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BOOK NOTICE., Issue 7910, 18 May 1889, Supplement
I John Ward , Preacher ,’ by Margaret Deland.
It has been stated that the author of ‘John Ward, Preacher,’ is supposed to be quite a young girl. What authority there ia for the supposition as to her age we do not know, but she certainly is a married woman (Mrs Delaud); and the dedication of the book, addressed apparently to her husband, would seem to imply that he had no inconsiderable share in its production. Be that as it may, the book is written in so finished and graceful a style, the plot runs so smoothly, and the various incidents fit into each other so exactly that it is certainly difficult to credit that it is the work of a very young writer. In fact it bears strong internal evidence to the contrary. For descriptive power, deep insight into human nature, and powerful delineation of character, Margaret Deland may be ranked among the first writers of fiction, dome of her characters are, indeed, not unworthy of even George Eliot. 4 John Ward, Preacher,’ has been compared with Mrs Humphry Ward’s 4 Robert Elsmere,’ a book that has recently attracted so much attention, and which it bids fair to rival. The similarity is mainly in the picture of the conflict between love and a strong sense of religious duty. Both of them treat of religion, but in very different ways. In Robert Elsmere we have a man of large sympathies and deep religious feeling, struggling to free himself from what he feels to be a narrow creed. He undergoes great mental suffering on account of the doubts concerning his faith which have sprung up in his mind, suffering accentuated by the knowledge that to his wife, a severely orthodox Christian, whom he loves dearly, the news of his unbelief will be a terrible blow. Recognising that he can no longer hold his position as a clergyman with consistency he resigns, but the instinct of a teacher, the yearning to help, and the impossibility for a nature like his to live without a religion, cause him to devote his energies to the improvement of the London working classes, and ultimately to engage in teaching the new belief to which he has given bis unqualified acceptance. John Ward is the very opposite of Robert Elsmere. A rigid Presbyterian of the old school, he embraces in their entirety the doctrines of predestination, original sin, a material hell, and eternal punishment, and is deeply concerned lest he should fail in his duty to his people by not preaching in plain enough language the truths he so firmly holds. It is Helen, John Ward’s wife, who cannot accept the belief of her husband. He becomes aware before he is engaged to her that she is, as he thinks, far from the truth in religious matters, and it is with him a matter of anxious doubt how far he will be right in marrying her. 44 4 Be not unevenly yoked with unbelievers,’ he said to himself. To his mind Helen’s lack of belief in certain doctrines for it had hardly crystallised into unbelief—was sin, and sin was punishable by eternal death. Here was his escape from conscience. Should this sweet soul, that he loved more than his own, be lost ? No ; surely it was a sacred right and duty to win her heart and marry her, that he might take her away from the atmosphere of religious indifference in which she lived and guide her to light and truth. Love won the day. 4 1 will save her soul,’ he said to himself; and with this purpose always before him—to hide a shadow, which whispered (so he thought) 4 This is a sin ’— he asked her to be his wife.” “John Ward’s was an intellect that could not hold a belief subject to the mutations of time or circumstance, Onco acknowledged by his soul its growth was ended ; it hardened into a creed in which he rested in complete satisfaction. It was not that he did not desire more light; it was simply that he could not conceive that there might be more light. And, granting his premise that the Bible was directly inspired by God, he was not illogical in holding with a pathetic and patient faith to the doctrines of the Presbyterian Church.” He cannot conceive the possibility of his having stopped short of the truth, of there being any one point of his belief a non-essential. His wife, Helen’s, belief is, perhaps, more the development of her own nature than the result of teaching or any definite reasoning. Brought up in the house of a Church of England clergyman, she takes her belief for granted, without inquiring, and perhaps scarcely knowing what she believes. But this is before she met John Ward. After conversations with Ju*P she first begins to realise Jpw little slip knows of her own faith. But gradually she builds up a belief for herself. 44 Love of good was really love of God in her mind. Heaven meant righteousness, and Hell an absence from what was best and truest; but Helen did not feel that a soul must wait for death before it was overtaken by Hell. It was very simple and very short, this creed of hers.” She cannot conceive a God of infinite love condemning his creatures to eternal torture. It is with such views that she enters into the house of John Ward, and the atmosphere of religious belief held by her husband and bis people. It is a shock to her to hear such sentiments as are contained in the following hymn, which she hears her maid singing with cheerful, happy face and lusty voice:—
My thoughts on awful subjects roll— Damnation and the dead ; What horrors seize the guilty soul Upon the dying bod. Where endless crowds of sinners lie, And darknes? makes their chains, Tortured with keen despair they cry, Yet wait for fiercer pales. She had no idea such awful words were written or such doctrines taught. It is
BOOK NOTICE., Issue 7910, 18 May 1889, Supplement
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