Letters from Mary Dana (1845) Letter 5

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L E T T E R V
INVESTIGATION NO CRIME

[Please note that Spirit & Truth Fellowship International does not necessarily agree with the full content of this letter, however we think it is a very valuable and historical document that needs to be available online for all to read and study.]

MY DEAR SIR,

I am rejoiced to find that you do not, as some of my friends do, complain of me for having presumed to investigate opinions, when doubts of their truth had found their way into my mind. I was sure it would be so. I knew too well the remarkable honesty of your mind, to fear, upon that particular ground, your displeasure; and am very much pleased to find I did not mistake you. In your letter the following passage occurs, and I thank you for it from my heart. You say, “I am, my daughter, not at all dissatisfied with you for inquiring after Truth, and embracing it wherever you find it; and you have an intellect that can distinguish between logic and sophistry.” You then add, “But if such texts as those to which I have referred you can be logically disposed of, I wish to see the way in which such a work can be accomplished.” Before this time you have received the letter in which I give my interpretation of those texts.

You speak of a remark I have made in regard to you, as though you feared it might be misunderstood; and that some persons might think it argued an indifference, on your part, in regard to matters which I know you deem of vital importance. But I will let you speak for yourself. “You have made an observation,” you say, “something like this, that I was not affected, as all your other relatives are, in view of the disclosures you have made concerning what is passing in your mind. This is true, however, I think, only in one particular. Perhaps all the rest are regretting that you are pursuing your present course of inquiry—that you are examining subjects, and reading books, with which they might prefer that you should not meddle—into which they had rather you would not look. So far as this single particular is concerned, I do not feel thus. I am quite willing you should inquire after Truth, and embrace it wherever you may find it, though it counteract the whole current of your former thoughts , and overturn the whole fabric of your former views. I would hope you have a mind capable of distinguishing truth from falsehood, and argument from sophistry; and I hope that you have a candor and impartiality that will suffice to secure you from the wiles and fascinations of error, and an experience of grace in the heart that will preserve you from going far, and long, and fatally astray.” These are noble views and sentiments, my father, worthy of a man, worthy of a Christian, worthy of you, and of your honest and noble soul. Such sentiments must secure the approbation of every candid and conscientious mind.

I wish I could convince my relatives and friends, and yourself in particular, that I have not been entirely unmindful of that caution which it is so important at all times to observe, but most especially when we are about to take a momentous step, and to assume a new position. I will, however, bear witness to the fact that you have again and again, in the most solemn and urgent manner, lifted up your kindly warning voice, and advised continually the most cautious deliberation. At the risk of placing myself in an unamiable light before the public,—for I cannot and will not explain all the peculiar circumstances which have rendered necessary what has seemed to be a premature disclosure of my change of views,—at the risk, I repeat, of placing myself in an unamiable attitude, I will do all that I can to exonerate you, my dear father, from the smallest share of blame in this matter; and I hereby declare that you have done all that paternal faithfulness could do, to hold me back from what you conceived to be the brink of a dangerous precipice. No one can read what you have written to me on this subject, without feeling and acknowledging that you have done your duty faithfully as a Christian parent, and a Christian minister. But to make the point still more sure, I will here quote from your letters some of the warnings of which I have spoken.

In speaking of my present position, you say:—”It is a slippery road, and you will need to tread it with great care, caution, and prayer, or, ere you are aware, you may find yourself at an awful remove from the ark of safety. I feel no disposition to discourage you from a simple, sincere, and prayerful inquiry after Truth, but do not be too rapid in its discovery, especially not too rapid in announcing or acting upon your discoveries. Recollect, these views are new, and much of their interest may arise from their novelty.” In another place you say:—”I would guard your imaginative mind and buoyant feelings against the dangers that may arise from the relief and happiness you have spoken of, in connection with the new views which have entered into your mind. Do not infer that you are certainly right, merely from that circumstance. I want you to have a cheerful religion, provided it is at the same time a safe and sound one.” Again, you write:—”I wish you to practise no disguise nor insincerity. But I renew my urgent advice to you, on your account as well as on ours, not to be in haste. If your new apprehensions are well founded, nothing will be lost by deliberation,—by taking time to ‘prove all things,’ that you may ‘hold fast’ only to ‘that which is good.’“

This is excellent advice, my dear father, and most gladly would I have satisfied my friends in regard to the time when my change of views should be made known. Indeed, I did not expect, formally, to make them known at all. I did not consider myself of consequence enough to render such a course necessary. If the “orthodox” community would have suffered me quietly to follow the dictates of my conscience, they should never have heard a word from me in regard to myself and my concerns. But strangers and friends have been pleased to interest themselves most extensively and diligently in my case, and it is their fault, and not mine, that any publicity at all has been given to the matter. I have had no choice given me, I have been the victim of uncontrollable circumstances. The time came when I was obliged to make known, to my relatives at least, the process through which my mind was passing. And I have been blamed for not making it known, at least to you, before. I have been charged with showing disrespect to you, my father, because I did not from the first reveal to you the doubts which had entered my mind. Such a charge wrings my heart, and pains me more than I can express. Perhaps my silence was an error of judgment, it certainly was not one of intention. If I have done wrong in this thing, I ask your forgiveness, and I pray also for the forgiveness of my Heavenly Father.

If I could have confided my case to you alone, as perhaps I ought to have done, God knows how joyfully I would have done it, and how much it would have lessened the fearful weight of responsibility which oppressed me when I was groping my way alone. But I was, and still am, under the impression that it was best for me to study the New Testament in the solitude of my chamber; and before I had got entirely through the Gospel of John, I found myself, in regard to the nature of Christ, firmly on Unitarian ground. Then, after a good deal of thought, I sat down, and wrote the letter announcing to my mother and yourself my change of views, intending to hand it to you at the first suitable opportunity. That opportunity was not long in presenting itself. The fact soon became known to most of my relatives, but there were some circumstances which had caused such a fact to be suspected for some time. One of these was my silence for several Sabbaths during the singing of the doxology, which, as I was a prominent member of the choir, could not but be observed. As soon as my change of sentiments became known, a storm arose, and burst upon my head, such as I have never before experienced, and hope never to experience again; and it immediately became necessary for me to act with decision and independence, or lose what I prize above all other things, my own self-respect, and the approbation of my conscience. This is but a glance at the state of things which has rendered it necessary for me to take a decided stand, and assert those natural rights which belong to every individual, and which it is the sacred duty of every one jealously and vigilantly to protect. There are other circumstances connected with this subject, which, as I have said before, I will not name.

Not only, my dear father, have you urged me to practise caution, but you have faithfully portrayed the responsibility of my position, and the consequences which may result from my change of views. On this point you thus write:—”The views you have formerly expressed, the course you have pursued, the reputation you have acquired by your publications, the position you have occupied, and do occupy in this community, and your relation to myself, whose position for upwards of twenty years was still more prominent, place you in circumstances of weighty and peculiar responsibility.” Again, after speaking of the “spirit that lives and breathes—that burns and glows” in the volume of poems from my pen, called “The Parted Family,” you ask, “Are you aware that an entire change in the current of your thoughts and feelings may be the result of the new tide that has begun to set in upon them? Have you renounced, or do you think of renouncing the sentiments and exercises that run through the interesting volume from your pen that has carried rich consolation to so many hearts?”

To these questions I answer, that I am by no means prepared to renounce “the sentiments and exercises” [1] which that volume contains. I have not renounced my confidence in God, nor in his Son, Jesus Christ. The words of consolation which fell from my Master’s lips are as precious to me as ever, and would, I am confident, prove now, as they did then, amply sufficient to bear me triumphantly through any scene of sorrow through which I might be called to pass.

I will now bring this letter to a close, hoping and believing that what I have recorded here will abundantly prove to all who may peruse these pages, that nothing on your part has been left undone to deter me from pursuing the path which you deem a wrong and a dangerous one.

[Please note that Spirit & Truth Fellowship International does not necessarily agree with the full content of this letter, however we think it is a very valuable and historical document that needs to be available online for all to read and study.]


Endnotes:

1. If any one thinks that in consequence of becoming a Unitarian, the “sentiments and exercises” of the Christian heart must be renounced, I ask him to read candidly and carefully the Sermons of Consolation, by Dr. Greenwood, and he will see in what way and to what extent Unitarian Christians are comforted by their religious faith. Back to top