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styled Founder, Guardian and Visitor), for the performance of divers religious exercises, lest (as sweet liquors are oftentimes corrupted by the sourness of the vessels wherein they are infused), there should arise in their hearts a distaste or abuse of those excellent things which they purposed, they therefore resolved together with the practice of devotion to intermingle the study of wisdom, searching and inquiring diligently into the knowledge of those things which appertain to their condition and sex: finding in themselves, and observing in others that do sincerely pursue virtue, that the greatest bar of perfection was ignorance of the truth, whereby through misapprehension many prejudicial things were embraced, and many most behoveful to their ends, and most delightful in performance, were not only neglected, but abhorred. Which having by many particulars experimented in themselves, doubting that they were alike abused in most of those things which we have received by tradition from our fathers ; they determined with firm promises each to other to make a particular survey of those opinions and practices which the world recommends or disallows; weighing them not in the scales of cominon judgement, but of true and right reason, according to the weights and by the standard of the Scripture; wherein being excellently versed, so as they were able to repeat by heart both the book of the Psalms and most part of the New Testament, they found that there was neither action nor opinion that could be propounded, but might receive a clear solution and direction from that book,
Wherefore not upon presumption of their own abilities, but on confidence of God's gracious assistance to their humble and diligent endeavours, they agreed, every day, at a set hour, to confer together of some such subject as should tend either to the information of the understanding or to the exciting of the affections to the more ready prosecution of virtues, and better performance of all such as in their present or other course of life hereafter should be required of them.
The first proceedings, as it always happens in great attempts that have no precedents to direct, were both in form
and substance far short of that whereunto they were in the end reduced. Wherefore as artists upon the full accomplishment of their works cast away the first draughts : so silencing what was less exactly done, I shall go on with the recording of things from that time which themselves account the beginning, being about the end of May. Only by way of introduction, as porches were anciently set in the fronts of greater buildings, I will set down some passages, which may well serve for a preface to the reader for this following book; as in truth they were main arguments to the confirmation of their minds who were the actors of this and other noble undertakings.
On Ash-Wednesday therefore, although for the better suiting of their bodies to their hearts, and their hearts to the meditations of the day, they forbore the refreshment of corporal food, yet so much the more desirous to feast their minds in the fast of their bodies, meeting at their appointed time and place, together with that other company which were always auditors, and sometimes (at least one of them) partneractors in these exercises ;
The Chief began thus.”—Caius, 713–715.
“It is a hard task that is imposed on us (most honoured grandmother, and Founder of our little academy), that we should make supply of delights to your family, for those vain pastimes of cards, and the like, which you have so Christianly deprived them of. But when it is added, that we must likewise endeavour to profit them in the way of virtue, as well as to please them ; in requiring of two such things as scarce can stand together, there is made a great surcharge of difficulty of the work and pains to us. To make it a merry and true Christmas both together to your household by delightful and virtuous exercises, that they should have no cause to envy others greater liberty or better cheer, is your own injunction : but that it should be our performance, were more than we durst hope, but for the great encouragement of our worthy Guardian ; who persuades us, that it will
be easily and certainly effected by the daily recounting of some good histories, whereof we ought not in truth to be unfurnished, considering the opportunity that God hath given us to grow rich in these kind of jewels : for jewels they are indeed ; especially when they are well set by a graceful delivery and a seasonable application : with which two conditions could we be sure to have our stories qualified, we should indeed make no question, by giving most delightful entertainment to your whole family, to give full satisfaction to your desires and the command that is imposed on us.
But though we cannot hope so much touching our stories, yet since we have no hope by any other means than by our stories, in any part or manner to discharge ourselves of what we are bound unto, we have resolved this way to make essay; wherein if your good acceptation shall give encouragement, we shall proceed the rest of this festival: otherwise, if by
day's experiment you find our designs unworthy of your precious hours, or unanswerable to your worthy intentions, you may please, by the intimation of your dislike, to give an end unto them, and by the direction of your wisdom to set us in a better and more acceptable way.
Having thus spoken, she rose, and sang an hymn; which the master of their music played on the viol.
The hymn being ended, she with a low reverence settling herself in the chair, thus proceeded.
This song refreshing to your memories the ground of this day's solemnity, leads us of necessity (except we will make a treble disproportion, to the festival, to the music, and to your minds, which I am sure are in expectation of matter answer. able to this time and this preface) to begin and end our present exercise with stories of such affections, words and actions as in and by the example of blessed St. Stephen are recommended to our imitation by God and the church.”—Ibid. 739-741.
“The company was about to rise, when the Moderator staying them with the beckoning of the hand to sit down again, I should be sorry (said she) that we should part without an example of this grace of meekness in some of our own sex; to which it seems more properly, at least more necessarily, to belong than to men.
The Submiss's countenance (said the Chief) seems in mine eye to promise the satisfaction of your desires, most honoured Moderator, if she might be admitted to bear a part in this exercise.
I have been much troubled (said the Guardian) in mine own mind, that both she and the Obedient have been so long left out from that whereunto they ought to have been compelled: I pray therefore, let us not lose the advantage of this occasion to bring them in. And in regard the first attempt cannot be so perfect, let them have the liberty for a while of telling their stories as they can ; I mean, without the expectation of any preface or application from them: so they be to the purpose, it shall suffice. If they cannot truly be cast into the rank with other, they shall serve apart as auxiliary supplies upon special occasion that may happen.”-Ibid. p. 759. “Part of Seventh Conversation. St. John the Evangelist.
Dec. 1631. The remembrance of the former day's pleasure having carried up most of the family (though after a dinner of more than ordinary cheer) into the sisters' chamber; the Guardian (seeing himself and only one or two more left in the diningroom) said smiling to his mother, Madam, you may now see that young people may be brought to take as great delight in things good and profitable as in others which are vain and useless. For I do not think any gamesters were hardly ever more earnestly bent upon their play than our family are upon their stories. I beseech you therefore let us keep them no longer from beginning by their waiting for our coming. Thereupon going up, they found the company (that is, the strangers) ready, talking of what they had heard, and sharpening their appetites for what they were to hear. And the sisters, having notice given them, instantly appeared. Then the Cheerful (to whom the guidance of this day's exercise fell)
began by singing of the following hymn, which, as the former, was also played on the viol.
Teach us by his example, Lord,
For whom we honour Thee to-day;
And therefore leaned upon Thy breast,
And on Thy sacred bosom rest.
Whose testimony he commends :
Light which no darkness comprehends.
And let Thy everblessed Word
Which all things did create of nought,
Whose ruin sin hath almost wrought.
Us to Thy fellowship receive.
Thy pardon therefore let us have.
And as to us Thy servant gives
Occasion thus to honour Thee:
As lights and guides to others be.