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I have so found most of the clergymen I have known, the exceptions too few to remember. In spite of the opulence we see about us let us not take to ourselves too much conceit. May every pastor emulate the virtues of that village preacher of whom it was written that:
_Truth from his lips prevailed with double sway, And fools who came to scoff, remained to pray._
_A man he was to all the country dear, And pa.s.sing rich with forty pounds a year._
_His house was known to all the vagrant train, He chid their wanderings, but relieved their pain; The long-remembered beggar was his guest, Whose beard descending swept his aged breast; The ruined spendthrift, now no longer proud, Claimed kindred there, and had his claims allowed; The broken soldier, kindly bade to stay, Sate by the fire, and talked the night away; Wept o'er his wounds, or, tales of sorrow done, Shouldered his crutch, and showed how fields were won.
Pleased with his guests, the good man learned to glow, And quite forgot their vices in their woe; Careless their merits or their faults to scan, His pity gave ere charity began._
I have lived a long life--rather a happy and a busy than a merry one--enjoying where I might, but, let me hope I may fairly claim, shirking no needful labor or duty. The result is some accretions to my credit. It were, however, ingrat.i.tude and vanity in me to set up exclusive ownership of these. They are the joint products and property of my dear wife and myself.
I do not know just what had befallen if love had failed me, for as far back as I can remember love has been to me the bedrock of all that is worth living for, striving for or possessing in this cross-patch of a world of ours.
I had realized the meaning of it in the beautiful concert of affection between my father and mother, who lived to celebrate their golden wedding. My wife and I have enjoyed now the like conjugal felicity fifty-four--counted to include two years of betrothal, fifty-six years.
Never was a young fellow more in love than I--never has love been more richly rewarded--yet not without some heartbreaking bereavements.
I met the woman who was to become my wife during the War of Sections--amid its turmoil and peril--and when at its close we were married, at Nashville, Tennessee, all about us was in mourning, the future an adventure. It was at Chattanooga, the winter of 1862-63, that fate brought us together and riveted our destinies. She had a fine contralto voice and led the church choir. Doctor Palmer, of New Orleans, was on a certain Sunday well into the long prayer of the Presbyterian service. Bragg's army was still in middle Tennessee. There was no thought of an attack. Bang! Bang! Then the bursting of a sh.e.l.l too close for comfort. Bang! Bang! Then the rattle of sh.e.l.l fragments on the roof.
On the other side of the river the Yankees were upon us.
The man of G.o.d gave no sign that anything unusual was happening. He did not hurry. He did not vary the tones of his voice. He kept on praying.
Nor was there panic in the congregation, which did not budge.
That was the longest long prayer I ever heard. When it was finally ended, and still without changing a note the preacher delivered the benediction, the crowded church in the most orderly manner moved to the several doorways.
I was quick to go for my girl. By the time we reached the street the firing had become general. We had to traverse quite half a mile of it before attaining a place of safety. Two weeks later we were separated for nearly two years, when, the war over, we found ourselves at home again.
In the meantime her father had fallen in the fight, and in the far South I had buried him. He was one of the most eminent and distinguished and altogether the best beloved of the Tennesseeans of his day, Andrew Ewing, who, though a Democrat, had in high party times represented the Whig Nashville district in Congress and in the face of a.s.sured election declined the Democratic nomination for governor of the state. A foremost Union leader in the antecedent debate, upon the advent of actual war he had reluctantly but resolutely gone with his state and section.
The intractable Abolitionists of the North and the radical Secessionists of the South have much historically to answer for. The racial warp and woof in the United States were at the outset of our national being substantially h.o.m.ogeneous. That the country should have been geographically divided and sectionally set by the ears over the inst.i.tution of African slavery was the work of agitation that might have attained its ends by less costly agencies.
How often human nature seeking its bent prefers the crooked to the straight way ahead! The North, having in its ships brought the negroes from Africa and sold them to the planters of the South, putting the money it got for them in its pocket, turned philanthropist. The South, having bought its slaves from the slave traders of the North under the belief that slave labor was requisite to the profitable production of sugar, rice and cotton, stood by property-rights lawfully acquired, recognized and guaranteed by the Const.i.tution. Thence arose an irrepressible conflict of economic forces and moral ideas whose doubtful adjustment was scarcely worth what it cost the two sections in treasure and blood.
On the Northern side the issue was made to read freedom, on the Southern side, self-defense. Neither side had any sure law to coerce the other.
Upon the simple right and wrong of it each was able to establish a case convincing to itself. Thus the War of Sections, fought to a finish so gallantly by the soldiers of both sides, was in its origination largely a game of party politics.
The extremists and doctrinaires who started the agitation that brought it about were relatively few in number. The South was at least defending its own. That what it considered its rights in the Union and the Territories being a.s.sailed it should fight for aggressively lay in the nature of the situation and the character of the people. Aggression begot aggression, the unoffending negro, the provoking cause, a pa.s.sive agent. Slavery is gone. The negro we still have with us. To what end?
Life indeed is a mystery--a hopelessly unsolved problem. Could there be a stronger argument in favor of a world to come than may be found in the brevity and incert.i.tude of the world that is? Where this side of heaven shall we look for the court of last resort? Who this side of the grave shall be sure of anything?
At this moment the world having reached what seems the apex of human achievement is topsy-turvy and all agog. Yet have we the record of any moment when it was not so? That to keep what we call the middle of the road is safest most of us believe. But which among us keeps or has ever kept the middle of the road? What else and what next? It is with nations as with men. Are we on the way to another terrestrial collapse, and so on ad infinitum to the end of time?
The home which I pictured in my dreams and projected in my hopes came to me at last. It arrived with my marriage. Then children to bless it. But it was not made complete and final--a veritable Kentucky home--until the all-round, all-night work which had kept my nose to the grindstone had been shifted to younger shoulders I was able to buy a few acres of arable land far out in the county--the County of Jefferson!--and some ancient brick walls, which the feminine genius to which I owe so much could convert to itself and tear apart and make over again. Here "the sun shines bright" as in the song, and--
_The corn tops ripe and the meadows in the bloom The birds make music all the day._
They waken with the dawn--a feathered orchestra--incessant, fearless--for each of its pieces--from the sweet trombone of the dove to the shrill clarionet of the jay--knows that it is safe. There are no guns about. We have with us, and have had for five and twenty years, a family of colored people who know our ways and meet them intelligently and faithfully. When we go away--as we do each winter and sometimes during the other seasons--and come again--dinner is on the table, and everybody--even to Tigue and Bijou, the dogs--is glad to see us. Could mortal ask for more? And so let me close with the wish of my father's old song come true--the words sufficiently descriptive of the reality:
_In the downhill of life when I find I'm declining, May my fate no less fortunate be Than a snug elbow chair can afford for reclining And a cot that o'erlooks the wide sea-- A cow for my dairy, a dog for my game.
And a purse when my friend needs to borrow; I'll envy no nabob his riches, nor fame, Nor the honors that wait him to-morrow._
_And when at the close I throw off this frail cov'ring Which I've worn for three-score years and ten-- On the brink of the grave I'll not seek to keep hov'ring Nor my thread wish to spin o'er again.
But my face in the gla.s.s I'll serenely survey, And with smiles count each wrinkle and furrow-- That this worn-out old stuff which is thread-bare to-day_