BY CHARLOTTE ELIZABETH.
ABRIDGED, CHIEFLY IN PARTS PERTAINING TO POLITICAL AND OTHER CONTROVERSIES PREVALENT AT THE TIME IN GREAT BRITAIN.
CHILDHOOD.—Reasons—Design—Martyrs' prison—Palace garden—Scenery— Music—Study—Politics—A brother—Protestantism—The Bible—Judicious plan
YOUTH.—Private journals—Romance—The drama—Poetical taste—Loss of hearing—Books—A change—Rural life—Stays—Tight-lacing—Ruinous custom—The country
EARLY DAYS.—Idling—Convictions—Anticipating evil—Mischievous errors —Unreal estimates—Fake views—A parting—Fraternal love
YOUTH.—A grandmother—Unfashionable taste—A bereavement—Changes— Travels—Punctuality—Ocean scenery—False confidence—A storm—Wonders of the deep—Recklessness—An Arab steed—A fragment—Escapes— Housewifery—Nova Scotia—Indians—Cosmopolitanism—Home
IRELAND.—Oxford—Irishmen—The journey—The arrival—An escape—Dublin —St. John's eve—The dance—Paganism—Trials—Levying distress— Convictions—Terrors—Awakened conscience—God's teaching—Joy and peace
RELIGIOUS PROGRESS.—The church—Socinianism—Temptation—Metaphysics— Athanasian creed—An epoch—My first tract—A new friend—"Hail Mary"— Christian communion
KILKENNY.—A new residence—Another snare—Compromise—An apostate—"End of controversy"—The snare broken—Another attack—An argument— Discussion—The result
The dumb boy.—A pupil—Jack's commencement—Inquiry—A dilemma—Dawning light—Seasonings—A sunbeam—A soul born—A protester—Idolatry— Faithfulness—Summons—Superstition—National character—Confession— Infernal machinery
England.—The dumb boy—Jack's adventure—Departure from Ireland—Hannah More—A carnal politician—Treachery—Afflictions—Jack's progress— Prayer—Mercies—A soldier—A home—False judgment—Tranquillity
Sandhurst.—A proposal—A snare—An incident—Papal fulmination—Jack's petition—Happy caution—Perseverance—Zeal—Testimonies—A contrast
Separation.—Prejudices—Home—Forebodings—Danger—Trying scenes— Queries—Awful contrast—Cadets—Retrospections—A visitation—Sympathy —True feeling
Employment.—Sabbath meetings—Boys—An event—Forgiveness—Prejudices— The Irish language—St. Giles's—A project—The Irish church
A sunset.—A termination—A sunset—Resignation—The red hand—Joy and peace—True wisdom—Sympathy—Earnestness—A dying protest—Sleeping in Jesus
A removal.—An appeal—Irish schools—Literary labors—Antinomianism— Conclusion
SUBSEQUENT LIFE AND DEATH OF THE AUTHOR
I have given my best consideration to the arguments by which you support the demand for a few notices of events connected with my personal recollections of the past. That which has chiefly influenced me is the consideration, urged on what I know to be just and reasonable grounds, that when it has pleased God to bring any one before the public in the capacity of an author, that person becomes in some sense public property; having abandoned the privacy from which no one ought to be forced, but which any body may relinquish; and courted the observation of the world at large. Such individuals are talked of during life, and after death become the subject, I may say the prey, of that spirit which reigned in Athens of old, and from which no child of Adam is wholly free—the desire to hear and to tell some new thing. No sooner has the person withdrawn from this mortal stage, than the pen of biography is prepared to record, and a host of curious expectants are marshalled to receive, some fragments at least of private history. I wish I could dissent from your remark, that even godliness itself is too often sought to be made a gain of in such cases. Writers who are themselves wholly unenlightened by spiritual knowledge, and uninfluenced by spiritual feeling, will take up as a good speculation what must to them be a mystery, and wrong the subject of their memorial while they injure the cause in which he labored. Even among those of better understanding in the ways of truth, we do not often meet sound judgment, calm discretion, and refined delicacy, combined with affection for the departed and zeal for the gospel. Private journals are sought out, confidential letters raked together, and a most unseemly exposure made alike of the dead and the living.
This I have always seen and lamented; and being aware that my turn would probably come to be thus exhibited, I have abstained from preserving even the slightest memoranda of events, thoughts, or feelings, that could be laid hold on as a private journal: and I have most distinctly intimated to all those friends who possess any letters of mine, that I shall regard it as a gross breach of confidence, a dishonorable, base, and mercenary proceeding on their part, if ever they permit a sentence addressed by me to them to pass into other hands. Indeed, to such an extent have I felt this, that for many years past I have kept some friends under a solemn pledge, that immediately after my death, they will proclaim my having so guarded my correspondence, in order, if possible, to shame the individuals from a course with regard to me which I have never been inveigled into with regard to others. Looking on epistolary communications as a trust not to be betrayed, I have invariably refused to deliver to the biographers of my departed friends any letters of theirs that I might possess: the first application for them has always been the signal for committing the whole budget to the flames.
This you know; and you say that the very precautions I have used will leave my memory more completely at the mercy of ill-judging or ill- informed survivors, who, in the absence of more authentic information, may draw on their own invention, and do me injustice. This is the plea that has prevailed with me now: the uncertainty of mortal life, with the apprehension that if suddenly removed I shall become the heroine of some strange romance, founded probably on the facts of a life by no means deficient in remarkable incidents, but mixed up with a great deal of fiction; and the consciousness that others may be thereby wounded, whom I would not wish to wound—have decided me to act upon your suggestion, and to draw out a little sketch of such matters as can alone concern the public in any way. Into private domestic History no person possessed of a particle of delicacy can wish to intrude. It is melancholy to witness the prying spirit that some are but too ready to cater to, for filthy lucre's sake: and grievous to reflect that the boasted immunity which makes the cottage of the English peasant, no less than the palace of the English noble, a castle—which so fences his domestic hearth that no man may set foot within his door without his consent, or proclaim an untruth concerning him without being legally compelled to render compensation, should be withdrawn from his grave. I cannot tell you how I have blushed for the living, and kindled with resentment on behalf of the dead, when contemplating the merciless desecration of what may truly be called the sacredness of home, in some biographical notices.
You may therefore expect to find in these sheets a record of that mental and spiritual discipline by which it has pleased the Lord to prepare me for the very humble, yet not very narrow, sphere of literary usefulness in which it was his good purpose to bid me move; with whatever of outward things, passing events, and individual personal adventure, as it is called, may be needful to illustrate the progress. Of living contemporaries I shall of course not speak: of the dead no further than as I would myself be spoken of by them, had I gone first. Public events I shall freely discuss, and hold back nothing that bears on spiritual subjects. Nobody shall ever need to be at the trouble of posthumously searching out and proclaiming my opinions on any topic whatever, apart from personalities. I will not withhold, nor disguise, nor soften them down; and if the charge of egotism be brought, let the accusers lay their hands upon their hearts, and declare that they would not have sanctioned another in performing for me, as a defunct writer, the office which nobody can fulfil half so well, because nobody can do it half so correctly, as myself.
To commence the task, in which I earnestly implore the Father of all mercies and Teacher of all truth to guide me, to guard me from misstatement, to preserve me from self-seeking, and to overrule it to the glory of his great name, I must remind you that my birthplace was Norwich; a fine old town, distinguished for its many antiquities, the beauty of its situation on a rising ground, interspersed with a profusion of rich gardens, and studded with churches to the number of thirty-five, including a majestic cathedral. Many years have elapsed since I last beheld it, and perhaps the march of modern improvement has so changed its features, that were I now to dwell upon my recollections of that cherished home, they would not be recognized. But I cannot forget the early impressions produced on my mind by the peculiarities of the place; nor must they be omitted here. The sphere in which it is my dearest privilege to labor, is the cause of Protestantism; and sometimes when God has blessed my poor efforts to the deliverance of some captive out of the chains of Popish delusion, I have recalled the fact of being born just opposite the dark old gateway of that strong building where the noble martyrs of Mary's day were imprisoned. I have recollected that the house wherein I drew my first breath was visible through the grated window of their prison, and a conspicuous object when its gates unfolded to deliver them to unjust judgment and a cruel death. Are any of the prayers of those glorified saints fulfilled in the poor child who was brought into the world on that particular spot, though at the distance of some ages? The query could not be answered, but the thought has frequently cheered me on. The stern-looking gateway opening on St. Martin's plain, was probably one of the very first objects traced on the retina of my infant eye, when it ranged beyond the inner walls of the nursery; and often, with tottering step, I passed beneath that arch into the splendid garden of our noble episcopal palace; and certainly, if my Protestantism may not be traced to that locality, my taste may; for from all the elaborate display of modern architecture, all the profuse luxuriance and endless variety of modern horticulture, I now turn away, to feast in thought on the recollection of that venerable scene. The palace itself is a fine specimen of the chaste old English style; but the most conspicuous, the most unfading feature, was the cathedral itself, which formed the boundary of one-half of the garden; a mass of sober magnificence, rising in calm repose against the sky, which, to my awe-struck gaze and childish imagination, seemed to rest upon its exquisitely formed spire. Seated on the grass, busying my fingers with the daisies that were permitted to spring around, I have been lost in such imaginings as I suppose not many little children indulge in, while permitting my eyes to rove over the seemingly interminable mass of old grey stone, and then to fall upon the pleasant flowers around me. I loved silence, for nothing that fell on the ear seemed in accordance with what so charmed the eye; and thus a positive evil found entrance in the midst of much enjoyment. I acquired that habit of dreamy excursiveness into imaginary scenes, and among unreal personages, which is alike inimical to rational pursuits and opposed to spiritual- mindedness. To a period so early as the middle of my fourth year I can revert with the most perfect, most vivid recollection of my habitual thoughts and feelings; and at that age, I can unhesitatingly declare, my mind was deeply tinctured with a romance not derived from books, nor from conversation, but arising, as I verily believe, out of the singular adaptation to each other of my natural taste and the scenery amidst which it began to develop itself. Our abode was changed to another part of the city before this period arrived; but the bishop's garden was still our haunt, and my supreme delight.
An immense orchard, shrubbery, and flower-garden were attached to my father's new residence, to which he had removed on account of its proximity to the church of which he was rector. This, too, was an old- fashioned house, mantled with a vine, and straggling out, in irregular buildings, along the slope of the garden. The centre of an immense grass-plot, studded with apple, pear, and plum trees, was occupied by the most gigantic mulberry I ever beheld, the thick trunk of which resembled that of a knotted oak, while in its forest of dark branches nestled a number of owls and hats. Oh, how I loved to lurk beneath its shadow on a summer evening, and await the twilight gloom, that the large owl might come forth and wheel around the tree, and call out his companions with a melancholy hoot; while the smaller bat, dipping lower in his flight, brushed by me, accustomed to my presence. I had entered betimes upon the pernicious study of nursery tales, as they then were, and without having the smallest actual belief in the existence of fairies, goblins, or any such things, I took unutterable delight in surrounding myself with hosts of them, decked out in colors of my own supplying, gorgeous or terrible beyond the conception of my classic authorities. The faculty of realizing whatever I pictured to myself was astonishingly great; and you must admit that the localities in which I was placed were but too favorable to the formation of a character which I have no doubt the enemy was secretly constructing within me, to mislead, by wild, unholy fiction, such as should come within the range of its, influence. To God be all the glory that I am not now pandering with this pen to the most grovelling or the most impious of man's perverted feelings.
But above all other tastes, all other cravings, one passion reigned supreme, and that acme of enjoyment to me was music. This also was met by indulgence as unlimited as its cravings; for not only did my father possess one of the finest voices in the world, and the very highest degree of scientific knowledge, taste, and skill in the management of it, but our house was seldom without an inmate in the person of his most intimate friend and brother clergyman, a son of the celebrated composer Mr. Linley, who was as highly gifted in instrumental as my father was in vocal music. The rich tones of his old harpsichord seem at this moment to fill my ear and swell my heart; while my father's deep, clear, mellow voice breaks in, with some noble recitative or elaborate air of Handel, Haydn, and the rest of a school that may be superseded, but never, never can be equalled by modern composers. Or the harpsichord was relinquished to another hand, and the breath of our friend came forth through the reed of his hautboy in strains of such overpowering melody, that I have hid my face on my mother's lap to weep the feelings that absolutely wrung my little heart with excess of enjoyment. This was not a snare; or, if it might have been made one, the Lord broke it in time, by taking away my hearing. I would not that it had been otherwise, for while a vain imagination was fostered by the habit I have before adverted to, this taste for music and its high gratification most certainly elevated the mind. I do firmly believe that it is a gift from God to man, to be prized, cherished, cultivated. I believe that the man whose bosom yields no response to the concord of sweet sounds, falls short of the standard to which man should aspire as an intellectual being; and though Satan does fearfully pervert this solace of the mind to most vile purposes, still I heartily agree with Martin Luther, that, in the abstract, "the devil hates music."
Before I had completed my sixth year, I came under the rod of discipline which was to fall so long and so perseveringly upon me ere I should "hear the rod and who had appointed it." Enthusiastic in every thing, and already passionately fond of reading, I had eagerly accepted the offer of a dear uncle, a young physician, to teach me French. I loved him, for he was gentle and kind, and very fond of me; and it was a great happiness to trip through the long winding street that separated us, to turn down by the old Bridewell, so celebrated as an architectural curiosity, being built of dark flint stones, exquisitely chiselled into the form of bricks, and which even then I could greatly admire, and to take my seat on my young uncle's knee, in the large hall of his house, where stood a very large and deep-toned organ, some sublime strain from which was to reward my diligence, if I repeated accurately the lesson he had appointed. Thus between love for my uncle, delight in his organ, and a natural inclination to acquire learning, I was stimulated to extraordinary efforts, and met the demand on my energies in a very unsafe way. I placed my French book under my pillow every night, and starting from repose at the earliest break of dawn, strained my sleepy eyes over the page, until, very suddenly, I became totally blind.
This was a grievous blow to my tender parents: the eclipse was so complete that I could not tell whether it was midnight or midnoon, so far as perception of light was concerned, and the case seemed hopeless. It was, however, among the "all things" that God causes to work together for good, while Satan eagerly seeks to use them for evil. It checked my inordinate desire for mere acquirements, which I believe to be a bad tendency, particularly in a female, while it threw me more upon my own resources, such as they were, and gave me a keen relish for the highly intellectual conversation that always prevailed in our home. My father delighted in the society of literary men; and he was himself of a turn so argumentative, so overflowing with rich conversation, so decided in his political views, so alive to passing events, so devotedly and so proudly the Englishman, that with such associates as he gathered about him at his own fireside, I don't see how the little blind girl, whose face was ever turned up towards the unseen speaker, and whose mind opened to every passing remark, could avoid becoming a thinker, a reasoner, a tory, and a patriot. Sometimes a tough disputant crossed our threshold; one of these was Dr. Parr, and brilliant were the flashes resulting from such occasional collision with antagonists of that calibre. I am often charged with the offence of being too political in my writings: the fact is, I write as I think and feel; and what else can you expect from a child reared in such a nursery?
But another consequence of this temporary visitation was an increased passion for music. The severe remedies used for my blindness frequently laid me on the sofa for days together, and then my fond father would bring home with him, after the afternoon service of the cathedral, of which he was also a canon, a party of the young choristers. My godfather would seat himself at the harpsichord; the boys, led by my father, performed the vocal parts; and such feasts of sacred music were served up to me, that I have breathed to my brother in an ecstatic whisper the confession, "I don't want to see; I like music better than seeing."
That brother I have not before named; but that only brother was a second self. Not that he resembled me in any respect, for he was beautiful to a prodigy, and I an ordinary child; he was wholly free from any predilection for learning, being mirthful and volatile in the highest degree; and though he listened when I read to him the mysterious marvels of my favorite nursery books, I doubt whether he ever bestowed an after- thought on any thing therein contained. The brightest, the sweetest, the most sparkling creature that ever lived, he was all joy, all love. I do not remember to have seen him for one moment out of temper or out of spirits for the first sixteen years of his life; and he was to me what the natural sun is to the system. We were never separated; our studies, our plays, our walks, our plans, our hearts were always one. That holy band which the Lord has woven, that inestimable blessing of fraternal love and confidence, was never broken, never loosened between us, from the cradle to his grave; and God forbid that I should say or think that the grave has broken it. If I have not from the outset included that precious brother in my sketch, it was because I should almost as soon have deemed it necessary to include by name my own head or my own heart. He too was musical, and sang sweetly, and I cannot look back on my childhood without confessing that its cup ran over with the profusion of delights that my God poured into it.
About this time, when my sight, after a few months' privation, was fully restored, I first imbibed the strength of Protestantism as deeply as it can be imbibed apart from spiritual understanding, Norwich was infamously conspicuous in persecuting unto death the saints of the Most High, under the sanguinary despotism of popish Mary; and the spot where they suffered, called the Lollard's pit, lies just outside the town, over Bishop's bridge, having a circular excavation against the side of Moushold-hill. This, at least to within a year or two ago, was kept distinct, an opening by the road-side. My father often took us to walk in that direction, and pointed out the pit, and told us that there Mary burnt good people alive for refusing to worship wooden images. I was horror-stricken, and asked many questions, to which he did not always reply so fully as I wished; and one day, having to go out while I was inquiring, he said, "I don't think you can read a word of this book, but you may look at the pictures: it is all about the martyrs." So saying, he placed on a chair the old folio of Foxe's Acts and Monuments, in venerable black-letter, and left me to examine it.
Hours passed and still found me bending over, or rather leaning against that magic book. I could not, it is true, decipher the black-letter, but I found some explanations in Roman type, and devoured them; while every wood-cut was examined with aching eyes and a palpitating heart. Assuredly I took in more of the spirit of John Foxe, even by that imperfect mode of acquaintance, than many do by reading his book through; and when my father next found me at what became my darling study, I looked up at him with burning cheeks and asked, "Papa, may I be a martyr?"
"What do you mean, child?"
"I mean, papa, may I be burned to death for my religion, as these were? I want to be a martyr."
He smiled, and made me this answer, which I have never forgotten: "Why, Charlotte, if the government ever gives power to the Papists again, as they talk of doing, you may probably live to be a martyr."
I remember the stern pleasure that this reply afforded me; of spiritual knowledge not the least glimmer had ever reached me in any form, yet I knew the Bible most intimately, and loved it with all my heart as the most sacred, the most beautiful of earthly things. Already had its sublimity caught my adoration; and when listening to the lofty language of Isaiah, as read from his stall in the cathedral by my father in Advent, and the early Sundays of the year, while his magnificent voice sent the prophetic denunciations pealing through those vaulted aisles, I had received into my mind, and I think into my heart, that scorn of idolatry which breathes so thrillingly in his inspired page. This I know, that at six years old the foundation of a truly scriptural protest was laid in my character; and to this hour it is my prayer that whenever the Lord calls me hence, he may find his servant not only watching but working against the diabolical iniquity that filled the Lollard's pit with the ashes of his saints.
And now upon that all-important topic the Bible I would remark, that among the most invaluable blessings of my life I remember the judicious conduct of my parents in regard to it. We generally find that precious volume made a book of tasks; sometimes even a book of penalties: the consequence of so doing cannot but be evil. With us it was emphatically a reward book. That identical book is now before me, in its rich red cover, elegantly emblazoned with the royal arms; for it is the very Bible that was placed before queen Charlotte at her coronation in 1761; and which, becoming the perquisite of a prebendary of Westminster, was by his wife presented to my mother, to whom she stood sponser. This royal Bible was highly prized; and it was with special favor that it was opened for us when we had been good, and were deemed worthy of some mark of approval. My father, then, whose voice made music of every thing, would read to us the history of Abel, of Noah, of Moses, of Gideon, or some other of the exquisite narratives of the Old Testament. I do not say that they were made the medium of conveying spiritual instruction; they were unaccompanied by note or comment, written or oral, and merely read as histories, the fact being carefully impressed on our minds that God was the author, and that it would be highly criminal to doubt the truth of any word in that book. * * * The consequences of this early instruction, imparted as an indulgence, I have reason daily to rejoice in: it led me to search for myself the inspired pages; it taught me to expect beauties, and excellences, and high intellectual gratification where God has indeed caused them to abound. As in the natural world we find the nutritious fruit not lying like pebbles on the ground, but hung on graceful trees and shrubs, heralded by fair and fragrant blossoms, embowered in verdant foliage, and itself beautifully shaped and tinted; so has the Lord arranged that the garden where grows the fruit of the tree of life, should abound in all that is most lovely to man's natural perception; and do we not slight this bounteous care for our mind's enjoyment while he makes provision for our soul's sustenance, when we neglect to point these things out to the notice of our children? The word was my delight many a year before it became my counsellor; and when at last the veil was withdrawn from my heart, and Jesus stood revealed as the Alpha and Omega of that blessed book, it was not like gradually furnishing a vacant place with valuable goods, but like letting a flood of day into one already most-richly stored with all that was precious; though, for lack of light whereby to discern their real nature, the gems had been regarded but as common things. My memory was plentifully stored with what it had been, my free choice to study; and when in the progress of this little narrative you learn how mercifully I have been preserved from doctrinal error in its various forms, through that full acquaintance with God's word, you will trace his marvellous workings in thus furnishing my mind, as it were, with an armory of ready weapons, and will be ready to echo with increased earnestness that emphatic declaration, "The Bible, the Bible alone, is the religion of Protestants;" and not only to echo, but also to act upon it.
Religion, however, did at this early period of my life become a very important concern in my eyes; our mother had taken infinite pains to assure us of one great truth—the omniscience of an omnipresent God—and this I never could for a moment shake off. It influenced us both in a powerful manner, so that if either committed a fault, we never rested until, through mutual exhortation on the ground that God certainly knew it, and would be angry if we added deceit to another error, we had encouraged each other to confession. We then went, hand in hand, to our mother, and the one who stood clear of the offence acknowledged it in the name of the transgressor, while both asked pardon. Never did children more abhor a lie: we spurned its meanness, while trembling at its guilt; and nothing bound us more closely and exclusively together than, the discoveries we were always making of a laxity among other children in this respect. On such occasions we would shrink into a corner by ourselves and whisper, "Do they think God does not hear that?" Self-righteousness, no doubt, existed in a high degree; we were baby Pharisees, rejoicing in the external cleanliness of cup and platter; but I look back with great thankfulness on the mercy that so far restrained us: an habitual regard to truth has carried me safely through many a trial, and, as a means, guarded me from many a snare. It cannot be too early or too strongly inculcated; nor should any effort be considered too great, any difficulty too discouraging, any reprobation too strong, or, I will add, any punishment too severe, when the object in view is to overcome this infamous vice in a child. Once I remember having been led into a lie at the instigation, and through the contrivance of a servant- girl, for whose benefit it was told. Suspicion instantly arose, from my dreadful embarrassment of manner; a strict investigation commenced; the girl told me to face it out, for that nobody else knew of it, and she would not flinch. But my terrors of conscience were insupportable; I could ill bear my father's steady eye fixed on mine, still less the anxious, wondering, incredulous expression of my brother's innocent face, who could not for a moment fancy me guilty. I confessed at once; and with a heavy sigh my father sent to borrow from a neighbor an instrument of chastisement never before needed in his own house. He took me to another room, and said, "Child, it will pain me more to punish you thus, than any blows I can inflict will pain you; but I must do it; you have told a lie—a dreadful sin, and a base, mean, cowardly action. If I let you grow up a liar, you will reproach me for it one day; if I now spared the rod, I should hate the child." I took the punishment in a most extraordinary spirit: I wished every stroke had been a stab; I wept because the pain was not great enough; and I loved my father at that moment better than even I, who almost idolized him, had ever loved him before. I thanked him, and I thank him still; for I never transgressed in that way again. The servant was called, received her wages and a most awful lecture, and was discharged the same hour. Yet, of all these things what sunk deepest into my very soul were the sobs and cries of my fond little brother, and the lamentable tones of his soft voice, pleading through the closed door, "O, papa, don't whip Charlotte. O forgive poor Charlotte."
It is sweet to know we have a Brother indeed who always pleads, and never pleads in vain for the offending child; a Father whose chastisements are not withheld, but administered in tender love; judgment being his strange work, and mercy that wherein he delights, and the peaceable fruits of righteousness the end of his corrections. The event to which I have referred may appear too trivial a thing to record; but it is by neglecting trivial things that we ruin ourselves and our children. The usual mode of training these immortal beings, the plan of leaving them to servants and to themselves, the blind indulgence that passes by, with a slight reprimand only, a wilful offence, and the mischievous misapplication of doctrine that induces some to let nature do her worst, because nothing but grace can effectually suppress her evil workings; all these are faulty in the extreme, and no less presumptuous than foolish: this has produced that "spirit of the age" which, operating in a "pressure from without," is daily forcing us further from the good old paths in which we ought to walk, and in which our forefathers did walk, when they gave better heed than we do to the inspired word, which tells us, "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him."
I have long been persuaded that there is no such thing as an honest private journal, even where the entries are punctually made under present impressions. There is so much of positive, active evil always at work in the mind, that to give a fair transcript of idle unprofitable thoughts and corrupt imaginings, is out of the question: evil is dealt with in generals, good in particulars, and the balance cannot be fairly struck. Those confessions of indwelling sin that remorse will wring from us, and which perhaps are penned at the moment in perfect sincerity, being unaccompanied with, the specifications that would invest them in their naturally hideous colors, beneath the searching light of God's holy and spiritual law, wear the lovely garb of unfeigned humility. The reader, coming to such self-condemnatory clauses, is struck with admiration at the saintly writer's marvellous self-abasement, only lamenting that he should, in the excess of his lowly-mindedness, have written such, bitter things against himself, at a time when he was grieving, resisting, almost quenching the Holy Spirit within by obstinate transgression.
And if the present, how much more is the past liable to be glossed over? To be faithful here is next to impossible, for Satan helps us to deceive ourselves and instructs us to carry out the deception to others. This consideration might well cause the pen of autobiography to drop from a Christian's hand, did not an earnest desire to glorify God in his merciful dealings, together with the consciousness that to no other could the task he safely delegated, act as a counterpoise to the discouragement. I do desire to magnify the exceeding riches of God's grace to me, if I may do so without increasing the charge of arrogant assumption. I know that among the diversity of gifts which he bestows on his creatures, he granted me a portion of mental energy, a quickness of perception, a liveliness of imagination, an aptitude for expressing the thoughts that were perpetually revolving in my mind, such as to fit me for literary occupation. I know that Satan, to whom such instruments are exceedingly valuable, marked me as one who would, if properly trained to it, do his work effectually within his own sphere; and I am not more sure of my present existence than I am of the fact that he strove to secure me for that purpose, from the first expanding of those faculties which evidently lie exposed to his observation and open to his attacks, as far as God permits him to work. Can I feel all this, and not bless the Lord, who so far baffled these designs, and deigned to appoint my field of labor within the sacred confines of his own vineyard?
The visitation of which I have spoken had a powerful influence on my after-life; it rendered the preservation of my newly-restored sight an object of paramount importance, to which the regular routine of education must needs be sacrificed. A boarding-school had never been thought of for me. My parents loved their children too well to meditate their expulsion from the paternal roof; and the children so well loved their parents and each other that such a separation would have been insupportable to them. Masters we had in the necessary branches of education, and we studied together so far as I was permitted to study; but before it was deemed safe to exercise my eyes with writing apparatus, I had stealthily possessed myself of a patent copy-book, by means of which, tracing the characters as they shone through the paper, I was able to write with tolerable freedom before any one knew that I could join two letters; and I well remember my father's surprise, not unmixed with annoyance, when he accidentally took up a letter which I had been writing to a distant relation, giving a circumstantial account of some domestic calamity which had no existence but in my brain; related with so much pathos too, that my tears had fallen over the slate whereon this my first literary attempt was very neatly traced. He could not forbear laughing; but ended with a grave shake of the head, and a remark to the effect that I was making more haste than good speed.
At this time, seven years of age, I became entangled in a net of dangerous fascination. One evening my brother was taken to the theatre, while I, on account of a cold, had to stay at home. To compensate for this, I was permitted to read the play to him; and that play was, "The Merchant of Venice." I will not dwell upon the effect. I had already become fond of such theatrical spectacles as were considered suitable for children—pantomime and broad farce—and like a child I gazed upon the glitter, and enjoyed the bustle; but now, seated in a corner, all quiet about me, and nothing to interfere with the mental world, I drank a cup of intoxication under which my brain reeled for many a year. The character of Shylock burst upon me, even as Shakspeare had conceived it. I revelled in the terrible excitement that it gave rise to; page after page was stereotyped upon a most retentive memory without an effort, and during a sleepless night I feasted on the pernicious sweets thus hoarded in my brain.
Pernicious indeed they were; for from that hour my diligence in study, my docility of conduct, every thing that is usually regarded as praiseworthy in a child, sprung from a new motive. I wanted to earn a reward, and that was no longer a sweet story from the Bible, but permission to carry into my retreat a volume of Shakspeare. A taste so unusual at my age was hailed with applause; visitors questioned me on the different plays, to ascertain my intimate acquaintance with the characters; but no one, not even my father, could persuade me to recite a line, or to listen when another attempted it, or to witness the representation of any play of Shakspeare. This I mention to prove what a powerful hold the enemy of all godliness must have expected to take on a spirit so attuned to romance. Reality became insipid, almost hateful to me; conversation, except that of the literary men to whom I have alluded, a burden. I imbibed a thorough contempt for women, children, and household affairs, intrenching myself behind invisible barriers that few, very few, could pass. Oh how many wasted hours, how much of unprofitable labor, what wrong to my fellow-creatures, what robbery of God, must I refer to this ensnaring book. My mind became unnerved, my judgment perverted, my estimate of people and things wholly falsified, and my soul wrapped in the vain solace of unsubstantial enjoyments during years of after sorrow, when but for this I might have early sought the consolations of the gospel. Parents know not what they do, when from vanity, thoughtlessness, or overindulgence, they foster in a young girl what is called a poetical taste. Those things highly esteemed among men are held in abomination with God; they thrust him from his creatures' thoughts, and enshrine a host of polluting idols in his place.
My father, I am sure, wished to check the evil which, as a sensible man, he could not but foresee; my state of health, however, won a larger portion of indulgence than was good for me. The doctors into whose hands I had fallen, were of the school now happily very much exploded: they had one panacea for almost every ill, and that was the perilous drug mercury. With it, they rather fed than physicked me; and its deleterious effects on the nervous system were doubly injurious to me, as increasing tenfold the excitability that required every curb. Among all the marvels of my life, the greatest is that of my having grown up to be one of the healthiest of human beings, and with an inexhaustible flow of even mirthful spirits; for certainly I was long kept hovering on the verge of the grave by the barbarous excess to which medical experiments were carried; and I never entertained a doubt that the total loss of my hearing before I was ten years old, was owing to a paralysis induced by such severe treatment. God, however, had his own purposes to work out, which neither Satan nor man could hinder. He overruled all for the furtherance of his own gracious designs.
Shut out by this last dispensation from my two delightful resources, music and conversation, I took refuge in books with tenfold avidity. By this time I had added the British poets generally to my original stock, together with such reading as is usually prescribed for young ladies; and I underwent the infliction of reading aloud to my mother the seven mortal volumes of Sir Charles Grandison. It was in the fulfilment of this awful task that I acquired a habit particularly mischievous and ensnaring—that of reading mechanically, with a total abstraction of mind from what I was about. This became the easier to me from the absence of all external sound; and its consequences are exceedingly distressing to this day, as experienced in a long-indulged, and afterwards most bitterly lamented wandering of the mind in prayer and in reading the Scriptures. In fact, through the prevalence of this habit, my devotions, always very punctually performed, became such an utter lip-service, as frequently to startle and terrify my conscience, when I found myself saying prayers and thinking idle songs or scraps of plays; but I regarded such transient pangs of remorse as a satisfaction for the sin, and never dreamed of resisting the general habit.
Thus far I had led a town life, residing in the heart of a populous city, enjoying indeed that noble garden, but daily more and more absorbed in books of fancy. Happily, my health became so affected that a removal into the country was judged necessary, and I forgave the doctors all their past persecution of me, in consideration of their parting injunctions, which were, that I was to have unbounded liberty; to live entirely in the open air, save when the weather forbade; to be amused with all rural occupations; and especially to frequent farm-yards, for the purpose of inhaling the breath of cows. My father exchanged parochial duty with a friend, taking his village congregation, and engaging a house very near the church.
That tall white house, what a place it holds in my fond recollection. It was perfectly an old parsonage, and behind it lay a garden larger than our city orchard, sloping gently down, with a profusion of fruit and flowers, bounded by high walls, and the central walk terminating in a door, beyond which lay the scene of our greatest enjoyment. A narrow slip of grass, fringed with osiers and alders and willows, alone separated the wall from a very clear, lovely stream, which winding half round an extensive common, turned a mill. This small river abounded with fish, and we soon became expert anglers; besides which, on creeping to some distance by a path of our own discovery, we could cross the stream on a movable plank, and take a wide range through, the country. This removal was a double resource: it invigorated my bodily frame, until I outgrew and out-bloomed every girl of my age in the neighborhood, while really laying a foundation for many years of uninterrupted health, and a constitution to defy the change of climate for which I was destined; while it won me from the sickening, enervating habit of sedentary enjoyment over the pages of a book, which, added to the necessary studies and occupations, was relaxing alike the tone of the bodily and mental frame. From the polluted works of man, I was drawn to the glorious works of God; and never did bird of the air or beast of the field more luxuriate in the pure bright elements of nature than I did. All the poetical visions of liberty that had floated in my brain seemed now realized; all pastoral descriptions faded before the actual enjoyment of rural life. Sometimes wreathing garlands of, wild flowers, reclined on a sunny bank, while a flock of sheep strolled around, and the bold little lambs came to peep in our faces, and then gallop away in pretended alarm; sometimes tearing our clothes to tatters in an ardent hunt for the sweet filberts that hung high above our heads, on trees well fortified behind breastworks of bramble and thorn; sometimes cultivating the friendship while we quaffed the milk of the good-natured cows under the dairymaid's operation: all was freedom, mirth, and peace. Often would my father take his noble pointers preparatory to the shooting season, at once to try their powers and to ascertain what promise of future sport the fields presented. These were destructive expeditions in one sense. I remember the following dialogue, repeated to me by my brother, when we made our appearance at home after a day's demolition of wearing apparel.
"Mr. B. this will never do; that girl cannot wear a frock twice without soiling it; nor keep it whole for a week: the expense will ruin us."
"Well, my dear, if I am to be ruined by expense, let it come in the shape of the washerwoman's and linen-draper's bills, not in those of the apothecary and undertaker."
My dear father was right; and it would be a happy thing for girls in general, if somewhat of appearance, and of acquirement too, was sacrificed to what God has so liberally provided, and to the enjoyment of which a blessing is undoubtedly annexed. Where, among females, do we find the stamina of constitution and the elasticity of spirit which exist in those of our rural population who follow outdoor employment? It positively pains me to see a party of girls, a bonneted and tippeted double-file of humanity,
"That like a wounded snake drags its slow length along,"
under the keen surveillance of a governess, whose nerves would never be able to endure the shock of seeing them bound over a stream and scramble through a fence, or even toss their heads and throw out their limbs as all young animals, except that oppressed class called young ladies, are privileged to do. Having ventured, in a fit of my country daring, to break the ice of this very rigid and frigid subject, I will recount another instance of the paternal good sense to which I owe, under God, the physical powers without which my little talent might have been laid by in a napkin all my days.
One morning, when his daughter was about eight years old, my father came in, and found sundry preparations going on, the chief materials for which were buckram, whalebone, and other stiff articles, while the young lady was under measurement by the hands of a female friend.
"Pray, what are you going to do to the child?"
"Going to fit her with a pair of stays."
"For what purpose?"
"To improve her figure; no young lady can grow up properly without them."
"I beg your pardon; young gentlemen grow up very well without them, and so may young ladies."
"O, you are mistaken. See what a stoop she has already; depend on it this girl will be both a dwarf and a cripple if we don't put her into stays."
"My child may be a cripple, ma'am, if such is God's will; but she shall be one of his making, not ours."
All remonstrance was vain; stays and every species of tight dress were strictly prohibited by the authority of one whose will was, as every man's ought to be, absolute in his own household. He also carefully watched against any evasion of the rule: a ribbon drawn tightly round my waist would have been cut without hesitation by his determined hand; while the little girl of the anxious friend whose operations he had interrupted, enjoyed all the advantages of that system from which I was preserved. She grew up a wandlike figure, graceful and interesting, and died of decline at nineteen; while I, though not able to compare shapes with a wasp or an hour-glass, yet passed muster very fairly among mere human forms of God's moulding; and I have enjoyed to this hour a rare exemption from headaches, and other ladylike maladies, that appear the almost exclusive privilege of women in the higher classes.
This is no trivial matter, believe me; it has frequently been the subject of conversation with professional men of high attainment, and I never met with one among them who did not, on hearing that I never but once, and then only for a few hours, submitted to the restraint of these unnatural machines, refer to that exemption, as a means, the free respiration, circulation, and powers both of exertion and endurance with which the Lord has most mercifully gifted me. There can be no doubt that the hand which first encloses the waist of a girl in these cruel contrivances, supplying her with a fictitious support, where the hand of God has placed bones and muscles that ought to be brought into vigorous action, that hand lays the foundation of bitter sufferings; at the price of which, and probably of a premature death, the advantage must be purchased of rendering her figure as unlike as possible to all the models of female beauty, universally admitted to be such, because they are chiselled after nature itself. I have seen pictures, and I have read harrowing descriptions, of the murderous consequences of thus flying in the face of the Creator's skill, and presuming to mend, to improve, his perfect work; but my own experience is worth a thousand treatises and ten thousand illustrations, in bringing conviction to my mind. Once, when introduced, as it is called, to the public, through the medium of a ballroom, I did join in persuading my father to allow of a fashionable lacing-up, though by no means a tight one. I felt much as, I suppose, a frolicksome young colt feels when first subjected to the goading apparatus that fetters his wild freedom. I danced, but it was with a heavy heart and laboring breath; I talked, under the influence of a stupefying headache, and on my return home flew to my apartment and cut the goodly fabric in pieces; nor was I ever afterwards tempted so to tempt my all-wise Maker by saying to the frame that he had fashioned and supplied with means of healthful growth, "Hitherto shalt thou go and no further."
Compressure of the feet was with equal strictness forbidden by my judicious father. This vain custom is perhaps not so fatal as the other, but it produces many evils. Coldness of the extremities may certainly exist where nothing of the kind has been practised; but while rejoicing that I, experimentally, know nothing of it, I cannot help recollecting that the bounding pulse which plays so joyously through my veins was never impeded in any part; and feeling this, I would no more expose a girl to one infliction than I would to the other. Do Christian mothers take a sufficiently serious and prayerful view of this subject, as regards their children? Do they weigh, in a balance of God's providing, this necessary provision of clothing, to separate not only what is unseemly for the woman professing godly simplicity, but what is enervating to those physical powers which she is bound to devote to the Lord, and the weakening of which is actual robbery of him? I fear we females are more ready to ask counsel one of another in this matter than of the Lord; or even of our husbands, who, in nine cases out of ten, no doubt would decide against the foolish and pernicious custom. At least, in all my arguments with my own sex, I have found the men invariably siding with me upon this topic.
You will be tired of these digressions, my dear friend, but I set out by forewarning you that my opinions would be freely stated; and while touching on a period of mortal life, where the body no less than the mind usually takes its direction for the rest of our pilgrimage, I cannot pass by any thing that appears to me of real importance to either. We will now return to what poets have sung and citizens sighed for, time out of mind—the delights of rural life.
All cramping is decidedly bad: wholesome restraints there are, which parents are bound to lay upon their children, and the latter to submit to; and among other things, I am sure a defined method and regular habits in education, work, and play, together, with a most strict attention to scrupulous punctuality, are not only valuable but indispensable to a right government of the mind and conduct in after- life. I have daily cause to lament the unavoidable neglect of such a system in my own case, during three important years; but unavoidable it was, unless my life had been sacrificed to the maintenance of such order. Accordingly, mine was the life of a butterfly; and whatever of the busy bee has since appeared in my proceedings must be ascribed to divine grace alone. I often recall those days of summer sunshine to which I have alluded; and the scarcely less joyous winter season, when, ploughing the light snow, we raced with our inseparable companion, the favorite pointer, or built up a brittle giant for the glory of demolishing him with balls of his own substance, or directed the soft missiles against each other. Accompanied by our father, but never alone, we made excursions upon our frozen stream; and very sweet it was to the fond hearts of my tender parents to watch the mantling glow of health, the elastic vigor of increasing stature, and the unbounded play of most exuberant spirits, in the poor child whom they had expected to enclose in an early grave. How often, seated on the low wide brick-work corner of the immense fireplace in a neighboring farm-house, have I been smoked among hams and tongues, while watching the progress of baking a homely cake upon those glowing wood-embers, or keeping guard over a treasury of apples, nuts, and elderberry wine, all streaming together in the lusciousness of a promised feast? Patriotism is with me no inert principle; it verily lives and acts and pervades my whole spirit; and I believe its energetic character, except as God deigns to work by his especial influence, is traceable to that early acquaintance with what is most purely English among us—the homes and the habits of our own bold yeomanry.
Cities may resemble one another, and the aping propensities of their inhabitants produce among them a rapid approximation of appearance and manners; but where shall we look for the counterpart of a rural English HOME? The thing is as untransferable as the word is untranslatable. The antique village church, with its broad square tower or low spire, its stone porch and oak seats, its narrow casements and the many vestiges of those abominations which the besom of the blessed Reformation swept from our services, though it could not, without demolishing the building, efface their relics from its walls; the churchyard surrounding its base, with undulating hillocks of mortality clad in long, rich grass, where lie, half hidden, the old grey monumental stones that can no longer tell the tale of bygone generations; the more modern sculpture, and the homely grave-rail standing sentry over the last resting-place of the poor, while some venerable tree overshadows the ground, where it has probably stood since the first stone of that modest temple was laid by our forefathers—all these are so endearingly English. The broad, rich fields, the hedgerow boundaries and stately lines of vigorous trees guarding their native soil; and above all, the manly bearing of a bold, an independent, and a peaceful peasantry, the humblest of whom knows that his cottage is a chartered sanctuary, protected alike from the aggressions of civil and of ecclesiastical tyranny—these, too, are English, sacredly English; and they leave upon the heart that has once expanded among them, an impress never to be effaced. Among national reformers, what a noble position would he occupy who should prevail upon our monied countrymen to exchange their habits of periodical vagrancy into popish lands, for a sojourn in the moral districts of their own Protestant England, in the confidence that the climate which agreed with their fathers from generation to generation—as the dates and ages decipherable on our monuments will testify—would not annihilate them; and that the sphere in which God had seen good to place them was that wherein he purposed them to move, to exert their influence, and to occupy for his glory, with the talents committed to their charge.
I have told you how books of imagination had supplanted the Bible in my esteem; those books now, in a measure, yielded to the irresistible attraction of outdoor amusement; but my mind was so abundantly stored with the glittering tinsel of unsanctified genius, as it shone forth in the pages of my beloved poets, that no room was left for a craving after better studies. Yet the turn of my mind was devotional in the extreme; so much so, that had the Lord permitted me at that time to come in contact with the wily fascinations of popery, I am sure I should have fallen, for a season at least, into the snare. God was really in all my thoughts; not as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ—not as a being of purer eyes than to behold iniquity—not as He whom I was required to glorify in my body and in my spirit, being bought with a price, to be no longer my own but his; no, my religion was a very attractive sort of Deism, which recognized the Creator of all those things wherein I delighted, and thought to render him great honor by such recognition. Thomson's "Hymn on the Seasons" was my body of divinity; and Pope's atrocious "Universal Prayer" would have become my manual of devotion, had not my father denounced it as a most blasphemous outrage upon revelation, and charged me never to repeat what he deeply regretted that I had committed to memory. I hated profanity, and would not have omitted the private repetition of a form of prayer, morning or evening, on any account, nor absented myself from public worship. A slighting expression applied to the Bible would kindle me into glowing resentment, expressed with no less sincerity than earnestness, and as a matter of duty I devoted some time every Sabbath-day to the perusal of God's word, with which I had become more extensively acquainted by reading it during sermon-time at church. I well know that even then, and at a much earlier period too, conviction of my own sinfulness was working very deeply, though not permanently, in my mind: it was not an abiding impression, but a thing of fits and starts, overwhelming me while it lasted, but soon shaken off by diverting my thoughts to something else. These convictions were unquestionably the result of my occasional readings in God's book: they always occurred during or immediately after such perusal, or when some passage was suddenly brought to my recollection.
I grew up a healthy, active, light-hearted girl, wholly devoted to reading and to rural occupations. The latter, particularly gardening, served as a counterpoise to the sedentary temptation that would have proved physically injurious; but laying in, as I daily did, a plentiful store of romantic adventure or fascinating poetry for rumination when abroad, my mind was unprofitably occupied at all times, to the exclusion of better things. On Sundays, indeed, I made it a point of conscience to abstain from light reading; and, as far as I could, to banish from my thoughts the week's acquisition of folly. I went to church, and read the Bible at home with a sermon of Blair's, or some similar writer wholly destitute of gospel light; and I generally had a short fit of compunction, on that day, for having been so wholly absorbed in worldly things during the preceding six; for even then God was striving with me to bring me unto himself, and many a strong conviction did I forcibly stifle. The warmth of my natural feelings, the ardor with which I entered into every thing that interested them, and a sort of energy that always longed to be doing where any cause that I considered good was to be promoted—all these would have rendered me a working character, had I obeyed the gracious call to go into the Lord's vineyard. I say a call, because though as yet I know nothing whatever of the gospel, I could not overlook or misunderstand the reiterated injunctions of Scripture to seek spiritual wisdom, to ask for guidance, and to occupy with the talent committed to my charge. I knew the promise, "They that seek me early shall find me," and more than once I trembled under such scriptures as the latter part of Proverbs 1; but my Sunday resolutions vanished before the Monday's dawning light, and I rushed again with a redoubled zest into the seductive regions of my imaginary world. Oh, how greatly do they err who think that such studies may be safely engaged in by the young and excitable mind. Some indeed there are so phlegmatic as to be proof against all the charms of poesy, insensible to the highest illusions of romance; but their number is small, and the individuals hard to identify, because a very cold exterior is often like the snow- capped heights of Etna, overspreading a hoard of volcanic elements of which the burst and blaze will some day be terrific. Such seem imbued with the spirit of indifference, because they are abstracted and silent when the laugh and merry jest go round among their companions; whereas this abstraction, from outward things results not from deadness of feeling, but from the intensity with which the mind is brooding over some phantom known only to itself. Nor do this class of dreamers always appear devoted to Books: a little reading goes far with them; and the quality rather than the quantity of their selections is to be looked to.
I have known many parents and teachers argue that it is better to bring the young acquainted with our standard poets and prose authors of a worldly cast, while they are yet under careful superintendence, so as to neutralize what may be unprofitable by judicious remark, and to avert the dangers attendant on such fascinating introductions at a riper age, when the restraints of authority are removed. Against this, two reasons have prevailed with me to exclude from my book-shelves all the furniture of a worldly library, and to watch against its introduction from other quarters. One is; the consideration that we are not authorized to calculate on the continuance of any creature's mortal existence; nor can we ever know that the being whom we are training for eternity will not be called into it before such period of life as is here anticipated. In such a case, how sad to feel that we have needlessly forestalled an evil day, and even momentarily diverted the young spirit from a sacred path. The other consideration is this: that as the flesh and the devil will assuredly do their parts without help from me, and the children of this world, who are wiser in their generation than the children of light, will certainly do the same; I may take a lesson of policy from them, using my best endeavors to preoccupy the field with what is decidedly good, and humbly hoping that the seed so sown may, through the operation of the Holy Spirit, take root before the tares are introduced, leaving little room for them to grow.
Of all the errors into which the world has fallen, none is more fatally mischievous than the habit of overlooking the personality, the energy, the power, the watchfulness, the deep cunning of the devil. By a conventional system, no doubt of his own suggesting, he is never to be named but in the act of worshipping God, or that of spiritual instruction. Any other robber and murderer, who was known to be on the watch to attack our houses, would be the subject of free discourse: his habits, his haunts, his usual plans, his successful and his baffled assaults in former cases, would be talked over, and thus a salutary fear would be kept alive, influencing us to bolt and bar, and watch and ward with unfailing vigilance, to avert a surprise. But Satan seems to be a privileged person: we learn, in the nursery, to fancy him a hideous caricature of human nature, with horns, hoof, and a tail, inspiring disgust, and a childish fear that wears off as we advance into youth, leaving an impression rather ludicrous than alarming of the ugly phantom that, nevertheless, continues identified with him of whom we read in the Bible. We then perhaps take up Milton, engrafting his poetical conception upon the original nursery stock, and make a devil half monster, half archangel, invested with the ugliness of the first and the sublimity of the second, but still far removed from the scripture character of that roaring lion who "goeth about seeking whom he may devour." We do not realize his existence, his presence, his devices; and so we often do his work from sheer ignorance or inexcusable thoughtlessness about it.
With me, as I have told you, the Bible did its work and conscience did hers; but a passion for the unreal proved too strong for both. Undoubtedly God could have wrought, as afterwards he did, to the casting down of imaginations and every thing that exalteth itself against Christ. But how many years of sorrow might have been averted, or how greatly at least might those sorrows have been mitigated, had not the inveteracy of a long-cherished disease required such sharp discipline to bring it under. Pride was the master-sin of my corrupt nature, a pride that every child of Adam inherits, but which peculiarly beset me. It was not what usually goes by that name: no one ever accused me of an approach to haughtiness, neither was I boastful or forward, as far as I know; but I delighted to model my own character according to the standard set forth in my foolish books, and by the contemplation of them I hoped to succeed. I loved to mark in others a mean, ungenerous, selfish, or malicious trait, and to contrast with it my own high-flown notions of the opposite qualities. My memory was well stored with fine sentiments concerning human dignity, honor, virtue, and so forth; and while secretly applying them—for I was not inclined to make ill-natured remarks—in contrast to the failings of those around me, I naturally learned to identify myself with the aforesaid sentiments, and to take it for granted it was I who shone so brightly at other people's expense. This is the inevitable consequence of measuring ourselves by ourselves, as all will do who are not led betimes to the standard appointed of God.
And now, the chambers of imagery being well furnished, I became in thought the heroine of all the foolish, improbable adventures I met with. Shakspeare and others having furnished me with dresses and decorations, every day of my life had its drama. Adventures the most improbable, situations the most trying, and conversation the most nonsensical among a visionary acquaintance of my own creating, became the constant amusement of my mind; or if I took a fancy to any new companion, that individual was metamorphosed into something equally unreal, and was soon looked upon in the light, not of sober reality, but of fanciful extravagance. Of course my estimate alike of persons and of things was egregiously false; and with a fair portion of common-sense naturally belonging to me, I became most emphatically a fool. Even when employed at the pencil, which I dearly loved, I could not trace a figure on the paper or a landscape on the canvas, that did not presently become the subject of a separate romance; and it never occurred to me that there was danger, much less sin, in this. I loved dancing to excess, and took much delight in all that was brilliant and beautiful; but upon the whole I preferred the uninterrupted course of my own vain thoughts, and then admired myself for being of a less dissipated turn than my young friends. Of course, I am now speaking of the time when, according to the world's usage, and rather earlier than usual, that is to say, at sixteen, I was introduced into society, by making my appearance at a grand election ball; and moreover, publicly receiving the compliments of the most polished and distinguished of our successful candidates, for sundry political squibs, said to be full of drollery and point, which had been traced home to me. Alas for the girl who makes such a debut! We were now again resident in the town, or rather within the precincts, as they are called, surrounding that venerable cathedral which had been the object of my babyish contemplations, and which is endeared to me beyond any other spot in my native place.
My beloved companion, my brother, had always manifested the most decided predilection for a military life. Often had he, in earliest childhood, toddled away from the gate after the fife and drum of a recruiting party; and often did he march and countermarch me, till I could not stand for fatigue, with a grenadier's cap, alias a muff, on my head, and my father's large cane shouldered by way of a firelock. The menaced invasion had added fuel to his martial fire, and when any other line of life was pointed out to him, his high spirits would droop, and the desire of his heart show itself with increasing decision. Our parents were very anxious to settle him at home for my sake, who seemed unable to live without him; and I am sure that my influence would have prevailed even over his long-cherished inclination, so dearly did he love me, but here the effect of that pernicious reading showed itself and forged the first link in a long chain of sorrows. I viewed the matter through the lying medium of romance: glory, fame, a conqueror's wreath or a hero's grave, with all the vain merit of such a sacrifice as I must myself make in sending him to the field—these wrought on me to stifle in my aching bosom the cry of natural affection, and I encouraged the boy in his choice, and helped him to urge on our parents this offering up of their only son, the darling of all our hearts, to the Moloch of war.
Finding that he could not be dissuaded, my father gave a reluctant consent; and let me here record an instance of generous kindness on the part of the bishop. He went to London, and by dint of personal, persevering importunity, obtained in a few days a commission in the army, at a time when seven hundred applicants, many of them backed by strong interest, were waiting for the same boon. The suddenness of the thing was quite stunning; we calculated on a delay of this sore trial; but it was done, and he was ordered to repair immediately, not to the depot, but to his regiment, then hotly engaged in the Peninsula. The bishop's kindness did not end here; he carried his generosity further in other ways, and likewise gave him introductions of great value. I love to record it of one whose public conduct as a Protestant prelate I am compelled to lament, but whose private character was most lovely.
Upheld by the intoxicating power of senseless romance, not by confidence in God, nor even by the reality of the patriotism that I persuaded myself was at the root of it all, I bore to see that beloved companion of my life depart for the scene of most bloody conflict. He was not nearly full grown; a blooming beautiful boy, reared, and up to that time tenderly guarded under the parental roof, in almost exclusive companionship with me. There was indeed but one heart between us, and neither could fancy what it would be to rejoice or to suffer alone. Of this I had given a proof in the preceding year. He took the measles and was exceedingly ill, and great precautions were used to preserve me from the infection; but, unable to brook a separation from him, I baffled their vigilance, burst into his apartment, and laying my cheek to his, resisted for a while all efforts to remove me. To my infinite delight I sickened immediately, and considered it an ample compensation for all attendant suffering, that I was allowed to sit constantly in the same room with him.
How strong, how sweet, how sacred is the tie that binds an only sister to an only brother, when they have been permitted to grow up together untrammelled by the heartless forms of fashion; unrivalled by alien claimants in their confiding affection; undivided in study, in sport, and in interest. Some object, that such union renders the boy too effeminate and the girl too masculine. In our case it did neither. He was the manliest, the hardiest, most decided, most intrepid character imaginable; but in manners sweet, gentle, and courteous, as they will be who are accustomed to look with protecting tenderness on an associate weaker than themselves. And as for me, though I must plead guilty to the charge of being more healthy, more active, and perhaps more energetic, than young ladies are usually expected to be, still I never was considered unfeminine; and the only peculiarity resulting from this constant companionship with one of the superior sex, was to give me a high sense of that superiority, with a habit of deference to man's judgment and submission to man's authority, which I am quite sure God intended the woman to yield. Every way has this fraternal tie been a rich blessing to me. The love that grew with us from our cradles never knew diminution from time or distance. Other ties were formed, but they did not supersede or weaken this. Death tore away all that was mortal and perishable, but this tie he could not sunder. As I loved him while he was on earth, so do I love him now that he is in heaven; and while I cherish in his sons the living likeness of what he was, my heart evermore yearns towards him where he is.
Parents are wrong to check as they do the outgoings of fraternal affection, by separating those whom God has especially joined as the offspring of one father and one mother. God has beautifully mingled them, by sending now a babe of one sex, now of the other, and suiting, as any careful observer may discern, their various characters to form a domestic whole. The parents interpose, packing off the boys to some school where no softer influence exists to round off, as it were, the rugged points of the masculine disposition, and where they soon lose all the delicacy of feeling peculiar to a brother's regard, and learn to look on the female character in a light wholly subversive of the frankness, the purity, the generous care for which earth can yield no substitute, and the loss of which only transforms him who ought to be the tender preserver of woman into her heartless destroyer. The girls are either grouped at home, with the blessed privilege of a father's eye still upon them, or sent away in a different direction from their brothers, exposed through unnatural and unpalatable restraints, to evils not perhaps so great, but every whit as wantonly incurred as the others. The shyness, miscalled retiring modesty, with which one young lady shrinks from the notice of a gentleman as though there were danger in his approach, and the conscious coquettish air, miscalled ease, with which another invites his notice, are alike removed from the reality of either modesty or ease. Both result from a fictitious mode of education —both are the consequences of nipping in the bud those sisterly feelings that lay a fair foundation for the right use of those privileges to which she looks forward as a member of society; and if the subject be viewed through the clear medium of Christian principle, its lights will become more brilliant, its shadows more dark, the longer and the closer we contemplate it.
Hitherto you have not heard of any spiritually minded person connected with my early life; yet there was one, I feel sure, though my recollections are confused and imperfect on that point; and one to whose prayers, if not to her teaching, I surely owe something.
My father's mother was a fine, sprightly, robust old lady, rather small in stature, and already bending a little under the burden of years at the time when I first recollect her as mingling in the visions of my childhood, though I know that even from infancy I was the delight of her warm honest heart. She was simplicity itself in manners, her blunt speeches sometimes clashing a little with her son's notions of polish and refinement, as also did her inveterate antipathy to the reigning fashion, whatever that might be. I remember her reading me a lecture upon something novel in the cut of a sleeve, ending by this remark: "I never wore a gown but of one shape; and because I don't follow the fashion, the fashion is forced to come to me sometimes by way of a change. I can't help that, you know, my dear; but I never was fashionable on purpose." She added some pious remarks on vanity and folly, which I soon forgot; but the other dwelt on my mind because it chimed in with my own love of independence—a prominent characteristic with me; too often carried to the excess of self-willed obstinacy. However, I dearly loved and exceedingly respected my grand mother, and used in my heart to glory in her smooth clean locks, half brown, half grey, combed down from under a snowy cap of homely make, when she had successfully resisted alike the entreaties and examples of contemporary dames, who submitted their heads to the curling-irons and powder-puff of a frizeur, preparatory to an evening party. I used to stand proudly at her knee, admiring the high color of her cheek, and uncommon brilliancy of her fine dark hazle eye, while her voice, remarkably rich and clear, involuntarily swelled the chorus parts of our magnificent music.
She was a Percy, not by name, for that had been lost in the female line some generations before, but the pedigree in my possession shows how just was her vaunt in that respect. For vaunt it she did, to us at least, often bringing it forward to check any tendency to behavior unbefitting those who claimed descent from
"The stout earl of Northumberland,"
with whom I ought to be well acquainted, for the singing of Chevy Chace in proper time and tune with her, was the only secular accomplishment in which my dear grandmother personally labored to perfect me, except knitting and curious old-fashioned needlework. The pride of ancestry took strong hold of my mind, and such an ancestry accorded but too well with my romance, innate and acquired. It stood me, many a time, in the stead of better things, when nerving myself to endure affliction and wrong; and therefore I notice it, to warn you against exposing your own children to the same snare.
Next to the fashion, if not in an equal or superior degree, I think my grandmother most abhorred the French. Indeed her strongest denunciations against the reigning modes were usually clinched with the triumphant assertion that they were "French fashions." No marvel if her spirit was stirred within her by the horrors of revolutionary France, and her Protestantism strengthened by the butcheries of "Ninety-eight." I knew that she was a protester and a tory of no common stamp; and I knew that she brought her Bible forward in support of every opinion that she uttered. Rarely did I visit her without finding her buried in the study of that blessed book; and I know that she strove to teach me much of its meaning; but our change of residence proved a great bar to personal intercourse, and she never wrote letters. I sometimes trace impressions on my mind, made in early life, which I am sure must have been through her means, and though the good seed died on the ground, while the weeds took root and flourished, still, here and there a grain might sink below the surface, to spring up after many days.
And now I must record my first sorrow, although I cannot dwell upon it as on some other things. My brother had been nearly two years absent, on service in the Peninsula, when an apoplectic attack arrested my lather in the midst of life and health and vigor, and every promise of lengthened years. The premonitory visitations of repeated strokes were disregarded, for we could not, would not, realize the approach of such an event, and persisted in believing them nervous; but just when all cause for alarm seemed at an end, and I was rejoicing in the assurance of its being so, I was called from my pillow at midnight to see that tender and beloved parent die. The bereavement was terrible to me: I had always been his principal companion, because no one else in the family had a taste for those things in which he delighted—literature and politics especially—and since my brother's departure, instead of seeking to replace him by friends of my own age, I had turned wholly to my father, never desiring to pass an hour out of his society, and striving to be to him both daughter and son. My mother was a perfect devotee to household affairs, every thought occupied in seeking to promote the domestic comforts of her family; while I, indulging a natural antipathy to all that did not engage the intellectual powers, gave her no help there, I was truly cumbering the ground, seeking only my own gratification, and dignifying my selfishness with many fine names, only because it was best indulged in my own dear home. From the period of my loss of hearing, music had been wholly banished; my father seemed to lose all relish for what could no longer minister enjoyment to me, and deeply I felt the force of that affection which could so instantly and wholly overcome the ruling passion of his mind, accompanied as it was with such exquisite skill in that delightful science as rendered him the admiration of all who came within its influence. It redoubled my devotion to him, and most bitter was the anguish of my heart when I beheld him taken away at a stroke.
Was this affliction sanctified to me? Not in the least. I found a luxury in grieving alone, brooding on the past, and painting the probable future in any colors but those of reality. My father had enjoyed two livings with a minor canonry in the cathedral, but the emolument was very small, and his income had not allowed him, as yet, to make any provision for us. A small annuity was all that my mother could depend on, and I resolved to become a novel-writer, for which I was just qualified, both by nature and habits of thinking, and in which I should probably have succeeded very well, but it pleased God to save me from this snare. My brother's unexpected return on leave, with our subsequent changes of abode, paying visits among friends, and keeping my thoughts constantly unsettled, hindered the execution of the project; and when my brother returned to Portugal, we repaired to London, to make a long stay with some near relations. It was there that I met with the gentleman, an officer on leave of absence, whose wife, at the end of six months, I became.