“Lord, mend, or make us—one creation
Will not suffice our turn;
Except Thou make us daily, we shall spurn
Our own salvation.”
Old age is the verdict of life. I am now an old woman. Many people tell me so, and there is the indisputable evidence of my eighty-second birthday, the twenty-ninth of next March. But truly I am unconscious of being old. My life here is so simple, that I have never as yet met either business or social demands I was not able to fulfil without any sense of effort. My day’s work is as long as it was twenty years ago, and I have quite as much pleasure in it now, as I had then. I have rarely a headache now. I was rarely without one then. I enjoy my food, especially my breakfast, and the eminent physician Brudenel of London told me that an enjoyment of breakfast was an excellent sign of general well being. I sleep seven hours every night, neither more nor less, except under some unusual circumstances; but I never fail to be ten hours in the restful and recuperative freedom of the night’s silence and darkness. I have made my living for forty-two years in a stooping posture, but I am yet perfectly erect, and I ascend the stairs as rapidly as I ever did. I am more free from pain than I have been for many years. A touch now and then of rheumatism reminds me that I am a subject to mortality, and a gray hair here and there foretells the hand that shall finally prevail. But life is still sweet and busy, and my children talk of what I am going to do in the future, as if I was immortal. Also my long true friends on the daily press do the same thing. They tell of what I am writing or planning to write, far more than of what I have done in the past. And I hope and pray, when the Master comes, He will find me at my desk, writing such words as it will please Him to see. For to literature, humanly speaking, I am indebted not only for my living, but also for every blessing I enjoy—health of body, activity of mind, cheerfulness, contentment, and continual employment, therefore continual happiness.
Happiness? Yes, I will certainly let the word stand. My old age is very like this fine October day; calm, restful and fair in its own beauty. Indeed both in body and mind,
“I have put on an Autumn glow,
A richer red after the rainy weather,
I mourn not for the Spring, for the lost long ago,
But clothe my cliffs with purple-honeyed heather.”
I feel strongly that these last years of life must not be a time of repose, but rather a time of beginning again; of learning afresh how best to make ready for the new world before me. I wish to master the fine art of dying well, as great a lesson as the fine art of living, about which every one is so busy; for I want to take into the Great Unknown before me, a supple, joyous spirit ready for it.
Eighty-two years ago I was not. Then I was. I have had my day. I have warmed both hands at the fire of life. I have drank every cup, joyful or sorrowful, life could give me; but neither my soul nor my heart is old. Time has laid his hand gently on me, just as a harper lays his open palm upon his harp, to deaden its vibrations—that is all. The sunrise has never yet melted for me into the light of common day. The air, far from being emptied of wonder, is thrilled with its new travelers for peace and war. Still I can listen to Greene and Putnam, and Sam Houston, shouting in the trenches of freedom, and hear the palaces of tyrants crumbling, and see the dungeons of cruelty flame to heaven. Nobody has watched the daily papers of the last few months with more eager and passionate interest than I have done. I have followed the great colonel with all my youthful enthusiasms, and listened at the street corners to the noble band of women pleading for their just rights. Such a pitiful sight! How can the noble American male bear to see it? Why does he not stand up in her place, and speak for her. Any decent Christian will speak for a dumb man, and women have been dumb for unknown centuries. They are only learning now to talk, only learning to ask for what they want.
“Then I am for Women’s Suffrage?” I am for the enfranchisement of every slave. I am for justice, even to women. Any one who lived in England during the early half of the nineteenth century would be a suffragist; for then the most highly cultured wife was constantly treated by her husband, as Tennyson says, “Something better than his dog, a little dearer than his horse.”
Men ought to remember that they have had a mother, as well as a father, and that in most cases she has been, in every way, the better parent of the two. All my life long I have been sensible of the injustice constantly done to women. Since I have had to fight the world single-handed, there has not been one day I have not smarted under the wrongs I have had to bear, because I was not only a woman, but a woman doing a man’s work, without any man, husband, son, brother or friend, to stand at my side, and to see some semblance of justice done me. I cannot forget, for injustice is a sixth sense, and rouses all the others. If it was not for the constant inflowing of God into human affairs, the condition of women would today have been almost as insufferable, as was the condition of the negro in 1860. However, the movement for the enfranchisement of women will go forward, and not backward, and I have not one fear as to the consequences it will bring about.
I have lived, I have loved, I have worked, and at eighty-two I only ask that the love and the work continue while I live. What I must do, I will love to do. It is a noble chemistry, that turns necessity into pleasure. About my daily life I have been as frank and truthful as it was possible to be; but I have not found the opportunity of saying anything about my dream life. Yet how poor my daily life would have been without it. All day long we are in the world, and occupied with its material things, but the night celebrates the resurrection of the soul. Then, while the body lies dormant and incapable of motion, the soul is free to wander far off, and to meddle with events that the body is unconscious of. What is the lesson we learn night after night from this condition? It proves to us the separate existence of the soul. We are asleep one-third of our life. Is the soul as inert and dead as the body appears to be?
No! No! Who has not suffered and rejoiced in dreams, with an intensity impossible to their waking hours? Who has not then striven with things impossible and accomplished them without any feeling of surprise? Ah, dreams reveal to us powers of the soul, which we shall never realize until this mortal puts on immortality!
The shadowy land of dreams rests upon the terra-firma of revelation, for the dream literature of the Bible comprises some of its most delightful and important passages. God did not the less fulfil all his promises to Jacob, because they were made in a dream; nay but in a second dream, he encourages Jacob, by reminding him of this first dream. All through the historical part of the Bible its dream world presses continually on its humanity; and the sublime beauty of the prophecies is nowhere more remarkable than in the dreams of these spiritual sentinels of the people. In all the realm of poetry, where can there be found anything to equal that dream of the millennium peace, which Zachariah saw—the angel standing among the myrtle trees, and the angelic horsemen walking to-and-fro in the happy earth reporting, “Behold all the earth sitteth still, and is at rest.” There is little need to speak of the dream life in the New Testament. Every one is familiar with it.
“God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not; in a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon man in slumberings upon the bed.” This was Job’s testimony. Dare any one declare that God has ceased to speak to man? Every man and woman has exigencies and sorrows of which only God knows, and only God can counsel and comfort. I solemnly declare, that I have known this truth all my life long:
“Whoso has felt the Spirit of the Highest,
Cannot confound, nor doubt Him, nor deny;
Yea, with one voice, O World, though thou deniest,
Stand thou on that side, for on this, am I.”
There has always been a distinction between dreams and visions. Visions imply the agency of an angel. Christ did not dream of an angel comforting him in Gethsemane; “there appeared an angel unto Him from heaven strengthening him.” Visions are much rarer than dreams. I have had divine and prophesying dreams of many kinds, but never have had a vision. My spiritual ear was pre-attuned to heavenly voices, when I came into this reincarnation, but my sight has not yet been opened. Yet I am intensely sensitive to Spiritual Presence, and though I cannot discern it, it is as real to me as my own person. Never in all eternity can I forget the Angel Presence who came to me when I was a child twelve years old. I was praying with all my child heart, that God would love me, and teach me how to please Him, and suddenly, even as I prayed, there was some one there, and I heard a voice, clear and sweet, say to me, “Arise and shine, for thy light has come.” And I was so happy, I thought I was in heaven. If all the events I have written in this book should vanish from memory, this one would remain bright and imperishable, though the waves of centuries washed over it. Yet I did not see. I am not yet ready for vision. But it will come, for we have a natural body, and we have a spiritual body—not we are going to have—we already possess it, and as we develop our spiritual faculties, they will be ours.
No doctrine is taught more authoritatively and constantly in the Bible than that of Angel Ministry. Whenever we read of angels it is as helpers and comforters. They rejoice over our repentance, they minister continually to our sorrows. The broken in heart, the eyes washed and cleared by consecrating tears, the feet that have been to the border land, they know. However there never was in Christendom an age when there were so many creeds and so little faith. People are proud of being practical and material. They forget that our spiritual life is beyond all scientific laws, and rests entirely on one spiritual and miraculous book, and one spiritual and miraculous life.
On the twenty-third of September, that is about a month ago, a most interesting thing happened. I received by mail a newspaper in English, printed and published in the City of Jerusalem, Palestine; a large sheet of four pages, and the lower half of every page was occupied by the article I had written for the American of New York, on the subject of spiritual revelations, and the sublime destiny of man through the means of reincarnations. It delighted me that this article should appear in a paper named The Truth and this especially, because the subject of reincarnation was well known in ancient Jerusalem; was indeed a recognized faith in all Judea in the time of Christ. With the exception of the class called Sadducees, the Jew believed in his own immortality. He knew that whatever had its beginning in time, must end in time; but he looked backward, as well as forward, to an eternity of God’s love. Solomon says for all his race, the indisputable words of faith found in Proverbs, 8:22-31.
What does reincarnation demand of us? Only that we should by a series of human lives, attain to the condition of celestial beings, worthy to be called the sons and daughters of The Most High. Some through love, obedience and self denial—which last is the highest form of soul culture—will reach this end sooner than others, but I believe all will eventually do so; for it is not the will of God that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance, and consequently to an era of effort, which will finally prevail.
Every new existence is paid for by the old age and death of a body worn out, which though it has perished, contained the indestructible seed out of which the new life has arisen. And why should we not come back as often as we are capable of acquiring fresh knowledge and experience? Do we carry away so much from one life, that there is nothing left to repay us for coming back?
A constant objection against reincarnation is the nearly universal absence of any recollection of a previous life. It is a great mercy that we do not remember. In some cases, memories might be so full of sin, error, and even crime, that the details carried forward, would fill the soul with despair at the outset.
Few indeed remember anything of the first two years of their present life, at seventy most people have forgotten nine out of ten incidents of their past days. They know that they are the result of all that they have come through, that their identity is the same with that of the infant, the schoolboy and girl, the over-confident young man or woman, the wiser ones of middle life, and the tranquil saddened ones of old age, but their memory has only linked results, not incidents. They are the creation of their past, and the nature they have evolved, is its memory.
And if we could remember our former lives it would seriously hinder the present one. The soul knowing the significance of the trials reserved for it, would become hardened and careless, and perhaps paralyzed by the hopelessness of mastering them. The struggle must be free, voluntary, and safe from past influences. The field of combat must seem new. It would be bad for a soul to know it had failed before, much harder for it to pluck up its courage, and to try again; beside the backward-looking soul, would dwell in the past, instead of the present, and so miss the best uses of life.
Others object to reincarnation because they assert it is unjust for us to suffer in this life, for acts done in past ones and forgotten. But does the forgetting of any sinful act, absolve us from its consequences? Under this strange ethical law, a murderer might be hypnotized into forgetfulness, become unconscious of his crime, and absolved from all its moral and legal consequences. And there is this great alleviation, that even while suffering the effects of the sins of our past lives, the effect changes into a new cause, according to our attitude towards it. For by a courageous, patient fortitude in the bearing of our just punishment, we can “rise on the stepping-stones of our dead selves to higher things.”
It is objected also, that reincarnation will separate us forever from those we loved in life. Nothing is further from the truth. Like every phenomenon in Nature, reincarnation proceeds under the law of cause and effect. We ourselves set up the causes which will affect our re-birth. These causes originate in the acts and feelings, which relate us to those with whom we have daily associations, and who are the objects of our thoughts and acts, whether of love or of hatred. We cannot set up causes which will bind our lives with people, whom we have never met; we are bound to those only, with whom we have been closely connected by bonds of love or of hatred.
Yes, hatred; for attraction and repulsion are but opposite poles of the same force, and are of equal strength. This fact explains the hatred that sometimes exists between parents and children, and other ties of close relationship. It also explains “the black sheep” in the family. It has been drawn thither by antecedent hatred, and has none of the family’s traditions, tastes or moralities. So powerful is this attraction, that it can draw souls to, or from existence. How often do husband and wife follow each other quickly to the grave! How often does the newborn babe pine away after its mother’s death, and the nurses declare she is “drawing it to her.” The association of a family is likely to continue as long as there is any attraction or repulsion between the souls that composed it, and is a far wiser provision for human happiness, than the mere ties of fleshly relationship; for soul attraction brings to each soul its own, and we daily see its superior power evinced in this life. The youth leaves father and mother for the wife of his choice; the girl leaves her family, and her home, and goes happily far away, with some stranger whom her soul loves.
We may also claim for reincarnation, the great law which causes all things in Nature, to take the path of least resistance. Every soul will be actuated in a greater or less degree by this law, and the path of least resistance would naturally be towards its own kindred. I have my pedigree to five generations before the Conquest, and I feel as if I had always incarnated among my kindred, scattered through the beautiful Valley of the Duddon, and the mountains of the western part of the Lake Country. This is the corner of England I love the best. I feel it is my home country. I am a daughter of its soil, and may have been so for a thousand years.
The doctrine of inherited sin and its consequences unto the third and fourth generation, is a hard lesson to learn; but no one can complain if the disposition and endowments which he has inherited from his former self, are the source of his troubles and punishments. We reap what we sow. The seeds of sin and sorrow spring from some old sowing of our own. There is no use to blame Adam and Eve. We alone are responsible, and the character with which we leave this life, is inevitably the one with which we shall begin a new life. We can only begin with what we have.
“The tissue of the life to be,
We weave with colors all our own;
And in the field of Destiny,
We reap as we have sown.”
I have now named the principal objections to reincarnation, let me speak of its great hope and blessing. It is this—we can always remedy the errors of the past. We can say, this evil is of my making, I can therefore unmake it. This hatred sprang from my injustice. It shall not trouble my next life. I will put the wrong right while it is called to-day. In this way, we can truly bury the evil past.
I have heard from believers in reincarnation some remarkable reminiscences, but in all of the flashes of past existence that have come to me, my chief interest appears to be in household matters, except in one sharp vision, when I was a man, and the captain of a great ship. This ship was quite familiar to me, and here I mark an interesting thing. I have written in a number of romances, scenes which were on ships, and on the sea. I never studied anything about ships, or nautical terms. When I was writing the proper words came without effort. Yet Captain Young of the Devonia and the City of Rome told me, that there was not a nautical error in them. This can only be accounted for, as a sub-conscious remembrance of what I learned in this incarnation, when I sailed the sea. Socrates declared that “all that we called learning, was recollection.”
My last recollection of this life is a vivid and terrible one. It comes always in a swift flash of consciousness, with every detail clear as noonday. I find myself on the ship standing by the main mast. We are in the midst of a mighty typhoon. The skies are riven with lightning. Black clouds are tossed upon an horizon, where there is a pale livid glow. The waves thunder, and there is a roaring howl of wind in my ears. The sailors are lying face downward on the deck. I alone stand upright. There is nothing more. I do not see the death of the ship, but I know that she went to the bottom with every soul on her.
With this exception any fleeting vision I have had from the past refers to household matters, and ordinary events. The image of one man is the most persistent. He always flings the door open violently, looks steadily at me, and appears to be approaching my chair. Then I tremble and turn sick, and the whole vanishes; but I know the man was once my husband. I know it because I fear him so much. That was a common attitude of English wives in the past centuries, and was far from being extinct at the beginning of this century.
I will not here speak of the teachers of reincarnation. They comprise the greatest men of every epoch. It will be enough to name some of our own day whom all remember. Among the clergy Henry Ward Beecher and Phillips Brooks dared to preach it. James Freeman Clarke warmly espoused its justice and its hope. Professor William Knight, the Scotch metaphysician of St. Andrew, and Professor Francis Brown of Harvard University, clearly show their belief in our pre-existence. Orlando Smith in his wonderful book called “Eternalism” advances arguments impossible to answer, in favor of the soul’s existence from all eternity; and Dr. Edward Beecher in his works called “The Conflict of Ages” and “The Concord of Ages” casts the seed of our pre-existence through a large portion of the clergy, and of the thoughtful readers of this country. I have two beautiful letters on this subject from the Reverend Charles Beecher, one of which I transcribe.
February 6, 1891.
Mrs. Amelia Barr:
I have been a diligent reader of your works, reading them aloud to my family, which is our custom.
I have noticed in several of them intimations of a belief in a former life before this pilgrimage of earth life. Such ideas have ever possessed a peculiar charm for me, and I have wondered that they have not often been used in fiction.
In some of the Erkmann-Chatrian novels there are indications of it; also in the writings of Lucy Larcom, and some others. In the hymns of the common people, such allusions are very frequent, and often very beautiful.
It is not merely a poetical fancy, the idea that we have seen better days, and that heaven is fatherland and home—though it is poetical, the very heart and soul of all poetry—but it is more than a fancy or dream; it is a grand and glorious truth, and lights up the Valley of the Shadow, through which we are all passing.
I thank God for the work he is enabling you to do. May it long continue.
Sincerely your friend,
Reincarnation is like the message of the stars, there is no speech or language where its voice is not heard. There is indeed at the present time an universal, though unsuspected, prevalence of this ancient knowledge; shed by flower-like souls of all past ages, and blossoming again firmly and finely in all our poetry, fiction, religious and philosophical writings. It has taken possession of men’s most secret thoughts, for it has its own way of convincing them. It is a good sign. For heaven no longer allures and hell no longer terrifies; but if a man can be persuaded that he has a soul, and that he must save his soul alive, because it is possible to lose it, he is brought face to face with a reality he cannot ignore. I have talked with a very large number of young men on this subject, and in every case, their souls rose up courageously to meet its obligations.
“It will be a fight to your last day,” I tell them, “but be men, and fight for your soul’s life. For Christ says it can be lost, even while you go to church every Sunday morning, and are diligent in business all the week. It can be lost. If you should lose your money, what a lamentation there would be; but a soul can be lost without noise, without observation.” What reincarnation has to say on this subject, I do not fully accept. My early Methodism clings to me, and I believe firmly that God is not willing, that any soul should be lost, but that all should find the safety of his Great Father Love.
The future is not a torture chamber nor a condemned cell nor a reformatory. Even if we do make our bed in hell, God is there, and light, and truth, and love are there; and effort shall follow effort, and goal succeed goal, until we reach the colossal wisdom and goodness of spiritual beings. “Yet,” and reincarnation has a yet, though many like myself are loth to entertain it; but this “yet” is better expressed in the following verses than I can frame it. No one can be the worse for considering the possibility they infer:
“If thou art base and earthly, then despair;
Thou art but mortal, as the brute that falls.
Birds weave their nests, the lion finds a lair,
Man builds his halls,
“These are but coverts from earth’s war and storm;
Homes where our lesser lives take shape and breath.
But if no heavenly man has grown, what form
Clothes thee at death?
“And when thy meed of penalty is o’er
And fire has burned the dross where gold is none,
Shall separate life but wasted heretofore,
Still linger on?
“God fills all space—whatever doth offend
From His unbounded Presence shall be spurned;
Or deem’st thou, He should garner tares, whose end
Is to be burned.
“If thou wouldst see the Power that round thee sways,
In whom all motion, thought, and life are cast,
Know that the pure who travel heavenward ways,
See God at last.”
Further I press upon the young, not to be ashamed of their disposition to be sentimental or religious. It is the sentimental young men who conquer; it is the men steeped in religious thought and aspiration, who do things. Whatever the scientists may say, if we take the supernatural out of life, we leave only the unnatural. But science is the magical word of the day, and scientists too often profess to doubt, whether we have a soul for one life, not to speak of a multitude of lives. “There is no proof!” they cry. “No proof! No proof of the soul’s existence.” Neither is there any proof of the existence of the mind. But the mind bores tunnels, and builds bridges and conceived aviation. And the soul can re-create a creature of clay, and of the most animal instincts, until he reaches the colossal manhood of a Son of God. Religion is life, not science.
It is now the twenty-seventh of October, 1912, and a calm, lovely Sabbath. I have been quite alone for three weeks, and have finished this record in unbroken solitude and peace. Mary is in Florida, and Alice is in New York with her sister Lilly. Sitting still in the long autumn evenings, I have drawn the past from the eternity into which it had fallen, to look at it again, and to talk to myself very intimately about it; and I confess, that though it is the nature of the soul to adore what it has lost, that I prefer what I possess. Though youth and beauty have departed, the well springs of love and imagination are, in my nature, too deep to be touched by the frost of age. Nourished by the dews of the heart and the intellect they will grow sweeter and deeper and more refreshing to the end of my life; for the things of the soul and the heart are eternal.
I have lived among “things unseen” as well as seen, always nursing in my heart that sweet promise of the times of restitution. Neither is the fire of youth dead, it glows within, rather than flames without—that is all. And there is a freshness, all its own, reserved for the aged who have come uphill all the way, and at last found the clearer air, and serener solitudes of those heights, beyond the fret and stir of the restless earth.
I have told my story just as I lived it; told it with the utmost candor and truthfulness. I have exaggerated nothing, far from it. This is especially true as regards all spiritual experiences. I hold them far too sacred to be added to, or taken from. My life has been a drama of sorrow and loss, of change and labor, but God wrote it, and I would not change anything He ordained.
“I would not miss one sigh or tear,
Heart pang, or throbbing brow.
Sweet was the chastisement severe,
And sweet its memory now.”
For as my day, so has my strength been; not once, but always. There was an hour, forty-five years ago, when all the waves and billows of the sea of sorrow went over my head. Then He said to me, “Am I not sufficient?” And I answered, “Yes, Lord.” Has He failed me ever since? Not once. Always, the power, has come with the need.
Farewell, my friends! You that will follow me through the travail and labor of eighty years, farewell! I shall see very few of you face to face in this life, but somewhere—perhaps—somewhere, we may meet and know each other on sight. And if you find in these red leaves of a human heart, a word of strength, or hope, or comfort, that is my great reward. Again farewell! Be of good cheer. Fear not. (2 Esdras, 6:33.) There is hope and promise in the years to come.
I will now let the curtain fall over my past, with a grateful acknowledgment that every sorrow has found its place in my life, and I should have been a loser without it. Even chance acquaintances have had their meaning, and done their work, and the web of life could not have been better woven of love alone.
God has not spoken His last word to me, though I am nearly eighty-one years old. When I have rested my eyes, I am ready for the work, ready for me. And I do not feel it too late, to offer daily the great prayer of Moses for consolation, “Comfort us again, for the years wherein we have seen evil.” As for the cares and exigencies of daily life, I commit them to Him, who has never yet failed me, and
“If I should let all other comfort go,
And every other promise be forgot,
My soul would sit and sing, because I know
He faileth not!
“He faileth not! What winds of God may blow,
What safe or perilous ways may be my lot,
Gives but little care; for this I know,
He faileth not!”
Sustained by this confidence, I can face without fear the limitations of age, and the transition we call death. I have love and friendship around me; I give help and sympathy whenever I can, and I do my day’s work gladly. The rest is with God.
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