Lord Shaftesbury’s First Prayer

In the recently ­issued Bio­graphy of the late Earl of Shaftesbury, the following touching tri­bute is paid to the memory of his faithful old servant, MARIA MILLIS by name, who had been maid to young Ashley’s mo­ther when a girl, and was now retained as housekeeper. 

She was a simple-hearted, loving, Christian woman ­faithful in her duties to her earthly master; and faithful in her higher duties to her heavenly Master. She formed a strong attachment to the gentle, serious child ; and would take him on her knees and tell him Bible stories, especially the sweet story of the manger of Bethlehem, and the cross of Calvary. It was her hand that touched the chords and awakened the first music of his spiritual life. Although not yet seven years of age, there was in his heart a distinct yearning for God ; and to her he was indebted for the guidance and the training under which the longing of his heart was ultimately developed into a settled and intelligent faith. 

She taught him a prayer-the first prayer he ever learnt; a prayer which he never omitted to use through all the trying days that were soon to come upon him. And in his old age, especially in times of sickness, he very frequently found himself in his prayers repeating those simple words. 

It would have been interesting to have read the words of that prayer; it would, perchance, have been helpful to those who have the care and oversight of young lives to know what simple words may be made instrumental in leading a life towards its highest aims. Almost the last promise made to the writer by Lord Shaftesbury prior to his fatal illness was that he would endeavour to find time to put down the words of that prayer in writing; but the intention was frustrated. 

At seven years of age, young Ashley went to school­–Manor House, Chiswick, which is now an asylum for the insane. He had not been long here before the first great grief of his life fell upon him–Maria Millis died.

He felt that with he hims old nurse his last chance of happiness had gone; he mourned for her “with a grievous mourning,” for she was more to him than all the world beside, and he felt a terrible loneliness which sent a chill through his life. Without a soul on earth to whom be could go for comfort, he turned with a child’s simple faith to the Old Book that she had loved; and spread his sor­rows before the heavenly Friend whom she had taught him to regard as full of pity and tenderness. In her will she left him her watch,-a handsome gold one,-and until the day of his death he never wore any other. He was fond, even to the last, of showing it ; and would say: “That was given to me by the best friend I ever had in the world.” In one less earnest and resolute, the spiritual life, thus deprived of its accustomed support, and left to be lived apart, might have been in danger of decline. But throughout the five years during which he remained at the Manor House, he persevered in his habit of pray­ing and reading the Bible, despite the sneers and oppo­sition of _his fellows ; and he never forgot the lessons he had learned from Maria Millis.
– Author Unknown