Page images
PDF
EPUB

great mercies to pass by us, not only unacknowledged, but even unobserved. What I have been writing has brought one to my mind; for how terrible would the situation of all your children have been, had they lost you in their infancy ! What frauds, what oppressions, and what endless and ruinous litigation would probably have been their lot! But I am got upon an inexhaustible subject, upon which it is very difficult to think aright, or to express one's thoughts with propriety:

• When all thy mercies, O my God,

My rising soul surveys,
Transported with the view, I'm lost

In wonder, love, and praise.'”

It is truly observed in a passage which has not been quoted, lest the extracts should appear too numerous, that a letter is written pro re nata, and if it is read at a distance of time from the date, carries a different meaning from what the writer intended. “ As to any thing I may leave behind me,” he adds, “ it is needless to say you will not expose your father's nakedness.” It is to be observed, likewise, that letters such as the above are written in all the confidence of secrecy, and without a thought of their being made public; on which account they have not now been produced without some hesitation, and a fear of incurring a charge of unbecoming exposure. Yet it may be remarked, that the sentiments and feelings of the writer are more accurately ascertained by this very circumstance; and as no one's character is implicated,

[ocr errors]

nor any painful feelings excited, as has sometimes unhappily occurred, by improperly disclosing that which should have been preserved under the sacred seal of secrecy, it is to be hoped that these extracts will be perused with interest unabated by any less pleasing reflections. In the same hope some large extracts are added from letters addressed to Mr. Bowdler, by his mother, which can scarcely fail to interest, to gratify, perhaps even to instruct, all who read them.

Bath, April 23, 1767. “ I did not think, my dear, to have been so long without answering yours, but it has been my practice from my earliest youth to call off my thoughts as much as possible from every thing but the duties of my state of life, and fix them on religious employments, at least at the return of the greater festivals; times which even the gay world used for- · merly to allow one for retirement, especially in France. I can assure you, I not only now look back upon those hours with the greatest satisfaction, but that at the time when I was all life and spirits they were some of the sweetest I ever passed. Make no scruple of putting questions to me, if reading long answers will not tire you; for, as to me, the desire of being of use to my children has turned my thoughts almost entirely to the study of the Scriptures for above twenty years; it can, therefore, certainly be no pain, but rather a pleasure to communicate to one not the least dear to me, what I may in that time have collected. Besides, the chief objection I have to my present state of life is, that it makes me almost useless to those whose happiness here and hereafter I am most anxious for, and leaves me in a kind of soli

tude from being less retired. So, if you can make me believe I am any ways of use to you, it must contribute to raise my spirits. Indeed nothing does me so much good in that respect as writing, because it fixes my attention, and calls off my thoughts from dwelling on disagreeable subjects; and, therefore, whatever little essays I have set down on paper, have been the children of my sorrows; and bear date, one with the death of my father, or some other friend; others with your having left me, or with the sickness of some one or other of my children. — You end your letter with, pray excuse blunders ;' let me hear no more of that I pray: and, once for all, let me tell you, that I can excuse every thing in those I love but want of affection : whatever seems to proceed from that must go to my heart; but as for other faults, nay, even crimes, I could grieve for them, but still love on; for, indeed, who is so much to be pitied as a person who is very much to blame? and if a friend in such a case is to forsake him that goes astray, who shall endeavour to recover the lost sheep? I am grown very serious, you see, on a very trifling subject. Adieu, my dear hoy, my friend, if you like to have me for such, and whether you will or no, your affectionate mother.”

“ Bath, May 19, 1767. 66 The communion of saints is not the only article unnoticed in the Nicene Creed, for the descent into hell, or hades, is also omitted. But of this, some other time. Perhaps the reason why it is not mentioned is that it was looked upon as included in the article of the Church; as if one should say, I believe in one Catholic Church, which is the communion of saints, or true believers; or otherwise, I believe one Catholic Church, in which the saints or faithful have a communication of all good things; for it should be

remembered, though it is too much forgot, that though God's Providence watches over every individual, and supplies the wants and hears the prayers of every one, yet the promises of God to mankind have been ever given to them as united in society, with a view to strengthen thereby that bond of love which is essentially necessary to their happiness, both in this world and the next. Thus it was with regard to Noah and his family; to Abraham and his; to the Israelites in the covenant at Horeb; and more especially in the Christian covenant, in which we are taught to consider ourselves as united to each other, even as the parts of one body. We should, therefore, look upon ourselves as receiving nourishment, that is, the graces and blessings of God, not only from Christ the head, but through the channels of the body, that is, through the ministry of the Church; by which I do not understand the clergy only, but the whole body of the faithful for whom they act, and to whom, as a body, they are as mouths and hands. Therefore, when I say, I believe the communion of saints, I mean to profess my belief that in the Catholic Church there is a spiritual communion of all good things; so that I look upon myself as * really benefited by the prayers and good works of all the faithful; as spared with other sinners when deserving punishment, through the intercessions of the Church, by the merits of Christ, as the Israelites were for their fathers' sakes, and as Sodom would have been, had there been ten righteous in it. I look upon myself, therefore, as more likely to be accepted when I offer up my prayers with my fellow-Christians. I consider the offices of religion, such as baptism, marriage, &c., as only properly celebrated in a public congregation, where it can be so done. I consider the holy eucharist as the sacrifice of the whole Church, offered not only for all, but by all. I consider myself not as an indifferent spectator of the sins of others, but as seriously concerned in them, both for the glory of God, which we ought to regard above all things, and the good of the persons immediately concerned ; and, besides, as mariners in a. ship, who must all share in some sort the same fate, or as members of a family, whose faults must affect one another, so we ought to be anxious for each other's behaviour. So again, like the Reubenites and Gadites, I think myself answerable to the body of which I am a member, if I draw down the judgments of God upon it; and like the Israelites, I think every Christian concerned to prevent the offences of their fellow-members, not only from a motive of charity, but as really interested in the welfare of the whole. See the title of Ps. cxxxiii. in the Bible.”

“ June 4th, 1767. “ Set yourself at rest as to any fear of my despising you for any question you can ask. It would ill become me as to any body, but it can never happen with regard to you; besides what your good sense deserves, my natural partiality will ever secure you from the smallest degree of contempt. But you should guard against the temptation of yielding to such sort of fears, for they have ever been the greatest hindrance to all useful knowledge on the part of learners, as laziness has on the part of teachers. I have often made it a doubt, whether the invention of printing, however useful at the time of its discovery for the revival of learning, and, therefore, in itself a very great blessing, has not, by the wickedness of men, been turned almost into a curse, and a promoter of ignorance as to things of real use. For those whose business it should be to instruct others have taken up a notion which falls in with their own love of ease, that to teach people to read is all in all; so that what charity

« PreviousContinue »