Jane Attwater Diary: Selections from 1776
Indulgent Goodness has hitherto preserved my unprofitable Life Hitherto can I say of a truth has ye Lord helped me – how various has been ye mercies wch I have recd in ye past year various preservations & deliverances has my dear relatives recd in wch apparent times of danger God has heard & granted us a Gracious answer to ye desires of our hearts may an abiding sense of yt kind overruling providence ever impress my mind I was unworthy of ye least good I recd in past periods ’twas alone oweing to ye free unmerited Goodness of God not for any desert in myself may this thought of my unworthyness, be immovably fix’d on my heart & by a consideration of past excite in me a cheerful hope & confidence in God for a continuance of mercys in future time. “It is of ye Lords mercies yt I am not consumed because his compassion fails not” – I am now through ye mercy of my maker & Bounteous preserver brot to ye beginning of another period of my fleeting Life wt is my improvement of ye numerous mercies I have recd in ye past year? What is my present situation am I equally advanced in ye Christian race think O my soul for what End my Life has been prolonged have I not reason to fear ye Goodness of Grace is not yet begun in my soul or if it ’tis yt what was said to ye Laodiceans might be justly appropriated to me. Almighty God pardon my past Iniquities give me power to begin this year in communion with thee lift up the Light of thy reconciled countenance upon me administer joy & gladness to my soul convince me more of sin give me a thro’ knowledge of my depraved heart and a true & saving knowledge of Jesus Christ may I grow in Grace in all knowledge I commit myself to thee O Lord mortify me unto ye world & ye world to me may I live by faith in Jesus have ye fruits thereof shining in my Life & conversation undertake O God for me rule & reign in shew me ye path of my duty in all respects over rule all my concerns temporal as well as eternal so yt all may be subservient to thy Glory & ye God of my Immortal soul make my will in all things submissive to thine.
[Monday] 29 January 1776 [at Bradford]
This day my sister Head was brot to bed of a fine Boy[xxxi] – awake my soul & rouse my every active power to praise our kind preserver accept my Bounteous Donor of my unworthy Tribute of praise for thus preserving thro ye difficult hour perfect (if it is thy holy will) wt thou hast begun & may every heart be replete with thankfulness may true Gratitude be blended with our joy – & may spard lives be devoted to Thee ye alone Giver this verse has much of late been on my mind & now blessed by God I have seen ye truth of it verified. “The mount of danger is the place where we shall see delivering Grace” Whilst a continued experience of ye Goodness of God excites thankfulness for past blessings may it also excite in my soul a calm & cheerful confidence for future blessing be thou O God my guide I desire to be directed by thee do thou shew me ye path in wch I ought to walk unite my heart to thy testimonies inable me to distinguish aright ye leadings of thy providence in all my ways my I acknowledge thee & do thou direct my paths[xxxii] my mind seems calm & resign’d O yt I may not deceive myself in think[ing] I am guided by God wn it only follows the bent of my own will whatever thy will is O God I trust ’tis my souls desire to be submissive too – Blessed be thy name for ye good news I have hd fm my dr Friends yt they are all in ye enjoyment of health. Long preserve their lives O my Gracious God in mercy to me thy unworthy Creature imprint a Law of Gratitude on my heart for ye numerous Gifts I enjoy & inable me to give up my self unto thee in a glad devotion to all thy commands – by all these Blessings bring me near to thee give me communion with thee fit me by all to enter into ye haven of Eternal Rest & at Last receive me to ye mansions of Eternal Blessedness where sin ye cause of sorrow knows no place.
[Sunday] 4 February 1776 [at Bradford]
[After hearing that evening a sermon by Rev. Phene she writes that it was] [...] a most pathetick discourse I ever hd wn I considered ye circumstances attending it. Last Sabbath day he buried a lovely promising Child ye favorite of all yt knew her – I sat with Mrs Phene she was much affected & indeed she could not be otherwise with such an affecting discourse I was greatly moved more yn with any sermon I ever hd my heart bled for them I thought of our little stranger all ye tender feelings of nature seemd buried and at once divested me of composure I was obliged to give vent to my tears wch most plentifully flowed.—with wt Fortitude must Mr Phene be blest with to be able so soon after ye death of a belovd child to make such a moving discourse my heart earnestly sighd for a blessing on ye fond parent, & yt the faith and comfort of good Abraham of old might be given also to ym [...]
[Monday] 5 February 1776
My mind is now greatly perplexd the affair goes on & I am yet undetermined my mind is totally averse to a union of yt kind with any one my heart shudders & recoils at ye thought of entring into such a connection I feel my Inability to discharge those duties wch I have now incumbent on me how yn should I were they increased I have various objections – a musing in my mind wch wd I think debar me of happiness many reasons there are for & against I wd wish to set ym in a balance & to see wch preponderates – but my will is so averse to wt I know must be ye End of repeated visits of the sort yt I cannot do yt I am totally averse to wt is said to be ye general conduct of our sex to give transient encouragement to him whom they never mean to accept so yt I can by no means let Mr B–s visits be continued for if my heart does not echoe to ye words of my mouth I can by no means give him an encouraging reception & excite a hope (wch he is pleas[ed] to term it) yt I cannot fulfil. My Friends are all for it Dorinda tells me how much my hond Mother will be grieved should I give him a positive denial the considerations of her so much approveing of Him & the tender regard she expresses for him – his obliging offers with respect to her his being as I trust a real Christian wch last thing will so far as he is actuated by those motives wch yt best of characters inculcates – these considerations are weighty – his professions must be sincere if he is wt I believe him to be disinterested I know they are but I think he has form’d in his Imagination one perfectly different fm myself & with her he is charmd but should he even awake & behold ye reality in its true form disappointment & regret wd cloud ye rest of his days & he wd then wish he had took my word for my unworthyness – Tho’ I fear to distress my dear my ever much loved & hond mother in refusing him yet how can I do otherwise wn I know I must not keep him in suspense delays are dangerous – & wt can I do – now is ye time I must put a final end to it I must not trifle tis a matter of too great importance it may perhaps concern my future peace more yn I may now foresee O for divine Guidance & direction.—I humbly implore it O God be thou my guide & director leave me not to myself nor to ye world guide me by thy unerring counsel fit me at last receive me into Glory overrule all by thy providence & if ’tis thy will to order this way for me O let it be in mercy to my neverdying Soul make my will in all things wholly submissive unto thine. – ’tis but a short journey thro’ Life – Life how short, Eternity how long. May I by all thy ordinances & all thy providences be brot’ nearer unto thee – convince me more of my own weakness & my dependance on thee – Influence me O Lord by thy holy spirit in all things unite my heart to fear thy name deliver me from all deception both in temporals & spirituals in both I trust my souls desire is to act with sincerity of heart guide me Lord & point out plain before me ye path of my duty & inable me to walk therein. If this be Him whom thou the great Ruler of the Universe had ordaind in thy providence shall be ye means of Instructing me in ye path of holiness of animating & incouraging my depraved heart to follow the Lord & if it may tend to promote thy Glory & yt I may be with him the means of doing good yn I hope I wd wish to say Incline my heart to accept Him – but if none of these valuable Ends are to be answered by such an Union deliver me from ye least thought of entering into it – I dread ye Interview it must be decisive It will not do longer to procrastinate after a few more visits. Let my aversions be as much as it may yet in honour I cannot recede – therefore I must be positive nor no longer delay. – The happiness & peace of my dear my only my tender affectionate parent I must not distroy her peace & happiness is dearer to me yn my own while she is happy I cannot be wholly unhappy.
[Friday] February 9 1776
’Tis past I have now confirm’d my former denials by giving him a positive
denial one wt ye consequences will be I know not I could do no other nay for my heart dictated wt I said I cannot act so disingenuous to keep any one in suspense. Let it be ever so much against my future peace “do as you wd be done by” be my motto & tho now perhaps I have laid up a source of unhappiness for myself yet I could not help it my heart trembles to think of giving sorrow to my dearest parent but my happiness is wt she has in view if yt end is not answered her desire wd not I hope I have sincerely implored the Direction of God but I fear I am not worthy of having it granted me I dread ye thought of being left to myself I find it extreemly difficult to distinguish between the guidance of providence and ye bent of my depraved will I wish in vain for my dear mama here I fear ye effects of wt I last said as Mr B—s professions this time were more solemn yn ever I sincerely wish him every blessing & yt he may bear every vicissitude of Life with calmness & becoming Fortitude yt his mind may be fortified against every trial & yt he may find one far more worthy & suitable in every respect yn me wch may sooth his sorrows & partake his joys.—My mind is much perplexed but I desire to commit all my concerns into ye hand of God who can view future events as present order all things for me O God & as every event in decreed or permitted by thee so do thou actuate me to act agreeable to thy will & sanctify me to act agreeable to thy will & sanctify every dispensation of thy providence to me & order all for thy Glory & ye good of my Immortal Soul.
[Sunday] 7 February 1776 [at Bradford]
[...] I recd a Letter this week fm my hon’d Friend Mr Philips wherein he tells me yt he has some who seems serious with their faces Zionward & he says to me “Will my dear Friend come with ym” O yt I were worthy I think I should rejoice to accompany ’tis I am convinced an incumbent duty but wt are my hopes & on wt are thy founded I fear ye levity of my disposition ye vileness of my heart & ye Insensibility of my depravity & wants together with my Lethargick Stupor wch seems to benumb my every active power in ye ways of God are sufficient reasons to make me still desist from giving up myself publickly to God as I fear I have not as I ought done it in private guide me O God & influence my mind in all things to follow thy commands.—May there be a constant Uniformity of mind & desire to serve thee the Lord my maker.
[Sunday] 17 March 1776 [at Bradford]
[On Friday the 15th and on Sunday evening the 17th Attwater attends the Methodist meeting in ‘Mr Wesley’s Room’ at Bradford, describes their form of worship in considerable detail, then adds] [...] I was willing to stay to see their manner as I wd wish to be divested from all Bigottry & so far as my fellow creatures are followers of the Blessed pattern of all perfection in their Lives & conversation so far wd I wish to love ym let ym be of what ever denomination they may give me O my God the true Spirit of Charity & never suffer me to be bitter against any for ye name they bear well may it be said yt Ignorance is ye mother of Bigottry for surely if we know each other better we should not be so very much prejudiced either for or against a particular name there is no sect that their manner &c is perfect therefore as we all liable to Sin should not be too censorious the Errors of Mr Wesly is justly to be exploded but from his followers there may be much good learnt I desire to detest & abhor some of his sentiments but as I too am liable to error I ought to pitty not to condemn those who are in ym & desire the God of truth to lead me & guide me into all truths keep me from Errors & Establish me in ye belief of thy Law & ye Gospel of Jesus Christ. Enlighten my dark mind & make ye way of salvation clear & plain before [me] turn my feet unto thy testimonies may I make hast & not delay to keep thy commandments – I think ye Baptists in their Sentiments are ye nearest of any sect to the word of God but because I am a Baptist in Opinion I wd not wish to anathamatize all others this wd show yt were I a Baptist I should be destitute of one of ye chief Characteristicks of ye true Christian yt is Charity I may I can feel a sincere esteem for all good people let ym be of whatever denomination for if we are ever so inexpressibly happy as to arrive at heaven shall we not yn be company for each other yn therefore let us not fall out by ye way.
[Sunday] 31 March 1776 [at Bratton]
In ye Morng hd Mr Skinner a young Gent from Bristol made a good sermon but my mind was sadly perplexd that I could not as I wish attend ’tis with great reluctance yt I stay here as some particular circumstance renders it totaly disagreeable perhaps one of less delicacy may not at all regard but I own my mind is greatly depressd on this account & I fear the censures of a censorious world & I wd wish to avoid all cause for self Reflection – inable me O my God better to attend in ye after part of ye day raise my heart my fears & thoughts above ye world & fix my hope my trust on thee the source of everlasting good may ye importance of ye things wch relate to my immortal soul & ye triffling enjoyments tend to raise me above this fleeting world & may I view all yt does not concern intimately concern my never dying part as unworthy my notice –
To thee my God I hourly sigh
Attend a suppliants pray’r
O raise my heart & wishes high
& let thy Glory be my care
Subdue each reigning sin within
[Erased word] indue with Heavenly grace
Make my polluted conscience clean
Fit me to see thy face –
Still may I watch still may I pray
’gainst every sin do thou defend
At last to thy Grace display
& be my everlasting Friend.
[Sunday] 7 April 1776
[Back at Bodenham she attends a tea with her cousins] [...] where was a group of genteel Ladies assembled to divert the tedious hours of ye Sabbath by chatting about balls &c amusements I could not help asking myself is this the way for immortal beings to spend the precious hours allotted in a more peculiar manner to prepare for a state of Immortality? Is this the way in wch people of ye world the gay & polite spend ye Sabbath of ye Lord? Is this their boasted pleasure? How vain! How empty! How unsatisfying how much beneath ye immortal mind of man – vanity indeed – I never saw ye pleasures of sense appear more vain more satisfying more absurd – blessed be God yt I have been brot up in way yt has taught me to dispise such empty converse may I be inabled rightly to improve those priviledges I enjoy & rightly to value ym this was a school indeed for me to learn the vanity & empty shew of worldly grandeur I left my gay companions & went to meeting in ye Eve [...]
[Sunday] 12 May 1776
[...] I went to Mr Philips where were several young people – Mr Philips told me ye Eyes of all was upon me expecting me to join with ym in performing ye Command of Christ spoke very affectionately & agreeably to me – suffer me not O my God to deceive thy people in so doing & I know I should deceive myself but may I do all in sincerity of Soul regarding only the Glory of God & ye good of my immortal part. My good my Indulgent Friend has offerd me to accept of a written Experience says if I find myself to be so much straightned in my own mind yt if I will write my thoughts down he knows it will be accepted with many incouraging things my good Friend seems truly solicitous to promote my welfare O may God bless his Labours & may they be productive of my Everlasting Good.
[Thursday] 16 May 1776
I have gave my hond Friend a few thoughts wch I wrote out part of this morn for him to be acquainted with what I trust is the sincere sentiments of my heart with respect to religion – but my heart has reproach’d me since with its being very superficial & nothing to the purpose that I am a very unfit subject & why should I presume thus to do – O thou great searcher of hearts I rejoice in thy Omniscience thou knowest the purposes of my soul if I am not sincere if by doing this I shall incur greater guilt shew it to thy people & suffer me not to be a partaker of what I shall then have no right to – but if otherwise O do thou give me a clearer sight of myself a clearer sight of Christ & of thy pardoning Love to my soul support & strengthen me make thy strength perfect in my weakness. Drank tea with several of our Friends – O that I may ever dwell with the people of God – in time & in Eternity.
[Thursday] 23 May 1776
Went to Sarum Mr Philips began with examining another candidate for Baptism this done he read those few thoughts wch I wrote wch appeared very superficial & numerous things wch I ought to have said is omited but the members were pleased to think it worthy their reception I pray God I might not have deceived ym or myself.—Soon after this was read we prepared for the sacred Institution may I be indeed cloathed with the perfectly spotless Robe of Christs Righteousness – as I was cloathd now in robes of pure white – I had many fears before I came hither least I should not Experience the presence of God & the sacred Influences of the Holy Spirit – but O wt Reason have I for Gratitude & praise to my kind my Almighty Friend here indeed was his strength made perfect in my weakness – fearless & quite composed I descended into the watery tomb I trust I earnestly requested to be baptisd not only with water but with ye Spirit to be buried with Christ in baptism dead to sin & to rise to newness of Life O may I say Heavenly serenity seemd to fill my soul divine fortitude & courage & my thoughts whilst in the water was set on the baptism of my Glorious Example Christ Jesus – this is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased – soon as I came out of the water – a calm serene joy seemd to run thro’ my very soul I was rejoiced yt I had been inabled to submit to this holy Institution & supported so amazingly thro it – O that a lasting sense of it may abide on my memory & this with the various other Instances of the Goodness of God to my soul constrain me to a cheerful & willing obedience to my God.—Surely I may say that the peace of God wch passeth all understanding now filled my soul.—May I not admit a thought that now my work is done but go on conquering my numerous enemys in the strength of Christ Jesus my Lord – I have in a more publick manner professd myself to be a believer in & also inlisted myself in his Cause may Almighty Grace be given unto me may I be strengthend established & settled in the truth as it is in Jesus may I never be left to Lukewarmness but be ever zealous for the cause of Christ & his gospel. I trust I now feel something of Love to Christ but the mutability of my state makes me fear I shall not always possess wt I now feel suffer me not O Lord to be wafering in my thoughts of the Love of Christ to his people but stedfast in the belief of it and always injoy some manifestations of the Love of God to my soul thro’ Jesus Christ. My work is great & may God inable me with unwearied diligence to perform it in an acceptable manner. I hope & trust I am sincere in my profession this day in word & action & may the Lord of ordinance command his blessing on this with every other act of worship sincerely paid to him. After this ordinance was performd Mr Evans preached a sermon from Romans 14 & first verse […] prepare me O Lord to attend on the solemn ordinance that is nearly approaching fill my soul with holy reverential filial fear – with deep sorrow & contrition for sin the cause of the sufferings of my blessed Lord & may my soul exult with holy Gratitude & joy with sincere love to Christ who may I have a well grounded hope has loved me & given himself for me suffer me not to eat & drink judgement to myself but accompany the means of thy grace with the manifestation of the Love of Christ to my souls thou hast blessed by thy holy name given me reason to bless adore & praise thee for thy kindness thy unmerited goodness towards me & has shewn that thou wilt be gracious & has made thy strength perfect in my weakness my fears were many but how did they all vanish the presence of my God I now more than ever disown every thing in myself as to my merit or abillity to do any thing of myself [...]
[Sunday] 18 August 1776
[...] I desire to be submissive to all ye dispensations of providence my mind is now much perplexd but thro’ divine goodness I can say these days wch are separated from those wch are dedicated to temporal engagements & avocations I am in a great measure freed from yt anxiety of mind I desire to be truely thankful yt my mind is so much raised above ye cares of Life I pray God yt I may never have more laid upon me yn I shall have strength given me to bear with resignation & fortitude I know not how the past will end may it end for ye Glory of God & ye good of my Immortal Soul I desire to commit all my concerns into ye hands of a Faithful God & to chearfully confide in his parental care to do. I desire to be truely thankful for yt calmness & serenity of mind wch thro’ ye whole I have been blessd with I have seriously & I hope conscientiously desired to act & with ye greatest caution I avoided giving an assent to ye proposals wch were made wn my heart was averse to anything of ye kind but now notwithstanding my care in this respect its reported yt I first aquiesced & now give a positive denial whereas I am a stranger to both I confess it a little grieves me to be so unjustly censured by those whom I esteem my Friends the cause of a certain persons behaviour wch to me is very misterious is to me perfectly unknown I believe ye affair is intirely over if it is not O how shall I act may I be indued with wisdom from on high numerous indeed has been my anxious thoughts but I know not when to be angry or to pity I have a heart to love & esteem my Friends & I hope (if tried) a spirit to resent premeditated disrespect I know not wt to say or think I have determined to suspend my judgement till I know ye cause but I am ready now to think yt will never be those words tell me ye contrary there is nothing hid yt shall not be revealed &c I desire to be freed from all anxiety my opinion of – as a Christian will not permit me to think there will be so much inconsistency in his conduct as at present there seems to be but yt all will be cleared up whatever or however it is I desire to be resignd tis but a little while & ye transient season of Life will be past this is not our rest may I beg all be prepared for that state when my fellow Immortals will no more be Subject to such Mutation – by every providence & every ordinance may I be brot nearer to my God & see his hand in all.
Text: Attwater’s diary can be found in the Attwater Papers, acc. 76, I.A.1-29, Angus Library, except for the section from 1809 concerning the death of Annajane Blatch, which was removed at some point from the other materials and can now be found in the Reeves Collection, Box 19/1, Bodleian. Though there were no Baptist women preachers at this time, Attwater seems to have had a distinct interest in women preachers, occasionally attending Quaker and Methodist meetings. Just a few weeks after hearing these Quaker women, Attwater visited her sister, Caroline, at Bratton, where she heard of a Methodist woman preaching at nearby Westbury. Elizabeth Mitford, then twenty-one, had been preaching for about two years, despite having spent several years among the Particular Baptists in London. Attwater had a private meeting with her in the house where she was staying in Westbury. Attwater, writing to Mary Steele on 31 October 1774, described Mitford as being ‘humble’ and unashamed ‘of ye lawfulness of womans speaking &c however my curiosity would have led me to hear her was I perfectly assured of her deserving a good character. Some bad things have been reported of her. I know not whether they are authentic or not if they are she must be bad indeed but as we must make some allowances for scandal prejudice envy &c I know not wt to say only those reports have kept me fm accepting Mr & Miss Guestfords invitation to come & hear her. They say she has an Excellent gift in prayer.’ See Volume 3, pp. 259-60. Included in the above selection is the first mention of Joseph Blatch (though he is not named in this entry), who will pursue Attwater’s affections for the next fourteen years. According to an entry in Attwater’s diary, 20 August 1785, Joseph Blatch was a cousin of Mary Drewett Attwater, wife of Gay Thomas Attwater. Both the Blatches and Drewetts were from Bratton. The relatedness of the three families may explain, with different reasons, why JA’s mother will be in favor of the marriage and her brother will oppose it. Much of the entries are related to Attwater's struggle over assurance of her faith and a willingness to submit to church membership. Attwater officially joined the church at Brown Street, Salisbury, on 26 May 1776. Rev. Philips entered a portion of her statement into the Brown Street Church Book (Angus Library, Regent's Park College, Oxford) just after his entries for 21 July 1776. The entry was later marked through with an ‘X’, and is incomplete, with the final line suggesting that he placed a more complete version in another book, a book that is unfortunately no longer extant. The entry reads as follows:
Miss Attwater’s Confession of Faith
A. [Attwater] thinking being possessed of Reasoning faculties must constantly be employed on some Subject or another and the Inquisitive Mind is still searching after some new discoveries – those who are blessed with a religious Education are taught to esteem religion as the great, the most Important business of themselves. Happy for those who through a series of years are enable to believe & so to Act.
In the early part of Life to dedicate the Morning of their days to the Bounteous Donor when we look around and view ye world with all its flattering Temptations we see its Vanity its unsatisfying Nature and ye Immortal Soul unsatisfyed with transient Joy seeks Bliss permanent as its Nature.
It is wrote in another