« PreviousContinue »
XIV. — THE BLIND PREACHER.
[WILLIAM WIRT was born in Bladensburg, Maryland, November 8, 1772, and died February 18, 1834. He was early admitted to the bar and became one of the most eminent lawyers in the United States, combining earnest and persuasive eloquence as an advocate with thorough professional learning. He was attorney-general of the United States in 1817, which position he held till 1829, and never were the duties of this office more ably discharged than by him. He had a love of literature, and frequently wrote for the press in his youth and early manhood. His style is rich and flowing, but marked by an excess of ornament, which was in unison with the taste of the times. His
Letters of a British Spy " first appeared in 1803, in the "Richmond Argus.” This has proved a popular book, having passed through several editions. He was the principal author of the "Old Bachelor," a series of papers, which originally appeared in a Richmond newspaper. In 1817 he published a memoir of Patrick Henry, a spirited and interesting biography, though somewhat exaggerated in tone. In 1827 he pronounced a eulogy on Adams and Jefferson. Mr. Wirt was a man of warm affections, amiable character, and engaging manners. A life of him, by J. P. Kennedy, in two volumes octavo, was pub lished in 1849.
The following passage is from the "Letters of a British Spy..
RICHMOND, October 10, 1803.
I HAVE been, my dear S- on an excursion through the counties which lie along the eastern side of the Blue Ridge. A general description of that country and its inhabitants may form the subject of a future letter. For 5 the present, I must entertain you with an account of a most singular and interesting adventure, which I met with in the course of the tour.
It was one Sunday, as I travelled through the county of Orange, that my eye was caught by a cluster of horses tied
near a ruinous, old wooden house, in the forest, not far from the roadside. Having frequently seen such objects before, in travelling through these States, I had no difficulty in understanding that this was a place of religious 5 worship.
Devotion alone should have stopped me, to join in the duties of the congregation; but I must confess, that curiosity to hear the preacher of such a wilderness, was not the least of my motives. On entering, I was struck with his 10 preternatural appearance. He was a tall and very spare old man; his head, which was covered with a white linen cap, his shrivelled hands, and his voice, were all shaking under the influence of a palsy; and a few moments ascertained to me that he was perfectly blind.
The first emotions, which touched my breast, were those of mingled pity and veneration. But how soon were all my feelings changed! The lips of Plato were never more worthy of a prognostic swarm of bees than were the lips of this holy man! It was a day of the administration of 20 the sacrament; and his subject, of course, was the passion
of our Saviour. I had heard the subject handled a thousand times; I had thought it exhausted long ago. Little did I suppose, that in the wild woods of America, I was to
meet with a man whose eloquence would give to this topic 25 a new and more sublime pathos than I had ever before
As he descended from the pulpit to distribute the mystic symbols, there was a peculiar, a more than human solemnity in his air and manner, which made my blood run 30 cold, and my whole frame shiver.
He then drew a picture of the sufferings of our Saviour; his trial before Pilate; his ascent up Calvary; his crucifixion; and his death. I knew the whole history; but never until then had I heard the circumstances so selected, 35 so arranged, so colored! It was all new; and I seemed to have heard it for the first time in my life. His enun
ciation was so deliberate that his voice trembled on every syllable; and every heart in the assembly trembled in unison. His peculiar phrases had that force of description, that the original scene appeared to be, at that moment, 5 acting before our eyes. We saw the very faces of the Jews: the staring, frightful distortions of malice and rage. We saw the buffet: my soul kindled with a flame of indignation; and my hands were involuntarily and convulsively clinched.
But when he came to touch on the patience, the forgiving meekness of our Saviour; when he drew, to the life, his blessed eyes streaming in tears to heaven; his voice breathing to God, a soft and gentle prayer of pardon on his enemies, Father, forgive them, for they know not 15 what they do" the voice of the preacher, which had all along faltered, grew fainter and fainter, until, his utterance being entirely obstructed by the force of his feelings, he raised his handkerchief to his eyes, and burst into a loud and irrepressible flood of grief. The effect was 20 inconceivable. The whole house resounded with the mingled groans and sobs and shrieks of the congregation.
It was some time before the tumult had subsided so far as to permit him to proceed. Indeed, judging by the usual but fallacious standard of my own weakness, I began 25 to be very uneasy for the situation of the preacher.
I could not conceive how he would be able to let his audience down from the height to which he had wound them, without impairing the solemnity and dignity of his subject, or perhaps shocking them by the abruptness of the 30 fall. But-no; the descent was as beautiful and sublime as the elevation had been rapid and enthusiastic.
The first sentence, with which he broke the awful silence, was a quotation from Rousseau:* philosopher, but Jesus Christ like a
Socrates † died like a
* Rousseau (pronounced Rôus-sò) was abrilliant and eloquent French writer, who flourished during the middle of the last century.
† Socrates was a celebrated philosopher of Athens, in Greece, who was condemned to death upon false charges of irreligion and impiety B. C. 400.
I despair of giving you any idea of the effect produced by this short sentence, unless you could perfectly conceive the whole manner of the man, as well as the peculiar crisis in the discourse. Never before, did I completely under5 stand what Demosthenes meant by laying such stress on delivery. You are to bring before you the venerable figure of the preacher, his blindness constantly recalling to your recollection old Homer, Ossian, and Milton; and, associating with his performance the melancholy grandeur of 10 their genius, you are to imagine that you hear his slow, solemn, well-accented enunciation, and his voice of affecting, trembling melody; you are to remember the pitch of passion and enthusiasm to which the congregation were raised; and then, the few minutes of portentous, death15 like silence which reigned throughout the house the preacher, removing his white handkerchief from his aged face, (even yet wet from the recent torrent of his tears,) and slowly stretching forth the palsied hand which holds it, begins the sentence, "Socrates died like a philosopher" 20then pausing, raising his other hand, pressing them both, clasped together, with warmth and energy to his breast, lifting his "sightless balls" to heaven, and pouring his whole soul into his tremulous voice- "but Jesus Christlike a God!" If he had been indeed and in 25 truth an angel of light, the effect could scarcely have been more divine.
XV.-EXCUSES FOR A NEGLECT OF RELIGION.
[JOSEPH STEVENS BUCKMINSTER was born May 26, 1784, at Portsmouth, New Hampshire; was graduated at Harvard College in 1800, and was ordained as pastor of the church in Brattle Street in Boston, January 30, 1805; and died June 9, 1812. Few men have ever brought higher qualifications to the sacred office which he held. His religious faith was deep and fervid, and his life and conversation, from his childhood upward, were of spotless purity. His mind was rich, vigorous, sound, and discriminating; and his attainments, both in his own profession and in general literature, were extensive and accurate.
The style of his sermon is graceful, finished, and yet simple-easily rising into eloquence, and adapting itself to the highest tone of discussion, and at the same time presenting practical truths with the utmost plainness and directness. It is hardly possible to overstate the effect he produced as a preacher, for his admirable discourses were commended by rare personal advantages as a speaker. His countenance was beautiful and expressive, his voice of magic sweetness, and his manner dignified, persuasive, and natural. Few men have ever accomplished more in a life of twenty-eight years, whether we look at the growth of his own powers or his moral and spiritual influence over others. He was social in his tastes, and was regarded by his friends with a peculiar mixture of admiration, reverence, and love.
Two volumes of Mr. Buckminster's sermons have been published, with an introductory memoir by the Rev. Samuel Cooper Thacher; and a more extended biography, by his sister, Mrs. Eliza Buckminster Lee, appeared in 18:9, from the press of Messrs. Crosby & Nichols, of Boston.]
FIRST, it is often said that time is wanted for the duties of religion. The calls of business, the press of occupation, the cares of life, will not suffer me, says one, to give that time to the duties of piety, which otherwise I would 5 gladly bestow. Say you this without a blush? You have no time, then, for the especial service of that great Being, whose goodness alone has drawn out to its present length your cobweb thread of life; whose care alone has continued you in possession of that unseen property which you call your time. You have no time, then, to devote to that great Being on whose existence the existence of the universe depends; a being so great that if his attention could for an instant be diverted, you fall never again to rise; if his promise should fail, your hopes, your expecta15 tions vanish into air; if his power should be weakened,
man, angel, nature perishes.
But for what else can you find no leisure? Do you find none for amusement? Or is amusement itself your occupation? Perhaps pleasure is the pressing business of 20 your life; perhaps pleasure stands waiting to catch your precious moments as they pass. Do you find none for the pursuit of curious and secular knowledge? If you find none, then, for religion, it is perhaps because you wish to find none; it would be, you think, a tasteless occupation, an insipid entertainment.