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Littell's Living Age/Volume 115/Issue 1489/A Remarkable Man

< Littell's Living Age‎ | Volume 115

The following sketch of a humble citizen of Amesbury, by John G. Whittier, appeared in the last number of the Villager—

The present number of the Villager chronicles, in its obituary department, the death of Henry Taylor of Amesbury. Quiet, unassuming, and simple in all his habits, an unlettered workingman, he gave no outward evidence, beyond the reticent gravity of his manner, of the profound intellectual abstraction, the depth of philosophic meditation which made up his real life. He was no reader—probably he never mastered half a dozen books—and he felt small interest in the thoughts and opinions of others. I remember on the occasion of one of my first conversations with him twenty-five years ago, that I was struck by a remark which indicated a knowledge of Plato. On inquiry, however, I found he had no idea that such a man ever lived. I lent him a volume, which he partially read, and returned with the simple remark that "he saw that Plato had got hold of some of his own ideas." A volume of Emerson, Alger’s Oriental poetry, and the New Testament, were the only books that he ever referred to. The latter was his constant text-book, and he reproduced the incidents recorded in the Gospels, with wonderful vividness of coloring and clearness of insight. The words of the Divine Master had for him a depth of meaning which he found difficult to translate into common language; and he was compelled often to make words to express himself. He watched, with absorbing interest, the gradual processes and unfoldings of his own mind, and spoke of them as if he had no personal concern in the matter, regarding his mental movements as impelled by a power not his own. He had only to wait and observe, like the recluse of Wordsworth, the revelations of

                        ——"the powers,
     That of themselves our minds impress."

He was Oriental in his cast of mind; he would have been quite at home with Chinese bonzes, Buddhist priests, Mohammedan dervishes and Christian monks of Mt. Athos. Yet he was never gloomy or ascetic; he had a quick sense of the ludicrous, and could easily put himself in the bystander’s position and smile at his own peculiarities and inconsistencies.

He had somehow reached a state of absolute quietude—a region of ineffable calm, blown over by no winds of hope or fear. All personal anxieties and solicitudes were unknown. The outward world was phantasmal and unreal—he was utterly beyond its common temptations, and looked with simple wonder upon the struggle for wealth and place—the strifes and ambitions of sects and parties about him. To art—if we except a love of music—he was indifferent. Even the wonderful open book of Nature seemed to have no attraction for him. He seemed nearer than any one I had ever known, to have realized that the things seen are temporal and illusive, but "the things unseen are eternal." He used to quote with much intensity of meaning, the words which Professor Plumbtree attributes to the founder of Buddhism, on reaching the condition of absolute rest. It was a description of his own State—in which the Nirvana of the Buddhist—the mystic suicide and self-abnegation of the moslem sufi — the absorption into the Divine Will of the Christian mystics, and "the rest that remaineth for the people of God,"—seemed to him but different names for the same spiritual experience. It must not be inferred that he was blind to, or neglectful of, the duties pertaining to time and space. On the contrary, he was, in practical matters, of sound judgment, prompt to aid and wise to counsel, a good neighbour and citizen. his life was pure; he had no enemies; he cherished no antagonism; what Lord Bacon calls "the colors of good and evils" blended in the white light of his conception of the Divine order. Every way a man noteworthy and remarkable, there are many who will love to recall the rare phenomena of his words and life.

He has passed the gates of the Great Mystery; and to-day, while the earth is closing over all that was mortal, I seem to hear him, as in one of our latest conversations, repeat the words of Jesus to Martha "I am the Resurrection and the Life; whosoever liveth and believeth on me shall never die."