I am longing to arrive at that period when the light of the glorious gospel of Christ first shone upon me through the darkness of many trying dispensations; therefore I pass by much that intervened, including my dear brother's marriage, who returned again to London with his bride and his mother, to resume his staff situation there; and shall only take you with me across the Atlantic, for a few Nova Scotian reminiscences, before proceeding to the scene of my most precious recollections, dear Ireland. My husband had joined his regiment in Halifax, and sent me a summons to follow him out without delay; in order to which I was obliged to embark in a large vessel taken up partially by government for the conveyance of troops, but in which there was a select party, occupying the state cabin, and making their own terms with the captain for the best possible accommodation and provision on the passage. Of this number was I; and certainly a more select, polished and agreeable party of highly bred gentlemen could not have been found. I went under the kind care of one of these, with his wife, who had invited me to travel with them.
Have you ever been at sea? It is a question the answer to which will throw very little light on the matter, unless you also state how it agreed with you: no two races on the earth can be more distinct than those two are upon the water—the people who are sea-sick and the people who are not. It was my happy privilege to belong to the latter class; I never for a moment experienced even an unpleasant sensation from any marine cause, but on the contrary enjoyed exemption from all physical annoyances during a five weeks' voyage, excepting that of hunger. An abundant supply of every thing that was nourishing, in the most palatable form, left no excuse for remaining hungry; nevertheless the demand was incessantly kept up; and I appeal to all who have been similarly affected, whether the munching of hard sea-bread from morning to night under the pressure of a real sea appetite, is not a greater luxury than the choicest viands on shore. To me it certainly was; and surely I had reason to be deeply thankful to the Lord, who, by means of that delicious voyage, and its bracing exhilarating effects, prepared me for a trying winter in the singular climate for which I was bound.
Every day, and all day long, be the weather what it might, I was stationed on deck, generally seated on the highest point of the ship's stern, directly over the rudder, to enjoy a full view of that most graceful and exquisite spectacle, a large vessel's course through the mighty deep. Ours was a splendid one, a West Indiaman, almost rivalling the sea-palaces of the East India Company, and manned in the first style. The troops on board, under the command of a field officer, greatly added to the effect and comfort of the thing, for nothing is so conducive to the latter as military discipline, well and mildly maintained. Although our party was perfectly distinct from those who went out entirely at the charge of government, consisting of several officers and their wives, yet we too were nearly all military, including the commandant, and were strictly amenable to martial law. Of course that soul of domestic and social comfort, punctuality, reigned paramount; every meal was regulated by beat of drum, subordination carefully preserved, and decorum, to the most minute particular, insisted on. No dishabille could appear, in the cabin or on deck; no litter, not an article of luggage visible. All the sick people, all the cross people, and all the whimsical people were stowed away in their respective berths, and such drawing-room elegance, combined with the utmost freedom of good-humor and the unrestrained frankness that results from a consciousness of proper restraint, pervaded our little select coterie, amounting to seventeen gentlemen and two ladies, that it did not need the miserable contrast which I afterwards experienced on the homeward passage, to assure me we were among the most favored of ocean travellers.
How very much do they err who consider the absence of order and method as supplying greater liberty or removing a sense of restraint. Such freedom is galling to me; and in my eyes, the want of punctuality is a want of honest principle; for however people may think themselves authorized to rob God and themselves of their own time, they can plead no right to lay a violent hand on the time and duties of their neighbor. I say it deliberately, that I have been defrauded of hundreds of pounds, and cruelly deprived of my necessary refreshment in exercise, in sleep, and even in seasonable food, through this disgraceful want of punctuality in others, more than through any cause whatsoever besides. It is also very irritating; for a person who would cheerfully bestow a piece of gold, does not like to be swindled out of a piece of copper; and of many an hour have I been ungenerously wronged, to the excitement of feelings in themselves far from right, when I would gladly have so arranged my work as to bestow upon the robbers thrice the time they made me wantonly sacrifice. To say, "I will come to you on such a day," leaving the person to expect you early, and then, after wasting her day in that uncomfortable, unsettled state of looking out for a guest, which precludes all application to present duties, to come late in the evening—or to accept an invitation to dinner, and either break the engagement or throw the household into confusion by making it wait—to appoint a meeting, and fail of keeping your time—all these, and many other effects of this vile habit are exceedingly disgraceful, and wholly opposed to the scriptural rules laid down for the governance of our conduct one to another. I say nothing of the insult put upon the Most High, the daring presumption of breaking in upon the devotions of his worshippers, and involving them in the sin of abstractedness from the solemn work before them, by entering late into the house of prayer. Such persons may one day find they have a more serious account to render on the score of their contempt of punctuality, than they seem willing to believe.
But I have run away from my ship—yet not so; for as every thing shines out most by contrast, it was natural to think on the ugly reverse when recalling the beautiful harmony and order of our regulations on board. We were favored with most delightful weather, fresh and dry and warm; with only one day's hard rain, during which the sea "ran mountains," as the sailors said. I was conducted on deck, "just for one minute, that you may be able to say you have seen such a sea," remarked the gentleman who put a military cloak over me, and led me up the stairs. But who could be satisfied with a momentary sight of any thing so stupendously grand? I resisted all efforts to persuade me into retreating again, and it ended in my being lashed to the mizenmast by my friendly conductor, who declared that his head, the best landsman's head on board, would not stand the giddy scene; in short, that he should be obliged to report himself sick, and exchange our agreeable society below for the solitude of his berth. Of course I dismissed him, and was left among the mountains, alone, save when a sailor passed me on his duties among the rigging, and gave me a smile of approval, while the man at the wheel seemed to regard me as being under his especial patronage. The tars love one who does not flinch from their own element.
Truly, I saw that day the works of the Lord and his wonders in the great deep. Imagine yourself in a ship, large among vessels, but a mere cork upon the waters of that mighty main. On every side, turn where you would, a huge mountain of irregular form was rising-dark, smooth, of unbroken surface, but seeming about to burst from over-extension. How did you come into that strange valley? how should you get out of it? how avoid the rush of that giant billow that even now overhangs your bark? These questions would inevitably rush through the mind; but in a second of time the huge body beside you sunk, you were on its summit, and another came rolling on. Meanwhile the ship would reel, with a slow slanting movement that gradually lowered the tall masts till the yards almost dipped in the brine, and you were either laid back on the frame- work behind you, or well-nigh suspended, looking down upon the water over the ship's bulwarks. I soon discovered why my companion had so carefully buckled the leather strap that held me to the mast; certainly I cannot recall the scene with such steadiness of nerve as I beheld it with. Every now and then a small billow would burst upon the vessel's side, sending its liquid treasure across the deck, and more than one ablution of the kind was added to the fresh-water drenching bestowed by the clouds. Can you fancy the discomfort of such a situation? Then you were never at sea, or at least you left your imagination ashore; for I defy any person not well inured to it, to look on such a scene with so negative a feeling as discomfort; it will excite either terror or delight sufficient to engross the whole mind.
I well remember that, when deeply affected by the grandeur of this and other aspects assumed by the majestic main, I found the highest flights of man's sublimity too low. They would not express, would not chime in with my conceptions; and I was driven to the inspired pages for a commentary on the glorious scene. It was then that the language of Job, of Isaiah, of Habakkuk, supplied me with a strain suited to the sublime accompaniment of God's magnificent work. Sunrise I could not witness, because at that hour no lady might appear on deck, and my cabin had not a side-window; but sunset, moonlight, starlight, with the various phenomena of ocean's ever-varying appearance, these furnished an endless contemplation with which nothing could accord but the language of Holy writ. I did not bring forth my Bible, well knowing the bantering remarks to which it would have exposed me on the score of affectation, but my memory served me equally well in that as in profane poetry; and many a precious word of warning, exhortation, and promise did I recite, enchanted by the sublimity of what, as to its spiritual meaning, was still an unknown tongue to me. Among these, the thirty-second of Deuteronomy, the fortieth of Isaiah, and other passages full of the gospel, were repeatedly called to mind; and above all, in blowing weather, the forty-sixth Psalm delighted me.
You may suppose that I could not wholly forget the fact of being where, in the strictest sense, there was but a step between me and death. The first day of our voyage some one had quoted the expression, "There is but a plank between us and eternity," not with any serious application, but as a fine thought. I do not think that I was ever for a moment unmindful of this; the presence of actual danger was always felt by me: but concerning eternity I had no fears whatever. A general reliance on the boundless mercy of God, a recognition of Christ as having suffered for our sins, and a degree of self-righteousness that easily threw my sins into the shade, while magnifying my supposed merits, these formed the staff whereon I leaned; and when the most imminent and appalling peril overhung us, so that we expected to be ingulfed in the waves without hope of succor, I looked it boldly in the face, confident in my false hope. Although just then revelling in enjoyments best suited to my natural taste, life had in reality no charms for me. From all that had gilded the sonny hours of youth I was completely severed, and the world on which I had launched was a wilderness indeed in comparison with the Eden I had left. I would not have made the slightest effort to escape from death in any form; and though I was not senseless enough to prefer an eternity of untried wretchedness to the fleeting sorrows of mortal life, yet as my conscience was lulled to rest by the self-delusion that I suffered more than I deserved, and had therefore a claim on divine justice, and as I was willing to receive the supposed balance of such debtor and creditor account in the world to come, I was perfectly content to be summoned to my reward. Blessed be God that I was not taken away in that hour of blind willingness.
The extreme peril to which I have alluded overtook us when within a short distance of our destination; we were suddenly caught by a tremendous wind from the south, which blew us right in the direction of Cape Sable, one of the most fatal headlands in those seas. Night closed upon us and the gale increased; sails were spread, in a desperate hope of shifting the vessel's course, but were instantly torn into ribbons. At one time, for a moment, the rudder broke loose, the tiller-rope giving way under the violent strain upon it; and the next minute the spanker-boom, an immense piece of timber, snapped like a reed. It was an awful scene: on the leeside the ship lay so low in the water that every thing was afloat in the sleeping cabins; and the poor ladies were screaming over their terrified children, unheeded by the gentlemen, every one of whom was on deck. The captain openly declared we were bound for the bottom, if a very sudden and unlikely change of wind did not take place. In the midst of all this, I was reported missing, and as I had the privilege of being every body's care, because, for the time being, I belonged to nobody, a search was commenced. A young officer found me, at last, so singularly situated, that he went and reported me to the captain. I had climbed three tiers of lockers in the state cabin, opened one of the large stern windows, and was leaning out, as far as I could reach, enraptured beyond expression with the terrific grandeur of the scene. The sky above was black as midnight and the storm could make it, overhanging us like a large pall, and rendered awfully visible by the brilliancy of the waters beneath. I had heard of that phosphorescent appearance in the sea, but never could have imagined its grandeur, nor can I essay to describe it. Even in perfect stillness the illuminated element would have looked magnificent; what, then must it have been in a state of excessive, tumultuous agitation, the waves swelling up to a fearful height and then bursting into sheets of foam; every drop containing some luminous animalcula sparkling with vivid, yet delicate lustre? We were going with headlong speed before the wind, and I hung right over the track of the rudder, a wild, mad eddy of silver foam, intermingled with fire. There was something in the scene that far overpassed all my extravagant imaginings of the terribly sublime. The hurry, the fierceness, the riot of those unfettered waters, the wild flash of their wondrous lights, the funereal blackness of the overhanging clouds, and the deep, desperate plunge of our gallant ship, as she seemed to rend her way through an opposing chaos—it was perfect delirium; and no doubt I should have appeared in keeping with the rest to any external observer, for I was stretching out at the window, the combs had fallen from my hair, which streamed as wildly as the rent sails; and I was frequently deluged by some bursting wave, as the dip of the vessel brought me down almost to the surface. The peril of an open window was startling to those on deck, and the captain, hearing that I refused to relinquish my post, sent the mate to put up the dead-lights; so I sat down on the floor, buried my face in my hands, and strove to realize the magnificence thus rent from my sight.
Yes, God's works in the great deep are indeed wonders. Nothing landward can possibly approach them: in the rudest tempest the ground remains firm, and you feel that you are a spectator; but at sea you are a part of the storm. The plank whereon you stand refuses to support you, ever shifting its inclination; while the whole of your frail tenement is now borne aloft, now dashed into the liquid furrow beneath, now struck back by a head-sea with a shock that makes every timber quiver, now flung on one side as if about to reverse itself in the bosom of the deep. No doubt the sense of personal danger, the death-pang already anticipated, the dark abyss that yawns before the sinner, and the heaven opening on a believer's soul, must each and any of them deaden the sense to what I have vainly sought to describe; and I suppose this accounts for the astonishment expressed by the whole party at my singular conduct, when the youth who was sent to warn me of the peril, described my half-angry, half-reproachful pettishness at the interruption: "Can't you let me enjoy it in peace, Mr. J——? Shall I ever see any thing like it again? Do go away." "But the captain says the window must be shut." "Then take me on deck, and you may shut it." "That is utterly impossible; no lady could stand for an instant on deck, your drapery would bear you over the ship's side." "Then I wont shut the window: so go and tell Captain L—— not to tease me with messages."
This was downright recklessness. I wonder when recalling it to mind, and feel that I could not have thus sported with death after I acquired a good and solid hope of everlasting life. The act of dying had always great terrors for me, until, through adverse circumstances, I seemed to have nothing worth living for, and then I could laugh at it in my own heart. Strange to say, that fearfulness of the passage through the dark valley returned with double force when I had realized a personal claim to the guiding rod and the supporting staff, and the bright inheritance beyond. But before this period of blessedness, of joy and peace in believing arrived, I had to pass through many waters of affliction, and to experience remarkable interpositions at His hand who was leading me by a path which I knew not.
Two of them I will mention. While at Annapolis and at Windsor, I had a horse provided for me of rare beauty and grace, but a perfect Bucephalus in her way. This creature was not three years old, and, to all appearance, unbroken. Her manners were those of a kid rather than of a horse; she was of a lovely dappled grey, with mane and tail of silver, the latter almost sweeping the ground; and in her frolicsome gambols she turned it over her back like a Newfoundland dog. Her slow step was a bound; her swift motion unlike that of any other animal I ever rode, so fleet, so smooth, so unruffled—I know nothing to which I can compare it. Well, I made this lovely creature so fond of me by constant petting, to which I suppose her Arab character made her peculiarly sensitive, that my voice had equal power over her as over my docile, faithful dog. No other person could in the slightest degree control her. Our corps, the seventh battalion of the sixtieth Rifles, was composed wholly of the elite of Napoleon's soldiers, taken in the Peninsula, and preferring the British service to a prison. They were principally conscripts, and many were evidently of a higher class in society than is usually found in the ranks. Among them were several Chasseurs and Polish Lancers, very fine equestrians, and as my husband had a field officer's command—on detachments—and allowances, our horses were well looked after. His groom was a Chasseur, mine a Pole; but neither could ride Fairy, unless she happened to be in a very gracious mood. Lord Dalhousie's English coachman afterwards tried his hand at taming her, but all in vain. In an easy quiet way, she either sent her rider over her head, or by a laughable manoeuvre sitting down like a dog on her haunches, slipped him off the other way. Her drollery made the poor men so fond of her that she was rarely chastised; and such a wilful, intractable wild Arab it would be hard to find. Upon her I was daily mounted; and surely the Lord watched over me then indeed. Inexperienced in riding, untaught, unassisted, and wholly unable to lay any check upon so powerful an animal, with an awkward country saddle, which by some fatality was never well fixed, bit and bridle to match, and the mare's natural fire increased by high feed, behold me bound for the wildest paths in the wildest regions of that wild country. But you must explore the roads about Annapolis, and the romantic spot called "The General's Bridge," to imagine either the enjoyment or the perils of that my happiest hour. Reckless to the last degree of desperation, I threw myself entirely on. the fond attachment of the noble creature; and when I saw her measuring with her eye some rugged fence or wild chasm, such as it was her common sport to leap over in her play, the soft word of remonstrance that checked her was uttered more from regard to her safety than my own. The least whisper, a pat on the neck, or a stroke down the beautiful face that she used to throw up towards mine, would control her: and never for a moment did she endanger me. This was little short of a daily miracle, when we consider the nature of the country, her character, and my unskilfulness. It can only be accounted for on the ground of that wondrous power which having willed me to work for a time in the vineyard of the Lord, rendered me immortal until the work should be done. Oh that my soul, and all that is within me could sufficiently bless the Lord, and remember all his benefits.
I was then unmindful of, and unthankful for his protection; I revelled in the delights of a freedom that none could share but my dog, who never left the side of his associate. Shall I give you a sketch of the group, in some lines composed during one of those excursions? They may partly describe it. I found, them among some old papers.
"I know by the ardor thou canst not restrain, By the curve of thy neck and the toss of thy mane, By the foam of thy snorting which spangles my brow, The fire of the Arab is hot in thee now. 'Twere harsh to control thee, my frolicsome steed; I give thee the rein—so away at thy speed; Thy rider will dare to be wilful as thee, Laugh the future to scorn, and partake in thy glee. Away to the mountain—what need we to fear? Pursuit cannot press on my Fairy's career; Full light were the heel and well-balanced the head That ventured to follow the track of thy tread, Where roars the loud torrent and starts the rude plank, And thunders the rook-severed mass down the bank, While mirrored in crystal the far-shooting glow, With dazzling effulgence is sparkling below. One start, and I die; yet in peace I recline, My bosom can rest on the fealty of thine: Thou lov'st me, my sweet one, and would'st not be free, From a yoke that has never borne rudely on thee. Ah, pleasant the empire of those to confess, Whose wrath is a whisper, their rule a caress.
"Behold how thy playmate is stretching beside, As loath to be vanquished in love or in pride, While upward he glances his eyeball of jet, Half dreading thy fleetness may distance him yet. Ah, Marco, poor Marco—our pastime to-day Were reft of one pleasure if he were away.
"How precious these moments: fair freedom expands Her pinions of light o'er the desolate lands; The waters are flashing as bright as thine eye, Unchained as thy motion the breezes sweep by, Delicious they come, o'er the flower-scented earth, Like whispers of love from the isle of my birth; While the white-bosomed Cistus her perfume exhales, And sighs out a spicy farewell to the gales. Unfeared and unfearing we'll traverse the wood, Where pours the rude torrent its turbulent flood: The forest's red children will smile as we scour By the log-fashioned hut and the pine-woven bower; Thy feathery footsteps scarce bending the grass, Or denting the dew-spangled moss where we pass
"What startles thee? 'Twas but the sentinel gun Flashed a vesper salute to thy rival the sun; He has closed his swift progress before thee, and sweeps With fetlock of gold the last verge of the steeps. The fire-fly anon from his covert shall glide, And dark fall the shadows of eve on the tide. Tread softly—my spirit is joyous no more. A northern aurora, it shone and is o'er; The tears will fall fast as I gather the rein, And a long look reverts to yon shadowy plain."
* * * * *
There is more of it, but nothing to the purpose of the present history. It cost me something to transcribe this, so vividly is the past recalled by it. Would to God I might more fully devote to his service every day of the life so wonderfully preserved by him.
In addition to this continuous preservation on horseback, I experienced the same interposing providence when violently upset in a gig. The road where it occurred was strewn with broken rocks on either side, for miles; and scarcely one clear spot appeared, save that on which I was thrown, where a carpet of the softest grass overspread a perfect level of about twelve feet in length, and nearly the same in width. Here I fell, with no other injury than a contusion on the hip. The gig was completely reversed, the horse dashed on till he ran one of the shafts into a bank, and set himself fast.
My sojourn in this interesting country was of two years' duration, marked with many mercies, among the greatest of which was the uninterrupted enjoyment of perfect health, although my first winter there was the most severe that had been known for thirty years, and the following summer one of the most oppressively hot they had ever experienced. The gradations of spring, autumn, and twilight, are there scarcely known, and the sudden transition from summer to winter is as trying to the health of an European as that from day to night is uncongenial to the taste. Here, too, I repented at leisure, and amended with no small difficulty and labor, my neglect of those accomplishments to which my dear mother had so often vainly solicited my attention. The pencil was profitless; I had long thrown it by: books were no longer an adequate set-off against realities, even could I have conjured up a library in the wilderness of Nova Scotia's inland settlement; but the culinary and confectionary branches were there invaluable, and in them I was wofully deficient. Had I not coaxed the old French soldier who officiated as mess-cook to give me a few lessons, we must have lived on raw meal and salt rations during weeks when the roads were completely snowed up, and no provisions could he brought in. However, I proved an apt scholar to poor Sebastian, and to the kind neighbors who initiated me into the mysteries of preserves and pastry. Young ladies cannot tell into what situations events may throw them; and I would strongly recommend the revival of that obsolete study called good housewifery. The woman who cannot dispense with female servants, must not travel. I had none for six months, keen winter months, in Annapolis; the only persons who could be found disengaged being of characters wholly inadmissible. The straits to which I was put were any thing but laughable at the time, though the recollection now often excites a smile. Indeed no perfection in European housekeeping would avail to guard against the devastations that a Nova Scotian frost will make, if not met by tactics peculiar to that climate. How could I anticipate that a fine piece of beef, fresh-killed, brought in at noon still warm, would by two o'clock require smart blows with a hatchet to slice off a steak; or that half-a-dozen plates, perfectly dry, placed at a moderate distance from the fire preparatory to dinner, would presently separate into half a hundred fragments, through the action of heat on their frosted pores; or that milk drawn from a cow within sight of my breakfast-table would be sheeted with ice on its passage thither; or that a momentary pause, for the choice of a fitting phrase in writing a letter, would load the nib of my pen with a black icicle? If I did not cry over my numerous breakages and other disasters, it was under the apprehension of tears freezing on my eyelids; and truly they might have done so, for my fingers were once in that awful condition that must have ended in mortification, but for the presence of mind of a poor soldier, who, seeing me running to the fire in that state, drew his bayonet to bar my approach, and wrapping a coarse cloth round my lifeless hands, muff-fashion, compelled me to walk up and down the spacious hall until the circulation returned, which it did with a sensation of agony that well-nigh took away my senses. This was a most signal escape, for I was wholly ignorant of my danger, and not a little perplexed and annoyed at the insubordinate conduct of the veteran, who was a model of respectful humility. Had he, poor fellow, known how busy those fingers would one day be against his religion—for he was a French Romanist—he might have been tempted to sheath his bayonet and give me free access to the tempting fire, the immense faggots of which would have sufficed to roast a heretic.
Nova Scotia is, I firmly believe, the most generally and devotedly loyal of all our colonies: the attachment of its people to the mother-country is beautiful, and their partisanship in all questions between us and the States most zealous. The only fault I had to find with them was their indifference towards the poor relics of the Indian race still dwelling in the woods, who were to me objects of the liveliest interest even before I had any feeling of Christian duty towards the heathen—or towards such as those who are worse than heathen, being numbered among the members of the Romish church, and utterly, wretchedly ignorant even of such little truth as remains buried under the mass of antichristian error, to make its darkness more visible. The Indians are wholly despised; scarcely looked on as beings of the same race, by the generality of the colonists. Where Christian principle prevails, they become of course important in the highest degree; but I speak of what I saw, when vital godliness was little known among them, and I can aver that even Lord Dalhousie scarcely could succeed in stirring up a momentary interest for the dispersed aborigines. That excellent nobleman devoted himself very warmly to the work of attempting their civilization; and told me that if a few would join him heartily and zealously in the effort, he should succeed; but that, between, lukewarmness on the one side and suspicion on the other, he found himself completely baffled. It was not to be wondered at that the Indians had a lurking dread of experiencing again the hardships, not to say the treachery and cruelty, inflicted on their fathers. I enjoyed a high place in the affection and confidence of those interesting people, the origin of which may help to prove at how light an estimate the poor creatures were generally rated by their white brethren. My claim on their attachment consisted in nothing more than the performance of a bounden duty in sheltering for a few weeks one of their number who had, in a most unprovoked and cruel manner, been wounded by a party of our soldiers and left to perish in the woods.
How beautiful do the white cliffs of Albion appear in the eyes of the returning wanderer who has learned by a foreign sojourn to estimate the comforts, the privileges, the blessings of this island home. No place could be more thoroughly English in feeling, habits, and principles, than Nova Scotia; but it was not England. The violent transition of seasons, so different from the soft gradations by which, with us, winter brightens into summer, and summer fades into winter, marked a contrast far from pleasing; and the intensity of cold, the fierceness of heat, alike unknown in our temperate climate, forced comparisons far from agreeable. Thus, on the lowest ground of a wholly selfish feeling, the approach to nay native shore could not be otherwise than delightful; but viewed as the mother-land, as the great emporium of commerce, the chief temple of liberty, the nurse of military prowess, the unconquered champion of all that is nationally great throughout the world, the sight of our free and happy isle is indeed an inspiring one to those who can appreciate moral grandeur. How much more, in the eyes of the Christian, is she to be esteemed as the glory of all lands, as possessing the true knowledge of God, and laboring to spread that knowledge throughout the world; the land of Protestantism, the land of the Bible.
I really cannot understand the meaning, nor fancy what may be the feeling, of those who profess to have merged their patriotism in something of universal good-will to the household of faith all over the world. It seems to me every whit as unnatural as that the member of a Christian family should forego all the sweets of conjugal, parental, filial, fraternal love, in the determination to feel an equal regard for his neighbor's wife, husband, etc., as for his own; and, moreover, to take an equal concern in the affairs of his neighbor's kitchen as in his own household matters. This sort of generalizing regard would throw our respective establishments into singular confusion, and might betray ourselves into sundry false positions, and very awkward predicaments. However, the comparative extinction of natural affection would form the most prominently reprehensible feature in the case; and I cannot but think that the boasted cosmopolitanism of some good people would wear an aspect not very dissimilar, if rightly and soberly viewed. Certainly I could no more tear the love of country from my heart, than I could the love of kindred; and when my step again pressed the English strand, it was with a sensation almost resembling the fabled invigoration of the Titans, who derived new life, new strength, new enterprise, from coming in contact with their mother earth.
England, indeed, contained little that was personally endearing to me, except my beloved surviving parent; but it was a joyous thing to embrace her once more, after the deep roll of the ocean had separated us for nearly three years; during a portion of which she had been learning to prize her native land, in a disgusting region of all that is most directly opposed to liberty, civil or religious—to honorable feeling, just conduct, honest principle, or practical decency. In short, she had been in Portugal.
I now arrive at an epoch from which I may date the commencement of all that deserves to be called life, inasmuch as I had hitherto been living without God in the world. My existence was a feverish dream of vain pleasure first, and then of agitations and horrors. My mind was a chaos of useless information, my character a mass of unapplied energies, my heart a waste of unclaimed affections, and my hope an enigma of confused speculations. I had plenty to do, yet felt that I was doing nothing; and there was a growing want within my bosom, a craving after I know not what—a restless, unsatisfied, unhappy feeling, that seemed in quest of some unknown good. How this was awakened, I know not; it was unaccompanied with any conviction of my own sinfulness, or any doubt of my perfect safety as a child of God. I did not anticipate any satisfaction from change of place; but readily prepared to obey a summons from my husband to follow him to Ireland, whither he had gone to engage in a law-suit. To be sure I hated Ireland most cordially; I had never seen it, and as a matter of choice would have preferred New South Wales, so completely was I influenced by the prevailing prejudice against that land of barbarism. Many people despise Ireland, who, if you demand a reason, will tell you it is a horrid place, and the people all savages; but if you press for proofs and illustrations, furthermore such deponents say not.
On a dull day in April I took my place, a solitary traveller, in the Shrewsbury coach, quite ignorant as to the road I was to travel, and far less at home than I should have been in the wildest part of North America, or on the deck of a ship bound to circumnavigate the globe. We rattled out of London, and the first thing that at all roused my attention was a moonlight view of Oxford, where we stopped at midnight to change horses. Those old grey towers, and mighty masses of ancient building, on which the silvery ray fell with fine effect, awoke in my bosom two melancholy trains of thought; one was the recollection of my father, whose enthusiastic attachment to his own university had often provoked warm discussion with the no less attached Cantabs of our old social parties, and who often held out to me, as the greatest of earthly gratifications, a visit with him to that seat of learning which he would describe in glowing colors. But where was my father now? His poor girl, the delight of his eyes and treasure of his heart, was in Oxford, with none to guide, none to guard, none to speak a cheering word to her. I shrunk back in the coach, and grieved over this till a sudden turning once more threw before me the outline of some magnificent old fabric bathed in moonlight, and that called up a fit of patriotism, calculated to darken, yet more the prospect before me. This was England, my own proud England; and these "the cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces," that distinguished her seats of learning above all others, I was bound for Ireland. What English young lady had ever studied the history of that remote, half-civilized settlement, called Ireland? Not I, certainly, nor any of my acquaintance; but I took it for granted that Ireland had no antiquities, nothing to distinguish her from other barbarous lands, except that her people ate potatoes, made blunders, and went to mass. I felt it a sort of degradation to have an Irish name, and to go there as a resident; but comforted myself by resolving never in one particular to give in to any Irish mode of living, speaking, or thinking, and to associate only with such as had been at least educated in England.
The next day's rising sun shone upon Stratford-on-Avon; and here revived in some degree my Shakspearian mania, to the still higher exaltation of my English stilts, and the deeper debasement of all "rough Irish kernes." At Shrewsbury we parted with a kind old lady, who had shown me some good-natured attentions, and I was left with only an elderly gentleman, bound also for Dublin, who told me we must start at three o'clock the following morning for Holyhead. I was dreadfully dejected, and told him I hoped he would not think the worse of me for being so utterly alone, and that he would excuse my retiring to my own apartment the instant we had dined. He took pencil and paper, and with a glow of benevolent feeling expressed his anxious desire to take the same care of me that he would of his own daughter, and to look on me as his especial charge, until he should give me into the hands of my lawful protector. I thanked him with true English reserve, and a coldness that seemed rather to grate on his warm feelings; and having owned that his seeing my Newfoundland dog well fed and lodged would be a great obligation, I withdrew to fret alone over my exile to this foreign land. You may call this an exaggeration, but it is no such thing. I delight in dwelling upon my reluctant approach to the land that I was to love so fondly.
Next day my miseries were alleviated by the enchanting beauties of the Welsh country through which we passed; and my regard for Mr. D—— greatly increased by the compassionate care he took of a poor sickly woman and her ragged infant, whom he descried on the top of the coach, and first threw his large cloak to them, then, with my cordial assent, took them inside, and watched them most kindly until he fell asleep. I peeped into his kind, benevolent face, and inwardly confessed there might be some nice people in Ireland.
At the inn where we dined, I made another acquaintance. A younger, but middle-aged man, whose vivacity, combined with Welch mutton and ale, quite raised my spirits. Hearing from Mr. D—— with what enthusiasm I had admired the scenery of Llangollen, he volunteered to hand me in at the coach window, a note of every remarkable place we should approach during the rest of the journey; adding, "I know the road pretty well, having traversed it at least twice a year for sixteen years, passing to and from my Irish home." He was a legal man, a finished gentleman, and another sad drawback on my perverse prejudices. Mr. F—— proved an excellent descriptive guide, punctually reaching to me from the roof of the coach his little memoranda, in time for me to take a survey of the object concerned; and also most assiduously aiding in the care of my luggage and dog when we were all put into the ferry-boat.
There was then no bridge over the Menai, and I being in total ignorance of the route was not a little dismayed at the embarkation, forgetting that Holyhead was in Anglesea, and that Anglesea was an island. At last, when the boat pushed off, the opposite shore being hidden under the mist of deepening twilight, I addressed the ferryman in a tone of remonstrance that infinitely diverted the whole party, "Surely you are not going to take me over in this way to Ireland?"
"No, no," said Mr. F——, "you shall have a good night's rest, and a better sea-boat, before we start for the dear green isle."
Steamers were not then upon the packet station, and the wind being unfavorable, we had a passage of seventeen hours, not landing until two in the morning of Easter Sunday. Nothing could exceed my discomfort, as you may suppose, when I tell you that after paying my bill at Holyhead, I, in a fit of abstraction, deposited it very safely in my purse, and in its stead threw away my last bank-note. The mistake was not suspected until in mid-voyage I examined the state of my finances, and found the sum total to amount to one shilling. This was an awful discovery; my passage was paid, but how to reach Dublin was a mystery, and such was the untamed pride of my character that I would sooner have walked there than confessed to the fact, which might have been doubted, and laid myself under the obligation of a loan which I was sure of repaying in a few hours, even to good old Mr. D——. When I stepped from the deck of the packet upon the plank that rested against the pier of Howth I had not one single halfpenny in my pocket, and I experienced, without the slightest emotion, one of the most hairbreadth escapes of my life.
The water was very low; the plank of course sloped greatly, and as soon as I set my foot on it began to slide down. In another second I should have been plunged between the vessel's side and the stone pier, without any human possibility of rescue; and already I had lost my balance, when a sailor, springing on the bulwarks, caught me round the knees, and at the same instant Mr. F——, throwing himself on the ground, seized and steadied the plant, until I recovered my footing and ran up. I shudder to recall the hardened indifference of my own spirit, while the kind, warm-hearted Irishmen were agitated with strong emotion, and all around me thanking God for my escape. Each of my friends thought I had landed under the care of the other; while one had my dog and the other my portmanteau. I received their fervent "cead-mille-failthe" with cold politeness, and trod with feelings of disgust on the dear little green shamrocks that I now prize so fondly.
We went to the hotel, and Mr. D—— proposed my retiring to a chamber until the coach started; but my empty purse would not allow of that, so I said I preferred sitting where I was. Refreshments were ordered; but though in a state of ravenous hunger, I steadily refused to touch them, for I would not have allowed another person to pay for me, and was resolved to conceal my loss as long as I could. I was excused, on the presumption of a qualmishness resulting from the tossing of the ship; and most melancholy, most forlorn were the feelings with which I watched through the large window the fading moonbeams and the dawning day. To my unspeakable joy, the two gentlemen proposed taking a postchaise with me to Dublin, the expense being no more and the comfort much greater than going by coach; and having requested Mr. F—— to keep an exact account of my share in the charges, I took my seat beside them with a far lighter heart; my dog being on the footboard in front of the carriage.
Away we drove, our horses being young, fresh, and in high condition. It was a glorious morning, and vainly did I strive not to admire the scenery, as one after another of the beautiful villas that adorn the Howth road gleamed out in the snowy whiteness that characterizes the houses there, generally embosomed in trees and surrounded by gardens on the rising grounds. We were descending the hilly road very rapidly, when by some means the horses took fright, and broke into a full-gallop, crossing and re-crossing the road in a fearful manner. The driver was thrown on the footboard, poor Tajo hung by his chain against the horses' legs, and our situation was most critical. I had suffered from one upset in America, and resolved not to encounter another; so quietly gathering my long riding-habit about me with one hand, and putting the other out at the window, I opened the door, and with one active spring flung myself out. You know the extreme peril, the almost certain destruction of such a leap from a carriage at full speed; I did not, or certainly I would not have taken it. However, at that very instant of time, the horses made a dead stop, and the chaise remained stationary only a few paces in advance of me.
Was not the hand of God here? Oh, surely it was, in the most marked and wonderful manner. No cause could be assigned for the arrest of the animals; the driver had lost the reins, and no one was near. I had fallen flat on the road-side, just grazing my gloves with the gravel and getting a good mouthful of the soil, with which my face was brought into involuntary contact. In a moment I sprung to my feet, and blowing it out, exclaimed with a laugh, "Oh well, I suppose I am to love this country after all, for I have kissed it in spite of me." I then ran to help my dog out of his disagreeable state of suspension, and returned to my friends, who were frightened and angry too, and who refused to let me into the chaise unless I positively promised not to jump out any more. To shorten the tale, I reached the Hibernian hotel, where my husband was, seized some money, and paid my expenses without any one having discovered that I was a complete bankrupt up to that minute.
I have been very prolix here; for I cannot overlook a single incident connected with this eventful journey. Never did any one less anticipate a blessing or look for happiness than I in visiting Ireland. I cannot enter into more particulars, because it would involve the names of friends who might not wish to figure in print; but if these pages ever meet the eyes of any who gave me the first day's welcome in Dublin, let them be assured that the remembrance of their tender kindness, the glowing warmth of their open hospitality, and their solicitude to make the poor stranger happy among them, broke through the ice of a heart that had frozen itself up in most unnatural reserve, and gave life to the first pulse that played within it of the love that soon pervaded its every vein—the love of dear, generous Ireland.
My first journey into the interior was to the King's county, where I passed some weeks in a house most curiously situated, with an open prospect of ten miles pure bog in front of it. Being newly built, nothing had yet had time to grow; but its owner, one of the most delightful old gentlemen I ever met with, had spared no cost to render it commodious and handsome. He was a fine specimen of the hospitable Irish gentleman, and took great pleasure in bringing me acquainted with the customs of a people and the features of a place so new to me. Indeed it was my first introduction to what was really Irish, for Dublin is too much of a capital to afford many specimens of distinct nationality. On that great festival of the peasantry, St. John's eve, Mr. C—— resolved on giving his tenants and neighbors a treat that should also enlighten me on one of their most singular relics of paganism. It is the custom at sunset on that evening to kindle numerous immense fires throughout the country, built like our bonfires to a great height, the pile being composed of turf, bog-wood, and such other combustibles as they can gather. The turf yields a steady, substantial body of fire, the bog-wood a most brilliant flame; and the effect of these great beacons blazing on every hill, sending up volumes of smoke from every point of the horizon, is very remarkable. Ours was a magnificent one, being provided by the landlord as a compliment to his people, and was built on the lawn, as close beside the house as safety would admit. Early in the evening the peasants began to assemble, all habited in their best array, glowing with health, every countenance full of that sparkling animation and excess of enjoyment that characterizes the enthusiastic people of the land. I had never seen anything resembling it, and was exceedingly delighted with their handsome, intelligent, merry faces; the bold bearing of the men, and the playful but really modest deportment of the maidens; the vivacity of the aged people, and the wild glee of the children. The fire being kindled, a splendid blaze shot up, and for a while they stood contemplating it, with faces strangely disfigured by the peculiar light first emitted when bog-wood is thrown on; after a short pause, the ground was cleared in front of an old blind piper, the very beau ideal of energy, drollery, and shrewdness, who, seated on a low chair, with a well-replenished jug within his reach, screwed his pipes to the liveliest tunes, and the endless jig began.
An Irish jig is interminable, so long as the party holds together; for when one of the dancers becomes fatigued, a fresh individual is ready to step into the vacated place quick as thought, so that the other does not pause, until in like manner obliged to give place to a successor. They continue footing it, and setting to one another, occasionally moving in a figure, and changing places with extraordinary rapidity, spirit, and grace. Few indeed among even the very lowest of the most impoverished class have grown into youth without obtaining some lessons in dancing from the travelling dancing-masters of their district; and certainly, in the way they use it, many would be disposed to grant a dispensation to the young peasant, which they would withhold from the young peer. It is, however, sadly abused among them, to Sabbath-breakings, revellings, and the most immoral scenes, where they are congregated and kept together under its influence; and the same scene enacted a year afterwards would have awoke in my mind very different feelings from those with which I regarded this first spectacle of Irish hilarity, when I could hardly be restrained by the laughing remonstrances of "the quality" from throwing myself into the midst of the joyous group and dancing with them.
But something was to follow that puzzled me not a little; when the fire had burned for some hours and got low, an indispensable part of the ceremony commenced. Every one present of the peasantry passed through it, and several children were thrown across the sparkling embers; while a wooden frame of some eight feet long, with a horse's head fixed to one end and a large white sheet thrown over it, concealing the wood and the man on whose head it was carried, made its appearance. This was greeted with load shouts as the "white horse;" and having been safely carried by the skill of its bearer several times through the fire with a bold leap, it pursued the people, who ran screaming and laughing in every direction. I asked what the horse was meant for, and was told it represented all cattle. Here was the old pagan worship of Baal, if not of Moloch too, carried on openly and universally in the heart of a nominally Christian country, and by millions professing the Christian name. I was confounded, for I did not then know that Popery is only a crafty adaptation of pagan idolatries to its own scheme; and while I looked upon the now wildly excited people with their children, and in a figure all their cattle, passing again and again through the fire, I almost questioned in my own mind the lawfulness of the spectacle, considered in the light that the Bible must, even to the natural heart, exhibit it in to those who confess the true God. There was no one to whom I could breathe such thoughts, and they soon faded from my mind: not so the impression made on it by this fair specimen of a population whom I had long classed with the savage inhabitants of barbarous lands, picturing them to myself as dark, ferocious, discontented, and malignant. That such was the reverse of their natural character I now began to feel convinced; and from that evening my heart gradually warmed towards a race whom I found to be frank, warm, and affectionate, beyond any I had ever met with.
My interest in them, however, was soon to be placed on another and a firmer basis. I took up my permanent abode in a neighboring county; and within six months after that celebration of St. John's eve, I experienced the mighty power of God in a way truly marvellous. Great and marvellous are all his works, in creating, in sustaining, in governing this world of wonderful creatures; but Oh, how surpassingly marvellous and great in redeeming lost sinners, in taking away the heart of stone and giving a heart of flesh, and making his people willing in the day of his power! I have carefully abstained from any particulars respecting myself that could either cast a reproach on the dead or give pain to the living; I shall do so still, and merely remark, that as far as this world was concerned, my lot had no happiness mingled in it, and that my only solace under many grievous trials consisted in two things: one was a careful concealment of whatever might subject my proud spirit to the mortification of being pitied when I desired rather to be envied; and the other a confident assurance, that in suffering afflictions silently, unresistingly, and uncomplainingly, I was making God my debtor to a large amount. What desperate wickedness of a deceived and deceitful heart was this! The very thing in which I so arrogantly vaunted myself before God was the direct result of personal pride, in itself a great sin; and thus I truly gloried in my shame. I never looked beyond the rod to Him who had appointed it; but satisfying myself that I had not merited from man any severity, my demerits at the hand of the Most High were wholly put out of the calculation. Thus, of course, every stroke drove me further from the only Rock of refuge, and deeper into the fastness of my own vain conceits. Added to this, I was wholly shut out from all the ordinary means by which the Lord usually calls sinners to himself. There was no gospel ministry then within my reach; nor could I, if it were provided, have profited by it, owing to my infirmity, (deafness.) Into Christian society I had never entered, nor had the least glimmer of spiritual light shone into my mind. My religion was that of the Pharisee, and my addresses to God included, like his, an acknowledgment that it was by divine favor I was so much better than my neighbors. Reality had so far chased away romance, that my old favorite authors had little power to charm me; and the hollowness of my affected gayety and ease made society a very sickening thing. * * *
At the time I am now to speak of, I was living in perfect seclusion, and uninterrupted solitude. Captain —— was always in Dublin, and my chief occupation was in hunting out, and transcribing and arranging matter for the professional gentlemen conducting the lawsuit, from a mass of confused family papers and documents. Our property consisted of a large number of poor cabins with their adjoining land, forming a complete street on the outskirts of the town, which was greatly in arrear to the head landlords, and a periodical "distress" took place. On these occasions a keeper was set over the property, some legal papers were served, and the household goods—consisting of iron kettles, wooden stools, broken tables, a ragged blanket or two, and the little store of potatoes, the sole support of the wretched inhabitants—were brought out, piled in a long row down the street, and "canted," that is, put up to sale, for the payment of perhaps one or two per cent. of the arrears. This horrified me beyond measure: I was ashamed to be seen among the people who were called our tenants, though this proceeding did not emanate from their immediate landlord; and every thing combined to render the seclusion of my own garden more congenial to me than any wider range.
It was then that I came to the resolution of being a perfect devotee in religion: I thought myself marvellously good; but something of monastic mania seized me. I determined to emulate the recluses of whom I had often read; to become a sort of Protestant nun; and to fancy my garden, with its high stone-walls and little thicket of apple-trees, a convent enclosure. I also settled it with myself to pray three or four times every day, instead of twice; and with great alacrity entered upon this new routine of devotion.
Here God met and arrested me. When I kneeled down to pray, the strangest alarms took hold of my mind. He to whom I had been accustomed to prate with flippant volubility in a set form of heartless words, seemed to my startled mind so exceedingly terrible in unapproachable majesty, and so very angry with me in particular, that I became paralyzed with fear. I strove against this with characteristic pertinacity; I called to mind all the commonplace assurances respecting the sufficiency of a good intention, and magnified alike my doings and my sufferings. I persuaded myself it was only a holy awe, the effect of distinguished piety and rare humility, and that I was really an object of the divine complacency in no ordinary degree. Again I essayed to pray, but in vain; I dared not. Then I attributed it to a nervous state of feeling that would wear away by a little abstraction from the subject; but this would not do. To leave off praying was impossible, yet to pray seemed equally so. I well remember that the character in which I chiefly viewed the Lord God was that of an Avenger, going forth to smite the first-born of Egypt; and I somehow identified myself with the condemned number. Often, after kneeling a long time, I have laid my face upon my arms, and wept most bitterly, because I could not, dared not pray.
It was not in my nature to be driven back easily from any path I had entered on; and here the Lord wrought on me to persevere resolutely. I began to examine myself, in order to discover why I was afraid; and taking as my rule the ten commandments, I found myself sadly deficient on some points. The tenth affected me as it never had done before. "I had not known lust," because I had not understood the law when it said, "Thou shalt not covet." A casual glance at the declaration of St. James, "Whosoever shall keep the whole law, yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all," alarmed me exceedingly; and on a sudden it occurred to me that not only the ten commandments, but all the precepts of the New Testament, were binding on a Christian; and I trembled more than ever.
What was to be done? To reform myself, certainly, and become obedient to the whole law. Accordingly I went to work, transcribed all the commands that I felt myself most in the habit of neglecting, and pinned up a dozen or two texts around my room. It required no small effort to enter this apartment and walk round it, reading my mementos. That active schoolmaster, the law, had got me fairly under his rod, and dreadful were the writhings of the convicted culprit, I soon, however, took down my texts, fearing lest some one else might see them, and not knowing they were for myself, be exasperated. I then made a little hook, wrote down a list of offences, and commenced making a dot over against each, whenever I detected myself in the commission of one. I had become very watchful over my thoughts, and was honest in recording all evil; so my book became a mass of black dots; and the reflection that occurred to me of omissions being sins too, completed the panic of my mind. I flung away my book into the fire, and myself into an abyss of gloomy despair.
How long this miserable state of mind lasted, I do not exactly remember; I think about two weeks. I could not pray. I dared not read the Bible, it bore so very hard upon me. Outwardly, I was calm and even cheerful, but within reigned the very blackness of darkness. Death, with which I had so often sported, appeared in my eyes so terrible, that the slightest feeling of illness filled my soul with dismay. I saw no way of escape: I had God's perfect law before my eyes, and a full conviction of my own past sinfulness and present helplessness, leaving me wholly without hope. Hitherto I had never known a day's illness for years; one of God's rich mercies to me consisted in uninterrupted health, and a wonderful freedom from all nervous affections. I knew almost as little of the sensation of a headache as I did of that of tight-lacing; and now a violent cold, with sore throat, aggravated into fever by the state of my mind, completely prostrated me. I laid myself down on the sofa one morning and waited to see how my earthly miseries would terminate; too well knowing what must follow the close of a sinner's life.
I had not lain long, when a neighbor hearing I was ill, sent me some books just received from Dublin, as a loan, hoping I might find some amusement in them. Listlessly, wretchedly, mechanically, I opened one; it was the memoir of a departed son, written by his father. I read a page describing the approach of death, and was arrested by the youth's expressions of self-condemnation, his humble acknowledgment of having deserved at the Lord's hand nothing but eternal death. "Ah, poor fellow," said I, "he was like me. How dreadful his end must have been; I will see what he said at last, when on the very brink of the bottomless pit." I resumed the book, and found him in continuation glorifying God that though he was so guilty and so vile, there was ONE able to save to the uttermost, who had borne his sins, satisfied divine justice for him, opened the gates of heaven, and now waited to receive his ransomed soul.
The book dropped from my hands. "O, what is this? This is what I want: this would save me. Who did this for him? Jesus Christ, certainly; and it must be written in the New Testament." I tried to jump up and reach my Bible, but was overpowered by the emotion of my mind. I clasped my hands over my eyes, and then the blessed effects of having even a literal knowledge of scripture were apparent. Memory brought before me, as the Holy Spirit directed it, not here and there a detached text, but whole chapters, as they had long been committed to its safe but hitherto unprofitable keeping. The veil was removed from my heart, and Jesus Christ, as the Alpha and Omega, the sum and substance of every thing, shone out upon me just as he is set forth in the everlasting gospel. It was the same as if I had been reading, because I knew it so well by rote, only much more rapid, as thought always is. In this there was nothing uncommon; but in the opening of the understanding, that I might UNDERSTAND the scriptures, was the mighty miracle of grace and truth. There I lay, still as death, my hands still folded over nay eyes, my very soul basking in the pure, calm, holy light, that streamed into it through the appointed channel of God's word. Rapture was not what I felt; excitement, enthusiasm, agitation, there was none. I was like a person long enclosed in a dark dungeon, the walls of which had now fallen down, and I looked round on a sunny landscape of calm and glorious beauty. I well remember that the Lord Jesus, in the character of a shepherd, of a star, and above all, as the pearl of great price, seemed revealed to me most beautifully: that he could save every body I at once saw; that he would save me, never even took the form of a question. Those who have received the gospel by man's preaching may doubt and cavil; I took it simply from the Bible, in the words that God's wisdom teacheth, and thus I argued: "Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners: I am a sinner; I want to be saved: he will save me." There is no presumption in taking God at his word: not to do so is very impertinent: I did it, and I was happy.
After some time I rose from the sofa, and walked about. My feelings were delicious. I had found HIM of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets did write; I had found the very Paschal Lamb whose blood would be my safeguard from the destroying angel. Oh, how delicious was that particular thought to me. It was one of the first that occurred, and I laughed with gladness. Indeed my feeling was very joyous, and I only wanted somebody to tell it to. I had two servants, one a young woman, the other a little girl, both papists, both loving me with Irish warmth. They were delighted to see me so well and happy on a sudden; and in the evening I bade them come to my room, for I was going to read a beautiful book, and would read it aloud. I began the gospel of St. Matthew, and read nine chapters to them, their wonder and delight increasing my joy. Whenever I proposed leaving off, they begged for more; and only for my poor throat, I think we should have gone on till day. I prayed with them, and what a night's rest I had! Sleep so sweet, a waking so happy, and a joy so unclouded through the day, what but the gospel could bestow? Few, very few, have been so left alone as I was with the infallible teaching of God the Holy Ghost by means of the written word, for many weeks, and so to get a thorough knowledge of the great doctrines of salvation, unclouded by man's vain wisdom. I knew not that in the world there were any who had made the same discovery with myself. Of all schemes of doctrine I was wholly ignorant, and the only system of theology open to me was God's own. All the faculties of my mind were roused and brightened for the work. I prayed, without ceasing, for divine instruction; and took, without cavilling, what was vouchsafed. On this subject I must enter more largely, for it is one of immense importance.
I am standing before you now in the character of one who, having been brought under conviction of sin into utter self-despair, had found in Christ Jesus a refuge from the storm of God's anger. I felt myself safe in him; but as the revelation which God had made to man was not confined to the sole point of a satisfaction for the sins of men, I felt it my bounden duty to search for all that the Most High had seen good to acquaint his people with. At the same time I found myself a member of a church calling itself Christian; but I too had called myself a Christian, while as yet wholly ignorant of Christ, therefore I could not depend upon a name. I knew that there were other churches, each putting in a claim to a higher and purer standard than its neighbors, and it behooved me to know which of them all was in the right, I had no books of a religious character—not one; no clergyman among my acquaintance, no means of inquiry, save as regarded my own church, whose Liturgy and Articles lay before me. I resolved to bring them first to the test of scripture, and if they failed, to look out for a better.
How I commenced the work and pursued it, I need not state. I tried every thing, as well as I could, by the Bible; and my satisfaction was great to find the purest, clearest strain of evangelical truth breathing through the book which I had used all my life long, as I did the Bible, without entering into its real meaning. How I could possibly escape seeing the doctrines of faith, regeneration, and the rest of God's revelation in them both, was strange to me; but I understood that the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, and mourned over the darkness that I supposed universal.
I found it distinctly stated by our Lord, that "except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God;" and this served as a key to many passages in the epistles and other parts of scripture illustrative of the same solemn truth. I had never understood, never thought of this. Did my church hold it? Yes; it was not only laid down as a fundamental doctrine in her Articles, but constantly put into the mouths of her congregation, either expressed or clearly implied. Again, I found that not by works but by faith I was to be justified before God; and this also ran through the prayer-book, with unvarying distinctness; though with that book in my hand and its contents on my lips I had been hitherto attempting to scale heaven by a ladder of my own forming.
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The Athanasian creed brought to my recollection a circumstance that had occurred a few years before, the importance of which had never been known to me until I was brought acquainted with the saving truths of the gospel. I now looked back upon it with trembling joy and gratitude to him who had preserved me from a snare into which the pride of intellect, joined to spiritual ignorance, would have been sure to lead me, but for the watchful care of my heavenly Father, still working by means of my blind but sincere reverence for his word. In my native town, Socinianism flourished to a fearful extent; it has long been a very hotbed of that fatal heresy, the holders of which are found among many leading characters of wealth, influence, and high attainments. I knew no more of it than that it was one of the many forms of dissent with which I had nothing to do. I was acquainted with several of its disciples; but as religion formed no part of our social intercourse, its peculiarities were wholly unknown to me.
Not long before my trip to America I had been staying in Norwich, in the same house with a most clever, intelligent, and amiable woman, of whom I was very fond. I knew her to be a dissenter, and that was all. One evening she drew me into a conversation, the commencement of which I forget, but it soon arrived at a denial, on her part, of the Godhead of Christ, which exceedingly astonished me, for I never supposed that could be called in question. I ran for the Bible, saying, I would soon show her it was not to be disputed; and she in return asserted that I could not prove it out of the inspired scriptures. After pondering for a while, I recollected the first chapter of Revelation, which, for its sublimity, I ranked among the highest of my poetical gems, and that it unequivocally proclaimed the divinity of our glorious Lord. I opened at it, on which she burst into a laugh, saying, "You are not so weak as to fancy that book of riddles any part of God's word!" "Why it is in the Bible, you see," replied I, half indignantly. "And who put it there? Come, you are a person of too much sense to believe that the binding up of certain leaves between the two covers of the Bible makes them a part of it. You must exercise the reason that God has given you, and in so doing you will discover so many interpolations and deceptions in that version of yours, that you will be glad to find a more accurate one."
She continued in the same strain for some time. I was greatly agitated; I closed the great Bible, and leaning on it with folded arms, my heart beating violently against the bright red cover, I gave heed to all she said. My love of novelty, passion for investigation, and the metaphysical turn that had sometimes made my father quite uneasy about me, when he saw me at eight years old poring over abstruse reasonings with the zest of an old philosopher, were all in her favor. I felt as if the foundation of my faith was giving way, and I was being launched on a sea of strange uncertainty. When she concluded, I laid my forehead on the book in most deep and anxious thought. I did not pray: God was found of one who sought him not, for surely he alone dictated my answer. I started up, and with the greatest vivacity said, "Mrs. ——, if you can persuade me that the book of Revelation is not inspired, another person may do the same with regard to the book of Genesis, and so of all that lie between them, till the whole Bible is taken away from me. That will never do; I cannot part with my dear Bible. I believe it all, every word of it, and I am sure I should be miserable if I did not." Then, kissing the precious volume with the affection one feels for what is in danger of being lost to us, I carried it back to its shelf, and declined any further discussion on the subject. She told some one else she was sure of having me yet; but the good providence of God interposed to remove me from the scene of danger.
That metaphysical turn I omitted to mention among my early snares; my father checked it, although it was a great hobby of his own. He had seen its fearful abuse in the origin of the French revolution, and regarded it as one of the evil spirits of the age. I recollect the mixture of mirth and vexation depicted in his face one morning, when on his remarking that I did not look well and inquiring if any thing ailed me, I replied, "No, but I could not get any sleep."
"What prevented your sleeping?"
"I was thinking, papa, of 'Cogito, ergo sum'—'I think, therefore I exist'—and I lay awake, trying to find out all about it."
"'Cogito, ergo sum!'" repeated my father, laughing and frowning at the same time; "what will you be at twenty, if you dabble in metaphysics before you are ten? Come, I must set you to study Euclid; that will sober your wild head a little." I took the book with great glee, delighted to have a new field of inquiry, but soon threw it aside. Mathematics and I could never agree. Speculative and imaginative in an extraordinary degree, carrying much sail with scarcely any ballast, what but the ever watchful care of Him who sitteth upon the circle of the earth could have preserved from fatal wrecking a vessel so frail, while yet without pilot, helm, or chart?
It was the recollection of my short encounter with the Socinian that satisfied me respecting the Athanasian creed. I felt that had I taken up its bold assertions and established every one of them, as now I did, by scripture, no sophistry could have staggered my faith, though it had been but a reasoning, not a saving faith, in that high doctrine of the coexistent, coequal Trinity. I did not then know—for of all church history I was ignorant—that its original object was not so much to establish a truth, as to detect and defeat a falsehood. The damnatory clauses, as they are called, did not startle me. I saw clearly the fact that God had made a revelation of himself to man, which revelation man was not at liberty to receive or to reject, and as without faith it is impossible to please God, and that alone is faith which implicitly believes the record that he hath given of his Son, the deductions in question were perfectly fair and orthodox. I frequently wondered, when subsequently brought into the arena of various controversies, at the ease with which, aided by the Bible alone, I settled so many disputed points; and as it really was by the Bible I settled them, man's teaching has never yet on any subject altered my views. * * *
Whether it be regarded as presumptuous or not, I must thankfully avow that during the weeks when I was left alone with my Bible, I obtained a view of the whole scheme of redemption and God's dealings with man, which to this hour I have never found reason to alter in any one respect, save as greater light has continually broken in on each branch of the subject, strengthening, not changing those views. You will see in the progress of my sketch, how complete a bulwark against error in numberless shapes I have found in this simple adherence to the plain word of truth—this habit of bringing every proposition "to the law and to the testimony;" fully persuaded that "if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them."
I now proceed to an interesting epoch in my life: the commencement of my literary labors in the Lord's cause. It marks very strongly the overruling hand of Him who was working all things after the counsel of his own will; and I will give it you without curtailment, together with my introduction, through it to the Christian community of the land.
My life, as I told you, was solitary and retired; my time chiefly passed in writing out documentary matters for the lawyers. The circumstance of my using the pen so incessantly became known, and I was looked on as a literary recluse. One day a lady personally unknown to me, but whose indefatigable zeal was always seeking the good of others, sent me a parcel of tracts. With equal wonder and delight I opened one of them, a simple, spiritual little production; and the next that I took up was an inducement to distribute tracts among the poor. From this I learned that some excellent people were engaged in a work quite new to me; and, with a sigh, I wished I had the means of contributing to their funds. Presently the thought flashed upon me, "Since I cannot give them money, may I not write something to be useful in the same way?" I had just then no work before me, and a long winter evening at command. I ordered large candles, told the servants not to interrupt me, and sat down to my novel task. I began about seven o'clock, and wrote till three in the morning; when I found I had produced a complete little story, in the progress of which I had been enabled so to set forth the truth as it is in Jesus, that on reading it over I was amazed at the statement I had made of scriptural truth, and sunk on my knees in thankfulness to God. Next morning I awoke full of joy, but much puzzled as to what I should do with my tract. At length, in the simplicity of my heart, I resolved to send it to the bishop of Norwich, and busied myself at the breakfast- table in computing how many franks it would fill. While thus employed, a note was put into my hands from Miss D——, apologizing for the liberty taken, saying she had sent me, the day before, some tracts, and as she heard I was much occupied with the pen, it had occurred to her that I might be led to write something myself; in the possibility of which she now enclosed the address of the secretary to the Dublin Tract Society, to whom such aid would be most welcome.
I was absolutely awe-struck by this very striking incident. I saw in it a gracious acceptance of my freewill offering at His hands to whom it had been prayerfully dedicated; and in two hours the manuscript was on its way to Dublin, with a very simple letter to the secretary. A cordial answer, commendatory of my tract and earnestly entreating a continuance of such aid, soon reached me, with some remarks and questions that required a fuller communication of my circumstances and feelings. He had recommended frequent intercourse with the peasantry, of whose habits and modes of expression I was evidently ignorant, and I then mentioned my loss of hearing as a bar to this branch of usefulness, His rejoinder was the overflowing of a truly Christian heart, very much touched by an artless account of the Lord's dealings with me; and greatly did my spirit rejoice at having found a brother in the faith thus to cheer and strengthen me.
But alas, a few days afterwards, Miss D——, whom I had still never seen, wrote to apprize me that this excellent man had ruptured a blood- vessel and was dying. Still he did not forget me, but after lingering for some weeks, on his death-bed commended me to the friendship of his brother, who from that period proved a true and valuable helper to me.
Meanwhile I was beginning to take a view of popery, under the light of the gospel. As yet, I knew nothing of it spiritually; and my retired life kept me from observing how it worked among the poor people around. My attention was first directed to it by a conversation with the younger of my two servants; she slept in my apartment, and I remarked that while kneeling at her devotions she not only uttered them with amazing rapidity, but carried on all the while the operation of undressing, with perfect inattention to what she was saying. I asked her the purport of her prayers; she told me she said the "Our Father," and then the "Hail Mary:" at my request she repeated the latter, and I gave her a gentle lecture on the irreverence of chattering to God so volubly, and of employing herself about her clothes at the same time; adding that she should be devout, deliberate, and quiet while speaking to God; but as for the Virgin Mary it was no matter how she addressed her, if address her she would, for being only a dead woman she could know nothing about it. This, I am ashamed to say, was the extent of my actual protest at that time. The girl took it all very readily, and ever after, during her address to God, she knelt with her hands joined, repeating the words slowly and seriously; but the moment she commenced the "Hail Mary," to make up for lost time she prattled it so rapidly, and tore open the fastenings of her dress with such bustling speed, that I could scarcely refrain from laughing. A little reflection, however, convinced me it was an act of idolatry, and no laughing matter; and from that time I inquired as deeply as I could into their faith and practice; constantly showing them from the scriptures how contrary their religion was to that of the gospel. Still it was but a very partial and superficial view that I could as yet obtain of the great mystery of iniquity through these ignorant and thoughtless girls; and to this must be attributed my sad failure in not warning them more distinctly to come out of Babylon. I rather tried to patch up the old, decayed, tattered garment with the new piece of the gospel, as many more have done; and so made the rent worse, instead of replacing the vile article with one of God's providing.
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When that excellent man, Mr. D——, was committed to the grave, his younger brother visited me on his way back to Dublin. That interview I shall never forget; he talked to me out of the overflowings of a heart devoted to Christ, and left me pining for more extended enjoyment of Christian society. I was not long ungratified; within three days an unexpected summons took me to Dublin, and on the very evening of my arrival Mr. D—— introduced me to a party of about thirty pious friends, assembled to meet a missionary just returned from Russia. Remember these were the frank, unrestrained, warmhearted Irish, of all people the most ready at expressing their zealous and generous feelings; and imagine, if you can, my enjoyment, after such a long season of comparative loneliness, when they came about me with the affectionate welcome that none can utter and look so eloquently as they can. I thought it a foretaste of heavenly blessedness; and yet I often longed for those seasons when I had none but my God to commune with, and poured out to him all that now I found it delightful to utter to my fellow- creatures. Then, my tabernacle was indeed pitched in the wilderness, and the candle of the Lord shone brightly upon it; now, the blending of many inferior lights distracted my mind from its one object of contemplation, and broke the harmony that was so sweet in its singleness.