The Italians call a man of heroic nature—a Garibaldi or a Manin—uomo antico—“one of the ancient type”—one whom we rarely see in our modern days of getting on in the world and following the popular cry. I have never heard the phrase applied to a lady, and, perhaps, donna antica might be held to bear a double sense. But we need some such phrase to describe the fine quality of the spirit which lit up the whole nature of Frances Countess Russell. She had within her that rare flame which we attribute to the martyrs of our sacred and secular histories—that power of inspiring those whom she impressed with the resolve to do the right, to seek the truth, to defend the oppressed, at all cost, and against all odds.
It has been my privilege to have listened to many men and to some women who in various countries and in different causes have been held to have exerted great influence, and to have forced ideas, principles, and reforms on the men of their time. But I have listened to none in our country or abroad who seemed to me to inspire the spirit more purely with the desire to hold fast by the right, to thrust aside the wrong, to be just, faithful, considerate, and honourable, to feel for the fatherless and the poor, and not to despise the humble and the meek. I know that all my remaining term of life there will remain deeply engraven on my memory all that she said, all that she felt, in the last conversation I ever held with her at the very commencement of her last fatal illness. Weak and suffering as she was, unable to rise from her invalid chair, she asked me to come and tell her what I knew, and to hear what she felt about the public crisis of that time (I speak of the end of 1897). The storm of South Africa was even then rising like a cloud no bigger than a man’s hand out of the southern seas. I listened to her: and her deep and thrilling words of indignation, shame, pity, and honour sank into my mind, as if they had been the last words of some pure and higher spirit that was about to leave us, but would not leave us without words of warning and exhortation to follow honour, to serve truth, to eschew evil and to do good, to seek peace and ensue it. I knew well that I was listening to her for the last time; for her life was visibly ebbing away. But I listened to her as to one who was passing into a world of greater permanence and of more spiritual meaning than our fleeting and too material world of sense and sight. And for the rest of my life I shall continue to bear in my heart this message as it seemed to me of a nobler world and of a higher truth.
Yes! she has passed into a nobler world and to a higher truth—the world of the good and just men and women whose memory survives their mortal career, and whose inspiring influence works for good ever in generations to come. In this Free Church I can speak freely, for I too profoundly believe in a future life of every good