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Elizabeth Fry
by [?]

And so Elizabeth grew in years and in stature and in understanding; and although her parents were not members of the Established Religion, yet a great cathedral is greater than sect, and to her it was the true House of Prayer. It was there that God listened to the prayers of His children. She loved the place with an idolatrous love and with all the splendid superstition of a child, and thither she went to kneel and ask fulfilment of her heart’s desire. All the beauties of ancient and innocent days moved radiant and luminous in the azure of her mind. But time crept on and a woman’s penetrating comprehension came to her, and the dreams of youth shifted off into the realities of maturity, and she saw that many who came to pray were careless, frivolous people, and that the vergers did their work without more reverence than did the stablemen who cared for her father’s horses. And once when twilight was veiling the choir, and all the worshipers had departed, she saw a curate strike a match on the cloister-wall, to light his pipe, and then with the rector laugh loudly, because the bishop had forgotten and read his “Te Deum Laudamus” before his “Gloria in Excelsis.”

By degrees it came to her that the lord bishop of this holy place was in the employ of the State, and that the State was master too of the army and the police and the ships that sailed away to New Zealand, carrying in their holds women and children, who never came back, and men who, like the lord bishop, had forgotten this and done that when they should have done the other.

Once, in the streets of Norwich she saw a dozen men with fetters riveted to their legs, all fastened to one clanking chain, breaking stone in the drizzle of a winter rain. And the thought came to her that the rich ladies, wrapped in furs, who rolled by in their carriages, going to the cathedral to pray, were no more God’s children than these wretches breaking stone from the darkness of a winter morning until darkness settled over the earth again at night.

She saw plainly the patent truth that, if some people wore gaudy and costly raiment, others must dress in rags; if some ate and drank more than they needed, and wasted the good things of earth, others must go hungry; if some never worked with their hands, others must needs toil continuously.

The Gurneys were nominally Friends, but they had gradually slipped away from the directness of speech, the plainness of dress, and the simplicity of the Quakers. They were getting rich on government contracts–and who wants to be ridiculous anyway? So, with consternation, the father and mother heard the avowal of Elizabeth to adopt the extreme customs of the Friends. They sought to dissuade her. They pointed out the uselessness of being singular, and the folly of adopting a mode of life that makes you a laughing-stock. But this eighteen-year-old girl stood firm. She had resolved to live the Christ-life and devote her energies to lessening the pains of earth. Life was too short for frivolity; no one could afford to compromise with evil. She became the friend of children; the champion of the unfortunate; she sided with the weak; she was their friend and comforter. Her life became a cry in favor of the oppressed, a defense of the downtrodden, an exaltation of self-devotion, a prayer for universal sympathy, liberty and light. She pleaded for the vicious, recognizing that all are sinners and that those who do unlawful acts are no more sinners in the eyes of God than we who think them so.

The religious nature and sex-life are closely akin. The woman possessing a high religious fervor is also capable of a great and passionate love. But the Norwich Friends did not believe in a passionate love, except as the work of the devil. Yet this they knew, that marriage tames a woman as nothing else can. They believed in religion, of course–but not an absorbing, fanatical religion! Elizabeth should get married–it would cure her mental maladies: exaltation of spirit in a girl is a dangerous thing anyway. Nothing subdues like marriage.