Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Susanna Moodie

The battles of life

Ah, simple boy! – well had it been for thee
Had thy ambitious longing been confined
To objects wisely placed beyond thy grasp.
But years stole on – thy ardent spirit broke
Its childish trammels, and with eager joy
Explored the warlike annals of the past,
And called up spirits of the mighty dead,
To set their hostile armies in array,
And fight for thee their sanguine battles o’er.
Oh, while such visions burst on thy sight,
While shouts of victory and dying groans
Rang on thine ear – time backward rolled his tide,
Rome in her ancient splendour proudly rose,
And murdered Caesar lived again in thee!

Young fiery soldier – let us trace thy steps
Through danger’s stormy paths, to win the goal
Of all thy lofty and ambitious hopes.
Wedded to glory, thy brave heart springs forth
To win thy bride from valour’s armed hand,
And pluck the laurel from the brow of death.
A novice in the camp and new to arms,
The bugle lulls thee to repose, the trumpet
Thrills on thy sleeping ear and bids thee dream
Of deathless fields in fancy fought and won.
At length the day of trial comes – the day
Which puts thy boasted courage to the proof –
Thy first in battle, and perchance thy last.
The camp is broken up, the air is rent
With strains of martial music, the loud neigh
Of prancing steeds, impatient for the strife,
With clang of arms, and oft-repeated shouts
Of warriors who impatiently leap forth
with reckless hardihood to meet their doom.

With beating heart, firm step, and flashing eye,
The young recruit of glory proudly grasps
The standard he must only yeild with life.
The march commences – deep excitement grows
To fiery expectation – he forgets
Amid the hurried interest of the scene,
The crown he fights for only can be won
Through seas of slaughter and the waste of life.
Alas! How few devoted hearts like his
Survive their first engagement with the foe.
Death strikes the hero to the dust. He falls
In honour’s mantle, the triumphant cry
Of victory on his pallid lips expires!

But what are conquests of the bow and spear,
And Alexander’s victories compared
With the stern warfare which the soul maintains
Against the subtle tempter of mankind –
The base corruption of a sinful world –
An evil conscience and a callous heart?
Oh, vanquish these – and through the gates of death
Triumphant pass and win a heavenly crown!

– Susanna Moodie, an excerpt from Enthusiasm

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FAME, part 2

Oh think not genius, with its hallowed light,
Can break the gloom of the eternal night;
For splendid talents often lead astray
The unguarded heart, and hide the narrow way,
While the unlearned and those of low estate,
With faith’s clear eyes behold the living gate,
Whose portals open on the shoreless sea
Where time’s strong ocean meets eternity.
Across the gulf that stretches far beneath
Lies the dark valley of the shade of death –
A land of deep forgetfulness, – a shore
Which all must traverse, but return no more
To this sad earth to dissipate our dread,
And tell the mighty secrets of the dead.
Enough for us that these drear realms were trod
By heavenly footsteps, that the Son of God
Passed the dark bourne and vanquished Death, to save
The weary wanderers of life’s stormy wave.

Why then should man thus cleave to things of earth?
Daily experience proves their little worth –
Or waste those noble qualities of mind,
For wise and better purposes designed,
In pursuit of trifles, which confer
No solid pleasure on their worshipper;
Or in the search of causes that are known
And guided by Omnipotence alone?
A height his finite reason cannot reach,
And all his boasted learning fails to teach?
While the bewildering thought overwhelms his brain,
Death comes to prove his speculations vain!

Is he deserving of a better doom
Who will not raise a hope beyond the tomb?
Who, quite enamoured with his fallen state,
Clings to the world and leaves the rest to fate;
Prefers corruption to his Maker’s smile,
“And shuns the light because his deeds are vile?”
The man who feels the value of his soul,
Presses unwearied towards a higher goal;
Leaving this earth, he seeks a brighter prize,
And claims a crown immortal in the skies.
The child of pleasure may despise his aim,
And heap reproach upon the Christian’s name,
May laugh his faith, as foolishness, to scorn: –
These by the man of God are meekly borne.
His glorious hope no infidel can shake;
Her suffers calmly for his Saviour’s sake.–

The world’s poor votary seeks in vain for peace:
He cannot bid the voice of conscience cease
Its dire upbraidings; in his heartless course
He meets at every turn the fiend Remorse,
Who glares upon him with his tearless eye,
That sears his heart – but mocks its agony.
He hears that voice, amid the festive throng,
Speak in the dance and murmur in the song,
A death-bell, pealing in the midnight chime,
Whose awful tones proclaim the lapse of time,
And e’er the winged moments as they fly
Seem to proclaim – “Rash mortal, thou must die!
Soon must thou tread the path thy fathers trod,
And stand before the judgment-seat of God!”–
He hears – but seeks in pleasure’s cup to drown
The dread that weighs his ardent spirit down;
Derides the warning voice in mercy sent;
Rejects the thought of after-punishment;
In folly’s vortex wastes the spring of youth,
Nor, till death summons, owns the awful truth;
Feels it too late to calm the agonies
Remorse has kindled – and despairing, dies!

But in the breast where true religion reigns
There is a balm for all these mental pains;
A sweet contentment, felt, but undefined,
A full and free surrender of the mind
To its divine original; a trust
Which lifts to heaven the dweller of the dust.
The pilgrim, glowing with a hope divine,
Counts not the distance to the heavenly shrine;
He meets with guardian spirits on the road,
Who cheer his steps and ease his heavy load.
Serenely journeying to a better clime
He does not shudder at the lapse of time;
But calmly drinks the cup of mortal woe,
And finds that peace the world cannot bestow;
That promised joy which brightens all beneath,
And smooths his pillow on the bed of death;
That perfect love which casteth out all fear;
And wafts his spirit to a happier sphere! –

Fame is a dream – the praise of man as brief
As morning dew upon the folded leaf;
The summer sun exhales the pearly tear,
And leaves no trace of his existence there.
Seek not for immortality below,
But fix your hopes beyond this vale of woe,
That when oblivion gathers round thy sod,
A lasting record may be found with God!

[This lengthy poem comes from a book by Susanna Moodie, Enthusiasm and Other Poems,  published in 1831, the year before she and her husband came to Canada.]

FAME

[This is the first half of a poem written by Susanna Moodie]

Oh ye! who all life’s energies combine
The fadeless laurel round your brows to twine,
Pause but one moment in your brief career,
Nor seek for glory in a mortal sphere.
Can figures traced upon the shifting sand
Washed by the mighty tide, its force withstand?
Time’s stern resistless torrent onward flows,
The restless waves above your labours close,
And He who bids the bounding billows roll
Sweeps out the feeble record from the soul.

The glorious hues that flush the evening sky
Melt into night, and on her bosom die;
Through the wide fields of heaven’s immensity
The gold-tipped billows of the crimson sea
Flash on the awe-struck gazer’s dazzled sight,
The rich out-gushings from the fount of light;
Yet oft, concealed beneath that splendid form,
We find the herald of the coming storm;
The fiery spirit over half a globe
Spreads the bright tissue of his beamy robe,
And, ere the day-king veils his glowing crest,
Shrouds the dark tempest in his burning vest;
O’er earth and heaven his gorgeous banner flings,
And gilds with borrowed light his sable wings –
And those who view with rapture-lifted eyes
The short-lived pageant of the summer skies,
Behold it vanish like a fearful dream,
And death and desolation mar its beam,
So when we seek above life’s sea of tears
To raise a monument for future years.
If built on earth the fabric will decay,
Oblivion’s hand will sweep the pile away;
The proudest trophies of the mightiest mind
Fade in her grasp, nor leave a wreck behind;
She o’er earth’s ruins spreads her misty pall,
And time’s unsparing ocean swallows all;
Hope for a moment gilds the spoiler’s shroud,
As parting sunbeams tinge the lucid cloud;
The transient glory cheats the gazer’s sight;
The storm rolls on – ’tis universal night

Say did not man inherit, at his birth,
A higher promise than the things of earth;
Views more exalted than this earth can give,
And hopes that, deathless as the soul, outlive
The wreck of nature, and the common doom
That hourly sweeps her myriads to the tomb?
His mental powers, unfettered by the clod,
Soar o’er time’s gulf, and reach the throne of God.
Oh what a privilege it is to know
That death claims not the immortal soul below!
Through the dark portals of the grave upborne,
Leaving the care-worn sons of earth to mourn,
On wings of light the newborn spirit flies
To seek a home and kindred in the skies.

Oh what are earthly crowns and earthly bliss,
And pride’s delusive dreams, compared with this?
Ambition’s laurel, purchased with a flood
Of human tears and stained with kindred blood.
Once gained, converted to a crown of thorns.
Pierces the aching temples it adorns –
Not Sappho’s lyre nor Raphael’s deathless art
Can twine the olive round the bleeding heart;
In heaven alone the promised blessing lies,
And those who seek – must seek it in the skies!
Seek it through Him who, humbling human pride,
Wept o’er man’s fall, and for his ransom died;
Poured out his blood on the accursed tree,
To break the chain and set the captive free.
Heaven bowed its glory on the cross to teach
That greatness man’s lost nature could not reach.
The true humility, which stoops to rise,
And, leaving earth, claims kindred with the skies.

How many pages have been blotted o’er
With heartfelt tears, that now are read no more;
And, like the eyes that long have ceased to weep,
In dust and darkness quite forgotten sleep!
Dead to the world as if they ne’er had been
The favoured actors in one little scene.
The scene is changed – and, like their fleeting-fame,
The fickle world adores another name.
They knew the price at which its fame was bought;
The glittering bauble was not worth a thought,
Yet, Esau-like, a better birthright sold,
And for base counterfeit exchanged the gold!

Ere man presumptuously his genius boasts,
Let him reflect upon the countless hosts,
The untold myriads, of each age and clime,
That sleep forgotten in the grave of time.
What were their names? Go ask the silent sod
Their deeds – their record lives but with their God!
At every step we tread on kindred earth,
Nor know the spot that gave our fathers birth.
Oh! could we call before our wondering eyes
All that have lived – and bid the dead arise,
From the first moment the Creator spoke
The word of power, and light through darkness broke,
And see earth covered with the mighty tide
Of all who on her bosom lived and died,
What a stupendous thought would fill the soul
Could we behold life’s breathing ocean roll
Its human billows onward – and this mass
The grave has swallowed, down from Adam, pass
In one unbroken stream – the brain would reel –
Lost in immensity, would cease to feel!
Whilst living, ah, how few were known to fame!
One in a million has not left a name, –
A single token, on life’s shifting scene,
To tell to other years that such has been.
Yet man, unaided by a hope sublime,
Thinks that his puny arm can cope with time;
That his vast genius can reverse the doom,
And shed a deathless light upon his tomb;
That distant ages shall his worth admire,
And young hearts kindle at the sacred fire
Of him whose fame no envious clouds o’ercast,
Yet died forgotten and unknown at last.

The Logging Bee

There was a man in our town,
In our town, in our town –
There was a man in our town,
He made a logging-bee;
And he bought lots of whiskey,
To make the loggers frisky –
To make the loggers frisky
At his logging bee.

The Devil sat on a log heap,
A log heap, a log heap –
A red hot burning log heap –
A-grinning at the bee;
And there was lots of swearing,
Of boasting and of daring,
Of fighting and of tearing,
At that logging bee.

J.W.D.M.

Susanna Moodie writes that logging bees during pioneer days in the bush brought out the very worst in men. Barn raising bees were a more sober affair – the men were under the direction of a head carpenter and the work required skills which would disappear under the influence of strong drink. At a logging bee, much work was accomplished before dinner. After dinner, which some washed down with copious amounts of whisky, things degenerated. Not all the men partook of the whisky, but their work efforts were hindered by those who had.

Evidently Susanna Moodie’s husband was of the same opinion as she, as he wrote the above verses. J.W.D.M. stands for John W. Dunbar Moodie.

But God can save us yet

The winter and spring of 1834 had passed away. The latter was uncommonly cold and backward; so much so that we had a very heavy fall of snow upon the 14th and 15th of May

A late, cold spring in Canada is generally succeeded by a burning, hot summer; and the summer of ’34 was the hottest I ever remember.  No rain fell upon the earth for many weeks, till nature drooped and withered beneath one bright blaze of sunlight; and the ague and fever in the woods, and the cholera in the large towns and cities, spread death and sickness through the country.

Moodie had made during the winter a large clearing of twenty acres around the house. The progress of the workmen had been watched by me with the keenest interest. Every tree that reached the ground opened a wider gap in the dark wood, giving us a broader ray of light and a clearer glimpse of the blue sky. But when the dark cedar swamp fronting the house fell beneath the strokes of the axe, and we got a first view of the lake my joy was complete: a new and beautiful object was now constantly before me, which gave me the greatest pleasure.

The confusion of an uncleared fallow spread around us on every side. Huge trunks of trees and piles of brush gave a littered and uncomfortable appearance to the locality, and as the weather had been very dry for some weeks, I heard my husband talking with his choppers as to the expediency of firing the fallow. They still urged him to wait a little longer, until he could get a good breeze to carry the fire well through the brush.

Business called him suddenly to Toronto, but he left a strict charge with old Thomas and his sons, who were engaged in the job, by no means to attempt to burn it off till he returned, as he wished to be upon the premises himself in case of any danger. He had previously burnt all the heaps immediately about the doors. While he was absent, old Thomas and his second son fell sick with the ague, and went home to their own township, leaving John, a surly, obstinate young man, in charge of the shanty, where they slept, and kept their tools and provisions.

The day was sultry, and towards noon a strong wind sprang up that roared in the pine tops like the dashing of distant billows, but without in the least degree abating the heat. The children were lying listlessly on the floor for coolness, and the girl and I were finishing sun-bonnets, when Mary suddenly exclaimed, “Bless us, mistress, what a smoke!” I ran immediately to the door, but was not able to distinguish ten yards before me. The swamp immediately below us was on fire, and the heavy wind was driving a dense black cloud of smoke directly towards us.

“What can this mean?” I cried. “Who can have set fire to the fallow?”

John Thomas stood pale and trembling before me. “John, what is the meaning of this fire?”

“Oh, ma’am, I hope you will forgive me; it was I set fire to it, and I would give all I have in the world if I had not done it.”

“What is the danger?”

“Oh, I’m terribly feared that we shall all be burnt up,” said the fellow, beginning to whimper.

“We must get out of it as fast as we can, and leave the house to its fate.”

“We can’t get out,” said the man, in a low, hollow tone, which seemed the concentration of fear; “I would have got out if I could; but just step to the back door, ma’am, and see.”

I had not felt the least alarm up to this minute. Judge then my horror, when, on going to the back door, I saw that the fellow, to make sure of his work, had fired the field in fifty different places. Behind, before, on every side, we were surrounded by a wall of fire, burning ferociously within a hundred yards of us, and cutting off all possibility of retreat.

I closed the door and went back to the parlour. Fear was knocking loudly at my heart – I felt stupefied. The girl sat upon the floor by the children, who had both fallen asleep. She was silently weeping; while the fool who had caused the mischief was crying aloud.

A strange calm succeeded my first alarm; tears and lamentations were useless; a horrible death was impending over us, and yet I could not believe that we were to die.

My eye fell upon the sleeping angels, locked peacefully in each other’s arms, and my tears flowed for the first time. Mary, the servant-girl, looked piteously up in my face. The good, faithful creature had not uttered one word of complaint, but now she faltered forth, “The dear precious lambs! Oh such a death!”

I threw myself down upon the floor beside them, and pressed them alternately to my heart, while inwardly I thanked God that they were asleep, unconscious of danger.

The heat soon became suffocating. We were parched with thirst, and there was not a drop of water in the house. I turned once more to the door, hoping that a passage might have been burnt through to the water. I saw nothing but a dense cloud of fire and smoke – could hear nothing but the crackling and roaring of the flames, which were gaining so fast on us that I felt their scorching breath in my face.

“Ah,” thought I – and it was a most bitter thought – “what will my beloved husband say when he returns and finds that poor Susy and his dear girls have perished in this miserable manner? But God can save us yet.”

The thought had scarcely found a voice in my heart before the wind rose to a hurricane, scattering the flames on all sides into a tempest of burning billows. I buried my head in my apron, for I thought that our time was come, and that all was lost, when a most terrific crash of thunder burst over our heads, and, like the breaking of a water-spout, down came the rushing torrent of rain which had been pent up for so many weeks. In a few minutes the chip-yard was all afloat, and the fire effectually checked. The storm which, unnoticed by us, had been gathering all day, and which was the only one of any note we had that summer, continued to rage all night, and before morning had quite subdued the cruel enemy whose approach we had viewed with such dread.

The imminent danger in which we had been placed struck me more forcibly after it was past than at the time, and both the girl and myself sank to our knees and offered up our hearts in humble thanksgiving to that God who had saved us by an act of His Providence from an awful and sudden death. When all hope from human assistance was lost, His hand was mercifully stretched forth, making His strength more perfectly manifested in our weakness.

“He is their stay when earthly hope is lost,
“The light and anchor of the tempest-toss’d.”


Excerpted from Life in the Backwoods, by Susanna Moodie

About those portraits of the Strickland sisters

Two days ago I posted an article about Catherine Parr Traill and Susanna Moodie and included the best pictures that I could find of each one. I was intrigued by the portraits, Susanna is stiffly posed as was normal in early photography, Catherine looks much more natural and relaxed. I concluded that Catherine’s portrait had to be a painting.

Susanna Moodie, undated                 Catherine Parr Strickland, undated

The first photographs were produced by Joseph Niépce in the late 1820’s. These were still life photographs as his process required an 8 hour exposure time. In the 1830’s Louis Daguerre improved the photographic process by using silver coated copper plates as film and reduced the exposure time to five minutes. By 1842 he had reduced the exposure time to a minute or less, depending on the light. These photographs were known as daguerreotypes and the process rapidly caught on around the world. In the 1850’s glass plates were introduced to produce negatives which could be used to produce multiple prints on paper.

The exposure time remained lengthy until further developments in the 20th century, requiring those being photographed to remain perfectly still. Head rests, or even clamps, were used to help and the subjects clenched their teeth to keep still. This explains why people photographed in the 19th century all tended to look rather grim.

Catherine was born in 1802 and would have been 40 in 1842 when daguerreotypes were introduced. In the portrait she appears to be much younger than that. One web site calls the portrait a photograph, but the National Archives of Canada calls it a mini portrait of Catherine Parr Strickland. Thus it dates to before her marriage and cannot be a daguerreotype. Catherine died in 1899 at the age of 97 and there are two photographs of her in her later years, both looking rather grim. Susanna was almost two years younger than Catherine and died in 1885.

The photographic ideal since that time has been to produce photos that appear to be unposed. The natural look, with a smile on the face, is what is desired. However, earlier this year I needed to have a new photo taken for my driver’s license. I was told to remove my glasses and assume a neutral expression, no smiling allowed. The photo on my driver’s license now looks almost as grim as those old 19th century photos. Taking my glasses off uncovers my bushy eyebrows which adds to the effect. The same rule applies to passport photos.

The Strickland sisters told it like it was

Sisters Susanna Moodie and Catherine Parr Traill were Canadian pioneers. Their husbands brought them from England to Canada in the early 1830’s, settling near Peterborough, Ontario where Samuel Strickland, a brother of Catherine and Susanna had earlier settled. The sisters had each written and published books before marrying and coming to Canada and both continued to write in what little time they could spare during the long hard days of raising their families and establishing new homes in the midst of the forest where practically everything had to be made at home. They wrote books for children and nature studies, but their most famous books describe their lives in the backwoods of Upper Canada (as Ontario was known at the time). Their most famous books are Roughing it in the Bush, by Susanna Moodie and The Backwoods of Canada, by Catherine Parr Traill. They were among the literary pioneers of Canada, helping to establish a literary tradition that realistically depicts life in a harsh climate.

The following excerpt is taken from Roughing it in the Bush and describes a time when Mr. Moodie had been called away for militia service after the rebellion of 1837. Jenny is their elderly Irish servant and nursemaid.


When the trees came into leaf, and the meadows were green and flushed with flowers, the poor children used to talk constantly of their father’s return; their innocent prattle made me very sad. Every evening we walked into the wood, along the path that he must come whenever he did return home, to meet him; and though it was a vain hope, and the walk was taken just to amuse the little ones, I used to be silly enough to feel deeply disappointed when we returned alone. Donald, who was a mere baby when his father left us, could just begin to put words together. “Who is papa?” “When will he come?” “Will he come by the road?” “Will he come in a canoe?” The little creature’s curiosity to see this unknown father was really amusing; and oh! how I longed to present the little fellow, with his rosy cheeks and curling hair, to his father.

June had commenced; the weather was very warm and Mr. T—– had sent for the loan of old Jenny to help him for a day with his potatoes. I had just prepared dinner when the old woman came shrieking like a mad thing down the clearing and waving her hands toward me. I could not imagine what had happened.

“Joy! joy!’ bawled out the old woman, now running breathlessly towards us. “The masther’s come — the masther’s come.”

“Where? — where?”

“Jist above in the wood. Goodness gracious! I have run to let you know — so fast —that my heart — is like to — break.”

Without stopping to comfort old Jenny, off started the children and myself, at the very top of our speed; but I soon found that I could not run — I was too much agitated. I got to the head of the bush, and sat down upon a  fallen tree. The children sprang forward like wild kids, all but Donald, who remained with his old nurse.  I covered my face with my hands; my heart, too, was beating audibly; and now that he was come, and was so near me, I could scarcely command strength to meet him. The  sound of happy young voices roused me up; the children were leading him along in triumph; and he was bending down to them, all smiles, but hot and tired with his long journey. It was almost worth our separation, that blissful meeting. In a few minutes he was at home, and the children upon his knees.  Katie stood silently holding his hand, but Addie and Dunbar had a thousand things to tell him. Donald was frightened at his military dress, but he peeped at him from behind my gown, until I caught and placed him in his father’s arms.

His leave of absence only extended to a fortnight. It had taken him three days to come all the way from Lake Erie, where his regiment was stationed, at Point Abino; and the same time would be consumed in his return. He could only remain with us eight days. How soon they fled away! How bitter was the thought of parting with him again! He had brought money to pay the J—–‘s. How surprised he was to find their large debt more than half liquidated. How gently did he chide me for depriving myself and the children of the little comforts he had designed for us, in order to make this sacrifice. But never was self-denial more fully rewarded; I felt happy in having contributed in the least to pay a just debt to kind and worthy people. You must become poor yourself before you can fully appreciate the good qualities of the poor — before you can sympathise with them, and fully recognize them as your brethren in the flesh. Their benevolence to each other, exercised amidst want and privation, as far surpasses the munificence of the rich towards them, as the exalted philanthropy of Christ and his disciples does the Christianity of the present day.  The rich man gives from his abundance, the poor man shares with a distressed comrade his all.

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