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Sunday, 28 May 2017

A prey to bitter reality

I wrote the above as the awful night was spreading her wings—oh how I dreaded its settling! Every renewed darkness brings new agony, new despair. And as soon as the light has vanished entirely, hell is swept of everything with which imagination had endowed ittowns, castles, houses, parks, churches, clubs, and all places of amusement—everything has vanished, leaving a desert void, and souls unclothed of aught but bare being. Hell is then like a vast dungeon where man and woman, rich and poor, crawl about in utter loneliness. While the light lasted, dusky though at best it is, one could arrange oneself according to one's fancy, having everything one listed, unreal though it were—mere shadows of thoughtstill it is a kind of occupation to surround oneself with imagined possessions, but this terrible night admits of no such jugglery. It leaves me naked, poor, forsaken, homeless, friendless—a prey to bitter reality. I shrink together within my miserable self, not knowing where I am, or who may be near me. Nor do I care to know, filled with the one thought that I am in the place of lost souls —lost myself.

Evil thoughts keep settling round my heart, beleaguering it as the ruthless Romans did the unhappy city of David. This siege, too, ends with a terrible destruction, an agony of suffering, the like
of which the world has never seen.

As before, I passed the long night shuddering, trembling for outward cold, but with a horrible fire within. You say in the world, and say truly, that there are conflicts in which even strong men fail, Alas, the hardest conflict now seems a happy condition, for here struggling is at an end, as being too good for hell! There is only raving and madness here—a kind of spiritual suicide even—but no struggling for victory. The soul here is a victim, forsaken by the powers of good. Every little devil is permitted to fasten his miserable claws on the helpless mind. Understand me, it is a figure of speech. There are no devils in this place save our own evil desires, passions, and sinful thoughts. Satan at times is here, but, thanks be to God, not yet has he final power over the soul.

In this very night he was present—come to look on the miserable beings he delights in considering his. Though not always, yet generally, he chooses darkness for his visits. As a sudden whirlwind, felt but not seen, he is among us, and hell is frozen with horror. All the millions of souls then shrink together in an agony of unutterable fear, knowing that one is among them who never knew pity and ruth—the great destroyer, ready to destroy them. And this is the dreadful thing, that, though certain of his presence—ay, feeling it—not one of us can say, see here! see there! You hear a crackling as of fire—serpents of flame keep darting across the tenebrous space, showing his path, but where is he, the dread enemy? His consuming eye at this very moment may be upon you, gloating over your trembling soul.

I will be silent—I cannot dwell on these horrors. Be it enough to say that again and again, I felt myself in the very grasp of the evil one, who seemed to dally with my anguish. It took all manner of forms—suffice it to give oneI suddenly felt as though I were a bottomless ocean, in which my sins were swimming about like fish. And the devil sat on the shore, grinning and throwing his lines, using now this evil desire, now that, as a bait. He was an expert, catching fish upon fish. Suddenly the float disappeared, dragged down into the deep—a good catch no doubt. He brought it up triumphantly—O Lord of pity, my own heart, bleeding and writhing! It was horrible, horrible! Let me drop the veil.

This too is imagination of course, or, at worst, Satan's own evil pastime with the hopeless mind. But, nevertheless, what is there more real than death? and I suffered a hundred deaths in that night.

At last, at last—I know not after what length of time—hell was given up again to its own state of misery—rising to it with a gasp as out of a fearful dream.

Then I felt it a relief almost to be but a prey once more to my own evil thoughts. Bad as it was, to be left to myself seemed gain. As before, the whole of my past life was unrolled to my sight, sin upon sin, failure upon failure, gnawing at my heart until it was but a single festering wound.

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