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Constance Sherwood:An Autobiography of the Sixteenth Century

An Autobiography of the Sixteenth Century

Library of Alexandria
I had not thought to write the story of my life; but the wishes of those who have at all times more right to command than occasion to entreat aught at my hands, have in a manner compelled me thereunto. The divers trials and the unlooked-for comforts which have come to my lot during the years that I have been tossed to and fro on this uneasy sea—the world—have wrought in my soul an exceeding sense of the goodness of God, and an insight into the meaning of the sentence in Holy Writ which saith, His ways are not as our ways, nor his thoughts like unto our thoughts. And this puts me in mind that there are sayings which are in every one’s mouth, and therefore not to be lightly gainsayed, which nevertheless do not approve themselves to my conscience as wholly just and true. Of these is the common adage, That misfortunes come not alone. For my own part, I have found that when a cross has been laid on me, it has mostly been a single one, and that other sorrows were oftentimes removed, as if to make room for it. And it has been my wont, when one trial has been passing away, to look out for the next, even as on a stormy day, when the clouds have rolled away in one direction and sunshine is breaking overhead, we see others rising in the distance. There has been no portion of my life free from some measure of grief or fear sufficient to recall the words that Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward; and none so reft of consolation that, in the midst of suffering, I did not yet cry out, The Lord is my shepherd; his rod and his staff comfort me. I was born in the year 1557, in a very fair part of England, at Sherwood Hall, in the county of Stafford. For its comely aspect, commodious chambers, sunny gardens, and the sweet walks in its vicinity, it was as commendable a residence for persons of moderate fortune and contented minds as can well be thought of. Within and without this my paternal home nothing was wanting which might please the eye, or minister to tranquillity of mind and healthful recreation. I reckon it amongst the many favors I have received from a gracious Providence, that the earlier years of my life were spent amidst such fair scenes, and in the society of parents who ever took occasion from earthly things to lead my thoughts to such as are imperishable, and so to stir up in me a love of the Creator, who has stamped his image on this visible world in characters of so great beauty; whilst in the tenderness of those dear parents unto myself I saw, as it were, a type and representation of his paternal love and goodness. My father was of an ancient family, and allied to such as were of greater note and more wealthy than his own. He had not, as is the manner with many squires of our days, left off residing on his own estate in order to seek after the shows and diversions of London; but had united to a great humility of mind and a singular affection for learning a contentedness of spirit which inclined him to dwell in the place assigned to him by Providence. He had married at an early age, and had ever conformed to the habits of his neighbors in all lawful and kindly ways, and sought no other labors but such as were incidental to the care of his estates, and no recreations but those of study, joined to a moderate pursuit of field-sports and such social diversions as the neighborhood afforded. His outward appearance was rather simple than showy, and his manners grave and composed. When I call to mind the singular modesty of his disposition, and the retiredness of his manners, I often marvel how the force of circumstances and the urging of conscience should have forced one so little by nature inclined to an unsettled mode of life into one which, albeit peaceful in its aims, proved so full of danger and disquiet. My mother’s love I enjoyed but for a brief season. Not that it waxed cold toward me, as happens with some parents, who look with fondness on the child and less tenderly on the maiden; but it pleased Almighty God to take her unto himself when I was but ten years of age. Her face is as present to me now as any time of my life. No limner’s hand ever drew a more faithful picture than the one I have of her even now engraved on the tablet of my heart. She had so fair and delicate a complexion that I can only liken it to the leaf of a white rose with the lightest tinge of pink in it. Her hair was streaked with gray too early for her years; but this matched well with the sweet melancholy of her eyes, which were of a deep violet color. Her eyelids were a trifle thick, and so were her lips; but there was a pleasantness in her smile and the dimples about her mouth such as I have not noticed in any one else. She had a sweet womanly and loving heart, and the noblest spirit imaginable; a great zeal in the service of God, tempered with so much sweetness and cordiality that she gave not easily offence to any one, of howsoever different a way of thinking from herself; and either won them over to her faith through the suavity of her temper and the wisdom of her discourse, or else worked in them a personal liking which made them patient with her, albeit fierce with others. When I was about seven years of age I noticed that she waxed thin and pale, and that we seldom went abroad, and walked only in our own garden and orchard. She seemed glad to sit on a bench on the sunny side of the house even in summer, and on days when by reason of the heat I liked to lie down in the shade. My parents forbade me from going into the village; and, through the perverseness common to too many young people, on account of that very prohibition I longed for liberty to do so, and wearied oftentimes of the solitude we lived in. At a later period I learnt how kind had been their intent in keeping me during the early years of childhood from a knowledge of the woeful divisions which the late changes in religion had wrought in our country; which I might easily have heard from young companions, and maybe in such sort as to awaken angry feelings, and shed a drop of bitter in the crystal cup of childhood’s pure faith. If we did walk abroad, it was to visit some sick persons, and carry them food or clothing or medicines, which my mother prepared with her own hands. But as she grew weaker, we went less often outside the gates, and the poor came themselves to fetch away what in her bounty she stored up for them. I did not notice that our neighbors looked unkindly on us when we were seen in the village. Children would cry out sometimes, but half in play, Down with the Papists! but I witnessed that their elders checked them, especially those of the poorer sort; and God bless you, Mrs. Sherwood! and God save you, madam! was often in their mouths, as she whom I loved with so great and reverent an affection passed alongside of them, or stopped to take breath, leaning against their cottage-palings