« PrécédentContinuer »
will furnish you with the same entertainment as that of Theodosia, yet I trust that it will, at least, afford you a useful warning:
“But before I proceed to my story, I must make some remarks on the nature of this love of self. Self is the greatest enemy of mankind; that domestic enemy through whose assistance our great spiritual foe acts upon us, and through which he obtains all his victories. This enemy is perpetually present with us, is our companion by day and by night, an active, restless, incessant tormentor, continually shifting its ground, and accommodating its temptations to all the various changes of life. In the unconverted soul it reigns without control; it keeps up a perpetual warfare within the breasts of the children of light; and is only conquered by the strong and constant exercise of faith. Self-love employs all those feelings of man's nature, which were originally given him for good purposes, as the means and engines of man's destruction ; perverting every natural endowment to some evil purpose. It is ever ready to close with Satan in every attempt to ruin the soul, remaining unmortified under persecutions, afflictions, and even death itself.
“But,” continued the lady of the manor, “inasmuch as it may be more easy to make you comprehend the ill effects of selfishness by example than by a regular course of reasoning, I shall proceed immediately to the little narrative which I promised you.
The youngest of Honoria's daughters having married and become a widow, she had returned to her mother's house with one little girl, who was only three years of age when her father died. Under such circumstances, it will not be questioned but that the little Constantia (for such was the name of Honoria’s granddaughter) ran no small risk of being made a person of more consequence than was altogether proper; inasmuch as there was not only a widowed mother, but two aunts and a grandmother, all of whom were continually looking to this child as the sole hope of the family.”
The lady then opening a small manuscript volume, read as follows.
The History of Constantia. A certain widow lady, of the name of Honoria, resided, about forty years ago, on a moderate but well-regulated estate, which she possessed in one of the most beautiful counties of this our pleasant and fertile island. The two elder of her daughters, viz. Mrs. Jane and Mrs. Kitty, had, at the time when I shall commence my narrative, attained a considerable age in a state of celibacy, and were, as well as their mother, persons whose manners and general deportment fitted them for the best society which their neighhourhood afforded.
Constantia's mother had been handsome, and in consequence much flattered: she was now sunk into an indolent, worldly woman, who sought only her own indulgence. It was therefore natural that she should allow the care of her daughter to devolve upon her mother and her more bustling sisters; the latter of whom busied themselves not a little about the child, and in endeavouring to do more than ever had been done before, brought less to pass than the most ordinary education in the most ordinary hands would have effected.
Mrs. Kitty, who was the most notable person of the family, and who was the chief manager of this elaborate concern, was as entirely ignorant of human nature as she was of the Arabic or Chinese language: in consequence, while she utterly overlooked all matters of importance, she multiplied without end certain little arrangements respecting the child, which, although totally insignificant in themselves, were made of such serious consequence in the family, that every servant in the house was called to account, and an universal ferment excited, if the smallest of them happened to be disregarded. And this so much the case, that if boiled mutton chanced to be served up to the little lady's table when roasted chicken was the order of the day, Mrs. Kitty would hear no reason, but would descant on the subject as if some very serious injury had been done to the health of her darling. It could not, therefore, be wondered at, if many circumstances of this kind, together with the scrupulous attention which was paid to
idle prattle and frequent questions, should suggest to Constantia the idea of her being a person of no ordinary importance. As she was naturally quick and sprightly, and had no little companions to whom it might be sometimes necessary to give way, she soon acquired a pertness of manner and a stubbornness of will which began to alarm her grandmother.
The old lady was not indeed enlightened on the subject of religion, but she was a woman of sense; although, therefore, she did not rightly understand the cause of Constantia's pertness and self-confidence, she lamented its existence, and often represented to Mrs. Kitty and Mrs. Jane, that it was necessary to put some check upon their niece, and to exact obedience from her whenever she presumed to set up her own will in opposition to that of her elders.
The frequently repeated expostulations of the old lady, however, met with but little attention from her daughters; and thus the time wore away till Constantia had arrived at that age when it became necessary to teach her the art of reading. And now, inasmuch as there is no royal way to learning, the two aunts began to anticipate difficulties which they feared would not be surmounted without some change of system: accordingly it appeared, that every day's lesson produced a contest, which was carried on with no small degree of spirit and firmness on the part of the little girl. Sometimes, by coaxing, or address, or through the expectation of some pleasure to be enjoyed after finishing the lesson, Constantia might be persuaded to go through her daily tasks without an open rupture; but it oftener happened that, before the child could be induced to submit, a violent uproar was occasioned, sufficient to derange the whole establishment: mamma cried, the grandmother became nervous, the two aunts were thrown into the utmost disorder, and every servant in the house put into a state of agitation.
If, perchance, it was found necessary to use corporeal chastisement, the aunt who inflicted it would let the child see, that she herself received more pain on the occasion than she gave. If Constantia was to be punished by confinement in her own apartment, the old housekeeper,
and sometimes both the aunts, would visit her every hour, in order to inquire into the state of her mind, endeavouring by every argument which could be devised, to persuade her to submit to her duty. All this produced no humiliating effect upon Constantia : there was nothing in this kind of treatment tending to lower self, or to subdue the pride of an unregenerate heart. When the child had persevered in her obstinacy longer than usual, she would sometimes see her aunts in tears, and would be told that she had made her parent really ill. But Constantia loved herself more than any other creature, neither could she understand why they were to be ill on her account: for not knowing the dreadful nature and tendency of sin, she saw no reason for their being so excessively afflicted at her undutiful carriage. She, therefore, unbiassed by any other motive than her own capricious fancies, often used to carry on these fits of stubbornness for many days together; giving up at last merely because it suited her so to do, without any feeling
of sorrow for the trouble she had given.
These contests were continued, at intervals, for several years, and proved a dreadfúl hinderancé to Constantia's improvement in every branch of education: fatiguing, and almost exhausting, the patience of her friends, who more than once were on the point of resolving to send her from them. But Constantia was not without the art which is always more or less attendant on a selfish character. As she advanced in years, she learned when to make concessions; so that when she thought herself in danger of losing the affections of her friends, she would shed tears, confess such of her faults as she thought her friends were already acquainted with, would hang upon the necks of her relations, and for a few days appear all that was amiable.
At these times she could even feign a regard for religion; and if she had occasion to write letters to any of her friends, she would express so strong and penitential a sense of her faults as appeared quite surprising for a child.
It would be hard to say that Constantia never felt any affection for her friends, nor had any sense whatever of the religion which she professed. But it is said
in Scripture, Even a child is known by its ways; and Constantia's ways on such occasions were certainly not in unison with her profession.
As she advanced in years, her unsubdued will began to produce increasing symptoms of an evil nature. Self, from early infancy, had been the object of Constantia's regard, and in no way was she accustomed to exercise self-control. And this appeared through the whole of her conduct : for whenever she had found herself from under the eye of her aunts, she was in the habit of giving unbounded license to all her feelings, and indulging, as much as a state of childhood would permit, every sinful desire of unrenewed nature. If, for instance, she was invited out for a day to any little party among other children, she would romp and riot in a manner which would draw upon her the disapprobation of every one about her: in fact, she never thought of laying upon herself the least restraint. She destroyed and tore her clothes, talked at random, and was insolent to her inferiors. If by any means her grandmother or aunts were made acquainted with these improprieties, recourse was again had to the old punishments. She was catechised without end; perhaps she suffered corporeal chastisement, or was locked up in her room. But she knew how by tears and professions to bring herself again into favour with her friends : so that the axe never being laid to the root of the evil, which was the love of self, those branches of outward sin which were occasionally lopped off, soon sprouted forth again with greater luxuriance.
In the mean time, as she advanced in years, her more childish faults gradually gave way to others, or rather they imperceptibly assumed a more deadly form. She now began to please herself, when left alone, with vain and sinful imaginations, forming in her own mind a succession of delusive scenes in which the idol self was gratified with every indulgence which the most unsanctified fancy could devise. Thus she perverted that fine faculty, the imagination, to the worst of purposes : while by comparing these visionary views of what she conceived to be happiness, with her actual state, she became thoroughly discontented with every thing about her, con