The World's Greatest Books, Vol X
Part 6 out of 6
Though during my course I made many pleasant acquaintances, and so felt
less isolated than at first, I indulged in little real comradeship. But
during the winter my attention was much engrossed with affairs of the
heart, for I was in love three times. Yet I was overwhelmed with
shyness, fearing that my love should be discovered by its object. With
two of the young ladies, indeed, I had already been in love previously.
Of one of them I was now enamoured for the third time. But I knew that
Volodya also regarded her with passionate ecstasy. I felt that it would
certainly not be agreeable to him to learn that two brothers were in
love with the same young woman.
Therefore I said nothing to him of my love. But great satisfaction was
afforded to my mind by the fact that our love was so pure, and that each
would be ready, if needful, to make a sacrifice for the sake of the
other. But that self-abnegation did not, after all, extend to Volodya,
for when he heard that a certain diplomat was to marry the girl, he was
disposed to slap his face and to challenge him to a duel. It happened
that I had only spoken once to the young lady, and my love passed away
in a week, as I made no effort to perpetuate it.
During that winter I was quite disenchanted with the social pleasures to
which I had looked forward when I entered the university, in imitation
of my brother Volodya. He danced a great deal, and Papa also went with
his young wife to balls. But at the first one which I attended I was so
shy that I declined the invitation of the Princess Kornakova to dance,
declaring that I did not dance, though I had come to her evening party
with the express intention of dancing a great deal. I remained silently
in one place the whole evening.
Avdotya's passionate love for Papa was evident in every word, look, and
action. We were always hypocritically polite to her, called her _chere
maman_, and noted that at first she was fond of calling herself
stepmother, and that she plainly felt the unpleasantness of her
position. Her disposition was very amiable and she was in no way
My first examination at length arrived. It was on differential and
integral calculus. I was indifferent and abstracted, but a feeling of
some dread passed over me when the same young professor who had
questioned me at the entrance examination looked me in the face. I
answered so badly that he looked at me compassionately, and said quietly
but firmly that as I should not pass in the second class I had better
not present myself for examination. I went home and remained weeping in
my room for three days over my failure. I even looked out my pistols, in
order that they might be at hand if I should feel a wish to shoot
myself. Finally, I saw my father and begged him to permit me to enter
the hussars, or to go to the Caucasus.
Though he was not pleased, yet, when he saw how deep was my grief he
sought to comfort me by saying that it was not so very bad, and that
arrangements might be made for a different course of study. After a few
days I became composed, but did not leave the house till we departed for
the country. I may some day relate the sequel in the happier half of my
[Tolstoy has never published the continuation, but it is generally
considered that he represents himself in Constantine Levin, the hero of
the greatest of his stories, and that thus we gain an insight into his
* * * * *
Count Lyof N. Tolstoy in writing this work expressed himself
in such independent terms that it could not be published in
Russia, but was issued in Geneva in 1888, by the firm of
Elpidine, who had printed in 1886 his "What is my Life," and
in 1892 brought out his "Walk in the Light." The books thus
issued in the original Russian version outside of the famous
author's native land are all purely spiritual, and are written
in the most elevated tone. But Tolstoy's mode of interpreting
the Scriptures is not approved by the Holy Synod of the
Eastern Orthodox Church, or Russo-Greek Communion, and thus
most of his treatises which come within the strictly religious
category are classed amongst the "Forbidden Books" of modern
Russian literature. In this "Confession" Tolstoy emphatically
strikes the keynote which is the _motif_ of all his didactic
writings. It is an affirmation of the principle that the pure
spirit of religion, apart from external dogma, is the really
precious factor of life. He follows the same strain in his
"What I Believe," and his "Christianity of Christ." The
following synopsis is translated and summarised from the
_I.--Evil Early Years_
Though reared in the faith of the Orthodox Eastern, or Russo-Greek
Church, I had by the time when, at the age of eighteen, I left the
university ceased to believe what I had been taught. My faith could
never have been well grounded in conviction. I not only ceased to pray,
but also to attend the services and to fast. Without denying the
existence of God, yet I cherished no ideas either as to the nature of
God or the teaching of Christ.
I found that my wish to become a good and virtuous man, whenever the
aspiration was in any way expressed, simply exposed me to ridicule;
while I instantly gained praise for any vicious behaviour. Even my
excellent aunt declared that she wished two things for me. One was that
I should form a liaison with some married lady; the other that I should
become an adjutant to the Tsar.
I look back with horror on the years of my young manhood, for I was
guilty of slaying men in battle, of gambling, of riotous squandering of
substance gained by the toil of serfs, of deceit, and of profligacy.
That course of life lasted ten years. Then I took to writing, but the
motive was grovelling, for I aimed at gaining money and flattery.
My aims were gratified, for, coming to St. Petersburg at the age of 26,
I secured the flattering reception I had coveted from the authors most
in repute. The war, about which I had written much from the field of
conflict, had just closed. I found that a theory prevailed amongst the
"Intelligentia" that the function of writers, thinkers, and poets was to
teach; they were to teach not because they knew or understood, but
unconsciously and intuitively. Acting on this philosophy, I, as a
thinker and poet, wrote and taught I knew not what, received large
remuneration for my efforts with the pen, and lived loosely, gaily, and
Thus I was one of the hierarchs of the literary faith, and for a
considerable time was undisturbed by any doubts as to its soundness; but
when three years had been thus spent, serious suspicions entered my
mind. I noted that the devotees of this apparently infallible principle
were at variance amongst themselves, for they disputed, deceived,
abused, and swindled each other. And many were grossly selfish, and most
Disgust supervened, both with myself and with mankind in general. My
error now was that though my eyes were opened to the vanity and delusion
of the position, yet I retained it, imagining that I, as thinker, poet,
teacher, could teach other men while not at all knowing what to teach.
To my other faults an inordinate pride had been added by my intercourse
with these _litterateurs_. That period viewed retrospectively seems to
me like one of a kind of madness. Hundreds of us wrote to teach the
people, while we all abused and confuted one another. We could teach
nothing, yet we sent millions of pages all over Russia, and we were
unspeakably vexed that we seemed to gain no attention whatever, for
nobody appeared to listen to us.
_II.--Groping in Darkness_
I travelled in Europe at this period, before my marriage, still
cherishing in my mind the idea of general perfectibility, which was so
popular at that time with the "Intelligentia." Cultured circles clung to
the theory of what we call "progress," vague though are the notions
attaching to the term. I was horrified with the spectacle of an
execution in Paris, and my eyes were opened to the fallacy underlying
the theory of human wisdom. The doctrine of "progress" I now felt to be
a mere superstition, and I was further confirmed in my conviction by the
sad death of my brother after a painful illness of a whole year.
My brother was kind, amiable, clever, and serious; but he passed away
without ever knowing why he had lived or what his death meant for him.
All theories were futile in the face of this tragedy. Returning to
Russia I settled in my rural home and began to organise schools for the
peasants, feeling real enthusiasm for the enterprise. For I still clung
to a great extent to the idea of progress by development. I thought that
though highly cultured men all thought and taught differently and agreed
about nothing, yet in the case of the children of the mujiks the
difficulty could easily be surmounted by permitting the children to
learn what they liked.
I also tried through my own newspaper to indoctrinate the people, but my
mind grew more and more embarrassed. At length I fell sick, rather
mentally than physically. I went off to the Steppes to breathe the pure
air and to take mare's milk and to live the simple life. I married soon
after my return to my estate. As time passed on I became happily
absorbed in the interests of wife and children, largely forgetting
during a happy interval of fifteen years the old anxiety for individual
perfection. For this desire was superseded by that of promoting the
welfare of my family.
All this time, however, I was writing busily, and was gaining much money
as well as winning great applause. And in everything I wrote I
persistently taught what was for me the sole truth--that our chief
object in life should be to secure our own happiness and that of our
family. Then, five years ago, supervened a mood of mental lethargy. I
grew despondent; my perplexity increased, and I was tormented by the
constant recurrence of such questions as--"Why?" and "What afterwards?"
And by degrees the questions took a more concrete form. "I now possess
six thousand 'desyatins' of land in the government of Samara, and three
hundred horses--what then?" I could find no answer. Then came the
question, "What if I could excel Shakespeare, and Moliere, and Gogol,
and become the most celebrated the world has ever seen--what then?"
Answer, there was none; yet I felt that I must find one in order to go
Life had now lost its meaning, and was no longer real to me. I was a
healthy and happy man, and yet so empty did life seem to me that I was
afraid of being tempted to commit suicide, even though I had not the
slightest intention to perpetrate such a deed. But, fearing lest the
temptation might come upon me I hid a rope away out of my sight, and
ceased carrying a gun in my walks.
_III.--The Spirit of Despair_
It was in my 50th year that the question "What is life" had reduced me
to utter despair. Various queries clustered round this central
interrogation. "Why should I live? Why should I do anything? Is there
any signification in life that can overcome inevitable death?" I found
that in human knowledge no real answer was forthcoming to such
yearnings. None of the theories of the philosophers gave any
satisfaction. In my search for a solution of life's problem I felt like
a traveller lost in a forest, out of which he can find no issue.
I found that not only did Solomon declare that he hated life, for all is
vanity and vexation of spirit; but that Sakya Muni, the Indian sage,
equally decided that life was a great evil; while Socrates and
Schopenhauer agree that annihilation is the only thing to be wished for.
But neither these testimonies of great minds nor my own reasoning could
induce me to destroy myself. For a force within me, combined with an
instinctive consciousness of life, counteracted the feeling of despair
and drew me out of my misery of soul. I felt that I must study life not
merely as it was amongst those like myself, but as it was amongst the
millions of the common people. I reflected that knowledge based on
reason, the knowledge of the cultured, imparted no meaning to life, but
that, on the other hand, amongst the masses of the common people there
was an unreasoning consciousness of life which gave it a significance.
This unreasoning knowledge was the very faith which I was rejecting. It
was faith in things I could not understand; in God, one yet three; in
the creation of devils and angels. Such things seemed utterly contrary
to reason. So I began to reflect that perhaps what I considered
reasonable was after all not so, and what appeared unreasonable might
not really be so.
I discovered one great error that I had perpetrated. I had been
comparing life with life, that is, the finite with the finite, and the
infinite with the infinite. The process was vain. It was like comparing
force with force, matter with matter, nothing with nothing. It was like
saying in mathematics that A equals A, or O equals O. Thus the only
answer was "identity."
Now I saw that scientific knowledge would give no reply to my questions.
I began to comprehend that though faith seemed to give unreasonable
answers, these answers certainly did one important thing. They did at
least bring in the relation of the finite to the infinite. I came to
feel that in addition to the reasoning knowledge which I once reckoned
to be the sole true knowledge, there was in every man also an
unreasoning species of knowledge which makes life possible. That
unreasoning knowledge is faith.
What is this faith? It is not only belief in God and in things unseen,
but it is the apprehension of life's meaning. It is the force of life. I
began to understand that the deepest source of human wisdom was to be
found in the answers given by faith, that I had no reasonable right to
reject them, and that they alone solved the problem of life.
Nevertheless my heart was not lightened. I studied the writings of
Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity. I also studied actual religious life
by turning to the orthodox, the monks, and the Evangelicals who preach
salvation through faith in a Redeemer. I asked what meaning was given
for them to life by what they believed. But I could not accept the faith
of any of these men, because I saw that it did not explain the meaning
of life, but only obscured it. So I felt a return of the terrible
feeling of despair.
Being unable to believe in the sincerity of men who did not live
consistently with the doctrines they professed, and feeling that they
were self-deceived, and, like myself, were satisfied with the lusts of
the flesh, I began to draw near to the believers amongst the poor,
simple, and ignorant, the pilgrims, monks, and peasants. I found that
though their faith was mingled with much superstition, yet with them the
whole life was a confirmation of the meaning of life which their faith
The more I contemplated the lives of these simple folk, the more deeply
was I convinced of the reality of their faith, which I perceived to be a
necessity for them, for it alone gave life a meaning and made it worth
living. This was in direct opposition to what I saw in my own circle,
where I marked the possibility of living without faith, for not one in a
thousand professed to be a believer, while amongst the poorer classes
not one in thousands was an unbeliever. The contradiction was extreme.
In my class a tranquil death, without terror or despair, is rare; in
that lower class, an uneasy death is a rare exception. I found that
countless numbers in that lower mass of humanity had so understood the
meaning of life that they were able both to live bearing contentedly the
burdens of life, and to die peacefully.
The more I learned of these men of faith the more I liked them, and the
easier I felt it so to live. For two years I lived in their fashion.
Then the life of my own wealthy and cultured class became repellent to
me, for it had lost all meaning whatever. It seemed like empty child's
play, while the life of the working classes appeared to me in its true
Now I began to apprehend where I had judged wrongly. My mistake was that
I had applied an answer to my question concerning life which only
concerned my own life, to life in general. My life had been but one long
indulgence of my passions. It was evil and meaningless. Therefore such
an answer had no application to life at large, but only to my individual
I understood the truth which the Gospel subsequently taught me more
fully, that men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds
were evil. I understood that for the comprehension of life, it was
essential that life should be something more than an evil and
meaningless thing revealed by reason. Life must be considered as a
whole, not merely in its parasitic excrescences. I felt that to be good
was more important than to believe. I loved good men. I hated myself. I
accepted truth. I understood that we were all more or less mad with the
love of evil.
I looked at the animals, saw the birds building nests, living only to
fly and to subsist. I saw how the goat, hare, and wolf live, but to feed
and to nurture their young, and are contented and happy. Their life is a
reasonable one. And man must gain his living like the animals do, only
with this great difference, that if he should attempt this alone, he
will perish. So he must labour for the good of all, not merely for
I had not helped others. My life for thirty years had been that of a
mere parasite. I had been contented to remain ignorant of the reason why
I lived at all.
There is a supreme will in the universe. Some one makes the universal
life his secret care. To know what that supreme will is, we must obey it
implicitly. No reproaches against their masters come from the simple
workers who do just what is required of them, though we are in the habit
of regarding them as brutes. We, on the contrary, who think ourselves
wise, consume the goods of our master while we do nothing willingly that
he prescribes. We think that it would be stupid for us to do so.
What does such conduct imply? Simply that our master is stupid, or that
we have no master.
_V.--Feeling Versus Reason_
Thus I was led at last to the conclusion that knowledge based on reason
is fallacious, and that the knowledge of truth can be secured only by
living. I had come to feel that I must live a real, not a parasitical
life, and that the meaning of life could be perceived only by
observation of the combined lives of the great human community.
The feelings of my mind during all these experiences and observations
were mingled with a heart-torment which I can only describe as a
searching after God. This search was a feeling rather than a course of
reasoning. For it came from my heart, and was actually opposed to my way
of thinking. Kant had shown the impossibility of proving the existence
of God, yet I still hoped to find Him, and I still addressed Him in
prayer. Yet I did not find Him whom I sought.
At times I contended against the reasoning of Kant and Schopenhauer, and
argued that causation is not in the same category with thought and space
and time. I argued that if I existed, there was a cause of my being, and
that cause was the cause of all causes. Then I pondered the idea that
the cause of all things is what is called God, and with all my powers I
strove to attain a sense of the presence of this cause.
Directly I became conscious of a power over me I felt a possibility of
living. Then I asked myself what was this cause, and what was my
relation to what I called God? Simply the old familiar answer occurred
to me, that God is the creator, the giver of all. Yet I was dissatisfied
and fearful, and the more I prayed, the more convinced I was that I was
not heard. In my despair I cried aloud for mercy, but no one had mercy
on me, and I felt as if life stagnated within me.
Yet the conviction kept recurring that I must have appeared in this
world with some motive on the part of some one who had sent me into it.
If I had been sent here, who sent me? I had not been like a fledgling
flung out of a nest to perish. Some one had cared for me, had loved me.
Who was it? Again came the same answer, God. He knew and saw my fear, my
despair, and so I passed from the consideration of the existence of God,
which was proved, on to that of our relation towards him as our Redeemer
through His Son. But I felt this to be a thing apart from me and from
the world, and this God vanished like melting ice from my eyes. Again I
was left in despair. I felt there was nothing left but to put an end to
my life; yet I knew that I should never do this.
Thus did moods of joy and despair come and go, till one day, when I was
listening to the sounds in a forest, and was still on that day in the
early springtide seeking after God in my thoughts, a flash of joy
illumined my soul. I realised that the conception of God was not God
Himself. I felt that I had only truly lived when I believed in God. God
is life. Live to seek God and life will not be without Him. The light
that then shone never left me. Thus I was saved from self-destruction.
Gradually I felt the glow and strength of life return to me. I renounced
the life of my own class, because it was unreal, and its luxurious
superfluity rendered comprehension of life impossible. The simple men
around me, the working classes, were the real Russian people. To them I
turned. They made the meaning of life clear. It may thus be expressed:--
Each of us is so created by God that he may ruin or save his soul. To
save his soul, a man must live after God's word by humility, charity,
and endurance, while renouncing all the pleasures of life. This is for
the common people the meaning of the whole system of faith,
traditionally delivered to them from the past and administered to them
by the pastors of the Church.
* * * * *
The Life of Girolamo Savonarola
Pasquale Villari was born October 3, 1827, at Naples. At the
age of twenty he produced his first literary effort, a Liberal
manifesto against Neapolitan Bourbonism, which necessitated
his flight from his native city. He retreated to Florence and
there wrote his work on "Savonarola," which at once achieved
fame and was translated into French, German, and English. His
next great book was his "Macchiavelli." Villari had been
appointed Professor of History at Nice, but left that city for
a similar position at Florence. He entered political life in
1862, and has sat as a Parliamentary Deputy several times. In
1884 he was made senator, and in 1891 he was minister of
public instruction in the Rudini Cabinet. Villari's essays on
Dante are much esteemed. His treatise on "The First Two
Centuries of Florentine History" is considered a standard
work. All his books have been translated into our language by
his English wife, Linda Villari, who is herself an
The House of Savonarola derived its ancient origin from the city of
Padua. In the beginning of the fifteenth century the family removed to
Ferrara where, on September 21, 1452, the subject of this biography,
Girolamo Savonarola, first saw the light. He was the third of seven
children of his parents. The lad became the favourite of his
grandfather, Michele, who wished to see him become a great physician,
and devoted most assiduous care on the task of training his intellect.
But unfortunately the grandfather soon passed away, and Girolamo's
studies were then directed by his father, who began to instruct him in
The natural sciences were then only branches of philosophy, and the
latter, though employed as preliminary to the study of medicine, was
purely scholastic. The books which came into the hands of the young
Savonarola were the works of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Arabic
commentaries on Aristotle. He was specially fascinated with the works of
St. Thomas, but besides literature he studied music. He also composed
All particulars, however, of Savonarola's boyhood are unfortunately
lacking. But we can form a vivid idea of the surroundings which must
have influenced him. Ferrara was then the splendid capital of the House
of Este, with 100,000 inhabitants and a court which was one of the first
in Italy, and was continually visited by princes, emperors, and popes.
The lad must have witnessed gorgeous pageants, like the two which
occurred on visits of Pope Pius II., in 1459 and 1460. But during all
this period Savonarola was entirely absorbed in studying the Scriptures
and St. Thomas Aquinas, allowing himself no recreation save playing sad
music on his lute, or writing verses expressing, not without force and
simplicity, the griefs of his heart.
The contrasts that the youth witnessed between the magnificence
ostentatiously displayed and the evidences of tyranny in palaces and
castles in whose dungeons were immured numerous victims, clanking their
chains, made indelible impressions on his mind. Conducted once by his
parents to the ducal palace at Ferrara, he firmly refused ever to enter
its doors again. With singular spiritual fervour in one so young,
Savonarola surrendered his whole heart and soul to religious sentiments
and exercises. To him worldly life, as he saw all Ferrara absorbed in
its gaieties, became utterly repellent, and a sermon to which he
listened from an Augustinian friar determined him to adopt the monastic
April 24, 1475, when his parents were absent from home attending the
festival of St. George, he ran away to Bologna and presented himself at
the Monastery of St. Dominic, begging that he might be admitted for the
most menial service. He was instantly received, and at once began to
prepare for his novitiate. In this retreat he submitted himself to the
severest penances and discipline and displayed such excessive zeal and
devotion as to win the admiration of the monks, who at times believed
him to be rapt in a holy trance.
Savonarola's sojourn at Bologna in the Dominican Monastery lasted for
seven years, during which his spirit was occupied not only with faith
and prayer, but with deep meditation on the miserable condition of the
Church. His soul was stirred to wrathful indignation. The shocking
corruption of the Papacy, dating from the death of Pius II. in 1464, was
to reach its climax under Alexander VI. The avarice of Paul II. was soon
noted by all the world, and so boundless was the profligacy of his
successor, Sixtus IV., that no deed was too scandalous for him to
The state of Italy as well as of the Church was miserable, and the soul
of the young monk was filled with horror-stricken grief, relieved only
by study and prayer. He had been much occupied in instructing the
novices, but now he was promoted to the function of preacher. In 1481 he
was sent by his superiors to preach in Ferrara. Nothing is known of the
effect of the sermons he delivered at that time and place. Savonarola
had not yet developed his gifts of oratory. He was driven from Ferrara
by an outbreak of war with the Venetians, and repaired to Florence,
where, in the Monastery of St. Mark the brightest as well as the saddest
years of his life were to be spent. The Monastery contained the first
public library established in Italy, which was kept in excellent order
by the monks.
Savonarola was half intoxicated with joy during his first days in
Florence. He was charmed by the soft lines of the Tuscan hills and the
beauty of the Tuscan speech. Lorenzo the Magnificent had been ruling
Florence for many years and was then at the climacteric of his fame.
Under his sway everything appeared to prosper. Enemies had been
imprisoned or banished, and factions had ceased to distract the city.
Lorenzo's shameless licentiousness was condoned by reason of his
brilliancy, his patronage of art and literature, and his lavish public
Greek scholars, driven westward by the fall of Constantinople, sought
refuge at the Florentine court. The fine arts flourished and a Platonic
Academy was established. It was even proposed that the Pope should
canonise Plato as a saint. In fact that period witnessed the
inauguration of modern culture.
After the first few days in Florence, Savonarola again began to
experience the feeling of isolation. For he speedily detected the
unbelief and frivolity under the surface of the intellectual culture of
the people. Even in St. Mark's Monastery there was no real religion.
Savonarola was soon invited to preach the Lenten sermons in St. Lorenzo.
His discourses produced no special effect, for the Florentines preferred
preachers who indulged in Pagan quotations and rhetorical elegancies
rather than in expatiating in the precepts of Christianity. But a
stirring event was at hand.
Savonarola was sent by his superiors to Reggio to attend a Chapter of
the Dominicans. During the discussion he was suddenly impelled to rise
to his feet and to plunge into a powerful declamation against the
corruptions of the Church and the clergy which transfixed his hearers
with astonishment. This outburst was a revelation of his extraordinary
powers. It instantly secured his fame and from that moment many sought
Savonarola's mind from that moment became strangely excited and it is
not surprising that he should have seen many visions. He on one occasion
saw the heavens open. A panorama of the calamities of the Church passed
before him and he heard a voice charging him to proclaim them to the
people. In that year, 1484, Pope Sixtus died. The election of his
successor, Innocent VIII. destroyed the hopes of honest men. For the new
Pope no longer disguised his children under the appellation of nephews,
but openly acknowledged them as his sons, conferring on them the title
We may imagine the storms of emotion excited in the soul of Savonarola.
Fortunately, he was sent to preach Lenten sermons at San Gimignano, the
"City of the Grey Towers" in the Siennese hills. Here he found his true
vocation. His words flowed freely and were eloquent and effective. Next
he was sent to Brescia, where his predictions of coming terrors and his
exhortations to repentance produced a profound impression. During the
sack of that same city in 1512 by the fierce soldiers of Gaston de Foix,
when 6,000 citizens were slain, the stricken people vividly remembered
the Apocalyptic denunciations and predictions of the preacher from
Through the wonderful success of these Lenten sermons the name of
Savonarola became known throughout Italy, and he no longer felt
uncertain as to his proper mission. Yet, the more popular he became the
greater was his humility and the more ardent was his devotion to prayer.
He seemed when engaged in prayer frequently to lapse into a trance, and
tradition even alleges that at such times a bright halo was seen to
encircle his head.
Returning to Florence, Savonarola by his Lenten sermons in 1491 drew
immense crowds to the Duomo. From that moment he became the paramount
power in the pulpit. His vivid imagery and his predictions of coming
troubles seemed to produce a magical effect on the minds of the people.
But this growing influence was a source of considerable vexation to
Lorenzo de' Medici and his friends. Savonarola vehemently denounced the
greed of the clergy and their neglect of spiritual life for the sake of
mere external ceremonialism, and he with equal insistence inveighed
against the corruption of public manners. As Lorenzo was already
considered a tyrant by many of the citizens, and as he was universally
charged with having corrupted the magistrates and appropriated the
public and private funds, it was generally inferred that Savonarola had
had the audacity to make allusion to him.
This only enhanced the Friar's reputation and in July, 1491, he was
elected Prior of St. Mark's. The office made him both more prominent
than before and also more independent. He showed this to be the case by
at once refusing to go according to custom to do homage to the
Magnificent, declaring that he owed his election to God alone, and to
God only would he vow obedience. Lorenzo was deeply offended, yet he
judged it discreet rather to win the new Prior over by kindness than to
wage war with him.
The Seignior only deepened Savonarola's contempt by sending rich gifts
to the convent and by sending five of the chief citizens to him in order
to induce him to modify the strain of his preaching. The gifts were
immediately distributed among the poor, and Savonarola in a pulpit
allusion observed that a faithful dog does not cease barking in his
master's defence because a bone is flung him. To the five citizens, who
hinted to the Prior that he might be sent into exile, he replied that
they should bid Lorenzo do penance for his sins, for God was no
respecter of persons and did not spare the princes of the earth.
Wonderful was the effect of Savonarola's preaching on the corrupt and
pagan society of Florence. His natural, spontaneous, heart-stirring
eloquence, with its exalted imagery and outbursts of righteous
indignation, was entirely unprecedented in that era of pedantry and
simulation of the classic and heathen oratory. The scholastic jargon
indulged in by the preachers of the time was utterly unintelligible to
the common people. Savonarola's voice was the only one that addressed
the multitude in familiar and fascinating tones and in an accent that
evinced true affection for the people. They knew that he alone fought
for truth and was fervently devoted to goodness. Thus he was the one
truly eloquent preacher of the time, who restored pulpit preaching to
its pristine honour, and he well deserves to be styled the first orator
of modern times.
A wasting disease from which Lorenzo suffered had by the beginning of
April, 1492, made such inroads as to end all hopes of his recovery. The
Magnificent turned his thoughts to religion and suddenly asked to
confess to Savonarola. Though astonished at the request, the Prior
acceded to it and found Lorenzo in great agitation, which he sought to
calm by reminding the sick man of the goodness and mercy of God.
A painful scene ensued. Savonarola added that three things were needful.
First, a living faith in God's mercy. Secondly, Lorenzo must restore all
his ill-gotten wealth, or at least command his sons to do it in his
name. Lastly, he must restore liberty to the people of Florence. The
sick man, collecting all his remaining strength, angrily turned his back
on his Confessor, who at once left his presence. On April 8, 1492, the
Magnificent, in an agony of remorse, breathed his last. On July 25 of
the same year Pope Innocent VIII. expired.
The next Pope, Alexander VI., was notorious for his avarice and his
profligacy. The announcement of his elevation to the papal chair was
received throughout Italy with dismay. The worst apprehensions were soon
fulfilled, for the Pope proved to be guilty of shocking extortion, the
object of which was to provide more lavishly for his dissolute children.
This deplorable state of things caused men to look wistfully to
Savonarola. The times he had foretold seemed to be at hand, and the
excitement was intensified by two visions which he declared had been
manifested to him as celestial revelations. He had seen a sword in the
sky and had heard voices proclaiming mercy to the righteous and
retribution to the wicked.
In the other vision a black cross hung over the city of Rome, stretching
its arms over the whole earth. On it was written, "The Cross of God's
wrath." But from Jerusalem rose a golden cross, inscribed, "The Cross of
God's compassion." Discontent was growing in Florence. The insolence and
the rapacity of Pietro de' Medici increased. In the autumn of that year
Savonarola delivered a famous course of sermons on Noah's Ark, warning
all to take refuge from the coming flood in the mystical Ark of mercy.
The flood came indeed, for suddenly all Florence was startled as if by a
thunderclap by the news that a foreign army was pouring over the Alps
for the conquest of Italy. The terror was overwhelming. Italy was
unprepared, for the princes had no efficient armies for resistance.
The invader was the new King of France, the young and adventurous
Charles VIII. His army was a model to all Europe in the art of war. It
possessed weapons of the latest invention and its main strength lay in
its splendid infantry. Florence was entered without a blow, and King
Charles demanded as a ransom a far larger sum than the Republic could
pay. He remained day after day in the city, showing no inclination to
depart. Then was manifested a proof of the wonderful influence of
The Prior being earnestly entreated by the citizens to ask the French
king to depart, he readily undertook the mission and presented himself
to Charles, who, surrounded by his barons, received him cordially and
listened graciously to his proposal. Savonarola admonished him not to
bring ruin on the city and the anger of the Lord on himself.
The Prior's overtures were completely successful, for on November 28,
the king departed with his army. And now all was changed in Florence.
The partisans of the Medici had vanished magically and Savonarola ruled
the city at the head of the popular party. He speedily proposed a new
form of government suggesting as the best model, a Grand Council like
that of Venice. The new Government was formed of a Grand Council and a
Council of Eighty answering to an Assembly of the People and a Senate.
All the proposals of the Prior were adopted, and laws were framed almost
in his own words.
Germs of civil discord were not lacking, and these soon developed so as
to divide Florence into factions, the two chief of these being the
Whites, who were favourable to popular liberty, and the Greys, who were
adherents of the Medici. The latter were dangerous and treacherous
enemies of Savonarola and of the Republic. For a time the Prior's
preaching confounded his foes, for it completely changed the aspect of
the city. The women cast off their jewels and dressed simply; young
profligates were transformed into sober, religious men, the churches
were filled with people at prayer, and the Bible was diligently read.
Now came danger from without. The departure of the French had endangered
the security of Florence. The Pope and Venice desired the reinstatement
of the fallen tyrant Pietro de' Medici, and he prepared to attack the
city. But he was foiled by the energy to which the Prior roused the
Florentines for measures of defence. Meantime, Savonarola once more
displayed his noble independence by spurning the offer on the part of
the Pope of a Cardinal's hat. And terrible in their vehemence and
audacity were his denunciations against the vices of Rome, delivered in
his Lenten sermons of 1496.
In his usual strain, but with increasing power, Savonarola graphically
and vividly described the woes of Italy, as though he were gifted with
prophetic vision. One of his sermons was interdicted by the Pope, but
the preacher modified nothing and defied the Vatican. And now, while the
enthusiasm of his followers was developing into fanaticism, the hatred
of his enemies was approaching a climax, and the war was waxing furious.
The fame of this marvellous preacher was now extending throughout the
world by means of his printed sermons. Even the Sultan of Turkey
commanded them to be translated into Turkish for his own study. Of
course the individual aim of Savonarola was simply to be the regenerator
of religion. The Florentines, however, adulated him as the real founder
of the free Republic. Hence they displayed immense ardour in defending
him against the Pope, seeing that thus they were upholding their own
freedom, because the Pope was aiming at reinstating the Medici in
The Pope had hoped that the Prior would moderate his tone, but this was
only more aggressive than ever, and threatening messages arrived from
the Vatican. Attempts by his friends, some of them of high and
influential position, to defend him, only the more enraged Pope
Alexander Borgia. He summoned a consistory of fourteen Dominican
theologians who were ordered to investigate Savonarola's conduct and
doctrine. The strange issue was he was charged with having been the
cause of all the misfortunes that had befallen Pietro de' Medici.
After Lent the Prior went to preach a course of sermons at Prato, and on
his return to Florence he delivered a sermon in the Hall of the Greater
Council in the presence of all the magistrates and leading citizens of
the city, in which he openly and courageously defied all the wrath of
Alexander Borgia. Then he once more set himself to the work of serving
the Republic, though, as the sequel shows, he was fated to meet with a
Commerce and industry had been paralysed in Florence by the incessant
commotions of past years. The immense sums paid to the French king had
together with sums spent on war drained the public resources and lowered
the credit of the Republic. And now famine was threatened, for the
people in the rural districts were pinched with hunger. The starving
peasantry began to flock in great numbers into the city, so that the
misery increased. Terror was occasioned by a few cases of death from
plague. Florence was at war with Pisa, but without success, for many of
her mercenary soldiers were deserting and the forces besieging Pisa were
dwindling for lack of supplies.
Fresh adversities were in store for the Florentines. Though the rumours
of a second invasion of Italy by King Charles proved unfounded, for he
renounced all idea of returning, new enemies arose. The Emperor
Maximilian was marching towards the frontier, and the Pope felt
encouraged to enter into open war with the Florentines. His forces and
the troops from Sienna actually attempted an incursion into the
territories of the Republic, but they suffered repeated repulses, and at
length were put to flight. But this conflict weakened still more the
forces before Pisa, at which city Maximilian arrived with 1,000 foot
soldiers, receiving a cordial welcome from the Pisans.
The Florentines did not quail before the storm. Their courage never
failed. They collected fresh stores and sent abundant provisions to the
camp. But the hatred of the Pope grew more intense, especially against
Savonarola, who, however, had not returned to the pulpit, being actuated
by a wish not to accentuate the situation. For the general misery in
Florence daily increased and the plague was extending its ravages. The
hospitals were full. And the faction against Savonarola, named the
Arrabbiati, seemed positively to regard the distress with glee, for
these fanatics went about crying aloud, "At last we can all perceive how
we have been deceived! This is the happiness that the Friar predicted
for Florence!" Moreover they proclaimed that now was the time to
overthrow the Government.
But the Seigniory entreated Savonarola to come forth again from his
retirement. He entered the pulpit on October 28, but only to look on
people whose faces were marked by distress and terror. Yet his sermons
administered such comfort to the citizens who in the majority still
adhered to him, though the Arrabbiati mocked at his words. Temporary
relief was at hand, for suddenly, as if by a miracle, ships arrived from
Marseilles bringing long-expected reinforcements and supplies of corn.
The people were frantic with joy and solemn thanksgivings were offered
in the churches.
The Pope was now designing measures to entrap the Prior. A new
Vicar-General was appointed with power which would invest him with such
authority over Savonarola that the latter would lose his independence.
But he displayed no disposition to yield to Rome. On the contrary, he
delivered in the Duomo those eight magnificent, fearless, and immortal
sermons which intensified the bitter struggle with Rome, while for the
time being they made the great Reformer's name and authority again
ascendant, and rendered the popular party once more master of the
situation, notwithstanding the strategy of the Pope and the machinations
of the factions.
During Lent, 1497, Savonarola continued his course of sermons on
Ezekiel, and in these discourses he said much that bore on the conflict
with Rome, now daily growing more virulent. He inveighed against the
temporal wealth of the Church and launched many accusations against
Rome. The impression produced was the deeper because of the general
presentiment in men's minds of the coming uprising of Christendom
against the abominations of Rome.
Savonarola now daily expected to be excommunicated and he was determined
to defy the Pope. The plague increased in Florence and the Seigniory
prohibited preaching in the churches for a time, but Savonarola
persisted in preaching on Ascension Day. The factions were infuriated.
They denied the pulpit with filth and draped it with the skin of an ass,
and threatened the life of the Prior. His friends implored him not to
preach at the risk of his life. He refused to yield, but a fearful riot
took place in the church which was talked of through all Italy.
The storm was now gathering. The fury of the factions increased, as also
did the wrath of the Pope. At length, on May 13, the excommunicatory
brief was despatched from Rome, directed against a "certain Fra Girolamo
Savonarola who had disseminated pernicious doctrines to the scandal and
grief of simple souls." The event threw all Florence into confusion. The
Arrabbiati were triumphant. But the city was filled with lamentation and
disorder. The rabble rejoiced. The churches were quickly deserted; the
taverns were filled; immorality returned as if magically; and again
women attired in dazzling finery paraded the streets. In less than a
month, so rapid was the transformation, Florence seemed to have relapsed
into the days of the Magnificent, and piety and patriotism were alike
Meantime, the Prior was calm and composed and took measures for his
defence. He wrote an Epistle against surreptitious excommunication,
addressed to all Christians beloved of God. He followed it by a second
letter, also breathing courage and defiance. A conflict ensued. The
Arrabbiati sent accusations against the Prior to Rome, while the
Seigniory sought to vindicate him, most of the members, newly elected,
being his friends. The plague grew so terrible that on some days there
were a hundred deaths. In the autumn it abated, and gradually
disappeared. Savonarola's energy in fighting the pestilence was
The Prior soon commenced to preach again. On Christmas Day he put an end
to all suspense as to his policy by thrice performing high mass,
afterwards leading his monks in solemn procession through St. Mark's
Square. He continued to issue new tracts and to preach regularly. But on
February 26 the Pope announced that Savonarola's preaching should be
tolerated no longer. The Prior was conscious that the end was near. His
last sermon was delivered, after he had preached in Florence for eight
years, on March 18, 1498. His adherents were terrified, and seemed to
On April 8, Palm Sunday, the Arrabbiati attacked St. Mark's Convent.
Savonarola was seized and bound by a brutal rabble, and he and two of
his monks were lodged in prison. Cruel proceedings followed. For a whole
month he was brought day after day to examination and he was repeatedly
subjected to torture. The Pope's Commissioners were never able to
extract from him any confession of guilt. Savonarola was from first to
last unflinchingly consistent with himself.
On May 22 sentence of death was passed on Savonarola, on Fra Silvestro,
and on Fra Domenico. They prepared to face death firmly and well. The
tragedy was enacted next morning. Three platforms had been erected on
the steps of the Ringhiera, on which sat the Bishop of Vasona, the
Apostolic Commissioners, and the Gonfaliero with the Council of Eight.
On a gibbet in the form of a cross hung three chains, and combustibles
were piled beneath. Sad and solemn was the silence of the vast throng
assembled in the Piazza, excepting where members of the factions were
raging like wild beasts and venting indecent blasphemies.
The three friars were publicly stripped of their monkish robes and
degraded. Tranquilly they mounted the scaffold, the dregs of the
populace assailing them with vile words. But silence reigned at the
moment of the execution. As soon as life was extinct the flames were
kindled beneath the bodies of the three victims. The tragic and awful
spectacle elicited bitter grief amongst the people on the one side,
while cries of wild exultation were raised on the other.
* * * * *
John Wesley, who was born June 17, 1703, at Epworth, and who
died in London March 2, 1791, was the son of a Lincolnshire
rector. His history covers practically the whole of the
eighteenth century, of which he was one of the most typical
personalities, as he was certainly the most strenuous figure.
His career was absolutely without parallel, for John Wesley,
as an itinerating clergyman, and as the propagator of that
mission of Methodism which he founded, travelled on his
preaching tours for forty years, mostly on horseback. He paid
more turnpike fees than any man that ever bestrode a horse,
and 8,000 miles constituted his annual record for many a year,
during each of which he preached on the average 5,000 times.
John Wesley received a classical education at Charterhouse and
Christ Church, Oxford, and all through his wonderful life of
endurance and adventure, of devotion and consecration,
remained a scholar and a gentleman. His "Journal" is valuable
for its pictures of the England of his day, as well as for his
own simple and unpretending record of his experiences. Wesley
made religion his business and incorporated it into the
national life. Of him Mr. Augustine Birrell says:--"No man
lived nearer the centre than John Wesley. Neither Clive nor
Pitt, neither Mansfield nor Johnson. You cannot cut him out of
our national life. No single figure influenced so many minds,
no single voice touched so many hearts. No other man did such
a life's work for England."
_The Holy Club_
In November 1729, at which time I came to reside at Oxford, Mr. Morgan,
my brother, myself, and one more, agreed to spend three or four evenings
in a week together. Our design was to read over the classics, which we
had before read in private, on common nights, and on Sunday some book in
divinity. In the summer following, Mr. M. told me he had called at the
gaol, to see a man who was condemned for killing his wife; and that,
from the talk he had with one of the debtors, he verily believed it
would do much good, if any one would be at the pains of now and then
speaking with them.
This he so frequently repeated, that on August 24, 1730, my brother and
I walked with him to the castle. We were so well satisfied with our
conversation there, that we agreed to go thither once or twice a week;
which we had not done long, before he desired me to go with him to see a
poor sick woman in the town.
I next proposed to Mr. Gerard, the Bishop of Oxford's chaplain, who took
care of any prisoners condemned to die, that I intended to preach in the
prison once a month, if the bishop approved. Our design was approved and
permission was granted. Soon after a gentleman of Merton College, who
was one of our little company, now consisting of five persons,
acquainted us that he had been much rallied the day before for being a
member of the Holy Club, and that it was become a common topic of mirth
at his college, where they had found out several of our customs, to
which we were ourselves utter strangers.
I corresponded with my father, and from him received encouragement, so
that we still continued to meet as usual, and to do what service we
could to the prisoners, and to two or three poor families in the town.
_A Missioner to Georgia_
1735. Oct. 14. Mr. Benjamin Ingham, of Queen's College, Oxford; Mr.
Charles Delamotte, son of a London merchant, my brother Charles, and
myself, took boat for Gravesend, in order to embark for Georgia. Our end
in leaving our country was singly this, to save our souls; to live
wholly to the glory of God. In the afternoon we found the "Simmonds" off
Gravesend, and immediately went on board.
Oct. 17. I began to learn German, in order to converse with the 26
Germans on board. On Sunday I preached extempore and then administered
the Lord's supper to seven communicants.
Oct. 20. Believing the denying ourselves might be helpful, we wholly
left off the use of flesh and wine, and confined ourselves to vegetable
food, chiefly rice and biscuit.
1736. Feb. 5. After a passage in which storms were frequent, between two
and three in the afternoon, God brought us all safe into the Savannah
river. We cast anchor near Tybee Island, where the groves of pines along
the shore made an agreeable prospect, showing, as it were, the bloom of
spring in the depth of winter.
Sunday, March 7. I entered upon my ministry at Savannah. I do here bear
witness against myself, that when I saw the number of people crowding
into the church, the deep attention with which they received the word,
and the seriousness that sat on all their faces, I could hardly believe
that the greater part of them would hereafter trample under foot that
word, and say all manner of evil falsely against him that spake it.
March 30. Mr. Delamotte and I began to try, whether life might not be as
well sustained by one sort as by a variety of food. We chose to make the
experiment with bread, and were never more vigorous and healthy than
while we tasted nothing else.
June 30. I hoped a door was opened for my main design, which was to
preach the gospel to the Indians, and I purposed to go immediately to
the Choctaws, the least polished, that is, the least corrupted of the
tribes. On my informing Lieutenant-Governor Oglethorpe of our wish, he
objected, alleging not only danger from the French, but also the
inexpediency of leaving Savannah without a minister. These objections I
related to our brethren, who were all of opinion, "We ought not to go
_Warrant for Wesley's Arrest_
July 3. Preaching at Charlestown, immediately after communion I
mentioned to Mrs. Williamson (Mr. Causton's niece) some things I thought
reprovable in her behaviour. At this she appeared extremely angry.
Aug. 7. I repelled Mrs. Williamson from the holy communion. And next day
Mr. Recorder, of Savannah, issued out a warrant for my arrest. Mr.
Jones, the constable, served the warrant, and carried me before Mr.
Bailiff Parker and Mr. Recorder. I was told that I must appear at the
next court. Mr. Causton came to my house and declared that the affront
had been offered to him; that he espoused the cause of his niece; that
he was ill-used, and that he would have satisfaction if it was to be had
in this world.
To many persons Mr. Causton declared that "Mr. Wesley had repelled Sophy
from holy communion purely out of revenge, because he had made proposals
of marriage to her which she had rejected, and married Mr. Williamson."
But when the case came on the grand jury, having heard the charge,
declared themselves thoroughly persuaded that it was an artifice of Mr.
Causton's designed "rather to blacken the character of Mr. Wesley, than
to free the colony from religious tyranny, as he had been pleased to
Oct. 7. I consulted my friends whether God did not call me to return to
England. I had found no possibility of instructing the Indians. They
were unanimous that I ought to go, but not yet. But subsequently they
agreed with me that the time was come.
_In London Again_
1738. Feb. 1. Landed at Deal. It is now two years and almost four months
since I left my native country. After reading prayers and explaining a
portion of Scripture to a large company at the inn, I left Deal, and
came in the evening to Feversham. I here read prayers and explained the
second lesson to a few of those who were called Christians, but were
indeed more savage in their behaviour than the wildest Indians I have
yet met with.
Feb. 26. Sunday. I preached at six in the morning at St. Lawrence's,
London; at ten, in St. Catherine Cree's; and in the afternoon at St.
John's, Wapping. I believe it pleased God to bless the first sermon
most, because it gave most offence.
March 4. I found my brother at Oxford, and with him Peter Boehler; by
whom, in the great hand of God, I was, on Sunday, the 5th, clearly
convinced of unbelief, of the want of that faith whereby alone we are
saved. Immediately it struck into my mind, "Leave off preaching. How can
you preach to others who have not faith yourself?" I asked Boehler
whether he thought I should leave it off or not. He answered, "By no
means." I asked, "But what can I preach?" He said, "Preach faith till
you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith."
Accordingly, Monday, 6, I began preaching this new doctrine, though my
soul started back from the work. The first person to whom I offered
salvation through faith alone, was a prisoner under sentence of death.
On Tuesday 25, I spoke clearly and fully at Blendon to Mr. Delamotte's
family of the nature and fruits of faith. Mr. Broughton and my brother
were there. Mr. Broughton's great objection was, he could never think
that I had not faith, who had done and suffered such things. My brother
was very angry, and told me I did not know what mischief I had done by
talking thus. And, indeed, it did please God to kindle a fire which I
trust shall never be extinguished.
On May 1 our little society began, which afterwards met in Fetter Lane.
May 3. My brother had a long and particular conversation with Peter
Boehler. And it now pleased God to open his eyes; so that he also saw
clearly what was the nature of that one true living faith, thereby
alone, "through grace we are saved."
Sunday 7. I preached at St. Lawrence's in the morning; and afterwards at
St. Catherine Cree's. I was enabled to speak strong words at both; and
was therefore the less surprised at being informed I was not to preach
any more in either of those churches. I was likewise after preaching the
next Sunday at St. Ann's, Aldersgate, and the following Sunday at St.
John's, Wapping and at St. Bennett's, Paul's Wharf, that at these
churches I must preach no more.
1739. March 28. A letter from Mr. Whitefield, and another from Mr.
Seward, pressed me to come to Bristol. I reached Bristol March 31 and
met Mr. Whitefield there. I could scarcely at first reconcile myself to
the strange way of preaching in the fields, of which he set me the
example, for all my life I should have thought the saving of souls
almost a sin, if it had not been done in a church; but I now proclaimed
in the highways the glad tidings of salvation speaking in the open air
to about three thousand people.
May 9. We took possession of a piece of ground in the Horse Fair,
Bristol, where it was designed to build a room large enough to contain
both the societies of Nicholas and Baldwin Street; and on May 12 the
first stone was laid with thanksgiving. The responsibility of payment I
took entirely on myself. Money I had not, it is true, nor any human
prospect of procuring it; but I knew "the earth is the Lord's and the
_Beau Nash Argues with Wesley_
June 5. There was great expectation at Bath of what a noted man was to
do to me there. Many appeared surprised and were sinking apace into
seriousness when their champion came up to me and asked by what
authority I did these things. I replied, "By the authority of Jesus
Christ, conveyed to me by the Archbishop of Canterbury, when he laid his
hands on me." He said, "This is contrary to the Act of Parliament; this
is a conventicle. Besides, your preaching frightens people out of their
"Give me leave, Sir, to ask, is not your name Nash?" "My name is Nash."
An old woman said to him, "You, Mr. Nash, take care of your body; we
take care of our souls; and for the food of our souls we come here." He
replied not a word, but walked away.
_"All the World My Parish"_
All this time I had many thoughts concerning my manner of ministering;
but after frequently laying it before the Lord, I could not but adhere
to what I had some time since written to a friend--"I look on all the
world as my parish; thus far I mean, that, in whatever part I am of it,
I judge it meet to declare to all who are willing to hear, the glad
tidings of salvation."
June 14. I went with Mr. Whitefield to Blackheath, where were, I
believe, 12,000 people. He a little surprised me by desiring me to
preach in his stead; and I was greatly moved with compassion for the
rich that were there, to whom I made a particular application. Some of
them seemed to attend, while others drove away their coaches from so
uncouth a preacher.
Sunday 24. As I was riding to Rose Green, near Bristol, my horse
suddenly pitched on his head, and rolled over and over. I received no
other hurt than a little bruise on my side; which for the present I felt
not, but preached without pain to seven thousand people.
Sept. 16. I preached at Moorfields to about ten thousand, and at
Kennington Common to near twenty thousand. At both places I described
the real difference between what is generally called Christianity and
the real old Christianity, which under the new name of Methodism is now
everywhere spoken against.
_The Colliers of Kingswood_
Nov. 27. Few persons have lived in the west of England who have not
heard of the colliers of Kingswood, famous for neither regarding God nor
man. The scene is changed. Kingswood does not now, as a year ago,
resound with cursing and blasphemy. Peace and love reign there since the
preaching of the Gospel in the spring. Great numbers of the people are
gentle, mild, and easy to be entreated.
1745. July 3. At Gwennap, in Cornwall, I was seized for a soldier. As I
was reading my text a man rode up and cried "Seize the preacher for his
Majesty's service." As the people would not do it, he leaped off his
horse, and caught hold of my cassock, crying, "I take you to serve his
Majesty." He walked off with me and talked with me for some time, but
then let me go.
1748. April 9. I preached in Connaught, a few miles from Athlone. Many
heard, but, I doubt, felt nothing. The Shannon comes within a mile of
the house where I preached. I think there is not such another river in
Europe. It is here ten miles wide, though only thirty miles from its
source. There are many islands in it, once well inhabited, but now
mostly desolate. In almost every one is a ruined church; in one, the
remains of no fewer than seven.
1750. May 21. At Bandon the mob burnt me in effigy. Yet, though Dr. B.
tried to stir up the people against me more and more, and a clergyman,
said to be in drink, opposed me, and some young gentlemen came on the
scene with pistols in their hands, I was enabled to preach. God gave me
great peace in Bandon, in spite of these efforts against me.
May 31. I rode to Rathcormuck. There being a great burying in the
afternoon, to which people came from all parts, I preached after Mr.
Lloyd had read the service. I was exceedingly shocked at (what I had
only heard of before) the Irish howl which followed. It was not a song,
as I supposed, but a dismal, inarticulate yell, set up at the grave by
four shrill-voiced women, hired for the purpose. But I saw not one that
shed a tear; for that, it seems, was not in their bargain.
_Clothing French Prisoners_
1759. Oct. 1. At Bristol. I had ridden in about seven months not less
than 2,400 miles. On Monday, Oct. 15, I went to Knowle, a mile from
Bristol, to see the French prisoners. About 1,100 were there confined,
with only a little dirty straw to lie on, so that they died like rotten
sheep. I was much affected, and after I had preached the sum of L18 was
contributed immediately, which next day we made up to L24. With this we
bought linen and woollen cloth, and this was made up into clothing for
the prisoners. Presently after, the Corporation of Bristol sent a large
quantity of mattresses and blankets. And it was not long before
contributions were set on foot in London, and other parts of the
country; so that I believe that from this time they were pretty well
provided with the necessaries of life.
_Gwennap's Famous Amphitheatre_
1766. Sept. 14. I preached in the natural amphitheatre at Gwennap; far
the finest I know in the kingdom. It is a round, green hollow, gently
shelving down, about 50 feet deep; but I suppose it is 200 feet across
one way, and nearly 300 the other. I believe there were full 20,000
people; and, the evening being calm, all could hear.
1770. April 21. I rode slowly on this and the following days through
Staffordshire and Cheshire to Manchester. In this journey, as well as in
many others, I observed a mistake that almost universally prevails; and
I desire all travellers to take good notice of it, which may save them
from both trouble and danger. Near 30 years ago I was thinking, "How is
it that no horse ever stumbles while I am reading?" (History, poetry,
and philosophy I commonly read on horseback, having other employment at
other times.) No account can possibly be given but this: because then I
throw the reins on his neck. I then set myself to observe; and I aver,
that in riding above 100,000 miles I scarce ever remember my horse
(except two, that would fall head over heels anyway) to fall, or make a
considerable stumble, while I rode with a slack rein. To fancy,
therefore, that a tight rein prevents stumbling, is a capital blunder.
1771. Jan. 23. For what cause I know not to this day, my wife set out
for Newcastle, purposing "never to return." _Non eam reliqui: non
dimisi: non revocabo._ (I did not desert her: I did not send her away: I
will not recall her.)
_The American War_
1775. In November I published the following letter in Lloyd's "Evening
"Sir--I have been seriously asked from what motive I published my _Calm
Address to the American Colonies_? I seriously answer, Not to get money;
not to get preferment; not to please any man living; least of all to
inflame any; just the contrary. I contributed my mite towards putting
out the flame that rages. This I have more opportunity to see than any
man in England. I see with pain to what a height this already rises, in
every part of the nation. And I see many pouring oil into the flame, by
crying out, 'How unjustly, how cruelly, the King is using the poor
Americans; who are only contending for their liberty, and for their
"Now there is no possible way to put out this flame, or hinder its
rising higher and higher, but to show that the Americans are not used
either cruelly or unjustly; that they are not injured at all, seeing
they are not contending for liberty (this they had, even in its full
extent, both civil and religious); neither for any legal privileges; for
they enjoy all that their charters grant. But what they contend for is,
the illegal privilege of being exempt from parliamentary taxation. A
privilege this, which no charter ever gave to any American colony yet;
which no charter can give, unless it be confirmed both by King, Lords,
and Commons; which in fact our Colonies never had; which they never
claimed till the present reign; and probably they would not have claimed
now, had they not been incited thereto by letters from England. One of
these was read, according to the desire of the writer, not only at the
Continental Congress but likewise in many congregations throughout the
Combined Provinces. It advised them to seize upon all the King's
officers; and exhorted them, 'Stand valiantly, only for six months, and
in that time there will be such commotions in England that you may have
your own terms.' This being the real state of the question, without any
colouring or exaggeration, what impartial man can either blame the King,
or commend the Americans? With this view, to quench the fire, by laying
the blame where it was due, the 'Calm Address' was written.
Your humble servant,
_City Road Chapel Begun_
1777. April 21. The day appointed for laying the foundation of the new
chapel. The rain befriended us much, by keeping away thousands who
proposed to be there. But there were still such multitudes, that it was
with great difficulty I got through them, to lay the first stone. Upon
this was a plate of brass (covered with another stone) on which was
engraved, "This was laid by Mr. John Wesley, on April 21, 1777."
Probably this will be seen no more, by any human eye; but will remain
there, till the earth and the works thereof are burned up.
1778. Dec. 17. Having been many times desired, for near forty years, to
publish a magazine, I at length complied, and now began to collect
materials for it. If it once begin, I incline to think it will not end
but with my life. Just at this time there was a combination among many
of the postchaise drivers on the Bath road, especially those that drove
in the night, to deliver their passengers into each other's hands. One
driver stopped at the spot they had appointed, when another waited to
attack the chaise. In consequence of this many were robbed; but I had a
good Protector still. I have travelled all roads, by day and by night,
for these forty years, and never was interrupted yet.
June 28. I am this day 75 years old; and I do not find myself, blessed
be God, any weaker than I was at 25. This also hath God wrought.
_Attended by Felons_
1779. July 21. When I came to Coventry, I found notice had been given
for my preaching in the park; but the heavy rain prevented. I sent to
the Mayor, desiring the use of the town-hall. He refused; but the same
day gave the use of it to a dancing-master. I then went to the women's
market. Many soon gathered together and listened with all seriousness. I
preached there again the next morning, and again in the evening. Then I
took coach for London. I was nobly attended: behind the coach were ten
convicted felons, loudly blaspheming and rattling their chains; by my
side sat a man with a loaded blunderbuss, and another upon the coach.
1780. May 20. In Scotland. I took one more walk through Holyrood House,
the mansion of ancient kings. But how melancholy an appearance does it
make now! The stately rooms are dirty as stables; the colours of the
tapestry are quite faded; several of the pictures are cut and defaced.
The roof of the royal chapel is fallen in; and the bones of James V.,
and the once beautiful Lord Dankley, are scattered about like those of
sheep or oxen. Such is human greatness. Is not "a living dog better than
a dead lion?"
1782. May 14. Some years ago four factories were set up at Epworth. In
these a large number of young women and boys and girls were employed.
The whole conversation of these was profane and loose to the last
degree. But some of them stumbling in at the prayermeeting were suddenly
cut to the heart. These never rested till they had gained their
companions. The whole scene was changed. In three of the factories no
more lewdness was found: for God had put a new song in their mouth, and
blasphemies were turned to praise. Those three I visited to-day, and
found religion had taken deep root in them. No trifling word was heard
among them, and they watch over each other in love.
_Enters His 80th Year_
June 26. I preached at Thirsk; 27, at York. Friday, 28, I entered my
80th year; but, blessed be God, my strength is not "labour and sorrow."
I find no more pain or bodily infirmities than at 25. This I still
impute, 1. To the power of God, fitting me for what He calls me to. 2.
To my still travelling four or five thousand miles a year. 3. To my
still sleeping, night or day, whenever I want it. 4. To my rising at a
set hour. And 5. To my constant preaching, particularly in the morning.
1783. Dec. 18. I spent two hours with that great man, Dr. Johnson, who
is sinking into the grave by a gentle decay.
1784. June 28 (Epworth). To-day I entered on my 82nd year, and found
myself just as strong to labour, and as fit for any exercise of body and
mind, as I was 40 years ago. I am as strong at 81 as I was at 21; but
abundantly more healthy, being a stranger to the headache, toothache,
and other bodily disorders which attended me in my youth.
1785. Jan. 25. I spent two or three hours in the House of Lords. I had
frequently heard that this was the most venerable assembly in England.
But how I was disappointed! What is a lord, but a sinner, born to die!
1786. Jan. 24. I was desired to go and hear the King deliver his speech
in the House of Lords. But how agreeably I was surprised. He pronounced
every word with exact propriety. I doubt whether there be any other King
in Europe, that is so just and natural a speaker.
_His 86th Christmas_
1789. Dec 25. Being Christmas Day, we began the service in the new
chapel at four in the morning, as usual, where I preached again in the
evening after having officiated in West Street at the common hour.
Sunday, 27, I preached in St. Luke's, our parish church, to a very
numerous congregation. So are the tables turned that I have now more
invitations to preach in churches than I can accept.
* * * * *
John Woolman, American Quaker evangelist, author of this
autobiography, was born in West Jersey in 1720 and followed
the trade of a tailor. But all his interests lay in the
practice of piety, and in the uncompromising application of
religious Principles to the problems of social life. He
advocated incessantly two principal reforms--that members of
the Society of Friends should separate utterly from the
possession of slaves, and that they should return to their
primitive simplicity and moderation in the use of worldly
things. Like many economists before and after him, he saw in
luxury, extravagance and ostentation, the true cause of all
poverty and oppression; and a tract of his entitled "A Word of
Remembrance and Caution to the Rich," first published in 1793,
was republished a hundred years later by the Fabian Society.
His most important treatise, published in 1754, entitled "Some
Considerations on the Keeping of Negroes," was one of the
earliest indications of the growing Abolitionist feeling in
New England. His voyage across the Atlantic in May and Tune,
1772, to visit the English Quakers, was followed by his death
from small-pox, in the city of York, on October 7 in the same
year. The "Journal," which is marked by great simplicity and
sincerity, was published shortly afterwards and has been
issued in many subsequent editions.
_I.--The Curse of Slavery_
Having reached manhood, I wrought at my trade as a tailor; carefully
attended meetings for worship and discipline; and found an enlargement
of gospel love in my mind, and therein a concern to visit friends in the
settlements of Pennsylvania, Virginia and other parts. I expressed it to
my beloved friend, Isaac Andrews, who then told me that he had drawings
to the same places. I opened the case in our monthly meeting, and
friends expressing their unity therewith, we obtained certificates to
travel as companions.
Two things were remarkable to me in this journey. First, in regard to my
entertainment; when I ate, drank and lodged free of cost with people who
lived in ease on the hard labour of their slaves, I felt uneasy, and
this uneasiness returned upon me, at times, through the whole visit.
Secondly, this trade of importing slaves from their native country being
much encouraged among them, and the white people and their children so
generally living without much labour, was frequently the subject of my
serious thoughts. And I saw in these southern provinces so many vices
and corruptions, increased by this trade and this way of life, that it
appeared to me as a dark gloominess hanging over the land; and though
now many willingly run into it, yet in future the consequence will be
grievous to posterity.
About this time, believing it good for me to settle, and thinking
seriously about a companion, my heart was turned to the Lord and He was
pleased to give me a well-inclined damsel, Sarah Ellis, to whom I was
married the 18th day of the 8th month, in the year 1749.
_II--Among the Indians_
Having many years felt love in my heart towards the natives of this
land, who dwell far back in the wilderness, whose ancestors were the
owners of the land where we dwell, and being at Philadelphia in 1761, I
fell in company with some of those natives who live on the east branch
of the river Susquehannah, at an Indian town called Wehaloosing, 200
miles from Philadelphia; and in conversation with them by an
interpreter, as also by observations on their character and conduct, I
believed some of them were acquainted with that divine power which
subjects the rough and froward will of the creature.
At times I felt inward drawings toward a visit to that place, and laid
it before friends at our monthly and quarterly, and afterwards at our
general spring meeting; and having the unity of friends, I agreed to
join certain Indians, in 1763, on their return to their town. So I took
leave of my family and neighbours, and with my friend Benjamin Parvin,
met the Indians.
About four miles from Fort Allen we met with an Indian trader, lately
come from Wyoming; and in conversation with him I perceived that many
white people do often sell rum to the Indians, which is a great evil:
first, their being thereby deprived of the use of their reason, and
their spirits being violently agitated, quarrels often arise which end
in mischief; again their skins and furs, gotten through much fatigue in
hunting, with which they intended to buy clothing, when they become
intoxicated, they often sell at a low rate for more rum, and afterwards
are angry with those who, for the sake of gain, took advantage of their
weakness. To sell to people that which we know does them harm, manifests
a hardened and corrupt heart.
We crossed the western branch of the Delaware, having laboured hard over
the mountains called the Blue Ridge, and pitched our tent near the banks
of the river. Near our tent, on the sides of large trees peeled for that
purpose, were various representations of men going to, and returning
from the wars, and of some killed in battle, this being a path used by
warriors. As I walked about viewing those Indian histories, painted in
red and in black; and thinking on the innumerable afflictions which the
proud, fierce spirit produceth in the world; thinking on the toils and
fatigues of warriors, travelling over mountains and deserts; and of
their restless, unquiet state of mind, who live in this spirit, and of
the hatred which mutually grows up in the minds of the children of those
nations engaged in war; during these meditations, the desire to cherish
the spirit of love and peace among these people arose very fresh in me.
As I rode, day after day, over the barren hills, my thoughts were on the
alterations of the circumstances of the natives since the coming of the
English. The lands near the sea are conveniently situated for fishing;
the lands near the rivers are in many places fertile and not
mountainous. Those natives have, in some places, for trifling
considerations, sold their inheritance so favourably situated; and in
other places, have been driven back by superior force. By the extending
of English settlements, and partly by English hunters, the wild beasts
they chiefly depend upon for a subsistence are not so plentiful as they
were; and people too often open a door for them to waste their furs, in
purchasing a liquor which tends to the ruin of them and their families.
_III.--Across the Atlantic_
Having been for some time under a religious concern to cross the seas,
in order to visit friends in England, after weighty consideration I
thought it expedient to inform friends, at our monthly meeting at
Burlington, of it; who, having unity with me therein, gave me a
certificate; and I afterwards communicated the same to our general
meeting, and they likewise signified their unity by a certificate, dated
the 24th day of the third month, 1772, directed to friends in Great
I was informed that my beloved friend Samuel Emlen, intended to go to
London, and had taken a passage in the cabin of the ship called Mary and
Elizabeth; and I, feeling a draft in my mind towards the steerage of the
same ship, went and opened to Samuel the feeling I had concerning it. My
beloved friend wept when I spake to him; and he offering to go with me,
we went on board, first into the cabin, a commodious room, and then into
the steerage, where we sat down on a chest and the owner of the ship
came and sat down with us. I made no agreement as to a passage in the
ship; but on the next morning I went with Samuel to the house of the
owner, to whom I opened my exercise in relation to a scruple I felt with
regard to a passage in the cabin.
I told the owner that on the outside of that part of the ship where the
cabin was, I observed sundry sorts of carved work and imagery; and that
in the cabin I observed some superfluity of workmanship of several
sorts; and that the monies received from the passengers are calculated
to answer the expense of these superfluities; and that I felt a scruple
with regard to paying my money to defray such expenses. After this, I
agreed for a passage in the steerage, and went on board with Samuel
Emlen on the first day of the fifth month.
My lodging in the steerage afforded me opportunities of seeing, hearing
and feeling, with respect to the life and spirit of many poor sailors;
and an inward exercise of soul hath attended me, in regard to placing
out children and youth where they may be exampled and instructed in the
fear of the Lord. Now, concerning lads being trained up as seamen, I
believe a communication from one part of the world to some other parts
of it, by sea, is at times consistent with the will of our heavenly
Father; and to educate some youth in the practice of sailing, I believe
may be right. But how lamentable is the present corruption of the world!
How impure are the channels through which trade hath a conveyance! How
great is that danger to which poor lads are now exposed, when placed on
shipboard to learn the art of sailing!
_IV.--Prices, Wages, and Religion_
On landing at London I went straight to the yearly meeting of ministers
and elders, which, by adjournments, continued near a week. I then went
to quarterly meetings at Hertford, Sherrington, Northampton, Banbury and
Shipston, and visited other meetings at Birmingham, Coventry, Warwick,
Nottingham, Sheffield, Settle, and other places.
On inquiry, I found the price of rye about five shillings, wheat about
eight shillings, per bushel; mutton threepence to fivepence per pound;
bacon from sevenpence to ninepence; cheese from fourpence to sixpence;
butter from eightpence to tenpence; house-rent, for a poor man, from
twenty-five shillings to forty shillings per year, to be paid weekly;
wood for fire very scarce and dear; coal in some places two shillings
and sixpence per hundredweight but near the pits not a quarter so much.
O may the wealthy consider the poor!
The wages of labouring men, in several counties toward London, is
tenpence per day in common business; the employer finds small beer and
the labourer finds his own food; but in harvest and hay times wages are
about one shilling per day and the labourer hath all his diet. In the
north of England poor labouring men do rather better than nearer London.
Industrious women who spin in the factories get some fourpence, some
fivepence, and so on to tenpence per day, and find their own house-room
and diet. Great numbers of poor people live chiefly on bread and water,
and there are many poor children not even taught to read. May those, who
have plenty, lay these things to heart!
Stage coaches frequently go upwards of an hundred miles in twenty-four
hours; and I have heard friends say, in several places, that it is
common for horses to be killed with hard driving. Post-boys pursue their
business, each one to his stage, all night through the winter. Some
boys, who ride long stages, suffer greatly on winter nights, and at
several places I have heard of their being frozen to death. So great is
the hurry in the spirit in this world, that in aiming to do business
quickly, and to gain wealth, the creation, at this day doth loudly
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