The Student—A Retrospect

“Give me a Bible in my hand,
A heart to read and understand,
This sure unerring Word.
I’d urge no company to stay,
But sit alone from day to day
In converse with my Lord.”
—Susannah Harrison, altered by David Denham.

“A SELF-MADE MAN.” Popular as is this phrase, we regard it with great disfavour, judging it to obscure His prerogative who governs all events in heaven and earth according to His sovereign pleasure, and to claim for a creature a power with which his all-wise Creator has not been pleased to invest him, “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them how we will.” “A man’s heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps.” “There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless, the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand” (Prov 16:9; 19:21).

This universal truth has a special applicability to the people of His choice. “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord” (Ps 38:23). “He will keep the feet of His saints” (1 Sam 2:9). From these divine words a tempest-tossed faith has often derived the richest comfort. A Christian is not the arbiter of his own destiny, nor is his career determined by his unaided efforts. Our heavenly Father has not placed the future at our disposal. However we may struggle, whatever the force of conflicting circumstances:—

“He overrules all mortal tilings,
And manages our mean affairs;
On humble souls the King of kings,
Bestows His counsels and His cares.”

These great principles, however, by no means detract from the necessity of labour as a prelude to success in every holy undertaking. The grace which saves so freely through the blood of Christ also finds expression in the spiritual and practical activity of saintly men. God fulfills His plans through the efforts of His people, and crowns the projects which He inspired with His own manifest blessing. Listless fatalism is as much condemned in the Bible as arrogant self-sufficiency.

A true Christian cannot, therefore, waste his life in indolence:—

“’Tis not for man to trifle. Life is brief,
And sin is here;
Our age is but the falling of a leaf,
A dropping tear.
We have no time to sport away the hours,
All should be earnest in this world of ours.”

A preacher of the Gospel, if called and qualified by the Master, feels that his holy office claims the utmost diligence. An idle minister is a blot on the fair face of nature—a living encumbrance in the vineyard of the Lord.

The Scriptures not only enjoin earnestness in a pastor’s public engagements, but claim the devotion of his whole life to his sacred vocation. “Study,” writes Paul to Timothy, “to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). “Give attendance to reading,” “Meditate on these things” (1 Tim 4:18,15).

Grace was given to the subject of this memoir to exemplify these words of wisdom from the beginning to the termination of his official career, and we have now to consider John Hazelton as the earnest student.

The event which opened his eyes to the importance of general knowledge has been related. From that time he neglected no opportunity of mental culture, and when his early disadvantages and the many difficulties with which he had to contend are considered, we may claim that he was no undistinguished illustration of the way in which a comprehensive education may be acquired, with God’s blessing, by a comparatively friendless man who is determined to help himself.

His earliest efforts we have described, and enumerated the few books that first served to set him on his way. After mastering the etymology and syntax of his own language, he turned his attention to more general subjects. Anxious to know something of the original languages in which the Bible was written, he sought to obtain a knowledge of Greek and eventually of Hebrew. In these he made some progress, but he did not pursue the study in after years, though there is evidence in his printed sermons that he possessed some knowledge of the sacred Scriptures in the original tongues.[1] His main endeavour, however, was to think and speak in correct and idiomatic English.

Very early, as we saw, he perceived the importance of dictionaries. These, which are of paramount value to an intelligent student, are too often regarded simply as books of reference to be used only when the spelling or significance of a word is unknown. They ought, however, to serve a far higher purpose, and to his,[2] long after after he had ceased to need it for ordinary purposes, he frequently had recourse, as the repository of the terms he needed in his vocation—the cabinet containing the delicate implements with which his work was performed. It was always at hand on his study-table, and he frequently consulted it. To words as such, their significance, force, and delicate shades of meaning he gave great attention.

Hence his phraseology was eminently exact and precise. “I never-want a word,” observed C. J. Fox, “but Pitt never wants the word.” Many of his brother ministers felt much the same in relation to our deceased friend. His vocabulary was his own—copious, comprehensive, and original. He may be said to have furnished his section of the Church with a new terminology, fixing and formulating their theological expressions.

Puritanic or pedantic terms he eschewed. Adumbrate, the consonance of divine volition, federal arrangements, hypostatic union, pactional, piacular, pre-existerian, super-creation, sponsorship, supralapsarian, and similar words rarely, if ever, passed his lips. He did not need them. He had acquired the power of expressing the same thoughts in language which poor and plain people understood at once. He continually preached God’s everlasting choice of His people in Christ, yet the word election[3] and predestination were not of frequent occurrence in his sermons. He thus avoided technical terms, and, with rare art, translated eternal truth into current and familiar speech. His diction, however, was not by any means bald and undignified, but possessed considerable richness and fulness. Vulgar expression he loathed.

He was fond of ascertaining the derivation of the terms he employed, and thus obtaining their true significance. He in this way occasionally invested a familiar thought with new interest—as when, on one occasion, he explained that “holiness” is really “wholeness,” a condition of spiritual health, through the ministration of the Holy Ghost.

In the course of the very last sermon he preached he made an instructive point of the etymological meaning of the word “succour”—to run up to (from ‘sub’ under, and ‘curro’, to run)—as suggesting the tender vigilance and timely help of our heavenly Father when His children are in straits and temptations.

Thus this preacher, by the careful use of means on which few set their proper value, “sought to find out acceptable words.”

It may be interesting to enumerate some of the books which he most prized. The growth of any mind depends not a little on its environment. The literature we love gives character and current to all our thoughts, contracting or expanding their range, and elevating them to sublimity, or confining them to the level of ordinary or common-place objects.

We allot the first place to the writings of John Grill, D.D., to whom our section of the denomination is indebted for first presenting the truths we love, in an orderly and harmonious form, and for showing how truly they are supported by the Word of God when rightly interpreted. His Commentary our friend justly esteemed a monument of sacred learning, and in his earlier years he frequently used it. More recently he felt the need of it less. His mind was capable of forming its independent judgment of the meaning of the inspired Word; and as he once observed, “one gets to know in time pretty well how Gill will take a text.”

Of his Body of Divinity, however, he never wearied, and he accorded it unstinted praise. “It contains the pith of the Commentary”—”the cream of that great man’s thoughts,” he was wont to observe, and the connection and coherence of the system it embodies, its plan and method, its fulness, its variety, and the wonderful way in which the words of God are marshaled in support of every thought advanced, never failed to minister to his pleasure and profit.

Matthew Henry’s Exposition—the first, it will be remembered, that he obtained—remained a favourite to the last. Dr. Daniel Whitby’s Paraphrase and Commentary on the New Testament he valued; deeming his notes on the parables of Christ especially instructive and suggestive.

He loved old books, and valued the productions of authors who had lived in quieter days, before the rush of modern life made meditation so difficult, and who had been favoured with time to think.

He entertained a very strong attachment to the writings of the Puritans. A Puritan himself, in many essential characteristics, he deeply sympathised with the spiritual and devotional tone which pervades their writings. Their weighty and sublime thoughts nourished his mind and warmed his heart. That their style was at times heavy and uninviting he could not deny, but he averred that he had invariably found them profitable study.

In the works of John Owen, in spite of their prolixity, he found information and suggestion on which he set the highest store. Stephen Charnock on the Attributes of God “he made his own”—we adopt the phrase we heard from his lips—early in life, and he was ever grateful for the help it had proved.

The tender and pathetic Sibbes, the author of the “Bruised Reed,” he enjoyed; but Thomas Goodwin, whose sentiments most closely coincided with his own, was, we think, his favourite. The whole works of Thomas Manton came into his possession a few years’ since, and he commenced reading them through, marking the place at which he left off after each sitting. He did not live to complete the task; but he assured us that he found the weighty words of this great divine stimulating and helpful.

W. Romaine and A. M. Toplady he also perused with pleasure and profit, and Bishop Hall’s quaintly serious “Meditations” was a book he prized.

His distinctive views as a Strict and Particular Baptist he did not gather from the writings of uninspired authors. “The Gospel which was preached of him was not after man; for he neither received it of man, neither was lie taught it,” save by the Holy Spirit, who led him into the truth which is stated and implied in the sacred pages. Nevertheless he confessed his indebtedness to a few works, which he was wont to recommend to his younger brethren. “A Further Enquiry after Truth,” by Lewis Wayman, of Kimbolton, is mentioned in terms of high approval in John Stevens’ masterly “Help for the True Disciples of Emmanuel.” Our dear friend also delighted in this brief but masterly explanation of the true relation of faith to salvation.

“Tucker on Predestination” he also considered a valuable treatise.

When in 1874 some rather strong remarks in one of his published sermons, in defence of the commercial view of the atonement, led to a conversation on the subject, he introduced to our notice, as satisfying his own mind on this momentous question, “Gethsemane; or, Thoughts on the Sufferings of Christ,” by the author of the “Refuge.” This unique work, it may be observed, is only to be obtained second-hand; but he who is favoured to obtain and peruse it will require nothing further to settle his mind on the subject.

One book he regarded with unique appreciation—Joseph Hussey’s “Glories of Christ.” This remarkable volume must be seen to be appreciated. It has not its equal in all literature. It purports to be a critique upon a feeble little brochaire, by one John Hunt, of Northampton. This personage Hussey despised for stealing the matter of one of his printed sermons, and publishing it as his own. He also loathed the contradictory testimony of the book, on which he falls with astonishing vigour, exposing its fallacies, correcting its erroneous expositions, and vindicating Christ from the aspersions which he alleges had been cast upon Him. The work, which consists of 968 pages, at first seems a mass of confusion, without point or connection, but the patient reader at length discovers that it is a mine of theological wealth, full of suggestive thought, abounding in original expositions, and everywhere manifesting the peculiar ability of an uncommon and lofty mind. This book, above all others, our friend assured us, helped him to think. He told us that he once recommended it to a brother minister, highly esteemed by us both, to whom it proved of inestimable value. His oft-repeated advice, therefore, was to “obtain Hussey, and give it patient and prayerful study.”

He was not restlessly anxious to obtain new books. Some ministers can hardly be content unless they obtain the most recent treatise, on the most popular topic, by the last author, who has gained public attention. Though pleased with the gift or loan of a fresh or suggestive volume, he was content with the society of his old and familiar friends.

Those who knew him only in later years may be surprised that at one time he yielded to the dangerous fascination of metaphysical subtleties; although it is not strange that one whose mind was not under discipline in his early life, should at first mistake the daring speculations of rash and irreverent thinkers for sober deductions from undoubted facts. This line of thought, however, he long since abjured, and earnestly refrained from further revolving the problems arising from it. “If the Lord had not put His grace in my heart,” he has been known to say, “I know not where these books might have led me.”

Yet he never ceased to make the mind of man the object of patient observation and reflection. His discourses evinced a far from common acquaintance with its constitution and powers; but his remarks on the question were always lucid, Scriptural, and instructive, nor could the most uneducated of his hearers have felt bewildered by observations which, though apparently simple, were the fruit of patient and prolonged thought. What books on these and kindred topics he read in his earlier days we are unable to say, but to one treatise he invariably referred as having been most serviceable to him, the masterly and profound treatise of Samuel Drew on “The Immortality and Immateriality of the Human Soul.” John Flavell’s “Fountain of Life Opened;” and Thomas Goodwin’s “Of the Creatures and their Condition and State by Creation;” he mentioned to us as having furnished him with the greatest assistance on the fascinating themes of which they treat.

As Jesus, personally and officially, was the central object of his thoughts, he loved to read what was fragrant of Him. Christless books presented little attraction to him. Treatises on history, science, and philosophy, he by no means eschewed. He gave moderate attention to the news of the day.[4] His heart, however, was given to such literature as helped him to a clearer apprehension of the grace and glory of the dear Redeemer.

A mind like his could not fail to find delight in poetry. Milton he admired in his early days, we think more than afterwards. Young caused him pleasure, but Cowper was his favourite. His employment of an extract from the Task, to illustrate his own call by grace, will be found on page 20. The quiet humour of this pensive bard was likewise not distasteful to him, and when he had been wearied by a pertinacious and prolix visitor, has been known to quote the well-known lines from “Conversation”:—

“I twirl my thumbs, fall back into my chair,
Fix on the wainscot a distressful stare,
And when I hope his blunders are all out,
Reply discreetly: To be sure, no doubt!”

He loved devotional poetry, and the propriety and diversity of the quotations in his printed discourses evince no common acquaintance with the Songs of the Sanctuary.

His memory retained many choice hymns by Cowper, Toplady, Anne Steele, Kent, Hart, and others, but the Psalms and Hymns of Dr. Watts stood highest in his regard. “If I must part with all my hymn-books but one, I should retain this,” he often remarked. He often introduced an apposite quotation from his favourite author into his sermons—not unfrequently with a word of commendation. “I love Watts,” often fell from his lips.[5]

Watts assuredly is worthy of higher praise than he frequently obtains. In his hymns we have almost numberless ideas suggested by his own religious knowledge and experience, and expressed in smooth and sonorous versification, which throbs with fervour, and is lighted up with the sublimest imagery. Nor does he excel as a poet alone. His verses are the great metrical exponent of evangelical theology. He crystallises truth in his translucent lines. His volume is a body of divinity in which doctrine, experience, and practice alike find full and felicitous expression.

To John Hazelton it proved invaluable—clarifying his thoughts, enlarging his vocabulary, and supplying him with some of his most characteristic phraseology. The last book he ever read was the “Life of Isaac Watts, D.D.,” by the late Edwin Paxton Hood.

He greatly loved the writings of William Jay, of Bath, and deemed his methods of sermonising very admirable. “He has,” he once said, “only to touch a text, and it falls at once into its natural and obvious divisions.”

At Bungay, in which place it will be remembered he first gave earnest attention to mental culture, he for the first and only time in his life, tried his hand at poetry, producing four hymns, the subjects of which were, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove,” “The matchless glories of the Son of God,” “Which things the angels desire to look into,” and “The majesty of Jehovah and the Church saved.” They pretend to no finish or polish; but as the following verse of the first of the series will manifest, contained some sterling thoughts, very happily expressed.

“I crave, dear Lord, the wings of faith, whose golden pinions can
Exalt me, in Thy cov’nant love, far from the reach of man—
The dove-like wings of faith and hope, and prayer, and praise, and love.
To lift me out of grief and pain—to fix my mind above.”

Yet great as was his admiration for some other books, the Bible invariably occupied the foremost place in his esteem and affection. What the cedars of Lebanon were to the hyssop on the wall, or the sun at his meridian strength is to the evening star, the Word of God was to him in comparison with the chief productions of the saintliest men. “His delight was in the law of the Lord; and in His law did he meditate day and night.”

He invariably expressed the profoundest reverence for the Old Testament, and deprecated any unfavourable comparison between it and the New.

For forty-eight years he used the same copy of the Bible, which he kept in his study, and every page gives evidence of having been repeatedly read. Though many of its sheets grew worn and dim, he would not exchange it for a new one; and it was rebound three times. So familiar had he grown with it, that he remembered the position of a great many tests on its pages, and could find them without the help of a concordance, or indicate their whereabouts to someone else. His verbal memory was accurate, and he retained a large portion of the Inspired Volume in his mind.

A few observations on his methods of study may be welcomed. He was to the last a regular student. To devote some of the best hours of the day to the books he loved was a part of the systematic business of his life.

He was a continuous reader. He rarely dipped into one volume and then laid it aside to glance at another. Unlike Dr. Johnson, who is accredited with confessing that he never read a book through in his life, our friend loved to peruse a valuable treatise from beginning to end.

He was a moderate smoker, and often when studying indulged himself with his favourite and only luxury.

Pipe in hand, he read slowly and thoughtfully, pausing at times to challenge statements which did not at first commend themselves to his notice, or to ruminate on thoughts which arrested his mind. Should a friend call, he delighted to introduce any such ideas to him and to share his opinions.

It is to be regretted that he seldom annotated his books, or committed his studious thoughts to writing in such a form as to be available for the use of others.

He travelled much, but never took a book with him for use on the journey. Pensive and prayerful, he loved to be silent while on his way to his engagements, and when his work was over his one anxiety was to regain his peaceful home once more.

During his first fifteen years in London his studious habits tended to impair his health, and might have proved really injurious but for Samuel Milner, the minister of Keppel-street Chapel, then his near neighbour, between whom and himself a tender but curious friendship existed.

No two men could be more unlike. They were indeed one in the spirit life, in their attachment to the doctrines of grace, and in their love for the word of God, but here all apparent affinity and resemblance ends. The one, though every inch a Christian gentleman, was animated, exuberant, jocular, and full of quips and merry sayings, but by no means a deep or exact thinker. His power as a preacher did not lie in his compass of thought, but in his evident godliness, his knowledge of human nature, his shrewd wit, his power of uttering truths in a terse and epigrammatical form, and in the sterling honesty and tender kindness which kindled and glowed in his every utterance.

The subject of this memoir, on the other hand, was grave, sober, self-restrained, habitually studious, and given to pondering deep and solemn problems. His thoughts were systematic, his every word controlled, and he but seldom yielded to the humorous side of life.

Yet they loved each other deeply and dearly. The bond of union was doubtless their common sincerity and kindliness of heart. They were at ease in each other’s company, and often, especially on a Monday morning, when John Hazelton was pondering over some weighty tome, his friend would coax him to shut his book and go out for a stroll, and enliven every step with droll remarks that compelled a smiling reply, though an undercurrent of earnestness generally relieved them of frivolity. The mutual influence of the two good men upon each other must have been of the highest value to both.

John Hazelton was a devotional student. To obtain an accurate and extensive acquaintance with “the deep things of God” was the object he invariably pursued. All his efforts to obtain knowledge were subservient to this purpose. Some ministers, while adding to their mental attainments, neglect their hearts, which become cold and sterile. He, on the contrary, made it his aim to maintain communion with his Master, while he read, marked, and learned the lessons of the printed page.

He gladly welcomed new and striking thoughts. About six years ago, the Christian Commonwealth was for a few months forwarded gratuitously by its enterprising publishers to metropolitan ministers. One morning we found him with a copy in his hand, and he informed us that an article had much interested him. It was by Henry Varley, and presented the atonement (his favourite theme) in a light which struck him. Laying down his pipe, he took it to the window and read with his own quiet emphasis the passage which had impressed him;[6] “I have tried”, he said, “with all the powers of my mind, to consider the great subject of the atonement in its various branches; but this aspect of it has, I confess, never occurred to me before.”

He read to nourish and replenish his own mind, rather than to obtain suggestions or matter for his next sermon. He regarded with intense disfavour the too common practice of cramming one’s memory for the pulpit. “Some men always have what they last read on the brain,” he once said. His criticism on the platform address of a certain brother was that it was evidently the vomit of some book he had just been reading. Sketches of sermons, skeletons, hints to preachers, and the like, were therefore useless to him; his discourses did not originate from any such sources.

It is needless to say that he never stole sermons, or learned up the discourses of other preachers and palmed them off as his own. Those who knew him intimately, and were aware of the book he had in hand, could rarely trace any of his thoughts to that source.

When, however, Samuel Cox’s “Expositor’s Note Book” came into his possession, he was pleased with the explanation given of the difficult sentence, “Sin lieth at the door,” which he introduced into two discourses.[7]

His sermon on John 10:10 (Vol. III. page 177) (especially the concluding thoughts) is so similar to William Jay’s Morning and Evening Exercises for October 23rd as to lead us to think that it must have been suggested by them. One of his sermons published in the Gospel Herald (on which the Divine blessing signally rested), also much resembled—as our late friend William Houghton remarked—Jay’s well-known discourse “Wanderings in the Wilderness, not Removals out of it.”

We instance these as exemplifying the proper and permissible use of books by an honest and hard-working minister.

His last study was the quiet back parlour of his home at 50, Halton-road. It overlooked the pleasant garden in which, during the summer months, he took such delight. Portraits of George Murrell and William Huntington adorned the walls, and his favourite volumes were neatly arranged in well-considered order. On the table, in the centre, he kept an open writing-desk, his dictionary, and a few other books, with his pipe and tobacco-box.

Memory recalls, with mingled pain and pleasure, his grave but kindly face, his soft and silver hair, and the quiet, welcoming words, “My friend, I am glad to see you,” as his book was laid aside, face downwards.

We close this chapter with a few words on our beloved friend’s method of preparation for the duties of the pulpit. These he always anticipated with the gravest solicitude, and often with a trembling anxiety, which those only who knew him best imagine. “Beaten oil for the lamps of the sanctuary” is said to have been the watchword of the fervent Robert Murray M’Cheyne, who was so honoured of God in turning many to righteousness. The words apply with equal force to him of whom we write. “Shall I offer to the Lord that which cost me nothing?” Hence he sought to equip himself for every public engagement with almost painful diligence, and was restless and anxious if he could not fix on his subject some time before hand. The sermons for Lord’s-day were generally matured and prepared on Fridays—the day he specially devoted to such work.

His texts he obtained from his Master, very frequently during the solemn moments when his knees were bowed in worship with his family. When once his mind rested on a text he opened no book in studying it save his Bible and, occasionally, his concordance. His plan was to jot down every thought that occurred, in pencil, on an unimportant piece of paper, without any regard to their connection or coherence. As ideas sprang up he thus fixed them. He afterwards rewrote the whole in ink, on paper of a convenient size, selecting or rejecting the matter he had previously accumulated, arranging his ideas in orderly sequence, taking great pains to bring all into their logical connection with the principal heads of the discourse.

He shrank from fulfilling any engagement without previous preparation, which was not meagre or elaborate according to the numbers who might be expected to be present, but invariably the most complete that his energy admitted of. We have known him bring a discourse which manifested hours of patient thought to an anniversary service at which he could but have anticipated a small attendance.

It was not his custom to keep sermons in reserve for future occasions. Each engagement as it drew near caused him prayerful solicitude, and the text that came to him he held sacred to the occasion. Another and an apparently more important service might be impending; but he adhered with scrupulous conscientiousness to the subject which had associated itself with the former. A very common introduction to the text at such times was: “The portion of Scripture which has occurred to my mind in connection with the present service is,” &c. In the sixth sermon of his first volume he observes, “It is not my intention to dwell upon the whole verse to-night, for the whole verse did not occur to my mind—only the clause which I have read.”

Each text that he used he carefully noted in his Bible, drawing a neat, fine line round the words from which he had preached, and portions thus marked occur on almost every page, save that they are entirely lasting in the book of Esther, on which, however, he once remarked, “that though a somewhat strange and mysterious book, even this is connected with the name and glories of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

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[1] Sermons, Vol. I., pages 32 and 191; Vol. II., page 219; and Vol. IV., page 264.
[2] He used “Chambers’s Etymological English Dictionary of the English Language.” The recent edition, edited by Andrew Findlater, M.A.. LL.D., revised to 1884, is incomparable for its size and price. For fuller references, he consulted the “Imperial Dictionary.”
[3] He once observed to the writer, ”Mr. Spurgeon preaches election far more than I do.”
[4] The author remembers taking a stroll with him in the Spring of 1872, shortly after Lord Beaconsfield’s “Lothair” was published, which he highly recommended as full of interest. He also gave a sketch of the story, and discussed the various characters, and the public men for whom they were intended.
[5] He may have partially acquired this fondness from his pastor, the Rev. C. T. Rust, who is an authority on Dr. Watts and his poetry, and whose “Break of Day in the Eighteenth Century,” a collection of his hymns, published in 1880, is prefaced by an essay of thirty-two pages, with notes extending over eighteen pages, containing much curious and valuable information respecting “the poet of the Sanctuary.” Published by W. Hunt, 12, Paternoster-row.
[6] “Recently we heard of a man who murdered his wife. We were told that in the condemned cell he repented, and was forgiven of God. Granted the fact as stated. Does Divine forgiveness deal with the awful fact of the crime? Follow, in imagination, the spirit of the murderer after his execution. Imagine the subsequent interview with his murdered wife. Has the Divine forgiveness, as taught by men who deny the expiatory character of the sacrifice of Christ, made peace between husband and wife? Is it possible that the spirits of the just made perfect, will welcome to their assemblies and associations the forgiven criminal? Would men on the earth welcome a pardoned murderer to their homes and friendships? Never! The crime and the sin, whatever their nature must be dealt with, and removed, or peace with the intelligences of heaven is an impossibility.”
The entire article will be found in the Author’s “Manual of Faith and Practice,” pages lis to 70.
[7] See Sermons, Vol. I., page 70, and “Sin hated, sinners loved” (preached about the same time), in the Gospel Herald for 1879. His sermon on Divine Supremacy, Vol. II., page 106, also contains many thoughts from Dr. Cox’s suggestive volume.



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