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(23) Art. II.-Memoir of Felix Neff, Pastor of the High Alps; and of his
Labours among the French Protestants of Dauphiné, a Remnant of the primitive Christians of Gaul. By William Stephen Gilly, M.A. Prebendary of Durham and Vicar of Norham. 8vo.
pp. 342. Price 8s. Od. London, 1832. NOT merely this volume, but the pious labours which it
records, may be said to have been in part originated by the interesting memorials of the life of the Pastor Oberlin. The character of Oberlin was Neffos delight and his model; and if,' says Mr. Gilly, it did not first awaken his desire to become eminent ' in the same way, it confirmed his good resolutions.'
« The Pastor of the Alps had by some means become acquainted with the history of the Pastor of the Vosges, and of his improvements in the Ban de la Roche. Several publications had noticed Oberlin's beneficial labours in his mountain parish ; and Neff's bosom glowed with a noble emulation to imitate his doings. Therefore, without derogating in the least degree from Neff's merits, it may be said, that much of his usefulness may be attributed to the practical lesson which Oberlin had previously taught ... The amiable Biographer who collected the memorials of Oberlin, may enjoy the exquisite sacisfaction of believing, that her record of his blameless life and indefatigable labours will be like a voice exclaiming in the ears of many who begin to feel the pleasure of being useful, “ Go thou and do likewise”; and will thus be the means of perpetuating to future generations the inHuence of Oberlin's beneficent exertions, more effectually than any monument to his memory.' pp. 232, 3.
Mr. Gilly, the Author of the present Memoir, must be well known to our readers, by his “ Narrative of an Excursion to the Mountains of Piedmont”; * and his assiduous and persevering efforts on behalf of the Waldensian Church reflect the highest honour upon his Christian benevolence. In the course of his ecclesiastical researches, he became convinced, that the secluded
glens of Piedmont are not the only retreats where the descendants of primitive Christians may be found.' His belief that the Alpine provinces of France might still be harbouring some of the descendants of the early Christians of Gaul, was confirmed by a letter received in the winter of 1826, from the Rev. Francis Cunningham, in which the meritorious labours of Felix Neff were referred to; and he subsequently obtained from that gentleman, “ to whom the Protestant cause on the Continent • owes much,' a memorial drawn up by Neff himself, of which the substance is given in the Introduction to the present memoir. Long as it is, we cannot refrain from giving it entire.
«« In those dark times, when the Dragon of whom St. John speaks, made war with the remnant of the seed which kept the commandinents
See Eclec. Rev. Vol. XXVI. p. 550.
of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ, some of those who escaped from the edge of the sword, found a place of refuge among the mountains. It was then, that the most rugged valleys of the French department of the High Alps, were peopled by the remains of those primitive Christians, who, after the example of Moses, when he preferred the reproach of Christ to the riches of Egypt, changed their fertile plains for a frightful wilderness. But fanaticism still pursued them ; and neither their poverty nor their innocence, nor the glaciers and precipices among which they dwelt, entirely protected them; and the caverns which served them for churches, were often washed with their blood. Previously to the Reformation, the Valley of Fressinière was the only place in France, where they could maintain their ground; and even here, they were driven from the more productive lands, and were forced to retreat to the very foot of the glacier, where they built the village of Dormilleuse. This village, constructed like an eagle's nest upon the side of a mountain, was the citadel where a small portion that was left, established itself, and where the race has continued without
any mixture with strangers to the present day. Others took up their dwelling at the bottom of a deep glen called La Combe, a rocky abyss to which there is no exit ; where the horizon is so bounded, that, for six months of the year, the rays of the sun never penetrate. These hamlets, exposed to avalauches and the falling of rocks, and buried under snow half the year, consist of hovels, of which some are without chimneys and glazed windows, and others have nothing but a miserable kitchen and a stable, which is seldom cleaned out more than once a year, and where the inhabitants spend the greater part of the winter with their cattle for the sake of the warmth. The rocks by which they are enclosed, are so barren, and the climate is so severe, that there is no knowing how these poor Alpines, with all their simplicity and temperance, contrive to subsist. Their few sterile fields hang over precipices, and are covered, in places, with enormous blocks of granite, which roll every year from the cliffs above.
Some seasons, even rye will not ripen there. The pasturages are, many of them, inaccessible to cattle, and scarcely safe for sheep. Such wretched soil cannot be expected to yield any thing more than will barely sustain life, and pay the taxes, which, owing to the unfeeling negligence of the inspectors, are too often levied without proper consideration for the unproductiveness of the land. The clothing of these poor creatures is made of coarse wool, which they dress and weave themselves. Their principal food is unsifted rye: this, they bake into cakes in the i autumn, so as to last the whole
year. «« The revocation of the Edict of Nantes, in 1686, deprived them of their ministers, and we may judge what their condition must have been for many years; but still, there was not a total famine of the Word among them. They met together to read the Bible and to
i sing psalms ; and although they had an ancient church in Dormilleuse. they were building a second in La Combe, which was not finished when I first arrived there. Such was their situation when Providence directed me to their valleys in 1823. They received me i most gladly; they attended my preaching with eagerness, and gave themselves up to my guidance in all that I undertook for their im
provement. The limits of this short notice will not permit me to enter into any detail of my proceedings, during the three years half that I remained with them. I will merely state, that my
instructions were not unproductive of good; that many young men have been put in the way of opening schools during the winter; that the Sunday-schools have been frequented by adults who could not profit by the lessons given in the day-schools open to younger persons. Up to this period, the girls and the women had been almost entirely neglected. With the assistance of subscriptions from foreigners, one school-room has been built, and another is in preparation. Several of the inhabitants have shewn a strong inclination to take advantage of the information which I have given them on agriculture and architecture, and in the principles of some of the useful sciences, which hitherto were utterly unknown to them. I have distributed many Bibles, New Testaments, and other books of piety among them, which, I have been pleased to find, were not only received with gratitude, but such as were sold were readily purchased at prime cost. In truth, the religious knowledge communicated to them has been so blessed, that you would not find in any part of France more genuine piety or simplicity of manners. But still it can hardly be expected that this improvement will be permanent, considering their physical, moral, and religious condition, so long as they are without the ministration of regular pastors. Up to the present time, the Valley of Fressinière has not a pastor of its own. It is served in connexion with the churches of Val Queyras, which are ten leagues distant, on the other side of the Durance, and are separated by a lofty range of mountains, whose passes are not only very difficult, but absolutely dangerous in the winter. The visits of the pastor are, therefore, necessarily few and at long intervals; and the people are obliged to wait his con. venience, until they can have their children baptized, the nuptial blessing pronounced, or any of the church services performed. Moved by the destitute condition of these mountaineers, who are endeared to me not only by their own amiable disposition, but by their interesting origin, I would most willingly devote myself to their service, and submit to all manner of deprivation and fatigue as their pastor ; but the frequent journeys from one church to another, in the Valleys of Fressinière and Queyras, have been too much for me; and total ex, haustion, proceeding from this cause and from a stomach complaint, brought on by living on unwholesome food, have so disabled me, that I am obliged to remove myself for the present, with very slight hopes of ever being so restored as to be able to return.
"" At this juncture, when respect for the adherents of the primitive doctrines and forms of Christianity has manifested itself so conspicuously in behalf of the Protestants of the Valleys of Piedmont, I have thought it my duty to give publicity to the fact, that their brethren of the French Alps are equally objects of interest, and much more indigent, although they have hitherto remained unknown and unnoticed.”
Anxious to know more both of this ' Apostle of the Alps and of his flock,' Mr. Gilly determined to visit the Val Fressinière, VOL. IX. - N.S.
on his way to or from Piedmont; and he had the gratification of traversing nearly the whole of the alpine diocese which was the sphere of Neff's pastoral labours; but that extraordinary man had gone to his rest a few months before his Biographer arrived at Dormilleuse. From the information collected on the spot, together with other documents *, including Neff's own journals, the present volume has been compiled.
Felix Neff was born in the year 1798, and was brought up in a village near Geneva, under the care of his widowed mother. The village pastor gave him instruction in the Latin language, as well as in history, geography, and botany. Among the few books that were within his reach, Plutarch and Rousseau were his favourites: the former, by making him acquainted with the great heroes of antiquity, kindled his youthful ambition; and the writings of the latter encouraged his love of nature and his taste for mountain scenery. Military exploits and scientific researches shared the visions of his boyhood; and his character and habits were thus formed in remarkable adaptation for the arduous duties and hardships of his future station “ as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.”
· When it was time for Neff to select a profession, necessity or choice, or perhaps both combined, induced him to engage himself to the proprietor of a nursery-ground or florist-gardener; and at sixteen, he published a little treatise on the culture of trees. The accuracy and arrangement of this juvenile work, and the proof of deep observation which it manifested, were subjects of no small praise at the time. But the quiet and humble walks of the florist's garden were soon exchanged for the bustle of the garrison; and at seventeen, Felix entered t as a private into the military service of Geneva, in the memorable year 1815. Two years afterwards, he was promoted to the rank of serjeant of artillery ; and having raised himself to notice by his theoretical and practical knowledge of mathematics, he continued to make this branch of science his study during his continuance in the army..
... Neff was soon distinguished in the corps to which he belonged, not only as an efficient sub-officer, but as a devoted soldier of the cross. The influence, however, which he hourly obtained over his comrades, excited a degree of jealousy among the superior officers, which was far from honourable to them. They wished him out of the service: he was too religious for them; and after a few years, the serious turn of his mind became so marked, that he was advised to quit it, and to prepare himself for holy orders.' pp. 43–45.
* The Author acknowledges his obligations to a small tract, entitled, “ Notice sur Felix Neff, Pasteur dans les Hautes Alpes.” A brief memoir of Neff, chiefly translated from this tract, was given in the Congregat. Mag. for April last.
+ In a memoir referred to in a preceding note, it is stated, that Neff was 'compelled to enrol himself in the garrison.
It would have been interesting to learn more distinctly the means and mental process by which, amid circumstances and associations so unfavourable to piety, Neff first became awakened to his own spiritual condition and to the paramount importance of eternal interests. A deep and solemn examination of the motives which had hitherto governed his conduct, appears to have led to the overwhelming conviction, that he had come utterly short of the primary obligations of a creature, and of the unchangeable requirements of the law of God. The mental anguish produced by this discovery, was augmented by his ignorance of the evangelical doctrine. In this agony of spirit, he had recourse to prayer for guidance and relief, and to the Bible itself, to the study of which he devoted himself with fervent supplications for Divine illumination: Make me, O God, to know thy truth; and deign to ma
nifest thyself to my heart.' Such was his language, and his prayer was heard. Mr. Gilly states, that, on quitting the army, Neff 'placed himself under pious instruction and superintendence.' Having offered himself as a candidate for ordination, he officiated for some time as a probationer, or proposant ; first, in the neighbourhood of Geneva, afterwards in the adjacent cantons, and, in 1821, at Grenoble. We should have been glad to learn further particulars relating to this period of his life; but all that is known, or stated in the memoir, is comprised in these facts. He was in his twenty-fourth year, and had not yet received ordination, when, in 1821, he was invited to assist the Protestant pastor of Grenoble. Having remained there about six months, his services were requested at Miens, in the department of Isère, to supply the place of an absent pastor; and at the petition of the inhabitants to the Consistory, he was nominated 'pastor-catechist’on June 1, 1822. His indefatigable zeal and faithful instructions were made useful to many persons there, and endeared him to all. Having thus, during four years, made proof of his ministry, he left Mens in April 1823, with the intention of seeking ordination. But here a difficulty presented itself.
By whom should he be ordained ? By the authorities of the National Church of Geneva, the land of his birth? They had avowed principles from which his soul shrunk; and he felt a strong reluctance to derive authority to preach the Gospel from those who, in his opinion, had betrayed the Gospel, by ceasing to uphold the divinity of Jesus Christ and the essential doctrines of the Book of Life. Should he present himself before those seceding pastors of Geneva who had separated from the National Church, and who declared themselves the members of a new Church? A reference to Neff's letter on the subject of national establishments, will shew that he was likely to have scruples here. p. 81.
The letter to which Mr. Gilly refers, explicitly maintains the right of separation from the national Church, but at the same