By Louisa Lane Clarke
There is not a cottage in the parish, however lowly, (indeed its lowliness and poverty would be the first attraction,) which the parson's wife has not visited. There is not a family, however rude and ungracious, into which she has not been received; because whatever might have been their unwillingness to welcome her, whether from conscious wickedness or schismatic enmity, she has, by the influence of christian kindness and gentle perseverance, triumphed over the opposition, and won them to a better spirit. The effort has been a painful one, and repeatedly repulsed in many instances where the natural heart would have revolted at the ingratitude and surliness of those she came to benefit, and she might have said, "I have made one attempt, but will return no more to that house;" did not the parson's wife so entirely put away self, and consider only her Master's work and the saving of souls, as again and again to make use of any opportunity of doing good to the most unworthy. When afflictions soften the heart, when sorrow opens the door, she has gone back to the sorrowful with words of peace, to the suffering with means of comfort, to the hardened with renewed offers of grace, and to the indifferent with fresh stimulants of hope and fear, and the per suasions of God's word to rouse them from their worldliness.
To give her more direct access to each house, she joins in every benevolent society, in some religious associations; and whilst providing linen for the poor, clothing for infants, medicine for the sick; whilst distributing and collecting as an authorized messenger of good, she never forgets the one thing needful, misses no occasion when a kind word may soften, a warning deter, a promise or a blessing give comfort to the soul. In those cottages where she finds her presence welcome and useful, she visits more frequently becomes interested in their daily pursuits, enters into many of their troubles, which she often soothes by her sympathy, and lightens by her advice. Here, as elsewhere, she carefully avoids all tendency to gossip and unprofitable conversation; old people especially are apt to talk a great deal, the worldly of their own and their neighbours' concerns, and even more pious persons indulge in a self-exalted spirit of criticism on others, their spiritual deadness, blindness, back-sliding, and declensions, which are both painful and unchristian. They are also frequently inclined to dwell upon their own peculiar frames and feelings, and make use of conventional terms which mislead them selves, as well as others, by throwing a false light on solemn and most important truths and by leading them to mistake their own real position in the way of salvation. These things the parson's wife will mark and patiently labour to counteract by the study of the Scriptures, by exhortations to self examination, by setting forth the simplicity and perfection of christian faith, and the beauty of christian holiness, the love of God which passeth knowledge, and the charity which "never faileth."
She knows every child by name, is acquainted with its behaviour, and assists the mother in her management of the different characters. She has a library from which she gives out such books as are most likely to interest and be useful to them, but never lends any work which she or her husband has not first read and approved of. When a family is well known to her, she often assists them in their household management, by suggesting little improvements, giving some useful hints on domestic economy, and writing out a good receipt, which becomes of double value as her gift, and adds a comfort or simple luxury to the cottage dinner.
The parson's wife has some things to avoid, which often frustrate a good intention in lady visitors. One is an authoritative and fault-finding manner with the poor in inquiring into their circumstances, which makes the poor woman shrink even from the kindness of her superiors, and look upon those who come to befriend her as censors, if not intruders. A delicacy of manner and respect for their feelings is the best way to draw forth confidence and respect in return. The poor have oftentimes finer feelings than is supposed, and the sullen answer and the flippant tone are sometimes put on to hide them. Truth may be spoken with gentleness, and made more winning by a kind manner; humility too in the speaker begets humility in the listener. The heart that is conscious of its own corruption will touch carefully on that of another's, and, when very anxious for the salvation of a soul, will fear lest any harsh word should prove a stumblingblock. The parson's wife is very tender in her dealings with the poor.
Another thing to be avoided is violent opposition to the religious opinions of those who dissent from the church of England, which is a great hindrance to the very end in view, of bringing the schismatics back to the fold. Instead of reviling dissenters, and dwelling upon the sinfulness of attending chapels and meeting-houses, the parson's wife more wisely and patiently begins by setting forth the first and fundamental doctrines of the gospel; leading these wayward children to seek after a true and stedfast faith, a holiness of life and conduct; then showing these things to be the very doctrines of the church they forsake, and quietly though earnestly urging them to that unity which is the very bond of peace; avoiding all controversy with care, and speaking humbly yet boldly and plainly for the truth of God's word, and the honour of her church; ever remembering that truth, though intolerant to error as it needs must be, may still walk hand in hand with that charity which "never faileth."