Another burning problem, which he had not been called upon before to confront, he found now entangled with the mysterious line which divided a circus from a menagerie. Those itinerant tent-shows had never come his way heretofore, and he knew nothing of that fine balancing proportion between ladies in tights on horseback and cages full of deeply educational animals, which, even as the impartial rain, was designed to embrace alike the just and the unjust. There had arisen inside the Methodist society of Octavius some painful episodes, connected with members who took their children “just to see the animals,” and were convicted of having also watched the Rose-Queen of the Arena, in her unequalled flying leap through eight hoops, with an ardent and unashamed eye. One of these cases still remained on the censorial docket of the church; and Theron understood that he was expected to name a committee of five to examine and try it. This he neglected to do.
He was no longer at all certain that the congregation as a whole liked his sermons. The truth was, no doubt, that he had learned enough to cease regarding the congregation as a whole. He could still rely upon carrying along with him in his discourses from the pulpit a large majority of interested and approving faces. But here, unhappily, was a case where the majority did not rule. The minority, relatively small in numbers, was prodigious in virile force.
More than twenty years had now elapsed since that minor schism in the Methodist Episcopal Church, the result of which was the independent body known as Free Methodists, had relieved the parent flock of its principal disturbing element. The rupture came fittingly at that time when all the “isms” of the argumentative fifties were hurled violently together into the melting-pot of civil war. The great Methodist Church, South, had broken bodily off on the question of State Rights. The smaller and domestic fraction of Free Methodism separated itself upon an issue which may be most readily described as one of civilization. The seceders resented growth in material prosperity; they repudiated the introduction of written sermons and organ-music; they deplored the increasing laxity in meddlesome piety, the introduction of polite manners in the pulpit and classroom, and the development of even a rudimentary desire among the younger people of the church to be like others outside in dress and speech and deportment. They did battle as long as they could, inside the fold, to restore it to the severely straight and narrow path of primitive Methodism. When the adverse odds became too strong for them, they quitted the church and set up a Bethel for themselves.