Mary was the name of this departed one, whose memory is precious to me. She was a humble cottager ; but remarkable for that intelligence which frequently, I may say universally, characterizes even the most uneducated class in her native Ireland. Over the earliest period of her life, a cloud hangs ; but. it is not the obscurity of darkness—rather it would seem, the outset was a flood of light, suddenly disappearing behind the thick mists which overhung the horizon where her morning sun arose. This I ascertained, but not until long after those mists had begun to disperse, which deeply shrouded her mind at the commencement of our acquaintance ;—that she was the daughter of a converted man, called out of the darkness of Romanism to the marvellous light of the gospel;—that her father had diligently instructed his household in those truths which he had found to be the power of God unto the salvation of his own soul; and, both in English and Irish, he had read the scriptures, to all who would come within the hearing of them.
I know not how it was, that at the early age of six years, Mary was removed from the paternal roof, and initiated by those among whom she subsequently dwelt, into all the mysteries of that fatal apostasy from which her father had been rescued. She became in time, the wife of one equally bigoted, and equally ignorant with herself; and crossing the channel, they took up their abode in England, within the reach of a Roman Catholic chapel, the priest of which justly numbered Mary among the most determined adherents to the tenets of his erroneous faith. Some time elapsed, (above ten years, I believe) before I was led by the hand of Providence to fix my dwelling in the same neighbourhood. Of Mary, I had never heard; but having become acquainted with several of her poor country people around, and told them how dearly I loved their own green isle, she had felt the yearnings of Irish affection towards one who entertained a preference for poor Erin. Nothing could be more characteristic than our first meeting: I was advancing with a tract, towards the gate of a little cottage, out of which came a respectably-dressed woman, with a basket of eggs on her arm, who made me a very nice courtesy, at the same time fixing on me two of the most brilliant eyes I ever beheld, and smiling with unrestrained cordiality. I returned both her greeting and her smile ; on which she immediately said, ' You never come down to our place, Ma'am.' I replied, ' Perhaps not, for I don't know where you place is ; but I am sure you are Irish.' I am Irish indeed : and you love our people so well, that I often look out for you to visit me. I live down by'—and she named a retreat, rather out of my usual road. I promised a visit, asked a few questions respecting her native place, and we parted. I observed to my companion what a remarkably intelligent countenance she had; and was told in reply, that she was one of the most zealous papists in the parish.
We met occasionally in the street, and always spoke ; but I was prevented by other engagements from visiting her. After a long time, I learned that she had been very near death; that her newborn infant, like herself, had narrowly escaped it, and that Mary was then sinking into a very painful and dangerous disease—an internal cancer forming, which menaced her life. To this were added distressing testimonies as to the determined manner in which she rejected all religious instruction, not administered by her own priest; excepting that she listened patiently and respectfully to one pious clergyman, who occasionally visited all the cottages ; and who was so universally beloved among the poor, that no one ever refused him a reverential and affectionate reception.
I was pricked to the heart, when told of the increasing sufferings of poor Mary, whose personal industry had been the main support of her family and who began to feel the miseries of abject poverty aggravating her bodily torments. I determined to visit her, and that too for the express purpose of trying whether I could not, as a weak instrument in an Almighty hand, bring her forth from her darling delusions, into the beams of the day-spring from on high. I was told that such an attempt would subject me to insult ; if not from her, from her husband : and that the priest was too unremitting in his attentions to be ignorant of an invasion in that quarter, which he would surely repel, by stirring up yet more the bigot zeal of some among his Irish flock, who had shewn a disposition to resent my occasional interference with their false faith.
'Nothing venture, nothing have,' was here applicable, in its very best and highest sense ; and in the spirit of prayer, I betook myself to the task. Into a bush, of which every leaf was a thorn, I certainly did thrust my hand, to gather out from among them this flower. Opposition I fully expected, from her own strong attachment to the errors of popery : but I found her far more willing to listen than I had dared to hope. Indeed, such was the love wherewith the Lord mercifully taught her to regard me, that she could not quarrel with any word or action of mine : the flower itself offered no thorny resistance. Opposition from her husband was unexpectedly prevented, by the removal of Mary from her home, to a place under parochial management, which also brought her much nearer to my abode. Opposition from the priest, I encountered to the full extent of his power, even to personal resistance, and the exercise of an influence that I did not expect to find so powerful, in far other quarters than the cottages of those who frequented his altar. The great enemy of poor Mary's soul put in force to the uttermost his crafty wiles, to the strengthening of a cause that, to all but me, appeared frequently triumphant: and when her bold, decided avowal that she would hear the scriptures read, and listen to my instructions, silenced those who had built their predictions on her long hostility to protestantism, the old and more subtle charge of hypocrisy was resorted to. Instances were adduced of her frequent deviation from strict veracity, while yet under the power of that religion which teaches, even in its first catechism, the fearful doctrine that such sins are venial only, and to be readily atoned for by a few forms and penances. The recent change in her expressions was referred to a prudential application of the same convenient sophistry ; and I was told that the trifle which I occasionally left on her pillow went duly to the priest, in purchase of absolution for the sin of listening to me. This I knew to be utterly false; but I felt at times those painful misgivings, which were as delicate thorns introduced into the flesh, harassing me, and tending to indispose me from further exertion. Still, by keeping my eye. upon the power which alone could accomplish such a work, the power which, if once brought into operation, none could let, I was enabled to go on, grasping the flower, and applying every energy to draw it from its adverse concomitants.