In the summer of 1885 I made another trip to Europe. The day I reached Charing Cross station in London the exposures of vice in the Pall Mall Gazette were just issued. The paper had not been out half an hour. Mr. Stead, the editor, was later put on trial for startling Europe and America in his crusade against crime. There were the same conditions in America, in Upper Broadway, and other big thoroughfares in New York, by night, as there were in London. I believe the greatest safety against vice is newspaper chastisement of dishonour and crime. I urged that some paper in America should attack the social evil, as the Pall Mall Gazette had done. A hundred thousand people, with banners and music, gathered in Hyde Park in London, to express their approval of the reformation started by Mr. Stead, and there were a million people in America who would have backed up the same moral heroism. If my voice were loud enough to be heard from Penobscot to the Rio Grande, I would cry out “Flirtation is damnation.” The vast majority of those who make everlasting shipwreck carry that kind of sail. The pirates of death attack that kind of craft.
My mail bag was a mirror that reflected all sides of the world, and much that it showed me was pitifully sordid and reckless. Most of the letters I answered, others I destroyed.
The following one I saved, for obvious reasons. It was signed, “One of the Congregation”:
“Dear Sir,—I do not believe much that you preach, but I am certain that you believe it all. To be a Christian I must believe the Bible. To be truthful, I do not believe it. I go to hear you preach because you preach the Bible as I was taught it in my youth, by a father, who, like yourself, believed what in the capacity of a preacher he proclaimed. For thirty-five years I have been anxious to walk in the path my mother is treading—a simple faith. I have lived to see my children’s children, and the distance that lies between me and my real estate in the graveyard, cannot be very great. At my age, it would be worse than folly to argue, simply to confound or dispute merely for the love of arguing. My steps are already tottering, and I am lost in the wilderness. I pray because I am afraid not to pray. What can I do that I have not done, so that I can see clearly?”
All my sympathies were excited by this letter, because I had been in that quagmire myself. A student of Doctor Witherspoon once came to him and said, “I believe everything is imaginary! I myself am only an imaginary being.” The Doctor said to him, “Go down and hit your head against the college door, and if you are imaginary and the door imaginary, it won’t hurt you.”
A celebrated theological professor at Princeton was asked this, by a sceptic:—
“You say, train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. How do you account for the fact that your son is such a dissipated fellow?”