Oldalképek
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

6

time expresses the Writer's opinion in favour of Establishments, as ' useful institutions. It is necessary in my opinion,' says Neff, ' at the same time that we recognize the right of a Christian 'to separate, (and it is often absolutely expedient to do so,) to 'admit also, that there are many strong reasons to induce a great • number of the children of God to remain in connexion with the

national church, so long as it does not compel them to profess or to teach a lie, and that it does not reject them from its bosom, because they are in unison with a more spiritual congregation. Neff's views on this subject were in entire coincidence with those of Henry, Howe, Baxter, and the great body of the ejected ministers. Yet, the step which he took, though not in direct opposition to the National Church of Geneva, was one of very decided dissent from it. He resolved to come to this country, where his name and character had been made known through the medium of the Continental Society, to ask for a public recognition as a devoted servant of God, in one of those independent congregations whose ministers are received in the Protestant • churches of France, as duly authorized to preach the word of

God and to fulfil all the duties of the pastoral office. Unacquainted with a word of English, he embarked on board a steambuat at Calais; on landing at Dover, consigned himself to a night-coach ; and arrived in the Metropolis on a Sunday morning, with no other clew to guide him through the mazes of the city, than a direction to the house of the Rev. Mr. Wilks. After “puzzling out his way' to his friend's abode, he found that Mr. Wilks was not at home, and no one in the house could speak French. He then contrived to find his way to the Protestant French Church.

« The excellent Mr. Scholl was the preacher at the chapel upon this occasion; and to him Neff addressed himself after the service, with the modest request that he would direct him to an hotel where French was spoken. The wanderer's delight must have been excessive, when Mr. Scholl kindly accosted him by name, and told him that he was aware of the errand upon which he had come, and that every thing should be done to promote his views. He was placed in comfortable lodgings; and, on the return of Mr. Wilks, he was introduced by that gentleman to the ministers who were to receive him into their body.

On the 19th of May, 1823, Neff, to use his own ternis, ceived a diploma in Latin, signed by nine ministers, of whom three were doctors in Theology, and one was a Master of Arts, and was ordained in a chapel in the Poultry in London."'--pp. 88, 9.

We cannot refrain from remarking, that Mr. Gilly's account of these transactions bespeaks a candour and liberality of mind highly honourable to him as an Episcopalian. There are, we fear, not many churchmen who would let pass so tempting an occasion for asserting the exclusive validity of Episcopal orders,

re

and for insinuating their contempt for the congregational polity. Neff lost no time in returning to the scene of his pastoral labours; and the affectionate reception he met with at Mens, • would have been felt like a triumphal entrance by any but a person of his humble and unassuming spirit.? The jealousy of the French Government towards foreign preachers, rendered it unadvisable, however, for him to remain there ; and he had formed a strong desire to make the secluded and neglected region of the Alps the scene of his labours. With as much ardour as many would have sought the richest preferment, he longed to become the Oberlin of the French Alps.

"" I am always dreaming of the High Alps," said he in a letter of the 8th of Sept. 1823 ; " and I would rather be stationed there, than in the places which are under the beautiful sky of Languedoc. In the higher Alpine region I shall be the only pastor, and therefore more at liberty. In the south, I shall be embarrassed by the presence and conflicting opinions of other pastors. With respect to the description which B has given of these mountains, it may be correct as to some places; but still, the country bears a strong resemblance to the Alps of Switzerland. It has its advantages and even its beauties. If there are wolves and chamois, there are also cattle and pasturage, and glaciers, and picturesque spots, and above all, an energetic race of people, intelligent, active, hardy, and patient under fatigue, who offer a better soil for the Gospel, than the wealthy and corrupt inhabitants of the plains of the South.”

At length, his ardent wishes were gratified. On the application of the elders of the Protestant churches of Val Queyras and Val Fressinière to the Consistory of Orpierre, he was regularly appointed their pastor ; but difficulties occurred with respect to some formalities requisite in order to his obtaining the Government stipend ; so that his salary from the Continental Society, of about fifty pounds a year, was his principal, if not sole maintenance.

Neff's journal has noted the 16th of Jan. 1824, as the day on which he arrived at Arvieux, to take possession of the habitation provided for the pastor of the district. The parish of Arvieux, one of the two ecclesiastical sections into which the department of the High Alps is divided, comprises the two arrondissemens of Embrun and Briançon. It extends sixty miles, in a straight geographical line from east to west; but nearly eighty miles must be traversed through the windings of the mountains, in the journey from one extreme point to the other. Within this line are situated seventeen or eighteen villages, containing between 600 and 700 Protestants, who are divided into six distinct and distant groupes. The valley of Queyras, which communicates directly with the Protestant valleys of Piedmont by the pass of the Col de la Croix, forms the eastern quarter of the section of Arvieux.

This valley, extending from the foot of Monte Viso to Mont Dauphin, comprises the whole length of the river Guil, to its junction with the Durance, together with the lateral glens through which descend the mountain torrents that fall into the Guil. The western quarter of the section consists of the valley of Fressinière, watered by a torrent which pours itself into the Durance half-way between Briançon and Embrun. Sixty miles of rugged road must be trodden by the pastor stationed at La Chalp, near Arvieux, before he can perform his duties at Champsaur, at the eastern extremity of his parish. San Veran, at the opposite extremity, is twelve miles west of La Chalp; he has also a distance of twenty miles towards the south and of thirty-three towards the north, when his services are required by the little flocks at Vars and La Grave. The contrast which these savage defiles on the wrong side of the Alps, present to the Piedmontese valleys, is very striking. The latter are, for the most part, beautifully diversified by green meadows and rich corn-fields; the declivities are clothed with thick foliage, and the innumerable flocks and herds browsing on the mountain sides, present an animated picture. They form, in fact, Mr. Gilly remarks, ' a garden with

deserts in view.' Some are barren and repulsive, but they are exceptions.

· On the contrary, in the Alpine retreats of the French Protestants, fertility is the exception, and barrenness the common aspect. There, the tottering cliffs, the sombre and frowning rocks, which, from their fatiguing continuity, look like a mournful veil which is never to be raised, -the tremendous abysses, the comfortless cottages, and the ever present dangers, from avalanches and thick mists and clouds,-- proclaim that this is a land which man never would have chosen, even for his hiding-place, but from the direst necessity.'-p. 113.

The Pass of the Guil, which is one of the keys of France on the Italian frontier, presents scenery of the most terrible magnificence, that might amply repay the summer traveller for the fatigue of exploring this savage defile ; but, in winter, it is so perilous that lives are lost almost every year. Yet, Neff repeatedly forced his way through it in the middle of January, when it is notoriously unsafe. We must make room for the following description and the reflections which are subjoined.

On issuing out of the depths of the defile, the frowning battlements of Château Queyras, built on a lofty projecting cliff, on the edge of the torrent, and backed by the barrier wall of Alps, which, at this season of the year, towers like a bulwark of ice between the dominions of France, and those of the king of Sardinia, present a picture of the most striking magnificence. Every thing combines to give an interest to the scene. In the far distances are the snowy peaks of Monte Viso, of dazzling white, and in the fore-ground, the rustic aqueducts, composed

in the simplest manner of wooden troughs, supported on lofty scaffolding, and crossing and recrossing the narrow valley; which form a striking contrast between the durability of the works of God's hands, the everlasting mountains, and the perishable devices of men. About a mile and a half, on the Guillestre side, from Château Queyras, a rough path, on the left, conducts to Arvieux : and here a different prospect opens to the view. The signs of cultivation and of man's presence increase : some pretty vales, and snug-looking cottages please the eye; and in one spot, a frail but picturesque foot-bridge of pines carelessly thrown across a chasm, invites the stranger to approach and inspect it. He is almost appalled to find himself on the brink of an abyss, many fathoms deep, at the bottom of which a body of water foams and chafes, which has forced itself a passage through the living rock. The narrowness and depth of this chasm,

and the extraordinary manner in which it is concealed from observation, till you are close to it, form one of the greatest natural curiosities in a province which abounds in objects of the same sort.

• Neff followed the custom of those who directed him to his pastoral dwelling-place, and called it Arvieux in his journals. It is not, however, situated in the principal village of the commune so called, but at La Chalp, a small hamlet beyond. The church is at Arvieux, but the minister's residence is, with the majority of the Protestant population, higher up the valley; for in this glen, as in all the others where the remains of the primitive Christians still exist, they are invariably found to have crept up to the furthest habitable part of it. In the Valley of Fressinière, the Protestants, in like manner, have penetrated to the edge of the glacier, where they were most likely to remain unmolested ; and again, in the commune of Molines, Grosse Pierre, and Fousillarde, are at the very furthest point of vegetation ; and there is nothing fit for mortal to take refuge in, between San Veran and the eternal snows which mantle the pinnacles of Monte Viso.

*In the page which records his arrival at the humble white cottage, which had been recently prepared for the pastor, in La Chalp, Neff has not inserted any observation about the comforts or conveniences of the habitation designed for his future dwelling-place. It is a small low building, without any thing to distinguish it but its white front; such at least was its aspect when I saw it: but there was an air of cheerfulness in its situation, facing the south, and standing in a sunny spot, which contrasted strongly with the dismal hovels of Dormilleuse, where he afterwards spent most of the winter months. It is most probable that he found it totally devoid of every thing which administers to comfort, beyond locality; for a memorandum, written a few days after his arrival, mentions his having made a journey to Guillestre, for the purchase of some household utensils. Once for all, therefore, I may remark, that the reader, whose notions of the happiness of a pastor's life have been formed in the smiling parsonage or snug manse, or who has considered it as deriving its enjoyment from a state of blissful repose and peacefulness, has widely erred from the mark in Neff's case. His happiness was, to be busily employed in bringing souls to God: he seems not to have set the slightest value on any of the comforts of a home: or, if he valued them, to have sacris

ficed them cheerfully to his sense of duty. One of the principal charms in the recital of a good clergyman's life, is the character of the clergyman at home. But Neff had none of the comforts of this life to cheer him. No family endearments welcomed him to a peaceful fireside after the toils of the day: nothing of earthly softness smoothed his pillow. His was a career of anxiety, unmitigated and unconsoled by any thing but a sense of duties performed, and of acceptance with God. The commune of Arvieux, and the cheerful hamlets of La Chalp and Brunichard, were the brightest spots in his extensive parish ; but they were not the fairest to his eye, for he complains in several of his letters, that the people there were spoiled by the advantages of their situation, and were by no means so well inclined to profit by his instructions, as the inhabitants of less favoured spots.' pp. 115-119.

The natives of Arvieux are almost all Roman Catholics. Those of La Chalp and Brunichard are, for the most part, Protestants. San Veran is the highest village in the valley of Queyras, and the most pious. It is, in fact, said to be the most elevated village in Europe; and it is a provincial saying relating to the mountain of San Veran, that it is la piu alta ou l'i mindgent pan, the highest spot where bread is eaten. It contains about twenty-three Protestant families. Mr. Gilly was only the second Englishman who had penetrated to this obscure nook of the Alps. He found the men intelligent, well read in the Scriptures, and eager to converse on spiritual subjects. The village is so fenced in by rock and mountain barriers, that not a road approaches it, over which a wheel has ever passed. None of the comforts and few of the conveniences of life have yet been introduced there. But, says Mr. Gilly, • San Veran is a garden, and a scene of delights, when compared with Dormilleuse, to which the pastor hastened, as soon as he had put things in order in this part of his parish. Here the houses are built like log-houses, of rough pine trees, laid one above another, and composed of several stories, which have a singularly picturesque look, not unlike the chalets in Switzerland, but loftier and much more picturesque. On the ground floor the family dwells; hay and unthrashed corn occupy the first story, and the second is given up to grain, and to stores of bread-cakes and cheeses, ranged on frame-work suspended from the roof. But at Dormilleuse, the huts are wretched constructions of stone and mud, from which fresh air, comfort, and cleanliness seem to be utterly excluded. Cleanliness, indeed, is not a virtue which distinguishes any of the people in these mountains; and with such a nice sense of moral perception as they display, and with such strict attention to the duties of religion, it is astonishing that they have not yet learnt to practise those ablutions in their persons or habitations, which are as necessary to comfort as to health. Even among the better provided, for they are all peasants alike, tillers of the earth, and small proprietors, the wealthiest of whom (if we can speak of wealth, even comparatively, on such poor soil,) puts his hand to the

[ocr errors]
« ElőzőTovább »