Page images

brothers and sisters. I think I can say, that one thing have I desired of the Lord' in their behalf, and it is that they may possess real experimental religion. I do not consider this to exist in mere serious feelings, however often repeated. No, this is the great danger with those who are blessed with pious friends and a religious education, they catch some of their expressions, and doubtless have at times some serious thoughts, and this is set down for religion. But it is a snare laid by our great enemy, and which must be exposed—a temptation which must be resisted. Religion does not consist in mere temporary feelings of joy or grief. These, it is true, are felt by every Christian, but they are not his religion. Oh no! He is completely changed ; and is as much under the influence of religious principle in his common daily vocations as in his acts of worship; and every single act, however simple, is performed not because others do so, or because he has been in the habit of doing so, but because he believes he is in the way of duty, and discharging it, in such a manner as will be acceptable to God.

“O my dear Sarah, will you not examine yourself by this test? Are there no moments in your life in which you entirely forget God, and feel that his service is rather irksome than otherwise ? Do you habitually attend the ordinances of God's house with the express purpose and desire of glorifying him, and to receive with humble attention the messages of his grace? Do you perform every act of life from principle--that is, from a conviction that such and such acts are those by which you are enabled most to glorify God, and promote your own good ? Did you enter the Sabbath school because you felt that thousands were travelling in the broad way which leadeth to death, and that you might be the means of saving some? Do you enter the school, every Sabbath, with the firm conviction that on the manner in which you instruct these children depends, perhaps, their eternal interests, and that a strict account will one day be required of the manner in which you

have performed this duty, and the motives which have actuated you?

“ Now, dear Sarah, if you cannot feel that you are thus guided by Christian principle in every act of life, I must tell you, you are not a Christian. No, my dear sister, whatever serious feelings you may have had, you are not a child of God.

Oh, think of this, my dear Sarah, and pray earnestly to God that he would make you a participator in those joys with which a stranger intermeddleth not. I do not, dear Sarah, forget you at the throne of grace, and I trust you have many friends pleading with God for you. But what will this avail you, while you pray not for yourself ?”

THE ALMANAC MAKER AND HIS MOTHER. What a mass of the results of the profoundest workings of the human brain does an Almanac afford. A few figures and symbols in its columns inform you what is to be the whole history of the heavenly bodies during the coming year. Every star before which the moon will pass is noted, and every eclipse of each of the four tiny satellites of Jupiter, predicted with the precision of half-a-second. Of the difficulty of the calculations necessary to arrive at such results it would be hard to convey an idea. To know beforehand what stars the moon will hide in her journey, we must know her true path through space; and this, owing to her double motion—that round the sun, and round the earth-is of a very complex character, resembling, more than anything else, the scrawl which children call a Turk’s cap. Then, to know what stars the moon will at any moment conceal from us, we must know where the earth will be just then, and where, too, will be that portion of the earth on which we happen to be stationed. To have deduced from observation the laws which will enable us to predict such occurrences, with infinite exactitude, may indeed be deemed a proud triumph of the human intellect.

But the wise man who lives in Greenwich Park could do, and could tell, and could shew, things a great deal more wonderful. The knowledge of the occultations of the moon, and the eclipses of Jupiter's satellites, is for use—to guide the sailor across the ocean, or for the instruction of him

" Whose lamp, at midnight hour, Is seen in some high lonely tower;" and who loves, with his magic glass and tube, to follow and to watch the planets as they spin in their mysterious dance.

The sage of Greenwich Park could tell us, we say, much more than appears in the pages of the almanac. Give him a pencil and paper, a brass tube, with a piece of polished metal at the end of it, a clock, a few cobweb threads, and his own good pair of eyes, and he will be able to weigh Jupiter or Saturnto measure the height of the mountains in the moon-to tell to a day, from a few observations of the path of a comet, when it will revisit our system, though it may previously have to travel for some years through space, with a velocity of a thousand miles a minute. He could tell you, in fine, events in the history of stars, which are so remote that the light which left them before the Flood has not reached us yet.

To no one, perhaps, Newton excepted, is our knowledge of these wondrous laws more indebted than to a poor German almanac maker-We can scarcely call him more-who, oppressed by the extremest penury, with a puny and sickly frame, broken down by bodily ailment, tortured by the miseries of his relatives, and prosecuted for his adherence to the Protestant faith, has immortalized his name by unfolding to our gaze the laws of the planetary system. And these discoveries were, many of them, made not with the resources of a well-stored observatory, but with the rudest and most inefficient instruments. Writing to a friend, he asks him to restrain his laughter while he describes the apparatus with which he had just completed a valuable series of observations on the fixed stars. A wooden triangle, some ten feet long, suspended by one corner from the ceiling, and having bits of quill stuck at equal intervals along the side, constituted the sole instrument with which JOHN KEPLER detected secrets of the universe, which had remained hidden through all preceding centuries from all the sages of the world. A dark room, and a round hole through which the sunlight could enter and shine on the opposite wall, enabled him, by measuring the varying shape of the image, to make observations on the orbit of the earth. Such was this wonderful man-this puny, sickly almanac maker. It was Kepler who discovered that the planets move in ellipses (or oval-shaped figures), and not in circles. It was mainly by means of Kepler's laws that, a year or two since, Adams was able to tell to the astronomers that if they would point their telescopes to a particular point in the heavens, which he named, they would there behold a planet that had hitherto eluded their observation. They did so, and they saw it.

Two centuries and a half ago the people of Germany—and, indeed, of Europe and of England—were superstitious and bigoted to the last degree. The Protestant religion had not had time to work its civilizing and enlightening effect. The belief in sorcery and witchcraft had a strong hold on the minds of even the upper classes. Wallenstein, the great general, who about this time held the destinies of the empire in his grasp, was a firm believer in astrology, and always kept an astrologer in his service, without whose favourable report on the aspect of the stars the duke would venture upon nothing. Kepler himself, who, towards the end of his life, held a court appointment of astronomer, was frequently applied to by his imperial master to cast nativities, and predict events from the conjunctions of the planets. From the peasant to the emperor, all, without exception, believed in the reality of magic and witchcraft. Men protected themselves by ruthlessly burning and drowning those who were suspected of being witches.

Kepler's mother was still alive, and she was so unfortunate as to be distinguished by several of these supposed tokens of a witch. Though descended from a respectable family, she was much reduced in circumstances. She was upwards of seventy, and far from prepossessing in her appearance. She was strange and restless in her habits, and her temper was overbearing and petulant. After the death of her husband, in the war against the Turks, she chose to live alone. She knew something of medicine, and of the use of herbs, and had a habit of never looking at the person she was speaking to. Half of these circumstances had been sufficient in those times to have given her the reputation of a witch. The prosecution was urged forward by the inveterate malice of one of her neighbours, whom she had affronted-by name Reinhold. So deeply were all imbued with superstition that her son, the astronomer, and his wife, were the only persons who dared to avow that they did not believe in her guilt. Her daughter Margaret protested that she had been piously brought up by her mother, and instructed in Christian conduct; but this only brought on an accusation against Margaret, of participating in her mother's practices.

Dame Kepler, though untried and unconvicted, had now to undergo all the horrors of a loathsome lonely imprisonment. In her seventy-fifth year on the very borders of the grave this unhappy woman was thrown into a cold damp dungeon ; her food was supplied only through the devotion of Margaret. Six weary months she passed in the solitary cell, expecting every hour to be dragged forth and tortured on the rack; for in dealing with supposed witches, the plan which had been found by the authorities the shortest and most effectual was, before hearing the evidence, to torture the accused into a confession of her guilt; and as the agonies of the rack seldom failed to produce one, this was deemed to supersede further trial, and the production of evidence; and the wretched creature was forthwith led to the stake. Such were, at this time in Germany, the ordinary judicial proceedings. Of course an accusation of witchcraft was an easy and often-practised method of gratifying private malice, or of getting rid of any one who was obnoxious in a neighbourhood. In addition to this there were-even in England-paid witch-finders, who received so much a head for each old woman executed by their means.

The proof was now to be made of her guilt or innocence of the imaginary crime. On the 28th of September, 1621, the decrepid woman was brought, barely alive, before the magistrate. He ordered the jailor to produce all the horrid implements of torture, while he explained them to her with barbarous minuteness; and dilated on the agonies she would endure if subject to them. He then exhorted her to make a full confession of the truth, before these tortures should be applied. Raising herself up, she feebly spoke as follows:

may do with me what you will, but I have nothing to confess. Were I so wicked as you say, I surely must have known it myself ere now. I will rather die than tell a lie. Should I, in the agonies and torment of the rack, confess aught, it will not be true. Who, of those who stand here, will commit the sin of making me confess that which is untrue? Though I die for it, I assert I have nothing to do with witchcraft. God, to whom I commit all, will, after my death, reveal the truth. He will aid me, and he will not take his Holy Spirit from me.” And then she fell upon her knees in silent prayer.

6. You

« PreviousContinue »