PRESSENSE'S "LAND OF THE GOSPEL." AFTER all the relations of
travel in the Holy Land which have been published, M. de Pressense's fortunately not very bulky volume may yet be read with real pleasure. Not that he has any new facts to tell us, but that he is himself, so to speak, the new fact in the matter, as the first French Protestant minister of modern times who has ever, if not travelled in the Holy Land, at least told the world that he has done so, the first to whom it has been given to preach in Jerusalem. M. de Pressense, it need hardly henceforth to be told to English readers, is one of the most remarkable members in that remarkable and growing group of French Protestant writers, almost all, it may be said, the spiritual children or grandchildren of Alexander Vinet, who bid fair to restore to their Church, ere long, in the literature of their country in the nineteenth century that prominent place which it occupied in that of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Under their influence the French Protestant Church is rapidly shaking off much of its sectarianism ; it has recovered the capacity of studying the Fathers, it has learned to be fair to Roman Catholics, Bossuet himself included ; and if the so- called "extreme left" of the new school have signalized them- selves by supplying data for M. Renan's romancing and ap- plauding its success, it is impossible not to see that the Pro- testant body at large is growing more and more into sympathy with the nation, in the bosom of which it has long seemed to exist like a separate atom, and acquiring an influence which may be of incalculable value hereafter, in a political and social as well as in a religious point of view.
The mere fact that a party of French Protestants has at last gone forth on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land affords an instance of this newly-awakened sympathy between the Protestant Church and the nation. For it cannot be denied that, since the revival of religion after the first Revolution, a strong impulse has driven French Roman Catholics towards the East, from Chateaubriand to M. de Saulcy, and the mingling of Protestants in the current shows that they have become on this head, to use a mesmeric term, en rapport with their countrymen. And it is a curious fact that, although the desire to see Palestine may be conjectured to have been chiefly kindled ia M. de Pressensa, as the historian of the early ages of the Church, by the study of Christian antiquity pro- perly so called, yet the freshness of his devotional impressions in the Holy Land reminds one, in a striking degree, of those pil- grims of the middle ages who have racarded theirs, in prose or verse (often of the rudest), and in this freshness of feeling consists one main charm of the work. Yet, howevar true a pilgrim M. de Pressense may be, Ile is never carried away into superstitious excesses of the pilgrim feeling. He is "deeply touched" by the sight of a poor Russian peasant kissing with transport and floods of tears the marble pavement of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, but he feels happy to think that his Church claims "no inch of ground" in the building, "and is not tempted to seek the living among the dead." "I say this," he finely adds, "without any feeling of superiority, sympathizing with all emo- tions of true piety that are mixed up with the superstitions which I condemn, and knowing well that the angels collect in their golden censers many an ignorant prayer which a haughty ortho- doxy would not pick up."
M. de Pressenses tour began with Egypt, and took him (Sinai being strangely omitted) byJaffa to Jerusalem, thence northward by Samaria, Nazareth, Tiberias, Damascus, Baalbek, returning by the coast of Asia Minor, Constantinople, Greece, and the Adriatic. It comprises thus a varied field of observation, if one rapidly passed over ; and M. de Pressense has that great gift, of
• Le Pays de l'Evangile: Notes cram Voyage en Orient Par Edmond de Pressenne. Paris: IiieyraeM 1854.
being able to yield to the impression of the moment, which often realizes the effects of the highest art. What can be better, for instance, than this picture of the delight of idleness to the worker :—
"We seem truly to be floating beneath God's smile. Coming out of the whirlpool of Parisian life, I find a charm of which I was ignorant in feeling myself live as a lazzarone beneath the sun, in being able to read, to think at my ease, to follow without scruple in the golden air the smoke of my cigarette, plunged in that dreamy far niente which is very far from being a stagnant idleness. It is a recipe which indeed I would give to all my friends. Are you weary, over-exerted, over-driven,—have you held conferences, written articles, launched forth a big book on the French Revolution before starting?—take a Messageries' steamboat, and go upon the Mediterranean."
Or what could better express than this, the luminousness of a Southern atmosphere :—
" We reached Alexandria this morning. Towards eight o'clock the shore appeared very, low, as it were flush with the sea ; only a white line behind a forest of ships, and a sparse row of trees. But what a tint is that of this morning sun over the land of Egypt ! The landscape above has as much charm for the traveller as the landscape below ; the light has an infinite variety according to the zones which it passes through. What strikes one is that the more one goes south the lighter it becomes ; the heavenly purple attenuates, vaporizes more and more its tissue, instead of deepening it, as one might think beforehand that it would ; it is a roseate or azure breath which glides over objects, and outlines them with incomparable clearness."
But M. de Pressense never forgets man in nature, and the fol- lowing remarks amongst others are deeply true
Unless I am mistaken, a residence in Egypt must be somewhat dangerous for Europeans, at once intelligent and greedy of money. They have to exploiter a rich country, anxious to grow and to civilize itself, but without morality, without a recognized law, bent to the Turkish yoke ; it is, no doubt, very easy for them to exploiter a race which feels its inferiority, and is nevertheless ambitions. So there are splendid hauls to be made, dazzling speculations to be attempted ; but these hauls cost often doar to those who throw the net." . . . .
Generally fair and liberal, M. de Pressonse, like the 90-100ths of his countrymen, is uniformly severe towards Islamism. Not even the fact, which he is obliged to admit, that the Turkish military post on the very threshold of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is one "of which the usefulness cannot be mistaken" towards keeping the peace between rival Christian bigotries, can make him use any but harsh words towards a race and a creed which must have some value in the economy of God's providence, since He has chosen them till this day for such a purpose. M. de Pressense is even so blind as to complain of the" detestable mix- ture of Christian and Jewish traditions with the impostures of the Koran," and the very reverence with which an intelligent Massulman will speak of Christ seems rather to shock than to delight him. It is difficult to see how such feelings can be reconciled with the spirit of St. Paul's preaching, and especially with that of his discourse at Athens,—with that careful seizing by the great Apostle of whatever points of contact he might find with his hearers, in order to lead them on to the higher truth which lie set forth. Deadly as Islamism seems nowadays to be to the vitality of Eastern nations, no one who only looks upon it, as M. de Pressense seems to do, as a mere mixture of fanati- cism, imposture, and sensuality, can over understand the part it has played and still plays in the history of the world,—its power to keep together the degraded Christian races of the East themselves, —the civilizing influence which it still exercises in some regions of heathen Africa. No one surely who is really acquainted with the his- tory of the world, from the sixth century to the eleventh, should venture to say with M. de Pressense of Mahommedanism that "mankind has known no worse curse than this hideous falsification of monotheism."
Home-sickness seems early to have attacked our pilgrim, and the latter portions of his work are often hardly equal in freshness and vivacity to the earlier ones. Here is, however,—somewhat abridged—a pleasant and true page on Ionia :—
" These coasts, bathed in so rich a light, are cut out in numberless bays, where the great sea enters, as if to tempt human activity to dis- tant and heroic adventures, and to hinder it from slumbering beneath the languor of the climate. In this enchanting region was born Homer's poetry, fall of freshness and power ; from these limpid waters those Olympian divinities went forth, which snatched Greece away from the yoke of the religions of nature, and substituted for those crushing wor- ships the grace, the proud beauty of a mythology altogether human. Humanity was taken with rapture at finding itself fairer and mightier than all that surrounded it, and superior to the hidden forces of the world ; it worshipped itself in an incomparable ideal of heroism. And yet it was on this very soil, where it seemed that the poetry of the Finite alone could flourish, that the most mystic of books was inspired, that which opens over the invisible the deepest outlook, I mean that fourth Gospel, which the Alexandrian fathers called the Gospel of the Spirit. From the same blue waters whence the Iliad slipped forth all radiant, like white Amphitrite from the shining foam, uprose the dark and sublime poem of Patmos, the epic of martyrdom, the divine book of the bloody and glorious battles of the Truth. Let them talk to us again, after this contrast, the sharpest, most striking that can be imagined, of the fatali- ties of climate and of race ! let them pretend that the fruits of the human spirit ripen, like those of earth, according to wind or sun!"
M. de Pressense, it may be observed, entirely denies the purely soft, idyllic character which M. Renan attributes to nature in Galilee. The Anti-Lebanon, he declares, never fails to give the landscape a character of greatness and majesty, whilst the moun- tains of the eastern shore of the Lake Gennesareth are bare and gloomy.