« PreviousContinue »
NOTE TO THE READER.
MORE than a year elapsed from the time this work was commenced until it was completed; during which the author performed some seven or eight thousand miles of travel, by steamboat, and stages, and on horseback, besides delivering some two or three hundred discourses. It was amidst these employments--in addition to those arising from the charge of a family--that these pages were composed, and that the reader is assured) without the slightest aid from any kindred publication. With the candid, these facts will form a reasonable apology for some of its defects, of style, or argument, or consistency, from which it will by no means be pretended that it is free.
In saying that he derived no aid from kindred publications, the author would not be understood as setting up a claim to entire originality for his production; on the contrary, he is full well aware, that on so beaten a theme it is impossible to write so lengthily, without occasionally repeating what others have previously advanced. His purpose, however, was to avoid this as far as practicable, and to add something to the common stock of Universalist literature; something, too, which by its mildness and candor should be adapted to commend our doctrines to the popular notice and approval. How far he has succeeded in this, is left to the reader's decision.
CINCINNATI, Nov. 8th, 1888.
THE PENNSYLVANIA VALLEY:
Showing the influence of certain religious doctrines on individual and social life.
CHAPTER I. CONCEIVE, reader, if you please, a deep and quiet valley, of about five miles in length from the points whence it takes its particular designation, and a mile and a half in medial breadth ; the hills, by which on both sides it is hemmed in, may be some two or three hundred feet in altitude, and are very precipitous, varying indeed but a little from perpendicularity; from their bases to their summits they are covered with a thick natural growth of hemlock-fir-trees, intermingled with stunted hazels and sumachs, save that here and there may be seen a soft spot which has been cleared by the axe of the settler: and how picturesque is the effect of those spots ! they occur mostly in the occasional curvatures and indentations by which Nature, with her usual taste, has varied the monolony of these mountainous ridges; or in the defiles which the rivulets from the interior have scooped out in their journeyings towards the ocean.
I will suppose you standing on one of these acclivities, especially the one on the eastern side, for there the advantage of survey is greatest, and the eye from thence can take in an extent of prospect only bounded by its reach of vision. What a scene of loveliness you now have before you! it is but little rivalled, if at all, by the far-famed and classic Wyoming. A wide reach of fertile bottom land under excellent cultivation stretches for more than a mile in your front, and for miles on either hand; it varies in its shades of green according to the diversified products with which it is teeming; the rich and extensive pasture grounds are mottled with cattle, and sheep, and lambs, which are feeding very contentedly, apparently conscions that their lines are fallen to them in pleasant places.” The trees which have been spared by the inhabitants for
purposes of shade and ornament, throw out their branches with a luxuriancy which betokens a generous soil, and certainly contribute their full quota toward the aggregate beauty of the picture.
A road, you perceive, runs lengthwise through the vale, along which many neat habitations are sprinkled ; and about midway there arises the steeple of a modest and tasteful house of worship; on its vane at this moment the sun's setting beams are reposing: a more fitting emblem of the mild and cheering character of the doctrines dispensed within that temple, could not well be imagined-doctrines adapted to shed on the spirit's parting hour the light of an immoveable trust in heaven.
But the brightest feature in this lovely landscape is yet unmarked: cast your eye, reader, toward the foot of yonder western barrier; there rolls a river, so exquisitely pure and placid, that it resembles a burnished mirror; it is, however, partially hidden from our view by the elms and sycamores which fringe its margin, and immediately opposite to us its channel is divided by an island. How soft and verdant! The muses, and the graces, yea, and goddesses too, might be well content with grottoes on that green and quiet spot. I fancy that, of a calm evening, we might hear at this distance-perhaps we might—the murmuring of the stream where it is broken by the upper point of the island ; and then, in addition to this exhibition of Nature's taste in penciling, we should have a pretty specimen of her skill in music.
That river, reader, is the Susquehannah, and I doubt me much if in all this wide world the lord of day looks down upon a stream which reflects back his glory more clearly than does this beautiful daughter of the Otsego lake. I have threaded its shores in all their windings, from where it issues from the aforesaid lake among the hills, to where it blends its translucent waters with the briny billows of the Chesapeake bay; and nowhere, methinks, within equal limits, has beauty, in its softer forms, consecrated to itself a greater number of dwelling places: its bordering hills present every conceivable variety of aspect; now they ineline in grassy or arable slopes; anon they tower in perpendicular or beetling ledges; here they sweep away in graceful curves a mile or more from its verge, leaving space for broad tracts of level and rich alluvion; and there they run for miles along the river's brink, and mirror their huge forms upon its waters, as though Nature were as proud
as other beauties are, of contemplating the reflection of her charms, I have told you, reader, this river's name, but the valley itself you must be content with knowing under the fictitious cognomen of UNIVERSALIA. Now let me point your attention to that school house : there are two in the valley, but this to which I allude is toward its southern extremity; it is a wooden structure, surrounded, you perceive, by a grassy plat, and shaded, almost embowered, with beautiful forest trees : it wants but to be white-washed to render it a perfect picture of the rural kind. I must give the settlers a hint of this when I next visit UNIVERSALIA; for pity it were that a scene so nearly perfect, should lack those little attentions which would constitute it completely so. I may add also, by the way, that in my opinion, school premises every where should be rendered as agreeable as possible ; for there the members of human society gather most of their earliest associations, and these exert no small influence upon their subsequent lives. Virtue and happiness not only accompany, but they also promote each other. By as much, then, as it is an object worthy of all attention to form a happy and virtuous society, by so much is it important to com. mence at the fountain head, and to blend with the business of juvenile instruction as much of purity and pleasantness as possi. ble. With this digression I will close my first chapter.
CHAPTER II. She who teaches the school at present, in the building above described, is a youg lady from Counecticut: her stature is about the middling height, her form slender, the color of her hair and eyes a light hazel; the latter are large and prominent, and, by their expression, say much for the sweetness and innocence of the indwelling soul. I could tell you the true name of this young lady if I chose, but I do not choose ; and, therefore, since she must bear some name in our story, we will call her ALICE SHERWOOD. She is not, as I have said, a native of this valley, but is an exotic, of recent transplantation from the “land of steady habits ;" and sooth to say, there blooms not in all the vale a lovelier flower than Alice, which is saying much for her, for many a lovely flower blooms there.
In religion, Alice is a Calvinist of the modern stamp: of course her faith is but an educational one, in which her understanding has extremely little concern ; for what concern can the understanding of a young lady of eighteen have with the mysteries of the trinity, which represents Jehovah as being both the father and the son of himself-native depravity—the demands of the divine law against us to an infinite amount, on the ground of a debt alleged to have been contracted by our progenitors, some thousands of years before we were born!-the satisfaction of this claim by the murder of an innocent victim--the transfer of our guilt, both original and actual, upon the head of the unoffending Son of Godmand the imputation of his righteousness to creatures who have no righteousness of their own ?
These are subtleties for the brain of the metaphysical divine, but are not at all suited to the unsophisticated mind, and guileless heart, of a young lady of eighteen.
It will be understood, then, that in describing our heroine as a Calvinist of the modern school, I mean, simply, that she adheres to that party from educational and family prepossessions. The dogmas of this, as distinguished from those of the old school, are, that God has provided in the gospel ample means to save those whom from all eternity he unchangeably determined to damn!—that Christ shed his blood for the same class, with the certainty before him, that they could never be availed by it !—that all may be saved if they will, notwithstanding that none can will to be saved but such as God has foreordained to that end, and they can do no otherwise than will it !—and that the chief aggravation of the miseries of the damned, will arise from their having rejected a gospel that was never meant for them, and which it was utterly out of their power to accept ! with other matters equally sane and salutary.
Alice, nevertheless, is a good and pious girl-for there are good and pious persons of every religious persuasion—either because their natural dispositions are so good as to defy the corrupting influence of a bad faith, or because they do not entertain that faith with so firm a persuasion of mind as to allow it its full weight of evil influence. However, so stands the fact, be the philosophy of it what it may; and it is certainly better of the two to be theoretitally wrong, and practically right, than the contrary: for if the heart be wrong, the head will easily be induced to stray with it; whereas, if the former be right, the latter may easily be redeemed from its errors. And yet it must be confessed that many a young and innocent heart receives its earliest taint from the princi