"Chapter XIV." by Isaac Taylor, Jr., of Stanford Rivers
IN April of the following year, we left Hastings; and Miss Taylor spent some weeks with her friends, in and near London; after which she once more returned to Ongar. It was about this time that she first perceived an induration in the breast, which continued, during the following years of her life, to hold her in a state of constant apprehension, and at length proved fatal.
My sister's religious comfort had been, for some time, gradually increasing; while the pensiveness and diffidence of her temper seemed to give way to the influence of matured judgment, and confirmed principle. Her religious belief had long been settled; but she had failed to apprehend, with comfort to herself, her own part in "the hope set before us in the gospel." It was at length, rather suddenly, in the summer of the year 1817, that the long standing doubts of her personal religion were dispelled; and she admitted joyfully the hope of salvation. The consequences of this change in her feelings was her making that public profession of faith in Christ which is required of His disciples. The extreme reserve of her temper, as well as her want of religious comfort, had hitherto withheld her from this explicit profession; now however, these reluctances [Page 215] gave way; and, in October 1817, she became a member of the Christian church at Ongar, under the pastoral care of her father.
Her own account of this transaction occurs in a letter addressed to her sister, written a few months afterwards.–
"My mother told you of my having joined the church. You may have supposed that I was frightened into it, by my complaint; but I feel thankful that this was not the case; for it was not till after I had consulted Mr. Clyne, that I felt any alarm about it; nor had I before, any idea of its being of a formidable kind. My mind, all the summer, had been much in the state it has been in for years past, that is, unable to apply the offer of the gospel to myself; and all confusion and perplexity, when I attempted to do so. One evening (about three weeks before going to London for advice), while alone in my room, and thinking on the subject, I saw, by an instantaneous light, that God would, for Christ's sake, forgive my sins:–the effect was so powerful that I was almost dissolved by it. * I was unspeakably happy; I believed that had I died that moment [Page 216] I should have been safe. Though the strength of the emotion soon abated, the effect in a great degree remained. A fortnight afterwards, I told Isaac what had taken place, and he urged me to be proposed immediately to the church. It was in this state I went to London; and when I heard what was to me wholly unexpected, I could not but consider the change in my feelings as a most kind and timely preparation for what, but a few weeks before, would have overwhelmed me with consternation and distress. As it was, I heard it with great composure; and my spirits did not at all sink till after I returned home. Since then I have had many desponding hours, from the fear of death. The happiness I enjoyed for a short time has given place to a hope, which, though faint, secures me from distress."
Soon afterwards Miss Taylor accepted an invitation from a beloved friend at Reading, to pass the winter there: she also spent some weeks with her kind relatives at Oxford. She left Reading early in the following spring, and after spending a month near London, once more returned to Ongar. During this winter, the symptoms of the disorder above mentioned became more specific and alarming:–she had before received the advice of eminent surgeons in London; and at Reading, she was daily under the care of a very highly esteemed medical friend, whose anxiety for her recovery could not have been greater had she been his daughter. This gentleman (father of the [Page 217] friend with whom she was a visiter) interdicted to her, absolutely, all literary labors; indeed she had now begun to feel the excitement of composition to be directly injurious to her health; and after this time she wrote only occasionally, and at distant intervals.
The summer of the year 1818, was a season of severe and continued sickness in our family. In turns, Jane herself, one of her brothers, and her father, were confined for several weeks, by dangerous illness. In her anxiety for those dear to her, she so much forgot herself, that her own alarming complaint seemed quiescent; and in the autumn, when family comfort was pretty well restored, she appeared to look more cheerfully upon life than lately she had been wont to do; and consented that arrangements should be made for increasing her comfort at home. With this view she once more fitted up a study, to which she became as strongly attached as to any one she had occupied.
Believing herself to be now likely to remain at Ongar, she actively engaged in works of Christian charity. During a former abode at her father's house, she had originated a ladies' working society, for the benefit of the poor; and to the meetings of this society she gave her attendance whenever she was at home. She became also a constant, and most laborious teacher in the Sunday school; and continued to be so long after it was apparent that the exertion exceeded [Page 218] her strength. It was in the sedulous and affectionate instruction of the children of her own class that alone she delighted; and so far was she from assuming any right of direction over her fellow teachers, that she retreated, as much as possible, from the precedence which would have been yielded to her:–doing less, perhaps, in matters of general direction, than she might have done with propriety.
My sister was in nothing an enthusiast;–she was not therefore supported through the fatigues and discouragements that attend these laborious duties, by those ardent feelings, or sanguine hopes, which often aid the benevolent activity of young persons. The reverse was too much the case; and whenever good appeared to result from her labors, it seemed to take her by surprise. Nor were her early habits, or her tastes, in unison with exertions of this sort: but whatever she did of this kind, was done simply from a full and strong conviction of the obligation of Christians, not "to please themselves," but to be "always abounding in the work of the Lord."
The influence of principle over her mind became still more conspicuous when she was called to take her part in promoting the objects of the Bible Society, in her neighborhood. For those business-like forms, and that publicity which seem inseparable from the conduct of this, and similar institutions, were peculiarly in opposition, if not to her judgment, at least to her habits and [Page 219] her feelings; yet when she was convinced that it was not practicable fully to attain the important ends of society by silent and unconnected exertions, she submitted to the apparent necessity of the case, and took her part in associations and committees.
Besides the attention bestowed on the children of her class on the Sunday, Miss Taylor instructed them in writing and arithmetic, one afternoon in the week. Labors of this kind were agreeable to her, because she found in them (what is needed by minds devoid of enthusiasm), a direct and perceptible benefit resulting from her exertions.
During this period my sister wrote fewer letters than she had been wont to do; yet dropped none of her epistolary connexions. The following letters belong to the time of which I am speaking:–
TO MISS S. G.
Ongar, Aug. 23, 1817.
My dear S.
When I heard of your being suddenly summoned to attend your brother, I felt an immediate desire to write to you, not from the idle expectation that I could say any thing to lessen your uneasiness; but from a feeling of true sympathy which similarity of circumstances awakened. I asked for your address when I wrote to Ann, but was still dubious whether to trouble you with a letter, when the arrival of yours quite determined me. I thank you for it, and I thank you still more for finding any pleasure in writing to me, and for [Page 220] the assurances of your kind recollections. They are, I assure you, acceptable. I have learned to value a little love, more than many times the quantity of praise; and when I receive expressions of affection from any one who, I know, in some degree understands me, and who has had opportunity of observing many of my faults, I feel both obliged and comforted.
I was truly glad to hear a better account of your brother's health. I think you cannot yet have felt more desponding than I have formerly done about my brother: for a considerable time I was quite persuaded that he could not recover; and whenever I allowed myself to entertain any hope, I felt all the time a secret conviction that it was wilful flattery. Yet now–I would say it with thankfulness–he is so far recovered as to remove all immediate anxiety. I know not whether there is any thing encouraging to you in this;–but it is encouraging to know that the same Almighty Friend who spoke the healing word in one case, can do so in another; and assuredly will, if it be really desirable. He who is "the same yesterday to-day and for ever," still regards the prayers and tears of a sorrowing sister. I used very often to say–"Lord, if thou art here my brother shall not die;" and I used to try to add–"thy will be done;" and if ever I can say this with sincerity, it is when I take pains to reflect on the wisdom and goodness of God; and think how certainly what He does is best. And [Page 221] even with respect to the spiritual interests of beloved friends, where certainly acquiescence in disappointment is most difficult (perhaps in this world impossible) even in this case, there is great consolation in recollecting, that the Judge of all the earth will do right. We are not more benevolent or more compassionate than He; and it is with this simple persuasion that I find it easiest to repel those hard and rebellious thoughts of God, which certain passages to which you allude are so apt to excite. We may be sure, that if we put any construction upon them that is in any way injurious to the Divine character in our minds, it is–it must be a false construction. I think there is greater encouragement to pray for the salvation of those dear to us, than for any thing–except our own. There are indeed many instances of the prayer of faith being answered at last in such cases; but it should be the prayer of faith; not a desponding, distrustful prayer; "When ye ask, believe that ye shall receive, and ye shall have."
I do not know whether your removal to — was agreeable to you or otherwise. Your attachment to — was, I believe, local, and one may suffer in parting from places, as well as from persons. I know you must regret the beautiful scenery you have left; especially as all you have thought and felt in that period of life when the thoughts are most lively, and the feelings most keen, is inseparably associated with it. There the illusions of youth [Page 222] have been cherished; and whatever scenery may surround you when they begin to fade, it will inevitably appear less enchanting.
I am so perfectly acquainted with the whole history and mystery of the feelings you describe, that you need not expatiate on that subject. Madame de Staël, who seems to have felt every thing that a susceptible mind can feel in this world, has some admirable passages on that very subject:–in the prospect of quitting society of a certain kind, she says,–
"Il me semblait que j'entrerais en possession de l'univers le jour où je ne sentirais plus le souffle dessechant de la mediocrité malvaillante." Again:–"On est honteux des affections fortes devant les ames legéres: un sentiment de pudeur s'attache à tout ce qui n'est pas compris–a tout ce qu'il faut expliquer–à ces secrets de l'ame enfin, dont on ne vous soulage qu'en les devinant." Again:–"C'est en vain qu'on se dit, tel homme n'est pas digne de me juger;–telle femme n'est pas capable de me comprendre:–le visage humain exerce un grand pouvoir sur le coeur humain; et quand vous lisez sur ce visage une disapprobation secrete elle vous inquiete toujours, en depit de vous même; enfin, le circle qui vous environne finit toujours par vous cacher le reste du monde."
I have not given these extracts to fill up my letter, but because I thought they would please you; though perhaps it is necessary to be some- [Page 223] what acquainted with her style fully to enter into them.
After all, a little–or perhaps a great deal of christian humility is the best antidote to the uncomfortable feelings generated by mixing with society either above or beneath one; and the simple desire to do others good will dissipate in a moment a thousand unfavorable feelings.
Do not suppose I am in your debt in affectionate thoughts and agreeable recollections of the hours we spent together; and believe me to be very affectionately your friend.
TO MRS. G.
Reading, January 20, 1818.
My dear E.
I have indeed longed to tell you how much I have felt for and with you, since I heard of your severe illness; and being myself at the time the account reached me considerably indisposed, and in low spirits about my complaint, I felt a peculiar sympathy with you, thinking it probable that, after being so many years connected in intimate friendship here, we might in a very short time recommence our intercourse in another world. However this may be, we may each of us feel persuaded that it cannot be many years before we enter that world.–That we should either of us see old age is improbable. O that this quickening thought might have its due influence!
I have still occasional pain, which keeps alive anxiety; but on the whole my spirits are pretty [Page 224] good. I endeavor to cast this care on God; and especially to impress my mind with the consideration that, even if my most sanguine hopes of recovery should be realized, it would make no essential difference in my prospects. There is no cure for mortality. Attention and supreme regard to my eternal interests is absolutely necessary, independent of all immediate considerations. Yet I feel the use–the benefit of this perpetual monitor, and pray that its voice may not be heard in vain; for after all, the most threatening afflictions are vain, unless the Spirit of God makes them the means of good to us. This too I have strikingly experienced. But how encouraging, under all discouragements, is that simple promise–"Ask and ye shall receive;" especially when we reflect that God, "who cannot lie," has given it to each of us. This may encourage us to ask, not only for salvation from the wrath to come, or for just grace enough to save us at last, with which it would be easy to be contented; but for great spiritual blessings–eminent spirituality of mind–"a life hid with Christ in God," so as to have at last "an abundant entrance into the kingdom of God."
TO MISS E. M.
London, May 20, 1819.
* * * I am come to London for a few days to execute some home commissions. These fine showers that are making the hills and vales [Page 225] rejoice, are making London more dreary than usual; and they confine me to a dull apartment, where, in rather lower spirits than are common to me, even in London, I sit down in perfect solitude to seek your distant society: my brother is out for the whole day on business. Solitude in the country is sweet; but in London it is forlorn indeed. So you see all things conspire to make this a very animated composition.
My health has not been so good this spring as during the past winter and summer: for this there is "a needs be." But though I believe these continual warnings to be good and necessary; yet fear seems to have an unfavorable influence upon my mind; inasmuch as I am to suspect the genuineness of prayer that is rendered more fervent than usual by an apprehension of danger. I feel regret unspeakable in looking back upon those past years of health and vigor that were devoted to self-pleasing. And yet is there not "all consolation," and consolation for all in the unqualified offers of the gospel, and in the simplicity of its declarations?–"Daughter, be of good cheer, thy sins which are many are forgiven thee:"–what needs one more than this;–and surely nothing less will do–not at least for those who are obliged by some threatening disease to realize their own mortality, and to look at eternity, as those who are in sound health cannot see it. In comparing the temperature of my feelings with yours, I was discouraged; yet I know that religion does not [Page 226] alter the constitution of the mind, any more than that of the body. In you, ardent and energetic; in me, languid and phlegmatic, it would never assume the same appearances. They however are doubtless the happiest Christians the constitution of whose minds is the most favorable to the life of religion. But I feel that these considerations will not serve as an excuse for me, seeing that "God is able to make all grace abound to us also."
I heard yesterday three good sermons. * * * * * * That in the evening by a plain methodist preacher; the best I thought of the three–that is, the most to the grand purpose of preaching. Why do not we hear such sermons oftener? Some ministers appear to be under an unaccountable infatuation, as if they were afraid or ashamed to come to the point;–as if every subject connected with religion were to be discussed in preference to that which is the foundation of all;–as if they would rather direct their hearers to any surrounding objects than immediately to "The Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world." How little do they consider the disappointment they occasion to those of their congregations who go, sabbath after sabbath, hungering for "the bread of life"–who need the consolations of the Gospel! * * * [Page 227]
TO MISS M. H-E.
Ongar, June 7, 1819.
If the frequency of my letters bore any proportion to the value I set upon yours, I am sure, my dear friend, you would be weary both of them and of me. Never, since the days of romance were over with me (or perhaps I might date a little later than that) never since the termination of a correspondence of unusual private interest, has letter-writing been in itself easy or agreeable to me;–though, as a means of maintaining friendship with the few I love, I value it as highly as ever. It was extremely easy to write at that period of life when "realities appeared as dreams, and dreams as realities." O the sheets I have despatched about absolutely nothing! It is easy, at any time, to write when interesting facts are to be related, and when hopes and fears are keeping the mind in perpetual agitation. But this is rarely the case during the greater part of our course. When the current of life is seen near its rise–sparkling amid rocks and hills, and meandering through flowery recesses, it is entertaining enough to trace its windings; but when it has reached the plain, and glides in a broad and even channel for many a mile, though its incessant flow towards the boundless ocean may afford subject for pensive reflection, there is little to invite description.
Thus I often contemplate my own course;–the illusions of youth are completely over:–I think [Page 228] there are no circumstances that could now cheat me into a belief that life is, or could be, very different from what I now see it to be. I might indeed be more busy; and so have less leisure and inclination to moralize about it; but this would not alter the case. "Then I saw that this also is vanity"–is the confession that must be extorted from every heart, as one scheme of happiness after another has had its trial. Perhaps it was after some similar experience that David said–"I shall be satisfied when I awake in thy likeness." When we have felt that nothing else can satisfy the mind, then we are constrained to look to the fountain of happiness. * * * * * * * * It is not strange that the wicked should go on in their wickedness; but is it not strange that those who know any thing of religion should not adorn it more? This is the discouragement. Yet perhaps there are many "hidden ones," who, unknown to their fellow Christians, are living near to God, while those who stand foremost in the church are content "to follow Christ afar off." * * * * * * * I rejoice to hear from a mutual friend that you are actively engaged in doing good. There is something stimulating in reading Paul's salutations to the good women of his acquaintance;–he evidently singles out those for especial notice who were most active and zealous in good works–"Priscilla, his helper in Jesus Christ"–"Mary, who bestowed much labor on them"–"Phebe, a succourer of many:"–While we may imagine that his more general remembrance–"To all the saints that are with you"–refers to others, a little resembling those modern professors of Christianity of whom charity is bound "to hope all things." How pleasant and cheering it is to look at the few who are not of this doubtful character; and how delightful when those who are most dear to us give us this pleasure. * * * * * * * * This increase of piety in our dearest friends is real prosperity; and when we think prosperity of any other kind very desirable, we forget ourselves, and view the world with the worldling's eye. * * *
TO MRS. W. (MISS E. M.)
Ongar, Sept. 14, 1819.
* * * I truly rejoice with you in the happiness of seeing another of those most dear to you "walking in the truth." There is indeed no greater joy than this. This is family prosperity. How weak is our faith when we suffer anxiety for any other kind of success to exceed the desire for the endless happiness of those we love; and how little do we feel like Christians when we are surprised and mortified to see them encountering those trials and disappointments which we know to be the most usual and effectual means of promoting spiritual life. I have just received an account of the severe trial of one of whom, judging [Page 230] as the world judges, one should say that severe affliction was not needed. But God sees not as man;–those whom he loves best he ordinarily chastens most, that they may be "seven times refined." "To him that hath shall be given, that he may have abundantly." * * * * Poor Mrs. — what an unhappy life must hers be! unspeakably more unhappy than it would be if she were wholly destitute of that "little religion," as it is called, that she has! To see age tenaciously clinging to the receding world, is the most melancholy and disgusting sight this evil world presents. * * *
* * * In so small a society as that with which we are connected here, zeal, for want of stimulus, is apt to sink into total torpor. In this respect there are advantages in living in a large town, where the zeal of the few keeps the lukewarmness of the many from freezing. I feel heavily the peculiar responsibility that attaches to me as a single woman, remembering that of such it should be said that "She careth for the things of the Lord;" while, partly from indolence, and partly from a sort of infelicity in dealing with others, I am too apt to recoil from those very duties which seem to lie most in my way. "She hath done what she could," is a sentence which often strikes painfully on my conscience. It is high praise, and what sacrifice can be too great to deserve it? * * *
* It scarcely seems necessary to caution the young reader against a misinterpretation of these expressions. Nothing preternatural was supposed by my sister in this instance to have taken place. She simply means that the gloom or confusion of mind which had long distressed her, was suddenly dispelled by a more just view of the great truths of Christianity. Her temperament was very far from being that of the enthusiast; and none who knew her would impute to her a tendency to indulge illusory religious excitements.