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George Leatrim   By: (1803-1885)

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'One of the most terrible instances of dishonesty I ever knew,' said a lady friend to me, 'happened in my own family, or, I should say, in one of its relative branches. You were staying last summer at Westcliff; did you hear Dr. Leatrim preach?'

'Yes; my friends resided about a mile from the parsonage, and were constant in their attendance at his church. The Doctor was one of the principal attractions of the place one of the most eloquent men I ever heard in the pulpit.'

'Did you ever meet him in company?'

'Never. I was told that he seldom went into society, and lived quite a solitary life; that some great domestic calamity had weaned him entirely from the world; that his visits were confined to the poor of his parish, or to those who stood in need of his spiritual advice; that since the death of his wife and only son, he had never been seen with a smile upon his face. To tell you the truth, I was surprised to hear sermons so full of heavenly benevolence and love breathed from the lips of such an austere and melancholy looking man.'

'Ah, my poor uncle!' sighed my friend; 'he has had sorrows and trials enough to sour his temper and break his heart. He was not always the gentle, earnest Christian you now see him, but a severe, uncompromising theologian of the old school, and looked upon all other sects who opposed his particular dogmas as enemies to the true faith. A strict disciplinarian, he suffered nothing to interfere with his religious duties, and exercised a despotic sway in the church and in his family. He married, early in life, my father's only sister, and made her an excellent husband; and if a certain degree of fear mingled with her love, it originated in the deep reverence she felt for his character.

'He was forty years of age when the Earl of B , who was a near relation, conferred upon him the living of Westcliff. The last incumbent had been a kind, easy going old man, who loved his rubber of whist and a social chat with his neighbours over a glass of punch, and left them to take care of their souls in the best manner they could, considering that he well earned his 700 pounds per annum by preaching a dull, plethoric sermon once a week, christening all the infants, marrying the adults, and burying the dead. It was no wonder that Dr. Leatrim found the parish, as far as religion was concerned, in a very heathenish state.

'His zealous endeavours to arouse them from this careless indifference gave great offence. The people did not believe that they were sinners, and were very indignant with the Doctor for insisting upon the fact. But he spared neither age nor sex in his battle for truth, and fought it with most uncompromising earnestness. Rich or poor, it was all the same to him; he spoke as decidedly to the man of rank as to the humblest peasant in his employ.

'His eloquence was a vital power; the energy with which he enforced it compelled people to listen to him; and as he lived up to his professions, and was ever foremost in every good word and work, they were forced to respect his character, though he did assail all their public and private vices from the pulpit, and enforced their strict attendance at church on the Sabbath day. This state of antagonism between the Doctor and his parishioners did not last long. Prejudice yielded to his eloquent preaching, numbers came from a distance to hear him, and many careless souls awoke from a state of worldly apathy to seek the bread of life.

'Just to give you a correct idea of what manner of man George Leatrim was in these days, contrasted with what he is now, I will relate an anecdote of him that I had from an eye witness of the scene.

'A wealthy miller in the parish, a great drunkard and atheist, and a very hard, unfeeling, immoral character, dropped down dead in a state of intoxication, and, being a nominal member of the Church, was brought there for burial. When the Doctor came to that portion of the service, "We therefore commit his body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ," he paused, and looking round on the numerous band of relations and friends that surrounded the grave, said in the most solemn and emphatic manner, "My friends, the Prayer book says this; but if there is any truth in God's word, it cannot be applied to this man... Continue reading book >>

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