« PreviousContinue »
its customs, habits, institutions, and manners--otherwise he will but detail his own partialities and prejudices-he will spread before his readers his own views of right and wrong, of proprieties and improprieties, instead of exhibiting facts as they are, and of delineating characters, customs, and habits, as they exist in real life. Those who place themselves upon the iron bedstead which has been thus prepared for them, must cut and mangle to an alarming extent, to make all others fit it, or be thrown aside as too long or too short. Nor is it less exceptionable to infer the character of a nation from the opinions and conduct of a few-to conclude that that belongs to the whole which is peculiar to one class, to one individual of a class, or to one section of a country. From not observing this most obvious rule, some who have hastily traversed our country, have made their remarks from conversations in stages, steam boats, and at public houses, without spending one moment's time in ex. ploring the heart and soul of society in order to ascertain the true state and character of the nation.
These remarks apply chiefly to such as have visited our country from political motives, for amusement, or merely for the sake of enlarging the boundaries of their knowledge of mankind by actual observation. The reports of these travellers have often been as destitute of truth and candor as their authors were of proper qualifications to make a just estimate of the human character. And as for those whose infamous libels scarcely deserve a serious refutation, who, like Basil Hall, and others, denounce every thing American which does not coincide with their partialities, we cannot expect them to treat us with any degree of truth or justice; and hence their caricatures fall harmless at our feet.
From Drs. Reed and Matheson we had a right to expect better things, and we rejoice that in many respects we have not been disappointed. Though they evidently came here under an impression that we had far degenerated from our fathers, and with a determination to be displeased with many things, which they had been informed were not as they should be, or of which they had imbibed imperfect or confused notions, yet it is manifest that they were prepared to put a favorable construction on every thing as far as their prejudices would allow. If they had not previously made up their minds to be discommoded, why was it that almost the first thing they inquired for, on their entrance into a public house in the city of New-York, was a single-beded room? They certainly must have taken it for granted, probably from such gossipping writers as Mrs. Trollope, that such a thing was a rare luxury at an American hotel, or they would have asked simply to be accommodated with a room and a bed. And then, behold, they were annoyed amazingly because, coming into the inn at an unseasonable hour, and not representing themselves as strangers who had just arrived, and asking for refreshment, they were put off with some cake and cheese, instead of a regular meal. Was not this their own fault? Had they made known their character and circumstances, we dare venture to say that there was provision enough; if not in the house, at least in the city, and servants enough to prepare it, to satisfy the most voracious appetites. Thus they transfer their own blunder to the fault of the innkeeper. We merely select this instance to sustain the truth of our assertion, that these reverend travellers, who came to serve a Master who had not where to lay His head, were not free from that petulance, so characteristic of our nature, and from that prejudice which is so apt to show itself in our transatlantic visiters.
Allowing that there are many excellences in the volumes before us; enough to insure them a favorable reception, at least to a certain class of readers; yet there is, in our estimation, one fault which pervades the whole performance, and ought, therefore, to induce caution in the reader how he receives what is here related. These tourists were clergymen of the Congregational Union of England and Wales. They came on a pastoral visit to the Presbyterian and Congregational Churches of this country. And if they had confined their published remarks to these denominations only, we should not be disposed to find any fault with either their eulogies or censures, had they been just or unjust. In that case it would have been a business of their own, and of their immediate brethren: and if they had committed faults or made erroneous statements, they would have injured comparatively few beside their own denomination. But instead of pursuing this course, apparently without going beyond the precincts of their own immediate circle for information, they have made remarks, and stated, as facts, things respecting others as opposite to truth and charity, as is the zenith to the nadir. This we shall show in the course of our remarks.
Instead of sowing beside all waters, they merely traced the stream of Presbyterianism and Congregationalism, which they found, in general, tolerably pure, while, if they deigned to cast a look at any other of the many rivulets which water the land, it was to pronounce them impure, or to throw across them a broken plank, that the next traveller might beware how he ventured upon it. Now we should have supposed that if they intended to give an impartial account of the sects of Christians in our country, they would have searched the records of their Churches, have associated with their leading ministers, and have opened an impartial and fraternal intercourse with them all. Did they do this? If they did they have strangely falsified facts. If they did not, they have written in the dark, and hence may put in the plea of ignorance as an apology for their egregious
mistakes. In either case they forfeit the public confidence. They cannot be relied on as vouchers. We are aware that this is saying much. But we shall sustain ourselves by unquestionable authority.
There is another capital fault running through these hastily compiled volumes; it is the air of dogmatism and egotism so apparent in almost every page. Dr. Reed especially, who holds himself responsible for the first and most of the second volume, assumes the air of an ex-cathedra teacher, never dreaming that he is a fallible mortal, but pronounces judgment upon every thing which comes under his notice, with all the confidence of plenary inspiration. Of his egotism, take his account of a camp meeting which he attended. Although as a descriptive piece merely, drawn up for the sake of dramatical effect, it shows the hand of a master, yet it is so manifest that he is the principal persona dramatis, that it becomes absolutely disgusting to good taste. Till “I," Andrew Reed, “arose in Israel," all was wrong—the singing, the praying, exhortation, and preaching, were wrong-but no sooner did I arise and preach, than the troubled elements were hushed, order arose out of confusion, and affectation gave place to sincerity. That the reader may judge for himself, we give him the account. It is as follows:
“It was now the hour of morning worship. The pulpit was full; the seats were covered with waiting worshippers. I approached the stand; and was welcomed by the brethren. We rose and united in a hymn of praise. I had never, in such circumstances, joined in offering such worship. I could scarcely tell what sensations possessed me. I hope I was not void of those which are devotional, but I was chiefly filled for the moment with those of wonder. When I looked around on the scene which had broken so suddenly upon me, every thing was so novel, so striking, and so interesting, as to appear like the work of enchantment, and to require time fully to realize.
“But I must endeavor to give you some of the services in detail, as you will desire exact information. The singing, to which I have referred, was followed by prayer and a sermon. The text was, ' If God spared not his own Son,' &c. The preacher was a plain man, and without education; and he had small regard either to logic or grammar. He had, however, as is common to such persons, an asspiration after high-sounding terms and sentiments, which stood in strange opposition to the general poverty and incorrectness of his expressions. The proposition, for instance, raised on his text was this :—That the gift of Christ to sinners is the thing set forth with most life, animation, and eloquence, of any thing in the world. Such a proposition, though badly propounded, was of course above such a man; but though what he said did but little for his proposi. tion, it was said with earnestness and pious feeling, and it told on the plain and serious portions of his audience. He was followed by a brother of higher qualifications, who took up the close of his subject, and addressed it to the conscience with skill and effect. The exhortation was terminated by an invitation to come and take a seat within the altar. These seats were, when wanted, in other
Vol. VII.—January, 1836.
words, the anxious seats; two of them were cleared, and a suitable hymn was sung, that persons might have time to comply. Very few came; chiefly a mother with her boy, who had previously seemed to court notice. The lad had indulged in noisy crying and exclamation; he was in the hand of an indiscreet parent, and had not been sufficiently discouraged by the ministers. The exhortations, and then the singing, were renewed; but still with small effect, as to the use of the prepared seats; and so this service closed. Whatever may be the claims of the anxious seat, it was a hazardous experiment, where it was evident the previous services had produced no deep and controlling impression.
“ The afternoon service was very similar in arrangement and in effect. The text was, “Let the wicked man forsake his way,' &c.; but the preacher certainly made a feeble use of a powerful passage. It was interrupted, too, by a noisy and intemperate man, who had found his way hither; yet it was followed by exhortations superior to itself, and an urgent appeal to the people to come forward and separate themselves. The results were not better than before. The only apology for thus pressing under unfavorable circumstances was, that the meetings had been held now for three days; that the solemn services of the Sabbath had just passed over the people ; and the worthy ministers were anxious for visible fruit, not only as arising from the present appeal, but from past impressions.
“ These were the more public and regular services; but other engagements were always fulfilling. The ministers were invited by their friends to the several tents, to exhort, and sing, and pray, so that when they ceased in one place, they were renewed in another. And at all times those who liked to gather within the altar, and sing, were allowed to do so; and as, when they were weary, others came up and supplied their places, the singing was without ceasing,
“What you cannot escape wearies you. The services had been long, and not very interesting; and still the singing was continued. After getting some refreshments with kind friends, I was glad to stroll away into the forest, and to ruminate on what I had seen and heard. Now that I had leisure to admire, it was a lovely evening. Through many a green alley I wandered; and often did I stop and gaze on those exquisite combinations of light, shade, and picture, which forest scenery supplies on a fair summer evening. In all my wanderings, the singing followed me, and was a clew to my return; but it now formed a pleasing accompaniment to my solitary walk, for it did not force itself on the ear, but rose and fell softly, sweetly, on the evening breeze.
"Soon, however, the hoarse notes of the horn vibrated through the air, and summoned me to return. It was the notice for worship at sundown; and as there is little twilight here, the nightfall comes on suddenly. I hastened to obey the call
, and took my place with the brethren on the preachers' stand. The day had now expired, and with it the scene was entirely changed, as if by magic, and it was certainly very impressive. On the stand were about a dozen ministers, and over their heads were suspended several three-pronged lamps, pouring down their radiance on their heads, and surrounding them with such lights and shadows as Rembrant would love to copy. Behind the stand were clustered about 300 negroes, who, with their
black faces and white dresses, thrown into partial lights, were a striking object. Before us was a full-sized congregation collected, more or less revealed, as they happened to be near or distant from the points of illumination. Over the people were suspended from the trees a number of small lamps, which, in the distance, seemed like stars sparkling between their branches. Around the congregation, and within the line of the tents, were placed some elevated tripods, on which large fires of pine wood were burning, cracking, blazing; and shooting upward like sacrificial flames to heaven. They gave amazing power to the picture, by casting a flood of waving light on the objects near to them, and leaving every thing else in comparative obscurity. Still at greater distance might be seen, in several directions, the dull, flickering flame of the now neglected domestic fire; and the sparks emitted from it, together with the firefly, rose and shot across the scene like meteors, and then dropped into darkness. Never was darkness made more visible, more present All the lights that were enkindled appeared only to have this effect; as everywhere more was hidden than seen. If the eye sought for the tents, it was only here and there the dark face of one could be dimly seen ; the rest was wrapped in darkness ; and if it rose with the trees around you, the fine verdant and vaulted roof which they spread over you was mostly concealed by the mysterious and thickening shadows which dwelt there. Then, if you would pierce beyond these limits, there lay around you and over you, and over the unbounded forest that enclosed you, a world of darkness, to which your little illuminated spot was as nothing. I know of no circumstances having more power to strike the imagination and the heart.
“ But to the exercises. The singing, which had been sustained in all the interval by some younger persons, now showed its results. Two or three young women were fainting under the exhaustion and excitement; and one, who was reported to me as a Methodist, was in hysterical ecstasy, raising her hands, rolling her eyes, and smiling and muttering. It appeared that she courted this sort of excitement as many do a dram, and was frequent at meetings of this character, for the sake of enjoying it.
“However, after disposing of this slight interruption, the regular service began. It was to be composed of exhortation and prayer ; and it was excellently conducted. The leading ministers, who had been wearied by the claims of the Sabbath, had evidently reserved themselves for this period. The first address referred to the past ; the effort which had been made; the results which ought to follow, but which had not followed, and which the speaker feared would not follow. It was closed by an affectionate expression of concern that they would now show that it had not been in vain. The next exhortation was on conversion. Some skilful and orthodox distinctions were established on the subject, as it involves the agency of the Spirit and the agency of man. It was discriminative, but it was plain and pungent; and threw all the responsibility of perversity and refusal on the sinner. It made a strong impression.
“The third exhortation was on indifference and despondency. The subject was well timed and well treated. The speaker combated these evils as likely to be a preventive in most persons in coming to a decision; and he made a wise use of evangelical truth for this pur