« PreviousContinue »
to pass in mischievous discourse, which a word of disapprobation might have checked, can never be purchased back. And the days of ungodly compromise are more than the days that remain for devotedness to God. And now, when I would persuade any one to decision, they answer me, that I did not always think so. And when I speak with any one of the inferiority of earthly things, they answer, that it is indeed very true; but unhappily we none of us think so: and though my heart disclaims the ungodly fellowship, conscious memory seals my lips. And—worse consequence than all He to whom I was devoted at my birth, in whose name I was brought up, whom, at my entrance on life, I hired myelf to serve-He, to whose gracious bidding I answered, “ I go;" but went not-He has had nothing of me yet but treachery, equivocation, doubt, undecided preference, cavil, and evasion: and nothing remains to offer him but the diminished capacities of my diminished years!
THE STAGE COACH.
A LETTER TO THE LISTENER. On a day-suppose it any day, excepting Sunday -I had occasion to travel by the coach from Leeds to Nottingham. I am an Englishman, I have never been abroad, I have no conversation, and I follow the example of my ancestors for generations back, of seldom speaking unless I have something to say. But nothing escapes my hearing or passes me unthought upon. In the coach, at its starting, there were three; another gentleman, a lady, and myself. We met as strangers ; put ourselves each one in the position most easy to ourselves, without regarding the accommodation of each other: I pulled up my window, and the lady instantly let down hers, as much as to say, Are you going to stifle us ? I put on my hat, as much as to say, Will you give me my death of cold? and our fellow-passenger took off his: a majority of two to one against me, in favour of air, decided without the interchange of a single word; nothing could be more in unison with my taste and feelings. The next thing to accommodating ourselves, was to inspect each other. This was performed on all sides without the least expression that could be perceived of pleasure or disappointment; and we returned to the prudent determination of not offering the first civility, lest it should be wasted on the undeserving. In one respect I had the advantage of my companions. I had seen the lady in
the north, and knew who she was. She was about five-and-twenty, she was polished, and she was cultivated. I would rather not be very particular as to her situation, lest I betray my original by too close description. It was one of responsibility, and she was considered a religious character.
All this I knew before, and should probably have added nothing to my knowledge in this interview, had it not occurred, that, after threading various streets and turnings in the good town of Leeds, as we were emerging from it, the coach stopped, and a young man edged his long person into the small remaining space; rubbing his hands with cold, and vowing it was the hottest day he ever remembered in December. It was immeditely apparent that he and the lady had met before. He was of Irish blood, therefore not endowed with hereditary silence; and ladies, I believe, seldom obstinately persist in it, except in the drawing-room retirement after dinner. Speedily, therefore, they were engaged in such conversation as takes place between strangers, who have somewhere performed the ceremony of introduction. Excuse me, that my love of description has delayed me thus long from my point which it. self may be dismissed in much fewer words. My companions talked of many people and of many things; much, especially, of books. The gentleman was one of those who never converse with a woman with sincerity; that is, from a mixture of folly, conceit, and dishonesty, they never say to her what they really think and mean; but what they judge most likely to make her betray and expose any folly, mistake, or extravagance, that may happen to belong to her; agreeing with or opposing her sentiments, not in the verity of their judgment, but as it may best serve the purpose of making her go on.
My lady of the stage-coach did not seem in the least a match for this sort of maneuvring; and talked on in a simple good earnest, without perceiving the satiric twist of her gentleman's mouth, while talking of Romaine, Baxter, and Leighton; books which it was evident to me that he had never read; but not so to their enthusiastic commentator, whom he plied with admiration of their worth.
A passage to the antipodes is not always long : and from the holy of the earth, they fell to talking of its base, corrupters. Here my
I pect, well read : his large, rude eyes spread wider with delight, when he found his lady as much at home here as heretofore: conversant not only with infidel philosophers of other days, the nobler miscbiefdoers of the earth, but also with their small retinue of to-day. But he affected squeamishness : he was hardly competent to give an opinion, being so little conversant with these works; he had his doubts about reading_dropped something about their indelicacy as well as profaneness—perhaps he was too particular, but—the manæuvre served his purpose. The Christian lady took up the advocacy, not of their principles, of course, but of their talents; the unfairness of condemning men for opinions : the propriety of reading every thing to form your own judgment; the sufficiency of principle to maintain itself without avoiding its enemies. She did not, of course, agree with them, but she had great delight in their deep reasoning, and expansive thought, and independent spirit, that defied authority, and would yield only to conviction. She called some of these worthies (the enemies of her Saviour, and blasphemers of her God,) “ fine creatures,” “noble spirits,” “exquisite writers.” Artfully encouraged by the affected ignorance of her companion, she repeated many
of their witticisms, impossible not to laugh at, as she said, in spite of their profaneness.
The conversation passed, and the lady left the coach at Sheffield. Much was the comment I had been making on it in my own mind as it proceeded, and already I had determined to remit to you my listenings, with my thoughts on what I had heard. On the adventurous pride that thus dared the approach of evil; the treachery that held friendly converse with a master's foes, (for doing less than this towards an earthly sovereign, men have been hanged as traitors,) the licentious curiosity that could amuse itself with the mysteries of iniquity. Can holiness amuse itself with sin? Can purity soil itself with foulness? Can the saved laugh round the graves of them that perish, and dress their tombs with laurels ? I had determined to write my sentiments on the consequences of a young person, and a female, and a Christian, risking the pollution of her mind by the perusal of such books; and encouraging the profligacy of others, by her defence of them; and grieving that Holy Spirit, which, alas ! has a task quite hard enough to restore the soul to holiness, by bidding its opposers do their worst to keep it in corruption. All this I meant to speak of, though little given to talk. But my friend of the coach made the comment himself: I cannot mend it, and with him I leave it. Scarcely had the lady left the coach when he said—to all, I suppose, whom it might concern, for he addressed himself to nobody; “ These saints should not be so anxious to exclude us sinners from heaven, for they will be sadly off without us. With all their love of holiness, they cannot do without the zest of sin; and so when they have done committing it for themselves, they amuse themselves with other people's. Do you see? She can cram