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Act but the infant's gentle part,
Give up to love thy willing heart;
The Sovereign Father, good and kind,
Shake from thy soul, o'erwhelm'd, deprest,
List, for His grace, thy louder cries;
Then, thy sad night of terrors past,
Cottage Sketches, or Active Retirement. By the Author of an Antidote to the Miseries of Human Life, Talents Improved, &c. 2 vols. 12mo, Price 9s. Loudon: Gale and Curtis. 1812.
** We have often doubted, how far a novel is a proper vehicle for religious truth; and these volumes afford us an opportunity of discussing the question. It will no doubt be said, that persons are tempted to read works bearing the form, and possessing the interest, of a novel, who would not read the same sentiments expressed in a didactic essay. This may be true; but when such persons read a religious novel, is it to the instruction which it contains that they give their chief attention, or to the plot, the incidents, the vicissi
tudes of fortune which it relates ? Are they not carried away by the brilliant descriptions, the terrific horrors, the affecting scenes of distress, with which it is embellished 3 Is not every moral lesson, every religious observation, hurried over by such readers, as dull, prosing, uninteresting Others, indeed, who seek for improvement, will read with attention the whole of the work; but to them, the same instruction might, it will be said, be more advantageously presented in almost any other dress than that of a novel. The generality of novels are objectionable for the subjects of which they treat, and the principles which they inculcate: but there are evils common to all novels, as resulting from their characteristic form. To a novel, a plot is essential; and, if the story is to possess that interest which is expected in a novel, it must
adually unfold deeper and 5. scenes of distress, till at length a skilful denouement unravels every disficulty, and produces a happy issue. If the writer succeeds in his art, he excites in the breast of his readers, the very feelings and passions which he describes. A tempest is raised in the mind; and till the same magic power which called it forth has calmed the storm, we cannot easily turn with serious attention to any ouber subject. Now this effect must be pernicious, whether the author seeks only to amuse, or endeavours also to communicate moral or religious instruction. The taste is vitiated by food which, however wholesome in itself, is too highly seasoned ; and the mind, from reading works of this nature, acquires a disrelish for more serious study. If the novel be long, a further evil consequence attends the perusal: our faculties are engrossed with the interest of the story, and the play of the passions; we feel indisposed for any other occupation, to which our duty summons us; and, spite of the remonstrances of conscience, we omit it, or postpone it, or perform it negli
ntly.—Do we, then, condemn, indiscriminately, all novels, tales, and stories By no means: and, that we may not be misunderstood, we will very briefly explain ourselves, reserving some farther remarks for an occasion which we anticipate. We think, then, that those parts of a work produce the deepest and most permanent impression on the mind, from which its principal interest is derived, and by which our feelings are most excited. If the vicissitudes of fortune are made the ground-work of the narrative, we expect but little good to result from the religious or moral instruction with which it may be interspersed; and we confess ourselves jealous of such publications, lest they should supplant devotional writings of a more serious nature. Bat if, to
trace the ways of Providence and the triumphs of Divine grace, to unfold the happy tempers and dispositions which religion implants in the soul, to exhibit the growth of piety, from the tender blade to the ripe and full-grown ear; if subjects such as these form the basis of the work, and furnish its interest, we augur well of its effects, and delight to see such topics adorned with the flowers of imagination, and illuminated by the rays of genius. Such subjects, so treated, may well kindle devotion in the soul, raise the mind above the things of time and space, and lead the thoughts and affections to God. We cannot better illustrate our meaning, than by referring to Mrs. More's Cheap Repository Tracts, and to two †. founded on truth; the Dairyman's Daughter, and an Account of the Life of Hilaris “; as admirable specimens of this kind of composition: and in the same class, though in a lower rank, we are disposed to place the Cottage Sketches. The principal narrative, is that of the progress of religion in the soul, interspersed with useful advice, and lively delineation of character; and we can pronounce these volumes both amusing and in
Mr. Wilson, a London shopkeeper, having acquired sufficient property to maintain himself, his wife, and his only daughter, withdraws with them, at the age of fifty, to a country village. Moralists have often expatiated on the folly of such a step; and scarcely can an essayist of eminence be named, who has not exercised his wit on the retired tradesman, wearied of a life for which he was suited neither by education nor by habit, and casting “a longing lingering look behind.” on the busy scene which he had quitted. Foolish, indeed, is retirement from the business of the world if we do not propose to ourselves, some higher object than those which the world offers: but can we want
* Christian Observer for 1805, p. 23.
such an object Can we want an object sufficiently large and important to fill and occupy the soul? Is it a small or trivial thing to prepare ourselves to meet our God— to prepare for eternity Religion will supply useful, interesting, important employment, to every situation in life: and he who, withdrawing from the cares and anxieties of business, devotes his latter days to the improvement of his soul, the exercise of devotion, and acts of benevolence and charity, will experience no ennui, and may reasonably hope, that his heavenly Father will cheer his declining years, and gild his last hours with a comfortable sense of his redeeming love, and a joyful hope of a blessed immortality. This effect of religion is well exemplified in the retirement of Mr. Wilson and his family. Previously to that change of life, Mr. Wilson was a sober, industrious, honest tradesman; accustomed to read his Bible, and attend his parish church. Possessed of a deep reverence for the Scriptures as the word of God, he felt the obligation of obeying its precepts; but in respect of the promises and consolations of the Gospel, it was to him a sealed book. At the village to which he retires, he becomes acquainted with Mr. Nichols, the squire, the magistrate, and the father of the parish. Encouraged by Mr. Nichols's pious and judicious conversation, Mr. Wilson opens his mind to him; and discloses a heart humbled under a sense of sin, but vainly seeking, by mere reformation of life, to obtain peace of conscience and reconciliation with God. Mr. Nichols points his attention to Christ as the Saviour of sinners. With this new view of the Gospel, and under the Divine blessing, Mr. Wilson reads the word of God with increased interest, an enlightened understanding, and a heart prepared by the Holy Spirit to receive the ood seed. The more he studies his Bible, the more he imbibes of
its spirit, and the more is he governed by its precepts, and comforted by its promises. About the same time, he is led to notice the active exertions of James the Woodman and Judith his wife, in assisting their poorer neighbours; and is stimulated by their example to engage in schemes of benevolence and charity. In these schemes his wife and daughter readily join; and, even, in retirement, the Wilson family find abundance of employment. We were much pleased with Mr. and Miss Nichols. The peculiar excellence of both their characters is, a sincerity, which never shrinks from uttering the truth, united with that Christian mildness, the want of which so frequently renders sincerity disgusting. Mr. Nichols has, indeed, many talents committed to his charge: wealth, and the influence which attends it ; extensive knowledge; a sound judgment; and great discernment of character. These talents he employs for the best of purposes. With his wealth he relieves the temporal wants of the poor; his asluence gives weight to his advice and example; his knowledge, judgment, and discernment, enable him to guide the humble inquirer after truth, confute the sophistry of the unbeliever, and deal out, with discrimination and effect, reproof, admonition, and encouragement. His daughter is introduced to us, just recovered from a dangerous illness, and taking, for the first time, a walk with him in his pleasuregrounds. “‘How can I speak iny sensations of joy and gratitude," said Mr. Nichols, as he drew his daughter's arm underneath his own : his emotion would not permit him to proceed. She took up the unfinished sentence: “to see me thus restored to your prayers, my dear father. Your joy on this occasion indeed is greater than my own. Don't be displeased with me for speaking thus: I hope I am not ungrateful to Providence or unaffectionate to you; but had I been called hence, how many trials and temptations should I have escaped,” “And as you are spared, rejoined her father, ‘how many opportunities for usefulness are allowed you, and what a blessing to society, and what an ornament to your sex, may you become. But how is it that you speak so different a language now to what you did at the beginning of your illness? What pains did I then take to reconcile you to the will of God, should our hopes for your restoration be disappointed ; how much did you them seem to fear death, and how earnest to have your mind diverted from the awful subject." * I have been reserved,’ returned Miss Nichols, ‘blameably reserved on this subject. I will no longer conceal from you those emotions of fear, of hope, and of joy, which I have alternately experienced during the last month. Yes, I was afraid to die: my foolish nurse told me I had no cause for fear; that I was too young to be a siuner; but Iny own conscience told me a very different tale: it brought to my recollection past acts of disobedience and negligence, aggravated in my case, because committed against light and knowledge. I almost wished for that state of ignorance I had observed in some of my school-fellows, whose parents left the whole duty of religious instruction to qur governess. But in this wish I erred greatly; for the light and knowledge I possessed were soon made instruments of comfort as well as pain. That acquaintance with Scripture you taught me to form, furnished me with texts of consolation as well as reproof; and 1 recollected many of the arguments I had frequently heard you use in conversation with our Christian friends, when you have been discussing some of the doctrines of the Gospel.” “What an encouragement should parents take from such effects to converse on these topics before their children?' observed Mr. Nichols, * I ascribe it entirely to that cause, resumed his daughter," that I was so soon released from those distressing apprehensions I at first experienced.’ ‘You should not say entirely, my dear, remarked Mr. Nichols." It is often the will of God to permit those painful sensations to continue for a considerable length of time, with persons as well instructed as yourself, and the dispensation has been useful. They have known more of the evil of sin and its deserts, and having deeply experienced the anguish of a wounded spirit themselves, are better qualified to administer relief to others. I am thankful that in your case the conflict was less severe; but proceed, my child: I would not interrupt you.’ “‘How can I speak unutterable things?" resumed Miss Nichols. “The joy, the peace of God which passeth all understanding, is communicated to me in such rich abundance
that all description must fail of conveying to you my sensations. For the future my life shall be spent in holy contemplation and devout retirement. The world has now no charms in my eyes, Methinks I can say with the Apostle, “it is crucified to me."' Miss Nichols paused, tears of mingled gratitude and joy flowing from her eyes. • Compose yourself, my dear,’ said Mr. Nichols: ‘your feelings are too powerful for your present weakened nerves. I require no explanation: I perfectly understand your meaning, and all you wish to say upon the subject. Let me now be the speaker; for yout frame of mind requires the advice of a Christian friend, and such I trust you will find in your father. Much as I rejoice in your views and sensations, do not deem it paradoxical if I say it is not my wish that they should contiuue in their present degree. They would fit you for a heavenly rather than an earthly residence. Holy contemplation and devout retirement form a delightful part of a Christian's duty; but in out religious, as well as in every pursuit, a part must not be mistaken sor the whole. If you apply the text you mentioned as an argument for seclusion from society, I think you mistake the Apostle's meaning. His own active life was a contradiction to such a mistake, and his crucifixion to the world could only consist in a renunciation of its spirit, maxims, and anti-christian vanities and pleasures. Every believer, in the present day, is called to the same species of crucifixion; and the man of business and sociality is as capable of it as the hermit in his cell, or the devotee in her closet. Let your life, my dear child, be devoted to active benevolence, and be careful to distinguish between a sinful conformity to the world and an enthusiastic scrupulosity.”—“I wish, replied Miss Nichols, " to be guided by your advice and direction. I feel much inclined to drup some of my vain acquaintances. Does not the Apostle mean that we should do so when he reminds us of the exhortation, “Come out from amongst them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord.”—' Certainly he does, replied Mr. Nichols. “The society of vain irreligious persons is as contrary to the Christian's taste as it is to the apostolic injunctious. He will, if possible, avoid forming new acquaintances of that description; but in conducting himself towards his old ones, judgment must be used: some good reason must be assigned for breaking off past intimacies, or the rules of courtesy will be violated. How do you propose to act in so delicate a case?' Miss Nichols took no time to consider the importance of her father's question, but instantly replied, ‘I shall take no more notice of them; and as for what they may think of me, I care not.”—“I told you just now, my dear,’ returned Mr. Nichols, with a look of tenderness which endeared even reproof to his daughter, that your present frame of mind needed the advice of a Christian friend. You care not what some of your old acquaintances think of you ! Surely you have not reflected for a moment. It is, in other words, saying you care not what they will think of religion and the conduct of religious professors.’ — ‘Dear Sir!" exclaimed Miss Nichols, ‘how could you draw such a conclusion? I ouly meant that I cared not what they thought of my dropping their acquaintance.'— Well, my dear, resumed Mr. Nichols, ‘I will only take up your sentiment on the grounds of Christian benevolence; why should you drop acquaintances just as you are become qualified to be of service to them? How do you know but you may prevail on those gay friends of yours to attend to the important concerns you have now at heart? But if you suddenly withdraw from all intercourse with them, the desirable object cannot be effected by your means. I am persuaded that Scripture here warrants you to make the trial, and that you are not called to come out from amongst them before you have endeavoured to bring them over to your opinions. Should you be so happy as to succeed, you will not repent your conduct; and should it prove otherwise, the breach made in courtesy will arise most probably on their part, for your society will be so unwelcome to them, that a separation may be easily effected.”—“This is a point of view, returned Miss Nichols, in which I had not considered the subject. Nothing, indeed, could afford me greater satisfaction than to be made an instrument of usefulness in this respect. I recollect David says, “Come hither, all ye that fear God, and I will tell you what he has done for my soul." I have much to relate of his goodness to me; but then should not the relation be restricted to those only who fear God?”—“Here again, my dear, replied Mr. Nichols, “ you must exercise your judgment and discrimination. Young converts frequently err in this point; their feelings of love, gratitude, and joy induce them to preach to all around them. They relate their experience, lay open the discovery they have made of the depravity of their hearts, till their hearers protest they are such vile wretches that no one can stay in their company, or that their senses are disordered. Thus while they are aiming to magnify the riches of Divine grace they are drawing down contempt and ridicule upon Christ. Observ. No. 131.
themselves. But while I caution you against this extreme, beware of the other: there are seasons, when you may with propriety speak to the gayest of your companions, and if prudence be consulted, and above all, a blessing entreated, with a probability of success.” pp. 32–41.
Several reasons have induced us to give this long extract: we wished to introduce Mr. and Miss Nichols to the acquaintance of our readers, to furnish a specimen of the general style and manner of the Cottage Sketches, and to make a few remarks on the advice here given to young converts. We agree with Mr. Nichols, that they ought not precipitately to drop their old acquaintance, till they find that they have less prospect of doing good to their friends, than of sustaining injury themselves from continuing the connection : nor would we intimate that the Cottage Sketches have any tendency to encourage o to the world, or to countenance public amusements. But a caution on this head may not, perhaps, be useless, as persons who make a religious profession are, we think, in the present day, rather disposed to continue too close an intimacy with the world, than to run into the opposite extreme of too great seclusion. The Christian may continue in the world. but must not be of the world: he may keep up an intercourse with the men of the world, but he should, in that intercourse, shew them, that he is not one of them, that he acts from higher principles, aims at higher objects, and is governed by a stricter rule. How can the Christian hope to benefit the souls of his worldly friends, by joining with them in those amusements, which, though they may not in themselves be sinful, when soberly enjoyed, yet, when pursued as the gay and fashionable pursue them, turn night into day and day into night, consume much valuable time, dissipate our thoughts, and have a tendency at least to quench a spirit of devotion, and withdraw our affections from God to the world? Does not the Chris