With a little more time on my hands, I have just finished E.D.E.N. Southworth’s book, Ishmael. Southworth wrote back in the 1800’s, but Lamplighter has been republishing some of her works. Lamplighter has dominated my fictional reading since discovering this publishing company about five years back. For some, Lamplighter might not be your cup of tea. For me, though, it has been quite refreshing. Why not publish books where Christianity is extolled, where the heroes are Christians saved out of a world of sin, and where examples of practical, Christian living jump right off the page at you?
Southworth’s biography is worth reading. Apparently, she was for women’s rights before the cause even existed. I was surprised to read of her harsh circumstances which resulted in her poverty, which she later overcame through her success as a writer. Her husband who had previously deserted her, came back with hunger for copyrights, but she overcame this trial as well. Then when I got about two thirds into the book, Ishmael, I was even more surprised to read of a character just like herself written into her own novel. This website here surmised that Southworth was the most widely read author of the 19th century, male or female, wikipedia agrees. The Hidden Hand, which I have already read, is considered her best novel.
But onto Ishmael. The character of Ishmael Worth fascinated me from the very onset of the book. Here was someone whose circumstances could have influenced them for the worst. Instead, he persevered to do right at every turn, even when no one would have known any different. The circumstances of his birth have caused me to think of my position in Christ. Legally he was the heir to a wealthy estate being the product of a secret marriage. This was unknown to all except his aunt who raised him in extreme poverty while everyone else believed him to be the offspring of a sinful relationship. There was nothing that Ishmael attained that was not due to his own efforts at avoiding the appearance of evil, his uncanny propensity to do right amidst a society set against his circumstances, and his estimation that it would me improper for him to take something for nothing. Ishmael is truly a hero for kids today. Too bad most will never read about him.
Some of the misunderstandings of Ishmael at a young age are quite humorous. His question of, "Would George Washington have done it?" in various circumstances simply makes you laugh out loud. With the appearance of his deceased mother in a dream to offer him the words, "In this strong temptation think not what Washington, Jackson, or any of your warlike heroes would have done; think what the Prince of Peace, Christ, would have done; and do thou likewise!", it makes me wonder if Sheldon had read this book and received his inspiration for "What Would Jesus Do?" in his book In His Steps.
I personally identify with Ishmael Worth as a self-made man. In the book, when Ishmael states his intent to apply to be admitted to practice law at the Washington bar, the conversation between Judge Merlin and himself is a clear statement of how I feel about receiving a degree. Here is a clip of that conversation:
"Excuse me, sir, if I venture to differ with you, so far as to say that I do not think a degree absolutely necessary to success, or indeed of much consequence one way or the other," modestly replied Ishmael.
"What reason have you for such an opinion as that, Ishmael?" he inquired.
"Observation, sir. In my attendance upon the sessions of the courts I have observed some gentlemen of the legal profession who were graduates of distinguished law schools, but yet made very poor barristers. I have noticed others who never saw the inside of a law school, but yet made very able barristers. … I admit also the very great advantages of these schools as facilities; I only contend that they cannot insure success to any law student who has not talent, industry, perseverance, and a taste for the profession; and that, to one who has all these elements of success, a diploma from the schools is not necessary. I think it is the same in every branch of human usefuless. Look at the science of war. Remember the Revolutionary times. Were the great generals of that epoch graduates of any military academy? No, they came from the plow, the workshop, and the counting house. No doubt it would have been highly advantageous to them had they been graduates of some first-class military academy. I only say it was found not to be absolutely necessary to their success as great generals; and in our later wars, we have not found the graduates of West Point, who had a great theoretic knowledge of the science of war, more successsful in action than the volunteers, whose only school was actual practice in the field. And look at our Senate and House of Representatives, sir; are the most distinguished statesmen there graduates of colleges? Quite the reverse. I do not wish to be so irreverent as to disparage schools and colleges, sir, I only wish to be so just as to exalt talent, industry, and perseverance to their proper level," said Ishmael warmly.
Southworth’s vocabulary is incredible. She had such a grasp of the English language. My vocabulary was stretched as I read each chapter. The down side to this novel is that the excitement is in the beginning and middle, and a slower progression toward the end. Yet with that said, the plot still made me hungry for the sequel, Self Raised, which I am currently reading (devouring). I don’t know if I will buy any more works by the author. Southworth considered Ishmael to be her best work, while society considers The Hidden Hand to be her best work; so I am getting the cream of the crop first. Other works may pale in comparison; then again, I may be pleasantly surprised.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman