Defending Grace

When Grace Livingston Hill’s short story “The Livery of Heaven” was published in a popular Christian magazine in 1897, she probably had no idea the controversy it would cause.

Black and White hand-drawn illustration. At the top is a ribbon banner that stretches across the page with "The Livery of Heaven" in all capital letters. Beneath is a table top on which are jars of peaches, bottles of wine, and cocktail and wine glasses. In the center is a drawing of a man kneeling beside a bed. His arms are resting on top of the bed and his face is buried in his arms.
Magazine illustration for Grace’s story, “The Livery of Heaven.”

After all, Grace was 31 years old and had been writing and publishing her stories and novels since 1889, and they all sold very well. So it might have been a bit surprising that the magazine that published “The Livery of Heaven” began to receive letters from readers like this one:

The Letter:

I have been reading “The Livery of Heaven,” and, as one hoping your paper meets the highest standard of merit and helpfulness, I desire to make an emphatic protest against the unreality of some of the characters and descriptions of that story.

The character of Mrs. Wallace, for instance, seems to me too absurd even for a story. Is it possible that a woman of her intelligence and honesty of purpose could be so absolutely blind as not to know the inevitable consequences of giving to one with a passion for liquor “brandy peaches” so strong with brandy as to scent a whole room?

Or that she could be so utterly inconsistent as to go out and work zealously in the cause of temperance reform when she had just finished putting up a lot of peaches saturated with brandy, which she purposed to serve indiscriminately?

Impossible! Unless she were a bold hypocrite, and obviously hypocrisy is not intended or thought of.

And if not a hypocrite, such rank inconsistency and incongruity of character could not exist except in a vivid imagination. It is not real life.

If my ideas are wrong, I would like to be set right.

It just so happened that Grace’s aunt, Isabella Alden, was one of the magazine’s editors, and she decided she would personally answer the critics who wrote in about Grace’s story and “set them right.”

Here is Isabella’s response:

There is more to this letter, and I wish we had room for its entirety, for it is carefully and thoughtfully written.

It seems to me that the writer is wrong, not in his deductions, but in his statement of facts. He distinctly states the impossibility of so inconsistent a woman as Mrs. Wallace. What will he do with her if I own that she, to my certain knowledge, exits—that she is not only “true to life,” but she is life? I have no means of knowing whether the Mrs. Wallace about whom the author in question writes is the Mrs. Wallace of my acquaintance; but I do know that exactly such an instance of moral blindness occurred but a few years ago.

I knew a woman who would walk miles on hot summer afternoons to secure signers to a “no-license” petition within the precincts of her ward, and would discourse eloquently on the evils of the saloon and the dangers attending her young son, and the miseries resulting from “acquiring a taste for intoxicants;” and then offer that same young son at her own dinner table a pudding, the sauce of which was so highly flavored with wine as to make its very presence offensive to certain of her guests.

I knew another woman who wept copious tears over the downfall of a beloved brother, and besought us earnestly to help her plan ways and means of reaching and saving him “even yet”; and then offered us in the next breath a bit of her fruit-cake so well flavored with brandy as to be detected by the sense of smell as well as that of taste; and she remarked that she always kept it on the sideboard where her brother could help himself.

The dense ignorance that exists in regard to these matters on the part of many people who consider themselves almost temperance fanatics, is proverbial among workers who have studied into the subject.

In our mothers’ meetings that I conducted for years this matter of cookery was continually coming to the front; and at not a single meeting did we fail to have represented the puzzled woman who said:

“Why, do you suppose, that the little bit of brandy that I put in my mince-pies to keep them, or the few drops with which I flavor my sauces, can have any effect on a person’s appetite for liquor? Won’t such strained notions as these do more harm than good?”

Also, almost as regularly, we had that other woman who said:

“Well, there’s no use in talking to me about such things. John wouldn’t eat mince-pies if they hadn’t brandy in them. He doesn’t like the flavor without it; and I’m not afraid of its doing any harm in my family.”

Understand, these are good temperance women—every bit as good as Mrs. Wallace; much like her in every respect; women who, by reason of their upbringing and their present environment, are utterly unable to see the connection between liquor-eating and liquor drinking; women who believe that what their mothers and their mothers’ mothers always did must be right and best.

What the temperance cause needs today, in my judgment, more than any other thing, is some apostle who will undertake to open the eyes of the army of Mrs. Wallaces that infest the land, who labor zealously with their strong right hands to put out the fires of rum, and industriously feed the flames with their ignorant left hands all the while.


What did you think of Grace’s story? Do you agree with the letter writer’s critique?

Do you think Isabella gave the right response?

If you haven’t yet read Grace’s story “The Livery of Heaven,” you can read it here.

9 thoughts on “Defending Grace

  1. I haven’t yet read the story, as I’m very busy with a relative’s ill health, but I can testify to people’s blindness. I have been guilty myself in some respects (where my actions were thoughtless rather than malicious). As regards alcohol, I was dismayed a year or two ago to discover that my teenaged daughter considered that the taste of apple juice (plain, cheap, pure apple juice) and likewise grape juice, and by extension Apple Tango and Appletiser (in the UK) which I had allowed, was sufficient to excuse the taste of wine and cider. I realise that there is no way in which a healthy thing cannot be made to be unhealthy, or to excuse unhealthiness, but even so I have had to cry over her experiments with stronger alcohol, infrequent as they are. Hopefully her seeing other people she valued who were extremely intoxicated, and having to assist them, will change her mind on drinking alcohol herself. But I suspect she will consider her line in the sand to be drawn in a good place, no matter how I disagree and offer counsel to the contrary.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience. You’re right when you say many innocent, healthy things can be made unhealthy in this world we live in, and sometimes we can’t know how things we say or do can send a wrong message. I hope there soon comes a time when your daughter sees the wisdom of your words. Blessings to you and your family! —Jenny

  2. “What the temperance cause needs today, in my judgment, more than any other thing, is some apostle who will undertake to open the eyes of the army of Mrs. Wallaces that infest the land, who labor zealously with their strong right hands to put out the fires of rum, and industriously feed the flames with their ignorant left hands all the while”
    (LUKE 11)
    A short testimony of my own…
    I was new in the Lord Jesus Christ and befriended a woman from my very first congregation (which I no longer attend). This woman claimed to love the Lord God with all her heart but yet her actions did not line up with the Good book. She took me out to eat to a restaurant I’ve never been and not knowing the menu I decided to order a chicken dish seeing the cook couldn’t possibly ruin that. Now, the only style chicken they had was beer battered. I kindly said to this woman that I did not drink alcohol but she assured me that they cook out the alcohol in high heat and it’s added for flavor and she ordered me the bear battered chicken tenders. The taste of these tenders were repugnant and sadly I ate them all seeing I did not want to be rude or judged. To make a long story short I became very ill after dining and vow to the Lord Jesus to stand firm on temperance and ALWAYS allow Him to be Judge over me ♡

  3. Having grown up eating things like rum cake, I learned at in early age to like the taste of alcohol (regrettably). I’ve always heard that the alcohol is cooked out, and after reading the comments, I looked it up. This website says that most of the alcohol is not cooked out! (though I imagine when it’s in a batter on the outside of something cooked in hot oil, the much hotter temperature would cook it out. ) In today’s world, temptation is everywhere, but we need to be careful to not put unnecessary stumbling blocks in the path of the recovering alcoholics in our lives.

    1. I’m glad you shared that website, Rebecca; it’s surprising that old myth about cooking alcohol out of food is still making the rounds today! And I agree with you wholeheartedly that we need to be sure we don’t unconsciously (or consciously) cause someone else to stumble when they’re faced with temptation. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. —Jenny

    1. Good question, Rebecca! In this case, the word “livery” refers to the uniform Christians wear to demonstrate their faith to the world. The title of Grace’s story echoes an old saying that “a hypocrite is someone who stole the livery of heaven to serve the devil in.” So her story, and its title, are essentially calling out fellow Christians who cloak themselves in Christianity, yet deliberately lead others astray. —Jenny

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