Leonard Withington.

The Puritan : a series of essays, critical, moral, and miscellaneous (Volume 2) online

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odical papers. I remember, in college, there were
certain subjects which were considered as excellent
themes for forensic discussion, because they opened
a maze of diversity, and one might dispute on them
forever, without coming to any conclusion. Some
thing like this is a discourse on human life. It
is a circle hazy and wide, embracing all subjects, from
the pig-sty to the palace ; and I defy the reader, even
if he should be good-natured enough to honor this
piece with his attention, and a very Yankee at guess-


ing, to surmise what is to be the tenor of my remarks.
I place my covered dish on the table ; and no man
can tell, by the sight or the smell, whether it is to be
the pot-luck of Metaphysics or the poultry (not poetry)
of Romance and Love.

Human Life ! Let me see, what did I understand
by this term, when I was joyous and young ? Human
life, to me, was then the gay vision of a bridegroom s
dream, on the morning before marriage. I saw before
me a long succession of enterprises, efforts, successes,
honors, and enjoyments, which reason told me were
possible, and a sanguine temperament assured me
would not fail. I was not such a fool as to suppose
that the rainbow could exist without the cloud, or that
the sky above me was never to be darkened by a
tempest. In picturing future life, therefore, I always
used to throw in some sombre shades ; but they were
just such shades as suited the imagination ; just such
shades as a painter puts into his picture, to show off,
by contrast, the lighter and gayer parts. They were
sorrows formed by fancy, for fancy to bear. I made
myself sick enough to be visited by some imaginary
goddess ; poor enough to bear my poverty with the
spirit of a hero ; in disgrace enough always to come
off with final honor ; and in danger enough at last to
escape. I can truly say, I have been more disap
pointed in my pre-conceived misfortunes, than I ever
have in the brightest pictures of fore-imagined bliss.
I knew better how to draw the roses of life than its


thorns ; I could picture the robin, with his red bosom
and delightful song, better than the lizard or the toad.
My sorrows, seen in perspective of the sun-light of the
brightest morning that ever glittered over a human
head ; my pre-conceived sorrows, I say, have had
about as much resemblance to real sorrow, as the
bowls and daggers of a play-house have to real bowls
and daggers. O ye visions of youthful bliss, ye dew-
drops of the morning ! I complain not that ye have
fled ; it is the common lot, and I ought to have sus
pected it. But how have I been disappointed in my
griefs ! How unlike the tales which passion and im
agination told ! The armor, which I had prepared,
was the foil of the fencing-school, and not the spear
for the battle.

Human life is a science, which no theory can
teach ; it must be infused gradually by experience.
All young men think alike ; and they must think
alike, because there is nothing within, to meet with
the response of consciousness, the testimonies they
may have from books or men. I remember a poor
old man, who dwelt near my father s, who used to go
round with two shingles and a wheelbarrow, picking
up the manure in the road for his land ; the whole
patrimony of which consisted of three acres and an
half. If he was asked by a kind neighbor after his
health, his reply was, a long string of complaints ; a
pain in his shoulder ; a pain across his kidneys ; a
pain in his joints; a pain wherever there was a


sensation to suffer. That man s body is now beneath
the clods of the valley; and his spirit, I hope,
in a world where all pains cease, and all tears are
wiped away. But if I could be indulged with one
half hour s converse with his disembodied spirit, I
would not fail to ask his pardon that I formerly heard
his tale of suffering with so little sympathy or belief.
I have since been taught by experience.

Yes, reader ; and grim experience is the only thing
that will ever teach you. We begin life in the spring ;
and the orchard of one of the Brookline farmers looks
not more diversely in a morning of May and January,
than human life looks, seen in prospect and retro
spect. We commence our voyage near the head of
the river, near its healthful banks arid grassy foun
tains : its trees shade us ; its birds soothe us ; its
breezes fan our bounding pulses and burning cheeks ;
and, as we glide softly and smoothly down its silent
waters, we see no danger, and we suspect none. We
are told that it will not always be thus ; we are fore
warned of the sterility and dullness, through which
the current winds. But the silent waters, which are
slipping beneath us, and bearing us along, are teach
ing the only effectual lesson. Why should the rare
ness of religious faith be taken as an argument of the
non-existence of spiritual things ? We are as incred
ulous to the evils of old age, in the hey-day of youth,
as we are to the pains of eternity, amid the intoxica
tions of life.


There are hours, however, when every thinking
man feels that external things cannot satisfy him.
The pursuit of business, the accumulation of wealth,
leaves a void in hi- hear. The round of pleasure
becomes tasteless and tiresome ; and the life of life
dies before death. Almost every one has been com
pelled to complain, in some sad hour,

" How weary, stale, flat, and nprofitable,
Seem to me, all the uses of this world! "

The sun loses its lustre the flowers their fragrance ;
and there seems hardly motion enough in the cur
rent of life to preserve it from putrefaction. There
are two causes which produce this emptiness of heart
this vacancy of interest. The one is exhausted
novelty ; and the other, the coming of sore disappoint
ment. O ! in the sad hour when sorrow takes hold
of a man, when privation sweeps away his enjoy
ments, and grief wrings his bosom he looks round
and finds the world converted into a wilderness. He
sees human life in its true colors; the ordinary topics
of moral declamation have a meaning, which he never
saw or felt before. In the sadness and depth of his
moral despondency, he looks round and asks " Is
there no refuge ? Is this the sum of existence ? Is
there no cure for the wounds of the heart ? Is there
no medicine for man s higher nature ? Is there no
balm in Gilcad 1 Is there no physician there 1 "
Such a man is in a state at once favorable and n-


favorable, to appreciate the gospel, and to receive its
spirit and consolations into his heart. He is in a
favorable state, inasmuch as he estimates the prospects
of the world more correctly than he ever did before.
Our neglect of religion, and indifference to its duties
and claims, is not, perhaps, a primary emotion of the
soul. We first love, inordinately, what God forbids ;
and then are disturbed that he forbids it, and willingly
withdraw our attention from a subject, which only
serves to damp our pleasures and alarm our fears.
The mind has often been compared to balances ; in
one scale lie all the motives to a life of sense ; in the
other, the motives to a life of piety. It would seem,
then, that when you have destroyed or lightened all
the weights in the sensual scale, the other must pre
ponderate, and the whole man be consecrated to duty
and to God.

Religion consists, substantially, in two great dis
coveries ; the one is the emptiness of temporal things ;
the other is the satisfactory nature of things eternal
and divine. Thou, perhaps, hast made one of these
discoveries. But why stop here ? Why does not the
ruin show the need of the recovery ? Why should
not the crown of thorns lead thee to the cross ?

The grand evidence of the truth of the gospel con
sists in its adaptation to our condition and our wants.
This is the only thing which carries conviction to the
heart, after all the elaborate volumes which have been
written on the evidences of Christianity. Suppose a


man to be walking on the side of a rivulet, on a sum
mer s day ; the water flows before him ; he is thirsty;
he stoops to drink ; his thirst is quenched his spirits
are refreshed, and he goes on his way rejoicing.
There can be no doubt, in this case, that water
quenches our thirst, or that, if there is a design in
creation, that God made it for that end. All the met
aphysics of the schools would not dissuade such a
traveller from such a conclusion. Now, what water
is to the fainting traveller, the gospel is to the mind,
when passion is checked by privation, and reason is
purified by experience. It gives an end. and an aim
to all creation. It shows that man was not made in
vain. It carries sweet conviction to a humble heart.

There are some objects, which are seen best in the
twilight ; the sombre hues of the evening are more
refreshing to the eye, and set off these forms with
more beauty and lovelier attraction. So there are
hours of seriousness, when the evidences of religion
strike the mind with deeper force.

To a man recovered from the delusions with which
we all begin life, and viewing his present existence
and future prospects in the light of reason and truth,
the consolations of religion assume a new value.
Once he slighted them ; for he felt, in the succession
of his pleasures and occupations, he wanted them not.
The hunger of his mind was satisfied by other food ;
and he imputed to all men the gaiety and joy that
danced in his own heart. A fond mother once gave


to her son a warm, well-lined pea-jacket, as he was
going on a long voyage in various climates. As he
sailed first through tropical regions, he was tempted
to despise the maternal gift, and was about to part
with his garment for some luxury which hit his fancy.
But, as he advanced into polar regions, amidst storms
and snows, he found the warm jacket not so contempt
ible a gift. Such are the consolations of religion ; no
man knows their value until the hour has come in
which he needs them.

The objects of revelation are invisible ; they do not
lie before us like a house or a tree ; they are seen
only by an internal light. They are seen by faith ;
and faith is produced, so far as human endeavors can
produce it, by reflection. Now the man, awakened
from the dreams of life, is disposed to reflect. He
must pause and think. His disappointments turn his
eye inward on himself, and forward beyond the grave,
and upward to his God. He loves to retire, when
the cares and business of the day are over, to catch a
glimpse of those objects and images, which are seen
only by the mental eye. He is a meditative being,
and is most busy when most alone.

Perhaps it will here be thought, that I ought to
mention the power which affliction has to humble the
heart, and give it that childlike simplicity of temper
by which the kingdom of heaven must always be re
ceived. But alas ! I doubt the fact ; our pride fol
lows us even in our sackcloth and our ashes; nor


shall I impute that to affliction, which ever has been
and ever must be the work of grace.

But there are several things, which render the hour
of affliction not so favorable to the reception of religion
as might at first be supposed.

Religion (at least the religion of the gospel) is not,
as some suppose, a disease of the mind ; it is the
choice of its most sound and healthy state. It is true
there are a great many people, who are driven to some
thing, which they call religion, by the murky opera
tions of a disoidered mind. When the disappointed
girl leaves her parties of pleasure for a convent ; when
a broken merchant joins the Shakers ; or a lady of
suspected reputation suddenly reforms and joins the
church ; all these are but impressions made on the
fancy, which leave the heart in the same rebellious
state, in the sight of Heaven, which it was in before.
Such persons, we may venture to predict, will soon
repent of their repentance, and pass their lives under
the forms of religion, entirely destitute of its consola
tions or its power.

So general and indefinite are our ideas of that re
ligion, which it is man s sole wisdom to know, that
we mistake almost any shadow for the substance, and
baptize, by the name of piety, the gloomiest depres
sions or the wildest caprices, which ever sported over
the human breast. We include, in a general name,
objects which have no other resemblance than their
outward appearance ; and hence, when the conflict


comes, we take up with a piety as shadowy as were
the images of our wandering pre-conceptions.

One of the deceptions of a mind, pausing under a
cloud, is the view which it takes of the grave. To
most men it is a terror to die. Death is awful even
in its privations. To say nothing of the world to
which it introduces us, we know the social joys and
warm pursuits from which it will take us away. ,

No more the sun these eyes shall view ;
Earth o er these limbs her dust shall strew,
And life s fantastic dream be o er.

But, to a heart depressed and wounded, the grave as
sumes a new appearance. Its shades dissipate ; a
fantastic charm is thrown around it ; and we conclude
that, as all is empty and vain on this side of it, all
must be serene and reposing beyond it. This state
of mind has been pictured in the book of Job, and
repeated by a thousand subsequent poets. There the
wicked cease from troubling ; and there the weary be
at rest. There the prisoners rest together they hear
not the voice of the oppressor. The small and great
are there ; and the servant is free from his master.
Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery, and
life unto the bitter in soul ; which long for death, and
it cometh not, and dig for it more than for hid treas
ures ; which rejoice exceedingly and are glad when they
canjind the grave.


We have the same state of mind described by

There is a calm for those that weep,
A rest for weary pilgrims found ;
They softly lie and sweetly sleep

Beneath the ground.

The storm that sweeps the wintry sky
No more disturbs their sweet repose,
Than summer evening s latest sigh,
That shuts the rose.

I long to lay my weary head, .c.

Such a state, no doubt, implies a great revolution
in a man s feelings. Because he wishes for death, he
supposes he is prepared for it ; because he is tired of
the world, he concludes he is meet for heaven. He
mistakes depression for repentance, and the slumbers
of passion for the renovation of the heart.

But let no one deceive himself. The change,
accomplished by the divine Spirit, in making a man
a Christian, is very different. It reveals before him
the majesty of a holy God, whom, by his sins, he has
offended, and prostrates him in the dust in view of
that spotless throne, before which the best of us might
tremble to appear. It teaches him that, without the
shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin. It
infuses a new sorrow into the heart, other than that
sorrow of the world, which worketh death.

No. 54.

I HAVE already mentioned in my papers, Tom Wild-
bull, who advised rne to go to the theatre. Tom was
a sad dog for a while ; but he has long since sown all
his wild oats, and has married an estimable woman,
and become himself an estimable man. He has re
quested me to allow place for one paper in my book,
and I have consented. As in the case of Will Honey
comb, the reader will perceive, perhaps a little dash
of his former character.

Love, on this earth the only mean thou art,

Whereby we hold Intel ligpnce with heaven,
And it is thou that only dost impart
The good that to mortality is given.

O sacred bond, by time thou art not broken !
O thing divine, by angels to be spoken!

The Legend of Pierce Qaveston, by Drayton.

DID you ever, my friendly reader, in revisiting your
native place, from which, like me, you had been


separated by many years of wandering, experience
the sensation of littleness, with which every object
seemed clothed, shrinking in its dimensions as your
eye had become enlarged by a familiarity with the
nobler scenes of a wider world ? I was born on the
northern side of the Blue Hills, which seemed, to my
boyish eyes, as the loftiest mountains that ever prop
ped the incumbent sky. My first expedition on the
ocean was down the capacious waters of Dorchester
bay, in one of those vast floating castles, called a
wherry, or a canoe, to catch those mighty monsters of
the deep, denominated torn-cod. O how did my heart
expand as we ploughed out of the great bason of
waters called Mill-creek ! What emotions of sub
limity did I feel when I reached the juncture, where
the dark Neponset, the mother of frogs and mud-
turtles, rolls her copious streams to join the billows of
Boston harbor ! What sensations of alarm entered
my breast as we doubled that long cape called Farm-
bar, renowned for periwinkles and clams ! How did
I look with an aching eye over the boundless surface
of brine, which separates Farm-bar from Dorchester
Heights, now ycleped South Boston. And, to look
still farther into the impenetrable regions of the north,
and see, beyond the forts, the dome of the State-
House and the steeples of Boston, lifting their tops in
the blue horizon, almost beyond the ken of human
vision, it made my imagination real. I had new
conceptions of the magnitude of our world. Thomp-

VOL. II. 15


son s Island I supposed must be the shores of some of
the western countries in Europe. But when we came
to sail through the narrows of squaw rock, and finally
pass the Moon,* my imagination became dizzy, and
I felt like a man in a balloon, who has bid farewell to
sublunary scenes, and scarcely expects again to tread
the terrestrial ball. Bounding billows ! how did you
roll in majesty to my youthful eye ! Mighty scenes !
how did you impress my childish fancy with the first
ideas of vastitude and magnificence ! Alas ! our
conceptions are all relative. Every thing depends on
the state of the mind. One may see St. Peter s church
at Rome with less emotion than our State-House, and
stand at the foot of ./Etna itself without feeling or

I love to visit these scenes ; for they give me back
the green days of childhood and pleasure with all the
freshness of the original impression. I do not mean
to say that I view these scenes with the admiration
and delight, with which they were once beheld. But
they form a kind of medium, a perspective glass, by
which one can look back to the time when every
prospect was pleasing because every object was new.
I love to go to the Moon. I never shake off sub
lunary cares and sorrows so completely as when I am
fairly landed on that beautiful island. A man in the
Moon, may see Castle Island, the city of Boston, the
ships in the harbor, the silver waters of our little Archi-
* Moon Island, in Boston harbor.


pelago, all lying as it were at his feet. There you
maybe at once social and solitary; social, because
you see the busy world before you, and solitary, be
cause there is not a single creature on the island,
except a few feeding cows, to disturb your repose.

I was there last summer, and was surveying the
scene with my usual emotions, when my attention was
attracted by the whirring wings of a little sparrow,
whom, in walking, I had frightened from her nest.
It may be necessary, perhaps, to tell some of the
clerks in Washington street, who, six months from
the countiy, are apt to forget all the objects among
which they were born and bred, that this bird always
builds its nest on the ground. I have seen their nests
in the middle of a corn-hill, curiously placed in the
centre of the five green stalks, so that it was difficult,
at hoeing time, to dress the hili without burying the
nest. This sparrow had built her nest as usual on
the ground, beneath a little tuft of grass, more rich
and thick-set than the rest of the herbage around it.
I cast a careless glance at the nest, saw the soft down
that lined its internal part, the four little speckled
eggs which enclosed the parent s hope. I marked
the cows that were feeding around it ; and I came
away without -the least imagination that I should
write a dissertation on the Bird s Nest in the Moon.

But our minds are strange things. That bird s nest
has haunted me ever since. I could not but inquire
why Providence, who inspires all animals with an


ring instinct, had not moved the foolish creature to build
her habitation in a safer place. A multitude of huge
animals were feeding around it, one tread of whose
cloven foot would crush both bird and progeny into
ruin. I could not but reflect on the precarious con
dition to which the creature had committed her most
tender hopes. I was thinking how the interest of two
beings, both created by the same high hand and sup
ported by the same kind power, might cross each
other, and neither of them know it, until the fatal
moment when the feebler might be annihilated by the
stronger power. A cow is seeking a bite of grass ;
she steps aside merely to gratify that idle appetite ;
she treads on the nest, and destroys the offspring of
the defenceless bird. Thus, what is a trifle to one
being, is destruction to another.

Before I proceed any farther, I think proper to ap
prise the reader that I was in a right frame of mind
to write a meditation on a broomstick ; and, however
much wits may sneer and critics condemn, I am de
termined to make something of my bird s nest.

As I carne away from the island, I reflected that
this bird s situation, in her humble defenceless nest,
might be no unapt emblem of man in this precarious
world of uncertainty and sorrow. W.e are impelled,
by some of the tenderest instincts of our nature, to
form the conjugal connection ; the eye of some match
less beauty attracts our attention, and melts our hearts ;
we form the tender union, and we build our nest ;


committing to it the soft deposites of our gentlest
affections. But where do we build this nest 1 Are
we any wiser than the foolish bird ? No the nest is
on the ground of terrestrial calamities, and a thousand
invisible dangers are roving around. We are doubled
in wedlock and multiplied in children, and stand but a
broader mark for the cruel arrows of death and de
struction, which are shot from every side. What are
diseases, in their countless forms, accidents by flood
and fire, the seductions of temptation, and even hali
the human species themselves, but so many huge
cows feeding around our nest, and ready, every mo
ment, to crush our dearest hopes, with the most
careless indifference, beneath their brutal tread?
Sometimes, as we sit at home, we can see the calamity
coming at a distance. We hear the breathing of the
vast monster ; we mark its wavering path now look
ing towards us in a direct line now capriciously
turning for a moment aside. We see the swing of its
dreadful horns, the savage rapacity of its brutal appe
tite ; we behold it approaching nearer and nearer,
and it passes by within a hair-breadth of our ruin,
leaving us to the sad reflection that another and
another are still behind. Poor bird ! I feel no heart
to condemn thy folly, but rather to weep over thy
condition and my own. Our situations are exactly
alike. Thy choicest comforts come entwined with
pain ; and no sooner is thy callow young developed,
than thou feelest all the cares that distract a parent s


heart. How often hast thou been driven from thy
nest ! How often hast thou flattered thy wings in
agony, and taken up the wail of sorrow, as if thy
children were already lost. The careless step, so in
different to another, was rapture or despair to thee.

A man must be a fool not to perceive that these
remarks are written by a parent; and I am sure they
are dictated by feelings, which none but a parent can
understand. Well, then, let me tell the secret, and
be as foolish as the best of them, since, in this hard
age, none but a fool would have a feeling heart. The
other evening I walked into the chamber where my
children were sleeping. There was Nathan with the
clothes half kicked down, his hands thrown carelessly
over his head, tired with play, now resting in repose ;
there was little Sal, with her balmy breath and her
rosy cheeks, sleeping and looking like innocence
itself. There was Lucy, who has just begun to prattle,
and runs daily with tottering steps and lisping voice
to ask her father to toss her into the air. [I solemnly
wish, if these remarks are read by any youthful bach

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Online LibraryLeonard WithingtonThe Puritan : a series of essays, critical, moral, and miscellaneous (Volume 2) → online text (page 12 of 15)