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THE HISTORY OF A HUMAN HEART.
It is always a painful task to have to speak of the faults of the amiable, and the failures of those whose prevailing desire is to do right. Writers of fiction generally avoid this, by making their characters entirely and consistently of one class or another—the good, all good; the bad, all bad.
Did human life, in its living realities, present to our view only these two distinct extremes, the duties connected both with fact and fiction would be very different from what they
To a certain extent, those strong views which represent evil as altogether odious, and good as supremely to be admired, might tend to debase the one, and exalt the other, in the estimation of the reader, did any such perversion of feeling and taste exist as to admit of a doubt on the subject; but as there is often much to regret in the faults and follies of the well meaning, so there is often something to admire even in the most guilty-some redeeming point-some vestige of the divine image not quite effaced, which makes the eye fill with tears of pity, and the heart yearn towards them, while humbled vanity repeats the enquiry—“Am I really better than these?”
If, however, there is much to regret in the faults and the follies of the well-meaning, there is frequently much to learn from those instances in which they act under deceptive views of human life, and especially of their own hearts, believing them. selves to be acting from right motives, when they are really acting from wrong; and so lulling themselves into a false peace, from which they awake perhaps too late to correct the errors of a mis-spent life. We confess, too, that we are amongst those who believe that many of the wrong acts of the amiable
and well-disposed are, in the first instance, nothing worse than mistakes-errors of judgment, particularly liable to occur wherever there is a strong natural tendency to gratify self; and still more so, where the principles of human character in general have never been studied, and consequently never understood. In fact, we cannot look impartially upon society as it now exists, without being convinced that the inconsistencies, the short-comings, and the self-deceptions of the professing Christian, are doing more injury to the Christian cause than all the vices of the wicked. We cannot impartially contemplate this view, without discovering, that there are many well-meaning persons bearing the Christian name, who, if they could open their eyes, and behold the dishonour they are doing their profession, would almost prefer to perish at the stake, rather than to heap this scandal on a sacred cause. But what are they to do? Or how are they to be made to see themselves as they are, and their actions, precisely as those actions affect others ? They have probably never, from childhood even to old age, looked into human nature as it is. They may have studied books, and believed in doctrines, and busied themselves with the machinery of a popular and conventional religion; and the rapid and orderly turning of innumerable well-oiled wheels connected with this machinery may have so occupied their attention, and so stunned their perceptions of other things-beyond this, may have so commended them and their doings to a certain class with whom they desire to stand well, that nothing else has seemed to be required of them; and they have gone on, from year to year, perhaps as selfish and full of vanity-of envy and of petty spite of desire to stand first, and of eagerness to pluck down all who stand in their way, as if the religion of the heart had never been heard of; as if a condition of holiness, even on this side the grave, had never been regarded as a thing to be desired, much less to be attained.
We are wandering far away from the individual history of that human heart which we have undertaken to describe, and which we have selected as a fair specimen of those medium characters which occupy the half-way place between the good and the bad—the great and the little—the high and the low. In proportion as that character falls short of what, under better discipline, it might have been, the task of tracing out its history becomes both serious and sad ; and we would fain impress this truth upon the reader—that it is not for the mere amusement of an idle moment that this story is written. The question is not unfrequently put-"Why make your heroine so foolish, so perverse, so different from what she ought to be?” The answer is simple and direct—"Because human beings are foolish, perverse, and different from what they ought to be.” Even those who bring with them into life, as our heroine does, the most favourable dispositions; and those who, like her, are placed in advantageous circumstances, do not always so read and understand their own hearts as to be in practice, and reality, or even to endeavour to be, what they most admire in theory. They mean well, wish well, and even adopt many of the commonly prescribed means of attaining the good which they desire; but they set about their work in a state of ignorance so entire, as to the materials they have to work in, and with-they erect a structure so entirely without the elements of firmness, usefulness, or durability, that to ask a blessing on their work would be to ask the performance of a miracle, so destitute is all they do of appropriateness, or applicability to the condition of humanity in this present world, and its preparation for that which is to come.
It would have been a far more agreeable occupation for the writer to have painted a perfect character; and perhaps to have placed it in strong contrast with one that was worthy alone of being hated and despised. But we wish to speak of the temptations which beset unguarded feet, as they really are, and as they operate upon life and conduct. Above all, we wish to speak of those temptations which are the strongest of all, because they arise within the heart, and are thus inwoven, as it were, with the very elements of being. Our great desire is to enable the reader to detect the base threads which blend themselves with the human fabric, so that they may the more easily be disentangled and cast out—nay, even burned out with fire, if nothing else will do. We know that this process, to be successful, must be the work of the great Artificer alone; but we know, also, that the blindness, the ignorance, the utter absence of all rational discrimination on the part of the human worker, may not only hinder the process, but may cause serious blemishes in the finished texture, which will render it always unsightly and unattractive to human eyes; and thus may serve not only as a cause of cavilling and scorn with regard to the work itself, but may be the means of deterring many from becoming learners in the same school.
In addition, we believe that common sense is given us for common purposes; and that if it is our duty to use it in all the ordinary transactions of life which are connected with personal and physical welfare, it is a still higher duty to use, not our common sense alone, but our best powers of perception and judgment, in that study which is most of all neglected — the study of the human heart—the principles of human conduct—the elements of human being. When will this study be permitted to hold its proper place, and to stand first in all our plans of education? The time is long in coming; but we do not quite despair. Until it does, we must continue to look in vain for those results which education is most absurdly expected to produce. We must continue to look in vain for principles of conduct arising out of grammar and arithmeticfor the responsibilities of man towards his brother man arising out of algebra and Greek—for true nobility of soul arising out of music and foreign languages
So long as the deep and vital truths connected with this study are left, as they are now, almost entirely to the fictitious writer, we must not shrink from declaring them here; and therefore we return to our individual task. Therefore, we repeat, it was even so, that whether from natural perverseness inherent in the female heart, or whether from some vague interest attaching to the individual against whom she thought