We have read this little work with some pleasure and interest. There certainly appears to us something striking and remarkable in it.
Sukey Harley is, or rather was, one of those strange Amazons - those men-like women that seem almost peculiar to the coal and iron districts, who can handle the fist as well as hammer, and who, in manners, appearance, language, and habiliments, are brutalized almost below the level of their male companions.
"The Rector's Daughter" has had the good sense to give us Sukey's experience in her own words. We do not know who "The Rector's Daughter" is, nor whether she knows the things of God for herself; but she has, with admirable good sense, given it just as Sukey spoke it. And though some words, as "clammed," "donna," and "tossicated," will be more intelligible to northern than to southern readers, yet we are glad to see them there, as so many guarantees that the whole is genuine, and that the "Rector's Daughter" has no more corrected Sukey's experience by her own, than adjusted Sukey's rich and racy Shropshire to the standard of Dr. Johnson and Lindley Murray.
Sukey's father died when she was three years old, and left her to poverty, so that, during childhood, she was often well nigh "clammed" (starved), and seems to have had no education whatever, either with book or needle. She grew up, however, hearty and strong; and now we will let her speak for herself: -
"When big enough to go out to service, I was hired at a farm house; I made a good servant, I loved work. The farmers were all glad to get me into their houses. I got through such a lot of work, and was as fond of frolic and play. I gave free licence to my tongue. To my shame be it spoken, I could hardly open my mouth but I would fetch an oath; it was dreadful. I married very young. My husband was a very quiet, steady, and sober man; he was never fond of drink, nor of levity of any sort, like the rest of the young men. I used to despise him in my heart, and say, Well, what a fool I have got for a husband! He'd just go right on with his work and take no notice of anything; backwards and forwards, down the lane and up again, to and fro, morning and night, day by day, it was always the same with him. He'd just mind his own business, and care for nothing else. Well, I would think with myself, what a dolt my Charles is!
Whenever he heard me curse or swear, he would rebuke me; but very mildly. He used to say, 'Sukey, I wish I could hear you talk without swearing; I wish you would leave off them words.' I was ready to hit him for downright rage. Excepting these bouts, we never had any miss words with each other; and a good reason why, he never gave me any, so then I'd none to give him.
Here, then, was Sukey in all her native roughness - a swearing, fighting, working, frolicking wretch, as far from religion or a profession of religion as any poor creature could well be.
But why have we dwelt thus long upon this part of Sukey's history? To show more the superaboundings of grace, and what God can and will do to stain the pride of human glory. The exceeding riches of God's grace is a theme dear to our soul, and to set this forth more clearly and vividly have we lingered thus long over the dark features of Sukey Harley.
But we proceed to the first beginning of a work upon Sukey's soul. This, perhaps, is not so clear as some might wish. Sukey's conversion was not very striking, nor the change very quickly apparent; though, when related at the distance of many years, much might be forgotten or lost in the delivery. Here, however, is her account of it: -
"The first thing that gave me a turn to my manner of living was being called on by two women, neighbours, who wished me to go with them to meeting; I refused, but when they came again and pressed me very much, I began to fear they would call me a bad neighbour; so to please them I went. I paid no attention to what was going on there."
But she soon began to see something peculiar in the two poor women, at whose invitation she first began to attend the chapel.
"This was my trouble, the thought that these women have got something that I had ne'er got; this was it that troubled me. All day long my thoughts were hampered, my mind was tossicated about this thing; what have these women got? I wish I knew what they have got. Oh, I was sore distressed; I was heavily burdened; I was weary, weary in mind to know somewhat about it. Nothing that ever I heard in church or chapel at that time ever struck my mind. I never paid attention there; my trouble wasn't brought on by the word of man; I could tell no man what ailed me, not even my husband. I did ne'er know, I could ne'er find out myself what was the matter; I would for ever make some light excuse to know what they two were about. I would peep into old Nancy Smith's door; she would come out, the big tears standing in her eyes, and the book in her hand; well; I hated her; then I'd go to the other; 'Sukey,' she'd say, 'do come and sit down, and I'll read to you a bit.' 'Well,' I'd say, and think to myself, I do hate to come nigh 'em. Then I would look upon her countenance. Oh, what a blessed look I thought she had in the midst of all her poverty and outward wretchedness! She was a deal worse off than I, though I am miserable and she is blessed. What does it mean? They must have somewhat; I wish I knew what they have found. Then I'd go home pondering on this matter, puzzling my foolish brains to find out what they'd got; tossed to and fro; I was weary, weary, weary; day and night, I could find no rest. Oh! I wanted somewhat I could ne'er get. I began to think there must be a God; then I thought, these women know that God."
How often we find that conviction first arises in the mind, from seeing gracious people possessed of something that we know we have not! This seems to have been the beginning of Sukey's convictions. The leaven thus planted, now works more deeply.
Well, I began to grow worse and worse, more full of perplexed thoughts than ever; I was tossed to and fro. What was I to do? I did ne'er know what to do. The reason I don't know God is because I cannot read. Those two women are such fine scholars, they can read such a sight of books. They can pray, they've such a sight of prayers, and I only know this one. Then I thought, I must have a new prayer, the old prayer won't do. I kept repeating it over and over again, but I wanted a new prayer. I mourned, I cried to God to teach me a new prayer; yes, I said to my dear Father in heaven, for he was my Father though I did not know him; and I cried to him, and mourned before him; I begged him to teach me a new prayer. These words clapped into my mind: "Lord, lead me into the knowledge of thy dear Son;" I never heard about the Son of God, I never knew that God had a Son, yet these words came into my heart; it was the prayer God taught me himself; no one else taught me.
After she had been thus "tossicated," or tossed up and down for some time, the Lord appeared for her deliverance, of which she gives the following account: -
"On the Monday morning while I was eating my breakfast, (but I had no stomach to eat,) it was after Charles was gone to work, these words entered my mind: 'Behold, I stand at the door and knock, if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in unto him, and sup with him, and he with me.' I said, this is the text the man had for his sermon last night; well it was, but I had ne'er heard it then. I heard it now though, all the words quite plain came into my heart. Oh! I thought, suppose it should be their God at the door. Oh! how joyful I would get up and loose him the door! Now I thought, I can ne'er give in praying, those words have so encouraged me; I went up the ladder into my bed room, and began to pray; I made such a noise, the folks might have heard me in the street. I was afear'd I should frighten my child; I came down and looked at her, she was a little one, eating her breakfast. I went up again and did not stop long. I came down again, and filled the child's bag with meat, and sent her off to school; I put her out at the door, and locked and bolted it. Then I said in my own strength, I will never open this door again till I know their God. I stuffed the windows with all the old rags I could find, I could not bear the light; then I went down on my knees in the dark corner, and began praying these same words that I used to do, the same words over and over and over again, - the Lord's prayer, and, "Lord lead me into the true knowledge of thy dear Son." I felt as if I would have pulled the roof over my head, I went tearing and tearing at it with such vehement earnestness. Well, who put that strong cry into my heart? Was it from myself? No; but He gave it me and forced me to cry out, because it was His own blessed will to hear me and answer me. I felt Him come; it's past my talking about, such a wonderful time; it's clear past telling. No words can express the feelings of my heart at this time. He fetched me off my knees; I started up. I cannot find words to express the wonderful doings of that blessed moment; well, this is past. He showed me all my sins that I had committed even from a child. Yes, that bit of pink ribbon I had stolen for my doll's cap came upon me. He showed me how for that one sin I might have been sent to hell, and he would have been just. Oh! He showed me my black desert, how I had deserved to go to hell; what a reprobate I had been, and how like a devil I walked upon the earth; how I had angered Him with my sinfullness. My heavy sins and my vileness came upon me! Oh! He appeared such a holy God, such a heavenly, bright, and glorious Being; suppose He had said to me then, at that awful moment, 'Depart from me, ye cursed,' He would have been just, and to hell I must have gone.
"Oh! what a holy God mine is! Well, I was lost, I could ne'er tell what to do; lost in wonder, lost in surprise; yet all this time He kept me from being frightened. I had been frightened, but not now, there was somewhat that held me from being frightened. He seemed to tell me all my sins were forgiven. I had such a sight inwardly of my dear Redeemer's sufferings; how He was crucified, how He hung on the cross for me; it was as if He showed me what I deserved, yet He seemed to say, He had suffered that desert; it was as if He made it so plain to me, how that He would save me, because it was his own blessed will to save me. It was as if He had shown me how He had chosen me from the foundation of the world. He would have mercy on me because He would have mercy.
"I never knew what sin was till now, but He showed me what it was; how black, how dreadful. I felt it was my just desert to go to hell. He would have been just and holy to send me there. I was so lost in wonder, that I said, "O Lord Jesus Christ, make hell ten thousand times hotter before thou sendest me there." These were my very words. I can tell the words, but the feeling I cannot tell. But He saved me, till I was so overwhelmed that I did not know what to do. I can truly say, since that blessed morning, I have a Saviour and a Redeemer, yes, I have; ever since that blessed time, my dear and heavenly Father has kept me in his dear hands, and guided me and counselled me Himself. Well, I went and unblocked the windows, cleared away all the dirty rags, and let in the blessed light of the sun, the glorious light, my Father's light. I unbolted the door and opened it, I looked out; what a glorious light! I saw my God in everything; the clouds, those clouds I had so often puzzled over; my God was in the clouds; the trees, the hedges, the fields, the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, showed me that I had a God. All things were new to me; I was unbound, I was loosed; yes, I wondered at it."
After this gracious visitation Sukey had as usual her trials and troubles, arising chiefly from inward temptations, for in outward circumstances she was tolerably comfortable.
"It was during this time we removed to where we now live, Pulverback. I have known heavy seasons of sorrow, great darkness, bitter distress; I have been sorely tempted of Satan, and plagued with the corruptions of my own heart; Oh, what heavy temptations I have been under for days and days together! I have just sat still on my chair, tempted and buffeted of Satan; I have not had the least power to do one hand's turn for my own defence; a poor, helpless creature, straitened, weary thing; sorely tempted to believe that I had sinned against the Holy Ghost. Oh! the fiery darts of the evil one, they have pierced my poor soul through and through. Yes, I know what sore temptations mean, yet in all this my God has been with me still. He has never left me nor forsaken me."
Her present experience, for Sukey is still alive, she thus tells to "The Rector's Daughter."
"Hart's hymns, now these are my life; Hart understood my life. How the enemy and my deceitful heart have torn and cut asunder my soul. How I've been past every thing pestered about this! I'd think with myself, Well, am I right, I'm like no one else, they be all so quiet, so sleek, so smooth; they seem to have nothing of the buffetings, and strivings, and tossings, and turmoilings, and mournings, and groanings, that I have; what does this mean? Be I a christian? Am I in the right road? Why canna' I live in quietness like other good christian people? When the devil comes in, he would tell me I was clean contrary to the people of God. Such a fuss with my prayers, such a mourning, such darkness, such sorrow; this been ne'er the walk of a christian. A christian been all in the light. He donna' find such a heap of wickedness in his heart like what I've got. Oh! what I have suffered for years, aye, for years. Then I'd cry to the Lord, 'Oh , my dear heavenly Father, do resolve these heavy doubts and fears, do please to lead me into the right road.'"
As we have made such copious extracts, we, will conclude with a striking account of her experience at a subsequent period, when her house caught fire, which seems to us to stamp authenticity and weight upon the whole:
"I stood upon the causeway, and kept looking at my burning house; but from that day to this, I could never describe the deadly sickness, the frightful terror that seized my inmost soul. Oh! it is very solemn to speak of. I believed the devil's lies when he told me that God would never have suffered this to happen to one of his children; yes, I did believe it, and took it for a real sign and standing proof that I was right down deceived in all my blessed hopes, and that I should never be found among the true elect children of God; and, as I stood looking at the fire, I cried out with an exceeding bitter cry, I cried out with a loud voice, and said, 'I am undone, I am lost, I am undone for ever.'
"Was it my house I cared for? No, but it was because I thought all my heavenly and golden treasures were lost. Then I fell down all along upon the grassy bank before my burning house. I had no power either to attempt to save anything myself, or to call for assistance; as for going into the burning house, I dared not do it, I thought the flames were ready to devour me, and I was the guiltiest wretch; my sins, my black sins, were ready to swallow me up; I kept lamenting my woeful case. What, I said, is this true? Have I been all these years in a delusion? Is my blessed hope come to nought at last? Is my precious Saviour clean gone for ever? Will he be favourable no more? Will he be no longer my Father, my Redeemer? Oh, what shall I do? When I began to think what a blessed confidence I had had in him, and how I thought he had told me himself that I should be his child, and that he would save me; and be a Father to me, and an Almighty Redeemer. Then I began to think what a boast I had made of him, and how I had published abroad to all the world that I had got a Saviour and a God; and now, I thought, is it all gone to this, what! is all my hope gone? Oh, what shall I do? Then I began to think what blessed things he had done for me. Why, said I to myself, I thought he had been pleased to reveal his name in me, and teach me to read his word, and call him my Saviour; and now has it been a delusion? How can this be, did he not teach me to pray to him? and has he not times and times blessed his word to me? And was it not himself who taught me to read his word? I thought it was him, I thought he had done all these things for me, and now is he going to forsake me? Oh, my woeful case! my sins, my heavy sins, my black sins! Oh, this is what has done it, this is what has done it; and I cried out like David, yes, I roared out this disquietness of my soul."
"Well, I kept crying, and bemoaning, and lamenting myself thus; I hardly dared to look up to God for help, I thought he was clean gone, I almost feared for ever. My sins had hid his mercy from me, and Satan told me my hope was gone for ever; all was lost. Ah! but it was not lost though, that was a lie. The blessed and merciful Lord in heaven, he heard my dolorous cry. Blessed for ever be his most holy and glorious name, he heard my pitiful cry, he saw my tears; he had compassion on me in his own time, he came to my relief, he darted into my soul in one moment, yes, in one moment he darted into my soul. He rebuked the tempter. Then was the devil vanquished. The blessed Jesus put him to flight in a moment. And the blessed Jesus took possession of my sorrowful soul. He brought joy in turn of my heavy sorrow. He assured me over and over again that he was my Saviour and my Deliverer, and that he would never leave me nor forsake me. I felt his precious blood sufficient to wash away all my sins, and my soul was joyful in God my Saviour.
"He strengthened me marvellously; it is impossible for me to describe rightly the wondrous change he wrought upon me, I who was so weak, so poorly, that I had been hardly able to crawl out of the house, and to throw myself on the grass, in one moment was strengthened, and invigourated, and replenished with all I stood in need of. Then I banged into the burning house, I cared neither for flames nor falling rafters, nor timbers, nor yet for the devil, my mortal foe, for my Saviour was with me, he was my defence. Oh, how safe I was! How safe I felt in him! He and I were alone together in the burning house."
We may add that, by the most extraordinary exertions, Sukey saved all her furniture, and that not a single article, not even a cup or saucer, received the least injury.
We may seem, perhaps, to have given too many extracts from this little tract, its whole amount not exceeding twenty-six pages; but we have felt that we could scarcely, in a smaller compass, give anything like a complete idea of the whole.