The Retrospect; or, Review of Providential Mercies: with Anecdotes of Various Characters.

Evidently the pious works of a military officer aboard a naval vessel. Rather tedious evangelical but it does give a good example of conversion through reading.

p. 87-88, Christian activities aboard ship: As soon as possible after this I applied for and obtained permission to form a public library of religious books on the following plan. Every member subscribed four shillings, and was entitled to have one book in his possession, and to exchange it for any other as often as he pleased; and, in the event of leaving the ship, to take one or more volumes with him as his own. The purser’s steward undertook to keep the library chest, and receive and give out the books. Most of the officers gave a gratuitous sum. Our number of subscribers exceeded a hundred and fifty, and our library, when purchased, contained above two hundred volumes of pious, evangelical works, two-thirds of which were always in circulation. Thus, from a state of barrenness, as to the Scriptures and good books, we were soon and easily in possession of abundance: for it must be observed, that many of the crew furnished themselves with Prayer Books, besides their subscriptions to the library.

p. 125-26: Robert A. was a young man of rather superior understanding to seamen in general, and, being excessively fond of reading, he had perused and imbibed much evil from many novels, and other vile books; so that with his natural and acquired talents, he was enabled to proceed some degrees in profligacy beyond many others. He was, what he styled himself in a letter which I now possess, “the veriest slave to all manner of vice of any one in the ship.” Not all the discipline of the service, nor the presence of his superiors, was sufficient to bridle his impure and blasphemous tongue. [Goes on to show his conversion through reading]: Being one forenoon stationed in the main-top, and having no active duty to employ his time and drown reflection, he opened the chest,” and, to his joy, observed a book. In hope of finding some idle story to beguile his mind, he opened it, and began to read. The volume belonged to our circulating library; it was “Doddridge’s Rise and Progress of religion in the soul;” a subject, above all others, most unwelcome to one in his state; yet he read on, to use his own words, “torturing himself by every line he read.” Again and again he wished the book had been a thousand miles off, or that he had never seen it; yet he told me “that he could not put it away. The reading of it,” he said, “pricked him to the heart, but still he read on, drawing all the comfort he was able from the thought, that by and by twelve o’clock would arrive, and then he should be relieved from this post, and obliged to put the book away.” Twelve o’clock at length came, and, being relieved, he flew below; but he could not fly from his convictions. Ten minutes were found abundantly sufficient to take his dinner, and having left his messmates to drink both his and their own grog, as they pleased, he again sat down to the tormenting, but irresistible book. From that day he became a most patient, meek, and humble Christian. He separated from his old iniquitous companions, and passed his leisure hours in hearing, reading, and singing with the wingers, whom he had heretofore so cordially hated and despised. Nor was all the opposition of his former comrades able, in the smallest degree, to shake him.

p. 150, discussing the dark side in his view of the intellectual stimulation of conversation in the ward-room: But this same picture had a dark and distressing side, which I was obliged often to look upon. These young men had, by some means or other, got into a train of deistical reading, and of dangerous, half-infidel opinions. The works of Hume, Gibbon, and Voltaire formed a part of their library, and but too frequently engaged their leisure hours. At that time my thoughts and feelings on religious matters were much what they now are; consequently, it was not long before I and my new associates discovered that we viewed many things in a very opposite light to each other. This discovery was first made by the following circumstance. The junior lieutenant of the frigate had, some days before I joined them, purchased, at a very high price, what the bookseller told him was one of the most popular and sensible novels ever published in England, and that a full chest of them had happily arrived at Gibraltar. I think it was the very day I went on board, that one of the officers enquired of the purchaser, “How he liked his famous new novel?” To which the other replied, “I don’t know what to think of it: there is too much of religion in it. I have read but a few pages.” Hearing this odd description of a novel, and perceiving that neither the enquirer nor the owner of the work cared about reading it, I requested the favour of seeing it; and found its title, “Coelebs in search of a Wife,” and truly, it did contain much good advice and sound doctrine. To me it proved quite a treat, while it remained unread, and unvalued by the purchaser and his shipmates. This event discovered to them that they had what they termed a religionist among them.

p. 245: Still there was a great dearth of books of a description suited to their prejudices, habits, taste, and standard of knowledge; and knowing how difficult, or rather impossible, it is for a mere landsman to write, so as to meet these peculiarities with a good hope of success, I felt it my duty to make the attempt, and eventually wrote seven tracts, and gave them to that useful institution, the Religious Tract Society, established in London, in 1799, and one for the Church of England Tract Society, instituted in Bristol, in 1811." By which societies considerably more than half a million copies of these humble works have been circulated; and instances of the divine blessing on their perusal have not been wanting.