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FELIX NEFF AND HIS LABORS.
the labors of a regularly appointed and resident minister of the Gospel. Henry Oberlin, a son of the celebrated Pastor of the Ban de la Roche, had preached for a few months to these scattered sheep. But death soon cut short his valuable life. He fell a sacrifice to his exertions among the Protestants in the south of France. The account of his dying moments forms a most beautiful episode in the Memoirs of his father.
He died the 16th of November, 1817. Neff's vast parish consisted of two great divisions, the Val Queyras, which lies in the east, and communicates with the Protestant valleys of Piedmont, by the pass of the Col de la Croix, that extends along the whole length of the river Guil, which falls into the Durance, and the Val Fressinière, which lies on the west, along a small stream that also flows into the Durance, about half way between Briançon and Embrun. The former embraces the villages, or rather hamlets of Arvieux, La Chalp, Brunicbard, Sauberan, Pierre Grosse and Fousillarde, which stand on the banks of the Guil and its branches. The latter includes the hamlets of Chancelal, Palons, Violins, Minsas and Dormilleuse, which stand on the banks of the mountain torrent which pours its waters, as we have just said, into the Durance, together with the commune of Champsaur, separated from the Val Fressinière by a mountain and a glacier. In the Val Queyras, the Protestants have three places of worship-at Arvieux, San Veran and Fousillarde. Those of Arvieux and San Veran are twelve miles apart. In the Val Fressinière, there are two Protestant churches-at Violins and Dormilleuse; whilst in the adjoining commune of Champsaur, there is one churchat St. Laurent.
The abode of Neff was at first at La Chalp, a hamlet which stands a short distance east of Arvieux, in the Val Queyras. From that point, the field of his labors extended twenty miles south, and thirty-five miles north; whilst from east to west it stretched, including the necessary windings of the road among the mountains, nearly eighty miles! What a parish to superintend! And what ardor of zeal, as well as strength of physical constitution, were needed to carry a pastor through the toils neces sary to the faithful oversight of the flock dispersed through such a frightful region!
We have been familiar with mountain scenes from our childhood. We have wandered, too, amid the Alps, both in Piedmont and in Savoy We have found among the lofty ranges, in many places, very sweet valleys, clothed with
green meadows, and yellow fields of grain; whilst pleasant villages and hamlets marked them as isolated, but very agreeable abodes of men. Herds of cattle roaming in the rich pasturages, and innumerable flocks of sheep and goats browsing upon the mountain sides and skipping from rock to rock, give an animated picture of enjoyment.
But widely different is the scene in the High Alps, in Val Queyras and Val Fressinière, There, on the contrary, the valleys are, for the most part, dark and sterile. Alp rises above alp, and masses of rock, of appalling aspect, piled up, as it were, to the skies, block up many of the defiles and forbid further advance even to the boldest adventurer. "There," to borrow the language of Mr. Gilly, "the tottering cliffs, the sombre and frowning rockswhich, from their fatiguing continuity, look like a mournful veil, which is never to be raised-the tremendous abysses, and the comfortless cottages, and the ever present dangers from avalanches, and thick mists and clouds, proclaim that this is a land which man never would have chosen, even for his hiding-place, but from the direst necessity.
"Neff's Journal has noted the 16th of January, 1824, as the day on which he arrived at Arvieux, to take possession of the habitation provided for the pastor of the district. I have stated in more places than one, that a taste for magnificent scenery formed a strong feature in his character, and it never could have been more gratified than in his journey from Gap, through Guillestre to his new abode. The road from the latter is by the pass from the Guil; and in the whole range of Alpine scenery, rich as it is in the wonders of nature, there is nothing more terribly sublime than this mountain path. A traveller would be amply repaid in visiting this region for the sole purpose of exploring a defile, which in fact is one of the keys to France on the Italian frontier, and is therefore guarded at one end by the strong works of Mount Dauphin, and at the other by the fortress of Château Gueyras, whose guns sweep the entrance of the pass. For several miles the waters of the Guil occupy the whole breadth of the defile, which is more like a chasm, or a vast rent in the mountain, than a ravine; and the path, which in places will not admit more than two to walk side by side, is hewn out of the rocks. These rise to such a giddy height, that the soaring pinnacles, which crown them, look like the fine points of masonry-work on the summit of a cathedral-while the projecting masses that over
hang the wayfaring man's head, are more stupendous and more menacing than the imagination can conceive. Many of these seem to be hanging by you know not what, and to be ready to fall at the least concussion.
'Quos super atra silex jamjam lapsura, cadentique
"Perhaps they have been so suspended for centuries, and will so continue for centuries to come; but be that as it may, enormous fragments are frequently rolling down, and as the wind roars through the gloomy defile and threatens to sweep you into the torrent below, you wonder what power it is which holds together the terrifying suspensions, and prevents your being crushed by their fall. Much has been related of the peril of traversing a pass on the summit of a mountain, with precipices yawning beneath your feet; but in fact there is no danger equal to a journey through a defile like this, where you are at the bottom of the Alpine gulf, with hundreds of feet of crumbling rock above your head. But terribly magnificent as this pass is, and though it must at other times have made a powerful impression on Neff's mind, his Journal does not contain a word either of its grandeur or its terrors. He forced his way through it in the middle of January, when it is notoriously unsafe to attempt the passage. Several travellers lose their lives here almost every year; but our pastor's anxiety to be at his post of duty was the strongest feeling that moved him, and he thought of nothing but the field of usefulness which was now before him.
"On issuing out of the depths of the defile, the frowning battlements of Château Queyras, built on a lofty projecting cliff, on the edge of the torrent, and backed by the barrier wall of Alps, which at this season of the year towers like a bulwark of ice between the dominions of France and the king of Sardinia, present a picture of the most striking magnificence. thing combines to give an interest to the scene. In the far distance are the snowy peaks of Mont Viso, of dazzling white, and, in the foreground, the rustic aqueducts, composed in the simplest manner of wooden troughs, supported on lofty scaffolding, and crossing and recrossing the narrow valley, which form a striking contrast between the durability of the works of God's hands-the everlasting mountains-and the perishable devices of men. About a mile and a half on the Guillestre side from Château Quey
ras, a rough path on the left conducts to Arnieux; and here a different prospect opens to view. The signs of cultivation and of man's presence increase; some pretty vales and snuglooking cottages please the eye; and in one spot a frail but picturesque foot-bridge of pines carelessly thrown across a chasm, invites the stranger to approach and inspect it. He is almost appalled to find himself on the brink of an abyss many fathoms deep, at the bottom of which a stream of water foams and chafes, which has forced for itself a passage through the living rock The narrowness and depth of this chasm, and the extraordinary manner in which it is concealed from observation till you are close to it, form one of the greatest natural curiosities in a province which abounds in objects of the same sort."*
These extracts from the work of one who has seen the scenes which he describes, will give us some idea of the eastern portion of Neff's parish-the Val Queyras. Into every village of this portion of his field of labor his burning zeal soon carried him, regardless of the terrors which beset his path and of the cold to be endured. He did not rest three days at La Chalp, which was to be the place of his abode for the first part of his residence in the High Alps, before setting off to visit the higher villages in the valley of Queyras-Grosse Pierre, Fousillarde, San Veran, etc., which stand near the highest line of vegetation, and just on the confines of the eternal snows which mantle the summit of Mont Viso. From one village to another the love of Christ and of souls carried him almost without cessation. It is incredible how many visits he made during the first winter to every village of this portion of his parish, notwithstanding the long distances which he had to traverse on foot, amid the deep snow, and along paths which lay on the verge of frightful precipices, and beneath threatening rocks. Wherever he went he instituted Classes of Catechumens, Schools for learning to read and for singing, besides preaching the word "in season, out of season." His house at La Chalp was not often occupied by him. He was a stranger to the sweet comforts of home. He had no wife to share his sorrows and his joys. His happiness was found in doing the will of Him, who had called him to preach the Gospel of His Son. Nor were his labors, so abundant, so judiciously directed, in vain. New life was infused
*Gilly's Memoir of Felix Neff, pp. 113-116; American edition.
FELIX NEFF AND HIS LABORS.
into the little scattered companies of Protestants, the fading remains of the Waldenses who once inhabited these valleys as well as those in Piedmont.
It is remarkable that Neff found the most piety lingering among the inhabitants of the highest villages, those which are situated up in the forbidding regions which border on the highest range of the Alps, and where winter reigns eight months in the year. Of San Veran, he states in his Journal: "It is the highest, and consequently the most pious village in the valley of Queyras; in fact, it is said to be the most elevated in Europe, and it is a provincial saying, relating to the mountain of San Veran, La piu alta ou l'i mindgent pan,' that is, it is the highest spot where bread is eaten."
Everywhere, especially in the upper villages, he was received as an angel of mercy. He preached the Gospel daily; he visited from house to house, praying with the sick, discoursing with those who were well on religious topics, and instructing the young, for whom he had a particular affection and care. His talents for conversation were wonderful; and no man probably ever excelled him in the aptness and force of his illustrations.
But it is time that we say a word about the other portion of his vast parish-the Val Fressinière. He was not long in making a visit to this portion of his field. He soon found that it stood in peculiar need of his labors. The people were poorer and more ignorant than in Val Queyras. This was emphatically the case with the people of Dormilleuse, the highest village in the valley of Fressinière. It was situated high up the side of the mountain, and faced the south. The access was by one path, which was very steep, and over which, in one place, a cascade projected its waters, so that those who ascended and descended passed between the falling sheet of water and the mountain side. In the winter this cascade created a vast mass of ice, which greatly augmented the difficulty of the ascent. A deep valley, or ravine rather, lay in front of the village, and the dark sides of a mountain rose beyond it and apparently at but a short distance from Dormilleuse.
The houses of this miserable village, which ever afforded a secure asylum for the poor persecuted followers of Christ, whether escaped from France or Piedmont, † are wretched structures of stone and mud, from which fresh air,
* A similar testimony is borne by the Waldensian pastors in Piedmont, respecting the parishes in their country.
"The Protestants of the Valleys of Piedmont
comfort and cleanliness seem to be utterly excluded. In comparison with this village and most others in the Val Fressinière, those in the Val Queyras are a garden. In San Veran and all the other villages of the latter, the houses are built of rough pine logs laid one above another (after the fashion of log-houses with us), and composed of several stories, which have a singularly picturesque aspect, and somewhat resemble the châlets in Switzerland, though much higher. On the ground-floor the family dwells, and oftentimes the horses, cows, etc., separated of course from the part occupied by human beings by partitions; hay and grain occupy the second story; whilst the third is given up to grain, to stores of bread-cakes and cheeses ranged on framework suspended from the roof. As it is the custom of the inhabitants of this country, as well as those in the valleys of Piedmont, to bake but once a year, they have need of considerable room for their loaves, or rather large cakes, of bread.
In his tour through Val Fressinière Neff preached in every village; and after having surveyed that portion of his field returned to Val Queyras. It took just twenty-one days for him to make the tour of his vast parish, and he must have had naturally a constitution of iron to do it within that period, at such an inclement season of the year. And yet this was the routine of his labor for several years.
It was not long before Neff found that his heart was leading him to make Dormilleuse his home instead of Arvieux, or rather La Chalp, a hamlet in its vicinity. Thither at length he removed. The view given in the frontispiece, will enable the reader to have some idea of his house at Dormilleuse. In that humble abode he not only resided when at home, but there also he collected every winter that he passed there, a class of young men whom he instructed in the branches necessary to qualify them to teach school and act as catechists. In this blessed employment he found great enjoyment, as well as in preaching the blessed Gospel. Nor did he confine his labors to his own parish, vast as it was; for he made a visit to the
and Dauphiny afforded each other mutual shelter," says Mr. Gilly, "when. they were pursued by their enemies. Gilles relates an affecting incident of the refugees from Italy throwing themselves on the protection of their poor brethren of Fressinière in 1566, who most kindly received them, and shared their scanty pittance with them, fearless of the double peril of starvation and the vengeance of their common foe."
Vaudois or Waldenses in Piedmont, and caused the thunder of his eloquence to resound throughout their valleys. Nor have the effects of it ceased to be felt till this day. He was instrumental, under God's blessing, in commencing that resuscitation of true religion which has ever since been going forward among them.
But we must hasten to the close of the career of this wonderful man. He was not permitted to labor more than about three years and a half in the region of the High Alps, before his health gave way, and he was compelled to seek repose and restoration beneath the parental roof. Great was the distress of his poor dispersed flock at his parting from them. Nor is this to be wondered at. He had been a friend in the highest and best sense of the word to them. He had not only instructed them in the gospel, but in almost all the arts of civilized life, from the proper culture of their grounds, the planting of potatoes and some other vegetables of which they were almost wholly ignorant, to the proper irrigation of their meadows and fields. He had been everything to them. No man in the world, probably, could have had a greater influence over them. He had amazing powers of persuasion, and in some sense even of command. His early training had wonderfully fitted him for this. But his work was now done, and he returned to Geneva-to die!
After he reached that city, all that could be done by the ablest physicians was done, but in vain. He visited the baths of Plombières, where he received much kindness, as he did wherever he went. But all was in vain. He returned to his mother's house at Geneva, and left it no more. His sufferings were dreadful: owing probably to the use of coarse and unwholesome food during his residence in the High Alps, together with excessive preaching, often in confined and highly heated and crowded houses, and sometimes even in stables. His stomach had become so deranged that it would bear nothing without occasioning excruciating pain-so that he literally suffered greatly towards the last from hunger. Even a little whey, which was all that he could take in the shape of nourishment, gave him great pain. Madame Feller and other persons who were witnesses of his sufferings have told us that they never saw anything so distressing. And yet
amid all, his mind was tranquil-yea, full of joy. His large black eyes, to the last, beamed with intense expression, and his lips, when they could give utterance to his feelings, poured forth the praises of his Redeemer.
We have never read anything more touching than the account which has been published of his last days. His dying chamber was never empty. Many people came to see him. He felt deeply for his poor aged and feeble mother, whom he was about to leave, but whom he strove to cheer by his sweet words of consolation. "He made," says the author of the Notice sur Félix Neff, published at Geneva in 1831, "many presents to his friends, and set apart some religious books for many persons to whom he still hoped to be useful. After having underlined several passages, he thus wrote the address: Felix Neff, dying, to
"We have an indelible recollection of the last letter he ever wrote; it was a few days before his death. He was supported by two persons, and, hardly able to see, he traced at intervals, and in large and irregular characters which filled a page, the lines which follow, addressed to some of his beloved friends in the Alps. What must have been the feelings of those who received them, with the persuasion that he who had traced them was no more!
66 6 Adieu, dear friend, André Blanc, Antoine Blanc, all my friends the Pelissiers, whom I love tenderly; Francis Dumont and his wife; Isaac and his wife; beloved Deslois, Emilie Bonnet, etc., etc.; Alexandrine and her mother; all, all the brethren and sisters of Mens, adieu, adieu. I ascend to our Father in entire peace! Victory! victory! victory! through Jesus Christ! FELIX NEFF.'
He died on the 12th of April, 1829. At his grave, in accordance with his wish, his numerous friends who were assembled around it, sang the sweet hymn of M. Vinet, the concluding line of each stanza of which, is this:"Ils ne sont pas perdus, ils nous ont devancés."*
Such was the early end of this devoted, zealous, eloquent and successful minister of the Gospel. May God raise up many like him to labor in the great field of France, which is now "white unto the harvest!"
They are not lost, they have gone before us.
MARY AT THE CROSS.
BY MISS MINERVA CATLIN.
AMID that gathering throng of vengeful men,
No wail of agony
Her white lip moved, and yet the pallid cheek
That pressed the life-blood from her bursting heart,
Pale mother! on the cold and marble form
That writhed with more than mortal pangs she gazed,
Till the pure meekness of his holy look
Her unnerved spirit with sustaining strength
Girt up, and wnen the iciness of death
Was at his heart's life-stream-its cold spray drops
On his unsullied brow, one living spring
Of filial tenderness, unfrozen, gushed
And warmed the stagnant current of her veins;
For with a look of silent eloquence,
His pleading eye in sweet compassion turned
On one whose life's best heritage had been
The bleeding sorrows of his Lord to share,
When paled and quenched the sun went out in blood,