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IN one of the southern counties of England there is a village beautifully situated within view of the sea, and inhabited chiefly by persons of easy fortune and elegant manners. And as the manor-house was, a few years ago, the chief ornament of this village; so the lady of the manor, at that period, shone eminently and admirably above all her sex in that part of the country. Since, however, there is much difference of opinion concerning what may justly be called admirable in the female character, some making the fashions of this world, and others the principles of the Christian religion, the test of true excellence; I shall endeavour to give such a description of the lady in question as may enable the careful reader to form a just estimate of her worth.
The lady of the manor was descended from a respectable, though not from a noble family. Her parents were pious, and had endeavoured not only to make her acquainted with the word of God, but also to regulate her life agreeably to the revealed will of her heavenly Father. In the education of this lady, literary refinement had been wisely blended with domestic usefulness, and
the highest polish of manners and sweetest courtesies of life with the most simple and moderate habits. She had married early in life. Her husband was a military man, and one whose piety did honour to his profession. With this beloved companion she had visited several foreign countries, and not without improving the opportunities thus afforded her of marking the various customs and manners of mankind. But though highly favoured in her husband, this lady had endured many afflictions: and, after passing through many scenes of sorrow, she was now left a widow, with only two children remaining out of a large and lovely family.
By the death of several intermediate heirs, the husband of the lady of the manor had, some years ago, unexpectedly entered into possession of the manor-house situated in the village above mentioned, together with a considerable estate in the neighbourhood. Thus this excellent lady was introduced into a more exalted situation in society, a circumstance which afforded her opportunity for a larger display of Christian virtues than a humbler sphere of action could have supplied.
It now became evident, that her industry and moderation, her plainness of dress and her humility of carriage, were not the effect of a moderate fortune, but of Christian principles; since all these qualities remained in their original simplicity, even after a change of circumstances appeared, in the eye of the world, to require a change of habits.
But this excellent lady found other objects on which to bestow the superfluities of her purse than those which vanity would have pointed out; and, when called to occupy an elevated situation, her courteous manners bore no marks of supercilious condescension, but seemed to flow from the most perfect spirit of Christian meekness.
Though now possessing the means of visiting and being visited with marks of personal distinction, this lady was still observant of the apostle's caution, and was a keeper at home: at the same time not forgetting to exercise that kind of hospitality, which we find so earnestly recommended by our Lord in St. Luke xiv. 12-14.-Then said he also to him that bade him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen,
nor thy rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompense be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind; and thou shalt be blessed; for they can not recompense thee; for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.
When the lady of the manor came into the possession of this additional property, she had already arrived at that period of life when women are no longer beautiful. But she still retained a graceful person, together with an exceedingly animated and agreeable countenance: and what was peculiarly admirable in every part of her manners and deportment was, that she never seemed to be occupied by herself, and was therefore entirely free from all those awkwardnesses which continually appear in the carriage of those who are not able to divest themselves of these kinds of feelings. This absence of every thing like selfish feeling in the lady we describe-an absence which, in a great measure, pervaded her whole conduct,-was effected, no doubt, by the secret and powerful influence of that Holy Spirit whose office it is not only to control the natural evil tempers, but really and truly to regenerate the heart of sinful man. And wonderful was the effect of this freedom from low passions in producing a peculiar dignity, composure, and graciousness of carriage, which seemed to ennoble and beautify her whole person.
A few years after her settling in the manor-house, this lady, as I have before intimated, was left a widow; yet not a widow without hope, since she had every well-grounded reason to believe, that, as her lamented partner had long been led to place his trust in the merits of his Redeemer, he was only removed from her to be admitted a little before her into that glory into which she also hoped to be received in due time, through the same blessed Saviour. Her grief therefore for his loss admitted of every alleviation that religion could offer; and she often looked upon his likeness in the military dress which he had worn in the early days of their happy union, with the sweet assurance that he was now arrived in that blessed country where there remaineth a rest for the people of God. (Heb. iv. 9.)
For some years after the death of her husband, who left her in full possession of his property during her life, she had been chiefly occupied by the education of her
two sons, for whose instruction she procured a pious and learned tutor; a man advanced in years, together with whom she laboured in the formation of their minds and manners, steadily using the means allowed and appointed by God, and looking in faith for his blessing upon those
At the time when those events and conversations took place which I mean particularly to enlarge upon in the life of this lady, the two young gentlemen above mentioned were travelling on the Continent with their venerable preceptor, while she resided alone in the mansion-house.
I date my narrative from a certain Sunday morning early in the spring. A sharp and frosty air, which during the night had covered every branch and every blade of grass with icicles, was now rendered more temperate by the rays of the sun breaking through fleecy clouds.
At this time the coach of the lady of the manor set out from the mansion-house for the church. The village bells were ringing, and groups of cottagers were seen issuing from their respective dwellings, and passing in different directions across the park, towards the church, while better dressed and more genteel persons appeared moving through the village street, as the coach drove alongpresenting altogether a scene of order and decency particularly suited to that holy day, the numbers still thickening as they approached the iron gates which led into the church-yard.
Thus frequently does the visible church in the present day, and the mixed multitude who form the congregation, supply the most lively picture which we can conceive of that glorious period, when the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. (Isaiah ii. 2.) And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah xxxv. 10.)
The public service was performed by a young clergyman, who had just been presented to the living: a man of true piety, and one who promised, through the divine blessing, to become a successful labourer in the vineyard of his Lord.
This young man, whose name was Vernon, was much esteemed by the lady of the manor, who particularly admired that humble and teachable spirit, which is but too rarely observed (though particularly necessary) in those who are appointed to act as instructors of others. After service, as she was stepping into her carriage, Mr. Vernon came up to the door, and offered his services to accompany her home, saying, that as she had often asked him to dine with her on a Sunday, an honour which he had in general found himself obliged to decline, he would now, if agreeable, avail himself of her friendly offer. She expressed herself, as being always glad to see him, and he in consequence took his place in the coach opposite to her.
Mr. Vernon having generally found his Sunday duties quite adequate to the entire employment of that sacred day, had almost invariably declined every Sunday invitation; and as the lady of the manor had always admitted his excuses with approbation, she was now not a little surprised at this voluntary offer of his company. But before the coach was well extricated from the crowd at the church-door, he began to explain the occasion of his present intrusion. He commenced by informing her, that the bishop had given him private notice of his intention to hold a confirmation in the village, at no very distant period. He then proceeded to state, that it was his own most anxious desire, with the divine assistance, to avail himself of this opportunity to call the attention of the younger part of the parish to those solemn truths which had hitherto been evidently too much neglected by them. He then opened to the lady his plans for the effecting of this purpose, and informed her, that he proposed to give lectures on the subject of confirmation immediately after evening service on the Sunday, and, during the summer also, on every Thursday evening. One part of his plan was, to receive the young men of the parish into his own house, for private examination at certain hours which he should appoint; and another was, to collect the young women of the lower orders for the same purpose, in the house of the village schoolmistress. "But," added he, "there yet remains one description of young persons, whose instruction I consider of infinite importance to society in general; and yet such is my youth and inexperience,