Still from Washington some
traveller, tempted by the easy grades,
Through the Long Old Fields continues cantering in the evening shades,
Till he hears the frogs and crickets serenading something lost,
In the aguey mists of Marlb’ro’ banked before him like a frost.
Then the lights begin to twinkle,
and he hears the negroes’ feet
Dancing in the old storehouses on the sandy business street,
And abandoned lawyers’ lodges underneath the long trees lurk,
Like the vaults around a graveyard where the court-house is the kirk.
He will see the sallow old
men drinking juleps, grave and bleared—
But no more their household servants at the court-house auctioneered;
And the county clerk will prove it by the records on his shelves,
That the fathers of the province were no better than ourselves.
When I admit that these reminiscences are real, it will at once be inferred that I am a preacher’s son. The general reputation of my class has been bad since the day of Eli; but I affirm and maintain that reason does not bear out this verdict, however obstinate experience may be. For why should the best parents have the worst children? and that our itinerant sires were godly and self-sacrificing men the most prodigal of their boys must confess. No flippant or errant example rises before me when I take my father’s portrait in my hand and recall the humility and heroism of his life. A stern and angular face, out of whose saliences look two ruddy windows, lit by a steadfast cheerfulness, is thinly thatched by hairs of iron-gray, and around the long loose throat a bunch of frosted beard sparkles as if the painter’s pencil had fastened there in reverence. I do not need to study the bent, broad shoulders and thin sinewy limbs to measure the hardness and steepness of his path; he climbed it like a bridegroom, humming quaint snatches of hymns to lull his human waywardnesses, and all the fever and errantry of our own vain career shrink abashed before his high devotion.
That I have turned out a rover is not odd; for the travelling preacher’s son is cradled upon the highway. Three months after my birth we “moved” a hundred miles; by my sixteenth year we had made eleven migrations.
We children little sympathize with our weak and sickly mother on these occasions, but look forward to a change of abode as something very novel and desirable. We count the days between Christmas and April, after which the annual “Conference” assembles in the distant city, and we see our father, in his best black suit, quit the parsonage door with an anxious face, cut to the heart by his wife’s farewell, “May they give you a good place, Thomas!”
Then come letters—one, two, three: “The bishops are friendly;” “The Presiding Elder has promised to do the best for us that he can;” “The influential Doctor Bim has praised our missionary sermon, and Brother Click, the Secretary, has applauded our Charge’s large subscription to the Advocate;” “Our character has passed even the severe approval of the great theologian, Steep;” “Take courage, my dear, and hope for the best!”