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ART. IX. The Works of the Reverend William Huntington,
S.S. Minister of the Gospel, at Providence Chapel, Gray's Inn Lane, completed to the close of the Year 1806. 1820. In 20 volumes 8vo. TWE WENTY volumes ! says the reader. Yes; twenty of the
handsomest octavos that have ever issued from Mr. Bensley's press. Who then is William Huntington ? Some persons may recognize him as the preacher who, when the unnamed part of bis apparel was worn out, used to pray for a supply, and receive a new pair, as he represented it, by the special interposition of Providence. Few will know any thing more of him, and perhaps no person, who is not of his congregation, will have thought it worth while to inspect, much less to peruse his voluminous
writings. But an account of him, composed with care and fidelity from those writings, may perhaps be found neither uninteresting nor incurious. The Coalheaver who, by virtue of his preaching, came to ride in his coach and marry the titled widow of a Lord Mayor, could be no ordinary man.
The S. S. was born in the year 1774, and has described the place of his nativity in the Weald of Kent with curious minuteness, for the use of those who may be disposed to make a pilgrimage thither. • The house in which I was born,' says he, - lies between Goudhurst and Cranbrook, about the midway between the two parishes, but in the parish of Cranbrook. If a person walks from Goudhurst to Cranbrook on the main road, he comes to a little green, with what is called the Old Park on the left, and Glassenbury House, once the seat of Sir Walter Robarts, on the right hand. On that green is a road that turns to the left, and leads through the woods to Cranbrook. About a quarter of a mile from that green on the high road, is a place called the Four Wents, where four roads or ways meet. At that place are three houses : a farm-house on the left hand, and two small houses on the right: in the first of those small houses, on the right hand, is the place where my mother brought me forth to see many an evil day.' His nominal father was a day-labourer, who worked for seven or eight shillings a week in the winter, and nine in the summer :-'a poor, quiet, honest God-fearing man,' says the S. S. who was shut out of his own bed for years by a wretch that defiled both his wife and his bed.'—'I am a bastard,' he says, in another place, ‘begotten by another woman's husband, and conceived in the womb of another man's wife,—the offspring of double adultery,' Barnabas Russel, the real father, secretly owned this boy for his child, and put him to a day school ; where he learnt to read and to write a little, but nothing more. The pominal father who, however honest and God-fearing he may have
been, was a little too quiet, had, by the help of this neighbour, eleven children, five of whom died young. He received no support from the parish, and the children fared scantily as well as hardly; seldom knowing what a sufficient meal was, except on Sundays, when they had generally a portion of meat. Suffering with hunger, cold, and almost nakedness,' says he, bittered my life in my childhood, that I often wished secretly I had been a brute, for then I could have filled my belly in the fields.' His condition was not improved when he was taken from school to thresh in a barn, with his legal father. Getting weary of bad living, cold weather, rags, hard labour, and four-pence a day, he obtained a place in a yeoman's family; who engaged him for ihree years, at twenty shillings a year: he was to have two coats, two waistcoats, and two hats, in the term, and his perquisites were to find him in linen and other necessaries. Unluckily for him, his master one day entertained the militia officers. His perquisites on this occasion amounted to thirteen shillings; the maid-servants demanded twothirds of this sum; the mistress supported their claim, and ordered a distribution in breach of the boy's bargain; his mother advised him to insist upon his right to keep the money; and in consequence he was obliged to pull off his livery, put on his old rags, and go home to the old trade of pinching.'
At his next place a reprobate fellow-Servant hardened his heart, corrupted his mind, and made him cast off all the religious impressions which he had received in his childhood, and which consisted, as may easily be supposed, less in any right belief than in superstitions which he had framed for himself, or caught from others. He hated the church-yard more than all the ground in the parish, and he imagined that an ill-looking exciseman, whom he saw always going about with a stick covered with figures and an ink bottle at his button-hole, was enıployed by the Almighty to keep an account of children's sins. This new sort of recording angel he eyed as a most formidable being and his greatest enemy in all the world. If,' says he, he happened to meet me unawares in turning corner, you might have struck me down with a feather. I hung down my head, bowed and scraped till I could get out of his sight, and then I Hed when none but conscience pursued. This man was a terror to me a long time, and caused me to say many prayers.' Battle Abbey was the next place where be served; there he continued hardened in sin, and stifled the thoughts of death by getting into company as much as possible. Then he went to live with a clergyman, at Frittenden, in the Weald of Kent, and there commenced an adventure worthy to be narrated by Mr. Crabbe. He was at this time in the prime of youth, of a cheerful dispoG G4
sition, stored with jests, and quick replies. Indeed,' he says, 'I believe I was born with them, for they grew up with me.' Accident made him intimate with a tailor, who had a daughter, an only child; a little black-eyed girl, possessed of no small share of beauty, as far as he was a judge of that vain and fading article. With this girl he became familiar, without having a thought of courtship. One
evening, however, when he and some of his companions were going to ring the bells, he went into the tailor's house to light a Ianthorn, and said something to the girl which made the father suppose there was some danger in their intercourse, and he was therefore given to understand that his visits would no longer be agreeable. This offended him, though it gave him no pain upon any other account than that of pride. The mother, after some days, sent a message desiring to speak with him, but he refused to go.
• Some time after the mother came herself, and gave me to understand' (he is telling his own story)' that she had po desire to see me herself, but that her daughter had; and in apparent trouble she said that she was entirely ignorant of there being any courtship between us. I told her I was entirely ignorant of it also, for I had never courted any one, nor did I ever mentiou any such thing to her daughter, nor had I any thought of it, nor could I believe the girl had any affection for me: for though I was both proud and conceited; yet pride itself could never persuade me to think that any such thing as beauty had ever fallen to my share; and to be honest, my being destitute of this vanishing shadow has been matter of grief to me in the days of my vanity.' (Indeed bis old enemy, the exciseman, could hardly have been uglier.) • But to return. I went with the woman to the house, and waited till she had got her daughter up; and when she came down stairs, I saw the reality of her affection. I was much moved. I took her on my knee, and endeavoured to cherish her all that I could, and while I was performing the part of a tender nurse, the patient performed the part of a conqueror, and insensibly took me prisoner. Having assuaged the grief and cheered up the drooping spirits of my patient I went home; but soon found that I was as effectually entangled in the labyrinth of love as my patient could be: for she had shot me through the heart, and killed me to all but herself, and I believe I could have served as many years for Susan Fever as Jacob did for Rachel.'
Little as the parents expected that he would be able to support a wife, they now encouraged his visits. Some lucky chance might occur, the suitor was hardly eighteen, the girl somewhat younger, and, as he observes, there was no time lost.' He fretted, because being of no trade he had no prospect of any thing better than the life of a day labourer, and this kept his heart con
tinually upon the rack. There was no likelihood,' he says, my ever being able to keep her, and I was fully persuaded that her beauty would gain her a husband; the thought too of missing the prize was a double death, and I often fancied myself in the strong hold of jealousy as a disappointed lover. But all these cutting considerations were fetched as from futurity, for I was by no means an injured lorer; as I found her the most chaste, affectionale, constant, prudent, indulgent soul that I ever met with. She would bave made an excellent wife if Providence had cast her into the lap of a person worthy of her. But I am fully convinced that persons are coupled in Heaven; for never did two souls love each other more than we did, nor could any bind themselves to each other stronger with mutual promises and vows; but every effort proved abortive, for whom God hath not joined together, a mere trifle will put asunder.'
The sequel of the story is characteristic in all respects. After living about a year and a half in what he calls not unhappily “this lingering happiness,' a brother-in-law offered to teach him the trade of gun-making. Accordingly he left his place, walked now and then thirty miles with a light heart to visit his mistress, applied diligently to his new occupation, and expected soon to be in a situation which would enable him to work for hiinself and marry. But this brother-in-law became a drunkard, neglected his business, and at length ran away. "I was now,' says Huntington, 'worse off than ever. My clothes were bad, so that I was not fit for servitude ; nor had I learned enough to get my bread at the business; and as for my endeavouring to save money for clothes at day labour in the Weald of Kent, it is like fetching a penny at a tiine out of Pharaoh's brick-kilns, where a double task must be performed, and no materials allowed. The tailor and his wife began to look coldly on bim, and secretly to wish that their daughter would disengage her affections, and he honestly acknowledges they were right in this, for that he was as whimsical as an Arminian prophet, and as wild as an ass's colt. A suitor, in advantageous circumstances, presented himself, and was encouraged, but not by the girl herself; and when Huntington had lost all hopes of ever inaking her bis wife, then, and not till then, the consequences which were to be expected from such an attachment ensued. It is a black story, and he himself has not concealed that he was mainly influenced by malice towards the man who was likely to be bis successful rival. He engaged himself to serve in a distant part of the country; she vowed constancy at their parting, and he accepted those vows though with a persuasion upon his mind that she would never be his wife, and that he should never see her more: such persuasions are sometimes nothing more than resolutions
which a man has not yet acknowledged to himself. • When I took my leave,' says he, "I left her with a heavy heart, and a beavy heart I carried with me; and it was a final leave that I had taken, for I never saw her again from that hour to this.' In due time he received a visit from the parish officers of Frittenden; and, if he might be believed, the father refused to let him marry the girl
, and the parish officers opposed the marriage also, because he belonged to their parish at that time, and they were afraid of a large family coming on them as a charge. But he may reasonably be suspected of falsifying this part of his story. Be that as it may, he engaged to pay the regular sum for the maintenance of the child; and when he was obliged by illness to give up his place, and could pay it no longer, he eloped and changed bis name that he might elude inquiry.
The S. S. has related part of this story with feeling as well as truth; in other parts there is a strange mixture of canting, and of more extraordinary effrontery. It is evident that he loved the girl
. • Since I have been capable of judging,' he says, ' I have often put her in the balance, and of a moral person I never saw a more amiable character. Though Solomon found not one faithful a thousand, yet I found the first faithful to me.' He strove to attach himself to other women, but in vain; the first in his affections would be the uppermost: the more he strove against that love the more it preyed upon his spirits, and he laboured under this burden for many years.
Conscience also in his own words) began to make strange work within for what I had done; insomuch that at times my sleep departed from me, and I scarcely closed my eyes for whole nights together, and yet at certain intervals cruel jealousy gathered a desperate balın from the crime itself.! He declares that he kept his vows to her till she was married to another, and that, if he remembers rightly, he had heard of her death before he married. But the manner in which he reconciles the story with his faith, and the impudence with which he comments upon it, are no less curious than characteristic. She was appointed for another,' he says, and I have got the woman that was appointed for me. I believe these things
are as firmly settled in God's decrees, as the certain salvation of God's elect.' The character of the man
and of the congregation to whom his writings were addressed, is shown in a more remarkable light by the manner in which he reconciles himself to the remembrance of his own conduct. Notwithstanding every crime that I have committed,' says the minister at Providence Chapel, “ I verily believe I shall be found in the great day among those“ which were not defiled with women," who are called virgin souls.' This uncom. monly impudent assertion he makes upon the ground that this sın