Leonard Withington.

The Puritan : a series of essays, critical, moral, and miscellaneous (Volume v. 1) online

. (page 6 of 14)
Online LibraryLeonard WithingtonThe Puritan : a series of essays, critical, moral, and miscellaneous (Volume v. 1) → online text (page 6 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


our reason ; but he went on and completed the whole
cijrcle. Hume, when he performed the process of
skeptical subtraction, had no purpose of showing that
any quantity remained. Butler showed that, after
large subtractions, there was much remaining. Hume,
in tracing his circle of philosophy, showed us there
was a hemisphere of darkness and night. Butler
showed as wide a circle, perhaps, of darkness as he ;
but he showed us, also, a hemisphere of day. The
one gave us the half-truths of sophistry, and the other
the integrity, or wholeness of true vnsdom. There



96 THE PURITAN.

is a beautiful example of Butler^s philosophy, in a
single paragraph of his sermon on human ignorance :
^Creation,' says he, 'is absolutely and entirely out of
our depth, and beyond the extent of our utmost reach.
And yet, it is as certain, that God made the world, as
it is certain that effects must have a cause.' What a
beautiful specimen of comprehensive truth ! Stop at
the first paragraph, and you would suppose that the
author was about to throw darkness over the creation,
and blot out all proofs of the divine existence. But
read the second, and you discover that the author
fixes one of the fundamental truths of religion on its
surest foundation. In short, as some generals begin
the battle by a retreat, only to break the ranks of the
enemy, and to prepare for a more terrible onset, so
such doubters as Butler, state their objections, only
more firmly to establish their cause. In such pages,
we pass through the night to enjoy the day.

One point more remains to be noticed; and that is,
how the Bible corresponds with these laws of the
human mind.

It is certain, the Bible requires a strong faith in its
truths ; and the question is, how such a requisition is
consistent with the natural skepticism which all the
reflecting must feel, and all, who are ingenuous as
well as reflecting, must own.

Strong faith may mean, either the unhesitating
assent we give to a presented proposition, or the
strong effects or emotions which that proposition awa-*



THE PURITAN, 97

kens in the heart. In the second sense, I apprehend
there can be no difficulty. For, only once admit that
the existence of God is proved, and no language can
express the depths of conviction, the sense of his
presence, the reverence, love, and humility, vi^hich
ought to occupy our hearts. So, once admit that the
Bible is the word of God, and the most implicit trust
in its doctrines' is the most natural result. In other
words, the truths of the Bible are calculated to pro-
duce deep impressions; and, in this sense, strong
faith is as much a legitimate result of revelation as
deep grief at the sight of a pathetic tragedy. This
is the philosophy of the sacred writer, when he said
— ' 1 believed, and therefore have I spoTcen' But, as
to the first sense of strong faith : it seems to me, that
if scrutiny, after subtracting doubtful points, leaves the
remaining more certain, and if the proofs of revela-
tion do remain after scrutiny, why, then it is natural
that this skepticism should lead to a stronger faith.
Accordingly, we find that no men have had a deeper
conviction of religion than those who have at first
questioned or denied its truths. It is exactly the pro-
cess we should expect. It is as natural as sunrising.

A RESOLVED DOUBT TS THE STRONGEST PROOF. Paul

began by opposing religion, and ended one of its
strongest advocates ; and I think, if we could have
looked into the mind of Butler, we should have found
an amount of faith there which a less scrutinizing



98 THE PURITAN.

mind could hardly comprehend.* A blown-away fog
leaves the ocean sparkling with the purest light.

All this is exactly laid down in the Bible. It com-
pletely meets the known laws of the mind. We see
THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY. There is a principle of
skepticism in every man. The greatest dogmatists
sometimes feel it. Some confident conclusions have
been overthrown ; and the boldest doubt. The Bible
justifies this ; we see through a glass darkly.

But, in all minds there is a principle of belief
The most skeptical sometimes feel it. It is so unnat-
ural for a man always to hesitate, that he must some-
times conclude. Though the glass is dark, yet
through it we see. And so, both arcs join, and the
circle is complete.

* I speak of faith, here, in the first sense ; how strong But-
Jer's emotions were, is another question.



THE PURITAN.

No. 11.



If any ask why roses please the sight ;
Because their leaves upon thy cheeks do bower;
If any ask why lilies are so white .'
Because their blossoms in thy hand do flower:
Or why sweet plants so grateful odors shower?

It is because thy breath so like they be :

Or why the orient sun so bright we see .'
What reason can we give, but from thine eyes and thee >.

Fletcher^s Chrisfs Victory. Canto I. Stanza xlv.

The necessity of faith, or a deep conviction of the
truths of Christianity, has been insisted on, by all
theological writers, as the foundation of a holy and
consistent life. But, I believe, every one has felt, in
some skeptical hour, the vi^ish that his faith might be
strengthened by some ocular proof of the Christian
religion. We have always seen the laws of nature
glide with undeviating uniformity ; the sun rises and
sets ; the spring and the winter return ; man is born
and dies, with a regularity so constant, and at periods
so generally expected, that the course of nature seems
like the decree of fate ; and a species of naturalism



100 THE PURITAN.

is silently resting even on some sober and believing
minds. St. Peter has touched one of the sources of
infidelity when he says, ' Since the fathers fell asleep y
all things continue as they were from the beginning
of the creation.' The regularity of the laws of
nature, though designed as light to reveal, becomes a
cloud, to hide the interposition of God.

I should be a very imperfect Puritan, if I did not
confess myself to be a firm Christian ; and yet, I must
confess, I have often felt my mind exercised on the
obscurity of the proofs of revelation. I have longed
to see the Deity step out from his hiding-place, and
give some visible tokens of his power. I have hun-
gered and thirsted after a miracle. I have tried to
imagine the emotions of surprise and adoration, which
would shake my heart, could I once see the laws of
nature suspended. But no ; she rolls on, in the same
rigid uniformity. No spiritual voice meets my spirit,
to attest the presence of anything in nature but the
plastic power, which executes her silent laws. I have
walked on the sea-shore, and heard the roaring of its
waves ; I have sat amidst the tombs, at midnight ; I
have listened, with the intensest interest, amidst the
deep solitudes of the woods ; I have fled from the
living, and implored the dead for some supernatural
voice to break on the abstracted ear of faith and
meditation.

' Tell us, ye dead ! — will none of you, in pity ?
O, that some courteous ghost would blab it out! '



THE PURITAN. 101

But all has been in vain. Nature, rigid, silent, un-
conscious nature, is always interposing her material
images between me and my God.

I have sometimes been led to envy the privileges of
the first Christians; and to wish that I had been born
in those happier days. I should then have heard the
gospel as it was delivered from the lips of Infinite
Wisdom, and seen the proofs, which might silence
skepticism and awaken a conquering faith in the most
sluggish heart. I might have caught some notes of
the heavenly hosts, as they sung over ' the quiet in-
nocence ' of the shepherds, at midnight, and have
stood at the tomb of Lazarus, when the voice of his
Redeemer called him from the dead. There is an
impression resting on my heart, that I should have
conquered my sins with more facility ; and have lived
more devoted to that celestial power, v/hich v/as every-
where manifested around. Hail, ye happy spirits !
Why have ye not transmitted to later ages your won-
derful works ? — and thou, bright morn of Christianity,
■why were thy dews so transient, and thy reign so
short? I have but little faith; I ov/n it. But no
angel has ever visited me from the skies ; no saint
has spoken to my midnight dreams ; no miracle has
ever met my eye. I have but little faith; but my
heart longs to find an excuse and a cause in the little
proof.

Full of these reflections, I lately retired to sleep ;
and, the impressions of the day following me, I was
favored with a dream.



102 THE PURITAN.

I seemed to be walking beneath a steep precipice,
on the eastern shores of the lake Gennesaret. The
waters seemed to be hushed in the profoundest tran-
quillity, and their color was tinged \^dth the purple
rays of the setting sun. The day was declining ; the
shadows of the mountains were stretched upon the
waters ; and a secret sanctity seemed to pervade the
scene, which witnessed the wonders once wrought in
it by the Redeemer of men. I felt an increase of
faith, as my eye stole over the objects around me, and
I could almost fancy I could see the lake agitated by
a storm ; the bark of the disciples laboring amid the
waves. I could almost fancy I heard his voice speak-
ing to the tempest, and saying, * Peace, be still ! '
But still, the laws of nature seemed to regrain their
invisible hold on every object around me. The waves
laved the shores, as other waves do ; and the rocks
reflected their gigantic shadows, in the bosom of the
lake, like other rocks. I still felt the chilling influ-
ence of unbelief

While I v/as walking, I noticed, at a little distance
from me, a pale old man, dressed in the habits of
antiquity, with a remarkable, incredulous aspect.
He appeared to be counting his fingers, walking with
an irregular step, until at last he fixed his eyes with a
look of compassion on me. I immediately knew him
to be Thomas Didymus, the apostle so famous for his
unbelief. I approached him, with low reverence, and
thus began l * O thou once frail mortal on earth, now



THE PURITAN. 103

certainly a saint in glory, have compassion on my
weakness, and hear me tell my wo. Thou hast been
the prey of doubt ; thy mind was once the region of
darkness, as mine is now ; thou didst say, when on
earth — ' Except I shall see in Ids hands the print of
his nails, and put my Jingers in the print of the nails,
(here the vision shook his head, and dropped a tear,)
and thrust my hand into his side, I loill not believe.^
Such is exactly my condition. I long for ocular proof.
Tell me, Avhere shall I find it? The saint fixed his
eyes upon me, and, with his long white finger, kept
pointing at my breast. But, though his countenance
was full of meaning, he spoke not a word, and con-
tinued pointing ta my heart, while he fixed his eye
constantly and fearfully upon me. I felt an irre-
sistible disposition to look away to the lake ; I ex-
pected to see it ruffled by storms and stilLed by
some word of miraculous power ; I called for signs
from Heaven ; I gazed, to see if the wing of some
angel would not cleave the clouds, and, from its
silver feathers, dart some supernatural light into
my mind. Still, the apostle continued pointing his
finger at my breast ; and, with a deliberate step, he
approached nearer and nearer to the spot on which
I stood. There was something inexpressibly awful in
his long-continued silence. My heart beat with ap-
prehension. * Speak ! ' said I ; ^ speak, thou dumb
vision, and tell how I may be satisfied.' He still ap-
proached me, and pulling a little pocket Bible from



104 THE PURITAN.

my pocket, began, with a melancholy air, to turn over
the leaves. I noticed, however, as he was turning,
that certain letters, blazed with suns, so that, though
the print was fine, I could read particular passages at
a great distance. The apostle began to wave his
hand and step backwards. ' Why,' said I, ' has the
impartial one denied to me that ocular demonstration,
which he afforded to the first disciples ? ' He held
up the Bible, and I saw blazing in lines of fire, these
words : ' If they hear not 3foses and the prophets,
neither will they be persuaded, though one arose from
the dead.^ ' Alas ! ' said I, ' is there no way for me
to obtain a firmer faith ? ' He held up the book , and
I saw shining as before — ' If any man will do his
will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it he of
GodJ The apostle still kept receding, though the
letters were as large and as intellio-ible as before.
He was now almost beyond my sight, retiring behind
a rock, which was about to intercept him from my
view. ' Stay,' said I, * stay, and do not leave me so
unsatisfied ; speak once and let me hear. Why has
not the same evidence been vouchsafed to me, as
to the earlier Christians ? Why has not my sight
increased my faith 1 ' The apostle then threw down
my book, and I read on a blank leaf, these words,
which vanished as I read them, and were never
seen in the faintest trace afterwards : ' Idle doubter,
why do you complain? You have your peculiar
difficulties ; we had ours. We saw the miracles, but



THE PURITAN. 105

we saw not the brighter proofs of the influence of
Christianity, through a series of ages, on the heart.
We had the prejudices of education to encounter,
and to tear the most cherished opinions from the
centre of the soul. The best miracle is a renovated
heart. So, doubter, purge thine eyes, and there is
light enough.' I looked up, and the apostle was
gone ; and the evening winds, through the shades of
midnight, were sighing over the sea of Gennesaret.



8



THE PURITAN

No. 12.



Believe it not :
The primal duties shine aloft, like stars ;
The characters that soothe, and heal, and bless,
Are scattered at the feet of man like flowers ;
The generous inclination, the just rule,
Kind wishes and good actions and pure thoughts —
No mystery is here ; no special boon
For high and not for low, for proudly graced
And not for meek of heart. The smoke ascends
To Heaven as lightly from the cottage hearth
As from the haughty palace.

Wordsworth.



The poor and the rich meet together in our world^
as the rose and the thorn grow on the same bush.
My aunt Hannah was wont to say, when she came
home from some splendid mansion to her father's
humble, but certainly not uncomfortable abode, " I
have been to the wrong place to-day ; it is more pro-
fitable to visit those below us than above us. With
the rich we learn to murmur, and from the poor we



THE PURITAN. 107

may take a lesson of contentment." Hence, I sup-
pose, to find this needed lesson, she was sometimes
accustomed to visit the poor-house.

The Bundleborough alms-house stood at the foot of
a high hill, which fenced it, if not from the cold Sep-
tentrion blast, yet from Eurus and Argestes loud. It
was built of a pale dirty brick, and I can seem to see
its fan-placed tiles over its windows, forming a semi-
arch, which seemed to laugh at the rules of Gothic or
Grecian architecture. All ahns-houses are alike ;
and Crabbe has described its interior and local condi-
tion exactly. It stood, there

" Where the putrid vapors flagging play,
And the dull wheel hums doleful through the day ;
There children dwell, who know no parent's care.
Parents, who know no children's love, dwell there ;
Heart-broken matrons on their joyless bed.
Forsaken wives, and mother's never wed ;
The lame, the blind, and, far the happiest they,
The moping idiot and the madman gay."

One morning, after my aunt had spent the previous
afternoon at Squire Wilson's, by far the genteelest
family in our neighborhood, she received the news
that a young woman was sick in the poor-house^
whose intelligence and good morals seemed to be-
speak that she was one of those unhappy characters,
who have fallen from refinement to poverty, and was
now left friendless and sick, to die, neglected
alone.



108 THE PURITAN.

She went ; and I begged to accompany her ; and
we found the sick and suffermg victim, in a little
stived room, smelling strongly of oakum, in which
were two other beds, and a compound of all the vil-
lanous smells, calculated rather to destroy health,
than to restore the sick to health again. There were
six people crowded into the same room — one old
woman with a cancer ; an old man with a sore leg ;
an Irish damsel with her illegitimate child : no fresh
air, which I consider as the best of medicines ; no
sweet and coolino; breeze visited the feverish blood,
in this stived and polluted apartment ; but on a little
flock-bed, separated from the rest by a blanket sus-
pended on two forks, lay one of the loveliest and most
patient forms, that ever was resigned by disease, to
the mouldering arms of death.

Sarah Liddell, (for this was her name,) was rather
small of stature, of a slender frame, with a cheek,
which a hectic flush had by no means robbed of its
beauty; with an eye, though impaired by disease, still
bright and expressive ; and with one of the softest
voices that ever melted on the human ear. When
we saw her, she was in her twenty-seventh year ; a
period when a woman's beauty is thought to have
reached that maturity, which is on the point of decay.
On the whole, I thought her the handsomest woman
I had ever seen. She had beauty ; the highest
beauty ; the beauty not only of color and form, but of
expression. But alas ! what is beauty, when united



THE PURITAN. 109

to poverty ; when the gift of one, destined to tread
the unprotected walks of common life. I have often
heard it said, that to those girls, who live out at
service, in our cities, beauty is at once the intoxica-
tion and the bane. It is one of those treacherous
gifts, bestowed only to endanger their virtue and in-
crease their misery.

In her several interviews with my aunt, she told
her story ; which I found recorded in my aunt's hand
writing ; and what made it to me still more affecting,
she never seemed to have discovered what was the
cause of her calamities. She related her story with
the simplicity of a child.

I don't knov/ what my faults have been, Miss Old-
bug, but 1 have been persecuted ever since the
ceasing of my childhood. Ah ! madam, ladies in
your situation know not how much poor girls have to
go through, who have nothing but their character to
support them. So long ago as I can remember, I
was the only daughter of a widowed mother, who was
put to the hardest shifts to support me and herself.
She had been well educated ; she wished to be gen-
teel; and when I was about seventeen years old, she
married a physician, just fifteen years younger than
herself Every body thought it an imprudent match ;
and, as she had very little property to entice a young
husband to this connection, every body found it dif-
ficult to divine what could be his motive. I can
hardly believe myself that he had in view the horrid



110 THE PURITAN.

purposes which he afterwards attempted to accom-
plish. But they had not been married six months
before I found 1 was to be my mother's rival. My
father-in-law was very assiduous in his attentions to
me ; indeed I first thought them no more than the
permitted fondness which our new relation might
produce and justify. But, in time, his advances be-
came too odious to be mistaken ; and I could not, I
dare not reveal the secret to my mother, for I linew
it would destroy the peace of our fam.ily. My situa-
tion was therefore a dreadful one ; hourly incited to
a dreadful crime, and no one to commune with but
my Bible and my God. Shall I reveal the secrets of
our family ? For two long years I was obliged to
tread the doubtful, dangerous path of resisting one
parent's importunities, and laying the jealousies of the
other asleep. I durst not tell it to others, it would be
laying open the disgrace of our house ; I dared not
complain to my mother, I hardly dared to keep still.
At last accident brouo-ht matters to a crisis. One
day my mother came suddenly into the room, and
found my father bestowing on me his hateful fondness.
She had long been jealous, but now her suspicions
were confirmed. O, what a scene ! She reproached
me ; she tore my hair and her own ; she stamped and
raved ; she ran to the medicine closet and seized the
laudanum bottle ; she heaped on me the names of
those crimes to which I had been solicited, but cer-
tainly did not deserve ; and in short the whole house



THE PURITAN. * HI

was a scene of agony and confusion. O how little
we know what occurs in families ! How smooth may
be the surface, and what misery within ! I coul4
bear it no longer, and that night I left my home,
under the light of the sweetest moon, resolved to go
to Boston, and offer myself to service, determined to
eat the bread of humble poverty, rather than to live
in guilty dependence. It was about twenty miles to
the city ; and I was overtaken by a man alone in a
chaise. He invited me to ride with him, which I at
first declined, but was prevailed upon by his importu-
nity to accept his offer, as I was half dead with fatigue.
But, as the Scripture says, I did fee from a lion, and
a bear met me ; his conduct and conversation forced
me out of the chaise, and the next morning, exhausted
and weary, I reached the city before sunrise. I
knew no person but one, and that was a young girl,
who was a milliner, in Cornhill. Here I applied for
lodging and for work. But the mistress of the shop
informed me that I was too ladyish for her ; besides,
she said her number of apprentices was full. I then
looked round for a place at domestic service. One
lady wanted a character, another bid me tell my
story ; which I did, concealing, however, the most
offensive parts, which I supposed would only disgrace
our family. She heard me with a most incredulous
look, eyed me with the sharpest suspicion, and finally
told me she wanted none of those smart misses, who
might dispute her right to her own parlor. I now



112 THE PURITAN.

began to fear I might perish in the streets. One
gentleman invited me to take a ride with him in a
hack, just at the dusk of the evening, but I had had
enough of solitary riding with stranger-gentlemen.
At last, I found a place with a rich widow lady, who
had an only son, about nineteen. She was really
kind, and for about six months, I thought myself in a
kind of paradise. The work was easy, my mistress
was good tempered and affable — and for some time
treated me almost like a friend, rather than a servant.
I had time to read, which was my delight ; and I be-
gun at last to hope that I had found a harbor for re-
pose. But as my ill-stars would have it, the widow's
son became very fond of stealing down into the
kitchen, and spending his evenings there; he kept
a store, and he chose to come home a little after the
dinner hour and dine with me ; he would lend me
books, and we read them together. He was a modest
young man, very respectful in his attentions ; and I
am fully persuaded, his designs were honorable. But
his mother could not brook the idea of any approaches
to a marriage with a servant girl. So she called me
one day, and after several commendations on my dili-
gence and character, a thousand apologies, and many
expressions of sorrow to part with me, she told me
that circumstances were such, that she wanted me no
longer ; she gave me my wages, a few cast gowns, a
ten-dollar bill, and dismissed me to find another place,
promising me, however, if asked, a good character. I



THE PURITAN. 113

next lived with a wedded lady who had no children ;
what my offences were here I never knew — but in a
short time I was dismissed with such jest on my dowdy
form, and such expressions of wonder, that any one
could think me handsome, (a point for which I never
contended,) that I almost concluded the lady crazy.-
Then I went to a boarding-house ; but here my stay
was short ; my chamber door was frequently assaulted
by midnight guests. In short, madam, my whole
life has been an unhappy one — a poor girl, without
father, mother, brother or friend, who lives out at
service, is like the dove we read of in Scripture ; sJie
finds no rest for the sole of her foot. She has no
encouragement to preserve her virtue ; for if she does,
she is not respected ; and, if she falls, she sinks into
prostitution, disease and death. The agitation of my
condition, the changes in my life, have finally worn
down my health, and the kind winds of Providence
have blown me into this shelter ; I once thouo-ht it a
disgraceful thing to be in a work-house, but I am
cured of that foolish pride. I must have been in
some way wicked at least, or God never would have


1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Online LibraryLeonard WithingtonThe Puritan : a series of essays, critical, moral, and miscellaneous (Volume v. 1) → online text (page 6 of 14)