Letters of Life/VIII

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LETTER VIII.


WRITTEN THOUGHT.


Prose, besides what a daily journal comprised, I occasionally wrote in early life, but seldom impulsively. It was a kind of job-work. The melody of rhyme, like sugar coating the pill, being absent, left the labor too palpable. The ear having been elevated as a sort of chief judge, sometimes took the latitude of making sense subsidiary to sound. It was offended when its stewardship was taken away. It did what it could to make the mind sullen at the toil of providing more material, as if murmuringly it said, "I cannot dig, and to beg am ashamed."

Passing events furnished themes for my verses. They were literally extemporaneous, and if copied a second time, seldom altered. A poem entitled "Edgar and Ann," extending to several hundred lines, was my longest effusion. It was a love narrative in the heroic measure, plentifully interlarded with pathos.

Among the few remaining specimens of prose of that period, is one prompted by my favorite quadruped and quondam companion, the cat, written in the quaint orthography of the ancient English style:


CONCERNING YE CATTE.

Ye dogge hath many admirers, ye catte but few. He followeth manne, and is praised by him. She stayeth in-doors with the women, who have not much to do with the penne, so her good deeds have little chance of being written down. Moreover, she is not treated in any way to encourage them. In the very days of her innocent kittendom, the waddling babe or the cross child do seize her up by the back or throat, dragging her hither and thither, until her eyes start out with pain. Her piteous mewings they heed not; yea, when she reposeth by the fire at night, rude boys do pull her tail, and none reproveth. If she venture to go forth into the streets they caste stones at her, or belabour her with sticks. She hath great hatred of the dogge; so he must needs be sette upon her with clapping of handes and shoutes. She draweth up her bodie like a ball, and enlargeth her tail marvellously, and spitteth at him with all her might. If, peradventure, there be a tree near, it is good lucke, for she saveth herself by climbing whither he cannot come. Yet if he chanceth to shake her poore carcase in pieces, who careth? "It is only a dead catte." Now by reason of this fierce tyranny and scorn, her better nature dareth not fully to unfolde itself.

But look ye, my masters, ye catte hath some good qualities, which I shall endeavour to sette forth. I ask ye if she be not useful. Would not ye mice and rattes despoil all ye storehouses in ye land, were it not for her? I know that some do laude ye terrier dogge. Yet he is too oft a lazy tyke, waiting for the prey to be caught in traps and laid before his jawes. Moreover, he eateth more than the vermin he professeth to destroye.

Not only is ye despised catte useful, but accomplished. She hath a natural taste for musicke, and great compasse of voice. How lulling are her tones when she purreth, sitting on the knee of a friend! How sweetly and tenderly speaketh she to her young offspring! Her more passionate strains in ye nightly serenade are wonderful. A powerful counter might she sing, if trained in a choir. Yet what payment getteth she for her concerts? I grieve to say that brick-battes and boote-jackes are hurled at her head, with evil wishes and cursing words too vile to repeat.

Ye catte cometh of a high familie. This is wont to have weight with mannekinde, and womankinde also. To be only a cousin of my Lord Duke, causeth ye stupide to be runne after.

But look you, ye catte hath ye greate, grande tiger, and ye kingly lion, for her neare relations. She boasteth not of her royal ancestry, neither is puffed up. Verily she setteth an example of meekness, eating thankfully in any darke corner such mean bittes as ye cooke-maide throweth unto her.

Ye catte is neate. What other beaste doth diligently wash its face and pawes, as if it would pay respect to those with whom it dwelleth? She also oft cleanseth her kittens, and maketh them to be tidy. She is a fond mother, and taketh pride in the beauty and grace of her little ones. How carefully lifteth she them from place to place in her mouth, holding her heade very high lest their tender limbes be hitte or hurte. She doth not neglecte their education, learning them to hunte by laying a dead mouse before them, for which, very likely, her own mouth doth water. She playeth merrily with them, and frisketh at proper times. Yet hath she due regard unto their manners, and boxeth their small ears with a wide-spread paw, if they disobey or displease her. Is there any other four-footed creature that doeth these things?

I will not pretend that ye catte hath no faults. I cannot say that she is frank. It is not her calling. It would not help her trade. She creepeth softly, and turneth her head another way, and seeketh dark places when she hath any evil end in view. And sometimes they who blame the four-footed bodie loudly, do the same things.

But I say once more, that poor pussie hath not had faire playe in this worlde. Be kinder to her, my masters, and take some pains to improve her talents. Then shall ye be better able to say truly what ye catte is, and what she is not.


Another variety of mental employment to which I took a fancy was the composition of serious Essays, or Meditations, with a text prefixed, which I called my sermons. This exercise originated in those epochs, very rare in my early history, when I was detained from public worship on Sunday. It then became a habit to write and read aloud in my solitary chamber two of these productions, or an additional one if a third service was desired, compose the usual number of hymns, and sing them in the old, established tunes, of which I knew a great variety. Thus my secluded Sabbaths kept up some shadow of the privileges of the sanctuary, and occasionally there came over my soul a sweet, hallowed calmness, like a premonition of that clime where praise is perpetual.

From a mass of these manuscripts on coarse gray foolscap paper, the ink faded by time, I select two or three specimens for your friendly perusal:


I.

"When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers; the moon and the stars which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?"—Psalm viii. 3, 4.


The pride of our nature inclines us to think too highly of ourselves. It is prone to covet a high station in the scale of being. Hence, the first work of devotion is to teach humility. The first breathing of the Holy Spirit upon man is the lesson of his imperfection and dependence.

This self-abasement seemed to have been heightened in the mind of the Psalmist by a contemplation of the heavenly bodies. The lofty expanse, studded with majestic orbs apparently countless and immeasurable, yet all maintaining the law of order enforced at their creation, uplifted his conceptions to new adoration of that Power who cast them forth as atoms into empty space, yet "calleth all by their names, bringeth forth Mazzaroth in his seasons, and guiding Arcturus with his sons." Then in such strong contrast appeared his own insignificance and frailty, that he uttered the impressive interrogation, "What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?"

The study of the stars was one of the earliest sciences that attracted the human mind. The most ancient nations, the Assyrians and Egyptians, pursued it with avidity. They debased it to superstition by their theories of judicial astrology. The worship of the heavenly bodies was the prevalent form of idolatry in the East. Perceiving them to have some influence over vegetable life, they inferred an invisible agency over the constitution and fortunes of man.

To strike at the root of this error, Moses informs Israel that Jehovah formed them like other masses of inert matter, and sent them forth to their appointed orbits, for the service, not the worship of His intelligent creatures. In his valedictory, just before the death-stroke, he again reminds them that those luminaries, which they were moved ignorantly to adore, were ordained by the Almighty Maker as servants to every beholder, without regard to rank, for "He hath divided them to all nations under heaven."

Still the chosen people did not purify themselves from this idolatry. The prophet Jeremiah upbraids them with pouring out offerings to the moon, and bidding their children participate as to the "queen of heaven." Amos, the inspired herdsman of Tekoah, reproves them concerning the "star of their god," and their tabernacles of imagery, and warns them to "seek Him who maketh the seven stars and Orion, and turneth the shadow of death into the morning." He is quoted by the martyr Stephen in his last bold and eloquent appeal: "Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Remphan, figures which ye have made to worship."

By these facts we see the general observance that the luminaries which make the sky glorious, obtained from man in the earliest times; and also his proneness to change light into darkness, and let the Creator be hidden from his soul by the very magnificence which should disclose Him. This was, however, a more excusable infirmity in the heathen world, to whom He had not been clearly revealed. To us, the spangled concave should be the volume of devotion. On its pages are inscribed in unfading characters the might and goodness of the Supreme. There, as untiring teachers, are orbs of differing magnitudes, pursuing different paths, yet never violating the laws given them when at first "the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy." Can we behold their beautiful obedience, their unbroken repose, and not feel reproved for our own wilful and wayward courses?

When we consider the most remote stars as centres to other systems, from which innumerable revolving satellites gather garments of light and songs of praise; when we think of their myriad inhabitants, drinking existence from One Source, dependent for every breath on His will, we are lost in a labyrinth of wonders. We fear to be forgotten ourselves. "Lord, what are we, and what is our father's house, that Thou shouldest be mindful of us, or visit us?"

With reflections like these, let me view the expanse of heaven. Higher reverence for God and deeper self-knowledge will thus be cherished. Gratitude should also spring up at the thought, that from His lofty habitation above the stars He should deign to take note of us, worms at the footstool. Never again would I be a discordant string in the harmony of His creation. I would rejoice to devote my time, my talents, my being to Him, their Author.

Humility is the robe in which the highest archangel stands before the Throne. It would be fitting for us, were we perfect in innocence. But when we think of our native frailty—of our follies, derived, habitual, and, stranger still, forgotten—we shudder at the thought of human pride, and are lost in astonishment at the Divine forbearance, like the Psalmist-king, or repeat the words of the poet who sometimes caught his devout, tuneful spirit:


"That God who darts His lightnings down,
Who rules the worlds above,
And mountains tremble at His frown—
How wondrous is His love!


II.

"How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow Him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word."—1 Kings xviii. 21.


The blessed Scriptures contain instruction for the ignorant, encouragement for the timid, exhortation and example for all. There is no crime so abandoned, no sinner so depraved, that they deign not to consider and admonish. They would that all should be saved.

This passage from one of their sacred historians is interesting in several points of view. It presents a vivid picture. Elijah was called upon to contend singly with the nine hundred and fifty idolatrous prophets of Baal and of the groves. Look at the throngs gathering in their curiosity, with eyes bent scornfully on the solitary herald of the truth, or triumphantly on their own infuriated, vociferous champions. There they stand, representatives of a degenerate nation, sunk in idolatry, the sport of corrupt minions, and awed by an infamous monarch, Ahab, and his still more infamous queen. Neither the three years' famine, nor the sealed windows of heaven, nor the perished verdure of the land, could arouse their death-like stupidity. Their blinded priests, hardened in conscience, rejected the law of Jehovah. The prophet appeals not to their forfeited reason, but touches them with the sting of satire; for when the armor of the king of Israel proved ineffectual, the shepherd's sling and stone slew the giant.

"Cry aloud: for he is a god: either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked."

The result of this trial was decisive. The voice of convinced Israel exclaimed: "The Lord, he is the God! the Lord, he is the God!" Methinks the echo of their great shout reaches us over the buried ages. With it also comes the injunction of the victorious prophet, "Follow Him." Is He not deserving of the fealty of all His creatures? Are they not fashioned by His hand—supported by His love? Doth not His faithfulness surround them? Are not His mercies new every morning, fresh every moment? Linger they not through the shades of every evening, the watches of every night? His power and goodness are plain to the comprehension of the simplest one at His footstool, and by all ties, natural, moral, and divine, they are bound to serve Him.

Whence, then, this indecision—this balancing on a point of such clearness and importance? Is it not fatal to the interests of time—to the welfare of eternity? Here we dwell in God's garden, refreshing ourselves with its fruits, its fragrance, and its bloom, yet doubtful whether to thank and obey Him, or to clasp the hand of His enemy.

It was not always thus. There were Christians of old who stood unmoved amid the ruins of their altars, content to die for the faith they had espoused. Wickliffe, John Huss, and Jerome of Prague bore perilous testimony to the truth. Luther, the rugged Atlas of Germany, stood unmoved by persecution—a "bush burning, yet not consumed."

"The people answered not a word." Why? Was there nothing to say? Was not the appeal forcible? And is it not much more so now, through the eloquence of Him who in His own person "tasted death for every man"? Yet here is the smile of pleasure, and the sun of prosperity, and the blandishments of the things that "perish in the using," and for their sake we turn away from the voice of Him that "speaketh from heaven."

Man, though often deceived by the objects with which he deals, finds nothing more deceitful than his own heart. Ere he plunges deeply in guilt, he is prone to pause, and resolve not to wander long or wide in paths that are forbidden. Perhaps he proposes that his first step over the boundary of virtue shall be the last. Perhaps he sees a path almost parallel to it, but slightly diverging. He enters it, and they never again reunite. Their goals are as diverse as the groans of hell and the melodies of heaven.

Oh, soul of mine! see the end of this "halting between two opinions." Dost thou hesitate whether to choose the God of all grace and consolation, or him who by vanity and lies deceived the mother of mankind, and was "a murderer from the beginning"? How long ere thou wilt come to a decision? Hast thou centuries to waste, that time is thus cast away? Has an existence measured by setting suns any right to be prodigal? Answer the question of the majestic prophet, "How long?" Till the mists of evening gather—till thou art swept away, like a forgotten flower? Oh, no—no! Now let the things that belong to your everlasting peace be secured; let this "day be your accepted time, your great day of salvation."

 

 

III.

"I exhort, therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men."—1 Timothy ii. 1.


Is this injunction of the eloquent apostle often fully obeyed? We resort to prayer as a privilege, when sorrow oppresses us. In that bitterness of heart which exposes the vanity of earthly helpers, we flee to the Throne of Mercy; and if the burden is not taken away, strength comes to bear it. Yet is there not sometimes an exclusiveness—I had almost said a selfishness—in our devotions? We seek medicine for ourselves: do we always remember to bring the diseases of others to the Great Physician? For those who are dearest to us perhaps we say with fervor, "Oh, deign to heal my parent—my life's companion—my child—my friend; prosper their designs, and protect them from all evil." Yet the supplication is for those who are a part of ourselves. Their sufferings affect us, in their blessings we participate.

The inspired passage on which we meditate requires a broader benevolence. It is not restricted to individuals, to families, to communities, to native country, or to kindred blood. It is as wide as creation. It comprises "all men."

But shall we pray for strangers? Why not? Did our Master make any reservation of people, or kindred, or tongue? Did not the prophets, who saw Him afar off, utter truly the language of His great salvation: "Come unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth"?

When we pray for those within the sphere of our influence, a deeper love springs up for them, a stronger desire to do them service. When we implore pity for the mourner, and support for those who are about to pass over the cold river of Death, we turn with more devout and chastened joy to our homes, still unvisited by the Destroying Angel. When we intercede for those who pine with famine, or tremble beneath oppression, is not the fervor of pious gratitude quickened by the contrast with our own plentiful and peaceful land? When the woes of the heathen—the idolatrous Hindoo, the benighted African, the neglected American forest-son, or the blinded Jew—wing our prayers, is not the bond of brotherhood with the whole human family made more fervent and complete?

If we pray for strangers, shall we not also pray for enemies? What was the example given on Mount Calvary, when the rocks rent, and the dead came forth from their graves? For whom did the expiring Saviour supplicate, "Father, forgive"? Was it not for his murderers? And are we his followers? But at what a distance! We are commanded to sacrifice a few wrongs, aversions, prejudices—shadows that must soon fleet away, and in eternity be forgotten. Yet, when we are reviled, we ofttimes revile again; when we suffer, we threaten—reversing the Christian code, and omitting to pray for those who despitefully use or persecute us. Nay, are we not sometimes vindictive with little cause, and implacable for fancied injuries? How, then, can we be the true disciples of Him who was patient unto death, and whose birth-song was good-will and peace to all mankind?

The rule given by the primitive Christians is accordant with the spirit of our text, that when we receive from others unkind words or deeds, we should, as soon as possible, retire, and entreat our Father in heaven to bestow on them some benefit. Whoever should persevere in this course would receive a blessing in himself. It would be found the most effectual course to eradicate ill-will, revenge, and hatred, with all the bitter and baneful fruits that flourish within their dark enclosures. Benevolence would thus be quickened, humility made more profound, and the warm wish that all men be blest, ascend a constant and pleasing orison to a Deity whose nature is love.

Let us meditate more frequently on this inspired command. Formed as we are for social intercourse, the universal brotherhood of our kind should be an acceptable doctrine. The paired birds seek the shelter of one nest; all animals of gentle heart are gregarious; it is only the savage beast that chooses to stalk forth alone, prowling for prey and blood. To civilized man, the sweetest sound is the voice of man; the fairest sight, that countenance which was made in the image of its Creator. Christian faith, by sublimating these impulses, is able to make his purest delight consist in doing good—in expanding the circle of his charities; until, embracing the whole, household of humanity, he is moved in the ardor of devotion to spread the wants of "all men" before his Father and their Father, his God and their God.

 

 

A work on the subject of Prayer bears date among my early compositions. Its plan was threefold: first, all the instances recorded in Scripture of the efficacy of prayer; secondly, examples from history of answered prayer; thirdly, the written testimony to its solace and power by Christians, in all ages of the world. I think now, with my added literary experience, that the plan was excellent. I pursued it with zeal, and it was more voluminous than all my adolescent works. But I have an idea that it was heavy, inasmuch as I never could bear to read it myself. When last I saw it there seemed some danger of its being suffocated under a pile of incumbent manuscripts. Sometime when I am in good courage I will seek for it; but not to inflict it on you.

Occasionally I indulged myself in imitating the style of the historical parts of the Old Testament. This I was first induced to do by admiring a parable of Dr. Franklin, which exhibits a remarkably successful similarity.

When still very young I had been much pleased with a brief history of the mother-land, in pamphlet form, entitled "The Chronicles of the Kings of England." I wish I could find it now. The quaintness of some of its expressions still dwells in memory. After a good description of the Gunpowder Plot, the simple phrase, "and James was glad that he was alive," depicted more clearly the happy state of the monarch's mind than an elaborate portraiture.

Fancying that this style was adapted to make lasting impression on the retentive powers, and being familiar with it by daily perusal of the Sacred Volume in retirement, I conceived the ambitious design of enwrapping in it some events of our own national history. It did not strike me as involving aught of irreverence, for that would have shocked me beyond measure. It seemed to me a vehicle of thought, beautiful for simplicity, and capable, both by its amplifications and elisions, of producing a peculiar effect. Here is one, on a rather undignified event, but which bore decidedly upon the progress of our Revolution. I am not certain but this has, at some time or other, got into print, as have many of my juvenile compositions.

It was in 1773, while the spirit of alienation was quickening among the colonies, that a determination was formed to resist the introduction of large quantities of tea made subject to taxation. The ministry of Great Britain sustained the East India Company in this policy, who were desirous of disposing on the best terms of their accumulated stores of this article. Philadelphia was the first to lift her voice against tea and taxation; but Boston was the leader in action, and, resolute even to rashness, boarded three vessels laden with tea that entered her harbor, and threw their entire cargoes overboard.


THE BOSTONIANS AND THE TEA

It came to pass, in the days that were before us, that a vessel of small size did spread its white sails over the far sea. Wind and storm stood in its way, as it steered toward a waste land and desolate. But behold, her people said, "Here will we abide forever, that we may be free—we, and our children after us."

So they cut branches from the trees of the forest, and built unto themselves booths, and became dwellers among the heathen. Great perils had they from scarceness of bread; and when the snows of winter fell, and frost turned the waters to stone, divers of them died, and were buried. Yet the residue of them repined not, but trusted in God.

So, after many days, they multiplied in the land, and sowed corn, and had cattle, and waxed strong. In the time of their famine, and likewise of their prosperity, among their chief comforts was a plant from a far country toward the rising sun, which they called Tea. Its dried leaves were precious in their sight; and some accounted the infusion thereof better than the blood of the vine.

Now, it came to pass, that beyond the great waters was a mighty realm, calling herself their Mother. And she spake, saying: "Of this tea drink ye as much as your soul desireth; ye, and your wives, and also your little ones. Ye shall buy it with money, and pay unto me a tax, over and above the price thereof."

Then said they: "Must we pay this tax unto thee, whether we consent or not?" So, the great motherland, wearing upon her head a crown, and having fast by her throne men of wealth, bearing the name of the East India Company, did answer and say: "Yea, verily, without your consent."

Now the dwellers in the new western world waxed wroth, and their countenances were changed. And they lifted up a loud voice, saying: "Nay; we will pay no taxes without our consent. See ye to that."

Now, behold, there came unto the haven, and cast anchor therein, vessels full of tea belonging unto the East India Company. And the men of Boston took counsel together, saying: "What shall we do? If this entereth within our borders, then will the shekels be demanded, which it is hateful unto our souls to pay, because we have not consented thereunto."

But certain of the boldest ones, when they had conferred together in secret, said unto their brethren: "Keep ye silence. Go unto your homes, and we will manage this matter." So they went every one to his own home.

And when the darkness of night had come, lo! there entered into those vessels men who did appear like unto the wild natives of the land, inasmuch as they were clad in their raiment. And they spake no word, but quickly with hatchets brake all the boxes, and what was therein cast they into the sea, and so departed.

Then were the deep waters blackened by the color of the tea, and the fishes affrighted. And those who had knowledge of that hidden realm did say, that the sharks who disported themselves in that tea-tank were quiet for a season, and the dolphins slept a great sleep.

Moreover, Neptune, when he beheld the darkening of the deep, shook his trident, saying in wrath, "Wherefore is this waste?" Moreover, he complained that this had not been made known unto him; for he would have bidden sundry of the sea-gods, who had been civil unto him, to a tea-party.

So the men who had thrown into the sea this great store of the Chinese plant, turned and went every man unto his own home, ere the morning dawn. And when the sun arose, certain of their wives did question them, saying: "Why tarried ye so long away, in the dark night? And where found ye such plenty of tea, that it should be shaken on the floor in heaps, when ye took the shoes from your feet?"

But they held their peace, and spake never a word, so that the wives marvelled. When the morning was fully come, they called together all their households, and spake unto them with authority, saying: "Ye shall taste no tea, not one of you; neither shall it pass through your lips, for it is accursed."

So in all that goodly town, the herb of China, with the pots and flagons appertaining thereunto, was banished from every table. Divers also of the ancient women did murmur within their tents, saying: "Ye have taken away that which did comfort us in all our toil. An evil and bitter thing did they do who cast it into the sea. And lo! because of this, sleep hath departed from our eyes."

But the wise men, who looked into the future concerning this matter, answered with kind words, saying: "Be ye of a good courage; for, peradventure, there shall grow herefrom an excellent thing, that ye wot not of, even a fair heritage to a free people."