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In this distemper of body, his dear friend, Dr. Henry King, (then chief Residentiary of that church, and late Bishop of Chichester,) a man generally known by the clergy of this nation, and as generally noted for his obliging nature, visited him daily; and observing that his sickness rendered his recovery doubtful, he chose a seasonable time to speak to him to this purpose:
“Mr. Dean, I am, by your favour, no stranger to your temporal estate, and you are no stranger to the offer lately made us, for the renewing a lease of the best prebend's corps belonging to our church; and you know it was denied, for that our tenant being very rich, offered to fine at so low a rate as held not proportion with his advantages; but I will either raise him to an higher sum, or procure that the other residentiaries shall join to accept of what was offered: one of these I can and will by your favour do without delay, and without any trouble either to your body or mind. I beseech you to accept of my offer, for I know it will be a considerable addition to your present estate, which I know needs it.”
To this, after a short pause, and raising himself upon his bed, he made this reply:
My most dear friend, I most humbly thank you for your many favours, and this in particular; but in my present condition I shall not accept of your proposal; for doubtless there is such a sin as sacrisege; if there were not, it could not have a name in Scripture: and the primitive clergy were watchful against all appearances of that evil; and, indeed, then all Christians looked upon it with horror and detestation, judging it to be even an open defiance of the power and providence of Almighty God, and a sad presage of a declining religion. But instead of such Christians, who had selected times set apart to fast and pray to God for a pious clergy, which they then did obey, our times abound with men that are
busy and litigious about trifles and church ceremonies, and yet so far from scrupling sacrilege, that they make not so much as a query what it is : but I thank God I have; and dare not now, upon my sick bed, when Almighty God hath made me useless to the service of the church, make any advantages out of it. But if he shall again restore me to such a degree of health, as again to serve at his altar, I shall then gladly
take the reward which the bountiful benefactors of this church have designed me; for God knows my children and relations will need it: in which number my mother (whose credulity and charity has contracted a very plentiful, to a very narrow estate) must not be forgotten. But, Dr. King, if I recover not, that little worldly estate that I shall leave behind me (that very little, when divided into eight parts) must, if you deny me not so charitable a favour, fall into your hands, as my most faithful friend and executor; of whose care and justice I make no more doubt, than of God's blessing on that which I have conscientiously collected for them; but it shall not be augmented on my sick-bed; and this I declare to be
The reply to this was only a promise to observe
Within a few days his distempers abated; and as his strength increased, so did his thankfulness to Almighty God, testified in his most excellent Book of Devotions, which he published at his recovery; in which the reader may see the most secret thoughts that then possessed his soul paraphrased and made public; a book that may not unfitly be called a Sacred Picture of Spiritual Ecstasies, occasioned and appliable to the emergencies of that sickness; which book, being a composition of meditations, disquisitions, and prayers, he writ on his sick bed; herein imitating the holy Patriarchs, who were wont to
build their altars in that place where they had received their blessings.
This sickness brought him so near to the gates of death, and he saw the grave so ready to devour him, that he would often
recovery was supernatural; but that God that then restored his health continued it to him till the fifty-ninth year of his life: and then, in August 1630, being with his eldest daughter, Mrs. Harvey, at Abury Hatch, in Essex, he there fell into a fever, which with the help of his constant infirmity (vapours from the spleen) hastened him into so visible a consumption, that his beholders might say, as St. Paul of himself, “ He dies daily;" and he might say with Job, “ My welfare passeth away as a cloud, the days of my affliction have taken hold of me, and weary nights are appointed for me.”
Reader, this sickness continued long, not only weakening, but wearing him so much, that my desire is, he may now take some rest; and that before I speak of his death, thou wilt not think it an impertinent digression to look back with me upon some observations of his life, which, whilst a gentle slumber gives rest to his spirits, may, I hope, not unfitly exercise thy consideration.
His marriage was the remarkable error of his life, an error, which though he had a wit able and very apt to maintain paradoxes, yet he was very far from justifying it; and though his wife's competent years, and other reasons, might be justly urged to moderate severe censures, yet he would occasionally condemn himself for it; and doubtless it had been attended with an heavy repentance, if God had not blessed them with so mutual and cordial affections, as in the midst of their sufferings made their bread
of sorrow taste more pleasantly than the banquets of dull and low-spirited people.
The recreations of his youth were poetry, in which he was so happy, as if Nature and all her varieties had been made only to exercise his sharp wit and high fancy; and in those pieces which were facetiously composed, and carelessly scattered (most of them being written before the twentieth year of his age), it may appear by his choice metaphors, that both Nature and all the Arts joined to assist him with their utmost skill.
It is a truth, that in his penitential years, viewing some of those pieces that had been loosely (God knows too loosely) scattered in his youth, he wished they had been abortive, or so short-lived that his own eyes had witnessed their funerals: but, though he was no friend to them, he was not so fallen out with heavenly poetry, as to forsake that; no, not in his declining age; witnessed then by many divine sonnets, and other high, holy, and harmonious composures: yea, even on his former sick bed he wrote this heavenly hymn, expressing the great joy that then possessed his soul, in the assurance of God's favour to him when he composed it:
TO GOD THE FATHER.
Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before ?
And do run still, though still I do deplore ?
For I have more.
Wilt thou forgive that sin, which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
A year or two, but wallow'd in a score ?
For I have more.
I have a sin of fear, that when I've spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore ;
I fear no more. I have the rather mentioned this hymn, for that he caused it to be set to a most grave and solemn tune, and to be often sung to the organ, by the choristers of St. Paul's Church, in his own hearing; especially at the evening service; and at his return from his customary devotions in that place, did occasionally say to a friend, “The words of this hymn have restored to me the same thoughts of joy that possessed my soul in my sickness, when I composed it. And, O the power of church-music! that harmony, added to this hymn, has raised the affections of my heart, and quickened my graces of zeal and gratitude; and I observe that I always return from paying this public duty of prayer and praise to God, with an unexpressible tranquillity of mind, and a willingness to leave the world.”
After this manner did the disciples of our Saviour, and the best of Christians in those ages of the Church nearest to his time, offer their praises to Almighty God. And the reader of St. Augustine's life may there find, that towards his dissolution, he wept abundantly that the enemies of Christianity had broke in upon them, and profaned and ruined their sanctuaries, and because their public hymns and lauds were lost out of their churches. And after this manner have
their hands, and offered acceptable sacrifices unto Almighty God, where Dr. Donne offered his, and now lies buried.
“But now, O Lord, how is that place become desolate!”—Anno 1656.
Before I proceed further, I think fit to inform the reader, that not long before his death he caused to be drawn a figure of the body of Christ, extended