« AnteriorContinuar »
MY PROGRESS IN ERROR.
EDUCATION AND EARLY OPINIONS.
Maternal Influence.-Conscientiousness.—Bible in School.
An Infidel Visitor in the family. His life and character.Became skeptical myself.— Partial conversion.—Franklin for my model.—Hope of being a Philosopher.
of ten years,
The counsels and guidance of maternal wisdom had so much influence over me during the first years of my existence, that the impressions I received and their tendency to virtuous habits were never in subsequent life wholly eradicated. Up to the age
I am not aware that I had ever told a falsehood or used profane language, though both lying and swearing were by no means uncommon in my native neighborhood. My faults, however numerous, were chiefly hid from the public eye.
I was esteemed honest, because I was grave; and I was regarded as
intelligent, because I could spell, read and write better than other boys of the same age, in the same neighborhood.
My mother's early care had also made me very conscientious. The first falsehood I remember to have told, though I was not detected, cost me many pangs for six or eight months. But my sensibility on this point, gradually wore off.
My Sabbaths were usually spent at church; more, however, as I grew older, in speculating on the character and motives of those around me, and in criticising on the preacher's remarks, than in a useful and profitable manner. Convictions of sin were not unfrequent, but as they usually arose during a time of sickness, or on hearing of some alarming or sudden death, they soon, like the early dew, disappeared.
Having read the New Testament at school till I could almost repeat it, from beginning to end, and having become in some measure disgusted with it,* I seldom read the Bible at all. When I did, it was to find fault with the preacher, or the peculiarities of some sect, or to arm myself with
* It was read without explanation or comment; and almost without interest, on the part of either teacher or pupils. It is the manner of reading the Bible in schools, and not the Bible itself, which produces the effect here alluded to.
weapons for disputation, rather than for the sake
At this time, it was my lot often to meet and converse with a very singular individual, by whom my habits, views and feelings were so much modified, and in the end so much injured, that a brief sketch of his character, in this place, will be indispensable.
In his early years, he was industrious, respectable, intelligent and professedly religious. Entering the revolutionary army, as an officer, he gradually became intemperate, as well as addicted to other bad habits. At the close of the war, his feelings having become alienated from his family, he went to a distant state, where he spent more than twenty years.
During all this time he had been drinking deeply of the spirit and sentiments of Thomas Paine, and Ethan Allen, whose characters are well known. He had also become familiar with what has usually been called the “French Philosophy.” For the sake of appearances, however, he attached himself sometimes to one sect, and sometimes to another; now to the Episcopalians, and now to the Universalists. Still he remained unreformed.
At length he returned to spend the evening of his days with his former farnily.
On the decease of his wife, he returned to his old habits of intemperance, and resorted to new connexions, religious and social-virtuous and vicious. Sometimes he seemed to be religious, but at others skeptical-always, however, seeking the friendship of professed Christians with one hand, while he was attempting to destroy the Bible and the religion it inculcates with the other. In one or two instances his partial reformation appeared so hopeful that he was on the point of being admitted to the fellowship of a church. Indeed, in one instance, if I mistake not, he went so far as to submit to baptism.
Notwithstanding all his bad habits, and the constant abuse of his physical frame, he possessed such native strength of constitution that he held out to seventy-nine years of age. He died, as might have been expected, with his bottle at one hand, and his Bible and prayer book at the other.
It was during the last years of his life, that he became a frequent visitor at my father's house. He had read much, and seen' a great deal of the world, and he remembered all he had ever heard or known. Much of his conversation was highly
interesting to me, (anxious as I then was for information,) and might have been useful, had I carefully received the good and rejected the bad. *
To his occasional witticisms, and severe remarks upon Scripture and scripture characters, I was at first as averse as the rest of the family. We soon, however, learned to endure them for the sake of peace, as he seemed rather irritable if they were opposed. The more he was indulged, the more bold he grew, and the more strongly he asserted ; until for myself, I began to half believe. And had not his wretched moral character disgusted me, I think I should have admitted them still more readily and fully. His ridicule had deceived me, and passed for unanswerable augument.
My skepticism became more and more confirmed till I was sixteen years of age. At seasons, indeed, I experienced convictions of sin, and had the most dismal forebodings of evil; still I could not bring my mind to regard God or futurity as
* It is not a little remarkable, that while the old are justly said to "live in the past,” and to delight to relate over and over to those that are young, what they have seen and heard, the young, who “live in the future,” are equally delighted to hear them; and I cannot help regarding it as a special arrangement of heaven for their early education. But alas ! how important is it that these aged instructors of the young should be persons of the right' character ?