Wednesday, February 08, 2006

At Age Thirteen

We were at Hawarden in the autumn of 1854 when I was thirteen, and here my conscience, which had been growing daily more tender under Miss Pearson's care, would not let me alone till I had confessed one or two little slynesses that I had long time ago been guilty of. One I remember. I had been sent on a message to Elly, and on my way bounced into the dining-room, where the remains of the luncheon were standing, and crammed my mouth with cherries. On my return, Miss Pearson's sharp eye found out some red juice on my lips, and she questioned me. " I've had some cherries," said I, relieved at speaking out the truth. But Miss Pearson supposed Elly had given them me ; and as she scolded me for that, I had not courage to say I had purloined them. At the end of this con¬fession I paused in mortal terror, but to my infinite relief was spoken to leniently, and was thus encouraged to tell of something else, which, strange to say, I have forgotten, but for which I caught it so dreadfully that I was utterly miserable for some days.

Altogether this time at Hawarden has left a grim' impression on my mind. I was working a stool for Miss Pearson very lazily indeed, so much so that she at last declared she would not accept it ! Great was my anguish ; I began to slave at it so hard that she was mollified at last, and it now stands in her drawing-room at Clent. Moreover I was not well for some time ; but for one circumstance that happened at this time I shall be earnestly thankful to the end of my life—perhaps for all eternity.

I have said that I had always been thoughtful about sacred things ; very far back I remember doing right from a sort of principle, not merely to save punishment, and this made me wretched over my perpetual falls. I used to pray for help with much faith, and make many resolutions ; but hitherto I had done so almost mechanically, following what I had been taught from babyhood, with no strong personal realisation of what was meant by God, Heaven, Death, Eternity. I had not brought these things before me as realities so vivid that they may almost be called tangible. I was indeed but a child. But in church one Sunday at Hawarden, whether some words suggested it to me, whether the distress of mind I had been going through had made me peculiarly susceptible of strong impression, or whether an angel spoke to me suddenly, I cannot tell ; but there flashed upon me, like blinding light, a great thought of Eternity as bearing upon myself—as an unchangeable certainty—as something that was irresistibly advancing—in short, in some awful and present manner, to such an extent that I was aghast and overwhelmed with the tremendousness of my thought. For a moment I thought I should have fainted. I was a young and foolish child ; a very small thing among God's Infinite Mysteries ; can I wonder that —awaking to the realisation of things into which the Angels cannot look—my immortal soul struggled in a sort of agony within its narrow prison ?

I shall never now lose that impression, and for this I thank God.

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