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The mental and moral features of Mr. Hessel, and the classes of persons for whom this memoir is deemed particularly suitable, specified.
WHO was John Hessel? He could boast no ancestral honours; occupied no elevated station; acquired no distinction in commerce, literature, or science. If only those who achieve a reputation attract your attention, courteous reader, you will remain contentedly ignorant of the subject of this biography.
If you read only for amusement; if the butterfly rather than the bee is your emblem; if you have no desire for self-improvement, this book will not suit your taste.
If, however, you delight to form acquaintance with a man possessed by the determination to make the best use of his powers; whose aspirations are directed to the acquisition of goodness and usefulness rather than of fame; whose views of excellence are comprehensive, and whose pursuit of it is intelligent, unintermitting, and successful, you will here find a meet companion.
If you are interested in observing mental and moral growth; in tracing the effect of varied disciplinary habits;
in gazing on the daily photograph of an earnest and sagacious mind, agreeable employment is furnished you in this volume.
If you entertain the notion that students are necessarily unpractical; that their views of life, however beautiful in words, can have no embodiment in deeds; that a love for books disqualifies for cordial activity, a perusal of this biography will convince you of error. John Hessel, though a devoted student, was a thoroughly practical man. He was in danger, in fact, of under-estimating pursuits which did not clearly promise practical results. Pedantry was his abhorrence; practical philosophy his delight.
If you love to witness Christianity not as a creed or formula but as a life; not as a noisy effervescent but as an inward law; not as sectarian partizanship, blind to all excellence outside its own little world, but as rejoicing in goodness in whomsoever seen; not as a selfish comforthunter, but as seeking with self-denying zeal to elevate and bless mankind, these pages will afford you gratification. John Hessel was an unostentatious but sound-hearted, large-hearted, warm-hearted Christian.
If you regard religious biography with aversion, convinced that religious experience, so called, is only "cant;" that whoever submits to the avowal of a creed or system by union with a Christian sect, thereby ingloriously manacles his mind, be persuaded to read these records with the candour you desire to see professing Christians exhibit towards sceptics. You will find that when John Hessel became a man, like another and far greater, he put away childish things. He looked on creeds and formularies and systems, not through the medium of inherited notions, but with the vision of a devout and earnest inquirer. He shunned not to avow unpopular opinions; or, when duty summoned, to pursue a course he knew would provoke displeasure. He sometimes erred by pushing his disregard
< WHAT I LIVE FOR?"
of prejudices to excess. Be his thinkings right or wrong, he was an independent thinker.
If you are a preacher, and prize hints that may help you to a better understanding of Divine truth, and a better method of enforcing it; that may conduct to broad views of the object of preaching, and stimulate to a more vigilant regard to its great end, such hints are here afforded.
If you are young, and wish the benefit of experience as to the formation of your habits; as to what constitutes true culture, and how that culture may be best secured, you will here find instruction.
With one exception the following forceful lines of Banks admirably describe the purpose that glowed in the soul of the subject of this biography. That exception relates to the objects of his benevolent regard. His aims took a far wider sweep than those of the poet. He lived not "for those who loved" him merely, but for those whom he never expected to love him, for he lived for all.
"I live for those who love me,
Whose hearts are kind and true;
For all human ties that bind me;
For the task of God assigned me;
I live to learn their story
Who've suffered for my sake;
To emulate their glory,
And follow in their wake:
Bards, patriots, martyrs, sages,
The noble of all ages,
Whose deeds crowd History's pages
And Time's great volume make.
I live to hold communion
With all that is divine;
To feel there is a union
'Twixt nature's heart and mine: