THE student sat at his books. All the day he had been poring over an old and time-worn volume; and the evening found him still absorbed in its contents. It was one of that interminable series of controversial volumes, containing the theological speculations of the ancient fathers of the Church. With the patient perseverance so characteristic of his countrymen, he was endeavoring to detect truth amidst the numberless inconsistencies of heated controversy; to reconcile jarring propositions; to search out the thread of scholastic argument amidst the rant of prejudice and the sallies of passion, and the coarse vituperations of a spirit of personal bitterness, but little in accordance with the awful gravity of the question at issue.
Wearied and baffled in his researches, he at length closed the volume, and rested his care-worn forehead upon his hand. “What avail,” he said, “these long and painful endeavors, these midnight vigils, these weary studies, before which heart and flesh are failing? What have I gained? I have pushed my researches wide and far; my life has been one long and weary lesson; I have shut out from me the busy and beautiful world; I have chastened every youthful impulse; and at an age when the heart should be lightest and the pulse the freest, I am grave and silent and sorrowful,’ and the frost of a premature age is gathering around my heart. Amidst these ponderous tomes, surrounded by the venerable receptacles of old wisdom, breathing, instead of the free air of heaven, the sepulchral dust of antiquity, I have become assimilated to the objects around me; my very nature has undergone a metamorphosis of which Pythagoras never dreamed. I am no longer a reasoning creature, looking at everything within the circle of human investigation with a clear and self-sustained vision, but the cheated follower of metaphysical absurdities, a mere echo of scholastic subtilty. God knows that my aim has been a lofty and pure one, that I have buried myself in this living tomb, and counted the health of this His feeble and outward image as nothing in comparison with that of the immortal and inward representation and shadow of His own Infinite Mind; that I have toiled through what the world calls wisdom, the lore of the old fathers and time-honored philosophy, not for the dream of power and gratified ambition, not for the alchemist’s gold or life-giving elixir, but with an eye single to that which I conceived to be the most fitting object of a godlike spirit, the discovery of Truth,–truth perfect and unclouded, truth in its severe and perfect beauty, truth as it sits in awe and holiness in the presence of its Original and Source!
“Was my aim too lofty? It cannot be; for my Creator has given me a spirit which would spurn a meaner one. I have studied to act in accordance with His will; yet have I felt all along like one walking in blindness. I have listened to the living champions of the Church; I have pored over the remains of the dead; but doubt and heavy darkness still rest upon my pathway. I find contradiction where I had looked for harmony; ambiguity where I had expected clearness; zeal taking the place of reason; anger, intolerance, personal feuds and sectarian bitterness, interminable discussions and weary controversies; while infinite Truth, for which I have been seeking, lies still beyond, or seen, if at all, only by transient and unsatisfying glimpses, obscured and darkened by miserable subtilties and cabalistic mysteries.”
He was interrupted by the entrance of a servant with a letter. The student broke its well-known seal, and read, in a delicate chirography, the following words:–
“DEAR ERNEST,–A stranger from the English Kingdom, of gentle birth and education, hath visited me at the request of the good Princess Elizabeth of the Palatine. He is a preacher of the new faith, a zealous and earnest believer in the gifts of the Spirit, but not like John de Labadie or the lady Schurmans.