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Alvira, the Heroine of Vesuvius   By:

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Alvira: The Heroine of Vesuvius


Rev. A. J. O'Reilly, D.D.


The Penitent Saints

The interesting and instructive character of this sensational narrative, which we cull from the traditions of a past generation, must cover the shortcomings of the pen that has labored to present it in an English dress.

We are aware that the propriety of drawing from the oblivion of forgotten literature such a story will be questioned. The decay of the chivalrous spirit of the middle ages, and the prudish, puritanical code of morality that has superseded the simple manners of our forefathers, render it hazardous to cast into the hands of the present generation the thrilling records of sin and repentance such as they were seen and recorded in days gone by. Yet in the midst of a literature professedly false, and which paints in fascinating colors the various phases of unrepented vice and crime, without the redeeming shadows of honor and Christian morality, our little volume must fall a welcome sunbeam. The strange career of our heroine constitutes a sensational biography charming and beautiful in the moral it presents.

The evils of mixed marriages, of secret societies, of intemperance, and the indulgence of self love in ardent and enthusiastic youth, find here the record of their fatal influence on social life, reflected through the medium of historical facts. Therefore we present to the young a chapter of warning a tale of the past with a deep moral for the present.

The circumstances of our tale are extraordinary. A young girl dresses in male attire, murders her father, becomes an officer in the army, goes through the horrors of battle, and dies a SAINT.

Truly we have here matter sensational enough for the most exacting novelist; but we disclaim all effort to play upon the passions, or add another work of fiction to the mass of irreligious trash so powerful in the employ of the evil one for the seduction of youth. In the varied scenes of life there are many actions influenced by secret motives known only to the heart that harbors them. Not all are dishonorable. It takes a great deal of guilt to make a person as black as he is painted by his enemies. Many a brave heart has, under the garb of an impropriety, accomplished heroic acts of self denial.

History is teeming with instances where the love of creatures, and even the holier and more sublime love of the Creator, have, in moments of enthusiasm, induced tender females to forget the weakness of their sex and successfully fulfil the spheres of manhood. These scenes, so censurable, are extraordinary more from the rarity of their occurrence than from the motives that inspire them, and thus our tale draws much of its thrilling interest from the unique character of its details.

"But what a saint!" we fancy we hear whispered by the fastidious and scrupulous into whose hand our little work may fall.

Inadvertently the thought will find a similar expression from the superficial reader; but if we consider a little, our heroine presents a career not more extraordinary than those that excite our surprise in the lives of the penitent saints venerated on the alters of the Church. Sanctity is not to be judged by antecedents. The soul crimsoned with guilt may, in the crucible of repentance, become white like the crystal snow before it touches the earth. This consoling thought is not a mere assertion, but a matter of faith confirmed by fact. There are as great names among the penitent saints of the Church as amongst the few brilliant stars whose baptismal innocence was never dimmed by any cloud.

Advance the rule that the early excesses of the penitent stains must debar them from the esteem their heroic repentance has won; then we must tear to pieces the consoling volumes of hagiology, we must drag down Paul, Peter, Augustine, Jerome, Magdalen, and a host of illustrious penitents from their thrones amongst the galaxy of the elect, and cast the thrilling records of their repentance into the oblivion their early career would seem to merit... Continue reading book >>

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