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LIFE AND WRITINGS
MRS. ISABELLA GRAHAM.
IN writing the volumes of biography, so frequently presented to the world, the motives of their authors have been various, and the subjects diversified.
Mankind take an interest in the history of those, who, like themselves, have encountered the trials and discharged the duties of life. Too often, however, publicity is given to the lives of men, splendid in acts of mighty mischief, in whom the secret exercises of the heart would not bear a scrutiny. The memoirs are comparatively few, of those engaged in the humble and useful walks of active benevolence, where the breathings of the soul would display a character much to be admired, and more to be imitated. The celebrated Dr. Buchanan has observed, that, if were to ask certain persons, even in Christian countries, if they had any acquaintance with the religious world, they would say, 'they had never heard there was such a world.' While the external conduct of individuals is made the subject of much critical remark, the religion of the heart, the secret source of action, too frequently escapes unnoticed and unexplored.
It is only when the career of life is closed, that the character is completely established. On this account, memoirs of the living are in few instances read with much
interest by others; or contemplated without the danger of self-deception, and too much complacency, by the living subjects themselves.
But when the soul has departed, and the body sleeps in dust, it may prove useful to survivors, to examine the principles which led their departed friend to a life of honourable benevolence, and to a peaceful end.
On this account, and at the urgent request of many respectable persons, it has been deemed advisable to publish some of the writings of Mrs. ISABELLA GRAHAM, recently called away from us, whose character was so esteemed, and whose memory is so venerated in the city where she dwelt.
Self was.so totally absent from all her motives to activity in deeds of benevolence, that she at once commanded love and respect; and, in her case peculiarly, unalloyed with any risings of jealousy, envy, or distrust.
Blessed with a spirit of philanthropy, with an ardent and generous mind, a sound judgment, an excess of that sensibility which moulds the soul for friendship, a cultivated intellect, and the rich stores of ample experience, her company was eagerly sought, and highly valued, by old and young. Though happily qualified to shine in the drawing-room, she spent but a small portion of her time there; for such a disposition of it would have been mere waste, contrasted with her usual employments. Her step was never seen ascending the hill of ambition, nor tracing the mazes of popular applause. Where the widow and the orphan wept, where the sick and the dying moaned, thither her footsteps hastened; and there, seen only by her heavenly Father, she administered to their temporal wants, breathed the voice of consolation on their ear, shed the tears of sympathy, exhibited the truths of the
Gospel from the sacred volume, and poured out her soul for them in prayer to her Saviour and her God.
In a few such deeds she rested not; the knowledge of them was not obtruded upon others, nor recorded by herself. The recollection of past exertions was lost in her zeal to accomplish greater purposes and greater good; her heart expanded with her experience, and her means were too limited, her activity almost inaction, compared with the abounding desires of her soul to alleviate the miseries, and to increase the comforts, of the poor, the destitute, and the afflicted.
Let no one think this picture the painting of fancy, or the colouring of partial affection. It is sober truth; a real character.
To know the latent springs of such external excellence, is worthy of research; they may be all summed up in this, the Religion of the Heart.'
The extracts from Mrs. Graham's letters, and from her devotional exercises, will form the best development of her principles, and may, with the blessing of God, prove useful to those who read them. In all her writings will be manifested the power of faith, the efficiency of grace; and in them, as in her own uniform confession, Jesus will be magnified, and self will be humbled.
In connexion with such a publication, it is thought that a short sketch of her life will prove acceptable; a life chiefly distinguished by her continual dependance on God, and his unceasing faithfulness and mercy towards her.
Isabella Marshall, (afterwards Mrs. Graham) was born on the 29th of July, 1742, in the shire of Lanark, in Scotland. Her grandfather was one of the elders who quitted the established church with the Rev. Messrs.
Ralph and Ebenezer Erskine. She was educated in the principles of the church of Scotland. Her father and mother were both pious; indeed, her mother, whose maiden name was Janet Hamilton, appears from her letters, yet extant, to have possessed a mind of the same character as her daughter afterwards exhibited.
Isabella was trained to an active life as well as favoured with a superior education. Her grandfather, whose dying bed she had assiduously attended, bequeathed her a legacy of some hundred pounds. In the use to which she applied this money, the soundness of her judgment thus early manifested itself. She requested it might be appropriated to the purpose of giving her a finished education. When ten years of age, she was sent to a boarding-school, taught by a lady of distinguished talents and piety. Often has Mrs. Graham repeated to her children the maxims of Mrs. Betty Morehead. With ardent and unwearied endeavours to attain mental endowments, and especially moral and religious knowledge, she attended the instructions of Mrs. Morehead for seven successive winters. How valuable is early instruction! With the blessing of God, it is probable that this instructress had laid the foundation of the exertions and usefulness of her pupil in after-life. How wise and how gracious are the ways of the Lord!-Knowing the path in which he was afterwards to lead Isabella Marshall, her God was pleased to provide her an education of a much higher kind than was usual in those days. Who would not trust that God who alone can be the guide of our youth?
Her father, John Marshall, farmed a paternal estate, called the Heads, near Hamilton. This estate he sold, and rented the estate of Eldersley, once the habitation of Sir William Wallace. There Isabella passed her child
hood and her youth. She had no precise recollection of the period at which her heart first tasted that the Lord was gracious. As long as she could remember, she took delight in pouring out her soul to God.
In the woods of Eldersley she selected a bush to which she resorted in the season of devotion: under this bush she was enabled to devote herself to God, through faith in her Redeemer, before she had attained to her tenth year. To this favourite, and, to her, sacred spot, she would repair, when exposed to temptation, or perplexed with childish troubles. From thence she caused her prayers to ascend, and always found peace and consolation.
Children cannot at too early a period seek the favour of the God of heaven. How blessed to be reared and fed by his hand, taught by his Spirit, and strengthened by his grace.
The late Rev. Dr. Witherspoon, afterwards president of Princeton college, was at this time one of the ministers of the town of Paisley. Isabella sat under his ministry, and at the age of seventeen she was admitted by him to the sacrament of the Lord's supper. In the year 1765 she was married to Doctor John Graham, then a practising physician in Paisley; a gentleman of liberal education and of respectable standing.
About a year after their marriage, Doctor Graham was ordered to join his regiment, the Royal Americans, then stationed in Canada.
Before they sailed for America, a plan had been digested for their permanent residence in that country. Doctor Graham calculated on disposing of his commission and purchasing a tract of land on the Mohawk river, to which his father-in-law, Mr. Marshall, and his family, were to follow him.