"Chapter IX." by Isaac Taylor, Jr., of Stanford Rivers
THE wishes Jane had indulged were, for the most part, gratified in the removal to Ongar; especially as they regarded the house–its accommodations, and its vicinity: and she once more enjoyed her room; which, though not an attic, was all she could desire. The Castle House which my father occupied during the first three years after his removal to Ongar, was highly agreeable in itself, and in the objects which surround it; combining a picturesque antiquity, with the air of seclusion and comfort.
But it was only for a few months that Jane was an inmate at home, during the time that her father occupied the Castle House. For soon after the removal of the family to Ongar, she and her sister–much more from the suggestion of their friends, than from the instigation of their own wishes, formed the design of establishing a school; and some measures were taken in furtherance of the plan; and among these preparatory measures, was their spending a great part of the following winter in London, with a view to perfect themselves in some lesser accomplishments. But obstacles arising, their averseness to the plan prevailed; it was quickly abandoned; and they joyfully returned to their father's house.
Her frequent absence from home, her increas- [Page 137] ing literary engagements, and other circumstances, had, before this time, induced my sister to relinquish the practice of the arts, as a profession: this change in her occupations was made without reluctance; though she always retained a taste for drawing; and practised it occasionally, for the gratification of her friends: and she retained also, without any diminution, that vivid relish of the beauties of nature which perhaps seldom exists in its highest degree, apart from some knowledge and practice of the imitative arts.
Very soon after the removal of the family to Ongar, Jane addressed thence her correspondents. The first of these letters is to
MISS E. F.
Ongar, September 23, 1811.
My dear E.
This is the first time I have dated from our new habitation; having at length restored things to something like order, I sit down in my new room to address an old friend. At present I scarcely know where I am, or who I am; but now that I find myself at the old favorite station–my writing desk, and suffering my thoughts and affections to flow in an accustomed channel, I begin to know myself again. And were it not for this, there are certain cares and troubles, bearing my name and arms, which will never suffer me long to question my personal identity: it is, however, by a pleasure that I ascertain it this evening: I ought not therefore to begin by complaining. [Page 138]
But, my dear friend, you are looking forward towards a change so much more important than a merely local one, that it may well appear to you comparatively trifling. That you are about to undergo is, of all changes, the greatest and the most interesting, but one; and that one, if brought into comparison, makes even this appear insignificant. A recollection of the certain and speedy termination of every earthly connexion is, at such a season, likely rather to tranquillize, than to depress the spirits:–it is calculated to allay anxiety–not to damp enjoyment. When marriage is regarded as the forming a connexion for life, it appears, indeed, a tremendous experiment; but in truth, it is only choosing a companion for a short journey; yet with this difference, that if the fellow travellers become greatly endeared to each other, they have the cheering hope of renewed intercourse and perpetual friendship at their journey's end. * * *
TO MISS M. H.
Ongar, March 7, 1812.
* * * Having never yet been called to encounter trials so severe as those with which you have been exercised, I know I cannot fully enter into your feelings; and indeed, in all cases it is so true that "the heart knoweth its own bitterness," that in general perhaps silent sympathy is the best kind of condolence. "To weep with those that weep," is I believe often an alleviation [Page 139] of grief; and the tenderest friendship can do little more than this. It is well that, at those times when the weakness and insufficiency of all human support are peculiarly manifest, such consolations are received from above as enable mourners to rejoice in their losses, and to say, "It is well for me that I have been afflicted." If the sympathy of earthly friends is soothing and grateful to the wounded mind, how consolatory must it be to know and feel that, even in the midst of chastisement, "the Lord pitieth us as a father his children." You know Montgomery's "Joy of Grief," and have felt its touching sweetness, more perhaps than I can do. You have lost a friend–a brother; and you have, I doubt not, enjoyed that sabbath of the mind which Christian resignation produces. In the common harassing trials and vexations of life, there is seldom any mixture of that joy which soothes and tranquillizes the mind under severer trials. But these painful bereavements which, when contemplated at a distance, appear perhaps too heavy to be borne, are rendered supportable by the strong consolations with which they are usually attended; and most frequently become occasions of thankfulness, on account of their salutary effects on the mind.
Prone as our earthly spirits are to cleave unto the dust, what should we be if all our worldly hopes were to be realized. Wise and kind is that system of discipline under which we are all placed; and when, at the close of life, we come [Page 140] to look back upon our mental history, we shall never be inclined to say of this affliction, or of that mortification–"It might have been spared." We shall then see that our prayers for spirituality of mind were answered by the removal of those worldly joys which produced a contrary disposition; and that when we desired that "our affections might be set on things above," our dearest friends were taken there; that so heaven might become dearer, and earth less attractive. Such weaning events must tend, not only to reconcile our minds to the shortness of life, but to make us rejoice in it. We feel that "they are light afflictions," because "they are but for a moment."
TO MR. J. C.
Ongar, March 21, 1812.
* * * If you are indeed so happy as to be able to feel that "the attainment of your hope is worthy only of secondary anxiety," you need not the admonitions of friendship. This is all that is required of us with respect to our earthly attachments:–it is their supremacy in the affections that makes them become sources of sin and sorrow: and that often renders disappointment merciful. You need not fear making me melancholy by reminding me that "we must die to be happy:" it is a truth which, though at first admitted with reluctance, becomes more and more welcome as one earthly hope after another illudes us; till at [Page 141] length it is received as the best and the only source of consolation. We ought, however, to distinguish between the language of Christian hope, and that of worldly despondency;–between the cheerful desire which rises towards "the mansions that are preparing on high," and the gloomy contemplation of that solitude where "the weary are at rest." But it is not merely under the complete failure of our schemes of happiness that this truth is impressed upon us;–though the accomplishment of them may, at first sight, appear inconsistent with the grand condition of our pilgrimage–"in the world ye shall have tribulation," experience soon teaches us how easily our dearest delights become sources of trial;–"each pleasure has its poison too"–so that when the world has done its best for us, we are still mercifully compelled to acknowledge that, "we must die to be happy." May we both be supported by this hope in our conflict with the last enemy! * * *
About this time several of Jane's friends entered into the married state, and received her congratulations.
TO MISS S. L. C.
Ongar, March 24, 1812.
My very dear L.
Though in much uncertainty whether this letter will reach you amidst the bustle of preparation, or after the grand event has taken place, I shall [Page 142] venture to despatch it, hoping that, under whatever circumstances it may arrive, you will not deem it too great a trespass on your time to receive my kindest wishes and most affectionate farewell. Though I have no apprehension of feeling any diminution of interest and regard towards my friend in a new character, yet I cannot but feel that I am taking leave of a name endeared by many a year of friendly intercourse; and while most sincerely rejoicing in a change which seems in every respect likely to promote your comfort and happiness, you will forgive me for mingling with my heartfelt congratulations, some tears of tender regret. There are no forms of expression–at least I cannot command any, which seem adequate to an occasion like the present. With every thing to feel, there seems little to be said:–the best wishes are so comprehensive, that they occupy but a small space; and the strongest emotions are usually the least eloquent. You have, my dear L., my most earnest wishes and prayers for every blessing to attend you in your new and important situation: may you look back upon the transactions of the approaching day with increasing satisfaction and pleasure, every future year of your life!
We can now look back upon past trials with feelings of joy and gratitude;–how different is the coloring of the clouds of care while they are spread over us in dense and unbroken masses, and when they are rolling off far in the distance, [Page 143] and leaving but a dark streak in the horizon! Now we rejoice with you, dear L., in the clear sunshine they have left. * * *
TO MRS. W. (MISS S. L. C.)
Ongar, May 1, 1812.
My very dear friend: in compliance with your kind wish, as well as to gratify my own inclinations, I take up the pen to address a line to you. Circumstances which I need not explain have obliged me to defer writing till is it nearly time to despatch my letter; so that I am under the necessity of sending you an epistle very inadequate to the importance and interest of the occasion. At a future time I shall hope to converse with you at leisure; now I must offer my congratulations with nearly as much brevity as you conveyed your kind adieu; though not with less sincerity and affection.
In this sorrowful world the tones of joy and congratulation are so seldom heard; that one is almost startled by the sound; but they acquire additional sweetness from contrast:–it is truly refreshing to me to turn from various causes of pain and anxiety, to think of my dear L., and contemplate her fair prospects. For though I have lived too long in this changing world to imagine they will never be clouded; yet there is surely every reason to hope that, with the right views and moderate expectations with which you enter your new career, as large a portion of tem- [Page 144] poral happiness with enliven it as can be desired by those who are looking forward towards a better inheritance. May the blessing of Heaven rest upon you, my dear friend, in your new connexion!–it is my sincere and earnest prayer for you.
Every day I live convinces me, more and more, of the folly and uselessness of forming any defined wishes for earthly happiness, either for myself or others that are dear to me;–nothing will do but resigning all to the disposal of Him who not only knows, but does what is best for us. To Him I know you have committed all the events of your future life; and in this cheerful dependance you must be safe and happy. * * *
TO MRS. G. (MISS E. F.)
Ongar, May 11, 1812.
My dear E.
There was no part of your last kind letter more agreeable to me than that which expressed a wish for maintaining a more regular and frequent epistolary intercourse: on this the existence of our friendship must now, more than ever, depend; at least, without this kind of communication it cannot be either pleasant or profitable. You will give me cridit for the sincerity of this declaration; although my apparent inattention might well awaken contrary suspicions; at least in a more recent friendship. But you and I, dear E. are too old and sober-minded to indulge dreams of cruel neglects and faithless friendships: having, as I [Page 145] believe, entertained a sincere regard for each other for many years–a regard which, though formed in the doubtful ardor of youthful enthusiasm, has healthfully survived those short-lived transports:–it is no longer romantic to indulge the hope that the mutual affection will be as permanent as it is sincere. I am not indeed insensible to the disadvantageous consequences of an almost total suspension of personal intercourse: and the still more unpropitious effects of an entire dissimilarity of interests and occupations: still I am inclined to believe that there is a peculiar interest attached to the connexions formed in childhood, or early youth, which is not easily lost; and that those who are inseparably united with the history of our fairy years may insure a place in the lively and affectionate recollections, even of declining age. I have wandered so far from my unfinished apology, that I think you will not wish me to retrace my steps in search of it; I will therefore only add my sincere wish and intention to atone for past remissness by future regularity.
Letter-writing is much more of a task to me than it used to be: often, when I should enjoy a tete-a-tete, to converse on paper with a friend is almost burdensome. I know not whether it is that I am growing old, or stupid, or lazy; though, I rather suspect, all three. Seriously however, I am certainly experiencing some of the disadvantages of increasing years. With the follies of youth, a portion of its vigor too is fled; and being [Page 146] deficient in constitutional or mental energy to supply its place, my mind is hanging as limp as a dead leaf. But perhaps, dear E., you will scarcely thank me for talking of the effects of years, in which respect I am so little beforehand with you. I do not however ascribe all to the depredations of time;–many a gay lady of five-and-forty retains more of youth than I do; and you, though not a gay lady, will long, I hope, appear a young and lovely wife. So I will take this opportunity to turn to a more pleasing subject, and tell you how much I rejoice to hear from yourself how agreeably you are realizing the fair prospects which but lately opened upon you; and from others, with what grace and propriety you occupy the new and important station upon which you have entered: may you long enjoy and adorn it, my dear friend! Earthly happiness (comfort, I should rather say, for I believe the former exists only in the Dictionary) is indeed to be prized when it does not interfere with higher pursuits; and still more so when it tends to assist and stimulate them.
The ease and leisure afforded by such a lot as yours, is, in this view, highly desirable: it presents the most favorable opportunities of usefulness to others; and to yourself, of growing in meetness for the heavenly inheritance. Happy are you, dear E. that it is your highest amibition thus to improve them. While some are driven through life as over a stormy sea–incessantly [Page 147] tossed and thwarted by the restless billows, till they arrive, faint and weary, at the haven of rest; others are permitted to ramble at leisure through a pleasant vale, till they gradually ascend to the everlasting hills: and of how little consequence is it by which course we are led, so our wanderings do but terminate in the same blissful country! We all receive that kind of discipline which our peculiar dispositions require; and if it is severe, we may be sure it is necessary too. * * *