Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Stoughton's Heroes 04

"With steady zeal, each honest rustic ran:
Even children follow'd with endearing wile,
And pluck'd his gown to share the good man's smile :
His ready smile a parent's warmth exprest,
Their welfere pleased him, and their cares distrest;
To them his heart, his love, his griefs were given,—
But all his serious thoughts had rest in heaven:
As some tall cliff that lifts its awful form,
Swells from the vale, and midway leaves the storm;
Though round its breast the rolling clouds are spread,
Eternal sunshine settles on its head."

The 24th of August, perhaps, was the most trying day to the ejected ministers, for then as men of God they surrendered their spiritual charge; but the day when they left their homes, endeared by the domestic associations of past happy years, could not fail to affect them deeply, for then came their trial as husbands and fathers. No artist that I know of has painted the Nonconformist and his family leaving the parsonage, though it would form an interesting subject for his pencil; nor has any poet selected it as the theme for his muse: but the well-known lines in Goldsmith's Deserted Village may be accommodated to the incident, and will bring before us the picture with touching beauty.
"Good Heaven! what sorrows gloom'd that parting day,
That call'd them from their native walks away,
When the poor exiles, every pleasure past,
Hung round the bowers, and fondly look'd their last.
With loudest plaints the mother spoke her woes,
And blest the cot where every pleasure rose,
And kiss'd her thoughtless babes with many a tear,
And clasp'd them close, in sorrow doubly dear;
While her fond husband strove to lend relief,
In all the silent manliness of grief."
Upon the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII and upon the deprivation of the Popish priests under Elizabeth, some provision was made for their necessities; and when any one of the Episcopal clergy, during the Commonwealth, was dismissed from his living, a fifth of his former income was reserved for his use: but no consideration of this kind was shown to the ministers who were ejected by the Act of Uniformity. Numbers of them were therefore reduced to perfect poverty. Some interesting facts have been preserved relative to their sufferings, and the remarkable interpositions of Providence in their behalf: but what a multitude of such facts, in the history of two thousand families or more, must have passed into oblivion!
Not long after the year 1662, Mr Grove, a gentleman of great opulence, whose seat was near Bird-bush, upon his wife's lying dangerously ill, sent to his parish minister to pray with her. When the messenger came, he was just gone out with the hounds, and sent word he would come when the hunt was over. Mr Grove expressing much resentment against the minister for choosing rather to follow his diversions than attend one of his flock in such circumstances, one of the servants took the liberty to say, 'Sir, our shepherd, if you will send for him, can pray very well: we have often heard him at prayer in the field.' Upon this he was immediately sent for; and Mr Grove asking him whether he ever did or could pray, the shepherd fixed his eyes upon him, and with peculiar seriousness in his countenance, replied, 'God forbid, Sir, I should live one day without prayer.' He was then desired to pray with the sick lady; which he did so pertinently to her case, with such fluency and fervour of devotion, as greatly to astonish the husband and all the family who were present. When they arose from their knees, the gentleman addressed him to this effect: 'Your language and manner discover you to be a very different person from what your appearance indicates. I conjure you to inform me who and what you are, and what were your views and situation in life before you came into my service.' Upon which he told him he was one of the ministers who had been lately ejected from the Church; and that having nothing of his own left, he was content for a livelihood to submit to the honest and peaceful employment of tending sheep. On hearing this, Mr Grove said, ' Then you shall be my shepherd,' and immediately erected a meeting-house on his own estate, in which Mr Ince (for that was the shepherd's name) preached and gathered a congregation of Dissenters."
After the ejectment of Mr Perkins, Vicar of Burley in Rutlandshire, he often travelled on the Lord's day several miles from home to preach, and got ten shillings for his day's service, which for a great while was the most that he had to support his family. He was often in straits. At one time a niece of his, whom he had brought up, going after her marriage to visit him, in the course of free conversation with her, he said, "Child, how much do you think I have to keep my family? — but a poor threepence." After which, she appearing affected, he with a great deal of cheerfulness cried out, "Fear not; God will provide;" and in a little time a gentleman's servant knocked at the door, who brought him a side of venison for a present, together with some wheat and malt. Mr Maurice, Rector of Shelton in Shropshire, was sometimes reduced to great straits, whilst he lived at Shrewsbury after his ejectment. Once, when he had been very thoughtful, and was engaged in prayer with his family, suiting some petitions to their necessitous case, a carrier knocked at the door, inquired for him, and delivered to him a handful of money untold, as a present from some friends, but would not tell who they were.
These are but specimens of the legendary tales handed down respecting the Bartholomew confessors.

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