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the end and object of our being, in the active discharge of our duties to God, to our fellow-men, and to ourselves. If we neglect our faculties, or deprive them of their objects, we weaken the organization, give rise to distressing diseases, and at the same time experience the bitterest feelings that can afflict human nature, ennui, and melancholy! The harmony thus shown to exist between the moral and physical world is but another example of the numerous inducements to that right conduct and activity, in pursuing which the Creator has evidently destined us to find terrestrial happiness.” * Even upon the very deaf and dumb, solitude exercises a most injurious effect, as is satisfactorily proved.t And Pinel & relates a case which strikingly shows the dire consequences of suddenly removing from society, and entering upon solitude, which we will not quote as it is too professionally described to interest the ordinary reader.
There is no truth so self-evident, no proposition so axiomatic, as that the monastic system has an especial tendency to vitiate and debase the intellectual powers, and to materially injure the physical organs of man. The mind of the unhappy votary of such a system must eventually become deranged, when its designs, its thoughts, and its affections are continually thwarted and suppressed. I have known some, and am intimately acquainted with others, who entered in rude health, within the walls of a convent, but in a very short time began rapidly to decline, from the effects of a destructive system of discipline. For my own part, I yet feel the pernicious consequences of the monastic life.
Solitude predisposes to mental disquietude ; for so intimately allied are mind and body, and so tender is the sympathy existing between each, that the entire ruin of the constitution is the inevitable result of protracted seclusion from mankind. And who can administer to a mind diseased ? Not that we condemn occasional retirement from the hum of business and the haunts of men. To be religious we must be reflective: to be devout we must be meditative. And reflection to be profitable must seek solitude, where God may be tasted, and heaven felt!
“A soul in commerce with her God, is heaven,
Feels not the tumults and the shocks of life
The whirls of passions, and the strokes of heart.” In fact, no progress in the spiritual life can be made without occasional abstractedness from the world. And the man who neglects so salutary a means of advancement in piety, and at the same time, makes high professions of Christianity, proves that he neglects the heart, whilst he cherishes the carcase of religion! He is noble above all others who lives not for the body-and who uses the world as though he used it not!
“ Titles and honours, if they prove his fate,
He lays aside to find his dignity.” We have shown how solitude is the procuring cause of mental disease. It now remains to notice the physical evils which those of a mental character induce :* “Principles of Physiology.” † Vide Andral's “ Dict. of Medicine," vol. xx.
t Sur l'Alienation Mentale, p. 157, s. 160.
“ If,” says Dr. Combe, “the mind be oppressed with grief, anxiety, or remorse, the stimulus which it communicates is far from beneficial, being no longer in accordance with the conditions designed by the Creator. It is in such circumstances, accordingly, that bad health is so often seen to arise from the state of the mind, and that suffering is produced which no art can relieve till the primary cause has ceased to exist."
And again, treating upon depression of mind, the same writer observes :
" The depressing passions predispose to pulmonary consumption ; a fact which has been remarked from a very early period. When the mind is in a state of depression, the whole nervous system becomes enfeebled; the stimulus to the other organs, on which so much of their vital power depends, is impaired; and a general want of tone pervades the system, rendering the principal organs of the body, and the lungs among the rest, unusually susceptible of disease. ... Grief, sorrow, and other depressing passions of the mind, diminish the activity of the circulation, impair respiration, lower vitality, and consequently render the organization more than usually susceptible of diseases arising from diminished action. ; ... The tendency of grief, despondency, and sorrow, is to produce meditative inaction."
But it may be retorted : Are not these remarks as applicable to every other condition of life as to that in question ? Are not disappointments consequent upon every station ? And is not grief entailed, by reason of those disappointments, upon each member of which society is composed ? Nor does the head graced by a coronet become less sensitive to its sting than that of the less favoured, which never reclined on a pillow of down? We reply that such is not the fact. Monasticism induces calamities peculiarly distressing. It creates griefs which society knows not of. And besides, it has not the assuasives which society possesses. Hence its victims endure in silence; and the very thought that no remedy is availing, serves but to increase the agony of the sufferer! 'Tis true that in every sphere of existence, from the hand that grasps the sceptre to that which extends itself to receive the bounty of the passer-by, cares and anxieties are to be found. No individual has yet discovered a path-way strewed with roses, on which no thorn reared its prickly head. Every one has his peculiar griefs, and each regards his own as the most severe. “Man is born to trouble as sparks fly upward." 'Tis the decree of heaven. None are exempt from the universal visitation. If God sends us trouble he will impart strength to bear it. His word is pledged. And what can yield a more pleasing satisfaction, than the consciousness of doing the will of our Heavenly Father?
“ Life's cares are comforts ; such by Heaven's designed,
The soul is on a rack.” As it is the pleasure of Providence to allot trials, it is not for us to increase them by moving in a track which Divine Wisdom never appointed, and on which the smiles of Deity never alight.
It is a striking fact, that noviciates, or convents where young persons are trained for the monastic profession, perfectly resemble hospitals. Most persons become ill before their first retreat has ended. And I am rather surprised that many more deaths do not occur in those pestilent places. Would to God that such dens of seclusion were banished from every country, for they are the pests of society, the annihilators of the noblest principles of human nature, the blight of many a family, the scourge of many a heart, the murderers of many a soul and body! It is not my purpose to make an elaborate display of the vices of monastics. No. I pity, I love them too much to dip my pen in “ the gall of bitterness,” in order to pourtray their character : nor do I believe that they are as bad as they are often represented. Justice demands this avowal.- And for the honour of humanity I assert my conviction. The invocation of Michelet to the priests, I fervently address to monastics :-“Oh, how my heart swells for all these unfor. tunates! How many prayers have I made that they may be permitted to abandon a condition which gives so rude a contradiction to nature, and to the progress of the world! Oh! that I might with my hands build up and cheer the domestic hearth of these poor creatures-give them the first rights of humanity-re-establish them in truth and life, and say to them, . Come and sit with us, leave that deadly shadow, and take thy place, O sister, O brother, in the sunshine of God!'”
As a painful illustration of the miseries attendant upon “ LIFE IN A Convent," I trust the kind reader will bear with me whilst I quote the language of a personal friend, Signor Raffaele Ciocci, formerly a Benedictine monk, in Rome, who, thank God, has escaped from the duogeon of the Inquisition. He was the pupil or Librarian of the late Pontiff, Gregory XVI. “Rome in the Nineteenth Century," is the fruit of his talented pen, since he came to this country; which work has been translated into no less than seven living languages. Therein he depicts the monster evils resulting from monastic gloom. This is his confession:
“I was shut up for fifteen days in solitude in my room, in order that I might devote myself entirely to religious exercises. After ten days of rigorous confinement, for even my food was brought to my chamber, I became ill, my feet swelled, I was oppressed with constant pain in the head ; if I attempted to walk, after taking a few turns, I grew dizzy, and was compelled to throw myself upon the bed ; and it frequently happened, that being unable to reach it, I fell fainting to the ground, but no one came to my assistance. These indispositions were, no doubt, the effect of want of light, and air, and exercise."
Mr. Ciocci thus touchingly depicts his feelings :
“ The three days' solitude to which I was condemned in the agitated state of my feelings, writhing under the discovery of the cruel deception of which I had become a victim, and which had forced me on to a step that might prove irrevocable, almost distracted me. I had, during this confinement, ample time for reflection, but not one sustaining hope brought comfort to my soul. Now and then the thought of God would flash upon my mind, like the polar star upon the gaze of a tempest-tossed seaman, but instantly it was lost behind the thick clouds of impenetrable darkness, with which the Roinish religion has clothed the God of mercies. Meditation served but to thicken the clouds of my spirit, and to embitter the balm which an occasional gleam of divine intelligence shot into my soul; clipping the wings of hope, it plunged me yet deeper into despair. I was upon the rocks of Gilboa, cursed by God, upon which no herbage ever springs, and where the fertilizing dews of morning never descend. Abstinence added physical debility to mental suffering, and brought on an indisposition to sleep, which was the more intolerable that it prolonged the sense of my sorrowful existence. When, for a few moments, exhausted nature triumphed, my dreams were such as may be supposed to disturb the sleeping hours of one occupied with the single idea of terror.”
He next speaks of Dr. Ricardi, a kind and excellent man, to whom he opened his bosom griefs and made known the sorrows of his heart; and spoke to him unreservedly of his aversion to the monastic state. The Doctor sympathized with him, and added :-“ I have attended in this monastery for ten years, and also in many other religious houses, and in all I discover youths who, like you, have been lamentably deceived. I hear the same complaints, I am called upon to cure the same disease. And, Oh! in how many instances have I known it to prove fatal !"
As an unhappy victim to monasticism, out of many sad examples, I shall mention the melancholy case of Gerald Griffin, Esq., author of the “ Collegians,” “Munster Festivals,” and other works of fiction. This talented young man entered the same religious order as myself. Before his novitiate had expired, however, he became ill. But, as is usually the case, little notice was taken of his indisposition. I do not believe that neglect so culpable as this arises from feelings of indifference towards the afflicted, but in order that the sufferer may be exercised in self-denial, all sympathy is studiously avoided. It is, I conceive, the greatest trial to which a human being can be subjected, when the hour of sickness approaches to find no tender bosom nigh no friendly arm to relieve—no sympathizing heart to pity. Soon his disease made rapid advances, his constitution sunk, his strength failed him! Now, indeed, his malady assumed too serious an aspect to be trifled with. Medical aid was obtained, every effort made in order to his recovery ; but all was unavailing, he died in a few days! Even when expiring nature heaved its latest sigh, none of his brethren were present. He literally died alone as he had predicted ! * Oh! had he
* The “ prediction ” alluded to, is found in the following poem, transcribed from the poetical effusions of Gerald Griffin, Esq., published by the brethren of the order with which he was connected, one of whom has furnished me with the particulars I have mentioned:
I AM ALONE! I AM ALONE !
No social ties its love entwine,
Beats not in solitude like mine :
It show'd no form that I may own,
I am alone! I am alone !
To mark the fond and eager meeting
The love-lit eyes speak out their greeting.
remained in the world, and fulfilled the purposes for which his Creator had designed him, he would, in all probability, have been saved from a premature grave, and not wither, perish, and “ die alone,” without the sweet solace which God had intended woman to impart!
“ For 'mid the hour of woe and grief,
When sickness pales the blooming cheek,
What, then, can be more fully established, than that the monastic system is the poisoner of the mind, and the destroyer of the body? True, it works gradually. Its operations are, at first, imperceptible. But many a brilliant and blooming youth are yearly sacrificed on the altar of this modern Moloch, and are “sent to rejoin in heaven those martyrs that have preceded them.” I remember reading in the Tyrol, the tragic history of the Benedictine Abbé, who, not daring to violate his vows, (for they are stronger than death,) and being unable to become released from them, stabbed himself to the heart !
For then a stilly voice repeating
What oft hath woke its deepest moan,
I am alone! I am alone !
Why hath my soul been given
A zeal to soar at higher things
And fall with scathed heart and wings ?
'Tween me and all that was mine own ;
And walk alone ! and walk alone !
And die for him whose worth I knew,
My full heart forth as talkers do-
Believ'd me chang'd in heart and tone,
To live alone : To live alone !
Of life, unfriended, cold, and dead,
As all my young affections fled ;
When life's last fickering light is gone ;
And die alone ! and die alone!