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St. Stanislaus Kotska

Brownson's Quarterly Review, October, 1847

ART. IV. — The Life of St. Stanislaus Kotska, of the Society of Jesus, Patron of Novices. From the Italian. First American Edition. Baltimore: Metropolitan Press. 1847. lGmo.    pp. 144.

THE Catholic public owe a large debt of gratitude to the Sulpicians of Baltimore for establishing the Metropolitan press, and for the excellent works they have printed and circulated. Their publications are selected with Catholic taste and judgment, and are admirably adapted to the edification of the faithful. They are from a class of works which are always deeply interesting, and which cannot be read without advancing the cause of truth and piety. Excepting one or two school-books which we do not much like, we can cordially recommend every publication we have seen from the Metropolitan press ; and, indeed, the fact that a work is sent forth from that press is of itself a much higher recommendation than ours, or that of any other editor in the country.

These excellent fathers would deserve our lasting gratitude for their edition of Butler's Lives of the Saints, if for nothing else. They have given us a complete edition of that invaluable work, in twelve numbers, making four handsome octavo volumes, well printed, on good paper, and fair type, at the low price of three dollars, instead of twenty dollars, the price, we believe, of the English edition, and have thus placed it within the reach of every Catholic family in the country wishing to possess it. There could be no better work selected for general circulation, or one the reading of which could be more instructive and profitable. It is the best history of the Church which we have in English, and, at the same time, it furnishes the best description of spiritual reading. Nowhere can we so well study the history of the Church as in the lives of her saints ; and nowhere can we better learn the maxims of holy living than in the examples of those who have successfully reduced them to practice. To all who object to our holy religion, and, in their blindness and rage, declaim against it, we hold up these Lives of the Saints, and say, Read these, and then doubt, if you can, where is the true Church, where the Holy Ghost is infused, or where are truth, sanctity, heroism.

We have but one fault to find with Butler's Lives of the Saints. The learned author is an Englishman, and, like too many English Catholics, writes with the fear of heretics before his eyes, and prunes away whatever he fears may not be able to withstand the most searching criticism. Perhaps this is well ; but we wish the excellent author had written with less reference to those who are without, in exterior darkness, and consulted more exclusively the edification of the faithful. His pages are learned, critically accurate, recording no fact not proof against the cavils of the critic ; but we cannot disguise the fact that they are often cold, dry, destitute of the glow and the unction we look for in the genuine Catholic writer. Alas ! our noble mother tongue has so long been all but monopolized by heretics and unbelievers, that it is not easily pressed into the service of truth and piety, and not without immense effort is it made a passable medium for expressing even the more ordinary emotions and affections of the Christian life. It has well-nigh lost its power of expressing any thing which pertains especially to the Christian experience. It has no celestial sense, and its terms are rarely significant of any thing which goes out of the natural order. It may answer the purposes of business and practical politics ; it may even lend itself with some facility to the poet of external nature, or of merely human love ; but, according to its ordinary usage, it is wholly unfitted to express that higher, purer, richer, and more delicate class of affections which are peculiar to the Christian. Whenever we seek to make it express the deeper religious experience, the fervent and tender love of the soul for her celestial Spouse, her ardent longings for the visits of her Divine Lover, who engrosses all her thoughts, absorbs, as it were, her whole being, her detachment from the world, her entire self-annihilation, her sweet peace, her ineffable repose as she leans on the arm of her Beloved, or her raptures when he deigns to embrace her with his love ; the associations with which the terms we must use are invested in the popular mind are all foreign to our purpose, and we are more likely to suggest what we would not than what wo would. What is highest, purest, and most holy in our thought becomes cold, dry, or coarse in our expression. The most we can do is to talk about these things, we cannot talk them themselves ; as it was said of Dugald Stewart, that he discoursed about philosophy, but did not discourse it.
Language is the exponent of the life of the people who use it, and it can be the exponent of only such life as they live. The native capacity of our language is equal to that of any modern tongue. It might have all the delicacy, flexibility, and liquid harmony of the Italian, the depth and tenderness of the German, the pomp and dignity of the Spanish, the vivacity and unction of the French, as well as a directness and energy peculiarly its own. No language has a richer vocabulary than it has or may have, for it has the power of naturalizing whatever in excellent in every ancient or modern tongue. But the boasted and boasting Anglo- Saxon race, since it rebelled against the Church, has been a stranger to the Christian religion, and living without God in the world. There is no Christianity, and therefore no true religion, distinguishable from the Church. None who live out of her communion do or can live the Christian life. The terms of religion they retain they soon cease to understand in a Christian sense. Their whole order of ideas becomes contracted to what is of the earth, earthy, and their language is restricted in its meaning to what is low, outward, and sensual. We charge the stubbornness and defects of our language, not to the language itself, but to the fact that it has been all but monopolized for three hundred years by the enemies of God and his holy religion, who have lost the Christian life, and have had no occasion to express its phenomena.

But, after all, our language is not the property of heretics and infidels. It was ours before it was theirs. They are only usurpers by violence, and as such have acquired no rights by prescription. They have and can have no right to frame its laws, or to determine its usage. It is ours by right, for we never do and never can forfeit our rights. We should therefore reclaim the dominion which in unhappy times was wrested from us, and at least, so far as it concerns ourselves, restore to our language its Christian character and habits. Wre already constitute no insignificant portion of all who speak it, and in a very few years we shall be the majority. There is no longer, if ever there was, any occasion to consult heretical and infidel usage. We are false to ourselves and to religion, if in writing we place the Protestants who speak our language before our eyes, instead of Catholics, and seek to adapt ourselves to the lastes of the former, instead of the wants of the latter. We must write with a view to the edification of Catholics, not with a view either to commend ourselves to sectarians, or to escape their criticisms.

The heretical and unbelieving who speak our language, no doubt, at the present moment, outnumber the faithful, and surpass them in worldly position and influence ; but we need not mind that. There is just as little occasion for us to defer to them in matters of language, of science, of art, of taste, as in matters of religion. We have nothing to learn from them, and can teach them in those very things in which their attainments are the most respectable. We are all of us disposed to overrate them, and to conclude, that, where so much is pretended, there must needs be some little reality. It is all a mistake. They affect airs of superiority, talk largely, pompously, and even venture to sneer at some of our own great masters ; but their persuasion of their own superiority results solely from their ignorance. In the law, which was systematized by their Catholic ancestors, there is found not unfrequently a Protestant who can reason, and reason well. In matters of business we also find Protestants who are shrewd, able, and not ridiculous ; but in almost every thing else, it is rare to find one who can talk for five minutes in succession, without committing the most laughable blunders, or betraying the most deplorable ignorance. By rejecting religion, by scorning the Gospel, they have gone far indeed, magni passus, but out of the normal order, extra viam, and retain the normal exercise of none of their faculties. We almost always estimate too highly their attainments, and in our addresses to them, or in our arguments with them, are almost always too profound, too scientific, and too logical for them to follow us. We suffer ourselves to be imposed upon by their lofty airs and loud pretensions ; yet they never reject the truth because they have attained to a high state of mental cultivation, but always because they want true mental and moral discipline. Our most illiterate servant-girls can teach the best of them, and are familiar with great truths, to the conception of which the most learned of them are not equal. The simplest elements of religion are too recondite for them, and the most ordinary sermon of the most ordinary Catholic priest, if they catch its sense, is full of novelty for them. Poor souls ! how little do they reflect that there is a wisdom which is folly, and a folly that is wisdom !    How little do they suspect the ridiculous figure they cut in the eyes of even an ordinary Catholic ! Poor Pat or Bridget laughs, or is shocked, at their ignorance ; and yet they swell up, and are fain to persuade themselves that they are the great lights of the age. Alas ! if the light that is in you be darkness, how great is that darkness !

We speak not disparagingly of the natural ability of heretics and infidels ; God has dealt as bountifully with them as with others. Nor do we speak disparagingly of their zeal for education, or their unwearied efforts to cultivate their minds and hearts, and to advance in science and literature. Their wrinkled brows, sunken eyes, furrowed cheeks, and care-worn countenances, indicate plainly that they waste not themselves in idleness ; but, alas ! it is not easy to fill a sieve with the waters even of the ocean ; and labor misdirected yields ordinarily but a poor return. One must look long indeed before he will behold and appreciate the beauty upon which he turns his back, and long and rapidly indeed must he run before overtaking the truth from which he recedes. We need not wonder that they toil and study in vain. We need not wonder that they amass no treasures, and that they remain poor and destitute in the midst of abundance. They have turned their backs upon God ; they have thrown themselves out of the Divine order ; they are running from all that is true, beautiful, and good ; and what is there for them to acquire but emptiness and nothing ? The treasure can be found only in the field in which it is hid, and, if they will not seek there, they must seek in vain. Confining themselves to the earthly, only the earthly can exist for them. The book of celestial truth is a sealed book for them, — sealed within and without with seven seals, and none but the Lion of the tribe of Juda prevails to open it, or to loose the seals thereof. Yet no man does or can know the earthly as it is, save as he beholds it in the light of the celestial. Alas for them ! — esteeming themselves wise, they become fools ; are ever learning, but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. There is only one thing more deplorable than their mistake, and that is for Catholics ever to write with the fear of them before their eyes, or to consult their tastes and habits in using the language .which, in their blindness and unbelief, they have emasculated, made weak, and meaningless. Let us, unless when writing directly for them, forget their existence, leave them entirely out of the account, and study to write solely for the edification of Christians.    It is for them to come and learn of us, not for us to go and learn of them. It is for us to determine the laws of our language and to fix its usage, not for them ; for nothing they do or can do will endure. They and their works are of this world, and will pass away with the fashion thereof. The promise is not to them, and time, as he passes on, levels their proudest monuments to the dust, and sweeps out every vestige of their existence, and draws the black pall of forgetfulness over all they did, all they had, and all they were.

But we have wandered from our purpose. Living as we do in the midst of this boasting and boasted Anglo-Saxon world, — witnessing the lofty pretensions of the heretical and unbelieving, — beholding them filling the places of trust, honor, and profit, multiplying schools, praising education, and professing themselves wise beyond all precedent, we are apt to regard them as somebody, and, with that modesty and self-distrust our religion inculcates, to suppose that we may profitably defer to them in all matters where our faith does not positively forbid us. Our writers seek to catch the Protestant manner, and study to set their Catholic gem in a Protestant case. We have wished to protest against this, and to urge upon our brethren the folly of such a procedure. We love our Protestant brethren, and daily pray for their conversion ; but we cannot take lessons from them on any subject whatever. Wherever we see the stamp of Protestantism, we see something to be abhorred ; for even the truth in a Protestant garb seldom fails to have the effect of falsehood.

We esteem highly Butler's Lives of the Saints. It is a work of vast erudition ; but we always feel, when reading it, that the excellent author would have made it still more valuable, if he had written it solely for the edification of Catholics, and not with an eye to Protestant criticisms and cavils. We wish he had written less as the critic, and more as the pious believer. He strips his subject too bare, prunes away its natural branches, and divests it of its ever-green foliage. When we read the Lives of the Saints, we wish to do it always with the wonder and reverence which Plato calls the beginning of wisdom ; we would read them, not for historical criticism, nor in a doubtful, hesitating spirit, determined to reject every miracle for which there is not evidence to satisfy the court of Rome in a process for canonization ; but as spiritual exercises, in open faith and ardent love, remembering that no heart of man can conceive how much our good Father loves even the least of his saints, and that there is nothing he is not ready and willing to do for nny of us, if we are only simple and humble, and will not claim the glory for ourselves. The more miracles are crowded into the Life of a Saint, the better we like it; and we suffer ourselves to be edified, without stopping at each one to ask, Can it be proved that this miracle was really wrought ? Nevertheless, Butler's Lives of the Saints is one of the noblest monuments reared in this English tongue to the glory of God in his Church, and we again thank the worthy Sulpicians of Baltimore for placing it within the reach of even the poor of our community. Happy will it be for the people who make it their daily reading.

We know not the author or the translator of the Life of St. Stanislaus Kotska, now before us, and which is one of the sweetest little books that has as yet issued from the Metropolitan press. It is a model in its way, — simple, chaste, full of tender piety, of charity, and unction. The author has written with a deep sympathy with his subject, under the gentle and holy influence of the sweet youth and mature saint whose brief but glorious life he records. The translator has caught the spirit of his author, and the English language under his plastic piety loses its stubbornness, and becomes pliable and Catholic. The work is just one of those little works we love. We cannot have too many such works ; nor can they be too widely circulated, or too often read.
We cannot trust ourselves to speak of the Saint himself. The little book before us says all that needs to be said, and we hope before this it is in the hands of all our readers. Our Catholic life begins at too recent a date, and we have been too little inured to Catholic discipline, to be able to speak with any edification of the saints of God. It is for us to say, " St. Stanislaus Kotska, pray for us," rather than to attempt either a brief sketch of his life, or a panegyric on his virtues. As the patron of novices we invoke him, for, if we are no novice in the technical sense, we are in every other. He seems to have been sent to us to show us how near heaven we may live even while in the flesh. A lovelier flower of divine charity has rarely bloomed in an earthly garden, and we may well term him " the Beloved of Mary." It is not easy to meditate on his short but heroic life without having our affections weaned from the earth, without becoming able to trample whatever pertains to this world under our feet, without rising superior to all that is visible and temporal, and longing to enlist in the noble army of Jesus our King, and to aspire to win the crown of life, which God with his own hand will confer one day on them that love him and persevere to the end.

Heaven lies much nearer to us than we, busied and engrossed with the things of time and sense, permit ourselves to believe. St. Stanislaus seems to have all but entered upon the life of the blessed, even while he lived only by promise. And then, if the promise lifts us so far above all the reality we know or can conceive, what must be its fulfilment, the reward itself? Truly, eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive. Behold with what love the Father hath loved us ! It hath not yet appeared what we shall be, but when he shall appear, we know we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

We shall see him as he is. The ever-blessed Virgin, the glorious Queen of Heaven, has more than once appeared to mortal eyes. He to whom she has appeared, though with her resplendent beauty veiled, and her glory tempered to his feeble vision, has yet been filled with rapturous delight, and felt that he could ask no more than to be pei'mittecl to behold her sweet loveliness and listen to the music of her voice. Yet she is but a creature, an humble mortal raised for her humility by divine grace to the rank in heaven highest below the Ever-adorable Trinity. All-resplendent as she is by divine grace, her beauty and loveliness are but the hidings of the beauty and loveliness of Him who hath exalted her. if she so fill the soul, if even her presence can be so rich a reward, if even to have seen her but once has carried the soul for ever away from itself, and even by its recollection made the cold and dusty earth a blissful paradise, what must it be to be permitted to behold our God himself, not through a glass darkly, not once for a brief moment, but as he is, and to dwell for ever in his presence ! Is it strange that this young saint, to whom Mary had appeared and spoken, should have longed to be with her ? Is it strange that his desire to be with her should have consumed his mortal frame, when to be with her was to be with God, to behold Him who hath loved us and redeemed us, and to behold him as he is in himself ? How welcome the permission to leave this world, with the sweet assurance of meeting our Father, and entering into the joy of our Lord ! What has death, called the king of terrors, then, to frighten the soul ? Shall not the soul leap with joy to end her wanderings, to return from her exile, to reach her home, her Father's house, and receive his hearty welcome and warm embrace ?

What is this world to one who looks forward to this glorious reunion at home, in his Father's house ? How poor and mean its honors and rewards ! how unworthy of a thought its sorrows, its trials and afflictions ! Yet to this we may all look forward, if we will ; to this home of our Father we may all return, if we will; we can gain heaven by simply willing it. What fools, then, we are ! Here we are, wedded to this world, sighing and struggling for its tinsel honors, mad with rage if some are more successful than we, — filled with jealousy, or pining with envy. Yet there lies heaven with all its resplendent beauty, with all its eternal glories, with all its inconceivable beatitude, to be had for the simple willing ! Surely, the saints are the only wise. The rest of us are fools, fools sunk to such a depth of folly that we cannot conceive it. Yet we call ourselves wise, and count it a sacrifice to give ourselves to God, to forego the earth and live for heaven ! Parents feel that their sons and daughters throw themselves away, when they die to the world that they may live to God; and think that they have well settled them, if they have succeeded in securing them honorable worldly establishments. O, the madness of men is beyond conception !

Nay, the religion which promises and secures us heaven, which crowns us with the Supreme Good, is not only neglected, made to give way to the world, but it is actually hated, and men are mad against it, conspire to overthrow it, and feel that they have gained a noble victory, if they have withdrawn some poor child from its sweet and holy influence. There is hardly a city in the Union in which there are not benevolent ladies banded together, practising self-denial, and giving alms enough even to gain heaven, if accompanied by faith and charity, who make it a business to find out poor children, and with sweetmeats, and fine dresses, and flattering words, entice them from religion, lure them from God, to be brought up in hatred of Him who redeemed them, of the Spiritual Mother who bore them, and to burn eternally in the fire prepared for the devil and his angels. And these charming ladies persuade themselves that they are doing a deed of charity, that they are serving God, that he will love and reward them for it, — poor deluded creatures, who are nothing more or less than procuresses to the devil. How strange ! What terrible infatuation ! As if it were not ten thousand million times better that our children should starve to death before our eyes than that they should be brought up Protestants ? This hatred of Christianity, this war against the Church, the sweet solace of men here, and the medium of heaven hereafter, is the strangest and most unaccountable madness. It is a thing hardly conceivable, much less believable, yet here it is before our eyes ; and these people, who do their best to destroy themselves and all mankind, really imagine that they are wise and good people, the salt of the earth, the reformers of God's Church, and they affect to look down with pity and contempt on the poor Christian who repeats his Credo, Pater-noster, Ave, and Confiteor.

There is nothing better fitted to humble the pride of man, to make him see his own blindness and malice, than this hostility so widely manifested against the Immaculate Spouse of God. It shows us what man is, when he turns his back upon truth, and is abandoned to himself. He is then at war with all nature, at war with heaven, at war with himself, and revels in the delight of plucking out his own eyes, tearing out his own bowels, and rending his own heartstrings. How grateful should we be to Almighty God, who through his great mercy has retained us in his Church, or brought us within his " closed garden" ! Never can we be sufficiently thankful for the blessing we enjoy. Never can we sufficiently deplore the condition of those without, or with sufficient earnestness pray for their enlightenment. We, if left to ourselves, would be as they ; like them, we should blaspheme God, and deride his character, and destroy our own souls. St. Stanislaus Kotska, pray for us, that we may persevere ; and give thanks for us, that we have been enabled to see and know the truth, and to hope one day to be permitted to join thee in heaven, to behold Mary whom thou didst so love, and God who has crowned her with his grace Queen of Heaven. Beseech, also, the glorious Queen, our sweet Mother, to pray for the conversion of these revilers of her Divine Son, that heresy and infidelity may cease from our land, and the Church here be universal, and our whole population be her faithful, zealous, obedient children.
But we have introduced this Life of St. Stanislaus Kotska to our readers, not only to recommend it to their attention, but to suggest anew to those of our friends who are ambitious of producing an American Catholic literature, that, instead of aiming at the production of original works, they would do more credit to themselves and more service to religion, if they would confine themselves to translations, and especially to translations of the lives of particular saints. Original works written by English or American Catholics may be desired, but, unhappily, we can at present produce few such that will not be more Protestant in tone, temper, and influence, than Catholic.

Then, again, truth is stranger and more interesting than fiction. Pauline Seward is a very respectable young lady ; has a fine person, genteel manners, and is free from vice ; but what is she to a St. Agnes, a St. Theresa, a St. Catherine of Sienna, a St. Bridget, or a St. Gertrude ? What is Father Felix, Father Le Fevre, or Father Thomas, beside hundreds of meek and faithful pastors gently performing their duties in the Church in any Catholic country ? What are your Normans, Eugenes, and other heroes of your modern Catholic novels, beside a St. Lawrence, a St. Stanislaus Kotska, a St. Aloysius Gonzaga ? Why, your most successful Catholic, or pretended Catholic, romancers of the day cannot begin to rise even in imagination to what the Church presents us everywhere in the lives of her saints. Shall we exchange the saints who have really lived, those admirable specimens of art in which the eternal God has been the artist, for the puerile conceits and puny creations of sentimental young men and boarding-school misses ? Who has not laughed at poor Glaucus for giving his golden armor for the brazen armor of Diomede ? Shall we escape, if we exchange the pure gold of reality for the tinsel of a weak and sickly fancy ? These little books with red embossed covers and gilt edges are very pretty, no doubt, and the young gentleman or the young lady who has written one of them may claim it as a noble birth ; but are we not stupid beyond conception to rest contented with them, or to suppose that we have nothing more attractive to offer our young people ? Have we, as Catholics, become so poor, so utterly impoverished, that we must borrow the pens of Protestants, of heretics, and therefore children of the devil, to portray saints and heroes for the contemplation and imitation of our sons and daughters ? Or are we so lost to all sense of the riches of our Church, that, when we do not borrow the Protestant pen, we must borrow the Protestant spirit, and write after the Protestant model ? Really, this is more stupid than exchanging gold for brass. We mean not to be too severe upon the young men and women, or old men and widows, or men with wives, or wives with husbands, who write our pretty red or blue covered Catholic novels. They no doubt aim well, do the best they can, without more study ; and we are not disposed to'blame people for not doing better than they can. Nevertheless, these novels are a reproach to us ; no inconsiderable part of our popular English Catholic literature is a reproach to us ; and is it to be wondered at that our young people seek to gratify their reading propensity elsewhere ?

There is no more attractive reading for the young than biography, and there is really no department of biography which may be made more attractive than that of the saints, the true and only real heroes and conquerors. Why not, then, enrich our literature with translations from the French, Italian, &c, of the excellent lives of the saints which so abound in those languages ? How much better it is to spend an hour with St. Francis of Sales, St. Jane Francis Chantol, St. Francis of Assisium, St. John of God, than with Florence Ruthven, Cora Leslie, or Jessie Linden, Norman Ruthven, Elder Graham, or even Father Thomas ! If we wish the country to become Catholic, we must study, not to bring Catholicity down lo it, but to bring it up to Catholicity. Your pretty novels will do little to guard our children against the infection of heresy, still less to win heretics to the truth. We must aim higher, propose higher models of excellence than are to be found in the public marts or the gay saloons of rich heretics. We must hold up the saints, and kindle a noble aspiration in our youth to follow their examples, to imitate their heroic virtues. Then Catholicity will really advance in our country. Then our youth will not blush to be called Papists or Romanists. They will glory in reproach, joy in being contemned.
Why not ? An Englishman has written a book which he calls " The Ages of Faith," as if the ages of faith had passed away. They may have passed away in proud and sensual England, but let us beware of harbouring the notion that there is not faith now, and that even now Christians may not or do not equal Christians of the past. The Church does not grow old, the faith does not grow old, the Holy Ghost does not grow old ; say not, The days that have been are better than those which are. We can go into this city and find as strong faith, as tender piety, as thorough self-annihilation, as the world in any age ever witnessed. God is as near us as ever ; we have all the aids we ever had, and we may emulate the virtues of any past age. God has not changed ; his religion has not changed ; man's nature has not changed. What was possible aforetime is possible now. Let us not, then, suppose we have come too late into the world to aspire to holy living. Let us turn our eyes, not out upon the barren wilderness without, but in upon the vast treasures we have been accumulating for ages, and dare use them.

Who cares for the heretics and infidels around us, — except for their conversion ?    They cannot harm us against our will. Were not the early Christians in a hostile world ? Were they not surrounded by Jewish and Pagan relatives and friends ? Had they not apparently even greater obstacles than we to overcome ? Why, then, shall we not speak to this age as they spoke to theirs ? Suppose we are sneered at, ridiculed, abused, insulted, trampled on. Suppose the world becomes mad against us, mobs us, shoots us down, sends us to dungeons, the scaflbld, or the stake ; worse it cannot do. Suppose all this. What then ? We have only to rejoice and be exceedingly glad. Woe unto us only when all men speak well of us. Woe unto us only when we prefer the praise of men to the praise of God.

We honor the zeal we see increasing in behalf of Catholic literature, but we wish the literature to be such as will kindle our zeal for Catholicity, — set before us heroic examples worthy of our imitation. We want no linsey-woolsey literature, no diluted Catholicity. Let us have our religion in all its power, majesty and glory, sweetness and beauty, as we see it exemplified by our noble army of saints. Let us study to enlist early our youth in this army, and to bring them into close communion with the beloved of God. And the best way to do this is to leave the regions of fancy and imagination, and soar to those of truth and reality, and substitute heroes and heroines fashioned by the grace of God, for those of our own creating. God's works are more beautiful than man's. Let us prefer his works to ours, and we shall soon see that the " Ages of Faith " have not passed away, but are now as well as formerly. Give us the saints, and there will be no call for the heroes of romance.