—Thomas a Kempis
Not from the "Imitation of Christ" the most sweet and wise guide to peaceful and joyous living, have I quoted the above, but from the pages of a little book Miss Esperance and Mr. Wycherly to which is forms a kind of text.
It ought to be a very excellent sermon with such a text—as indeed it is. Though Mrs. Allen Harker, its author, has written around the text a most artistic & delicately quaint and beautiful story, and she might be very much astonished to know that it could possibly be thought of as a sermon at all; so simple is it, so unpretentious, so little perceptive, or dogmatic or prosy—as, alas, it is not always true of ordinary sermons, yet none the less it is a sermon worthy of so sweet a text.
It is far from the purpose of these random notes to write a review, or give description of this story, to do so would seem indeed superfluous, as is proved by its appearance in this very dainty edition, at so low a price "even in war time." Rather would I wish while giving thanks for the pleasure and recreation it has brought me, to bear testimony at the same time to the joy and benefit to be found in reading stories in general. It is a joy and a benefit that no one in these most trying and strenuous times, ought to forego or deny themselves.
The story teller's gift is surely one received direct from the fairies, the gift which enables them to offer to anyone who will take it, a key of enchantment, which has the power to open a door out of this dreary world of "breakfast and dinner" into the land of "hearts delight" where all that is wished for come true, and "a dream is real as the world and a thought true as all God doth know." It is so cheap, so easy, so near! At the cost of a few pence and the giving up of a little leisure, we may have the freedom of this land of romance, to wander where we will.
Is our day gloomy, our sky overcast, and the sad rain falling, we have but to draw our chair to the fire and open our book and at once we can pass into the sunshine of a Summer day with the blue skies above us and the scent of the flowers in the "green garden" of Miss Esperance filling our senses.
We cannot always be thinking of solemn things! We owe it to ourselves and others, sometimes to seek refreshment and recreation, to relax our efforts and to let the sweet fragrance of the simple hopes and joys and loves of dream people such as those we know in stories like this of Miss Esperance and Mr. Wycherly bring us healing and delight.
We cannot always be toiling, even though our work be ever so indispensable to our own people or to the world, sometimes we must wander into the sunshine and the fresh air where the birds are calling and the flowers await our coming, and sometimes for the health of our souls as well as our bodies we must seek a change of mental atmosphere, and take rest and entertainment.
It is made up of such simple things—this sweet sermon story! Of the quaint, humorous talk and the merry play of little children, and the patient toil of lowly people. Of the weaning from a life of thoughtless selfishness of the kindly, scholarly gentleman, who had but one serious fault, or as Miss Esperance in her great charity named it one "foible," which made him occasionally give way sadly to intemperate drinking.
"Until"—his brain was going, his friends were ashamed of him, there seemed no place for him in the world and how should he dare to face the next. He was not altogether a stupid man; he knew many things and best of all that the weakness he encouraged was a fatal weakness, but he seemed to have no strength of mind or body to pull himself together, till an angel from heaven took him to her house and helped him and protected him against himself till he was cured. It was not done quickly, and God, who gave her her great heart, alone knows what she had to bear in the doing of it.
It is because of this cure that was wrought by means of Miss Esperance, this great redemption of a beautiful and noble character, that I venture to speak of the story as a sermon. For the cure and the redemption were wrought by love alone. Miss Esperance never spoke one word of blame to him or listened to one of him. By her love and her faith alone she wrought a miracle in the life of Mr. Wycherly—the only miracle that is ever worth working. Because she had always believed, and because the eyes of her love always saw the ideal in him, at last she saw the ideal in the real, and had the reward of her loving faith and patience.
There are many gardens in the land of enchantment, to which the fairy-gifted story tellers offer us the key. Some are full of far more wonderful flowers than we shall find in this story, flowers of romance and adventure far more rare and exotic, suited to please every varying mood and fancy. But for a quiet hour and a tired mind, perhaps few will be found more sweet and healing, than this, which we may compare to some old fashioned cottage garden, where quaint pansy faces of gentle humor look up at us from the borders and we shall find only the homely "common flowers" pinks and wallflowers, southern wood and sweet-briar, and all the lowly kind like the lavender and daisies, and the rest that are not too proud to share the ground with the currant and gooseberry bushes, and to form but a border to the useful potato and cabbage patch.
—Jean Francois Millet