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On my already long life I look back with little complacency (except as to the goodness of Divine Providence), rather, with heavy condemnation.* Comparatively with what it might and should have been, it has been an indolent and profitless life,-of extremely slight intellectual discipline, very defective cultivation and advance of personal piety, and little faithful exertion to do good—a most powerful antidote to all pharisaism; from which, indeed, I do think I am wholly clear—and strange if I were not. But for that blessed refuge in the atonement of our Mediator I should be in utter despair. But that, Heaven be praised, is all-sufficient and alone.
“ I named - intellectual discipline;' I should be ashamed to write such a word as study; anything that ought to have answered to that name, has been, to the last degree, shallow and desultory. Not for want of copious aids, which should also have been excitements. For I have most foolishly accumulated books, to the amount of several thousand volumes, some of them of a costly order, and, collectively taken, at an expense which, with such limited means, I had no business to afford, and did not afford without often trenching on much more useful and necessary expenditures. And it would be most mortifying to me if, besides, I were to hear a true voice telling me, how many of these same volumes have been wholly unread.
“.... My memory, never good, has become so miserably faithless, that reading is of little use to me. Do you keep up your taste and habits in that way?
* “Much as I am condemning men and mankind, I do really think that a larger portion of accusatory thought is directed on the evil at home than on that of all the rest of the world put together. Very often I am amazed and confounded to think how I can have lived so long to make such miserable attainments in plain, vital, practical Christianity, and to think how grievously, prodigiously difficult it is to subdue, or even reduce, any one, great or small, of the evil principles of this our evil nature."--- Mr. Foster to Dr. Stenson.
“My political and anti-hierarchical feelings and opinions have been but little modified by age. And their abatement is little likely to be a consequence of the present glaring manifestation of aristocratic arrogance and high-church intolerance. I meet with no thoughtful man who does not apprehend, that the course of national affairs will, after a while, be precipitated to some fearful extremity or catastrophe.
“ But, my dear friend, let me not seem to forget that this is a communication between two persons who will soon have done with sublunary concerns. You are, I think, two or
, three years in advance of me. Both approaching the ex
A few years more, at the utmost, and where shall we be ? Oh may our dwelling and our meeting be in a far better and happier economy; where already so many of our dear departed friends are exulting in a final, eternal escape from all evil ; to which contemplative thought often tries to follow them, with the earnest but unanswered questions—where ?—what manner of existence and employment? -But suffice it that they are happy, and that we are in. vited to go and see, and to mingle our happiness with theirs. Earnest assiduous preparation, then, is the solemn concern of this concluding portion of our life.”
In the summer of 1840 Mr. Foster visited his friends at Bourton. Writing to Mr. Hill (June 30) he says, “ There is nothing to tell you of here. I am in a most worthy and friendly family, and have been met with marks of pleasure by the remaining few of the good people with whom I was acquainted or intimate in a period of residence which ended something more than twenty years since ! How few they are, and how changed in appearance! And doubtless I appear to them changed no less. I am not, I hope, unthankful to the good Providence that was indulgent to me when here, and has not deserted me during the long course
of years since and elsewhere. But a review of my life-of myself—back through all these years, brings bitter reflec tions on the wretched deficiencies, neglects, and vanities, of a life that might have been (might have been !) wholly, earnestly, and delightfully, devoted to God and Christ. My daily and almost hourly prayer is, “ God be merciful to me a sinner! I do think, that if there be any one thing that I am fully clear of, it is self-righteousness. I am sometimes almost afraid I shall err in praying so little against this, in consequence of feeling (as I think) so very absolute an extirpation of it from my mind.”
In another letter to the same friend (July 9) he says, “I look with pensive, and not a little of painful emotion, at the rooms I frequented, the house I inhabited, the rural walks which I trod, during a course of many years, since the end of which a much longer series has passed away. It was here I formed, and for a long time had the happiness of an union, now many years since dissolved.
But the pain of a more austere kind than that of pensiveness is from the reflection, to how little purpose, of the highest order, the long years here, and subsequently elsewhere, have been consumed away-how little sedulous and earnest cultivation of internal piety--how little even of mental improvement-how little of zealous devotement to God, and Christ, and the best cause. Oh, it is a grievous and sad reflection; and it drives me to the great and only resource, to say, 'God be merciful to me a sinner!—I also most earnestly implore that, in one way or other, what may remain of my
may be better, far better, than the long-protracted past. Past! -what a solemn and almost tremendous word it is—when pronounced in the reference in which I am here repeating it!....
“After several weeks spent here, with a throwing aside of a cumbrous task or two, which I was very desirous to
work off my hands, I have the horrid business before me, as soon as there shall be a space of true summer weather, of going about what I have shrunk from, one year after another, all the while knowing it to be necessary, of making something like a clear reformation of my part of the house, which is infested with the dust, damp, book-worms, and chaos of all sorts of accumulations of jumbled valuables and rubbish. .... I must be in superintendence of the business myself, taking as small a part of the hard work as I can help. This ugly transaction will take, even with fine weather, several weeks; and by the time it is ended I shall very much want to sit down motionless and quiet and also to try whether I can make some little use of the room for its proper
business. How it ever is to be done, I do not venture yet even to imagine. It is a hard matter of faith that it can be done at all.”
On his return to Stapleton he writes (July 24), “ The Augean business here has not yet been entered on. Besides the shrinking horror, the weather has been untoward, from wet and cold. If the present apparent promise of its taking up' shall prove true, I must force myself to the resolution (I mean I hope I shall be forced to the resolution-you know by what power), to make a beginning with the beginning of next week. .
A few days since, as a very rare occurrence, I yielded to the solicitation of a curious literary acquaintance from Leicester, to have a look of inspection into the den, of which he said he had heard frightful reports, made on surmise. And though I assured him, in the way of preparation, that they could not, though made on conjecture, without actual knowledge, have exceeded the truth, he appeared fairly taken aback at the spectacle, and muttered, “This is chaos indeed !'"
Though all the assistance was given to Mr. Foster which he would allow, in this troublesome and fatiguing business,
the exertions he made, together with the extreme sultriness of the season, obliged him for a time to remit it; and when accomplished, he found it necessary to have recourse to medical aid. It increased a morbid affection, which he had experienced for the last two or three months, a kind of habitual dull heaviness, which was more annoying, and excited more apprehension, from his having been absolutely free from common head-ache during all his previous life; a circumstance rather remarkable in one whose time had been so devoted to literary labour, and who, in other ways, very sensibly felt the effects of it on his bodily frame.
Not long after his return home, he received the unexpected intelligence of the decease of his valued friend, the Rev. Thomas Coles, after a very short illness. “ The sad event,” he says,* " comes with such a surprise that one seems hardly able to believe it a reality. To think how I saw him, evening after evening, but a few short weeks since ! betraying no signs of the infirmities of age ; vigorous, animated, and in various activity; a man for whom one was pleased to predict a physical and mental competence for his work, for towards twenty years to come. How strange and striking if, the last. morning of being with him, at his cheerful breakfast, some secret prophetic intimation had come into
my mind, that by the time I am now writing he would be silent, insensible, and waiting but a few hours to be conveyed to the grave! What a change it would have brought in the silent consciousness of the mind, over every look, and sentence, and tone of his voice!.... To-morrow the pulpit will be beheld with a kind of dubious wondering sentiment, that will
Will he really be seen there no more? Have there proceeded thence his final address and final prayer? Will every voice now to be heard there be a memento that his, which has been heard these forty years,
* To Dr. Stenson, September, 1841