[From Manx Recollections, 1894]
EUGINE BERSIER mentioned in the last letter was the golden link that first bound the heart of Mrs..Elliott to that of her young friend, the memorialist. It came about in this way. The latter was lent a volume of Eugëne Bersier's sermons in the original French; and she was so struck with their freshness, beauty, and extraordinary philosophical and analytical power, that she could not rest until she had found one who would appreciate them along with her; and such she conceived of all people would be Mrs. Elliott. Accordingly one Sunday, as both were leaving the Sunday-school, the memorialist ventured to address her ideal acquaintance, and ask her if she was familiar with the name of Bersier, and with any of his works; and if not, might she be allowed to borrow from a friend for her a volume of his sermons that she had just read herself ? " No," was the answer, " I do not know the name at all; and I think I'll not mind reading the sermons. One sees so many sermons ! " Memorialist was sorely disappointed, and went her way with a feeling of intense regret at her heart. Happily the following Sunday, Mrs. Elliott had been led to change her mind, and going up to the young lady, she said, " Will you after all be so kind as to borrow for me the volume you mentioned of Bersier's sermons? I have made inquiry about him, and I am told he is one of the greatest of French pulpit orators, and in every respect a most interesting man."
Delight was depicted on our countenance in return for the confirmation of our good opinion of the preacher, and for being permitted to have the privilege of getting the book in question for one whose further acquaintance we longed so much to have, and whose sympathy with Bersier's productions we humbly felt would coincide with our own. And so it proved. And then began an intimacy between that noble soul and the writer, which every interview was to deepen and render more precious and permanent. In a very short time, one evening every week was set apart by Mrs. Elliott for us to meet and read together Bersier and other kindred authors. Delightful evenings they were unique and out-standing in a lifetime ! In her presence one felt in another and higher region, and as if breathing an atmosphere purified and sanctified by all that was lovely and ennobling.
Bersier's brave conduct during the Communistic insurrection in Paris was told by our friend the first evening we took tea together. She mentioned how she had heard that he publicly denounced the murder of the Archbishop of Paris; and that his daring reflection on the cruel public wrongs enacted at that time had brought down upon him the displeasure of the incensed masses, and in retaliation they had committed him to prison and condemned him to death. But subsequently, the tide of public affairs having changed, he was released and restored to his privileges as a minister of the Gospel and a loyal and devoted French patriot. But, added Mrs. Elliott, the terrible privations he suffered during the siege, and the agony of suspense regarding the issue of his imprisonment and the well-being of his fugitive family had told so upon his constitution that after his release he was stricken with an illness from which recovery for a while was pronounced` doubtful. His church during the siege he had turned into an hospital, and with his own hands he ministered to the wounded and dying; and spared not his life, if need were, in his care of others. On the return of peace, this valiant and good man was rewarded by the presentation to him of the Red Ribbon of the Legion of Honour.
As we write, the memoirs of this noble and highly gifted Bersier have been probably published, though we have not had the privilege of hearing whether it is so; and consequently a full and correct representation of those times that he passed through will no doubt have been given, or should they not have appeared they will in all likelihood be forth-coming in course of time. For when, a few years ago, Bersier was called to his eternal reward when still at his post, a loyal servant of his Master, he died, if not altogether full of days, full of earnest and memorable labour, and of honour in the service of God and man. Mrs. Elliott's further admiration of him was expressed in another letter to her brother, where she says: "Last night Mrs. Hawley came to see me, and brought with her a copy of the Daily Telegraph, containing some eulogiums of the unparalleled French preacher Eugëne Bersier, whose voice I so often wish to hear again. It was Miss Skottowe who first told me of this wonderful preacher, and borrowed a volume of his sermons for me. When we were abroad I heard of him again and again. On our way to Basle, as we were waiting for a train, an Alsatian lady spoke of him with ecstasy of praise. When I said to her, 'There is a preacher in Paris whom I wish to hear,' she replied at once : ' I know! Bersier !' and then she went off into notes of admiration not exaggerated. How thankful I was after-wards to be allowed to hear him in Paris. Last Sunday my husband was not at church, and I read (or rather translated) to him a sermon of Bersier's on John the Baptist, Le Prëdicateur de Cour' ; and my hearer did consider it something superlatively excellent."
The Alsatian lady, Mlle. Dietsch, mentioned in this paragraph, became a constant correspondent of Mrs. Elliott's. This intimacy with å fellow-traveller was in keeping with many another she formed in a similar way. Wherever she went she chained people to her, and the chain once forged continued strong and durable.
1871 was the year when the heir to the throne, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, was dangerously ill of typhus fever, and the prayers of the nation were requested on his behalf; in answer to which that life, that apparently just hung in the balance, was miraculously given back. Very beautifully in a letter Mrs. Elliott alludes to the occasion: " ` There,' says she, ` shall be signs in the sun and in the moon and in the stars.' On Sunday morning the telegraph wires were flashing out with lightning speed under the sea and over the land of Britain a solemn fervent prayer for one young life, the heir of the throne. Was such a thing ever known before since the world began? The prayer arrived here before the morning service, and it was prayed in the churches. May it please the Hearer of prayers to vouchsafe a gracious answer."
How painful anything was to her that was unreal and misleading in its spiritual tendency, the following will show. She could be angry, and when she was her words were severe and uncompromising.
Several years after this date, one of England's foremost ecclesiastics and renowned preachers visited the Isle of Man, and preached in Douglas; and his morning sermon at St. Thomas' so offended Mrs. Elliott that she alluded to it in a letter to one of her nieces in the following terms " This afternoon Miss Skottowe kindly came to read aloud to me the report in the Herald of 's sermon of last Sunday morning at St. Thomas' Church. You may remember, dear Marian, that one Sunday morning, at the beginning of last year, you and I went to that church and heard an excellent sermon of pure Gospel truth from Mr. Washington * on the text, 'To me to live is Christ.' It was good and profitable to hear and remember such a discourse. But this highfiown piece of empty magniloquence is very different, as you will find if you read the report in the Herald. You will see that this flashy oration is a vainglorious display of artificial flowers lit up with fizzing sky rockets. But it was a charming satisfaction to . . . who nodded and winked at each other, after their manner. But one thing is certain, that if St. Paul had preached in that style to the Corinthians, no one would have fallen prostrate on his face under an overwhelming conviction of sin. i Cor. giv. 24, 25. The discourse at night at St. Barnabas' was much better, more practical and profitable, a fine florid moral sermon, but of course without the three R. R. R.'s of Rowland Hill's wholesome prescription."
* Rev. Marmaduke Washington, M.A. At that time Vicar of St. Thomas', Douglas.
Dean Stanley also preached at St. Thomas' a very brief period before his death, and our friend pronounced his oration " A thing of naught."
She did not at all approve of Stanley on the ground of his latitudinarian principles, and very especially of their outcome as regards the lax observance of the Lord's Day. For the same reason she objected to the otherwise amiable and charming Charles Kingsley.
Though in 1872, when we were in close intimacy with the subject of this memoir, many years had elapsed since her last son died, yet she never alluded to him or to any of the great sorrows she had passed through. That they were, however, always uppermost in her mind and stationary in her heart, frequent references to the past and the dear ones who were gone in her letters to her brother or his wife sadly testify
Her deep relations were the same,
But with long use her tears were dry."
In January of this year she writes to Mr. Weatherell: " Sunday the 14th was my Philip's birthday, though he was born on a Saturday and baptized on the 22nd January, the anniversary of little Henry's burial. The shadow of death falling so often and heavily turns this world into a great cemetery. Death has reigned a long time. But grace reigns and will reign through righteousness unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
This year Mrs. Bluett, the widow of the late High Bailiff (Chief Magistrate) of Douglas, died. She was a friend of Mrs. Elliott's, and writing of her death, she says: " Yesterday morning at four o'clock one of the best of Christian women passed away from this region of storms into the peaceful rest of Paradise. Mrs. Bluett Mary Bluett (who may be numbered with the Lord's Marys) departed this life to be with Christ, which is far better.
" ` Fear no more the heat o' the sun, Nor the furious winter's rages; Thou thy worldly task bast done, Home art gone and Wen thy wages.'
" This is Shakespeare's Dirge of Cymbeline. But no dirge
need be sung over Mary Bluett. The angels would welcome her with songs of joy. For she was like a quiet angel here below in her ministrations of mercy and charity, and her beneficent care for the poor, the fallen, and the lost. . . . At Christmas she was thought to be dying, but she rallied for a while, until last Friday, when she became much worse.
And now she is well for ever. Her children are to be pitied but she is blessed. She was a meek and lovely Christian character, diffusing a gentle light, not flashy, but softly luminous, like the Milky Way."
This is fair word-painting and touching heart-testimony; and those who survive of Mrs. Bluett's relations will read with pleasure this tribute to the life and memory of her they loved.
It was a comfort to our dear friend that her sight did not at present perceptibly grow very much worse. She still read and wrote a great deal, but with the aid of powerful glasses. And on every occasion, when at all possible, she engaged her visitors to read to her. Her young friend, whose place in her heart was daily expanding, was very useful in reading aloud to her the many subjects they had in common; and occasionally acting as amanuensis in the way of letter-writing. She had many pet names for her girl friend (whose name is Katherine), such as Mignonette, Chërie, Carine, Carina, but more frequently Karine ; and for the future, to facilitate our mode of designation when speaking of this favoured individual, we will call her Karine.
Most charming were the little notes that dear Mrs. Elliott used to write to the latter; her weekly invitations to tea, to come and read, to accompany her here or there, &c. They were almost always in French (Karine having been educated in France), and sometimes in French verse, usually of a most playful, airy description; and when the two met, it was always as if the mutual encounter were one irradiated with light and pleasant mirth. Never did she sadden the girl's heart with recitals of woe or depress with anticipations of a time "when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves. . . . Or the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken." Sufficient for the day was the evil thereof. A similar remark is made by the Honourable Theodosia Wright, who for the first time visited Douglas about this year (1872), or perhaps a little later.
"How great," says Mrs. Wright, "must have been her sorrows in losing all her children ! and yet, so far from murmuring, she never once alluded to them during all the months I knew her. Once, in a letter long afterwards, when speaking of her failure of sight, I think she said it was caused by weeping for her children."
The Honourable Mrs. Wright, daughter of Lord Denman, the fearless and upright judge," who defended Queen Caroline, was an acquaintance Mrs. Elliott was very delighted to make; and on the occasion of her first visit to Mrs. Wright she took with her an extract from some periodical which related to Lord Denman when a little boy, mentioning amongst other interesting incidents the fact that he had been put under the care, when he was three years old, of the celebrated educationalist and authoress, Mrs. Barbauld.
Mrs. Wright was greatly pleased with Mrs. Elliott's graceful tact in bringing this little notice as a sort of declaration that she was already interested in the new visitant to Mona, and that it was a special pleasure to make her acquaintance.
" I thought it very kind of Mrs. Elliott," said Mrs. Wright, "to welcome a stranger to the island in so friendly a manner; and she proved indeed a most delightful and improving friend."
Charles Ichabod Wright, Mrs. Wright's late husband, was the well-known translator of Dante. And one day she and Mrs. Elliott specially enjoyed a rare intellectual interchange of thought on men and things, as well as high and more blessed communion on the Lord whom they both served. On this occasion, at the request of Lady Loch, they visited her at Government House, and there discussed at will the distinguished minds in whom all three were interested Mr. Wright and his elegant and poetical gifts; Lord Denman and his illustrious career and exalted character ; the Honourable Edward Robert Bulwer Lytton, the poet, Lady Loch's brother-in-law, known in the world of letters as Owen Meredith, and as the son of Lord Lytton, the famous novelist, poet, orator, and statesman. And in connection with these personal relatives and noted men, a whole host of interesting personages who had left their mark, or were leaving their mark, on the pages of time, formed the theme of a racy, delightful conversation between these souls of mutual sweetness, intelligence, and cordial sympathy.
Mrs. Wright spoke of that day in Mrs. Elliott's company as one of the most congenial in her whole life.
Elizabeth Loch, daughter of the Hon. Edward Villiers, and grand-daughter of Earl Villiers, when she married Henry Brougham Loch, G.C.B., Lieutenant-Governor of the Isle of Man (afterwards Governor of Victoria, and at present Governor of Natal), was very young, being only nineteen when she came with her husband to the Isle of Man in 1863. Exceedingly beautiful in person as also in character, and with extraordinary tact combined with affable dignity, she from the very first so ingratiated herself into the hearts and lives of the insular people that it has been said, "Never was there even the shadow of an adverse opinion pronounced on Lady Loch."
Her household exercised in a minor degree the same wholesome and elevating influence ; for as regards her dependants she was a protectress and ensample, and "in her tongue was the law of kindness," which regulated everything under her roof.
A warm supporter of all that tended to foster the welfare and elevate the tastes of the community, she took in after years, when it was started, an active and influential part in the Young Women's Christian Association, addressing the young women herself, when so requested by the leading spirit of the movement, the honorary secretary, Miss E. Willson. And in 1881 she and the Governor inaugurated the Isle of Man School of Art, a branch of South Kensington Art department, Lady Loch enrolling herself for a while, for example's sake, as a student in the school.
In 1882, when Sir Henry and Lady Loch left the Isle of Man for Victoria, no persons in their special and high position were ever more honoured and more regretted on their departure from the insular shores than were they.