very ardent Scot will feel that he
can defend Robert Burns at all points, and we
would be strange Americans if we felt that
Edgar Allen Poe was a model of propriety. That
is a large and interesting field, but the Bible
seems even to gain power as a book-making book
when it lays hold on the book-making proclivities
of men who are not prepared to yield to its
personal power. They may get away from it
as religion; they do not get away from it as

The first and most notable fact regarding the
influence of the Bible on English literature is
the remarkable extent of that influence. It is
literally everywhere. If every Bible in any
considerable city were destroyed, the Book could
be restored in all its essential parts from the
quotations on the shelves of the city public
library. There are works, covering almost all
the great literary writers, devoted especially to
showing how much the Bible has influenced them.

The literary effect of the King James version
at first was less than its social effect; but in
that very fact lies a striking literary influence.
For a long time it formed virtually the whole
literature which was readily accessible to ordinary Englishmen. We get our phrases from a
thousand books. The common talk of an intelligent
man shows the effect of many authors
upon his thinking. Our fathers got their phrases
from one great book. Their writing and their
speaking show the effect of that book.

It is a study by itself, and yet it is true that
world literature is, as Professor Moulton puts it,
the autobiography of civilization. "A national
literature is a reflection of the national history." Books as books reflect their authors. As literature they reflect the public opinion which gives
them indorsement. When, therefore, public
opinion: keeps alive a certain group of books,
there is testimony not simply to those books,
but to the public opinion which has preserved
them. The history of popular estimates of literature is itself most interesting. On the other
hand, some writers have been amusingly overestimated. No doubt Edward Fitzgerald, who gave
us the "Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam" did
some other desirable work; but Professor Moulton
quotes this paragraph from a popular life of
Fitzgerald, published in Dublin: "Not Greece
of old in her palmiest days -- the Greece of Homer
and Demosthenes, of Eschylus, Euripides, and
Sophocles, of Pericles, Leonidas, and Alcibiades,
of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, of Solon and
Lycurgus, of Apelles and Praxiteles -- not even
this Greece, prolific as she was in sages and
heroes, can boast such a lengthy bead-roll as
Ireland can of names immortal in history!"
But "this was for Irish consumption." And
popular opinion and even critical opinion has
sometimes gone far astray in its destructive
tendency. There were authoritative critics who
declared that Wordsworth, Shelley, and Coleridge
wrote "unintelligible nonsense." George
Meredith's style, especially in his poetry, was
counted so bad that it -- was not worth reading.
We are all near enough the Browning epoch to
recall how the obscurity of his style impressed
some and oppressed others. Alfred Austin, in
1869, said that "Mr. Tennyson has no sound
pretensions to be called a great poet."
Contemporary public opinion is seldom a final
gauge of strength for a piece of literature. It
takes the test of time. How many books we
have seen come on the stage and then pass off
again! Yet the books that have stayed on the
stage have been kept there by public opinion
expressing itself in the long run. The social
influence of the King James version, creating a
public taste for certain types of literature, tended to produce them at once.

English literature in these three hundred
years has found in the Bible three influential
elements: style, language, and material.

First, the style of the King James version has
influenced English literature markedly. Professor
Gardiner opens one of his essays with the
dictum that "in all study of English literature,
if there be any one axiom which may be accepted
without question, it is that the ultimate standard
of English prose style is set by the King
James version of the Bible."[1] You almost
measure the strength of writing by its agreement
with the predominant traits of this version.
Carlyle's weakest works are those that
lose the honest simplicity of its style in a forced turgidity and affected roughness. His Heroes
and Hero Worship or his French Revolution
shows his distinctive style, and yet shows the
influence of this simpler style, while his Frederick the Great is almost impossible because he has
given full play to his broken and disconnected
sentences. On the other hand, Macaulay fails
us most in his striving for effect, making nice
balance of sentences, straining his "either-or,"
or his "while-one-was-doing-this-the-other-was-
doing-that." Then his sentences grow involved,
and his paragraphs lengthen, and he swings
away from the style of the King James version.
"One can say that if any writing departs very
far from the characteristics of the English Bible
it is not good English writing."

[1] Atlantic Monthly, May, 1900, p.684.

The second element which English literature
finds in the Bible is its LANGUAGE. The words of
the Bible are the familiar ones of the English
tongue, and have been kept familiar by the use
of the Bible. The result is that "the path of
literature lies parallel to that of religion. They
are old and dear companions, brethren indeed
of one blood; not always agreeing, to be sure;
squabbling rather in true brotherly fashion now
and then; occasionally falling out very seriously
and bitterly; but still interdependent and necessary to each other."[1] Years ago a writer remarked
that every student of English literature,
or of English speech, finds three works or subjects referred to, or quoted from, more frequently
than others. These are the Bible, tales of Greek
and Roman mythology, and Aesop's Fables. Of
these three, certainly the Bible furnishes the
largest number of references. There is reason
for that. A writer wants an audience. Very
few men can claim to be independent of the
public for which they write. There is nothing
the public will be more apt to understand and
appreciate quickly than a passing reference to
the English Bible. So it comes about that when
Dickens is describing the injustice of the Murdstones to little David Copperfield, he can put
the whole matter before us in a parenthesis:
"Though there was One once who set a child
in the midst of the disciples." Dickens knew
that his readers would at once catch the meaning
of that reference, and would feel the contrast
between the scene he was describing and that
simple scene. Take any of the great books of
literature and black out the phrases which manifestly come directly from the English Bible, and
you would mark them beyond recovery.

[1] Chapman, English Literature in Account with Religion.

But English literature has found more of its
material in the Bible than anything else. It has
looked there for its characters, its illustrations, its subject-matter. We shall see, as we consider
individual writers, how many of their titles and
complete works are suggested by the Bible.
It is interesting to see how one idea of the
Scripture will appear and reappear among many
writers. Take one illustration. The Faust story
is an effort to make concrete one verse of Scripture: "What shall it profit a man if he shall
gain the whole world and lose his own soul?"
Professor Moulton reminds us that the Faust
legend appeared first in the Middle Ages. In
early English, Marlowe has it, Calderon put it
into Spanish, the most familiar form of it is
Goethe's, while Philip Bailey has called his
account of it Festus. In each of those forms
the same idea occurs. A man sells his soul to
the devil for the gaining of what is to him the
world. That is one of a good many ideas which
the Bible has given to literature. The prodigal
son has been another prolific source of literary
writing. The guiding star is another. Others
will readily come to mind.

With that simple background let our minds
move down the course of literary history. Style,
language, material -- we will easily think how
much of each the Bible has given to all our great
writers if their names are only mentioned. There
are four groups of these writers.

1. The Jacobean, who wrote when and just
after our version was made.

2. The Georgian, who graced the reigns of
the kings whose name the period bears.

3. The Victorian.

4. The American.

There is an attractive fifth group comprising
our present-day workers in the realm of pure
literature, but we must omit them and give our
attention to names that are starred.

It is familiar that in the time of Elizabeth,
"England became a nest of singing birds." In
the fifty years after the first English theater was erected, the middle of Elizabeth's reign, fifty
dramatic poets appeared, many of the first
order. Some were distinctly irreligious, as were
many of the people whose lives they touched.
Such men as Ford, Marlowe, Massinger, Webster,
Beaumont, and Fletcher stand like a chorus
around Shakespeare and Ben Jonson as leaders.
As Taine puts it: "They sing the same piece
together, and at times the chorus is equal to the
solo; but only at times."[1] Cultured people
to-day know the names of most of these writers,
but not much else, and it does not heavily serve
our argument to say that they felt the Puritan
influence; but they all did feel it either directly or by reaction.

[1] History of English Literature, chap. iii.

Edmund Spenser and his friend, Sir Philip
Sidney, had closed their work before the King
James version appeared, yet the Faerie Queene
in its religious theory is Puritan to the core,
and Sidney is best remembered by his paraphrases
of Scripture. The influence of both
was even greater in the Jacobean than in their
own period.

It is hardly fair even to note the Elizabethan
Shakespeare as under the influence of the King
James version. The Bible influenced him markedly,
but it was the Genevan version prepared
during the exile of the scholars under Bloody
Mary, or the Bishops' Bible prepared under
Elizabeth. Those versions were familiar as
household facts to him. "No writer has
assimilated the thoughts and reproduced the
words of Holy Scripture more copiously than
Shakespeare." Dr. Furnivall says that "he is
saturated with the Bible story," and a century
ago Capel Lloft said quaintly that Shakespeare
"had deeply imbibed the Scriptures." But the
King James version appeared only five years
before his death, and it is in some sense fairer
to say that Shakespeare and the King James
version are formed by the same influence as
to their English style. The Bishop of St.
Andrews even devotes the first part of his book
on Shakespeare and the Bible to a study of
parallels between the two in peculiar forms of
speech, and thinks it "probable that our translators of 1611 owed as much to Shakespeare as,
or rather far more than, he owed to them."[1]
It is generally agreed that only two of his works
were written after our version appeared. Several
other writers have devoted separate volumes
to noting the frequent use by Shakespeare
of Biblical phrases and allusions and characters
taken from early versions. It is a very tempting
field, and we pass it by only because it is hardly
in the range of the study we are now making.

[1] Wordsworth, Shakespeare's Knowledge and Use of the Bible, p.9.

When, however, we come to John Milton
(1608-1674), we remember he was only three
years old when our version was issued; that
when at fifteen, an undergraduate in Cambridge,
he made his first paraphrases, casting two of
the Psalms into meter, the version he used was
this familiar one. A biographer says he began
the day always with the reading of Scripture and
kept his memory deeply charged with its phrases.
In later life the morning chapter was generally
from the Hebrew, and was followed by an hour
of silence for meditation, an exercise whose
influence no man's style could escape. As a
writer he moved steadily toward the Scripture
and the religious teaching which it brought his
age. His earlier writing is a group of poems
largely secular, which yet show in phrases and
expressions much of the influence of his boyhood
study of the Bible, as well as the familiar use of
mythology. The memorial poem "Lycidas,"
for example, contains the much-quoted reference
to Peter and his two keys --

"Last came and last did go
The pilot of the Galilean lake;
Two massy keys he bore of metals twain,
(The golden opes, the iron shuts amain)."

But after these poems came the period of his
prose, the work which he supposed was the abiding
work of his life. George William Curtis told
a friend that our civil war changed his own
literary style: "That roused me to see that I
had no right to spend my life in literary leisure.
I felt that I must throw myself into the struggle
for freedom and the Union. I began to lecture
and to write. The style took care of itself.
But I fancy it is more solid than it was thirty
years ago." That is what happened to Milton
when the protectorate came.[1] It made his style
more solid. He did not mean to live as a poet.
He felt that his best energies were being put into
his essays in defense of liberty, on the freedom
of the press and on the justice of the beheading
of Charles, in which service he sacrificed his
sight. All of it is shot through with Scripture
quotations and arguments, and some of it, at
least, is in the very spirit of Scripture. The plea for larger freedom of divorce issued plainly from
his own bitter experience; but his main argument
roots in a few Bible texts taken out of
their connection and urged with no shadow of
question of their authority. Indeed, when he
comes to his more religious essays, his heavy
argument is that there should be no religion
permitted in England which is not drawn directly
from the Bible; which, therefore, he urges
must be common property for all the people.
There is a curious bit of evidence that the men
of his own time did not realize his power as a
poet. In Pierre Bayle's critical survey of the
literature of the time, he calls Milton "the
famous apologist for the execution of Charles
I.," who "meddled in poetry and several of whose
poems saw the light during his life or after his
death!" For all that, Milton was only working
on toward his real power, and his power was to
be shown in his service to religion. His three
great poems, in the order of their value, are, of
course, "Paradise Lost," "Samson Agonistes,"
and "Paradise Regained." Whoever knows anything
of Milton knows these three and knows
they are Scriptural from first to last in phrase,
in allusion, and, in part at least, in idea. There
is not time for extended illustration. One instance may stand for all, which shall illustrate
how Milton's mind was like a garden where the
seeds of Scripture came to flower and fruit. He
will take one phrase from the Bible and let it
grow to a page in "Paradise Lost." Here is an
illustration which comes readily to hand. In
the Genesis it is said that "the spirit of God
moved on the face of the waters." The verb
suggests the idea of brooding. There is only
one other possible reference (Psalm xxiv: 9.)
which is included in this statement which Milton
makes out of that brief word in the Genesis:

"On the watery calm
His broadening wings the Spirit of God outspread,
And vital virtue infused, and vital warmth
Throughout the fluid mass, but downward purged
The black tartareous cold infernal dregs,
Adverse to life; then formed, then con-globed,
Like things to like; the rest to several place
Disparted, and between spun out the air --
And earth self-balanced on her center swung."

[1] Strong, The Theology of the Poets.

Any one familiar with Milton will recognize
that as a typical instance of the way in which
a seed idea from the Scripture comes to flower
and fruit in him. The result is that more people
have their ideas about heaven and hell from
Milton than from the Bible, though they do not
know it.

It seems hardly fair to use John Bunyan
(1628-1688) as an illustration of the influence
of the English Bible on literature, because his
chief work is composed so largely in the language
of Scripture. Pilgrim's Progress is the most
widely read book in the English language after
the Bible. Its phrases, its names, its matter
are either directly or indirectly taken from the
Bible. It has given us a long list of phrases
which are part of our literary and religious
capital. Thackeray took the motto of one of
his best-known books from the Bible; but the
title, Vanity Fair, comes from Pilgrim's Progress.
When a discouraged man says he is "in the
slough of despond," he quotes Bunyan; and
when a popular evangelist tells the people that
the burden of sin will roll away if they look at
the cross, "according to the Bible," he ought
to say according to Bunyan. But all this was
only the outcome of the familiarity of Bunyan
with the Scripture. It was almost all he did
know in a literary way. Macaulay says that
"he knew no language but the English as it
was spoken by the common people; he had
studied no great model of composition, with the
exception of our noble translation of the Bible.
But of that his knowledge was such that he might
have been called a living concordance."[1]

[1] History of England, vol. III., p.220.

After these three -- Shakespeare, Milton, and
Bunyan -- there appeared another three, very
much their inferiors and having much less
influence on literary history. I mean Dryden,
Addison, and Pope. It is not necessary to credit
the Scripture with much of Dryden's spirit, nor
with much of his style, and certainly not with
his attitude toward his fellows; but it is a constant surprise in reading Dryden to discover
how familiar he was with the King James version.
Walter Scott insists that Dryden was at
heart serious, that "his indelicacy was like the
forced impudence of a bashful man." That is
generous judgment. But there is this to be
said: as he grows more serious he falls more
into Bible words. If he writes a political pamphlet he calls it "Absalom and Ahithophel."
In it he holds the men of the day up to scorn
under Bible names. They are Zimri and Shimei,
and the like. When he is falling into bitterest
satire, his writing abounds in these Biblical
allusions which could be made only by one who
was very familiar with the Book. Quotations
cannot be abundant, of course, but there is a
great deal of this sort of thing:

"Sinking, he left his drugget robe behind,
Borne upward by a subterranean wind,
The mantle fell to the young prophet's part,
With double portion of his father's art."

In his Epistles there is much of the same sort.
When he writes to Congreve he speaks of the
fathers, and says:

"Their's was the giant race before the flood."

Farther on he says:

"Our builders were with want of genius curst,
The second temple was not like the first."

Now Dryden may have been, as Macaulay said,
an "illustrious renegade," but all his writing
shows the influence of the language and the
ideas of the King James version. Whenever we
sing the "Veni Creator" we sing John Dryden.

So we sing Addison in the paraphrase of
Scripture, which Haydn's music has made

"The spacious firmament on high,
With all the blue ethereal sky."

While Dryden yielded to his times, Addison did
not, and the Spectator became not only a literary
but a moral power. In the effort to make it so
he was thrown back on the largest moral influence
of the day, the Bible, and throughout
the Spectator and through all of Addison's
writing you find on all proper occasions the
Bible pressed to the front. Here again Taine
puts it strikingly: "It is no small thing to make
morality fashionable; Addison did it, and it
remains fashionable."

If we speak of singing, we may remember
that we sing the hymn of even poor little dwarfed
invalid Alexander Pope. He was born the year
Bunyan died, born at cross-purposes with the
world. He could write a bitter satire, like the
"Dunciad"; he could give the world The Iliad
and The Odyssey in such English that we know
them far better than in the Greek of Homer;
but in those rare moments when he was at his
better self he would write his greater poem,
"The Messiah", in which the movement of
Scripture is outlined as it could be only by one
who knew the English Bible. And when we
sing --

"Rise, crowned with light, imperial Salem, rise" --

it is worth while to realize that the voice that
first sung it was that of the irritable little poet who found some of his scant comfort in the grand
words and phrases and ideas of our English

With these six -- Shakespeare, Milton, Bunyan,
Dryden, Addison, and Pope -- the course of the
Jacobean literature is sufficiently measured.
There are many lesser names, but these are the
ones which made it an epoch in literature, and
these are at their best under the power of the

In the Georgian group we need to call only
five great names which have had creative influence
in literature. Ordinary culture in literature
will include some acquaintance with each
of them. In the order of their death they are
Shelley (1829.), Byron (1824), Coleridge (1831),
Walter Scott (1832), and Wordsworth (1850).
The last long outlived the others; but he belongs
with them, because he was born earlier
than any other in the group and did his chief
work in their time and before the later group
appeared. Except Wordsworth, all these were
gone before Queen Victoria came to the throne
in 1837. Three other names could be called:
Keats, Robert Burns, and Charles Lamb. All
would illustrate what we are studying. Keats
least of all and Burns most. They are omitted
here not because they did not feel the influence
of the English Bible, not because they do not
constantly show its influence, but because they
are not so creative as the others; they have not
so influenced the current of literature. At any
rate, the five named will represent worthily and
with sufficient completeness the Georgian period
of English literature.

Nothing could reveal more clearly than this
list how we are distinguishing the Bible as
literature from the Bible as an authoritative
book in morals. One would much dislike to
credit the Bible with any part of the personal life of Shelley or Byron. They were friends; they,
were geniuses; but they were both badly afflicted
with common moral leprosy. It is playing with
morals to excuse either of them because he was
a genius. Nothing in the genius of either demanded
or was served by the course of cheap
immorality which both practised. It was not
because Shelley was a genius that he married
Harriet Westbrook, then ran away with Mary
Godwin, then tried to get the two to become
friends and neighbors until his own wife committed
suicide; it was not his genius that made
him yield to the influence of Emilia Viviani
and write her the poem "Epipsychidion," telling
her and the world that he "was never attached
to that great sect who believed that each
one should select out of the crowd a mistress or
a friend" and let the rest go. That was not
genius, that was just common passion; and our
divorce courts are full of Shelleys of that type.
So Byron's personal immorality is not to be
explained nor excused on the ground of his
genius. It was not genius that led him so
astray in England that his wife had to divorce
him, and that public opinion drove him out of
the land. It was not his genius that sent him
to visit Shelley and his mistress at Lake Geneva
and seduce their guest, so that she bore him a
daughter, though she was never his wife. It was
not genius that made him pick up still another
companion out of several in Italy and live with
her in immoral relation. In the name of common
decency let no one stand up for Shelley
and Byron in their personal characters! There
are not two moral laws, one for geniuses and one
for common people. Byron, at any rate, was
never deceived about himself, never blamed his
genius nor his conscience for his wrong. These
are striking lines in "Childe Harold," in which
he disclaims all right to sympathy, because,

"The thorns which I have reaped are of the tree
I planted, -- they have torn me and I bleed.
I should have known what fruit would spring from
such a tree."

Shelley's wife would not say that for him.
"In all Shelley did," she says, "he at the time
of doing it believed himself justified to his own
conscience." Well, so much the worse for
Shelley! Geniuses are not the only men who
can find good reason for doing what they want
to do. One of Shelley's critics suggests that the
trouble was his introduction into personal conduct
of the imagination which he ought to have
saved for his writing. Perhaps we might explain
Byron's misconduct by reminding ourselves of
his club-foot, and applying one code of morals
to men with club-feet and another to men with
normal feet.

If we speak of the influence of the Bible on
these men, it must be on their literary work;
and when we find it there, it becomes peculiar
mark of its power. They had little sense of it
as moral law. Their consciences approved it
and condemned themselves, or else their delicate
literary taste sensed it as a book of power.

This is notably true of Shelley. When he was
still a student in Oxford he committed himself
to the opinion of another writer, that "the mind
cannot believe in the existence of God." He tries
to work that out fully in his notes on "Queen
Mab." When he was hardly yet of age he himself
wrote that "The genius of human happiness
must tear every leaf from the accursed Book of
God, ere man can read the inscription on its
heart." He once said that his highest desire
was that there should be a monument to himself
somewhere in the Alps which should be only a
great stone with its face smoothed and this short
inscription cut in it, "Percy Bysshe Shelley,

It would seem that whatever Shelley drew of
strength or inspiration from the Bible would be
by way of reaction; but it is not so. However
he may have hated the "accursed Book of God,"
his wife tells in her note on "The Revolt of Islam" that Shelley "debated whether he should devote
himself to poetry or metaphysics," and, resolving
on the former, he "educated himself for it,
engaging himself in the study of the poets of
Greece, England, and Italy. To these, may be
added," she goes on, "a constant perusal of portions of the Old Testament, the Book of Psalms,
Job, Isaiah, and others, the sublime poetry of
which filled him with delight." Not only did
he catch the spirit of that poetry, but its phrases haunted his memory. In his best prose work,
which he called A Defense of Poetry, there is an
interesting revelation of the influence of his
Bible reading upon him. Toward the end of
the essay these two sentences occur: "It is
inconsistent with this division of our subject to
cite living poets, but posterity has done ample
justice to the great names now referred to. Their
errors have been weighed and found to have
been dust in the balance; if their sins are as
scarlet, they are now white as snow; they have
been washed in the blood of the mediator and
redeemer, Time." There is no more eloquent
passage in the essay than the one of which this
is part, and yet it is full of allusion to this Book from which all pages must be torn! Even in
"Queen Mab" he makes Ahasuerus, the wandering
Jew, recount the Bible story in such broad
outlines as could be given only by a man who
was familiar with it. When Shelley was in Italy
and the word came to him of the massacre at
Manchester, he wrote his "Masque of Anarchy."
There are few more melodious lines of his writing
than those which occur in this long poem in
the section regarding freedom. Four of those
lines are often quoted. They are at the very
heart of Shelley's best work. Addressing freedom,
he says:

"Thou art love: the rich have kissed
Thy feet, and, like him following Christ,
Gave their substance to the free,
And through the rough world follow thee."

Page after page of Shelley reveals these half-
conscious references to the Bible. There were
two sources from which he received his passionate
democracy. One was the treatment he
received at Eton, and later at Oxford; the other
is his frequent reading of the English Bible, even
though he was in the spirit of rebellion against
much of its teaching. In Browning's essay on
Shelley, he reaches the amazing conclusion that
"had Shelley lived, he would finally have ranged
himself with the Christians," and seeks to justify
it by showing that he was moving straight toward
the positions of Paul and of David. Some
of us may not see such rapid approach, but that
Shelley felt the drawing of God in the universe
is plain enough.

The influence of the Bible is still more
marked on Byron. He spent his childhood years
at Aberdeen. There his nurse trained him in
the Bible; and, though he did not live by it, he
never lost his love for it, nor his knowledge of
it. He tells of his own experience in this way:
"I am a great reader of those books [the Bible],
and had read them through and through before
I was eight years old; that is to say, the Old
Testament, for the New struck me as a task,
but the other as a pleasure."[1] One of the earliest bits of his work is a paraphrase of one of the
Psalms. His physical infirmity put him at odds
with the world, while his striking beauty drew
to him a crowd of admirers who helped to poison
every spring of his genius. Even so, he held
his love for the Bible. While Shelley often spoke
of it in contempt, while he prided himself on his
divergence from the path of its teaching, Byron
never did. He wandered far, but he always
knew it; and, though he could hardly find terms
to express his contempt for the Church, there
is no line of Byron's writing which is a slur
at the Bible. On the other hand, much of his
work reveals a passion for the beauty of it as
well as its truth. His most melodious writing
is in that group of Hebrew melodies which were
written to be sung. They demand far more
than a passing knowledge of the Bible both
for their writing and their understanding. There
is a long list of them, but no one without a
knowledge of the Bible would have known what he
meant by his poem, "The Harp the Monarch
Minstrel Swept." "Jephtha's Daughter" presumes
upon a knowledge of the Old Testament
story which would not come to one in a passing
study of the Bible. "The Song of Saul Before
his Last Battle" and the poem headed "Saul"
could not have been written, nor can they be read
intelligently by any one who does not know his
Bible. Among Byron's dramas, two of which
he thought most, were, "Heaven and Earth"
and "Cain." When he was accused of perverting
the Scripture in "Cain," he replied that he
had only taken the Scripture at its face value.
Both of the dramas are not only built directly out
of Scriptural events, but imply a far wider knowledge of Scripture than their mere titles suggest.

[1] Taine, English Literature, II., 279.

There are striking references in many other
poems, even in his almost vile poem, "Don
Juan." The most notable instance is in the
fifteenth canto, where he is speaking of persecuted sages and these lines occur:

"Was it not so, great Locke? and greater Bacon?
Great Socrates? And Thou Diviner still,
Whose lot it is by men to be mistaken,
And Thy pure creed made sanction of all ill?
Redeeming worlds to be by bigots shaken,
How was Thy toil rewarded?"

In a note on this passage Byron says: "As it
is necessary in these times to avoid ambiguity,
I say that I mean by 'Diviner still' Christ. If
ever God was man -- or man God -- He was both.
I never arraigned His creed, but the use or abuse
of it. Mr. Canning one day quoted Christianity
to sanction slavery, and Mr. Wilberforce had
little to say in reply. And was Christ crucified
that black men might be scourged? If so, He
had better been born a mulatto, to give both
colors an equal chance of freedom, or at least
salvation." Byron could live far from the influence of the Bible in his personal life; but he
never escaped its influence in his literary work.

Of Coleridge less needs to be said, because we
think of him so much in terms of his more
meditative musings, which are often religious.
He himself tells of long and careful rereadings
of the English Bible until he could say: In the
Bible "there is more that finds me than I have
experienced in all other books together; the
words of the Bible find me at greater depths of
my being." Of course, that would influence his
writing, and it did. Even in the "Rime of the
Ancient Mariner" much of the phraseology is
Scriptural. When the albatross drew near,

"As if it had been a Christian soul,
We hailed it in God's name."

When the mariner slept he gave praise to Mary,
Queen of Heaven. He sought the shriving of
the hermit-priest. He ends the story because
he hears "the little vesper bell" which bids him
to prayer. When you read his "Hymn Before
Sunrise in the Vale of Chamounix" you find
yourself reading the Nineteenth Psalm. He calls
on the motionless torrents and the silent cataracts and the great Mont Blanc itself to praise
God. Coleridge never had seen Chamounix,
nor Mont Blanc, nor a glacier, but he knew his
Bible. So he has his Christmas Carol along with
all the rest. His poem of the Moors after the
Civil War under Philip II. is Scriptural in its
phraseology, and so is much else that he wrote.
Frankly and willingly he yielded to its influence.
In his "Table Talk" he often refers to the value of the Bible in the forming of literary style. Once
he said: "Intense study of the Bible will keep
any writer from being vulgar in point of style."[1]

[1] June 14, 1830.

The very mention of Coleridge makes one
think of Wordsworth. They had a Damon and
Pythias friendship. The Wordsworths were
poor; they had only seventy pounds a year, and
they were not ashamed. Coleridge called them
the happiest family he ever saw. Wordsworth
was not narrowly a Christian poet, he was not
always seeking to put Christian dogma into
poetry, but throughout he was expressing the
Christian spirit which he had learned from the
Bible. His poetry was one long protest against
banishing God from the universe. It was literally
true of him that "the meanest flower that
grows can give thoughts that too often lie too deep for tears." If this were the time to be critical,
one would think that too much was sometimes
made of very minute occurrences; but this
tendency to get back of the event and see how
God is moving is learned best from Scripture,
where Wordsworth himself learned it. If you
read his "Intimations of Immortality," or the
"Ode to Duty," or "Tintern Abbay," or even
the rather labored "Excursion," you find yourself
under the Scriptural influence.

There remains in this Georgian group the
great prose master, Walter Scott. Mr. Gladstone
said he thought Scott the greatest of his
countrymen. John Morley suggested John Knox
instead. Mr. Gladstone replied: "No, the line
must be drawn firmly between the writer and
the man of action -- no comparison there."[1] He
went on to say that Burns is very fine and true,
no doubt, "but to imagine a whole group of
characters, to marshal them, to set them to
work, and to sustain the action, I must count
that the test of highest and most diversified
quality." All who are fond of Scott will realize
how constantly the scenes which he is describing
group themselves around religious observances,
how often men are held in check from deeds of
violence by religious conception. Many of these
scenes crystallize around a Scriptural event.
Scott's boyhood was spent in scenes that
reminded him of the power the Scripture had.
He was drilled from his childhood in the knowledge
of its words and phrases, and while his
writing as a whole shows more of the Old Testament
influence than of the New, even in his style
he is strongly under Bible influence.

[1] Morley, Life of Gladstone, vol. iii, p.424.

The preface to Guy Mannering tells us it is
built around an old story of a father putting a
lad to test under guidance of an ancient astrologer, shutting him up in a barren room to be
tempted by the Evil One, leaving him only one
safeguard, a Bible, lying on the table in the
middle of the room. In his introduction to
The Heart of Midlothian, Scott makes one of the
two men thrown into the water by the overturned
coach remind the other that they "cannot
complain, like Cowley, that Gideon's fleece
remains dry while all around is moist; this is
the reverse of the miracle." A little later a
speaker describes novels as the Delilahs that
seduce wise and good men from more serious
reading. In the dramatic scene when Jeanie
Deans faces the wretched George Staunton, who
has so shamed the household, she exclaims:
"O sir, did the Scripture never come into your
mind, 'Vengeance is mine, and I will repay
it?' " "Scripture!" he sneers, "why I had not
opened a Bible for five years." "Wae's me,
sir," said Jeanie -- "and a minister's son, too!"
Anthony Foster, in Kenilworth, looks down on
poor Amy's body in the vault into which she
has fallen, in response to what she thought was
Leicester's whistle, and exclaims to Varney:
"Oh, if there be judgment in heaven, thou hast
deserved it, and will meet it! Thou hast destroyed
her by means of her best affections -- it
is the seething of the kid in the mother's milk!"
And when, next morning, Varney was found
dead of the secret poison and with a sneering
sarcasm on his ghastly face, Scott dismisses him
with the phrase: "The wicked man, saith the
Scripture, hath no bonds in his death."

His characters use freely the familiar Bible
events and phrases. In the Fortunes of Nigel, a
story of the very period when our King James
version was produced, Hildebrod declares that
if he had his way Captain Peppercull should
hang as high as Haman ever did. In Kenilworth,
when Leicester gives Varney his signet-
ring, he says, significantly: "What thou dost,
do quickly." Of course, Isaac, the Jew in Ivanhoe,
exclaims frequently in Old Testament terms.
He wishes the wheels of the chariots of his
enemies may be taken off, like those of the host
of Pharoah, that they may drive heavily. He
expects the Palmer's lance to be as powerful as
the rod of Moses, and so on.

Scott was writing of the period when men
stayed themselves with Scripture, and his men
are all sure of God and Satan and angels and
judgment and all eternal things. His son-in-
law vouches for the old story that when Sir
Walter was on his death-bed he asked Lockhart
to read him something from the Book, and
when Lockhart asked, "What book?" Scott replied:
"Why do you ask? There is but one
book, the Bible."

All this is scant justice to the Georgian group;
but it may give a hint of what the Bible meant
even at that period, the period when its grip
on men was most lax in all the later English

It is in the Victorian age (1840-1900) that the
field is most bewildering. It is true, as Frederick Harrison says, that "this Victorian age has no
Shakespeare or Milton, no Bacon or Hume, no
Fielding or Scott -- no supreme master in poetry,
philosophy, or romance whose work is incorporated
with the thought of the world, who is
destined to form an epoch, to endure for
centuries."[1] The genius of the period is more
scientific than literary, yet we would be helpless
if we had not already eliminated from our discussion everything but the works and writers
of pure literature. The output of books has been
so tremendous that it would be impossible to
analyze the influences which have made them.
There are in this Victorian period at least twelve
great English writers who must be known, whose
work affects the current of English literature.
Many other names would need mention in any
full history or any minute study; but it is not
harsh judgment to say that the main current
of literature would be the same without them.
A few of these lesser names will come to mind,
and in the calling of them one realizes the
influence, even on them, of the English Bible.
Anthony Trollope wrote sixty volumes, the titles
of most of which are now popularly unknown.
He told George Eliot that it was not brains that
explained his writing so much, but rather wax
which he put in the seat of his chair, which held
him down to his daily stint of work. He could
boast, and it was worth the boasting, that he
had never written a line which a pure woman
could not read without a blush. His whole
Framley Parsonage series abounds in Bible
references and allusions. So Charlotte Bronte is
in English literature, and Jane Eyre does prove
what she was meant to prove, that a commonplace
person can be made the heroine of a novel;
but on all Charlotte Bronte's work is the mark
of the rectory in which she grew up. So Thomas
Grey has left his "Elegy" and his "Hymn to
Adversity," and some other writing which most of
us have forgotten or never knew. Then there
are Maria Edgeworth and Jane Austen. We
may even remember that Macaulay thought
Jane Austen could be compared with Shakespeare,
as, of course, she can be, since any one
can be; but neither of these good women has
strongly affected the literary current. Many
others could be named, but English literature
would be substantially the same without them;
and, though all might show Biblical influence,
they would not illustrate what we are trying to
discover. So we come, without apology to the
unnamed, to the twelve, without whom English
literature would be different. This is the list
in the order of the alphabet: Matthew Arnold,
Robert Browning (Mrs. Browning being grouped
as one with him), Carlyle, Dickens, George Eliot,
Charles Kingsley, Macaulay, Ruskin, Robert
Louis Stevenson, Swinburne, Tennyson, and

[1] Early Victorian Literature, p.9

It is dangerous to make such a list; but it
can be defended. Literary history would not
be the same without any one of them, unless
possibly Swinburne, whose claim to place is
rather by his work as critic than as creator.
Nor is any name omitted whose introduction
would change literary history.

Benjamin Jowett thought Arnold too flippant
on religious things to be a real prophet. At any
rate, this much is true, that the books in which
Arnold dealt with the fundamentals of religion
are his profoundest work. In his poetry the
best piece of the whole is his "Rugby Chapel."
His Religion and Dogma he himself calls an "essay
toward a better apprehension of the Bible."
All through he urges it as the one Book which
needs recovery. "All that the churches can
say about the importance of the Bible and its
religion we concur in." The book throughout
is an effort to justify his own faith in terms of
the Bible. The effort is sometimes amusing,
because it takes such a logical and verbal agility
to go from one to the other; but he is always
at it. He is afraid in his soul that England will
swing away from the Bible. He fears it may
come about through neglect of the Bible on one
hand, or through wrong teaching about it on the
other. Not in his ideas alone, but markedly in
his style, Arnold has felt the Biblical influence.
He came at a time when there was strong temptation
to fall into cumbrous German ways of
speech. Against that Arnold set a simple
phraseology, and he held out the English Bible
constantly as a model by which the men of
England ought to learn to write. He never
gained the simplicity of the old Hebrew sentence,
and sometimes his secondary clauses follow one
another so rapidly that a reader is confused;
but his words as a whole are simple and direct.

There is no need of much word on the spell
of the Bible over Robert Browning and Mrs.
Browning. It is not often that two singing-
birds mate; but these two sang in a key pitched
for them by the Scripture as much as by any one
influence. Many of their greatest poems have
definite Biblical themes. In them and in others
Biblical allusions are utterly bewildering to men
who do not know the Bible well. For five years
(1841-1846) Browning's poems appeared under
the title Bells and Pomegranates. Scores of
people wondered then, and wonder still, what
"Pippa Passes" and "A Blot in the Scutcheon "
and the others have to do with such a title.
They have never thought, as Browning did, of
the border of the beautiful robe of the high priest described in the Book of Exodus. The finest
poem of its length in the English language is
Browning's "Saul"; but it is only the story of
David driving the evil spirit from Saul, sweeping
on to the very coming of Christ. "The Death
in the Desert" is the death of John, the beloved
disciple. "Karshish, the Arab Physician" tells
in his own way of the raising of Lazarus. The text
of "Caliban upon Setebos" is, "Thou thoughtest
that I was altogether such an one as thyself."
The text of "Cleon" is, "As certain of your own
poets have said." In "Fifine at the Fair" the
Cure expounds the experience of Jacob and his
stone-pillow with better insight than some better-
known expositors show. In "Pippa Passes,"
when Bluphocks, the English vagabond, is
introduced, Browning seems to justify his appearance by the single foot-note: "He maketh His sun to
rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth
rain on the just and on the unjust"; and Mr.
Bluphocks shows himself amusingly familiar
with Bible facts and phrases. Mr. Sludge, "the
Medium," thinks the Bible says the stars are
"set for signs when we should shear sheep, sow
corn, prune trees," and describes the skeptic in
the magic circle of spiritual "investigators" as
the "guest without the wedding-garb, the doubting
Thomas." Some one has taken the trouble
to count five hundred Biblical phrases or allusions in "The Ring and the Book." Mrs. Browning's
"'Drama of Exile" is the woman's side of the
fall of Adam and Eve. Ruskin thought her
"Aurora Leigh" the greatest poem the century
had produced at that time. It abounds in
Scriptural allusions. Browning came by all this
naturally. Raised in the Church by a father
who "delighted to surround him with books,
notably old and rare Bibles," and a mother
Carlyle called "a true type of a Scottish gentlewoman," with all the skill in the Bible that that
implies, he never lost his sense of the majesty
of the movement of Scripture ideas and phrases.

We need spend little time in discussing the
influence of the English Bible on Thomas Carlyle.
He does not often use the Scripture for
his main theme; but he is constantly making
Biblical allusions. On a railway journey when
I was rereading Carlyle's Historical Sketches, I
found a direct Biblical reference for every five
pages, and almost numberless allusions beside.

The "Everlasting Yea," of which he says
much, he gets, as you at once recognize, from
the Scripture. His "Heroes and Hero Worship"
is based on an idea of heroism which he learned
from the Bible. He is an Old Testament prophet
of present times; and, while he degenerated
into a scold before he was through with it, he
yet spoke with the thunderous voice of a true
prophet, and much of the time in the language
of the prophets. Some one said once that the
only real reverence Carlyle ever had was for
the person of Christ. Certainly there is no note
of sneer, but of the profoundest regard for the
teaching, the ideas and the history of the Scripture.

The name of Charles Dickens suggests a
different atmosphere. He is a New Testament
prophet. Where Carlyle has caught the spirit
of rugged power in the Old Testament, Dickens
has caught the sense of kindly love in the New
Testament. Dickens's love for the child, the
fact that he could draw children as he could draw
no one else and make them lovable, suggests the
value to him of those frequent references which
he makes to Christ setting a child in the midst
of the disciples. It is notable, too, how often
Dickens uses the great Scripture phrases for his
most dramatic climaxes. There are not in literature many finer uses of Scripture than the scene
in Bleak House, where the poor waif Joe is dying,
and while his friend teaches him the Lord's
Prayer he sees the light coming. A Christmas
season without Dickens's Christmas Carol would
be incomplete; but there again is the Scripture
idea pressed forward.

George Eliot surely, if any writer, was under
the spell of the Scripture. One of her critics
calls her the historian of conscience. All of her
heroes and heroines know the lash of the law.
She knows very little about the New Testament,
one would judge; but the one thing about which
she has no doubt is certainly the reign of moral
law. If a man will not yield to its power, it will
break him. There is no such thing as breaking
the moral law; there is nothing but being broken
by it. Her characters are always quoting the
Bible. They preach a great deal. She tells
that she herself wrote Dinah Morris's sermon on
the green with tears in her eyes. She meant it
all. While her own religious faith was clouded,
her finest characters are never clouded in their
religious faith, and she grounds their faith quite
invariably on their early training in the Scripture. It is an interesting fact that George Eliot
has no principal story which has not in it a
church, and a priest or a preacher, with all that
they involve.

Charles Kingsley is grouped hardly fairly in
this list, because he was himself a preacher, and
naturally all his work would feel the power of
the Book, which he chiefly studied. Professor
Masson says that "there is not one of his novels
which has not the power of Christianity for its
theme." No voice was raised more effectively
for the beginning of the new social era in England
than his. Alton Locke and Yeast are epoch-
making books in the life of the common people
of England. Even Hypatia, which is supposed
to have been written to represent entirely pagan
surroundings, is full of Bible phrases and

Lord Macaulay had been held up for many a
day as one of the masters of style. Such great
writing is not to be traced to any one influence.
It could not have been easy to write as Macaulay
wrote. Thackeray may have exaggerated
in saying that Macaulay read twenty books to
write a sentence, and traveled a hundred miles
to make a description; but all his writing shows
the power of taking infinite pains. It becomes
the more important, therefore, that Macaulay
held the Bible in such estimate as he did. "In
calling upon Lady Holland one day, Lord
Macaulay was led to bring the attention of his
fair hostess to the fact that the use of the word
'talent' to mean gifts or powers of the mind,
as when we speak of men of talent, came from
the use of the word in Christ's parable of the
talents. In a letter to his sister Hannah he describes the incident, and says that Lady Holland
was evidently ignorant of the parable. 'I
did not tell her,' he adds, 'though I might have
done so, that a person who professes to be a
critic in the delicacies of the English language
ought to have the Bible at his fingers' ends.' "
That Macaulay practised his own preaching you
would quickly find by referring to his essays.
Take three sentences from the Essay on Milton:
"The principles of liberty were the scoff of every
growing courtier, and the Anathema Maranatha
of every fawning dean. In every high place
worship was paid to Charles and James, Belial
and Moloch, and England propitiated these obscene
and cruel idols with the blood of her best
and brightest children. Crime succeeded to
crime, and disgrace to disgrace, until the race,
accursed of God and man, was a second time
driven forth to wander on the face of the earth
and to be a by-word and a shaking of the head
to the nations." In three sentences here are
six allusions to Scripture. In that same essay,
in the paragraphs on the Puritans, the allusions
are a multitude. They are not even quoted.
They are taken for granted. In his Essay on
Machiavelli, though the subject does not suggest
it, he falls into Scriptural phrases over and
over. Listen to this, "A time was at hand when
all the seven vials of the Apocalypse were to be
poured forth and shaken out over those pleasant
countries"; or this, "All the curses pronounced
of old against Tyre seemed to have
fallen on Venice. Her merchants already stood
afar off lamenting for their great city"; or this,
"In the energetic language of the prophet,
Machiavelli was mad for the sight of his eyes
which he saw."

And if Macaulay is baffling in the abundance
of material, surely John Ruskin is worse. Carlyle's English style ran into excess of roughness;
Macaulay's ran into excess of balance and delicacy. John Ruskin's continued to be the smoothest,
easiest style in our English literature. He
also was a Hebraic spirit, but of the gentler type. Mr. Chapman calls him the Elisha to Carlyle's,
Elijah, a capital comparison.[1] Ruskin is one of
the few writers who have told us what formed
their style. In the first chapter of Praeterita he
pays tribute to his mother. He himself chose
to read Walter Scott and Pope's Homer; but he
says: "My mother forced me by steady daily
toil to learn long chapters of the Bible by heart,
as well as to read it, every syllable aloud, hard
names and all, from Genesis to the Apocalypse
about once a year; and to that discipline --
patient, accurate, and resolute -- I owe not only
a knowledge of the Book which I find occasionally
serviceable, but much of my general power
of taking pains and the best part of my taste
in literature." He thinks reading Scott might
have led to other novels of a poorer sort.
Reading Pope might have led to Johnson's
or Gibbon's English; but "it was impossible
to write entirely superficial and formal English"
while he knew "by heart the thirty-
second of Deuteronomy, the fifteenth of I
Corinthians, the One hundred and nineteenth
Psalm, or the Sermon on the Mount." In the
second chapter of Praeterita he is even more
explicit. "I have next with deeper gratitude to
chronicle what I owed to my mother for the resolute persistent lessons which so exercised me in
the Scripture, as to make every word of them
familiar in my ear as habitual music, yet in that
familiarity reverenced as transcending all thought
and ordering all conduct." He tells how his
mother drilled him. As soon as he could read
she began a course of Bible work with him.
They read alternate verses from the Genesis to
the Revelation, names and all. Daily he had to
commit verses of the Scripture. He hated the
One hundred and nineteenth Psalm most; but
he lived to cherish it most. In his old Bible he
found the list of twenty-six chapters taught by
his mother.

[1] English Literature in Account with Religion.

Not only was Ruskin well trained in the Bible,
but he was a great teacher of it. In his preface
to the Crown of Wild Olives he answers his critics
by saying he has used the Book for some forty
years. "My endeavor has been uniformly to
make men read it more deeply than they do;
trust it, not in their own favorite verses only,
but in the sum of it all; treat it not as a fetish
or a talisman which they are to be saved by daily
repetition of, but as a Captain's order, to be held and obeyed at their peril." In the introduction
to the Seven Lamps of Architecture he urges that
we are in no danger of too much use of the Bible.
"We use it most reverently when most habitually."
Many of Ruskin's most striking titles
come straight out of the Scripture. Crown of
Wild Olives, Seven Lamps, Unto this Last -- all
these are suggested by the Bible.

It is almost superfluous to speak of Robert
Louis Stevenson. John Kelman has written a
whole book on the religion of Stevenson, and it
is available for all readers. He was raised by
Cummy, his nurse, whose library was chiefly the
Bible, the shorter catechism, and the Life of
Robert Murray McCheyne. He said that the
fifty-eighth chapter of Isaiah was his special
chapter, because it so repudiated cant and demanded a self-denying beneficence. He loved
Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress; but "the Bible
most stood him in hand." Every great story
or essay shows its influence. He was not critical
with it; he did not understand it; he did not
interpret it fairly; but he felt it. His Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is only his way of putting into
modern speech Paul's old distinction between
the two men who abide in each of us. They
told him he ought not to work in Samoa, and he
replied that he could not otherwise be true to
the great Book by which he and all men who
meant to do great work must live. Over the
shoulder of our beloved Robert Louis Stevenson
you can see the great characters of Scripture
pressing him forward to his best work.

Not so much can be said of Swinburne. There
was a strong infusion of acid in his nature, which
no influence entirely destroyed. He is apt to
live as a literary critic and essayist, though he
supposed himself chiefly a poet. His own
thought of poetry can be seen in his protest
in behalf of Meredith. When he had been accused
of writing on a subject on which he had
no conviction to express ("Modern Love"), Swinburne denied that poets ought to preach anyway.
"There are pulpits enough for all preachers
of prose, and the business of verse writing
is hardly to express convictions." Yet it is
impossible to forget Milton and his purpose to
"assert Eternal Providence, and justify the ways
of God to men." Naturally, most poets do
preach and preach well. Wordsworth declared
be wanted to be considered a teacher or nothing.
Mrs. Browning thought that poets were the only
truth-tellers left to God. But Swinburne could
not help a little preaching at any rate. His
"Masque on Queen Bersaba" is an old miracle
play of David and Nathan. His "Christmas
Antiphones" are hardly Christian, though they
are abundant in their allusions to Scripture.
The first is a prayer for peace and rest in the
coming of the new day of the birth of Christ.
The second is a protest that neither God nor
man has befriended man as he should, and the
third is an assurance that men will do for man
even if God will not. Now, that is not Christian,
but the Bible phrases are all through it.
So when he writes his poem bemoaning Poland,
he needs must head it "Rizpah." At the same
time it must be said that Swinburne shows less
of the influence of the Bible in his style and
in his spirit than any other of our great English

We come back again into the atmosphere of
strong Bible influence when we name Alfred
Tennyson. When Byron died, and the word
came to his father's rectory at Somersby, young
Alfred Tennyson felt that the sun had fallen
from the heavens. He went out alone in the
fields and carved in the sandstone, as though it
were a monument: "Byron is dead." That was
in the early stage of his poetical life. At first
Carlyle could not abide Tennyson. He counted
him only an echo of the past, with no sense for
the future; but when he read Tennyson's "The
Revenge," he exclaimed, "Eh, he's got the
grip o' it"; and when Richard Monckton Milnes
excused himself for not getting Tennyson a
pension by saying his constituents had no use
for poetry anyway, Carlyle said, "Richard
Milnes, in the day of judgment when you are
asked why you did not get that pension, you
may lay the blame on your constituents, but it
will be you who will be damned!" Dr. Henry van
Dyke studied Tennyson to best effect at just
this point. In his chapter on "The Bible in
Tennyson" are many such sayings as these: "It
is safe to say that there is no other book which
has had so great an influence upon the literature
of the world as the Bible. We hear the echoes
of its speech everywhere, and the music of its
familiar phrases haunts all the field and grove
of our fine literature. At least one cause of his
popularity is that there is so much Bible in
Tennyson. We cannot help seeing that the poet
owes a large debt to the Christian Scriptures, not
only for their formative influence on his mind
and for the purely literary material in the way
of illustrations and allusions which they have
given him, but also for the creation of a moral
atmosphere, a medium of thought and feeling
in which he can speak freely and with an assurance
of sympathy to a very wide circle of

I need not stop to indicate the great poems
in which Tennyson has so often used Scripture.
The mind runs quickly to the little maid in
"Guinevere," whose song, "Late, Late, so Late,"
is only a paraphrase of the parable of the
foolish virgins. "In Memoriam" came into the
skeptical era of England, with its new challenge
to faith, and stopped the drift of young men
toward materialism. Recall the fine use he
makes, in the heart of it, of the resurrection of
Lazarus, and other Biblical scenes. Dr. van
Dyke's "four hundred direct references to the
Bible" do not exhaust the poems. No one can
get Tennyson's style without the English Bible,
and no one can read Tennyson intelligently
without a fairly accurate knowledge of the Bible.

In this Victorian group the last name is
Thackeray's. He is another whose mother
trained him in the English Bible. The title of
Vanity Fair is from Pilgrim's Progress, but the
motto is from the Scripture; and he wrote his
mother regarding the book: "What I want is
to make a set of people living without God in
the world (only that is a cant phrase.)" It is
certain his mother did not count it a cant phrase,
for he learned it from the Scripture. The subtitle
of his Adventures of Philip says he is to show
who robbed him, who helped him, and who
passed him by. Thackeray got those expressions
from the Bible. Somewhere very early in any
of his works he reveals the influence of his
childhood and manhood knowledge of the English

All this about the Victorian group is meant
to be very familiar to any who are fresh from
the reading of literature. They are great
names, and they have differences as wide as the
poles; but they have this in common, that they
have drunk lightly or deeply from the same
fountain; they have drawn from it ideas, allusions, literary style. Each of them has weakened
as he has gotten farther from it, and
loyalty to it has strengthened any one of them.

Turn now to the American group of writers.
If we except theological writers with Jonathan
Edwards, Horace Bushnell, Henry Ward Beecher,
and their like, and political writers with Jefferson, Webster, and their like, the list need not
be a long one. Only one writer in our narrower
sense of literature must be named in the earlier
day -- Benjamin Franklin. In the period before
the Civil War must be named Edgar Allan Poe
(died 1849) and Washington Irving (died 1859).
The Civil War group is the large one, and its
names are those of the later group as well. Let
them be alphabetical, for convenience: William
Cullen Bryant, poet and critic; George William
Curtis, essayist and editor; Emerson, our
noblest name in the sphere of pure essay literature; Hawthorne, the novelist of conscience, as
Socrates was its philosopher; Oliver Wendell
Holmes, whose "two chief hatreds were orthodoxy
in religion and heterodoxy in medicine";
James Russell Lowell, essayist and poet, apt to
live by his essays rather than by his poetry;
Longfellow, whose "Psalm of Life" and "Hiawatha"
have lived through as much parody and
ridicule as any two bits of literature extant,
and have lived because they are predestined
to live; Thoreau, whose Walden may show, as
Lowell said, how much can be done on little
capital, but which has the real literary tang to it; and Whittier, whose poetry is sung the world

That makes only twelve names from Franklin
to Whittier. Others could be included; but
they are not so great as these. No one of these
could be taken out of our literature without
affecting it and, in some degree at least, changing the current of it. This is not to forget
Bret Harte nor Samuel L. Clemens. But each
is dependent for his survival on a taste for a
certain kind of humor, not delicate like Irving's
and Holmes's, but strong and sudden and a bit
sharp. If we should forget the "Luck of Roaring
Camp," "Truthful James," and the "Heathen
Chinee," we would also forget Bret Harte. We
are not apt to forget Tom Sawyer, nor perhaps
The Innocents Abroad, but we are forgetting much
else of Mark Twain. Whitman is not named.
His claims are familiar, but in spite of his admirers he seems so charged with a sensuous egotism
that he is not apt to be a formative influence in
literary history. It is still interesting, however, to remember how frequently he reveals his reading
of Scripture.

Fortunately, all these writers are so near, and
their work is so familiar, that details regarding
them are not needed. Two or three general
words can be said. In the first place, observe
the high moral tone of all these first-grade
writers, and, indeed, of the others who may be
spoken of as in second rank. There is not a
meretricious or humiliating book in the whole
collection. There is not one book which has
lived in American literature which has the tone
of Fielding's Tom Jones. Whether it is that the
Puritan strain continues in us or not, it is true
that the American literary public has not taken
happily to stories that would bring a blush in
public reading. Professor Richardson, of Dartmouth, gives some clue to the reason of that.
He says that "since 1870 or 1880 in America
there has been a marked increase of strength
of theistic and spiritual belief and argument
among scientific men, students of philosophy,
religious 'radicals,' and others." He adds that
while much contemporary American literature
and thought is outside the accepted orthodox
lines, yet "it is not hostile to Christianity; to
the principles of its Founder it is for the most
part sincerely attached. On the other hand,
materialism has scarcely any hold upon it."
Then follows a very notable sentence which is
sustained by the facts: "Not an American book
of the first class has ever been written by an
atheist or denier of immortality." That sentence
need not offend an admirer of Walt Whitman,
for he "accepts both theism and the doctrine
of the future life." American thought has
remained loyal to the great Trinity, God, Freedom,
and Immortality. So it comes about that
while there are a number of these writers who
could be put under the ban of the strongly
orthodox in religion, every one of them shows
the effect of early training in religion and in
the Scripture.[1]

[1] This is fully worked out in Professor Richardson's American Literature, with ample illustration and argument.

Another thing to be said is that America has a
unique history among great nations in that it
has never been affected by any great religious
influence except that which has issued from the
Scriptures. No religion has ever been influential
in America except Christianity. For many
years there have been sporadic and spasmodic
efforts to extend the influence of Buddhism or
other Indian cults. They have never been successful, because the American spirit is practical,
and not meditative. We are not an introspective
people. We do not look within ourselves
for our religion. Whatever moral and religious
influence our literature shows gets back first or
last to our Scriptures. The point of view of
nature that is taken by our writers like Bryant
and Thoreau is that of the Nineteenth Psalm.
Moreover, we have been strongly under the
English influence. Irving insisted that we ought
to be, that we were a young nation, that we
ought frankly to follow the leadership of more
experienced writers. Longfellow thought we
had gone too far that way, and that our poets, at
least, ought to be more independent, ought to
write in the spirit of America and not of traditional poetry. Whether we ought to have yielded
to it or not, it is true that English influence
has told very strongly upon us, and the writers
who have influenced our writers most have been
those whom we have named as being themselves
under the Bible influence.

We need not go into detail about these writers,
though they are most attractive. Bryant did
for us what Wordsworth did for England. He
made nature seem vocal. "Thanatopsis" is not
a Christian poem in the narrow sense of the
word, and yet it could hardly have been written
except under Christian influence. His own genial,
beautiful character was itself a tribute to
Christian civilization, and his life, as critic and essayist, has left an impression which we shall
not soon lose. Professor Richardson thinks
that the three problematical characters in American literature are Emerson, Hawthorne, and
Poe. The shrewdest estimate of Poe that has
ever been given us is in Lowell's Fable for Critics:

"There comes Poe with his raven like Barnaby
Three-fifths of him genius, and two-fifths sheer
Who has written some things quite the best of
their kind,
But the heart somehow seems all squeezed out by
the mind."

That says it exactly. Poe knew many horrible
situations, but he did not know the way out;
and of all our American writers laying claim to
place in the first class Poe shows least influence
of the Bible, and apparently needs it most.

Irving was the first American writer who
stood high enough to be seen across the water.
Thackeray's most beautiful essay is on Irving and
Macaulay, who died just one month apart. In
it he describes Irving as the best intermediary
between the nations, telling us Americans that
the English are still human, and assuring the
English that Americans are already human.
Irving was trained early and thoroughly in the
Bible. All his life he was an old-fashioned
Episcopalian with no concern for new religious
ideas and with no rough edges anywhere.
Charles Dudley Warner, speaking of Irving's
moral quality, says: "I cannot bring myself to
exclude it from a literary estimate, even in the
face of the current gospel of art for art's sake."[1] Like Scott, he "recognized the abiding value
in literature of integrity, sincerity, purity, charity, faith. These are beneficences, and Irving's
literature, walk around it and measure it by
whatever critical instruments you will, is a
beneficent literature."

[1] American Men of Letters Series, Washington Irving, p.302.

Then there is Emerson, a son of the manse
and once a minister himself. He was, therefore,
perfectly familiar with the English Bible. He
did not accept it in all its religious teaching.
Indeed, we have never had a more marked
individualist in our American public life than
Emerson. At every point he was simply himself.
There is very little quotation in his writing,
very little visible influence of any one else.
He was not a follower of Carlyle, though he was
his friend. If there is any precedent for the
construction of his sentences, and even of his
essays, it is to be found in the Hebrew prophets.
As some one puts it, "he uttered sayings." In
many of his essays there is no particular reason
why the paragraphs should run one, two, three,
and not three, two, one, or two, one, three, or
in any other order. But Mr. Emerson was just
himself. It is yet true that "his value for the
world at large lies in the fact that after all he
is incurably religious." It is true that he could
not see any importance in forms, or in ordinary
declarations of faith. "He would fight no battle
for prelacy, nor for the Westminster confession,
nor for the Trinity, but as against atheism,
pessimism, and materialism, he was an ally of
Christianity." The influence of the Bible on
Emerson is more marked in his spirit than in
anything else. Once in a while, as in that familiar address at Concord (1873), you run across
Scripture phrases: "Shall not they who receive
the largest streams spread abroad the healing
waters?" That figure appears in literature only
in the Bible, and there are others like it in his

As for Longfellow, he is shot through with
Scripture. No man who did not know Scripture
in more than a passing way could have written
such a sentence as this: "There are times when
the grasshopper is a burden, and thirsty with the
heat of labor the spirit longs for the waters of
Shiloah, that go softly." There are two strikingly
beautiful expressions from Scripture. Take
another familiar saying in the same essay when
he says the prospect for poetry is brightening,
since but a short time ago not a poet "moved
the wing or opened the mouth or peeped." He
did not run across that in general current writing. He got that directly from the Bible. In
his poems is an amazing amount of reference
to the Bible. One would expect much in the
"Courtship of Miles Standish," for that is a
story of the Puritans, and they spoke, naturally,
in terms of the Bible; yet, of course, they could
not do it in Longfellow's poem, if Longfellow
did not know the language of the Bible very well.
One might not expect to find it so much in
"Evangeline," but it is there from beginning to
end. In "Acadia," the cock crowed

"With the self-same
Voice that in ages of old had startled the penitent Peter."

"Wild with the winds of September,
Wrestled the trees of the forest, as Jacob of old
with the angel."

Evangeline saw the moon pass

Forth from the folds of the cloud, and one star
followed her footsteps,
As out of Abraham's tent young Ishmael
Wandered with Hagar."

There is a great deal of that sort of thing in his
writing. He has done for many what he did
for Lowell one day. Discouraged in settling
the form of a new edition of his own poems,
Lowell took up a volume of Longfellow just to
see the type, and presently found that he had
been reading two hours. He wrote Longfellow
he could understand his popularity, saying:
"You sang me out of all my worries." That is
a great thing to do, and Longfellow learned from
the Scripture how to do that in the "Psalm of
Life" and all his other poems.

We need only a word about Lowell himself.
He was the son of a minister, and so knew the
Bible from his infancy. He belonged to the
Brahman caste himself, but a good deal of the
ruggedness of the Old Testament got into his
writing. It is in "The Vision of Sir Launfal."
It is in his plea for international copyright where the familiar lines occur:

"In vain we call old notions fudge,
And bend our conscience to our dealing,
The Ten Commandments will not budge,
And stealing will continue stealing."

There is hint of it in his quizzical lines about
himself in the Fable for Critics. He says that
he is in danger of rattling away

"Until he is as old as Methusalem,
At the head of the march to the last New Jerusalem."

Whittier needs no words of ours. His hymns
are part of our religious equipment. "Snowbound"
and all the rest of the beautiful, quiet,
Quaker-like writing of this beloved poet are
among our national assets. We join in his sorrow
as he writes the doom of Webster and his
fame, and we do not wonder that he chose for
it the Scriptural title "Ichabod."

Whatever is to be said about an individual
here or there, it is true that great American
literature shows the influence of the Bible. Like
everything else in America, it has been founded
on a religious purpose. Writers in all lines have
been trained in the Bible. If they feel any
religious influence at all, it is the Bible influence.

This has been a long journey from Shakespeare
to Whittier, and it leaves untouched the
great field of present-day writers. Let the
unstarred names wait their time. Among them
are many who can say in their way what Hall
Caine has said of himself: "I think I know my
Bible as few literary men know it. There is no
book in the world like it, and the finest novels
ever written fall far short in interest of any one
of the stories it tells. Whatever strong situations I have in my books are not of my creation,
but are taken from the Bible. The Deemster is
a story of the Prodigal Son. The Bondman is
the story of Esau and Jacob. The Scapegoat is
the story of Eli and his sons, but with Samuel
as a little girl; and The Manxman is the story of
David and Uriah." Take up any of the novels
of the day, even the poorer ones, but notably
the better ones, and see how uniformly they show
the Scriptural influence in material, in idea, and
in spirit. What the literature of the future will
be no one can say. This much is as sure as any
fact in literary history, that the English Bible
is part of the very fiber of great literature from
the day it first appeared in our tongue to this

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