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done something. But to see a smile where erst was a tear, to see a look of joy on the human face, which so lately wore an aspect of despondency ; to see peace and content where once was strife and affliction, and to feel that all this is the result of our own erertions: this indeed is joy, joy greater than that which animates the founder of a city. We feel that we have not only done something, but that we have done more, we have done good.”
“And that we are laying up treasure in heaven.”
“True ; but that is another consideration. I know that you will not misnnderstand me, when I say that we may both do good, and feel pleasure in having done good, without once thinking of God. There is such a thing as natural morality ; but I will not enlarge upon this. Old Owen Feltham draws a happy distinction, when he says, ‘Let my mind be charitable, that God may accept me : let my actions express it, that man may be benefited.’”
“I could cavil at this, if I were inclined,” said I ; but I did not, for I loved better to hear Everard, than to hear myself, discoursing upon these subjects.
“By loving our neighbour,” continued Everard, “insensibly we serve God; but by loving God, we do not serve our neighbour, unless our odedience keeps pace with our love, which is not always the case. Religion is often selfish ; benevolence, never. We may shut ourselves up in a cloister, abjure the vanities of the world, mortify the flesh, wear sack-cloth, fast, pray, and apply the scourge, and all this to propitiate the Deity; but do we thereby render ourselves so acceptable, as by manifesting our gratitude to the Creator, by doing good to the creature, whom God, as we are expressly told, made after his own image As in the ages of antiquity, they crowned with garlands the statues, and poured libations upon the altars of their deities, so it becomes us to look upon our fellow-men as the statues and the altars of our Deity, and good-works ought to be unto us what the garlands and libations were to the ancients. Did you ever read that beautiful little apophthegm of Abon Ben Adhem and the angel ?”
I replied in the negative.
“It is to be found in D'Herbelot's Bibliotheque Orientale. An angel appeared unto Ben Adhem, and the angel was writing in a book. ‘What writest thou?' asked Ben Adhem, for he was a good man, and he was not afraid. ' The names,” replied the angel," of those who love God.' “And is mine there 2' asked Abon ; but the angel only answered, ‘No.”—“Write me then, at least,' cried the good man, “for one who has loved his neighbour.” The angel wrote something in the book and vanished. The next day it re-appeared, and, pointing with a finger to the names of those who were registered in the book, behold the name of Abon Ben Adhem stood first in the list of those men who loved their God.”
“It is, indeed, beautiful,” I said, “and worthy of a Christian writer. There is no religion which insists so much upon the efficacy of morality and benevolence as does the Christian religion. There are no doctrines so charitable as those of Jesus.”
“And yet Christianity has been objected to, on the ground that it is not that which you declare it to be. Shaftesbury has hurled his lance at it, because, as he roundly asserts, it is positively inimical to the formation of all private attachments.”
“He should have read South's sermon on the love of Christ to his disciples.”
“It would have profited him much,” replied Everard. “I do not uphold Shaftesbury. He is not a favourite with me; and, in this instance, there is more malevolence than wisdom in what he saith. The Messiah, both by precept and example, cherished the growth of private affection, that is, in all cases where it is not opposed to universal benevolence. It does not behove a man to devote himself exclusively to the interests of one beloved individual., Jesus loved all men; he loved his disciples better than the community, and one better than all the rest.”
“And the fifth commandment,” I replied, “is the only one in the decalogue, which has come down to us accompanied by a promise.”
“And this is a moral commandment. What contentions have been, and will be, between the advocates of faith and good works. I, in my time, have had my share in these discussions. One thing I have almost universally observed, that the latter have the most toleration. Did you ever read any of the Fathers 1, 1 was turning over a volume of St. Augustine, the other day, when I |alighted upon these words, the truth of which struck me very forcibly : , Habere omnia sacrumenta, et malus esse potest; habere autem caritatem et malus esse non potest.'"
“There is a passage in my favourite South,” I replied, “very much of a similar tendency, “No man's religion,' saith this eloquent preacher, “ever survives his morality.’”
“But will the converse of this hold good? I think not; but there are many zealots who are ready to declare that it will.”
After this the conversation began to wear a more personal aspect. I drew Everard into speaking of himself. He was so little of an egotist, that this was at all times a difficult task. lipon the present occasion, however, I succeeded.
“I am scarcely four-and-twenty yet,” said Everard, “and yet I almost feel as though I had lived half a century. I am like Shelley's Prince Athanase—
“A youth, who as with toil and travel
I have scarcely any of the feelings, and none of the passions of youth. I do not hunger after excitement, not thirst after pleasure. I have no ambition. I never look forward or strive to rend the veil of futurity; at least, not for my own sake, though I sometimes think of my child, and endeavour to shadow forth in my imagination the destiny of the unconscious infant. I live almost wholly upon the past. There are few at my years to whom memory supplies more food than hope ; but so it is with me ; I am an old man,—a stricken, chastened, old man. But I am contented ; I desire no change; I do not seek to be great, I only strive to be good.”
“My dear Everard,” I said, and I felt quite sad as I spoke, “you have suffered much, so have I. Your life has, as yet, been a scene of almost incessant struggles; your morning has been clouded and stormy, but your evening may be cheerful and serene.”
“It may be serene,” interrupted Everard ; “but, believe me, it cannot be cheerful. The sun of my joy has set, alas ! never to rise again.”
“And mine !”—There was a painful pause ; our hearts were too full to speak.
At length I found words. “. Everard," I said, “in allusion to yourself, you, just now, quoted a passage from Shelley's Prince Athanase. Do you know, I have often thought that there is much in that character which very strongly resembles your own. Do you remember these lines 2 -
" He had a gentle yet aspiring mind,
“Without assuming,” replied Everard,” to possess those good qualities which the two first lines of your quotation touch upon, I can bear testimony to the truth of what the latter verses contain. Who can ever be desolate when he has the power to do good?”
“No one ; and you least of all ; for you are always doing good.”
I have dabbled a little upon the margin of the waters; ” replied Everard ; but I have never yet lost sight of land,-the land of self, which humanity, even in its most generous exploits, will not suffer to fade away into the distance. I have not yet arrived at what Hartley calls ‘perfect self-annihilation.’”
“I think, if I mistake not,” said I, “that Hartley distributes self-interest into three distinct classes, gross, refined, and rational. When a man ceases entirely to be selfish, his nature is made perfect. At the bottom of the cup of human life there must be some dregs. Earth clings to us; we are flesh and blood; the purity of a disembodied spirit cannot be expected from a thing of clay.”
“As for myself,” replied Everard, “I feel that I am essentially selfish. What you would call doing good to others, is, in reality, doing good to myself. When all the happiness one enjoys, is derived from the happiness of others, it is the immediate interest of that person to render those around him happy. He is like the captain of a ship in a storm, who exerts himself to save his crew and his passengers, knowing that, whilst ensuring their safety, he is also ensuring his own.”
“Your humility, my dear Everard,” I replied, “makes you deal somewhat largely in paradox. You would make it appear that the less selfish are the feelings, the more selfish are the actions of a man ; that because your heart is pure, and your mind virtuous, everything that you do must, of necessity, be vicious and impure. It is generally supposed, Everard, that a good tree beareth good fruit; and a corrupt tree corrupt fruit. Tried by such a touch-stone as yours, the Deity itself must be imperfect.”
“Well,” said Everard, laughing slightly as he spoke, “I believe that you are right, and that I am wrong. At least, I must confess to this, until I can demonstrate that to lack selfishness is to be selfish, which I am afraid I have very little chance of doing with our present vocabulary of words. Besides, it was but just now that I said ‘religion is often, but benevolence, never, selfish ;’ so at all events I have contradicted myself By the bye, what do you think of Hartley's argument in favour of the final happiness of all mankind which he bases upon the benevolence of the virtuous part of the creation ?”
“I am not capable of giving an opinion upon the subject,” said I; “for, although I have glanced at them, I am but slightly acquainted with the writings of David Hartley. If I mistake not, he is high in your favour,”
“He is. . Until I read Hartley, I knew, as it were, nothing. My mind was craving and unsatisfied. All beyond the grave was confusion ; there was a mystery which I could not fathom, —an obscurity which my vision could not pierce. All my knowledge of a future state was to the last degree vague and indefinite. I cannot describe the misery which this painful uncertainty plunged me into. Firmly believing, as I did, in the immortality of the soul, I could not reconcile this belief with the generally received opinion of the theologian concerning the immutability of rewards and punishments beyond the grave. I said to myself, “God is infinitely good, God is infinite, merciful. I discard whatever is opposed to this fundamental point of faith. But to punish finite sin with infinite misery is little compatible with the benevolence of an all-merciful Deity.’ You cannot conceive the agony which there was in these reflections, Jerningham.”
“Did you search the Bible t”
“I did. But, like Noah's dove, after a long and weary search, I returned again to the ark of my uncertainty, not having discovered a resting-place, or even plucked the olive-branch of hope. 1 could collect nothing positive from the scriptures upon this subject. I had no reason to play the casuist. I was living, or trying to live, according to Gospel rules. I was, moreover, in extreme affliction at the time. Faith had nothing to seduce me from Heaven. It was my interest rather than otherwise to believe in a future state. I had no motives for perverting a single scriptural text. I read, but I was still perplexed. At length I alighted upon Hartley.”
“And what saith that amiable philosopher ?”
“‘It is probable that all mankind will ultimately be made happy" When I read this asser. tion and the conclusive arguments supporting it, I rejoiced ; it was as though a crushing weight had suddenly been removed from my heart. I was at that time living in London, which is the lazar-house of all impiety ; and it was my custom, every day, to go abroad into the streets; firstly, to promote health by exercise, and, secondly, to make observations upon the characters and the occupations of my species. How painful were those observations ! I met wickedness everywhere I turned : the drunkard, the blasphemer, the fraudulent man, and the profligate. It wrung my heart with an indescribable agony to think that such thousands of my fellow-creatures were only sojourning a few years upon earth to be eternally damned after death. At that period of my life this constituted my chiefest misery. You can guess, then, what my joy was, when the light of a more cheering faith began to illumine the darkness of my soul. I thought Hartley's arguments conclusive." I have never altered my opinion.”
“I will acquaint myself with them.”
“They will repay you for the perusal,” continued Everard ; “to me they were, and ever will be, an inexhaustible source of pleasant reflections. The idea of the soul's annihilation after death had been no less pregnant with misery than that of the ultimate condemnation of a large majority of my fellow-men. My mind was even as a vessel jammed in between two rocks. On either side I saw death. Oh, Jerningham what was my delight when I beheld my bark sailing pleasantly along a free channel between the two.”
“There are even now moments in my life,” resumed Everard, after a brief pause, “when involuntary thoughts of the possibility of the soul's annihilation after death intrude themselves, fraught as they are with the most painful sensations. Such thoughts, however, are never otherwise than momentary. They are merely transitory shadows flitting over the broad sun-light of my entire conviction of an hereafter. When thinking of my poor Lucy, who has already been called to enjoy the eternity in which she so fully believed, a thought will sometimes rise up, a desolating. searful thought, —“Oh if there should be no world beyond the grave, then, indeed, my beloved one is dead.” Then my heart dies within me for a moment; yes, Jerningham, only for a moment. Again the sun of truth bursts out, -again is my soul made bright. I think that, after all, my Lucy has only gone from me for a while ; I look forward to a blessed re-union in brighter worlds to come ; and even as men endeavour to heap up honour and riches, and other worldly advantages to render themselves more worthy of their living loves, so I, by striving with all my efforts to lay up treasure in Heaven, seek to render myself worthy to enjoy the affections of my Lucy beyond the grave. I feel that the hour is not far off when we shall be united again.”
“Say not so, Sinclair," I replied, “ you are young and have many years yet to dwell amongst our fellow men, doing good to others and heaping up treasure for yourself. There is honour, too, in store for you even in this world. You have genius, you have—”
“Hold, hold; I have told you that I have no ambition. I once began a work which I fondly hoped might outlive me. Day and night I pored over this work. You know the nature of this magnum opus. There was nothing in it which was likely to win for me much honour amongst men. It had for its aim the overthrow of all existing abuses. I concentrated all the energies of my intellect upon this work for upwards of two years. I had advanced some way; I said to myself, as I turned over the pages I had written, Hoar custom, beholding this, will tremble upon its towering throne.' I looked along the vista of years, and I thought that I saw my work and the opinions inculcated therein, silently winning their way into the hearts and understandings of men. I did not expect to see, myself, the seeds which I was sowing spring up. I knew that the harvest was a far off; but 1 did not shrink from sowing because I could not live to look upon that harvest. Upon
the night that my wise died, I made a great fire, and my book was converted into ashes."
* See Hartley's Observations on Man, vol. ii. p. 419, et seq., edit. 1791.
“But, Everard, you have many years before you. The edifice which you have thrown down is easily to be built up again.”
“Not so easily, Jerningham, believe me. My energy has gone from me. I am broken down. I have not the same powers of intellect that I possessed ere my wife died. Besides, I have not the heart to set about this work. Do you remember those touching sentences in Johnson's preface to his dictionary I think that I could quote them. ‘ I may surely be contented,” saith he, speaking of the probable failure of his great work, “without the praise of perfection, which, if I could obtain in this gloom of solitude, what would it avail me? I have protracted my work till most of those whom I wished to please have sunk into the grave,'"—and Everard buried his face in his hauds, apparently overwhelmed by the memory of the great misfortune that had befallen him.
“But still, Everard,” I said, “you have some motives for exertion ; the same object is still before you,-the good of your fellow men.”
“True," replied Everard; “and if I could calculate with any certainty upon being permitted to remain upon earth, even for a few years, 1 might perhaps set about this work ; but—” and there was a painful pause—“but there is that within which tells me every hour of the day, that my pilgrimage is about soon to be ended, and with truth can I say, my dear Jerningham, in the words of the beautiful Scotch ballad,
My time is short, and that little time must not be thrown away upon a work which I shall not live to complete. I must not abandon the certain for the problematical, nor—”
“Stay, Everard,” I cried out, suddenly interrupting my friend ; “ look towards that window, what meaneth that strange light !”
“Perhaps,” said Everard, turning himself round and beholding the light to which I alluded, “that the gypsies are holding a festival on the common, and this is a fire they have made.”
“If all Egypt were to be assembled upon the common," I replied, “they would not need such a fire as that."
We rose up and went towards the window, which looked towards the common, from which the village derived its significant name of Heathfield.
The fire was at the opposite extremity of the common, at about the distance of half a mile from our house. It was a bright, red, towering, spreading fire, which emitted, every now and then, dense columns of black smoke. It was, in fact, a house, or a row of houses, in flames.
“Good heavens !” cried Everard, throwing upon the window as he spoke; “there are a number of cottages on fire. Let us hasten towards the spot, that we may ren ler all the assistance in our power to the luckless inhabitants of these flaming buildings.” And ere he had finished the sentence, Everard Sinclair stood upon the grass-plot which skirted that angle of my house.
“Come, Jerningham,” cried my friend. He needed not to repeat the summons, for, in a moment, l had jumped out of the window, and was standing beside him on the lawn.
“It is a dreadful fire,” said Everard, –“ mark Jerningham, how it spreads. Already I hear a sound as of many voices commingled. Ought we not to have aroused the servants 1"
“We have no time to waste,” I replied, and we increased the rapidity of our speed. We ran straight onwards and crossed the common. We said nothing as we went, for, in truth, we were too breathless to speak.
We reached the spot. It was indeed a sight, at once fearful and sublime, which presented itself to our inquiling gaze. There was a row of some five or six cottages, of which the two central ones were already enveloped with fire. The flames were spreading in both directions, equally to the right and to the left ; for the wind, which was somewhat high, from a quarter facing the houses, swept across the open common with a free and unimpeded current, whilst several stacks and buildings rearward of the burning cottages, intercepted its onward passage, and caused a sort of back current which increased the fire to an astounding degree. The flames had broken out in one of the lower rooms, a circumstance which very much enhanced the alarming aspect of affairs; for it is the nature of flames to rise upwards. Alas! for those who were dwelling above. In addition to this, it was night.
The whole parish had been aroused. Almost every house for miles round was begining to empty out its inhabitants. Some went forth to assist their neighbours, others to rob them, others to look on : various are the motives, which induce people to be present at a large fire. All the ladders, and pails, and buckets in the village, had been put into requisition. There were the most adventurous at the top, the least adventurous at the bottom, of the ladders. They whose activity was greater than their valour, employed themselves in pumping and carrying water. They, who were stout-hearted and despised danger, stationed themselves aloft and worked hard to unroof the cottages. Unfortunately the village of Heathfield did not possess such a thing as a fire-engine; one, however, had been sent for from B
It was a dreadfully busy sight. These cottages had been let out in small compartments to the poor of the village, and many people dwelt therein. There were to be seen the inhabitants of those rooms, which had not yet caught fire, thrusting their furniture out of window and out of doors. It was, in fact, nothing less than a row of houses disgorging itself. Beds, chairs, tables, chattels of every description were to be seen issuing, in admired confusion, forth from every aperture in the walls. There were cries, and lamentations, and wringings of hands; paupers wailing over the loss of their property, quite beside themselves with fear. There was an old woman to be seen dragging forth a huge chest, which the withered arms of the emaciated creature scarcely had the to. of moving. I assisted her; the box was very light; it fell open. There was nothing in it ut one solitary book, which, from its shape and thickness, I knew to be a Bible. “They were my son's," cried the aged woman, “he died at sea; this is all I have of him;" and then she lifted up her voice in prayer and thanksgiving.
There were several ladders placed against the walls of the burning houses, with a man or two upon every step, so that they quite bent beneath the weight. Men at the feet of the ladders were serving water, which they handed one to another, in a long train formed for the purpose. It was just like a troop of ants climbing up the wall of a house. There were others trying, with all their might, to cut off the communication on either side, so as to prevent the fire from spreading any further. Some with mattocks, and some with crowbars, exerting all their powers of destruction, to forestall the flames in the praiseworthy task of demolition, more from a certain innate love of mischief, than from any philanthropical motives. It was, in sooth, a coinely bonfire, and it scorched the eyes in one's head painfully.
There was a strange babel of many voices: every one had some order to give, every one had something to say. I passed by a little group of talkers, and I heard one man say to another, he was an old grey-haired man, and he leaned upon a thick staff, he was one of the patriarchs of Heathfield, and I heard him say,+"Ah! you should have seen the great fire that there was in eighty-four, that burnt down fifteen houses at B —. Sure this is nothing to it, -a mere burning of weeds.”
“Ha, ha!” cried a woman, who had been for many years past on the brink of insanity, and whom the fearful events of this evening had made stark mad, “ha, ha!—this is a goodly sight, a furnace, a right regal one, fit for them who will not bend down to Baal. A brave sight is a great fire; it warns one of what we shall have in the bottomless pit after death ! Burn,--burn!—fire is the goodliest of the elements.” This woman had been a gypsy, a prostitute, and now she was a Inaniac.
“By George" exclaimed a little boy, “look at mad Bess; how she dances with her hair all loose; one would think that she was dancing round a bonfire on the fifth of November or crownation day.”
“Poor creature?" said another boy, whose voice was milder than that of his companion,— “poor creature! she is quite gone in the intellects. . I wonder what has become of mother Hoton — she can't move a peg, you know ; she has been bedrid these six years. Poor mother Hoton " and the boy ran off to make inquiries in the crowd.
Presently I heard a voice, the tones of which I shall remember to my dying day—a woman's voice full of the most unutterable anguish, and it cried out, “Oh! my children, my children : what will become of them There is no hope 1" and the speaker wrung her hands with a gesture of the most heart-rending agony.
She was a widow. She had been watching all night by the bed-side of a sick friend, who dwelt at some distance from Heathfield; and had returned only to see the walls of her cottage girt around with fire, and to know that her fatherless children were doomed to perish in the flames.
“Oh, save them! save them " she shrieked, “I am a lone woman; I have none to help me. They are in that room ;” and she stretched out her arm ; but no man durst enter. “Oh, save them save them " she continued to shriek, and Everard Sinclair heard her. He knew the woman, for she was poor, and a widow.
“Where are they 2” he asked.
She pointed to a certain window; but she could not utter another word. It was a piteous thing to see her; the red light fell upon her countenance, and it was expressive of the most utter hopelessness.
I looked round. Everard was gone A dreadful thought flashed across my brain. Where was lie to 1 went to seek him in the crowd.
Presently, I beheld a ladder reaching up to the very window which the poor woman had just indicated. The red flames burst in huge sheets from that window. The room in which the poor childern slept, was in fact a large furnace. I looked up, and I caught a glimpse of a young man at the summit of the ladder. He was bareheaded ; his coat was of, and the sleeves of his shirt drawn up. The light from the window streamed glaringly upon the yellow fiair of the adventurer, and made it glitter like burnished gold.