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Evening Star, Issue 7910, 18 May 1889, Supplement
horrible ; surely no one believes such things nowadays. And her husband, in reply to her anxious, indignant questions, tells her he, believes in Hell—teaches this doctrine. “It is very terrible; but, oh, John, what sublime faith to be able to believe God capable of such awful cruelty and yet to love and trust Him.” She loves her husband devotedly, passionately. That he should hold such beliefs seems incomprehensible, and at first troubles her greatly. But it only makes her love him the more when she realises all that such a belief entails. To her he is perfect. This belief of his, so incomprehensible, such a blasphemy on the goodness of God ! What does it matter? she loves him. He is her very own—what does it matter what he believes? nothing can ever make any difference to their love. He might be a Mahomedau, if it helped him to be good and happy, for all she cares. She even thinks that perhaps his nature needs the sternness and horror of some such doctrine as a balance tor his gentleness. She never knew anyone as gentle. And John Ward is torn by conflicting feelings—his great love for his wife, his high sense of duty, his responsibility to his people, and his anguish for Helen’s lost soul. How can he bring her to the truth ? Argument—even his great love—is of no avail. She cannot believe what her soul rejects as false; and at last—prayers, love, argument failing—he determines to try if suffering will save her, though in inflicting pain he wrenches his own heart. He writes her, when she is on a short visit to her friends, that she must not return to him—that he will not see her face till she has accepted the truth ; little doubting that God will speedily lead her to see the light. John Ward, despite his narrow creed, is a good man, if ever there was one. No one who reads this book can doubt that, and our impatience with him for his narrow-minded-ness is tempered with pity for the suffering he undergoes for what he believes to be the truth. The horrible and repellant nature of the doctrines held and taught by John Ward is better seen in the character of Elder Dean, a man we most cordially detest. When Tom Davis, a drunken reprobate, meets with a violent death in a brave endeavor to save the life of a child, it is Elder Dean who goes to his widow to offer her the consolations of religion ; and he does so by telling the poor heart-broken creature that “ it is an awful judgment—no chance for repent-ance-overtaken by Hell; but, the Lord be praised for his justice.” John Ward could not have used such words, but he has no fault to find with Elder Dean ; and he himself cannot give the widow any comfort, any hope that her dead husband is not then consuming in everlasting flames. In vain he suggests that this grief has been sent to her in God’s wisdom. No wonder that the poor woman rejects altogether God’s love. She wants no good purchased by her husband’s eternal torment. She makes all the excuses for Tom which her love prompts—his early life, his associations and feeling that he hadn’t bad a chance, rebels against the judgment which she is told has overtaken him. To question the truth of the statement, of course, never enters into her head ; but with “ I know he wasn’t no Christian, an’ I’m no sayin’ he isn’t lost, I’m only sayin’ I can’t love God no more,” she sums up all her grief, and the unalterable determination which that view of religion has forced her to. Is it surprising that such a doctrine, such a belief, should have this effect ? The unctuousness and evident pleasure which Elder Dean and other members of the church take in expatiating on the pains of the damned, and how the elect should rejoice in their own salvation, fill us with disgust. In their mouths it all seems a hideous blasphemy. In such a character as John Ward the belief seems incomprehensible. Such is the picture which the authoress draws of John Ward and his belief. Whether it is a fair and just portraiture of any form of Christian belief as held in the present day, and whether any such belief is responsible for such a character as John Ward (that it could be responsible for Elder Dean, we should not care to believe), it is for the reader to judge. Though the particular form of belief depicted in such glowing colors by Mrs Deland is Calvinism, many of the doctrines held by John Ward are common to most Christian denominations, and we take it that the selection of the Presbyterian form of faith is more as being typical than with the intention of singling out that particular form of belief to hold it up to ridicule as monstrous and unlovely. Indeed, the easy-going, good-hearted Dr Howe, so typical of thousands of well-educated, cultured men and women, thoughtless and careless as to their religious convictions, comes in for a fair share of blame. As to the aim of the novel—to show that the belief here depicted is monstrous, and the view of Hell or future punishment which Mrs Deland would have her readers adopt—though abundantly evident throughout the whole book, is perhaps well summed up in the verse of four lines which she prefixes to the book : I sent my soul through the invisible, Some letter of that after-life to spell; And by-&nd-bye my soul returned to me, And answered : “ I myself am Heaven and Hell.”
But, apart from its religious aspect, the book is full of interest and beauty. Nor does it lack humor. The two old maids—the Misses Woodhouse ; the old bachelor Denner, with his embarrassments and indecision as to which of the two sisters he will ask to become his wife, and the ridiculous methods he adopts to decide the question ; Dr Howe and Mrs Dale about all these characters there is a touch of humor exquisitely drawn. The last illness of William Denner, his quiet gentle courtesy, ever fearful to cause trouble, his anxious wonderings of what death will reveal, his peaceful end; Dr Howe’s distress at having to broach to him the subjects of death and religion ; Helen’s grief and patient waiting, the death bed of her husband—are scenes drawn with a pathos and power that it would be hard to surpass. And in the matter of description our authoress leaves nothing to be desired ; while the picture of life in the little New England village of Ashhurst—unruffled by the wave of progress, a stranger to the strife, the whirl, and hurry of life in the large American cities—leaves on the mind a very pleasing picture of quiet peacefulness. The character of Gifford Woodhouse, a right noble fellow, possessed of keen sympathy, strong sense of justice, and fine feelings, with his manly, considerate love, wins our highest admiration. It is not in the least overdrawn. And dear old Mr Dale, who so justly estimates at their true valuation the various characters in the book, and who is so quick to perceive good in others, is a man we would like to have known. It would be a privilege to count such a man among our friends—one to whom we could go for advice and consolation. ‘John Ward’ is a book that certainly deserves its wide circulation. It can be read with pleasure and profit, and there are few but will learn some lesson and gain some good by a perusal of its pages.
Evening Star, Issue 7910, 18 May 1889, Supplement
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