Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

r

persecuting the servants of God, and compelling them to blaspheme. But grace had then only selected him as an object of mercy through Christ; he had not yet been called, pardoned, justified, adopted, or sanctified: therefore no man in his senses would at that time have called him a chosen vessel of mercy. Works are then to be considered as the only proper evidences of the call of an individual; for the tree is known by its fruits.

"But," proceeded the lady of the manor, " inasmuch as I have detained your attention for a long time on a very serious subject, I shall now endeavour to entertain you with a little narrative which is not altogether irrelevant to the points in question."

The lady of the manor then unfolding a little manuscript, read as follows.

The History of Mrs. Howard; related by herself.

"I shall not begin my history, as is commonly done, with an apology for intruding the affairs of a private person on the attention of the public; because I wish it to be understood, that my object in troubling the world with my concerns is the desire of rendering myself useful to such persons as may labour under the same illusions as I did during the greater part of a long life.

"I am the daughter of a dignified clergyman of the Church of England, and was married early in life to an elderly gentleman of the name of Howard, a person of considerable property. While yet under thirty, I was left a widow with one daughter, who was heiress of her father's large property, subject to no other incumbrance than my jointure, which was to be sure an exceedingly handsome one, though not unsuitable to the family circumstances.

"It may be supposed, that a young widow in such a situation, and one who was not disagreeable in her person, should have many temptations to enter a second time into matrimony. But having conceived a dishonourable idea of second marriages, I adhered to the resolution I had formed during the first weeks of my widowhood of never marrying again. No one certainly could blame me for this decision. I was at liberty to do as I chose; and had I chosen to do otherwise, I should not have done amiss, if my choice of a second husband had fallen upon a worthy person. But be this as it may; I remember that I built much in my own favour upon the resolution which I had taken and so scrupulously adhered to, laying this as a kind of foundation of the character which I afterwards chose to appropriate to myself, viz. that of a woman of strict piety and exalted morals.

"I now proceed to state precisely what my ideas of piety then were. They consisted in a close compliance with all the appointed forms of the Church of England. Of its doctrines I say nothing, because I did not at that time comprehend them; but I held a kind of confused opinion that I was to do what was right as far as I could, and trust to Christ to make up my short-comings. I entertained no suspicion whatever that any distinction was to be made between the commands delivered in the Word of God and ordinances of man: and, in consequence, the opinions of any man of rank in my own Church had as much weight with me as the words of the Bible. For though I often heard and read the words of Scripture, I heard and read them entirely as matters of course, constantly interpreting them to my own fancy, and agreeably to certain preconceived notions; without ever seriously reflecting upon them, or employing my understanding in ascertaining their real import. I was, in fact, though a member of one of the purest establishments upon earth, little less than a downright Papist, submitting my will to human rather than divine authority: so that the Bible was, in fact, almost as entirely a sealed book to me, as it is to the man who never hears it read in a known language.

"Neither was I any better informed respecting the spiritual meaning of the Liturgy of our Church. I had not the smallest conception that it had been prepared for a description of persons with whom I had at that time not one feeling in common; and, in consequence, I applied without reserve all the passages which are there put in the mouth of the broken-hearted sinner, or the regenerated and sanctified person, to my own peculiar case, although I scarcely had ever heard of conviction of sin, and should not have scrupled to assert that regeneration and sanctification were words without meaning, or merely the inventions of fanaticism. Thus, although my case was not quite so singular a one, it in some respects resembled that of the Oxford scholar who is said to have appropriated to himself the honours intended for the heir-apparent of the crown, in whose train he once happened to enter the theatre. But religious appropriations of this kind are, I fear, too common, and are no doubt made by all those persons who cannot distinguish between the visible and invisible Church, not understanding that multitudes perpetually creep into the former who have no place in the latter, and that, notwithstanding the utmost efforts of pious ministers to separate the tares from the wheat, they will be found growing together until the harvest.

"I am, however, anxious, from my own experience, to give others a clue to the intricate and dark corners of their own hearts, that I may thereby induce them, with the divine blessing, to enquire seriously within whether they are truly entitled, as feeling their own utter depravity and helplessness, to adopt the language of the liturgy, and to appropriate to themselves the various consolatory expressions it holds out to those who have been brought to see their need of a Saviour. But to leave these matters for the present, and proceed with my narrative.

"After my husband's death, I settled in one of his country-houses, which, with an estate surrounding it, was part of my jointure, and there I resided till my daughter was of age to be introduced into the world. This house had been built about the time of King William, when the Dutch taste prevailed. It was a square building; the front opening upon a garden laid out in the same style with the house, into which there was a descent by high flights of steps. In this garden every thing was uniform, grove nodding at grove, and every alley being provided with a brother. Here I had a favourite room, opening with folding-doors into the garden, from whence I had a view of two square pools, or tanks, one beyond the other, flanked on each side by groves of Linden trees, through which avenues were cut in various directions; the whole scene being terminated by a Chinese temple.

"The room itself was hung with blue damask, with curtains and sofas of the same; and the oaken floor was polished bright as a mirror. In this apartment, where was a harpsichord and some few books, I might be seen every morning employed with my needle; for I was exceedingly fond of fine work, and while so engaged I had opportunity of observing those persons who were employed to instruct my daughter Lydia, whom I was anxious to bring up in the strictest manner according to my own views of propriety.

"In those days, accomplished female teachers were not to be met with. I was therefore obliged to be contented with a young woman as a governess for Lydia of very inferior qualifications. But in order to make up the deficiencies of this teacher, I procured the assistance of a young clergyman, the curate of the parish, who being, though a gentleman in the best acceptation of the term, in humble circumstances, and under some obligations to the family, was not sorry to undertake the office of instructing my little girl. To this young man, therefore, whom I shall call Berrington, the cultivation of my daughter's mind was submitted, subject to my directions and control.

"Having thus arranged my establishment, I spent some years without experiencing any very great or remarkable change of circumstances. In the mean time, the idea was established in my own mind, that I was a decided character with regard to religion, most admirably qualified as a mother and the head of a large family, as well as highly to be commended, with respect to my principles, as a member of the Established Church. Under the influence of this illusion, and not being exercised by any searching providence, I vainly proceeded in my own strength, looking proudly down on all about me, without ever once supposing it possible that I should be at that very time in a spiritual sense, poor, and blind, and naked, and miserable.

"All this while, in my supposed character of an accomplished member of the Church of England, I appeared on every occasion of divine service in the large family pew, which was richly lined with crimson cloth, handsomely furnished with elegant chairs, and duly set forth with quarto Prayer-Books in red morocco, having the armorial bearings of the Howards impressed on their covers. Thus seated in my station of dignity, and filled with such sentiments of my own worth and consequence as above described, I repeated without hesitation the various penitentiary passages of our Liturgy with the most entire self-complacency, it never happening to occur to me that I had at no time turned away from my wickedness, and that therefore I could with no sort of propriety use even the first clause of the service. As to the confession of sins, which immediately follows the address of the minister to his people, in my opinion I was by no means wanting in my duty there; for I always made a point of repeating it aloud, and in a kind of melancholy and emphatic tone which 1 conceived might be very edifying to my servants and dependents, who formed the larger part of the congregation. I also made my responses in the Litany and the Communion Service with equal emphasis; in addition to which I was always seen on my knees rather a longer time than ordinary after the blessing was pronounced. I was moreover a constant attendant at the communion table, and observed the festivals with great regularity. I also had a superstitious respect for the more minute ceremonial parts of our religious establishment; insomuch that I was not only greatly scandalized one Sunday when our vicar had forgotten his band, but I even presumed to set down an old lady of quality as a decided infidel, for saying that she was not fond of the sound of bells. Thus I confounded, in the same disorganized mass of childish ideas, the essentials and non-essentials of religion, being utterly incapable of distinguishing one from the other; and thisbecause I was destitute of the clew by which true believers are readily conducted through that labyrinth of human opinions, in which the mere formalist finds himself so perplexed that he not seldom stands quite still in the spot wherein he happens to find himself when he first begins to reflect, determining there to maintain his station in spite of all the arguments and representations by which he may be assailed. But no more of this at present.

« AnteriorContinuar »