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SISTERS OF CHARITY,
AND SOME VISITS WITH THEM.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
You tell me you all want Sisters of Charity in England. Truly that is no news; all the civilized world knows it. There has been a voice from the East; a sound that has gone out through all nations where that wonderful paper, “The Times,” can
, travel. It has been an old idea of mine, one belonging to the bright days of youth, when, by circumstances connected with the trials and sufferings of others, I was first brought acquainted with those useful and friendly creatures, the Sisters of Charity,
And now we have all been thinking of our brave soldiers, of their noble gallant officers; and thus have been led to think of her who would have tended both alike; who would have seen suffering humanity in the one, precisely the same as in the other.
We have, a few of us at least, been thinking of the French Sister of Charity, which some of our troops
may have seen carried to her grave while encamped at Varna; buried almost with military honours; attended to the tomb by soldiers she had served, some of whom she had watched over, perhaps even saved, in that fearful pestilence to which she herself succumbed, although invested in a panoply which has borne her gallant corps through many a harder conflict. The army of France showed its respect and gratitude, since soldiers formed her funeral escort, and, instead of the helm and sword, laid on her coffin lid a white wreath of flowers.
The sisters have not told me this; I read it, as you probably have done, in an English newspaper. But the women of England are as heroic as the women of France ? Yes, I believe so. They too have done what they could ; have wished, and tried to do what many of them could not do. History will certainly record a new fact in the annals of England; not quite new, but new in modern times. Queen Philippa will be said to have found her equal; and the hospital of Scutari, where Christian women came to the help of Christian men who bled for the infidels, will yet be a show place, a place of renown, to which the traveller will be guided by his watchful commissionaire ; and he will look on it and say,This spot showed to England her necessities; this spot called forth in England the national institute in which it was so defective, the English Sisters of Charity sprang from the blood shed in the Russian · Call all this what you will, I only hope it may be prophetic. Yes, it must be so. No one can now reasonably oppose it; least of all those who have wished for this war. You say that many, of various parties, wish for this institution; that some few are trying to form it. I am glad of it; but, if I might tell you a thought of my own in confidence, it is that every one of these few wants to do it in his or her own way, and I think this is a pity.
A great many years ago, I need not tell how many, circumstances brought me into a rather intimate intercourse with some Sisters of Charity in the great garrison town of Metz, where, in a most distressful case, they came to the relief of a Protestant family whom I chanced to be visiting. Ah! you will say,
these were the Roman Catholic Sisters of Charity, and we do not want them here. Of course you
do not. Good as they are in their own way, I am of opinion that it is best for each country and each Church to have its own. But I sometimes think you may have them whether you wish for them or not; and may find them doing your work if you do not do it yourselves.
Now you say that as the type of the Sister of Charity is to be found in France, you want me, without importing to you her religious peculiarities, to give you a portraiture of herself. As far as my capabilities admit, I will try to do so, and I hope neither you nor she will think the attempted portraiture a wrong one.
The sketch will be made
from what I have seen with my own eyes; whatever I record my own ears have heard. I can only set her forth as she has appeared to me in some scenes of pain and trial, and as I have known her in some happy pleasant moments. If I present her to you rather more in the latter case than in the former, you will know that it is because I never can write on very grave and serious matters.
The type of the Sister of Charity then is to be found in France, where, the Protestants of that land assert, she was Protestant in her birth. The English in general have very little idea of what this Sister really is, for unfortunately if she comes to England at all, it is in a sort of disguise which she detests, and which is only calculated to make her look gloomy, repulsive, even suspicious. The genuine Sister of Charity, in the clime to which she seems indigenous, is the reverse of all this, and appears quite in contrast to our common notions of such a being.
She is, in general, a frank, lively, even merryhearted woman; young or old, as the case may be, but certainly one who, if she is old, has grown so in her work and calling, and seems in all its stages to retain her own nature. She is one whom you
like to be with even when well and happy; with whom you can, if her time permit, chat and laugh, and yet, without a repressing word or look from her you never feel afterwards that you have gone too far; you do not fear you may have done her or yourself harm. You have been unrestrained, but there was
so much activity in her habits, that precisely when any levity might have arisen there was some call to work, some duty to be attended to. If not of the same Church, it is possible that you may even have argued, and been yourself unhesitatingly condemned; yet there is no sense of angry disturbance on your mind. If the condemnation was not pronounced with a degree of feeling that won your affection, it is ten to one it was pronounced in the most good humoured and good natured manner. You walk with her in the streets ; she nods to the children, returns the respectful salutations of ladies, and if she meets any of the other sex connected with the charitable, or officially charitable works of the place, she stops and speaks to them as she would do to the others, having perhaps her hand in her apron pocket and a great bunch of keys at her side.
There is no formality about her ; none in appearance, none in manner, none in speech. Her dress is known, her work understood, her character respected. She is a privileged person, and can pass scot free where no other woman could. What is it that makes her so like all a true woman is, yet so unlike what many women are ? I suppose it is the atmosphere she has breathed ; an atmosphere the Sisters of Charity have breathed for nearly two hundred and fifty years; for with them what is has ever been.
I have heard of Sisters of Mercy in Ireland and in England too; but I have not heard of Sisters of