I knew a young man who was struggling hard with a small business and a young family, trying to help his aged father and motherÂ—dependent upon their childrenÂ—and who regarded it as one of his many blessings that he was able to do a little towards making his aged parents comfortable in their declining years. He resided about three miles from the cottage in which they lived and, for many years, went to see them every fortnight. On one of his visits he found them seated, one on each side of the fire, looking very dejected. On inquiring the reason, his father said,
“Well, my lad, thy mother and me have been thinking we are lying hard upon thee and the others who are keeping us for you have little to spare. We paid Poor Rates forty years, and we have been thinking that we have some right to parish relief. If they refuse to give us anything here, we have made up our minds to go into the workhouse. We do not like it, but we think it will be best for all sides, for you have all enough to do without keeping usÂ—and especially thee.”
The moment his father finished his answer, the two old people burst into tears. The son silently rose from the chair, and walked towards the window, and was for some time unable to speak; then, turning towards his parents, he said,
“Father, mother, look at me; do you see these boots, this coat, waistcoat, and trousers, made of good Yorkshire black cloth? I will willingly exchange this cloth for fustian, and these boots for clogs, before you shall have either parish pay, or go to the workhouse. Do you want to rob me of God’s blessing?Â—for I never could expect Him to bless me if I did not do my duty to my parents. How could I lift up my head in the streets, or in the church, if I knew that my father and mother were paupers and I could prevent it? No, no; let me have the unspeakable pleasure of doing all I can to make you comfortable to the last moment of your lives, and then I can expect God’s blessing.
Besides, I am greatly in your debt. You maintained me until I was able to work. I could not earn much for you before I was ten years of age. I should cost you at least the sum of seven shillings per week, which, without interest, would amount to one hundred and forty-six pounds. ‘Let me pay that back, and then we will talk about the workhouse. No, no; no workhouse for my father and mother while I can help it.”
This young man was right in his determination to keep his parents out of the workhouse. Yet, to many, the workhouse is a merciful shelter, and a better home than they are able to secure for themselves in sickness or old age, and thousands have been thankful for such a retreat from much worse ills. Of this truth Priscilla, the subject of this narrative, is an illustration.
Some years since, a cottage in Addison’s Yard, Preston, contained a very poor family. The oldest female, an intelligent looking young woman of sixteen, was unaccountably smitten with paralysis, and night and day lay helpless on her bed. Her affectionate, anxious, palefaced mother nursed her with great tenderness, doing all she could for her afflicted child and her three younger brothers. But it was little she could do, for the husband and father, who ought to have shared with his wife in caring for his home and children, and especially for his sick daughter, spent much of his time in the public house, talking about the people’s rights, and how a nation ought to be governed, helping to clothe the publican’s wife with silks and satins, and send his children to the boarding-school, while his own wife and children were clothed in rags. Drink did for this man what it has done for thousands, it destroyed all his natural affections; he left his home and his country, caring only for himself, and left his family to the care of strangers. A neighbour, seeing their misery and distress, obtained an order for them to go into the Preston workhouse. On the day of their removal, the same kind neighbour took his own cart, in which he placed some bedding, and, with great care, several friends helped to lay Priscilla as comfortable as possible. The mother sat in the cart to take care of her, the other children walking, all quietly wended their way to the workhouse, weeping as they went.
For two years the mother did what she could, helping in the house, watching over her children day and night, looking more especially to her still helpless daughter. Often, in the silent hours, did these sorrowing ones talk of him that had deserted them, daily hoping that he might perhaps become a better man, come back, and take them again to a home of their own. So deeply did the mother feel her daily cares and troubles that her health bent beneath the weight. She died, and with her last breath prayed for her lost husband and helpless child.
It is not easy to estimate the loss to the doubly bereaved child when her mother was taken away. The death of a good mother has been the grave of many joys; but when that mother was the only nurse, the loss must be great indeed.
Priscilla had with her in the workhouse a little brother, called John. This little brother begged that he might be allowed to nurse his sister; and with the help of an old woman in the room, he did what he could to supply his mother’s place. But, in a short time, John was taken away to learn a trade. It was a sorrowful parting; but the sister, knowing that it was for his good, willingly allowed him to go.
Priscilla had been lying helpless on her bed in the workhouse about three years when her brother John was taken away. So completely was she prostrated, that she could not sit up or change her posture. She could use her hands, and the stroke had not affected her head, but in other respects she was quite helpless. She
had learned to read in the Sunday school, a place she loved and attended regularly as long as she was able; and now she found her little knowledge of reading of great value. She improved herself in knitting and sewing, for she always said,Â—”I will do what I can for the poor children in this place who cannot do anything for themselves.”
She greatly regretted not being able to write, for she wished to occupy her mind as much as possible to keep away depressing thoughts. A good Christian, who often visited the workhouse, hearing of her wish, kindly undertook to teach her, and for several months attended to his charge, until she was able to write a letter to her brother.
But often, after all that was done to mitigate the lonely sorrow of Priscilla, she was very sad; for none but those who have experienced it can tell the dreary, depressing effects of a long, protracted afflictionÂ—to be month after month, and year after year, in the same condition, cut off from life’s social enjoyments, and shut out from the world’s busy scenes. The spring comes, and tints the world with ten thousand shades of beauty, but not for them; to them flowers bloom and die unseen, except some loving hand gathers and brings them to the sufferer. The lark, the thrush, and the linnet fill the fields and the forests with their song, but they sing not for them. The shady walk, the mountain scenes, that inspire the poet and enrapture the philosopher, bring no inspiration or rapture for them. The church bell tolls its Sabbath peal to welcome worshippers; but for the invalids they peal in vain, except to remind them of their loss. To have wearisome days and nights; to lie awake while all around are sleeping; to spend the long, lonely night in anxious thought, or troubled dreamsÂ—no sound but the watchman’s tread, or the striking hour, requires something more than human help to fortify the soul against despair. Priscilla had not got that something, and, as a consequence, was often in the deepest despondency. She wished to die, yet was afraid to die. She was often found in tears, but had no hand to wipe them away. Is it a wonder that she should sayÂ—”I have now been lying on this bed of affliction for seven years, and yet the doctor gives me no hope! O, how gloomy are all my prospects! I have not one bright spot in this dark wilderness”? Little did poor Priscilla know, when she uttered this mournful sentence, that she had yet to lie on that bed thirty years longer. How merciful is the Almighty in keeping down the curtain of futurity, only revealing to us our coming troubles as He knows we shall be able to meet them; telling us that “sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,” thereby teaching us not to anticipate sorrow.
But behind the dark cloud that had so long hung over Priscilla’s hopes a light was appearing and by the finger of a stranger was she pointed to this light. Many Christian friends, whose hearts beat with sympathy for the poor, the sick, and
the sorrowful, went to the workhouse at various times. Amongst them was one who, when she came to the bedside of Priscilla, and heard from the trembling lips a sketch of her history, was touched to the deepest depths of her soul with a desire to be instrumental in pointing the desponding one to Him who can
bind up the breaking heart. In affectionate language she said to Priscilla,
“They tell me you have been laid helpless on your bed of sickness seven years, my dear sister.”
“Yes, a little over seven years.”
“Does the doctor give you any hope that you will ever be better?”
“Not much. I think he has no hope himself.”
“No doubt, my dear sister, you would like to get well, and be like other young people, walking about in the world?”
“Yes; I often think my lot a very hard one, and wonder what I have done that I should suffer as I do. I many times wish I had never been born, or died when I did not know what death was.”
“Then you are afraid to die, Priscilla?” “Yes.”
“But the Bible tells us that they that die in the Lord are blessed. Have you never read that cheering statement?”
“Yes; but I do not understand it. I have many times read in Revelation of the glories of heaven, and the happiness of those who are gone there; but I think I shall never get there myself.”
“But, my dear sister, the way to heaven is as open to you as it was to them. He that opened the way not only showed them, but led them every step of the way; and though there be a multitude that no man can number, from every nation, people, and tongue, every one of them set out from Calvary, and Calvary is, and ever will be, the only place from which a poor sinner must start on his journey to heaven: it is from the Cross to the Crown.”
Priscilla turned her head to hide her tears. The last sentence evidently made an impression; light was breaking into the dark mind of the poor invalid, and that light was the light of life. The kind friend wiped the tears from her own eyes, and from the eyes of the poor sufferer. Then, taking hold of her hand, she kneeled down by her bedside, and, long and earnestly, prayed that God, for Christ’s sake, would speak peace to the heart of the sorrowing one. That prayer was heard, but not that day did the answer come. Again and again did the earnest Christian, the angel of mercy, visit the house of the poor, and read to Priscilla the blessed promises out of the holy book. Again and again did she, with increasing power, point the now penitent sinner to Him who came into the world to save sinners.
Again they parted; but soon after the following letter, written
by Priscilla, was put into the hands of the kind, Christian lady, who read it with raptures of Joy:Â—
“Dearly beloved Christian Friend,
O, my dear friend, what a Saviour I have found. In Him I have now more than I could ask;-in His fulness I have found all that my poverty could need; and you, my dear friend, have been the humble instrument in the hands of the Lord, my God, of bringing me to the knowledge of the truth. I pray God you may never grow weary in well-doing, but still go on visiting the sick, comforting those who are cast down, and instructing the ignorant. You delight to do good in secret, but He that seeth in secret shall reward you openly. O, my dear friend, be fervent in prayer for the conversion of sinners.
My dear friend, please do forgive my freedom and manner of writing to you, for it is all love which I owe to you for the kindness you have shown to me.
I remain your truly affectionate, humble friend,
Priscilla P. Proffit.”
Now the spring may come, and, with its warm, soft breath, call forth the millions of flowers from their winter slumber; the linnet, the lark, and the thrush may fill the air with their melodious song; the young, the healthy, and the strong may walk the shady grove, or climb the mountain’s side, catching pleasure from the scenes and sounds; but there is not one of them more happy than this new-born babe in Christ, though lying a sick pauper in the parish workhouse. True happiness comes not from without but from within; peace with God through Christ is the only source of real joy. Millions have proved this true, but never one to the contrary. Did Priscilla now wonder what she had done that she should suffer so much? No. Did she wish she had never been born, or died when a baby? No. Did she now fear to die? No. Did she despair of ever getting to heaven? No. Old things were passed away, and all things were become new; the gloom that hung over her mind was now dispersed;
“The cloud of deep darkness by mercy was riven,
And she saw through the opening the bright face of heaven.”
God’s free gifts to sinners are pardon and peace, and the witness of the Spirit that we are His adopted children. Priscilla had now these greatest of all gifts. What a blessing to any, but especially to one who had yet to lie helpless in the workhouse for thirty years!
Priscilla’s conversion opened out to her an entirely new sphere of action. She had now an object in life; she now became anxious, as all real converts do, for the good of others. By her example, she taught them meekness, patience, resignation, and kindness;
and by her precept became an instrument and guide to many of the poor, ignorant creatures around her. From the day of her conversion she prayed that she might never be ashamed to testify to the power of saving grace, but speak of the love of Christ to poor sinners on every fitting opportunity. To many hundreds in the workhouse, and to friends and visitors who came to see her, she became a preacher of the gospel. Her peace was deep, and
her joy great. The promises of the Bible were to her more precious than gems, or pearls, or countless gold; they filled her soul with holy raptures. She often sang,
“In the dark watches of the night, I count His mercies o’er.
I praise Him for the blessings past, and humbly ask for more.”
Hearing of several persons in various parts of the country being similarly afflicted, she opened up with them a correspondence. Seventeen of these letters I have had the privilege of reading, and all show how earnest she was in trying to point the poor sufferers to the source of all comfort. To Elizabeth Hill, Great Moore-street, Bolton, still alive and confined to her bed, she writes,Â—
“Preston, March 21st, 1833.
My dear Sister,
We are still in the school of affliction, and how long our dear Lord intends to keep us there I do not know; but this I hope we know, we are in the hands of God. O entreat Him to fit us for the whole of His will and pleasure. I also trust it is our heart’s desire to devote ourselves anew to the Lord. beseeching Him that all our affections may be more than ever consecrated to His glory. When we consider how great our privileges are of calling God our Father, it ought to make us very humble. Compared with such a relationship the world and all its pleasures seem less than nothing, and God appears all and in all. O how precious is His word! Were I able to tell you what I feel when reading in my blessed BibleÂ—but, alas! it is impossible. It may well be called a precious book. I often wonder what would become of us without the word of God; we should indeed be comfortless creatures.
From your companion in the furnace,
Priscilla P. Proffit.”
One of her letters expresses her great distress of mind at the loss of the use of her left arm because it deprived her of power to work a little. She was never again able to use it and her usefulness as far as regarded knitting and sewing was ended. Some time after she was smitten with a partial blindness. This was a sore trial for she became dependent on others to read to her out of her blessed Bible; but none of these misfortunes caused her to utter one murmur. The medical gentleman who attended her almost daily for twenty-six years states that, though her sufferings were often very severe, he never heard one complaint escape her lips but, on the contrary, she was full of expressions of thankful-ness for what she called her mercies. And the governor of the workhouse often declared that Priscilla was a blessing to the whole establishment. The ignorant gathered round her bed to hear words of wisdom. Conscience-stricken sinners asked her what they must do to be saved; the sorrowing sought her sympathy and advice;
and the friendless could always reckon on Priscilla as one whose heart was filled with love to all. Disputes were brought to her for settlement and seldom were her peaceable counsels rejected.
But the most interesting sight, and one which was hundreds of
times witnessed, was the poor little orphan children of the workhouse brought to her bedside to learn their prayers. Poor things, she frequently wept for them when she came to the partÂ—”Bless my father and my mother.” They had no father or mother to bless; and the loss of her own parents caused Priscilla to mingle her tears with the tears of the poor lonely creatures. Many of them to this day remember her kind words to them when kneeling by her side. One who now holds a respectable position in society | says, “I learned my prayers at Priscilla’s bedside and from her lips first heard of the love of a Saviour for poor children; and I believe my conversion to God in after-life to be the result of , impressions received from her at that time.”
Night after night, for many years, the kind schoolmistress of the Union repaired to the now almost blind Priscilla’s room to read for her a portion of the holy book. Many of her observations on what was read were truly sublime. Christ’s love for sinners in dying to redeem them and going to prepare for them mansions in glory filled her soul with wonder and love. When I stood beside her bed and heard her expressions of gratitude for God’s wonderful mercies, my conscience smote me for my want of faith and con-! fidence. Her Christian experience seemed immeasurably richer than mine and my prayer on leaving was that I might gather strength and confidence from what I had seen and heard.
“Yes, twenty-three years have I been confined to this bed of sickness and if it be God’s will that I must remain twenty-three years more I am quite content and only desire to wait His time and suffer His will.” This was said by Priscilla to Miss C. Johnson who, for nineteen years after, went almost weekly to see and talk with her sick friend, “to learn, but not to teach.” To this lady and to Mrs. Fishwick (another of her long-tried friends) she was greatly attached; they were to her friends indeed and both speak of her with the tenderest affection.
Christmas day was to Priscilla the day of days. On this day she annually renewed her covenant with her God, solemnly
consecrating herself to serve Him by living a holier life and in every possible way trying to seek His glory. The songs in the streetÂ—”Christians, awake!” were, to her, the most delightful sounds. To all the inmates of the Preston workhouse this day was a joyful day for the guardians provided for them an extra feast. The rejoicing was generally very great and Priscilla cheerfully entered into their feelings for she loved to see them merry and happy; she could rejoice with them that rejoiced.
The Christmas morn of 1863 arrived and to the inmates then present it will be long remembered. Many of them were seen standing in groups and with anxious looks talking about Priscilla. The orphan children whispered to each other that Priscilla was very poorly. The halt, the maimed, and the blind heard that her case was hopeless, with sad hearts. Throughout the entire house sorrow was written on every countenance as the report spread from
room to room that she was dying. The clock struck three and, with one last expression borne on her lingering breathÂ—”What am I?”Â—the soul of the long-afflicted child of poverty and suffering winged its flight from a pauper’s bed in a parish workhouse to the bright and glorious plains of Paradise.
Farewell, thou child of many sorrows and many joys, thou hast taught the world a lesson. Murmuring souls who fret and pine over little ills remembering all their crosses and forgetting all their blessings; counting their cloudy hours but never reckoning their days of sunshine, may learn from her who was forty-two years confined to bed, thirty of those years with a helpless arm and fourten years almost blind. Yet, from the day of her conversion to GodÂ—stretching almost over the entire length of those many long yearsÂ—not one murmur was heard to pass her lips by the many thousands who witnessed her patient suffering. Amongst the many evidences that those Christians who are longest in the fire shine the brightest, may now be counted the forty-two year bedridden Priscilla.