Sacred Allegories (William Adams, 1849)

Sacred Allegories: The Shadow of the Cross, The Distant Hills, The Old Man's ... - William Adams

This volume is a posthumous collection of four short works, all of which appeared in the 1840s. The Rev. William Adams was a scholar and cleric of the Church of England; he died at a relatively young age after a prolonged illness, during which he had time to put forth these allegorical stories, principally though I assume not entirely aimed at children. I read this in an 1882 Rivington's reprint, as reproduced in pdf on the Internet Archive. If one can't read the original volume, the pdf is the way to do it, because not only does it avoid the hazards of poor OCR (I also downloaded the .mobi file for Kindle, but it was practically unusable) but more importantly it gives clear reproductions of the illustrations (about 100, many of them half-page or more). These allegories were apparently fairly popular, since they were being reprinted more than three decades after the author's death, and in an edition illustrated by some quite recognizable names such as Birket Foster.

Adams has a talent for the elaboration of an allegory, following in the footsteps of the mediaeval allegorists, and, of course, Bunyan. The first two items, "The Shadow of the Cross" and "The Distant Hills" are relatively similar. Both are on the subject of keeping the mind on heavenly rather than worldly affairs, and both feature contrasted life paths of child protagonists.  In "The Distant Hills" there are simply two options represented by two sisters, one of whom keeps herself in sight of the distant hills of heaven, and the other of whom goes behind the worldly wall and gets lost and eventually crushed. "The Shadow of the Cross" is a bit more inventive and nuanced, since it involves three possibilites (Innocence, who goes straight to heaven young; Wayward, who is the bad kid; and Mirth, who runs the more interesting middle path of repentance and salvation). Extensive catechisms at the end of each of these ensure that no detail is left uninterpreted. The imagery of "Shadow" amuses me, because each of the children carries around a little cross in their hand, without which they can't navigate - rather like certain people these days who can't navigate without their phones in their hands. The last allegory in the collection, "The King's Messengers" is not so much about Christian life in general but almsgiving as a particular virtue, and Adams attaches an appendix to explain earnestly that, his allegory notwithstanding, this one virtue can't be treated upon its own. Again we have parallel lives (4 brothers this time), one of whom hoards his wealth, one who uses it on building a tower of worldly fame, one who does give it away, but insists on parades and praise, and one who does things properly.

The third item, "The Old Man's Home" is a bit anomalous because it's much more personal. Unlike the other three, this story has a real setting (the Undercliff area on the Isle of Wight, of which Adams was apparently very fond). Even though he has a go at making the landscape allegorical (it's prone to slippage and landslides, apparently), that *cough* slips away very quickly, and we end up dealing entirely with the question of whether the old man of the title, who resides in an insane asylum and is obsessed with getting "home" is in fact insane, or merely completely migrated to the spiritual side of life.  There's a bit of meat for social historians here, because apparently Rev. Adams' father was involved in improving conditions for inmates of asylums, and Adams makes a pitch for gentle treatment, and describes the principal doctor quite sympathetically even though he's on the worldly side of the argument.

Anyway, I don't subscribe to Adams' Christian worldview in the least, but there's something rather attractive about the way it hangs together as a system, if only so that a reader like me can then examine at which points the system simply does not work in relation to my own world.  

And the illustrations are pretty!