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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
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 trary, if
Charity ; and I believe that the English notion of her is something like that of a Nun, or of something like a widow in weeds, something all in black, with black bonnet and veil, downcast looks, and pallid face, measured steps, tones and gestures. The primitive Sister of Charity has not a bit of black about her except her shoes. She walks with a very active step, an upright head, and usually a good degree of colour in her cheeks. I have seen some who have brought back that colour even from Africa and China. The Sister of Charity is not a Nun; there is no cloister, no grille in her case ; she wears no veil; she shuns not the face of man, on the con
necessary, she looks straight up to it, and speaks and acts as one who had nothing to fear, and was not naturally given to fear.
The Sister of Charity is not an ascetic; she eats and drinks very much like other people of her Church; the chief difference that I have found out being that she cannot take any refreshment where she visits as a matter of civility; a wise regulation perhaps, but one only made known to me upon trying the experiment; for to tell you the truth all I know of these Sisters has been drawn from personal acquaintance with some of them, and not from inquiring after their rules and customs, which might appear an impertinent curiosity. The Sister of Charity is not a penitent; not a contemplative being; she has nothing to do with silence, mortifi. cation and seclusion. Except at night, and to sus