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Sunday, 30 April 2017

The Jugglery of Hell

I do not address these words to those who have grown pitiless as flint—none but God could touch them; but there are well-disposed hearts, which a ray of light may help to expand. I was not hardhearted while I lived in the world; on the contrary, I could for the most part easily be moved to charity, if someone took the trouble to remind me. What ruined me was that boundless love of self which prevented my seeing the wants of others; or if I did see them, I did not stop to consider them. I receive now the reward of my deeds. Would that this fearful experience of mine could work a change in you; that might somewhat assuage my deepest sufferings! But even in that much of mercy, I cannot believe; the soul in torment can doubt only—doubt eternally.

I cannot but give you another example. I remember a poor family living in a miserable cottage not far from the lordly dwelling I inhabited. As often as I passed that way I looked through the lowly window, for a bald head moving to and fro in measured intervals attracted my notice. It was long, however, before I saw the face. The father of a numerous family would sit there in ill-health, gaining a humble livelihood. It appeared to be not necessity alone, but delight in his work also, which kept him up. He was a wood-carver of no mean capacity and worked for a wholesale house of children's playthings in the city. Strange to say, he was particularly clever in producing all sorts of ravenous beasts—he, who looked a personification of meekest mildness. Lions, wolves, and tigers graced his window-sill, he bearing trouble as a patient lamb. I said he was sickly, and the family was large. The wife took in washing; and they helped one another, each trying to ease the other's load.

But misfortune overtook them; the wholesale business failed; the poor man lost his livelihood. The bald head no longer appeared by the window—The cottage looked a grave. What had become of him? I once asked myself the question and stopped there, for you know self scarcely left me time to trouble myself with other people's affairs.

Still, opportunity thrust itself in my way. I saw him again—not merely his bald head, but himself. The poor man, bowed down with ill-health, and unused to hard labour, stood working in a brickfield with trembling knees.

I could not but pity him. I knew he was working himself to death, trying to gain food for his little ones. Indeed, he was in as imminent danger of life as if all the lions, wolves, and tigers whose images he had carved had gathered round to destroy him. I witnessed a touching scene one day. Passing about noon I saw the wife there, who had come with her husband's dinner—a dinner I would not have looked at. I saw how tenderly she wiped the weary forehead, how the children—for they all had come—clung to the father, the youngest climbing his knees, and how grateful he was for their affection, which roused him to new endeavours to gain a miserable pittance.

The sight really moved me; and I walked away, thinking I ought to do something for the struggling family. It was easy for me to find some post for the man which, while requiring no hard work at his hands, would keep them all in comfort. I certainly would see to it, but was called away on business; other things occupied my mind, and I forgot all about it. I did remember it again after a while, but then it was too late. The man had succumbed—the family was ruined.

But there are worse furies than these persecuting souls in torment. I cannot tell whether it is by imagination only, assisting what, for want of a better word, I must call the jugglery of hell, or whether this place of damnation has its own actual second sight, but it is a fact that sometimes I can see the entire growth of evil, spreading over years perhaps, and involving soul after soul, originating in some careless word of mine which proved to be the seed. I turn away, but I am driven to look again and again at the terrible consequences, and words cannot express what I feel.

It is appalling to think of the endless chain of sin and misery to which a single act, ay, a word even, may give rise. A chain, I say, for it is a frightful truth that the evil effect does not always spring from the seed as a single stupendous birth, to live and die for itself; but there is a demon power inherent in it of begetting and conceiving, wrong bringing forth wrong in endless succession. It is by its consequences, its capability of engulfing others, that the worst potency of sin becomes apparent.

It is of direct evil example, too, I would speak; how fearful is its power—how far-reaching its influence

Letters from Hell, L. W. J. S., Richard Bentley & Son, London, 1889