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The Velvet Cushion

By John Cunningham

London: Printed for T. Cadell and W. Davies, 1814.

Chapter IX.

The Vicar and his lady, however, were too much interested in the history of Selina, to lose the first opportunity of returning to it. And we therefore will return with them.

'Selina was deeply affected at the death of her aunt; not, indeed, because she loved her, for that was next to impossible; but the scenes of death passing before an already disordered eye, had scared her with the most terrible visions. Nor had the dying language of her aunt yielded her spirits the smallest relief. She had died, and, as it were, 'made no sign' of her hopes of any better and brighter state of being. Selina, as she hung over her corpse, saw, indeed, the ashes of the dead, but did not discover among them that bright spark of hope and joy which is to blaze anew in the [104/105] kingdom of God. The state, therefore, in which she was left was truly melancholy. She was not religious--she was superstitious. She "felt herself guilty, but had never been taught to lift her eyes to the cross of a Saviour. She felt herself weak, but no one had led her to the 'Comforter,'--to that ' Spirit' who, with his holy fire, dries up the tears of the miserable. In these sad circumstances she tried various means of approaching her God. She shed many bitter tears--she denied herself even those allowed indulgences which a gracious God has so profusely spread around us--she ran through a daily circle of unmeaning ceremonies. But, in all this her poor wounded conscience found no consolation; for man is not meant to be his own Saviour. It might have been hoped, indeed, that she would have found her cure amidst the pages of the bible, which she daily read, but this she had learned to pervert, so as to suit her [105/106] own gloomy views. She pointed all it terrors at herself, and gave all its promises to others. Soon the evil spread, like a cloud, over every thing she saw. All around her began to invest itself with new terrors. She fancied a sword across every path, and a hand writing upon every wall.

Her sad circumstances were, of course, soon made known to her parents; and, though their tenderness protracted her fall, they, ignorant of religion themselves, were unable to supply the proper pillar for her sinking mind. A consumption followed, and I saw her, at nineteen, carried out to her grave, the unripe victim of a neglected education, and a spurious faith.'

Here the old Vicar gave a deep groan. His lady sobbed. "And, thus," she exclaimed, "was a 'lamb' of the 'Great Shepherd,' whom he would have 'carried in his bosom,' left to perish on the cold and naked rocks. Oh, that you had [106/107] found her, my love. She should have been to us as a daughter. Cruel indeed to shew her only the fence of the pastures, and not the "still waters of comfort" within it--to teach her this half religion."

"Half," said the Vicar, "nothing but your gentleness could give it so mild a name--a superstitious fear of God is no part of religion--it dishonours God. It strips him of the attribute of mercy, and so strikes out the brightest jewel of his crown."

"True," said the old Lady, "and yet I dare say, that the wretchedness and death of this poor young creature were charged altogether upon religion."

"Upon that very religion," replied the Vicar, "which alone could have bound up her wounds--wounds inflicted by the irreligion of her parents, and the superstition of her aunt. Religion has no misery to answer for. It is true, that its stupendous truths, rashly flashed upon [107/108] the already disordered imagination, may, like the light of the sun, poured in rashly upon the diseased eye, overpower it. But men would not quench the sun, because some organs are too weak to bear its lustre--nor must religion be extinguished, because its sublimities may perchance overwhelm a diseased mind. Rather let the mind be elevated to religion, than religion be prostrated to the mind. At the same time, tenderness is due to the infirm. And our Lord himself felt and displayed it. What painter who has sketched a portrait of Christ, ever thought of arming him with thunders. No--love was his weapon; and I feel sure, that this is the weapon his ministers should chiefly employ. Chaucer's picture of a Clergyman, and the image by which he illustrates it, delight me--

'He preach'd the Gospel, rather than the Law,
And forc'd himself to drive, but lov'd to draw.--
Thunder and light'ning, Heav'n's artillery,
As harbingers before th' Almighty fly.
[109] These but proclaim his style, and disappear--
The stiller voice succeeds, and God is there.'

Now it happened that this picture and this image equally delighted the old Lady; and for this especial reason, that she always said it was as like her husband, as though he had sat for it. So as both were too much exhausted to read more, he sat thinking of the picture, and wishing to be like it--and she, thinking of her husband and wishing to be like him--till it was more than time to go to bed.

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