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Thus, sir, even the very same day I received your's (for there needs no long time to answer a matter of fact with matter of truth; and being full of indignation to be thus traduced, whereof I longed instantly to discharge myself) I scribbled over this candid and ingenuous answer. And I am now troubled that you gave me no direction for the address thereof to you; which, when haply you shall receive, I leave to your own discretion, to make what use thereof you please ; presuming that you will therein have the like respects to me which herein I have had to you. So leaving us to the guidance of our good God, I subscribe, as you to me, your friend and servant,
friend John Ferrar, esq. at his house
The copy of my letter to sir Thomas Hetley, kt. and ser
jeant at law, upon his request to certify as I found. “Good Mr. Serjeant?
I can give you but a short account of my not two hours stay at the reputed (at least reported) nunnery at Gidding; and yet must leave out three parts of our passages, as fitter for a relation than a letter.
I came thither after ten; and found a fair house, fairly seated; to which I passed through a fine grove and sweet walks, letticed and gardened on both sides.
Their livelihood £500 per annum, as my lord Montague told me; one of his mansion houses being within two or three miles of them.
A man-servant brought me into a fair spacious parlour, Whither, soon after, came to me the old gentlewoman's second son [Nicholas Ferrar;] a bachelor, of a plain presence, but of able speech and parts. Who, after I had (as well as in such case I could) deprecated any ill conceit of me, for so unusual and bold a visit, entertained me very civilly and with much humility. Yet said, I was the first who ever came to them in that kind; though not the first whom they had heard of, who determined to come. After deprecations and some compliments, he said, I should see his mother, if I pleased. I shewing my desire, he went up into a chamber, and presently returned with these ; namely, his mother, a tall, straight, clear-complexioned, grave matron, of eighty years of age: his elder brother, married (but whether a widower, I asked not), a short, black-complexioned man : his apparel and hair so fashioned as made him shew priestlike: and his sister, married to one Mr. Collett, by whom she hath 14 or 15 children: all which are in the house (which I saw not yet). And of these, and two or three maid-servants, the family consists.
I saluted the mother and daughter, not like nuns, but as we use to salute other women. And (after we were all seated circular-wise, and my deprecations renewed to the other three?) I desired that, to their favour of entertaining me, they would add the giving of me a free liberty to speak ingenuously what I conceived of any thing I should see or have heard of, without any distaste to them.
Which being granted ; I first told them, what I had heard of the nuns of Gidding; of two, watching and praying all night, of their canonical hours, of their crosses on the outside and inside of their chapel, of an altar there, richly decked with plate, tapestry, and tapers, of their adorations and
1 Mr. John Ferrar, Mr. Nicholas Ferrar, and Mr. John Collet.
geniculations at their entering therein. Which, I objected, might savour of superstition and popery.
Here the younger son, the mouth for them all, cut me off; and, to this last answered first with a protestation, that he did as verily believe the pope to be antichrist as any article of his faith. Wherewith I was satisfied and silenced, touching that point.
For the nunnery; he said, That the name of nuns was odious. But the truth (from whence that untrue report might arise) was, that two of his nieces had lived, one, thirty, the other, thirty-two years, virgins; and so resolved to continue (as he hoped they would) the better to give thenselves to fasting and prayer : but had made no vows.
For the canonical hours, he said, they usually prayed six times a day. As I remember, twice a day publicly in the chapel; and four times more privately in the house. In the chapel, after the order of the book of common-prayer : in their house, particular prayers for a private family.
I said, if they spent so much time in praying, they would leave little for preaching or for their weekly callings. For the one I vouched the text, He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination. For the other, Six days shalt thou labour, &c.
To the one he answered, that a neighbour minister of another parish came on Sunday-mornings, and preached ; and sometimes they went to his parish. To the other, that their calling was to serve God; which he took to be the best.
I replied, that, for men in health and of active bodies and parts, it were a tempting of God to quit our callings, and wholly to betake ourselves to fasting, prayer, and a contemplative life, which by some is thought little better than a serious kind of idleness ; not to term it (as St. Austin terms moral virtues without Christ) splendida peccata”.
1 Prov. xxviii. 9.
I have not met with these words in Augustine ; but the thought often recurs ; e.g. Contra Julianum, iv. § 18 seq.
He rejoined, that they had found divers perplexities, distractions, and almost utter ruin, in their callings. But (if others knew what comfort and content God ministered to them since their sequestration, and with what incredible improvement of their livelihood) it might encourage others to the like course.
I said that such an imitation might be of dangerous consequence. And that if any, in good case before, should fall into poverty, few afterwards would follow the example.
For their night-watchings, and their rising at four of the clock in the morning (which I thought was much for one of fourscore years, and for children). To the one he said, it was not much ; since they always went to bed at seven of the clock in the evening. For the other, he confessed, there were every night two (alternatim) continued all night in their devotions, who went not to bed until the rest arose.
For the crosses he made the usual answer, that they were not ashamed of that badge of Christian profession which the first propugners of the faith bare in their banners, and which we, in our church discipline, retain to this day.
For their chapel; that it was now near chapel time (for eleven is the hour in the forenoon), and that I might, if I pleased, accompany them thither, and so satisfy myself best of what I had heard concerning that. Which afterwards I willingly entertained.
In the mean time I told them, I perceived all was not true which I had heard of the place. For I could see no such inscription on the frontispiece of the house, containing a kind of invitation of such as were willing to learn of them, or
might be some excuse of my audacity, if they would be pleased so to accept it. But he, barring me from farther compliments, said, the ground of that report hung over my head.
We sitting by the chimney, in the chimney piece was a manuscript tableture ; which, after I had read, I craved leave to beg a copy of (80 they would not take me for too bold a beggar). He forthwith took it down, and commanded it to be presently transcribed and given to me. I offered the writer money for his deserved pains: which was refused. And the master (N. F.] conjured me not to offer it a second time. And thereupon made it his suit not to offer any thing to any in that house, at my parting, or otherwise. The words of the protestation are as followeth.
HE who (by reproof of) our errors, and remonstrance of that which is more perfect) seeks to make us better, is wel. come as an Angel of God.)
(HE who (by a cheerful participation and approbation of that which is good) confirms us in the same, is welcome as a Christian Friend.
HE who any ways goes (HE who faults us in ababout to disturb us in that sence for that which in which is and ought to be presence he made shew amongst Christians (tho' to approve of, doth by a it be not usual in the And double guilt of flattery world) is a burden whilst and slander violate the he stays and shall bear bands both of friendship his judgement, whosoever and charity. he be.
MARY FERRAR, Widow,
Mother of this Family,
and aged about fourscore years,
and only desires to serve God)
set up this Table.