On our arrival in Moscow a change had taken place in my views of things. My sentiment of reverence for Grandmamma had changed to one of sympathy. As she covered my cheeks with kisses I realised that each kiss expressed the thought "She is gone; I shall never see her more." Papa had very little to do with us in Moscow, coming to us only at dinner time, and lost much in my eyes, with his ostentatious dress, his stewards, his clerks, and his hunting and business expeditions.
Between us and the girls also an invisible barrier seemed to rise. We were proud of our trousers and straps, and they of their petticoats, which increased in length. Their showier Sunday dress made it manifest that we were no longer in the country. But soon commenced a period of my life of which it is difficult to trace a record. Rarely during memories of it do I find moments of the genuine warmth of feeling which so frequently illumined the earliest years of my life.
Vivid is the recollection of Volodya's entrance at the university. He was barely two years my senior in age. The day of his first examination arrived, and he presented a handsome appearance in his blue uniform with brass buttons and lacquered boots. The examination lasted ten days, and Volodya, having passed brilliantly, returned on the last day no longer in blue coat and grey cap, but in student uniform, with blue embroidered collar, three-cornered hat, and a gilt dagger by his side. Joy and excitement reigned in the whole household. For the first time since Mamma's death, Grandmamma drank champagne, and weeps with joy as she looks at Volodya, who henceforth rode in his own equipage, receives friends in his own rooms, smokes tobacco, goes to balls.
But soon another incident happened which is engraven on memory. The dear old Grandmamma was growing daily weaker, and one morning the announcement thrilled us that she was dead. Again, the house was full of mourning. In a few months I should be preparing to enter the university. I was by degrees emerging from my boyish moods, with the exception of one—a tendency to metaphysical dreaminess, which was fated to do me much injury in after years.
At this period an intimacy commenced between me and a very remarkable man, Prince Dmitri Nekhliudoff. He was a tall and commanding figure, with an extraordinary intellect. Whenever he found me alone, we seated ourselves in some secluded corner and found mutual delight in metaphysical discussions. With ecstasy in those moments I soared higher and higher into the realms of thought. This strange friendship grew. We agreed to confess everything to each other, and thus we should really know each other and not be ashamed; but, in order that we should not be in any fear of strangers, we vowed never to say anything to anybody else about each other. And we kept the vow. As may be imagined, the influence of my friend over me was greater than mine over him. I adopted his fervent ideas, which included lofty aspirations for the reformation of all mankind.
I was nearly sixteen, and from that time I date the beginning of youth. Under various professors I studied, though by no means willingly, to prepare for the university. At length, on April 16, I went for the first time to the great hall of the university. For the first time in my life I wore a dress coat. The bright hall was filled with a brilliant crowd of hundreds of young men in gymnasium costumes and dress coats, stately professors moving freely about among the tables. On that day I was examined in history and answered questions in Russian history in brilliant style, for I knew the subject well. I received five marks. Similar success rewarded my efforts at the examination in mathematics, for the professor told me I had answered even better than was required, and on this occasion I received five points.
Everything went splendidly till I came to the Latin examination. The Latin professor was spoken of in accents of terror, for he had the reputation of taking a fierce delight in plucking candidates. My success so far had made me feel proudly confident, and as I could translate Cicero and Horace without the lexicon and was proficient in Zumpt's Grammar, I thought I might equal the rest. But not so. The professor amicably passed one of my young acquaintances, although the youth was palpably deficient in his answers. I afterwards learned that he was the student's protector.
When my turn came, immediately afterwards, the professor turned on me in truly savage demeanour. "That is not it; that is not it at all," exclaimed he. "This is not the way to prepare for higher education. You only want to wear the uniform and to boast of being first."
The demeanour of this professor so affected me that my confusion was complete. I only received two marks, and the injustice so depressed me that I lost all ambition and allowed the remaining examinations to proceed without making any effort. I made up my mind that it was unwise to aim at being first, and I resolved to adhere to this sentiment in the university.
My father married again. He was forty-eight when he took Avdotya Epifanova as his second wife. She was a beautiful woman, whom Mamma used to call Dunitchka. But I had suspected nothing until Papa actually announced to us that he was going to marry her. The wedding was to take place in a fortnight. I and Volodya returned to Moscow at the beginning of September, and on the following day I went to the university for my first lecture.
It was a magnificent, sunny day, and as I entered the auditorium I felt lost in the throng of gay youths flitting about through the doors and among the corridors. Belonging to no particular group I felt isolated, and then even angry, and I remember in my heart that this first day was a dismal occasion for me. I looked at the professor with an ironical feeling, for he commenced his lecture with an introduction which, to my mind, was without sense. I decided at this first lecture that there was no need to write down everything that each professor said, and to this principle I adhered.
Though during my course I made many pleasant acquaintances, and so felt less isolated than at first, I indulged in little real comradeship. But during the winter my attention was much engrossed with affairs of the heart, for I was in love three times. Yet I was overwhelmed with shyness, fearing that my love should be discovered by its object. With two of the young ladies, indeed, I had already been in love previously. Of one of them I was now enamoured for the third time. But I knew that Volodya also regarded her with passionate ecstasy. I felt that it would certainly not be agreeable to him to learn that two brothers were in love with the same young woman.
Therefore I said nothing to him of my love. But great satisfaction was afforded to my mind by the fact that our love was so pure, and that each would be ready, if needful, to make a sacrifice for the sake of the other. But that self-abnegation did not, after all, extend to Volodya, for when he heard that a certain diplomat was to marry the girl, he was disposed to slap his face and to challenge him to a duel. It happened that I had only spoken once to the young lady, and my love passed away in a week, as I made no effort to perpetuate it.
During that winter I was quite disenchanted with the social pleasures to which I had looked forward when I entered the university, in imitation of my brother Volodya. He danced a great deal, and Papa also went with his young wife to balls. But at the first one which I attended I was so shy that I declined the invitation of the Princess Kornakova to dance, declaring that I did not dance, though I had come to her evening party with the express intention of dancing a great deal. I remained silently in one place the whole evening.
Avdotya's passionate love for Papa was evident in every word, look, and action. We were always hypocritically polite to her, called her chere maman, and noted that at first she was fond of calling herself stepmother, and that she plainly felt the unpleasantness of her position. Her disposition was very amiable and she was in no way exacting.
My first examination at length arrived. It was on differential and integral calculus. I was indifferent and abstracted, but a feeling of some dread passed over me when the same young professor who had questioned me at the entrance examination looked me in the face. I answered so badly that he looked at me compassionately, and said quietly but firmly that as I should not pass in the second class I had better not present myself for examination. I went home and remained weeping in my room for three days over my failure. I even looked out my pistols, in order that they might be at hand if I should feel a wish to shoot myself. Finally, I saw my father and begged him to permit me to enter the hussars, or to go to the Caucasus.
Though he was not pleased, yet, when he saw how deep was my grief he sought to comfort me by saying that it was not so very bad, and that arrangements might be made for a different course of study. After a few days I became composed, but did not leave the house till we departed for the country. I may some day relate the sequel in the happier half of my youth.
[Tolstoy has never published the continuation, but it is generally considered that he represents himself in Constantine Levin, the hero of the greatest of his stories, and that thus we gain an insight into his mature thoughts.]
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Count Lyof N. Tolstoy in writing this work expressed himself in such independent terms that it could not be published in Russia, but was issued in Geneva in 1888, by the firm of Elpidine, who had printed in 1886 his "What is my Life," and in 1892 brought out his "Walk in the Light." The books thus issued in the original Russian version outside of the famous author's native land are all purely spiritual, and are written in the most elevated tone. But Tolstoy's mode of interpreting the Scriptures is not approved by the Holy Synod of the Eastern Orthodox Church, or Russo-Greek Communion, and thus most of his treatises which come within the strictly religious category are classed amongst the "Forbidden Books" of modern Russian literature. In this "Confession" Tolstoy emphatically strikes the keynote which is the motif of all his didactic writings. It is an affirmation of the principle that the pure spirit of religion, apart from external dogma, is the really precious factor of life. He follows the same strain in his "What I Believe," and his "Christianity of Christ." The following synopsis is translated and summarised from the original Russian.
I.—Evil Early Years
Though reared in the faith of the Orthodox Eastern, or Russo-Greek Church, I had by the time when, at the age of eighteen, I left the university ceased to believe what I had been taught. My faith could never have been well grounded in conviction. I not only ceased to pray, but also to attend the services and to fast. Without denying the existence of God, yet I cherished no ideas either as to the nature of God or the teaching of Christ.
I found that my wish to become a good and virtuous man, whenever the aspiration was in any way expressed, simply exposed me to ridicule; while I instantly gained praise for any vicious behaviour. Even my excellent aunt declared that she wished two things for me. One was that I should form a liaison with some married lady; the other that I should become an adjutant to the Tsar.
I look back with horror on the years of my young manhood, for I was guilty of slaying men in battle, of gambling, of riotous squandering of substance gained by the toil of serfs, of deceit, and of profligacy. That course of life lasted ten years. Then I took to writing, but the motive was grovelling, for I aimed at gaining money and flattery.
My aims were gratified, for, coming to St. Petersburg at the age of 26, I secured the flattering reception I had coveted from the authors most in repute. The war, about which I had written much from the field of conflict, had just closed. I found that a theory prevailed amongst the "Intelligentia" that the function of writers, thinkers, and poets was to teach; they were to teach not because they knew or understood, but unconsciously and intuitively. Acting on this philosophy, I, as a thinker and poet, wrote and taught I knew not what, received large remuneration for my efforts with the pen, and lived loosely, gaily, and extravagantly.
Thus I was one of the hierarchs of the literary faith, and for a considerable time was undisturbed by any doubts as to its soundness; but when three years had been thus spent, serious suspicions entered my mind. I noted that the devotees of this apparently infallible principle were at variance amongst themselves, for they disputed, deceived, abused, and swindled each other. And many were grossly selfish, and most immoral.
Disgust supervened, both with myself and with mankind in general. My error now was that though my eyes were opened to the vanity and delusion of the position, yet I retained it, imagining that I, as thinker, poet, teacher, could teach other men while not at all knowing what to teach. To my other faults an inordinate pride had been added by my intercourse with these litterateurs. That period viewed retrospectively seems to me like one of a kind of madness. Hundreds of us wrote to teach the people, while we all abused and confuted one another. We could teach nothing, yet we sent millions of pages all over Russia, and we were unspeakably vexed that we seemed to gain no attention whatever, for nobody appeared to listen to us.
II.—Groping in Darkness
I travelled in Europe at this period, before my marriage, still cherishing in my mind the idea of general perfectibility, which was so popular at that time with the "Intelligentia." Cultured circles clung to the theory of what we call "progress," vague though are the notions attaching to the term. I was horrified with the spectacle of an execution in Paris, and my eyes were opened to the fallacy underlying the theory of human wisdom. The doctrine of "progress" I now felt to be a mere superstition, and I was further confirmed in my conviction by the sad death of my brother after a painful illness of a whole year.
My brother was kind, amiable, clever, and serious; but he passed away without ever knowing why he had lived or what his death meant for him. All theories were futile in the face of this tragedy. Returning to Russia I settled in my rural home and began to organise schools for the peasants, feeling real enthusiasm for the enterprise. For I still clung to a great extent to the idea of progress by development. I thought that though highly cultured men all thought and taught differently and agreed about nothing, yet in the case of the children of the mujiks the difficulty could easily be surmounted by permitting the children to learn what they liked.
I also tried through my own newspaper to indoctrinate the people, but my mind grew more and more embarrassed. At length I fell sick, rather mentally than physically. I went off to the Steppes to breathe the pure air and to take mare's milk and to live the simple life. I married soon after my return to my estate. As time passed on I became happily absorbed in the interests of wife and children, largely forgetting during a happy interval of fifteen years the old anxiety for individual perfection. For this desire was superseded by that of promoting the welfare of my family.
All this time, however, I was writing busily, and was gaining much money as well as winning great applause. And in everything I wrote I persistently taught what was for me the sole truth—that our chief object in life should be to secure our own happiness and that of our family. Then, five years ago, supervened a mood of mental lethargy. I grew despondent; my perplexity increased, and I was tormented by the constant recurrence of such questions as—"Why?" and "What afterwards?" And by degrees the questions took a more concrete form. "I now possess six thousand 'desyatins' of land in the government of Samara, and three hundred horses—what then?" I could find no answer. Then came the question, "What if I could excel Shakespeare, and Moliere, and Gogol, and become the most celebrated the world has ever seen—what then?" Answer, there was none; yet I felt that I must find one in order to go on living.
Life had now lost its meaning, and was no longer real to me. I was a healthy and happy man, and yet so empty did life seem to me that I was afraid of being tempted to commit suicide, even though I had not the slightest intention to perpetrate such a deed. But, fearing lest the temptation might come upon me I hid a rope away out of my sight, and ceased carrying a gun in my walks.
III.—The Spirit of Despair
It was in my 50th year that the question "What is life" had reduced me to utter despair. Various queries clustered round this central interrogation. "Why should I live? Why should I do anything? Is there any signification in life that can overcome inevitable death?" I found that in human knowledge no real answer was forthcoming to such yearnings. None of the theories of the philosophers gave any satisfaction. In my search for a solution of life's problem I felt like a traveller lost in a forest, out of which he can find no issue.
I found that not only did Solomon declare that he hated life, for all is vanity and vexation of spirit; but that Sakya Muni, the Indian sage, equally decided that life was a great evil; while Socrates and Schopenhauer agree that annihilation is the only thing to be wished for. But neither these testimonies of great minds nor my own reasoning could induce me to destroy myself. For a force within me, combined with an instinctive consciousness of life, counteracted the feeling of despair and drew me out of my misery of soul. I felt that I must study life not merely as it was amongst those like myself, but as it was amongst the millions of the common people. I reflected that knowledge based on reason, the knowledge of the cultured, imparted no meaning to life, but that, on the other hand, amongst the masses of the common people there was an unreasoning consciousness of life which gave it a significance.
This unreasoning knowledge was the very faith which I was rejecting. It was faith in things I could not understand; in God, one yet three; in the creation of devils and angels. Such things seemed utterly contrary to reason. So I began to reflect that perhaps what I considered reasonable was after all not so, and what appeared unreasonable might not really be so.
I discovered one great error that I had perpetrated. I had been comparing life with life, that is, the finite with the finite, and the infinite with the infinite. The process was vain. It was like comparing force with force, matter with matter, nothing with nothing. It was like saying in mathematics that A equals A, or O equals O. Thus the only answer was "identity."
Now I saw that scientific knowledge would give no reply to my questions. I began to comprehend that though faith seemed to give unreasonable answers, these answers certainly did one important thing. They did at least bring in the relation of the finite to the infinite. I came to feel that in addition to the reasoning knowledge which I once reckoned to be the sole true knowledge, there was in every man also an unreasoning species of knowledge which makes life possible. That unreasoning knowledge is faith.
What is this faith? It is not only belief in God and in things unseen, but it is the apprehension of life's meaning. It is the force of life. I began to understand that the deepest source of human wisdom was to be found in the answers given by faith, that I had no reasonable right to reject them, and that they alone solved the problem of life.
Nevertheless my heart was not lightened. I studied the writings of Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity. I also studied actual religious life by turning to the orthodox, the monks, and the Evangelicals who preach salvation through faith in a Redeemer. I asked what meaning was given for them to life by what they believed. But I could not accept the faith of any of these men, because I saw that it did not explain the meaning of life, but only obscured it. So I felt a return of the terrible feeling of despair.
Being unable to believe in the sincerity of men who did not live consistently with the doctrines they professed, and feeling that they were self-deceived, and, like myself, were satisfied with the lusts of the flesh, I began to draw near to the believers amongst the poor, simple, and ignorant, the pilgrims, monks, and peasants. I found that though their faith was mingled with much superstition, yet with them the whole life was a confirmation of the meaning of life which their faith gave them.
The more I contemplated the lives of these simple folk, the more deeply was I convinced of the reality of their faith, which I perceived to be a necessity for them, for it alone gave life a meaning and made it worth living. This was in direct opposition to what I saw in my own circle, where I marked the possibility of living without faith, for not one in a thousand professed to be a believer, while amongst the poorer classes not one in thousands was an unbeliever. The contradiction was extreme. In my class a tranquil death, without terror or despair, is rare; in that lower class, an uneasy death is a rare exception. I found that countless numbers in that lower mass of humanity had so understood the meaning of life that they were able both to live bearing contentedly the burdens of life, and to die peacefully.
The more I learned of these men of faith the more I liked them, and the easier I felt it so to live. For two years I lived in their fashion. Then the life of my own wealthy and cultured class became repellent to me, for it had lost all meaning whatever. It seemed like empty child's play, while the life of the working classes appeared to me in its true significance.
Now I began to apprehend where I had judged wrongly. My mistake was that I had applied an answer to my question concerning life which only concerned my own life, to life in general. My life had been but one long indulgence of my passions. It was evil and meaningless. Therefore such an answer had no application to life at large, but only to my individual life.
I understood the truth which the Gospel subsequently taught me more fully, that men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. I understood that for the comprehension of life, it was essential that life should be something more than an evil and meaningless thing revealed by reason. Life must be considered as a whole, not merely in its parasitic excrescences. I felt that to be good was more important than to believe. I loved good men. I hated myself. I accepted truth. I understood that we were all more or less mad with the love of evil.
I looked at the animals, saw the birds building nests, living only to fly and to subsist. I saw how the goat, hare, and wolf live, but to feed and to nurture their young, and are contented and happy. Their life is a reasonable one. And man must gain his living like the animals do, only with this great difference, that if he should attempt this alone, he will perish. So he must labour for the good of all, not merely for himself.
I had not helped others. My life for thirty years had been that of a mere parasite. I had been contented to remain ignorant of the reason why I lived at all.
There is a supreme will in the universe. Some one makes the universal life his secret care. To know what that supreme will is, we must obey it implicitly. No reproaches against their masters come from the simple workers who do just what is required of them, though we are in the habit of regarding them as brutes. We, on the contrary, who think ourselves wise, consume the goods of our master while we do nothing willingly that he prescribes. We think that it would be stupid for us to do so.
What does such conduct imply? Simply that our master is stupid, or that we have no master.
V.—Feeling Versus Reason
Thus I was led at last to the conclusion that knowledge based on reason is fallacious, and that the knowledge of truth can be secured only by living. I had come to feel that I must live a real, not a parasitical life, and that the meaning of life could be perceived only by observation of the combined lives of the great human community.
The feelings of my mind during all these experiences and observations were mingled with a heart-torment which I can only describe as a searching after God. This search was a feeling rather than a course of reasoning. For it came from my heart, and was actually opposed to my way of thinking. Kant had shown the impossibility of proving the existence of God, yet I still hoped to find Him, and I still addressed Him in prayer. Yet I did not find Him whom I sought.
At times I contended against the reasoning of Kant and Schopenhauer, and argued that causation is not in the same category with thought and space and time. I argued that if I existed, there was a cause of my being, and that cause was the cause of all causes. Then I pondered the idea that the cause of all things is what is called God, and with all my powers I strove to attain a sense of the presence of this cause.
Directly I became conscious of a power over me I felt a possibility of living. Then I asked myself what was this cause, and what was my relation to what I called God? Simply the old familiar answer occurred to me, that God is the creator, the giver of all. Yet I was dissatisfied and fearful, and the more I prayed, the more convinced I was that I was not heard. In my despair I cried aloud for mercy, but no one had mercy on me, and I felt as if life stagnated within me.
Yet the conviction kept recurring that I must have appeared in this world with some motive on the part of some one who had sent me into it. If I had been sent here, who sent me? I had not been like a fledgling flung out of a nest to perish. Some one had cared for me, had loved me. Who was it? Again came the same answer, God. He knew and saw my fear, my despair, and so I passed from the consideration of the existence of God, which was proved, on to that of our relation towards him as our Redeemer through His Son. But I felt this to be a thing apart from me and from the world, and this God vanished like melting ice from my eyes. Again I was left in despair. I felt there was nothing left but to put an end to my life; yet I knew that I should never do this.
Thus did moods of joy and despair come and go, till one day, when I was listening to the sounds in a forest, and was still on that day in the early springtide seeking after God in my thoughts, a flash of joy illumined my soul. I realised that the conception of God was not God Himself. I felt that I had only truly lived when I believed in God. God is life. Live to seek God and life will not be without Him. The light that then shone never left me. Thus I was saved from self-destruction. Gradually I felt the glow and strength of life return to me. I renounced the life of my own class, because it was unreal, and its luxurious superfluity rendered comprehension of life impossible. The simple men around me, the working classes, were the real Russian people. To them I turned. They made the meaning of life clear. It may thus be expressed:—
Each of us is so created by God that he may ruin or save his soul. To save his soul, a man must live after God's word by humility, charity, and endurance, while renouncing all the pleasures of life. This is for the common people the meaning of the whole system of faith, traditionally delivered to them from the past and administered to them by the pastors of the Church.
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The Life of Girolamo Savonarola
Pasquale Villari was born October 3, 1827, at Naples. At the age of twenty he produced his first literary effort, a Liberal manifesto against Neapolitan Bourbonism, which necessitated his flight from his native city. He retreated to Florence and there wrote his work on "Savonarola," which at once achieved fame and was translated into French, German, and English. His next great book was his "Macchiavelli." Villari had been appointed Professor of History at Nice, but left that city for a similar position at Florence. He entered political life in 1862, and has sat as a Parliamentary Deputy several times. In 1884 he was made senator, and in 1891 he was minister of public instruction in the Rudini Cabinet. Villari's essays on Dante are much esteemed. His treatise on "The First Two Centuries of Florentine History" is considered a standard work. All his books have been translated into our language by his English wife, Linda Villari, who is herself an accomplished authoress.
The House of Savonarola derived its ancient origin from the city of Padua. In the beginning of the fifteenth century the family removed to Ferrara where, on September 21, 1452, the subject of this biography, Girolamo Savonarola, first saw the light. He was the third of seven children of his parents. The lad became the favourite of his grandfather, Michele, who wished to see him become a great physician, and devoted most assiduous care on the task of training his intellect. But unfortunately the grandfather soon passed away, and Girolamo's studies were then directed by his father, who began to instruct him in philosophy.
The natural sciences were then only branches of philosophy, and the latter, though employed as preliminary to the study of medicine, was purely scholastic. The books which came into the hands of the young Savonarola were the works of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Arabic commentaries on Aristotle. He was specially fascinated with the works of St. Thomas, but besides literature he studied music. He also composed verses.
All particulars, however, of Savonarola's boyhood are unfortunately lacking. But we can form a vivid idea of the surroundings which must have influenced him. Ferrara was then the splendid capital of the House of Este, with 100,000 inhabitants and a court which was one of the first in Italy, and was continually visited by princes, emperors, and popes. The lad must have witnessed gorgeous pageants, like the two which occurred on visits of Pope Pius II., in 1459 and 1460. But during all this period Savonarola was entirely absorbed in studying the Scriptures and St. Thomas Aquinas, allowing himself no recreation save playing sad music on his lute, or writing verses expressing, not without force and simplicity, the griefs of his heart.
The contrasts that the youth witnessed between the magnificence ostentatiously displayed and the evidences of tyranny in palaces and castles in whose dungeons were immured numerous victims, clanking their chains, made indelible impressions on his mind. Conducted once by his parents to the ducal palace at Ferrara, he firmly refused ever to enter its doors again. With singular spiritual fervour in one so young, Savonarola surrendered his whole heart and soul to religious sentiments and exercises. To him worldly life, as he saw all Ferrara absorbed in its gaieties, became utterly repellent, and a sermon to which he listened from an Augustinian friar determined him to adopt the monastic life.
April 24, 1475, when his parents were absent from home attending the festival of St. George, he ran away to Bologna and presented himself at the Monastery of St. Dominic, begging that he might be admitted for the most menial service. He was instantly received, and at once began to prepare for his novitiate. In this retreat he submitted himself to the severest penances and discipline and displayed such excessive zeal and devotion as to win the admiration of the monks, who at times believed him to be rapt in a holy trance.
Savonarola's sojourn at Bologna in the Dominican Monastery lasted for seven years, during which his spirit was occupied not only with faith and prayer, but with deep meditation on the miserable condition of the Church. His soul was stirred to wrathful indignation. The shocking corruption of the Papacy, dating from the death of Pius II. in 1464, was to reach its climax under Alexander VI. The avarice of Paul II. was soon noted by all the world, and so boundless was the profligacy of his successor, Sixtus IV., that no deed was too scandalous for him to commit.
The state of Italy as well as of the Church was miserable, and the soul of the young monk was filled with horror-stricken grief, relieved only by study and prayer. He had been much occupied in instructing the novices, but now he was promoted to the function of preacher. In 1481 he was sent by his superiors to preach in Ferrara. Nothing is known of the effect of the sermons he delivered at that time and place. Savonarola had not yet developed his gifts of oratory. He was driven from Ferrara by an outbreak of war with the Venetians, and repaired to Florence, where, in the Monastery of St. Mark the brightest as well as the saddest years of his life were to be spent. The Monastery contained the first public library established in Italy, which was kept in excellent order by the monks.
Savonarola was half intoxicated with joy during his first days in Florence. He was charmed by the soft lines of the Tuscan hills and the beauty of the Tuscan speech. Lorenzo the Magnificent had been ruling Florence for many years and was then at the climacteric of his fame. Under his sway everything appeared to prosper. Enemies had been imprisoned or banished, and factions had ceased to distract the city. Lorenzo's shameless licentiousness was condoned by reason of his brilliancy, his patronage of art and literature, and his lavish public entertainments.
Greek scholars, driven westward by the fall of Constantinople, sought refuge at the Florentine court. The fine arts flourished and a Platonic Academy was established. It was even proposed that the Pope should canonise Plato as a saint. In fact that period witnessed the inauguration of modern culture.
After the first few days in Florence, Savonarola again began to experience the feeling of isolation. For he speedily detected the unbelief and frivolity under the surface of the intellectual culture of the people. Even in St. Mark's Monastery there was no real religion. Savonarola was soon invited to preach the Lenten sermons in St. Lorenzo. His discourses produced no special effect, for the Florentines preferred preachers who indulged in Pagan quotations and rhetorical elegancies rather than in expatiating in the precepts of Christianity. But a stirring event was at hand.
Savonarola was sent by his superiors to Reggio to attend a Chapter of the Dominicans. During the discussion he was suddenly impelled to rise to his feet and to plunge into a powerful declamation against the corruptions of the Church and the clergy which transfixed his hearers with astonishment. This outburst was a revelation of his extraordinary powers. It instantly secured his fame and from that moment many sought his acquaintance.
Savonarola's mind from that moment became strangely excited and it is not surprising that he should have seen many visions. He on one occasion saw the heavens open. A panorama of the calamities of the Church passed before him and he heard a voice charging him to proclaim them to the people. In that year, 1484, Pope Sixtus died. The election of his successor, Innocent VIII. destroyed the hopes of honest men. For the new Pope no longer disguised his children under the appellation of nephews, but openly acknowledged them as his sons, conferring on them the title of princes.
We may imagine the storms of emotion excited in the soul of Savonarola. Fortunately, he was sent to preach Lenten sermons at San Gimignano, the "City of the Grey Towers" in the Siennese hills. Here he found his true vocation. His words flowed freely and were eloquent and effective. Next he was sent to Brescia, where his predictions of coming terrors and his exhortations to repentance produced a profound impression. During the sack of that same city in 1512 by the fierce soldiers of Gaston de Foix, when 6,000 citizens were slain, the stricken people vividly remembered the Apocalyptic denunciations and predictions of the preacher from Ferrara.
Through the wonderful success of these Lenten sermons the name of Savonarola became known throughout Italy, and he no longer felt uncertain as to his proper mission. Yet, the more popular he became the greater was his humility and the more ardent was his devotion to prayer. He seemed when engaged in prayer frequently to lapse into a trance, and tradition even alleges that at such times a bright halo was seen to encircle his head.
Returning to Florence, Savonarola by his Lenten sermons in 1491 drew immense crowds to the Duomo. From that moment he became the paramount power in the pulpit. His vivid imagery and his predictions of coming troubles seemed to produce a magical effect on the minds of the people. But this growing influence was a source of considerable vexation to Lorenzo de' Medici and his friends. Savonarola vehemently denounced the greed of the clergy and their neglect of spiritual life for the sake of mere external ceremonialism, and he with equal insistence inveighed against the corruption of public manners. As Lorenzo was already considered a tyrant by many of the citizens, and as he was universally charged with having corrupted the magistrates and appropriated the public and private funds, it was generally inferred that Savonarola had had the audacity to make allusion to him.
This only enhanced the Friar's reputation and in July, 1491, he was elected Prior of St. Mark's. The office made him both more prominent than before and also more independent. He showed this to be the case by at once refusing to go according to custom to do homage to the Magnificent, declaring that he owed his election to God alone, and to God only would he vow obedience. Lorenzo was deeply offended, yet he judged it discreet rather to win the new Prior over by kindness than to wage war with him.
The Seignior only deepened Savonarola's contempt by sending rich gifts to the convent and by sending five of the chief citizens to him in order to induce him to modify the strain of his preaching. The gifts were immediately distributed among the poor, and Savonarola in a pulpit allusion observed that a faithful dog does not cease barking in his master's defence because a bone is flung him. To the five citizens, who hinted to the Prior that he might be sent into exile, he replied that they should bid Lorenzo do penance for his sins, for God was no respecter of persons and did not spare the princes of the earth.
Wonderful was the effect of Savonarola's preaching on the corrupt and pagan society of Florence. His natural, spontaneous, heart-stirring eloquence, with its exalted imagery and outbursts of righteous indignation, was entirely unprecedented in that era of pedantry and simulation of the classic and heathen oratory. The scholastic jargon indulged in by the preachers of the time was utterly unintelligible to the common people. Savonarola's voice was the only one that addressed the multitude in familiar and fascinating tones and in an accent that evinced true affection for the people. They knew that he alone fought for truth and was fervently devoted to goodness. Thus he was the one truly eloquent preacher of the time, who restored pulpit preaching to its pristine honour, and he well deserves to be styled the first orator of modern times.
A wasting disease from which Lorenzo suffered had by the beginning of April, 1492, made such inroads as to end all hopes of his recovery. The Magnificent turned his thoughts to religion and suddenly asked to confess to Savonarola. Though astonished at the request, the Prior acceded to it and found Lorenzo in great agitation, which he sought to calm by reminding the sick man of the goodness and mercy of God.
A painful scene ensued. Savonarola added that three things were needful. First, a living faith in God's mercy. Secondly, Lorenzo must restore all his ill-gotten wealth, or at least command his sons to do it in his name. Lastly, he must restore liberty to the people of Florence. The sick man, collecting all his remaining strength, angrily turned his back on his Confessor, who at once left his presence. On April 8, 1492, the Magnificent, in an agony of remorse, breathed his last. On July 25 of the same year Pope Innocent VIII. expired.
The next Pope, Alexander VI., was notorious for his avarice and his profligacy. The announcement of his elevation to the papal chair was received throughout Italy with dismay. The worst apprehensions were soon fulfilled, for the Pope proved to be guilty of shocking extortion, the object of which was to provide more lavishly for his dissolute children.
This deplorable state of things caused men to look wistfully to Savonarola. The times he had foretold seemed to be at hand, and the excitement was intensified by two visions which he declared had been manifested to him as celestial revelations. He had seen a sword in the sky and had heard voices proclaiming mercy to the righteous and retribution to the wicked.
In the other vision a black cross hung over the city of Rome, stretching its arms over the whole earth. On it was written, "The Cross of God's wrath." But from Jerusalem rose a golden cross, inscribed, "The Cross of God's compassion." Discontent was growing in Florence. The insolence and the rapacity of Pietro de' Medici increased. In the autumn of that year Savonarola delivered a famous course of sermons on Noah's Ark, warning all to take refuge from the coming flood in the mystical Ark of mercy. The flood came indeed, for suddenly all Florence was startled as if by a thunderclap by the news that a foreign army was pouring over the Alps for the conquest of Italy. The terror was overwhelming. Italy was unprepared, for the princes had no efficient armies for resistance.
The invader was the new King of France, the young and adventurous Charles VIII. His army was a model to all Europe in the art of war. It possessed weapons of the latest invention and its main strength lay in its splendid infantry. Florence was entered without a blow, and King Charles demanded as a ransom a far larger sum than the Republic could pay. He remained day after day in the city, showing no inclination to depart. Then was manifested a proof of the wonderful influence of Savonarola's personality.
The Prior being earnestly entreated by the citizens to ask the French king to depart, he readily undertook the mission and presented himself to Charles, who, surrounded by his barons, received him cordially and listened graciously to his proposal. Savonarola admonished him not to bring ruin on the city and the anger of the Lord on himself.
The Prior's overtures were completely successful, for on November 28, the king departed with his army. And now all was changed in Florence. The partisans of the Medici had vanished magically and Savonarola ruled the city at the head of the popular party. He speedily proposed a new form of government suggesting as the best model, a Grand Council like that of Venice. The new Government was formed of a Grand Council and a Council of Eighty answering to an Assembly of the People and a Senate. All the proposals of the Prior were adopted, and laws were framed almost in his own words.
Germs of civil discord were not lacking, and these soon developed so as to divide Florence into factions, the two chief of these being the Whites, who were favourable to popular liberty, and the Greys, who were adherents of the Medici. The latter were dangerous and treacherous enemies of Savonarola and of the Republic. For a time the Prior's preaching confounded his foes, for it completely changed the aspect of the city. The women cast off their jewels and dressed simply; young profligates were transformed into sober, religious men, the churches were filled with people at prayer, and the Bible was diligently read.
Now came danger from without. The departure of the French had endangered the security of Florence. The Pope and Venice desired the reinstatement of the fallen tyrant Pietro de' Medici, and he prepared to attack the city. But he was foiled by the energy to which the Prior roused the Florentines for measures of defence. Meantime, Savonarola once more displayed his noble independence by spurning the offer on the part of the Pope of a Cardinal's hat. And terrible in their vehemence and audacity were his denunciations against the vices of Rome, delivered in his Lenten sermons of 1496.
In his usual strain, but with increasing power, Savonarola graphically and vividly described the woes of Italy, as though he were gifted with prophetic vision. One of his sermons was interdicted by the Pope, but the preacher modified nothing and defied the Vatican. And now, while the enthusiasm of his followers was developing into fanaticism, the hatred of his enemies was approaching a climax, and the war was waxing furious.
The fame of this marvellous preacher was now extending throughout the world by means of his printed sermons. Even the Sultan of Turkey commanded them to be translated into Turkish for his own study. Of course the individual aim of Savonarola was simply to be the regenerator of religion. The Florentines, however, adulated him as the real founder of the free Republic. Hence they displayed immense ardour in defending him against the Pope, seeing that thus they were upholding their own freedom, because the Pope was aiming at reinstating the Medici in Florence.
The Pope had hoped that the Prior would moderate his tone, but this was only more aggressive than ever, and threatening messages arrived from the Vatican. Attempts by his friends, some of them of high and influential position, to defend him, only the more enraged Pope Alexander Borgia. He summoned a consistory of fourteen Dominican theologians who were ordered to investigate Savonarola's conduct and doctrine. The strange issue was he was charged with having been the cause of all the misfortunes that had befallen Pietro de' Medici.
After Lent the Prior went to preach a course of sermons at Prato, and on his return to Florence he delivered a sermon in the Hall of the Greater Council in the presence of all the magistrates and leading citizens of the city, in which he openly and courageously defied all the wrath of Alexander Borgia. Then he once more set himself to the work of serving the Republic, though, as the sequel shows, he was fated to meet with a base reward.
Commerce and industry had been paralysed in Florence by the incessant commotions of past years. The immense sums paid to the French king had together with sums spent on war drained the public resources and lowered the credit of the Republic. And now famine was threatened, for the people in the rural districts were pinched with hunger. The starving peasantry began to flock in great numbers into the city, so that the misery increased. Terror was occasioned by a few cases of death from plague. Florence was at war with Pisa, but without success, for many of her mercenary soldiers were deserting and the forces besieging Pisa were dwindling for lack of supplies.
Fresh adversities were in store for the Florentines. Though the rumours of a second invasion of Italy by King Charles proved unfounded, for he renounced all idea of returning, new enemies arose. The Emperor Maximilian was marching towards the frontier, and the Pope felt encouraged to enter into open war with the Florentines. His forces and the troops from Sienna actually attempted an incursion into the territories of the Republic, but they suffered repeated repulses, and at length were put to flight. But this conflict weakened still more the forces before Pisa, at which city Maximilian arrived with 1,000 foot soldiers, receiving a cordial welcome from the Pisans.
The Florentines did not quail before the storm. Their courage never failed. They collected fresh stores and sent abundant provisions to the camp. But the hatred of the Pope grew more intense, especially against Savonarola, who, however, had not returned to the pulpit, being actuated by a wish not to accentuate the situation. For the general misery in Florence daily increased and the plague was extending its ravages. The hospitals were full. And the faction against Savonarola, named the Arrabbiati, seemed positively to regard the distress with glee, for these fanatics went about crying aloud, "At last we can all perceive how we have been deceived! This is the happiness that the Friar predicted for Florence!" Moreover they proclaimed that now was the time to overthrow the Government.
But the Seigniory entreated Savonarola to come forth again from his retirement. He entered the pulpit on October 28, but only to look on people whose faces were marked by distress and terror. Yet his sermons administered such comfort to the citizens who in the majority still adhered to him, though the Arrabbiati mocked at his words. Temporary relief was at hand, for suddenly, as if by a miracle, ships arrived from Marseilles bringing long-expected reinforcements and supplies of corn. The people were frantic with joy and solemn thanksgivings were offered in the churches.
The Pope was now designing measures to entrap the Prior. A new Vicar-General was appointed with power which would invest him with such authority over Savonarola that the latter would lose his independence. But he displayed no disposition to yield to Rome. On the contrary, he delivered in the Duomo those eight magnificent, fearless, and immortal sermons which intensified the bitter struggle with Rome, while for the time being they made the great Reformer's name and authority again ascendant, and rendered the popular party once more master of the situation, notwithstanding the strategy of the Pope and the machinations of the factions.
During Lent, 1497, Savonarola continued his course of sermons on Ezekiel, and in these discourses he said much that bore on the conflict with Rome, now daily growing more virulent. He inveighed against the temporal wealth of the Church and launched many accusations against Rome. The impression produced was the deeper because of the general presentiment in men's minds of the coming uprising of Christendom against the abominations of Rome.
Savonarola now daily expected to be excommunicated and he was determined to defy the Pope. The plague increased in Florence and the Seigniory prohibited preaching in the churches for a time, but Savonarola persisted in preaching on Ascension Day. The factions were infuriated. They denied the pulpit with filth and draped it with the skin of an ass, and threatened the life of the Prior. His friends implored him not to preach at the risk of his life. He refused to yield, but a fearful riot took place in the church which was talked of through all Italy.
The storm was now gathering. The fury of the factions increased, as also did the wrath of the Pope. At length, on May 13, the excommunicatory brief was despatched from Rome, directed against a "certain Fra Girolamo Savonarola who had disseminated pernicious doctrines to the scandal and grief of simple souls." The event threw all Florence into confusion. The Arrabbiati were triumphant. But the city was filled with lamentation and disorder. The rabble rejoiced. The churches were quickly deserted; the taverns were filled; immorality returned as if magically; and again women attired in dazzling finery paraded the streets. In less than a month, so rapid was the transformation, Florence seemed to have relapsed into the days of the Magnificent, and piety and patriotism were alike forgotten.
Meantime, the Prior was calm and composed and took measures for his defence. He wrote an Epistle against surreptitious excommunication, addressed to all Christians beloved of God. He followed it by a second letter, also breathing courage and defiance. A conflict ensued. The Arrabbiati sent accusations against the Prior to Rome, while the Seigniory sought to vindicate him, most of the members, newly elected, being his friends. The plague grew so terrible that on some days there were a hundred deaths. In the autumn it abated, and gradually disappeared. Savonarola's energy in fighting the pestilence was unwearied throughout.
The Prior soon commenced to preach again. On Christmas Day he put an end to all suspense as to his policy by thrice performing high mass, afterwards leading his monks in solemn procession through St. Mark's Square. He continued to issue new tracts and to preach regularly. But on February 26 the Pope announced that Savonarola's preaching should be tolerated no longer. The Prior was conscious that the end was near. His last sermon was delivered, after he had preached in Florence for eight years, on March 18, 1498. His adherents were terrified, and seemed to vanish.
On April 8, Palm Sunday, the Arrabbiati attacked St. Mark's Convent. Savonarola was seized and bound by a brutal rabble, and he and two of his monks were lodged in prison. Cruel proceedings followed. For a whole month he was brought day after day to examination and he was repeatedly subjected to torture. The Pope's Commissioners were never able to extract from him any confession of guilt. Savonarola was from first to last unflinchingly consistent with himself.
On May 22 sentence of death was passed on Savonarola, on Fra Silvestro, and on Fra Domenico. They prepared to face death firmly and well. The tragedy was enacted next morning. Three platforms had been erected on the steps of the Ringhiera, on which sat the Bishop of Vasona, the Apostolic Commissioners, and the Gonfaliero with the Council of Eight. On a gibbet in the form of a cross hung three chains, and combustibles were piled beneath. Sad and solemn was the silence of the vast throng assembled in the Piazza, excepting where members of the factions were raging like wild beasts and venting indecent blasphemies.
The three friars were publicly stripped of their monkish robes and degraded. Tranquilly they mounted the scaffold, the dregs of the populace assailing them with vile words. But silence reigned at the moment of the execution. As soon as life was extinct the flames were kindled beneath the bodies of the three victims. The tragic and awful spectacle elicited bitter grief amongst the people on the one side, while cries of wild exultation were raised on the other.
* * * * *
John Wesley, who was born June 17, 1703, at Epworth, and who died in London March 2, 1791, was the son of a Lincolnshire rector. His history covers practically the whole of the eighteenth century, of which he was one of the most typical personalities, as he was certainly the most strenuous figure. His career was absolutely without parallel, for John Wesley, as an itinerating clergyman, and as the propagator of that mission of Methodism which he founded, travelled on his preaching tours for forty years, mostly on horseback. He paid more turnpike fees than any man that ever bestrode a horse, and 8,000 miles constituted his annual record for many a year, during each of which he preached on the average 5,000 times. John Wesley received a classical education at Charterhouse and Christ Church, Oxford, and all through his wonderful life of endurance and adventure, of devotion and consecration, remained a scholar and a gentleman. His "Journal" is valuable for its pictures of the England of his day, as well as for his own simple and unpretending record of his experiences. Wesley made religion his business and incorporated it into the national life. Of him Mr. Augustine Birrell says:—"No man lived nearer the centre than John Wesley. Neither Clive nor Pitt, neither Mansfield nor Johnson. You cannot cut him out of our national life. No single figure influenced so many minds, no single voice touched so many hearts. No other man did such a life's work for England."
The Holy Club
In November 1729, at which time I came to reside at Oxford, Mr. Morgan, my brother, myself, and one more, agreed to spend three or four evenings in a week together. Our design was to read over the classics, which we had before read in private, on common nights, and on Sunday some book in divinity. In the summer following, Mr. M. told me he had called at the gaol, to see a man who was condemned for killing his wife; and that, from the talk he had with one of the debtors, he verily believed it would do much good, if any one would be at the pains of now and then speaking with them.
This he so frequently repeated, that on August 24, 1730, my brother and I walked with him to the castle. We were so well satisfied with our conversation there, that we agreed to go thither once or twice a week; which we had not done long, before he desired me to go with him to see a poor sick woman in the town.
I next proposed to Mr. Gerard, the Bishop of Oxford's chaplain, who took care of any prisoners condemned to die, that I intended to preach in the prison once a month, if the bishop approved. Our design was approved and permission was granted. Soon after a gentleman of Merton College, who was one of our little company, now consisting of five persons, acquainted us that he had been much rallied the day before for being a member of the Holy Club, and that it was become a common topic of mirth at his college, where they had found out several of our customs, to which we were ourselves utter strangers.
I corresponded with my father, and from him received encouragement, so that we still continued to meet as usual, and to do what service we could to the prisoners, and to two or three poor families in the town.
A Missioner to Georgia
1735. Oct. 14. Mr. Benjamin Ingham, of Queen's College, Oxford; Mr. Charles Delamotte, son of a London merchant, my brother Charles, and myself, took boat for Gravesend, in order to embark for Georgia. Our end in leaving our country was singly this, to save our souls; to live wholly to the glory of God. In the afternoon we found the "Simmonds" off Gravesend, and immediately went on board.
Oct. 17. I began to learn German, in order to converse with the 26 Germans on board. On Sunday I preached extempore and then administered the Lord's supper to seven communicants.
Oct. 20. Believing the denying ourselves might be helpful, we wholly left off the use of flesh and wine, and confined ourselves to vegetable food, chiefly rice and biscuit.
1736. Feb. 5. After a passage in which storms were frequent, between two and three in the afternoon, God brought us all safe into the Savannah river. We cast anchor near Tybee Island, where the groves of pines along the shore made an agreeable prospect, showing, as it were, the bloom of spring in the depth of winter.
Sunday, March 7. I entered upon my ministry at Savannah. I do here bear witness against myself, that when I saw the number of people crowding into the church, the deep attention with which they received the word, and the seriousness that sat on all their faces, I could hardly believe that the greater part of them would hereafter trample under foot that word, and say all manner of evil falsely against him that spake it.
March 30. Mr. Delamotte and I began to try, whether life might not be as well sustained by one sort as by a variety of food. We chose to make the experiment with bread, and were never more vigorous and healthy than while we tasted nothing else.
June 30. I hoped a door was opened for my main design, which was to preach the gospel to the Indians, and I purposed to go immediately to the Choctaws, the least polished, that is, the least corrupted of the tribes. On my informing Lieutenant-Governor Oglethorpe of our wish, he objected, alleging not only danger from the French, but also the inexpediency of leaving Savannah without a minister. These objections I related to our brethren, who were all of opinion, "We ought not to go yet."
Warrant for Wesley's Arrest
July 3. Preaching at Charlestown, immediately after communion I mentioned to Mrs. Williamson (Mr. Causton's niece) some things I thought reprovable in her behaviour. At this she appeared extremely angry.
Aug. 7. I repelled Mrs. Williamson from the holy communion. And next day Mr. Recorder, of Savannah, issued out a warrant for my arrest. Mr. Jones, the constable, served the warrant, and carried me before Mr. Bailiff Parker and Mr. Recorder. I was told that I must appear at the next court. Mr. Causton came to my house and declared that the affront had been offered to him; that he espoused the cause of his niece; that he was ill-used, and that he would have satisfaction if it was to be had in this world.
To many persons Mr. Causton declared that "Mr. Wesley had repelled Sophy from holy communion purely out of revenge, because he had made proposals of marriage to her which she had rejected, and married Mr. Williamson." But when the case came on the grand jury, having heard the charge, declared themselves thoroughly persuaded that it was an artifice of Mr. Causton's designed "rather to blacken the character of Mr. Wesley, than to free the colony from religious tyranny, as he had been pleased to term it."
Oct. 7. I consulted my friends whether God did not call me to return to England. I had found no possibility of instructing the Indians. They were unanimous that I ought to go, but not yet. But subsequently they agreed with me that the time was come.
In London Again
1738. Feb. 1. Landed at Deal. It is now two years and almost four months since I left my native country. After reading prayers and explaining a portion of Scripture to a large company at the inn, I left Deal, and came in the evening to Feversham. I here read prayers and explained the second lesson to a few of those who were called Christians, but were indeed more savage in their behaviour than the wildest Indians I have yet met with.
Feb. 26. Sunday. I preached at six in the morning at St. Lawrence's, London; at ten, in St. Catherine Cree's; and in the afternoon at St. John's, Wapping. I believe it pleased God to bless the first sermon most, because it gave most offence.
March 4. I found my brother at Oxford, and with him Peter Boehler; by whom, in the great hand of God, I was, on Sunday, the 5th, clearly convinced of unbelief, of the want of that faith whereby alone we are saved. Immediately it struck into my mind, "Leave off preaching. How can you preach to others who have not faith yourself?" I asked Boehler whether he thought I should leave it off or not. He answered, "By no means." I asked, "But what can I preach?" He said, "Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith."
Accordingly, Monday, 6, I began preaching this new doctrine, though my soul started back from the work. The first person to whom I offered salvation through faith alone, was a prisoner under sentence of death.
On Tuesday 25, I spoke clearly and fully at Blendon to Mr. Delamotte's family of the nature and fruits of faith. Mr. Broughton and my brother were there. Mr. Broughton's great objection was, he could never think that I had not faith, who had done and suffered such things. My brother was very angry, and told me I did not know what mischief I had done by talking thus. And, indeed, it did please God to kindle a fire which I trust shall never be extinguished.
On May 1 our little society began, which afterwards met in Fetter Lane. May 3. My brother had a long and particular conversation with Peter Boehler. And it now pleased God to open his eyes; so that he also saw clearly what was the nature of that one true living faith, thereby alone, "through grace we are saved."
Sunday 7. I preached at St. Lawrence's in the morning; and afterwards at St. Catherine Cree's. I was enabled to speak strong words at both; and was therefore the less surprised at being informed I was not to preach any more in either of those churches. I was likewise after preaching the next Sunday at St. Ann's, Aldersgate, and the following Sunday at St. John's, Wapping and at St. Bennett's, Paul's Wharf, that at these churches I must preach no more.
1739. March 28. A letter from Mr. Whitefield, and another from Mr. Seward, pressed me to come to Bristol. I reached Bristol March 31 and met Mr. Whitefield there. I could scarcely at first reconcile myself to the strange way of preaching in the fields, of which he set me the example, for all my life I should have thought the saving of souls almost a sin, if it had not been done in a church; but I now proclaimed in the highways the glad tidings of salvation speaking in the open air to about three thousand people.
May 9. We took possession of a piece of ground in the Horse Fair, Bristol, where it was designed to build a room large enough to contain both the societies of Nicholas and Baldwin Street; and on May 12 the first stone was laid with thanksgiving. The responsibility of payment I took entirely on myself. Money I had not, it is true, nor any human prospect of procuring it; but I knew "the earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof."
Beau Nash Argues with Wesley
June 5. There was great expectation at Bath of what a noted man was to do to me there. Many appeared surprised and were sinking apace into seriousness when their champion came up to me and asked by what authority I did these things. I replied, "By the authority of Jesus Christ, conveyed to me by the Archbishop of Canterbury, when he laid his hands on me." He said, "This is contrary to the Act of Parliament; this is a conventicle. Besides, your preaching frightens people out of their wits."
"Give me leave, Sir, to ask, is not your name Nash?" "My name is Nash." An old woman said to him, "You, Mr. Nash, take care of your body; we take care of our souls; and for the food of our souls we come here." He replied not a word, but walked away.
"All the World My Parish"
All this time I had many thoughts concerning my manner of ministering; but after frequently laying it before the Lord, I could not but adhere to what I had some time since written to a friend—"I look on all the world as my parish; thus far I mean, that, in whatever part I am of it, I judge it meet to declare to all who are willing to hear, the glad tidings of salvation."
June 14. I went with Mr. Whitefield to Blackheath, where were, I believe, 12,000 people. He a little surprised me by desiring me to preach in his stead; and I was greatly moved with compassion for the rich that were there, to whom I made a particular application. Some of them seemed to attend, while others drove away their coaches from so uncouth a preacher.
Sunday 24. As I was riding to Rose Green, near Bristol, my horse suddenly pitched on his head, and rolled over and over. I received no other hurt than a little bruise on my side; which for the present I felt not, but preached without pain to seven thousand people.
Sept. 16. I preached at Moorfields to about ten thousand, and at Kennington Common to near twenty thousand. At both places I described the real difference between what is generally called Christianity and the real old Christianity, which under the new name of Methodism is now everywhere spoken against.
The Colliers of Kingswood
Nov. 27. Few persons have lived in the west of England who have not heard of the colliers of Kingswood, famous for neither regarding God nor man. The scene is changed. Kingswood does not now, as a year ago, resound with cursing and blasphemy. Peace and love reign there since the preaching of the Gospel in the spring. Great numbers of the people are gentle, mild, and easy to be entreated.
1745. July 3. At Gwennap, in Cornwall, I was seized for a soldier. As I was reading my text a man rode up and cried "Seize the preacher for his Majesty's service." As the people would not do it, he leaped off his horse, and caught hold of my cassock, crying, "I take you to serve his Majesty." He walked off with me and talked with me for some time, but then let me go.
1748. April 9. I preached in Connaught, a few miles from Athlone. Many heard, but, I doubt, felt nothing. The Shannon comes within a mile of the house where I preached. I think there is not such another river in Europe. It is here ten miles wide, though only thirty miles from its source. There are many islands in it, once well inhabited, but now mostly desolate. In almost every one is a ruined church; in one, the remains of no fewer than seven.
1750. May 21. At Bandon the mob burnt me in effigy. Yet, though Dr. B. tried to stir up the people against me more and more, and a clergyman, said to be in drink, opposed me, and some young gentlemen came on the scene with pistols in their hands, I was enabled to preach. God gave me great peace in Bandon, in spite of these efforts against me.
May 31. I rode to Rathcormuck. There being a great burying in the afternoon, to which people came from all parts, I preached after Mr. Lloyd had read the service. I was exceedingly shocked at (what I had only heard of before) the Irish howl which followed. It was not a song, as I supposed, but a dismal, inarticulate yell, set up at the grave by four shrill-voiced women, hired for the purpose. But I saw not one that shed a tear; for that, it seems, was not in their bargain.
Clothing French Prisoners
1759. Oct. 1. At Bristol. I had ridden in about seven months not less than 2,400 miles. On Monday, Oct. 15, I went to Knowle, a mile from Bristol, to see the French prisoners. About 1,100 were there confined, with only a little dirty straw to lie on, so that they died like rotten sheep. I was much affected, and after I had preached the sum of L18 was contributed immediately, which next day we made up to L24. With this we bought linen and woollen cloth, and this was made up into clothing for the prisoners. Presently after, the Corporation of Bristol sent a large quantity of mattresses and blankets. And it was not long before contributions were set on foot in London, and other parts of the country; so that I believe that from this time they were pretty well provided with the necessaries of life.
Gwennap's Famous Amphitheatre
1766. Sept. 14. I preached in the natural amphitheatre at Gwennap; far the finest I know in the kingdom. It is a round, green hollow, gently shelving down, about 50 feet deep; but I suppose it is 200 feet across one way, and nearly 300 the other. I believe there were full 20,000 people; and, the evening being calm, all could hear.
1770. April 21. I rode slowly on this and the following days through Staffordshire and Cheshire to Manchester. In this journey, as well as in many others, I observed a mistake that almost universally prevails; and I desire all travellers to take good notice of it, which may save them from both trouble and danger. Near 30 years ago I was thinking, "How is it that no horse ever stumbles while I am reading?" (History, poetry, and philosophy I commonly read on horseback, having other employment at other times.) No account can possibly be given but this: because then I throw the reins on his neck. I then set myself to observe; and I aver, that in riding above 100,000 miles I scarce ever remember my horse (except two, that would fall head over heels anyway) to fall, or make a considerable stumble, while I rode with a slack rein. To fancy, therefore, that a tight rein prevents stumbling, is a capital blunder.
1771. Jan. 23. For what cause I know not to this day, my wife set out for Newcastle, purposing "never to return." Non eam reliqui: non dimisi: non revocabo. (I did not desert her: I did not send her away: I will not recall her.)
The American War
1775. In November I published the following letter in Lloyd's "Evening Post":
"Sir—I have been seriously asked from what motive I published my Calm Address to the American Colonies? I seriously answer, Not to get money; not to get preferment; not to please any man living; least of all to inflame any; just the contrary. I contributed my mite towards putting out the flame that rages. This I have more opportunity to see than any man in England. I see with pain to what a height this already rises, in every part of the nation. And I see many pouring oil into the flame, by crying out, 'How unjustly, how cruelly, the King is using the poor Americans; who are only contending for their liberty, and for their legal privileges.'
"Now there is no possible way to put out this flame, or hinder its rising higher and higher, but to show that the Americans are not used either cruelly or unjustly; that they are not injured at all, seeing they are not contending for liberty (this they had, even in its full extent, both civil and religious); neither for any legal privileges; for they enjoy all that their charters grant. But what they contend for is, the illegal privilege of being exempt from parliamentary taxation. A privilege this, which no charter ever gave to any American colony yet; which no charter can give, unless it be confirmed both by King, Lords, and Commons; which in fact our Colonies never had; which they never claimed till the present reign; and probably they would not have claimed now, had they not been incited thereto by letters from England. One of these was read, according to the desire of the writer, not only at the Continental Congress but likewise in many congregations throughout the Combined Provinces. It advised them to seize upon all the King's officers; and exhorted them, 'Stand valiantly, only for six months, and in that time there will be such commotions in England that you may have your own terms.' This being the real state of the question, without any colouring or exaggeration, what impartial man can either blame the King, or commend the Americans? With this view, to quench the fire, by laying the blame where it was due, the 'Calm Address' was written.
Your humble servant,
City Road Chapel Begun
1777. April 21. The day appointed for laying the foundation of the new chapel. The rain befriended us much, by keeping away thousands who proposed to be there. But there were still such multitudes, that it was with great difficulty I got through them, to lay the first stone. Upon this was a plate of brass (covered with another stone) on which was engraved, "This was laid by Mr. John Wesley, on April 21, 1777." Probably this will be seen no more, by any human eye; but will remain there, till the earth and the works thereof are burned up.
1778. Dec. 17. Having been many times desired, for near forty years, to publish a magazine, I at length complied, and now began to collect materials for it. If it once begin, I incline to think it will not end but with my life. Just at this time there was a combination among many of the postchaise drivers on the Bath road, especially those that drove in the night, to deliver their passengers into each other's hands. One driver stopped at the spot they had appointed, when another waited to attack the chaise. In consequence of this many were robbed; but I had a good Protector still. I have travelled all roads, by day and by night, for these forty years, and never was interrupted yet.
June 28. I am this day 75 years old; and I do not find myself, blessed be God, any weaker than I was at 25. This also hath God wrought.
Attended by Felons
1779. July 21. When I came to Coventry, I found notice had been given for my preaching in the park; but the heavy rain prevented. I sent to the Mayor, desiring the use of the town-hall. He refused; but the same day gave the use of it to a dancing-master. I then went to the women's market. Many soon gathered together and listened with all seriousness. I preached there again the next morning, and again in the evening. Then I took coach for London. I was nobly attended: behind the coach were ten convicted felons, loudly blaspheming and rattling their chains; by my side sat a man with a loaded blunderbuss, and another upon the coach.
1780. May 20. In Scotland. I took one more walk through Holyrood House, the mansion of ancient kings. But how melancholy an appearance does it make now! The stately rooms are dirty as stables; the colours of the tapestry are quite faded; several of the pictures are cut and defaced. The roof of the royal chapel is fallen in; and the bones of James V., and the once beautiful Lord Dankley, are scattered about like those of sheep or oxen. Such is human greatness. Is not "a living dog better than a dead lion?"
1782. May 14. Some years ago four factories were set up at Epworth. In these a large number of young women and boys and girls were employed. The whole conversation of these was profane and loose to the last degree. But some of them stumbling in at the prayermeeting were suddenly cut to the heart. These never rested till they had gained their companions. The whole scene was changed. In three of the factories no more lewdness was found: for God had put a new song in their mouth, and blasphemies were turned to praise. Those three I visited to-day, and found religion had taken deep root in them. No trifling word was heard among them, and they watch over each other in love.
Enters His 80th Year
June 26. I preached at Thirsk; 27, at York. Friday, 28, I entered my 80th year; but, blessed be God, my strength is not "labour and sorrow." I find no more pain or bodily infirmities than at 25. This I still impute, 1. To the power of God, fitting me for what He calls me to. 2. To my still travelling four or five thousand miles a year. 3. To my still sleeping, night or day, whenever I want it. 4. To my rising at a set hour. And 5. To my constant preaching, particularly in the morning.
1783. Dec. 18. I spent two hours with that great man, Dr. Johnson, who is sinking into the grave by a gentle decay.
1784. June 28 (Epworth). To-day I entered on my 82nd year, and found myself just as strong to labour, and as fit for any exercise of body and mind, as I was 40 years ago. I am as strong at 81 as I was at 21; but abundantly more healthy, being a stranger to the headache, toothache, and other bodily disorders which attended me in my youth.
1785. Jan. 25. I spent two or three hours in the House of Lords. I had frequently heard that this was the most venerable assembly in England. But how I was disappointed! What is a lord, but a sinner, born to die!
1786. Jan. 24. I was desired to go and hear the King deliver his speech in the House of Lords. But how agreeably I was surprised. He pronounced every word with exact propriety. I doubt whether there be any other King in Europe, that is so just and natural a speaker.
His 86th Christmas
1789. Dec 25. Being Christmas Day, we began the service in the new chapel at four in the morning, as usual, where I preached again in the evening after having officiated in West Street at the common hour. Sunday, 27, I preached in St. Luke's, our parish church, to a very numerous congregation. So are the tables turned that I have now more invitations to preach in churches than I can accept.
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John Woolman, American Quaker evangelist, author of this autobiography, was born in West Jersey in 1720 and followed the trade of a tailor. But all his interests lay in the practice of piety, and in the uncompromising application of religious Principles to the problems of social life. He advocated incessantly two principal reforms—that members of the Society of Friends should separate utterly from the possession of slaves, and that they should return to their primitive simplicity and moderation in the use of worldly things. Like many economists before and after him, he saw in luxury, extravagance and ostentation, the true cause of all poverty and oppression; and a tract of his entitled "A Word of Remembrance and Caution to the Rich," first published in 1793, was republished a hundred years later by the Fabian Society. His most important treatise, published in 1754, entitled "Some Considerations on the Keeping of Negroes," was one of the earliest indications of the growing Abolitionist feeling in New England. His voyage across the Atlantic in May and Tune, 1772, to visit the English Quakers, was followed by his death from small-pox, in the city of York, on October 7 in the same year. The "Journal," which is marked by great simplicity and sincerity, was published shortly afterwards and has been issued in many subsequent editions.
I.—The Curse of Slavery
Having reached manhood, I wrought at my trade as a tailor; carefully attended meetings for worship and discipline; and found an enlargement of gospel love in my mind, and therein a concern to visit friends in the settlements of Pennsylvania, Virginia and other parts. I expressed it to my beloved friend, Isaac Andrews, who then told me that he had drawings to the same places. I opened the case in our monthly meeting, and friends expressing their unity therewith, we obtained certificates to travel as companions.
Two things were remarkable to me in this journey. First, in regard to my entertainment; when I ate, drank and lodged free of cost with people who lived in ease on the hard labour of their slaves, I felt uneasy, and this uneasiness returned upon me, at times, through the whole visit. Secondly, this trade of importing slaves from their native country being much encouraged among them, and the white people and their children so generally living without much labour, was frequently the subject of my serious thoughts. And I saw in these southern provinces so many vices and corruptions, increased by this trade and this way of life, that it appeared to me as a dark gloominess hanging over the land; and though now many willingly run into it, yet in future the consequence will be grievous to posterity.
About this time, believing it good for me to settle, and thinking seriously about a companion, my heart was turned to the Lord and He was pleased to give me a well-inclined damsel, Sarah Ellis, to whom I was married the 18th day of the 8th month, in the year 1749.