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Lucy Hutchinson (1620–1681). Order and Disorder. 1679.

The Preface

THESE Meditations were not at first design’d for publick view, but fix’d upon to reclaim a busie roving thought from wandring in the pernicious and perplexed maze of humane inventions; whereinto the vain curiosity of youth had drawn me to consider and translate the account some old Poets and Philosophers give of the original of things: which though I found it, blasphemously against God, and bruitishly below the reason of a man, set forth by some, erroniously, imperfectly, and uncertainly, by the best; yet had it fill’d my brain with such foolish fancies, that I found it necessary to have recourse to the fountain of Truth, to wash out all ugly wild impressions, and fortifie my mind with a strong antidote against all the poyson of humane Wit and Wisdome that I had been dabling withal. And this effect I found; For comparing that revelation, God gives of himself and his operations, in his Word, with what the wisest of mankind, who only walk’d in the dim light of corrupted nature and defective Traditions, could with all their industry trace out, or invent; I found it so transcendently excelling all that was humane, so much above our narrow reason, and yet so agreeable to it being rectified, that I disdained the Wisdome fools so much admire themselves for; and as I found I could know nothing but what God taught me, so I resolv’d never to search after any knowledge of him and his productions, but what he himself hath given forth. Those that will be wise above what is written, may hug their Philosophical clouds, but let them take heed they find not themselves without God in the world, adoring figments of their own brains, instead of the living and true God.

Lest that arrive by misadventure, which never shall by my consent, that any of the pudled water, my wanton youth drew from the prophane Helicon of ancient Poets, should be sprinkled about the world, I have for prevention sent forth this Essay; with a Profession that I disclaim all doctrines of God and his works, but what I learn out of his own word, and have experienc’d it to be a very unsafe and unprofitable thing for those that are young, before their faith be fixed, to exercise themselves in the study of vain, foolish, atheistical Poesie. It is a miracle of grace and mercy, if such be not depriv’d of the light of Truth, who having shut their eyes against that Sun, have, instead of looking up to it, hunted gloworms in the ditch bottoms. It is a misery I cannot but bewail, that when we are young, whereas the lovely characters of Truth should be imprest upon the tender mind and memory, they are so fill’d up with ridiculous lies, that ’tis the greatest business of our lives, assoon as ever we come to be serious, to cleanse out all the rubbish, our grave Tutors laid in when they taught us to study and admire their inspired Poets and divine Philosophers.

But when I have thus taken occasion, to vindicate my self from those heathenish Authors I have been conversant in, I cannot expect my work should find acceptance in the world, declaring the more full and various delight I have found in following Truth by its own conduct; Nor am I much concern’d how it be entertain’d, seeking no glory by it, but what is render’d to him to whom it is only due. If any one of no higher a pitch than my self, be as much affected and stirr’d up in the reading, as I have been in the writing, to admire the glories and excellencies of our great Creator, to fall low before him, in the sense of our own vileness, and to adore his Power, his Wisdome, and his Grace, in all his dealings with the children of men, it will be a success above my hopes; though my charity makes me wish every one that hath need of it the same mercy I have found.

I know I am obnoxious to the censures of two sorts of people: First, those that understand and love the elegancies of Poems, They will find nothing of fancy in it; no elevations of stile, no charms of language, which I confess are gifts I have not, nor desire not in this occasion; for I would rather breath forth grace cordially than words artificially. I have not studied to utter any thing that I have not really taken in. And I acknowledge all the language I have, is much too narrow to express the least of those wonders my soul hath been ravisht with in the contemplation of God and his Works. Had I had a fancy, I durst not have exercis’d it here; for I tremble to think of turning Scripture into a Romance; and shall not be troubled at their dislike who dislike on that account; and profess they think no poem can be good that shuts out drunkenness, and lasciviousness, and libelling Satyr, the theams of all their celebrated songs. These, (though I will not much defend my own weakness) dislike not the Poem so much as the subject of it.

But there are a second sort of people, whose Genius not lying that way, and seeing the common and vile abuse of Poesie, think Scripture prophan’d by being descanted on in numbers; but such will pardon me when they remember a great part of the Scripture was originally written in verse; and we are commanded to exercise our spiritual mirth in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs; which if I have weakly compos’d, yet ’tis a consenting testimony with the whole Church, to the mighty and glorious truths of God which is not altogether impertinent, in this atheistical age; and how imperfect soever the hand be, that copies it out, Truth loses not its perfection, and the plainest as well as the elegant, the elegant as well as the plain, make up a harmony in confession and celebration of that all-creating, all-sustaining God, to whom be all honour and glory for ever and ever.