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“And vex'd at heart, down from the tops of steep heaven stoop'd; his bow,
And quiver cover'd round, his hands did on his shoulders throw;
A council was called among the Greeks, at, which it was resolved that the daughter should be returned; but not without sacrifices, to appease
of the God. The rejoicing father stood ready upon the beach :
“All come ashore, they all expos'd the holy hecatomb
Thus he resign'd ber, and her sire receiv’d her highly joy’d.
He pray'd ; and to his pray’rs again the God propitious stood.
Desire of meat and wine thus quench’d, the youths crown'd cups of wine, Drunk off, and fill’d again to all. That day was held divine, And spent in pæans to the Sun, who heard with pleas’d ear; When whose bright chariot stoop'd to sca, and twilight hid the clear, All soundly on their cables slept, even till the night was worn. And when the Lady of the Light, the rosy-finger'd Morn, Rose from the hills, all fresh arose, and to the camp retir’d. Apollo with a fore-right wind their swelling bark inspir'd. The top-mast hoisted, milk-white sails on his round breast they put, The mizens strooted with the gale, the ship her course did cuť So swiftly that the parted waves against her ribs did roar; Which, coming to the camp, they drew aloft the sandy shore ; Where, laid on stocks, each soldier kept his quarter as before."
(Ta be continued.)
LONDON: PUBLISHED BY M. PATTIE, 31, PATERNOSTER ROW, AND GEORGE
GLAISHER, 470, New OXFORD STREET,
OUT OF THE CLOUD;.
A TALE; BY P. W. P.
THE LETTER AND ITS FRUITS.
It must be confessed that of late George Lester had gradually declined from being the most cheerful into becoming a most unhappy man. His situation as Rector of Crosswood, with all its numerous advantages, social, pecuniary, and healthian, had become anything but pleasant; for, and entirely independent of the fact that liis parishioners were querulous, were given to slander, and practically at variance with all true ideas of religion, he was rendered uncomfortable by the ever-growing conviction--a conviction which, unperceived, had become supreme—that the religious theory of his Church needed to be completely remodelled. At heart he confided in the old prayers, and repeated with infantile trust the grace before and after his meals. In all his language and thoughts he was true alike to God and humanity, while in his pulpit he was always able to give a colouring to the old texts which brought them into perfect harmony with his own exalied views of God and duty. His expositions of some passages were of the highest order, considered as specimens of philosophical reasoning. At times, while he was dwelling upon the deeper meanings of some texts against which freethought exception had been taken, or when showing forth and explaining what he called “the glorious lessons of life” embodied in some of the Biblical narratives, he brought all his wide reading to bear upon the subject, so as to reflect a thousand lights upon it; and, at such times, it was impossible for his hearers to conclude otherwise than that he believed the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures to be the most complete embodiments of wisdom which the world bad ever possessed. And, for the time, he believed so himself; but there were other hours in which fearful doubts came to affright him-hours when the terrible questions arose in his mind, "Am I importing modern thoughts into ancient phrases ? am I supplying meanings instead of finding them ? am I playing VOL. VI. NEW SERIES. VOL. IL
fast and loose with words, so as Jesuitically to make them convey my own ideas—my own meaning, rather than that which their author intended ? and then, although anxious to avoid it, he was compelled to confess that, as a rule, the latter was the truth.
Frequently, after endeavouring to meet and dispel some doubt suggested by one of his hearers—and having succeeded in satisfying the inquirer--he sat down dissatisfied with his explanation to think the matter out for himself. And at such times when this occurred, as lately it had several times, the morning frequently dawned ere he had sought his pillow. Upon one occasion, when he had been pressed by a Freethinker with the question, “Why, in
presence of the facts as set forth in the Bible, is it that Esau is denounced “as a bad unfeeling man, who sold his birthright, while Jacob is praised to " the skies as a model of perfection, although he seized upon the hour of his “brother's weakness and hunger, in order to induce him to sell it ?” he had supplied the stereotyped answer, which partially satisfied the inquirer, but failed to satisfy himself. He sat late that night-or far into the morningand, during those still hours, he was engaged in thinking out the entire lives of the two men, so as to conceive them in all their native characteristics; and ultimately he reached the conclusion that Esau was the bold, honest, fearless, open-hearted, unsuspecting, hunter-a man full of feeling and filial piety; while Jacob was the cowardly, selfish, fraudulent, lying, and suspicious, wealth-grubber. Thus he actually grew to love Esau, and proportionately to hate Jacob; for the former appeared to him to be alive to all manlike emotions, while the other seemed only to care for getting on-for obtaining his own selfish ends-without regard to the means employed. At first, he was inclined to agree with those authors who apologise for the conduct of Jacob in deceiving and deliberately lying to poor old Isaac, on the assumption that, as he was but a mere youth, and, in perfect obedience, was acting under the command of his mother, we are not justified in treating him as a free agent, so to hold him responsible. But, desiring to learn how old Jacob really was at the time of the fraud, he collected together all the scattered Biblical notices from whence such knowledge is to be derived, when he found that he could not have been less than forty years old, and probably was over sixty. This rendered it impossible to continue the old apology, and left him no other resource than to believe that Jacob was to be spoken of as guilty, and denounced as any other criminal would be.
Other points were suggested by various inquirers with similar results, for Lester could not play with his convictions, or pretend unto himself to believe things which were repugnant to his moral nature. But, although clinging with his whole soul to the truth as he perceived it, although resolutely setting his foot upon every theory which was at variance with common sense and true morality, he could not utterly abandon the general belief without enduring great agony of mind. At times he sat in his study, and while contemplating the future, he was bathed in tears ; not that he feared the curses of men, or dreaded what they could do unto him, if he publicly opposed their cherished convictions, but this was his dread, that he might be in error, and be the means of leading others astray. And when the thought came for an instant --as come it would—that it would be safest to avoid all public allusions to such vexed questions, that his own rity rendered silence necessary, immediately followed by the conviction that no man can properly respect himself, nor can he be morally justified, who continues to teach that which he has ceased to believe. Moreover, he was satisfied that to teach falsely
must be equally evil, whether the teaching be in accordance with, or in opposition to, the popular belief, and thus the all-important point to him was on which side lay the truth. Gradually he was coming to the condition of mind in which his allegiance to the Church could be nothing more than a barren form, without even the shadow of reality. But he was now about to contemplate the cost of publicly declaring his true state of mind, and to make arrangements which shed a gloom over all his future prospects.
Many letters had recently passed between Crosswood and Devonshire letters full of anxious expostulation, of loving sympathy, of eloquent entreaty, and of passionate pleading, but none the less of gloomy forebodings. Mary had written, as she had promised her aunt, but not in the spirit Mrs. Durton desired, and certainly not quite so unreservedly as was to have been expected from her general openness of nature.
She told Lester how her “womanly fears had been called forth by the current reports” relating to his unorthodox and unchurchmanlike opinions, some of which she set forth in detail, without disguising the part played by Bridling; but she did not speak further of her own state of mind than that it would cause her unutterable pain were she thoroughly satisfied the report was true. Nothing was said about her settled purpose to decline his hand. At the time of writing, the thought had entered her mind that probably the whole affair had been greatly magnified. Hope came to strengthen this idea, which grew rapidly into conviction, and for some days she permitted herself to indulge the delicious dream.
Lester was astonished that she should have heard what at that time he had not breathed unto himself. When she first wrote upon the subject he imagined himself to be perfectly orthodox, and had he been asked the question by a stranger, without hesitation he would have declared his faith to be such; for, although he had consciously abandoned many of the popular notions about Biblical texts, he still believed his own views to be in perfect accordance with the proper sense of the Biblical narratives. He fancied himself to be a real Bible Christian, yet, in fact, and with Scriptural truth, unconsciously he had removed to a much greater distance from the orthodox ideas. What, however, he had not confessed unto himself was perceived by many of his hearers.
There are men who have some instinctive sense through which they scent out heresy, but not without frequently mistaking the meaning of what they hear. The charity which hopeth all things, and thinketh no evil, is so completely a stranger to their thoughts, that they scarcely ever hesitate to denounce its exhibition, as being a sin against God and good taste; hence it comes that they are constantly mourning over the "religious declension of the nineteenth century," and hence it so frequently happens that all they are able to remember of a sermon are those portions--susceptible probably of a double meaningwhich may be represented as at variance with the truth, as they understand it. As a rule, they are as ignorant as they are suspicious—as intolerant of all opinions at variance with their own, as they are incompetent to form sound ones. They are not in any shape or form religious in life, but only in profession. They waste so much time, and talk so much about Christianity, that they have no odd hours left wherein to reduce its nobler principles to practice. To a considerable extent, their religion is " done" at the expense of the reputation of better men ; they prove their creed to be irreproachable by picking holes in that of others ; and, when they feel the need of "providential assistance," their efforts to deserve it are made in the direction of proving that others are unworthy. As a rule, their victims are even more orthodox than themselves; but, occasionally, their suspicions are justified, and then their conduct is sure to increase the scepticism of which they complain. The injustice of churchmen, the bigotry of leading elders, and the misrepresentations of Freethinkers, which preachers indulge in, has done more than all the literary sceptics to increase the number of English Freethinkers. Had the clergy treated doubt as a disease, instead of being a heinous crime, the progress of Freethought would have been much less rapid.
Such persons were rather more numerous in Crosswood than elsewhere, and they had concluded that their Rector was a Freethinker-a regular heretic - long before he had suspected himself of having even a tendency to such freedom. But, when he sat down to reply to Mary's letter, the real condition of things became clear unto his mind, and probably he was as much startled by his real convictions as she could be. In writing to her it became a matter of direct answers to plain questions, for he loved her too dearly and manfully either to equivocate, or in any sense to mislead her. As a rule, he wrote his letters right off, never drafting them first, or even going over to correct and amplify the sentences ; but that letter was rewritten at least a dozen times, and, when at length it was sent to the post, he almost passionately desired to have it back, for alteration and amendment.
In that epistle he denied the charge of being a sceptic in any wicked or irreligious sense; but confessed that there were
many passages in the Hebrew writings—many narratives in the Four Gospels, and numerous theological theories, commonly accredited—which he could not read or repeat in the spirit of a believer." The letter was full of true religious feeling and fervour, but Mary saw only, or dwelt only upon, the passages containing the confession of his departure from the strict letter of the orthodox faith, and that, to her, was quite as bad as if he had confessed acceptance of downright Atheism. Knowing nothing of the actual condition of theology as a science, believing that, without exception, good men placed implicit confidence in every chapter and verse in the two Testaments, and being one of those who endorse all that is authoritatively taught in the Creeds and Articles, she could not conceive how a man could be religious without accepting all that she accepted. Had she been born and reared in a Catholic or Mahometan country her adherence to the popular theory would have been precisely the same--equally blind, unwavering, and complete, for as yet she had never dared to use her reason when religion formed the subject of her thoughts. Her conviction now was—and it almost rent her heart—that God had abandoned her betrothed for the devil to take up; and when reflecting upon the course which she should pursue, it was no light matter for her to determine upon remaining, as she thought, upon the side of God. Yet when her mind was made up, and she had resolved to forego all her hopes of wedded happiness rather than become a sceptic's bride, she could not distinctly say so in her letter. She wrote as one who was wounded, but not irretrieveably lost. She reminded him of his “ mother's hopes," of his “subscription to the Articles,' and of the “ terrible consequences which follow when men forget God,” but nowhere did she distinctly say, “And I must decline your hand !” Indeed, throughout the letter there were many of the old endearing epithets, although in every instance they were used with more than the ordinary constraint, but, as they were associated with expressions of grief at his change of religion, they were not calculated to open Lester's eyes to the gulf yawning before him.
Immediately on the receipt of this epistle Lester sat down to reply at full length, intending to convince his betrothed that love for God and truth, that respect for the Scriptures, compelled him to speak and act as he had done.