LEBANON, NEW YORK. June 10, 1827. Visit to the Shaker Village.
I feel quite hopeless of being able to give you any idea of the extraordinary exhibition we witnessed to-day and which Basil, who has seen a good many varieties of religious ceremonies, declares to be the strangest way of worshipping God that ever l fell under his notice. I do not believe you ever heard of a sect l of Quakers denominated Shakers; I know I never did till I came to this country where there are several establishments of them The principal one is at Lebanon, about twenty-five miles from here and only two miles from Lebanon Springs, a fashionable watering place in this State. We had resolved to return to Albany by that road, and, accordingly, in Mr. Ashburner's waggon and accompanied by George and Anne Ashburner, we set out from Stockbridge yesterday between three and four o'clock. I ought first to tell you what I know of the faith and forms of the Shakers. Their founder was a woman of the name of Ann Lee, whom they call Mother. She was, as far as I can understand, perfectly mad from fanaticism, at least it is charitable to suppose her so, for if she had her senses she was profane to a degree in accepting homage as if she were a divine person, which her followers believed her to have been, and that in her was a second manifestation of the coming of Christ. She was persecuted in England for her religious opinions, and, in consequence, made her escape to this country where very shortly she was joined by men there as wild as herself. They now, of course, get leave to do they please and are an exceedingly orderly and quiet part of he community neat to a degree in their houses and persons. They do not allow of marriages, and married persons who join hem must dissolve their connection. Unfortunately a thunder- storm detained us so long on the road that by the time we reached the village we had only time to go into the Shop, or Store, as they call it, to buy a few little knick-knacks of their making. We wished much to have seen one of their houses, but by this time it was sunset, at which hour on Saturday night they have a meeting, so we were obliged to drive on to the Springs for the night. to-day we again went to the village at half past ten to see their service. The Church is a large handsome room eighty-four feet by ninety, with the best kept and most beautifully polished floor I have seen in this country, and in the corners are spitting boxes that the boards may be preserved from such contamination. A place is set apart for strangers, the ladies and gentlemen sitting separately. There were few of the Shakers assembled when we went in, but very shortly they all arrived, the females ranged themselves on one side and the males on the other on benches. Everything was done with the greatest quietness, the women walked on their toes, seemingly afraid to make even the noise of moving to their places. After sitting for a few moments, the whole assembly rose up and one of the men gave a short discourse on the reason of their meeting, namely to worship God, and spoke of the great privilege they were allowed in meeting for that purpose. They all sung a hymn and when that was finished they knelt and sung another. This went on for some time, an occasional discourse, or rather a conversation, for many spoke, both males and females, and now and then a hymn. So far all all as well, nothing ridiculous was said and no absurd thing was done, but by and by the person who had first spoken and seemed to be a kind of leader said, "Now let us refresh our souls with a little exercise," Upon which there was a general throwing off of coats on the part of the men, the women only put aside their pocket handkerchieves, which they had hitherto held over the their arm, and to work they went with one accord, singing or rather screaming, tunes of a kind of jig time, at the same time walking round the room with a swinging step somewhat between a walk and a dance and flapping their hand with a penguin kind of motion. At the end of the first act of this folly there was a universal clapping of hands like the applause in a theatre, and to work they went again occasionally stopping for a few minutes, discoursing a little on the merits of Mother, as they call Ann Lee, and then starting off on a new song led by any of the party, male or female. Occasionally they stamped violently with their feet in the course of their march and sometimes with their hands. At length they ceased and again resumed their seats on the benches, when the orator who had spoken most stepped forward and addressed the strangers whom he laboured to convince that the Shakers are the elect people of God, and tried to prove that being . concerned in the Government of the World or in the increase of its population or, in short, having anything whatever to do with it, is against the spirit of Christianity, for that Christ had nothing to do with any of those things, and a great deal more he said that I cannot repeat, but after another hymn or two notice was given that it was time for the meeting to break up and each man to return to his own residence.
Basil was spoken to by one of the men as we left the Church, and this made him suppose that he might converse with any oi them, so he walked after a man who was going up the hill and began with, "May I speak a few moments with you ?" The person addressed made no answer, but took to his heels and ran as fast as he could, and we then learnt that they do not choose to be spoken to on Sunday. The women are the ugliest set of females I ever saw gathered together, perhaps their particularly unbecoming dress added to the plainness of their appearance; it seems to be adapted to make them look as ugly as art can possibly devise in the Quaker fashion, only totally devoid of any of the trigness which generally accompanies the dress of that order, for their petticoats are long and trolloping, and there is nothing to mark the waist. They are however, most scrupulously clean.
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA. April 20, 1828. Ceremony at the Ursuline Convent
We were pretty well fatigued by our walk and our climb and were preparlng to go to bed when we were informed that the Governor of the State of Louisiana, Mr. Johnson, was below waiting to see us, and, accordingly, down we went and found a quiet, modest. looking man of between thirty and forty. He sat an hour with us and is certainly the most attentive and polite governor we have met with since poor De Witt Clinton. He told us that he had that morning received an invitation from the nuns of the only Convent here inviting him to be present at the ceremony of two young ladies taking the black veil. He had just got our letters of introduction and immediately wrote to ask leave of the Superior that we should accompany him, which was granted. This, we have since learnt, was a greater piece of good luck than I, at least, was aware of, for those nuns of the order of Ursulines are very strict and rarely admit even ladies within the grate. The ceremony was to take place very early, and at eight o'clock on the seventeenth the Governor accompanied by Judge Porter, an Irishman by birth but now an American citizen, called for us to go to the convent, which is about two miles distant. Here we found a good many ladies assembled and were introduced to the nuns, who as I have always seen persons of their calling, were delighted to have strangers to talk to. They occupy a delightful house charmingly situated down the river and have abundance of rational occupation, having no less than one hundred and seven young ladies as boarders, whom they educate with the assistance of a few masters. We soon adjourned to the chapel, where we had Mass and then the ceremony took place. No one can forget that part of it when the funeral service is said over them as they lie extended on the ground under a black pall, figuratively buried to the world, but I am afraid my days of romance have gone by for I felt no emotion altho' both the young women were pretty and only nineteen years old, but in this country it is impossible to connect any idea of force on the part of friends with the sacrifice, owing that at any time, even after pronouncing the last vows, they may quit their retirement and return the world if they have the smallest wish to do so. More than one lady has availed herself of this privilege and one married after having been a nun for ten or twelve years. After the ceremony we were shown through all the house, and finally had cake and wlne before going away. The Superior is a fine, old lady nearly eighty years of age, a native of France but who has been in this country forty-two years.
CINCINNATI, OHIO. 1828. Preoccupation with Religion; Revivals.
They have a theatre, which is, in fact, the only public amusement of this triste little town; put they seem to care little about it, and either from economy or distaste, it is very poorly attended. Ladies are rarely seen there, and by far the larger proportion of females deem it an offence against religion to witness the representation of a play. It is in the churches and chapels of the town that the ladies are to be seen in full costume: and I am tempted to believe that a stranger from the continent of Europe would be inclined, on first reconnoitering the city, to suppose that the places of worship were the theatres and cafes of the place. No evening in the week but brings throngs of the young and beautiful to the chapels and meetinghouses, all dressed with care, and sometimes with great pretension; it is there that all display is made, and all fashionable distinction sought. The proportion of gentlemen attending these evening meetings is very small, but often, as might be expected, a sprinkling of smart young clerks make this sedulous display of ribbons and ringlets intelligible and natural. Were it not for the churches, indeed, I think there might be a general bonfire of best bonnets, for I never could discover any other use for them.
The ladies are too actively employed in the interior of their houses to permit much parading in full dress for morning visits. There are no public gardens or lounging shops of fashionable resort, and were it not for public worship, and private tea-drinkings, all the ladies in Cincinnati would be in danger of becoming perfect recluses.
The influence which the ministers of all the innumerable religious sects throughout America have on the females of their respective congregations, approaches very nearly to what we read of in Spain, or in other strictly Roman Catholic countries. There are many causes for this peculiar influence. Where equality of rank is affectedly acknowledged by the rich, and clamorously claimed by the poor, distinction and pro-eminence are allowed to the clergy only. This gives them high importance in the eyes of the ladies. I think, also, that it is from the clergy only that the women of America receive that sort of attention which is so dearly valued by every female heart throughout the world. With the priests of America the women hold that degree of influential importance which, in the countries of Europe, is allowed them throughout all orders and ranks of society, except, perhaps, the very lowest; and in return for this they seem to give their hearts and souls into their keeping. I never saw, or read, of any country where religion had so strong a hold upon the women, or a slighter hold upon the men.
I mean not to assert that I met with no men of sincerely religious feelings, or with no women of no religious feelings at all; but I feel perfectly secure of being correct as to the great majority in the statement I have made.
We had not been many months in Cincinnati when our curiosity was excited by hearing the " revival" talked of by every one we met throughout the town. " The revival will be very full"--" We shall be constantly engaged during the revival"--were the phrases we constantly heard repeated, and for a long time without in the least comprehending what was meant; but at length I learnt that the un- national church of America required to be roused, at regular intervals, to greater energy and exertion. At these seasons the most enthusiastic of the clergy travel the country, and enter the cities and towns by scores, or by hundreds, as the accommodation of the place may admit and for a week or fortnight, or, if the population be large, for a month; they preach and pray all day, and often for a considerable portion of the night, in the various churches and chapels of the place. This is called a Revival.
I took considerable pains to obtain information on this subject; but in detailing what I learnt I fear that it is probable I shall be accused of exaggeration; all I can do is cautiously to avoid deserving it. The subject is highly interesting, and it would be a fault of no trifling nature to treat it with levity.
These itinerant clergymen are of all persuasions, I believe, except the Episcopalian, Catholic, Unitarian, and Quaker. I heard of Presby- terians of all varieties; of Baptists of I know not how many divisions; and of Methodists of more denominations than I can remember; whose innumerable shades of varying belief it would require much time to explain and more to comprehend. They enter all the cities, towns, and villages of the Union in succession; I could not learn with sufficient certainty to repeat, what the interval generally is between their visits. These itinerants are, for the most part, lodged in the houses of their respective followers, and every evening that is not spent in the churches and meeting-houses, is devoted to what would be called parties by others, but which they designate as prayer-meetings. Here they eat, drink, pray, sing, hear confessions, and make converts. To these meetings I never got invited, and therefore I have nothing but hearsay evidence to offer, but my information comes from an eye witness, and one on whom I believe I may depend. If one half of what I heard may be believed, these social prayer-meetings are by no means the least curious, or the least important part of the business.
It is impossible not to smile at the close resemblance to be traced between the feelings of a first-rate Presbyterian or Methodist lady, for- tunate enough to have secured a favourite Itinerant for her meeting, and those of a first-rate London Blue, equally blest in the presence of a fashionable poet. There is a strong family likeness among us all the world over.
The best rooms, the best dresses, the choicest refreshments solemnize the meeting. While the party is assembling, the load-star of the hour is occupied in whispering conversations with the guests as they arrive. They are called brothers and sisters, and the greetings are very affectionate. When the room is full, the company, of whom a vast majority are always women, are invited, intreated, and coaxed to confess before their brothers and sisters, all their thoughts, faults, and follies.
These confessions are strange scenes; the more they confess, the more invariably are they encouraged and caressed. When this is over, they all kneel, and the Itinerant prays extempore. They then eat and drink; and then they sing hymns, pray, exhort, sing, and pray again, till the excitement reaches a very high pitch indeed. These scenes are going on at some house or other every evening during the revival, nay, at many at the same time, for the churches and meeting-houses cannot give occupation to half the Itinerants, though they are all open throughout the day, and till a late hour in the night, and the officiating ministers succeed each other in the occupation of them.
It was at the principal of the Presbyterian churches that I was twice witness to scenes that made me shudder; in describing one, I describe both, and every one; the same thing is constantly repeated...
When the singing ended, another [priest] took the centre place, and began in a sort of coaxing affectionate tone, to ask the congregation if what their dear brother had spoken had reached their hearts? Whether they would avoid the hell he had made them see? "Come, then!" he continued, stretching out his arms towards them, "come to us and tell us so, and we will make you see Jesus, the dear gentle Jesus, who shall save you from it. But you must come to him! You must not be ashamed to come to him! This night you shall tell him that you are not ashamed of him; we will make way for you; we will clear the bench for anxious sinners to sit upon. Come, then! come to the anxious bench, and we will show you Jesus! Come! Come! Come !"
Again a hymn was sung, and while it continued, one of the three [priests] was employed in clearing one or two long benches that went across the rail, sending the people back to the lower part of the church. The singing ceased, and again the people were invited, and exhorted not to be ashamed of Jesus, but to put themselves upon "the anxious benches," and lay their heads on his bosom. "Once more we will sing," he concluded, "that we may give you time." And again they sung a hymn.
And now in every part of the church a movement was perceptible, slight at first, but by degrees becoming more decided. Young girls arose, and sat down, and rose again; and then the pews opened, and several came tottering out, their hands clasped, their heads hanging on their bosoms, and every limb trembling, and still the hymn went on; but as the poor creatures approached the rail their sobs and groans became audible. They seated themselves on the "anxious benches;" the hymn ceased, and two of the three priests walked down from the tribune, and going, one to the right, and the other to the left, began whispering to the poor tremblers seated there. These whispers were inaudible to us, but the sobs and groans increased to a frightful excess. Young creatures, with features pale and distorted, fell on their knees on the pavement, and soon sunk forward on their faces; the most violent cries and shrieks followed, while from time to time a voice was heard in convulsive accents, exclaiming, "Oh Lord !" "Oh Lord Jesus !" "Help me, Jesus!" and the like.
Meanwhile the two priests continued to walk among them; they repeatedly mounted on the benches, and trumpet-mouthed proclaimed to the whole congregation, " the tidings of salvation," and then from every corner of the building arose in reply, short sharp cries of "Amen!" "Glory !" "Amen!" while the prostrate penitents continued to receive whispered comfortings, and from time to time a mystic caress. More than once I saw a young neck encircled by a reverend arm. Violent hysterics and convulsions seized many of them, and when the tumult was at the highest, the priest who remained above again gave out a hymn as if to drown it.
It was a frightful sight to behold innocent young creatures, in the gay morning of existence, thus seized upon, horror-struck, and rendared feeble and enervated for ever. One young girl, apparently not more than fourteen, was supported in the arms of another some years older; her face was pale as death; her eyes wide open, and perfectly devoid of meaning; her chin and bosom wet with slaver; she had every appearance of idiotism. I saw a priest approach her, he took her delicate hand, "Jesus is with her! Bless the Lord !" he said, and passed on.
Did the men of America value their women as men ought to value their wives and daughters, would such scenes be permitted among them?
It is hardly necessary to say, that all who obeyed the call to place themselves on the "anxious benches" were women, and by far the greater number, very young women. The congregation was, in general, extremely well dressed, and the smartest and most fashionable ladies of the town were there; during the whole revival, the churches and meeting-houses were every day crowded with well-dressed people.
It is thus the ladies of Cincinnati amuse themselves: to attend the theatre is forbidden; to play cards is unlawful; but they work hard in their families, and must have some relaxation. For myself, I confess that I think the coarsest comedy ever written would be a less detestable exhibition for the eyes of youth and innocence than such a scene.
CINCINNATI, OHIO. Summer 1829. Women at a Camp Meeting.
...The exhortation nearly resembled that which I had heard at "the Revival," but the result was very different; for, instead of the few hysterical women who had distinguished themselves on that occasion, above a hundred persons, nearly all females, came forward, uttering hovllings and groans, so terrible that I shall never cease to shudder when I recall them. They appeared to drag each other forward, and on the word being given, " let us pray," they all fell on their knees; but this posture was soon changed for others that permitted greater scope for the convulsive movements of their limbs; and they were soon all lying on the ground, an indescribable confusion of heads and legs. They threw about their limbs with such incessant and violent motion, that I was every instant expecting some serious accident to occur.
But how am I to describe the sounds that
proceeded from this strange mass of human beings? I
know no words which can convey an idea of it.
Hysterical sobbings, convulsive groans, shrieks and
screams the most appalling, burst forth on all sides. I
felt sick with horror. As if their hoarse and
overstrained voices failed to make noise enough, they
soon began to clap their hands violently. The scene
described by Dante was before me:
"Quivi sospiri, pianti, ed alti guai
Risonavan per l'aere-------
Parole di dolore, accenti d'ira
Voci alti e fioche, e suon di man con elle. "
Many of these wretched creatures were beautiful young females. The preachers moved about among them, at once exciting and soothing their agonies. I heard the muttered " Sister! dear sister!" I saw the insidious lips approach the cheeks of the unhappy girls; I heard the murmured confessions of the poor victims, and I watched their tormentors, breathing into their ears consolations that tinged the pale cheek with red. Had I been a man, I am sure I should have been guilty of some rash act of interference; nor do I believe that such a scene could have been acted in the presence of Englishmen without instant punishment being inflicted; not to mention the salutary discipline of the tread-mill, which, beyond all question, would, in England, have been applied to check so turbulent and so vicious a scene.
After the first wild burst that followed their prostration, the meanings, in many instances, became loudly articulate: and I then experienced a strange vibration between tragic and comic feeling.
A very pretty girl, who was kneeling in the attitude of Canova's Magdalene immediately before us, amongst an immense quantity of jargon, broke out thus: "Woe! woe to the backsliders! hear it, hear it Jesus! when I was fifteen my mother died, and I backslided, oh Jesus, I backslided! take me home to my mother, Jesus! take me home to her, for I am weary! Oh John Mitchel! John Mitchel!" and after sobbing piteously behind her raised hands, she lifted her sweet face again, which was as pale as death, and said, "Shall I sit on the sunny bank of salvation with my mother? my own dear mother? oh Jesus, take me home, take me home!"
Who could refuse a tear to this earnest wish for death in one so young and so lovely ? But I saw her, ere I left the ground, with her hand fast locked, and her head supported by a man who looked very much as Don Juan might, when sent back to earth as too bad for the regions below.
One woman near us continued to "call on the Lord," as it is termed, in the loudest possible tone, and without a moment's interval, for the two hours that we kept our dreadful station. She became frightfully hoarse, and her face so red as to make me expect she would burst a blood-vessel. Among the rest of her rant, she said "I will hold fast to Jesus, I never will let him go; if they take me to hell, I will still hold him fast, fast, fast!"
WASHINGTON. April 1830. Sunday Observances in the NationÕs Capital.
The churches at Washington are not superb but the Episcopalian and Catholic were filled with elegantly dressed women. I observed a greater proportion of gentlemen at church at Washington than any where else.
The Presbyterian ladies go to church three times in the day, but the general appear. once of Washington on a Sunday is much less puritanical than that of most other American towns; the people walk about, and there no chains in the streets, as at Philadelphia, to prevent their riding or driving, if they like it.
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA. August 1830. Sunday Observances in Philadelphia; Unhealthy Alliances between Clergy and Female Parishoners.
We visited many churches and chapels in the city, but none that would elsewhere be called handsome, either internally or externally.
I went one evening, not a Sunday, with a party of ladies to see a Presbyterian minister inducted. The ceremony was woefully long, and the charge to the young man awfully impossible to obey, at least if he were a man, like unto other men. It was matter of astonishment to me to observe the deep attention, and the unwearied patience with which some hundreds of beautiful young girls who were assembled there, (not to mention the old ladies,) listened to the whole of this tedious ceremony; surely there is no country in the world where religion makes so large a part of the amusement and occupation of the ladies. Spain, in its most catholic days, could not exceed it: besides, in spite of the gloomy horrors of the Inquisition, gaiety and amusement were not there offered as a sacrifice by the young and lovely.
The religious severity of Philadelphian manners is in nothing more conspicuous than in the number of chains thrown across the streets on a Sunday to prevent horses and carriages from passing. Surely the Jews could not exceed this country in their external observances. What the gentlemen of Philadelphia do with themselves on a Sunday, I will not pretend to guess, but the prodigious majority of females in the churches is very remarkable. Although a large proportion of the population of this city are Quakers, the same extraordinary variety of faith exists here, as everywhere else in the Union, and the priests have, in some circles, the same unbounded influence which has been mentioned elsewhere.
One history reached me, which gave a terrible picture of the effect this power may produce; it was related to me by my mantua maker; a young woman highly estimable as a wife and mother, and on whose veracity I perfectly rely. She told me that her father was a widower, and lived with his family of three daughters at Philadelphia. A short time before she married, an itinerant preacher came to the city, who contrived to obtain an intimate footing in many respectable families. Her father's was one of these, and his influence and authority were great with all the sisters, but particularly with the youngest. The young girl's feelings for him seem to have been a curious mixture of spiritual awe and earthly affection. When she received a hint from her sisters that she ought not to give him too much encouragement till he spoke out, she showed as much holy resentment as if they had told her not to say her prayers too devoutly. At length the father remarked the sort of covert passion that gleamed through the eyes of his godly visitor, and he saw too, the pallid anxious look which had settled on the young brow of his daughter; either this, or some rumours he bad heard abroad, or both together, led him to forbid this man his house. The three girls were present when he did so, and all uttered a deprecating " Oh father!" but the old man added stoutly, " If you show yourself here again, reverend sir, I will not only teach you the way out of my house, but out of the city also." The preacher withdrew, and was never heard of in Philadelphia afterwards; but when a few months had passed, strange whispers began to creep through the circle which had received and honoured him, and, in due course of time, no less than seven unfortunate girls produced living proofs of the wisdom of my informant's worthy father. In defence of this dreadful story I can only make the often repeated quotation, "I tell the tale as 'twos told to me;" but, in all sincerity I must add, that I have no doubt of its truth.
NEW YORK CITY. Spring 1831. Sunday Amusements for Gentlemen; Effect of Religion on Females.
On the opposite side of the North River, about three miles higher up, is a place called Hoboken. A gentleman who possessed a handsome mansion and grounds there, also possessed the right of ferry, and to render this productive, he has restricted his pleasure-grounds to a few beautiful acres, laying out the remainder simply and tastefully as a public walk. It is hardly possible to imagine one of greater attraction; a broad belt of light underwood and flowering shrubs, studded at intervals with lofty forest trees, runs for two miles along a cliff which overhangs the matchless Hudson; sometimes it feathers the rocks down to its very margin, and at others leaves a pebbly shore, just rude enough to break the gentle waves, and make a music which mimics softly the loud chorus of the ocean. Through this beautiful little wood a broad well-gravelled terrace is led by every point which can exhibit the scenery to advantage; narrower and wider paths diverge at intervals, some into the deeper shadow of the woods, and some shelving gradually to the pretty coves below.
The price of entrance to this little Eden, is the six cents you pay at the ferry. We went there on a bright Sunday afternoon, expressly to see the humours of the place. Many thousand persons were scattered through the grounds; of these we ascertained, by repeatedly counting, that nineteen-twentieths were men. The ladies were at church. Often as the subject has pressed upon my mind, I think I never so strongly felt the conviction that the Sabbathday, the holy day, the day on which alone the great majority of the Christian world can spend their hours as they please, is ill passed, (if passed entirely) within brick walls, listening to an earth-born preacher, charm he never so wisely.
“Oh! how can they renounce the boundless
Of charms, which Nature to her vottries yields!
The warbling woodland, the resounding shore,
The pomp of groves, and garniture of fields,
All that the genial ray of morning gilds,
And all that echoes to the song of even,
All that the mountain's sheltering bosom yields,
And all the dread magnificence of heaven;
Oh ! how can they renounce, and hope to be forgiven !"
How is it that the men of America, who are reckoned good husbands and good fathers, while they themselves enjoy sufficient freedom of spirit to permit their walking forth into the temple of the living God, can leave those they love best on earth, bound in the iron chains of a most tyrannical fanaticism? How can they breathe the balmy air, and not think of the tainted atmosphere so heavily weighing upon breasts stil dearer than their own? How can they gaze upon the blossoms of the spring, and not remember the fairer cheeks of their young daughters, waxing pale, as they sit for long sultry hours, immured with hundreds of fellow victims, listening to the roaring vanities of a preacher, canonized by a college of old women? They cannot think it needful to salvation, or they would not withdraw themselves. Wherefore is it? Do they fear these self-elected, self-ordained priests, and offer up their wives and daughters to propitiate them? Or do they deem their hebdomadal freedom more complete, because their wives and daughters are shut up four or five times in the day at church or chapel? Is it true, that at Hoboken, as every where else, there are reposoires, which as you pass them, blast the sense for a moment, by reeking forth the fumes of whiskey and tobacco, and it may be that these cannot be entered with a wife or daughter. The proprietor of the grounds, however, has contrived with great taste to render these abominations not unpleasing to the eye; there is one in particular, which has quite the air of a Grecian temple, and did they drink wine instead of whiskey, it might be inscribed to Bacchus.
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND. October 30, 1831. Tocqueville's conversation with lawyer John Hazlehurst Bonval Latrobe on the efforts of Catholics to win members.
[Catholics] are taking on an extraordinary increase, and following a very clever policy...In the last twenty years they have, with great skill, turned all their efforts toward education. They have established seminaries and schools (colleges). The best institutions of education in Maryland are Catholic; they even have schools in other states. These are full of Protestants. There is perhaps not a single young man of Maryland who, having received a good education, has not been brought up by Catholics. Although they take good care not to speak to the students about their beliefs, you can appreciate that they always exercise a certain influence. Furthermore, they have very adroitly turned most of their efforts to the education of women. They think that there where the mother is Catholic, the children must almost always be the same.
NEW YORK CITY. 1834. Christian Reform Societies; The Danger Presented to Women in the Person of the Clergy; the trial of Reverend E.K. Avery for Adultery and Murder.
But all religious matters in America, like everything else, are conducted upon a System without a parallel in the history of any well-regulated community, as the foregoing facts and the following truths will show. The Sun American paper of May, 1834, observes, "This is the season of the anniversaries of religious & charitable institutions. They are numerously attended, and their reports speak favorably of their increasing strength and usefulness. Having for the most part, the welfare and happiness of man as their grand object and aim, we wish them all success in their efforts. There are, however, one or two associations among them, which, whatever may be the purity or zeal of their supporters, are calculated to produce the most serious evils. Among them, is the Society for the promotion of the Seventh Commandment-or in other words, the Society to prevent lewdness. There are certain subjects which the common consent of all civilized societies has marked as too indelicate, gross, and distasting in their character, ever to be brought- except in extraordinary cases, and where the moral sense of the community has been severely shocked-before the public eye. Of such a character must of necessity be all details connected with the proceedings of this Society. Its supporters defy all common sense of propriety, all received notions of decency, and do not hesitate in public assemblages, where ladies form a great part of the audience, to give the most disgusting accounts of low debauchery and sensual indulgence, such as can hardly be communicated to the delicate mind of a woman without polluting it. This society probably owes its existence to that record of the stews, McDowall's Journal, which has already been presented by the grand jury as a dangerous and immoral publication. In all charity, and without seeking to inquire into the motives of men to profess to be guided by a desire to promote public purity, and public morals, we must say that this association, unless opposed by the same general spirit which demanded that a public example should be made of McDowall's Journal, will exert a most pernicious influence upon the morals of this community. Every friend of decency & morality should frown upon and discountenance it.
The same authority stated in the previous month of April, that "a religious sect had sprung up in the county of Surry, one of whose tenets is to salute each other at a holy meeting with a holy kiss. One of the female devotees, a young lady of a thousand charms, happened to encounter a young gentleman of whom she was enamoured, and gave him a more cordial & loving salute than was quite becoming. The next day she received a message from the high priest of the sect, saying she had been excommunicated for 'kissing with an appetite.Õ I could relate anecdotes of their camp-meetings would make the ears of decency tingle and the cheek of modesty burn with shame enacted, not only under the eye of their spiritual teachers, as they call their vagabond pastors, but in which these same pastors were the principal actors. I shall not, however, dwell upon them. Those who would be better versed in the history of an American camp-meeting, I must refer to the writings of Mrs. Trollope, and to the more recent publication of Mr. Ferrall. I have never read the latter, but I am told he has fully entered into the subject. It is a fact that the females of all classes of fanatics in America are under a complete state of subjection to their spiritual pastors, and that they alone ought to be looked upon as their hearers & their supporters. One would suppose from appearances that the American women were all fanatics, & the men all atheists-Indeed, I believe it to be near the truth. I have been in many of their most crowded congregations, and amongst several thousands never saw above a hundred men present at the same time; in fact the disproportion of the sexes never fails to create surprise in strangers. It is to the women all their appeals are addressed, it is upon them all the baser purposes of fanatical preachers are made to operate.
Let us then inquire who this great class of preachers are, and we may thus draw some conclusion as to the value of their influence upon female society in America. I have elsewhere recorded the fact, that several abandoned characters who emigrated from England leaving wives & families destitute, became popular preachers after reaching America, settled as such & married American women with property, and on their wives & families arriving in the United States & claiming their protection, these same pious preachers of the word of God declared their wives & families to be impostors, in which they have in most instances, nay in all that I am acquainted with, been countenanced & supported by their American congregations. One man, now a popular preacher no great distance from New York, emigrated from a city in Norfolk, where he was a dyer & scourer, by trade, and little better than a confirmed sot-now he is the RevÕd Mr--, in America. I know a lady who lately emigrated from England, that went with some American acquaintances to hear a popular preacher at Brooklyn, near New York, which has been recently made a city. The party were persons of influence, and after the service concluded, the new settler was taken to be introduced to the RevÕd favourite. His name was no sooner uttered, than she recollected that such a person had fled from England with a large sum of money belonging to a society for the Conversion of the Jews. She no sooner looked him in the face than she recognized the renegade Jew, and she confessed to me that the blush of shame mantled in her face as she put out her hand to shake that of a known thief. After she retired with her American friends, she named the fact to them. But they did not profess to be at all surprised or ignorant of the matter, and exclaimed-"Ah! but he is a fine preacher!"
This is only one out of many I could relate. But there is a more recent case before the American public, the remarkable one of a preacher being retained in his office of pastor, an acknowledged Seducer & adulterer, a convicted liar, and a darkly acquitted murderer! This man is the RevÕd E.K. Avery, the father of a family, who was & is still a Methodist preacher of note in the vicinity of Boston. He had for one of his congregation a poor factory girl of the name of Sarah Maria Cornell, represented as interesting & intelligent. For some indiscretion, it is said, she had come under the bann of this fanatical Moloch- designedly, there is too much reason to fear, to make her a sacrifice to his baser passions, & this he accomplished during one of their infamous Camp-meetings, about the middle of 1832. She became enceinte, in consequence. Her health obliging her to seek advice, she first learnt her situation from Doctor Wilbur, a member of the Society of Friends, in the month of October, of the above year, and to whom, after a promise of secrecy, she declared the father of her offspring to be the RevÕd E.K. Avery. It was with great astonishment the Doctor heard her, as he supposed the RevÕd delinquent a man of character, and after several interviews with this physician, at every one of which, it is affirmed "she appeared to be deeply affected, with a sense of her conduct, and always shed tears," she persisted "in naming Avery as the author of her difficulty."
Upon the Doctor's expressing his incredulity, his surprise and horror, at the bare imputation of such an offence on a minister of the gospel, his penetrating eye, and searching inquiries it is said, lest he should be imposed upon, seemed to produce no other emotion in her than those of heartfelt anguish, and the additional information that-Avery had advised her to make use of the oil of Tansy, in doses of 30 drops, with a view to destroy her offspring, or rather to kill the poor girl herself, and remove as he thought all the living evidence of his guilt, as 10 drops, the doctor informed her, were sufficient to lay her dead at his feet She further confirmed the truth of what she had stated of Avery by shewing the Doctor a letter she had recÕd from him. Upon this Doctor Wilbur insisted she should demand an interview with Avery and negotiate with him for a sum sufficient to enable her to retire from the labour of the factory, & support her comfortably till she should be again able to support herself-proposing a sum larger than she thought her seducer could afford, upon which she generously refused to demand it, alledging that she knew Avery was poor, and that she would do nothing to distress him & his family. She finally consented to ask for a smaller sum and to request an interview.
She shortly afterwards called on Dr. Wilbur & shewed him a letter she had received from her seducer, appointing to see her in a secluded & very solitary spot, at night, near the Fall River, in which neighbourhood the Doctor lived. This struck the Doctor as remarkable, & he begged of her not to go alone. This advice was not attended to. The scene of the meeting was so near the Doctor's residence, that when he arose in the morning he was surprised at seeing people hurrying by in evident anxiety and on inquiry was told that a young woman had hung herself. He put on his hat & hastened to the spot to which the people were crowding, when the 1st object that met his view was the poor girl in whose welfare he had taken so much interest, suspended from a tree quite dead. There was no evidence how she came there, but Avery had been seen in the neighbourhood the night of the proposed interview, which had proved so tempestuous, that Avery, as it afterwards came out had in vain endeavoured to bribe a boatman to take him across the river to the opposite side, the direction in which his dwelling laid.
Upon taking down the poor girl's body, it was found that the rope by which she was hanging was tied with a double knot, and that it had been drawn so tight on the first being tied, that it must, as the medical men stated, have caused instant death-so that it was impossible the poor girl could have been her own executioner. All the medical men, from the distorted angry look of her features in death, testified that she had died by the hands of a murderer; and it further appeared, that she had on her hands a pair of clean white gloves, which must have been soiled had she hung herself, as the rope was in a dirty state. And it was found, on examination, that the flesh was violently pressed in on both her sides, with finger marks, below the stays, as if by the grasp of a powerful man, which Avery is. In short there were so many circumstances that shewed her death to have been the work of a murderer.
But all these facts did not all come to light at the time her body was first discovered, and much pains were taken by the Methodist preachers and their friends, in the neighbourhood, to defame the poor girl's character, after death. They actually refused to bury her in consecrated ground, & an honest old farmer, of the name of Duffee, who lived near the scene of death, was so moved with the barbarous persecution that was going on, that he declared she should have a decent funeral, in a spot he had appropriated to be the resting place of his own family.
At length public rumour bruited so many suspicious circumstances against Avery, that he was apprehended on a suspicion of being her murderer, & her remains were exhumed for further examination, but the evidence not being deemed sufficient to commit him upon, he was suffered to go at large. Other evidence, however, was procured sufficient to make a different impression upon the minds of a coroner & jury, and a warrant was granted for his apprehension. Upon this he fled and was traced by the officer to the cottage of an old woman, who to the officer's inquiry denied that he was there. At the instant, however, the constable thought he perceived something to flit behind the dour, and darting forward, he found it was Avery, who fainted on being seized.
He was soon after brought to trial for the murder, during the progress of which many singular circumstances occurred. Amongst others was that of a woman coming into court & stating to the Judge, that she had dreamed for 3 successive nights, that the man who had murdered Maria Cornell had a wound on one of his hands. It was then recollected that Avery had, from the commencement of the trial, kept one of his hands gloved, and upon his removing the glove by the Judge's order, it was found that there was the remains of a wound, as if caused by a bite.
What makes this trial one of the most singular that ever, perhaps, took place in the known world, is the shameful conduct pursued by the Methodist preachers of the district, the friends of the accused, who are said not to have spent a less sum than 5000 dollars in their endeuvours to establish Avery's innocence. Every means was resorted to by them, with a barbarous ferocity to blacken the poor girl's character with lewd practices, females were intimidated by them from coming forward to give evidence who had been eye-witnesses of familiar scenes between the poor girl & her seducer.
Amongst other instances, says a writer in the Free Enquirer, American paper, "of the shameful manner in which witnesses were tampered with and their testimony kept back," is that "of a person who was heard to say, previous to the trial of Avery, that he saw him & Miss Cornell walking together during the camp meeting at Thompson, and that he knew them both. This information was communicated to the gentlemen who conducted the prosecution, and one of them went to Connecticut to procure the witness. But he was one day too late. On his arrival at the residence of the man, it was found that no less than 3 Methodist Clergymen had stolen the march upon him. The result was, that the witness refused to answer any questions put to him, and as no compulsory process could be had, nothing could be elicited from him. If any person shall think proper to question the facts relative to the 3 clergymen," adds this writer, "their Names, and that of my informant, shall be promptly given to end all doubt."
It was sworn by a respectable witness, that he saw Avery & his victim "walking arm in arm" on the evening of the 20th of October, in the neighbourhood of the Fall River, and "Mrs Bidwell also, wife of the RevÕd Ira M. Bidwell, testified that, on that night, Avery, who was expected to lodge at her house, was out so much later than usual for a minister, that she went to the house of a neighbour to inquire for him. And Mr. Bidwell himself stated that on the previous evening he saw Avery & Miss Cornell within '3 feet' of each other, & left them together, because he supposed Miss Cornell wished to have some conversation with him. All this does not look like a desire on the part of Miss Cornell, to avoid an interview with Avery as was pretended by him, and also by Mrs. Mayo, at the Thompson Camp meeting."
Evidence the most conclusive was produced on the trial showing the intimacy that had subsisted between Avery & his victim, more than one witness swore to his being seen in the ncighbourhood where the poor girl was murdered, yet Avery was acquitted, but acquitted only upon the Judge suggesting to the jury that any doubt in their minds ought to be given in favour of the accused.
One American paper observed upon this termination of one of the most interesting & exciting trials that modern times have produced, that they were glad he was not to be hanged, as he was a descendant of one of the old Republicans who had fought for their independence: so much for American love of justice. The report of the trials is before the American people, and but few who are not living under the despotic influence of the Methodist preachers have the smallest doubt in their minds but that he ought to have suffered an ignominious death instead of being now at large and actually forced upon a congregation by the influence of the Bishop of the district (Methodists have their Bishops in America), and the party of Methodist preachers, upon whose shoulders he may be said to have been triumphantly borne from the tribunal of murder, to defile God's temple with his unholy breath.
RELIGION. General Treatise on the Unhealthly Preoccupation of Women with Religion; Abuses of the Clergy.
The way in which religion is made an occupation by women, testifies not only to the vacuity which must exist when such a mistake is fallen into, but to the vigour with which the religious sentiment would probably be carried into the great objects and occupations of life, if such were permitted. I was perpetually struck with this when I saw women braving hurricane, frost, and snow, to flit from preaching to preaching; and laying out the whole day among visits for prayer and religious excitement, among the poor and the sick. I was struck with this when I saw them labouring at their New Testament, reading superstitiously a daily portion of that which was already too familiar to the ear to leave any genuine and lasting impression, thus read. Extraordinary instances met my knowledge of both clergymen and ladies making the grossest mistakes about conspicuous facts of the gospel history, while reading it in daily portions for ever. It is not surprising that such a method of perusal should obviate all real knowledge of the book: but it is astonishing that those who feel it to be so should not change their methods, and begin at length to learn that which they have all their lives been vainly trusting that they knew.
The wife of a member of Congress, a conscientious and religious woman, judges of persons by one rule, Cwhether they are "pious." I could never learn how she applied this; nor what she comprehended under her phrase. She told me that she wished her husband to leave Congress. He was no longer a young man, and it was time he was thinking of saving his soul. She could not, after long conversation on this subject, realise the idea that religion is not an affair of occupation and circumstance, but of principle and temper; and that, as there is no more important duty than that of a member of Congress, there is no situation in which a man can attain a higher religious elevation, if the spirit be in him.
[A] great mischief from the isolation of the clergy is that, while it deprives them of the highest kind of influence which is the prerogative of manhood, it gives them a lower kind:Can influence as strong as it is pernicious to others, and dangerous to themselves; Can influence confined to the weak members of society; women and superstitious men. By such they are called "faithful guardians." Guardians of what? A healthy person may guard a sick one: a sane man may guard a lunatic: a grown person may guard a child: and, for social purposes, an appointed watch may guard a criminal. But how can any man guard his equal in spiritual matters, the most absolutely individual of all? How can any man come between another's soul and the infinite to which it tends? If it is said that they are guardians of truth, and not of conscience, they may be asked for their warrant. God has given his truth for all. Each is to lay hold of what he can receive of it; and he sins if he devolves upon another the guardianship of what is given him for himself. As to the fitness of the clergy to be guardians, it is enough to mention what I know: that there is infidelity within the walls of their churches of which they do not dream; and profligacy among their flocks of which they will be the last to hear. Even in matters which are esteemed their peculiar business, the state of faith and morals, they are more in the dark than any other persons in society. Some of the most religious and moral persons in the community are among those who never enter their churches; while among the company who sit at the feet of the pastor while he refines upon abstractions, and builds a moral structure upon imperfect principles, or upon metaphysical impossibilities, there are some in whom the very capacity of steadfast belief has been cruelly destroyed; some who hide loose morals under a strict profession of religion; and some if possible more lost still, who have arrived at making their religion co-exist with their profligacy. Is there not here something like the blind leading the blind ?
Over those who consider the clergy " faithful guardians," their influence, as far as it is professional, is bad; as far as it is that of friendship or acquaintanceship, it is according to the characters of the men. I am disposed to think ill of the effects of the practice of parochial visiting, except in cases of poor and afflicted persons, who have little other resource of human sympathy. I cannot enlarge upon the disagreeable subject of the devotion of the ladies to the clergy. I believe there is no liberal minded minister who does not see, and too sensibly feel, the evil of women being driven back upon religion as a resource against vacuity; and of there being a professional class to administer it. Some of the most sensible and religious elderly women I know in America speak, with a strength which evinces strong conviction, of the mischief to their sex of ministers entering the profession young and poor, and with a great enthusiasm for parochial visiting. There is no very wide difference between the auricular confession of the catholic church, and the spiritual confidence reposed in ministers the most devoted to visiting their flocks. Enough may be seen in the religious periodicals of America about the help women give to young ministers by the needle, by raising subscriptions, and by more toilsome labours than they should be allowed to undergo in such a cause. If young men cannot earn with their own hands the means of finishing their education, and providing themselves with food and clothing, without the help of women, they may safely conclude that their vocation is to get their bread first; whether or not it may be to preach afterwards. But this kind of dependence is wholly unnecessary. There is more provision made for the clergy than there are clergy to use it.
A young clergyman came home, one day, and complained to me that some of his parochial visiting afflicted him much. He had been visiting and exhorting a mother who had lost her infant; a sorrow which he always found he could not reach. The mourner had sat still, and heard all he had to say: but his impression was that he had not met any of her feelings; that he had done nothing but harm. How should it be otherwise? What should he know of the grief of a mother for her infant? He was sent for, as a kind of charmer, to charm away the heart's pain. Such pain is not sent to be charmed away. It could be made more endurable only by sympathy, of all outward aids: and sympathy, of necessity, he had none; but only a timid pain with which to aggravate her's. It was natural that he should do nothing but harm.
My final impression is, that religion is best administered in America by the personal character of the most virtuous members of society, out of the theological profession: and next, by the acts and preachings of the members of that profession who are the most secular in their habits of mind and life. The exclusively clerical are the worst enemies of Christianity, except the vicious.
APPENDIX F: Further Notes on the Relation of Women and the Clergy.
Independently of the disinterestedness, simplicity, and humility of woman's character, in all matters relating to religion, they naturally reverence and cling to those who show them respect and deference. The clergy, from understanding this point in their nature, possess great and deserved influence over them; and they have only to interest their feelings, to insure success to any clerical or charitable purpose. Look at a woman's zeal in foreign or domestic missions, not only devoting her time at home, but leaving her friends and her comforts, to assist in establishing them in a distant land. And is it ever pretended that a woman bus not more than equalled a man in these duties? And will she not toil for days, scarcely raising her eyes from the work, to assist in purchasing an organ, a new altarcloth, or in cleaning and painting a church ?
So great is the tax, now, on a woman's time, for these and for other religious purposes, such as the " educating young men for the ministry, that the amount is frightful and scandalous. If the funds of a religious congregation be low, which can only happen where the men are poor in spirit, and wanting in religious fervour, a woman is allowed to exert herself beyond her means; for well we know that she cannot endure a want of neatness and order, in a house where God is to be worshipped. To be sure, it may be said, that no one compels her to this unequal share of labour; but we know how the thing operates.
She ought, and she does, and nobly does her share, in educating poor children, both during the week and on Sunday. She searches out the widow and the fatherless, the orphan, the sick and the poor, the aged and the unhappy. All this, although it amount to a great deal, and certainly much more than men can ever do, it is her duty to do, and she performs the duty cheerfully. As she considers it incumbent on her thus to exert herself, and as it gives her pleasure, there can be no objection on our part, to let her do al] the good in this way that she can; but do not let us exact too much of a willing mind and tender conscience. Confiding in her spiritual directors, she may be brought to do more than is proper for her to do. This " educating of young men, this preparing them for a theological seminary," is not part of a woman's duty, and it is not only contemptible, but base, to allow such a discipline of their minds, as to make them imagine it to be their duty.
Look at the young men who are to be educated- - What right have they, with so many sources open to them, what right have they to allow women to tax themselves for their maintenance ? Poor credulous woman! she can be made to think anything a duty. How have we seen her neglecting her health, her comfort, her family, the poor, and, above all, neglecting the improvement of her own mind, that she might earn a few dollars towards educating a young man, who is far more able to do it himself, and who, nine times in ten, laughs in his sleeve at her. What right, we again ask, have these young men to the labours of a woman? Are they not as capable of working as she is? What should hinder them from pursuing some handicraft, some employment, during their term of study ?
If a woman were to be educated gratis, in this way, would any set of young men associate and work for her maintenance ? No, that they would not; she would not only have to labour for herself, but her labour would be unaided even by sympathy. Now, very few women are aware, that they are, in a manner, maneuvred into thus spending their precious time; we mean for the education of young men that have a desire to enter the theological seminary. Many of them are not conscious of being swayed by other motives indeed, some have no other motive, than that of pure Christian love, when they thus assist in raising funds for educating young men. They feel a disposition to follow on, in any scheme proposed to them; and when the thing is rightly managed, the project has the appearance of originating with themselves. Men understand the mode of doing this.
The spirit of piety and charity is very strong in the bosom of a woman; she feels the deepest reverence and devotion towards her spiritual pastor, and is naturally, therefore, disposed to do good, in the way he thinks best. If it were not for this reverence and submission, if they were left unbiased by hint, persuasion, or by some unaccountable spell which they cannot break through, their charities would find another and a more suitable channel. Their good sense would show them the impropriety of giving up so much of their time, for a, purpose that belongs exclusively to the care of men: they would soon see the truth, as it appears to others, that the scheme must be a bad one, which enables young men to live in idleness, during the time that they are getting through with their classical studies: such a " getting through," too, as it generally is.
We do not set forth the following plan, as the very best that can be offered, but it is practicable, and would be creditable. It is that every theological seminary should have sufficient ground attached to it, that each student might have employment in raising vegetables and fruit. There should likewise be a workshop connected with it, wherein he might pursue some trade so that if he did not find it his vocation to preach, when his religious education was finished, he might not be utterly destitute, as too many are. In fact, it ought to be so much the part of a clergyman's education, to be acquainted with certain branches of horticulture, that he should not receive a call to a country or village church, if he were ignorant of it.
So far from degrading, it would be doing these young men a kindness. In the first place, they would hold fast that spirit of independence which is so necessary to a man's prosperity, and to his usefullness as a clergyman. He would be of the greatest consequence to his parishioners, for horticulture is an art but little known to them; and even if they go to a great distance as missionaries, of what great service would his horticultural knowledge be to the poor people, whose souls he hopes to save ! We all know how immediately civilisation follows the cultivation of the soil; and we may rest assured, that the sacred object which the young missionary has in view, will meet with fewer obstacles, if his lessons are connected with attention to the bodily wants of his charge.
It is really disgusting to those who live in the neighbourhood of religious institutions, to see the frivolous manner in which young men pass their time, when not in actual study. We do not say that they are dissipated, or vicious, in the common sense of the word, but that they lounge about, trifle, and gossip, retailing idle chit-chat and fooleries.
At the very time when they are thus happily amusing themselves, the women who assist in giving them a classical education allow themselves scarcely any respite from their labours. We have known some of them to sew, it is all they can do, from sunrise till nine o'clock at night; and all for this very purpose.
It is quite time to put a stop to this, and let indigent young men educate themselves. Why do they not form societies to create funds for the purpose, not as is usually done whenever they have attempted a thing of this kind, by carrying about a paper to collect money, but by extra labour of their own, as women do ? Let those who live in cities write for lawyers or clerks in chancery, or make out accounts for poor shopkeeping women, who will never cheat them out of a cent, nor refuse them a just compensation. If it be said that they cannot write well enough for any of these purposes, then they must go to the free-school again. There are a hundred modes by which they could earn at least twenty-five cents a day, which is the average of what a woman makes when she is employed in sewing for this purpose. Those who live in the country, where, in fact, all students, rich or poor, ought to be, on account of health, should raise fruit, vegetables, we mean assist in this, work at some trade, write for newspapers, teach the children of the families at extra hours: in short, a lad of independent spirit could devise ways and means enough to pay for his board and clothing while he is learning Latin and Greek. This plan of proceeding would raise a young man twice as much in the opinion of the public, and a thousand times as much in his own.
But this is not the time to dwell on such a subject; it was too important, however, to remain untouched. We intend to discuss it amply at some future period. Our object, at present, is to assist women. They who are always so willing to assist others, to their own detriment, should now, in turn, for their wants loudly call for it, be assisted and encouraged to strike out a new path, by which they could assist themselves.
The first step for us to take in order to effect our intentions, is to prove to them that they should attend to their own wants exclusively; work for their own sons, if those sons can bear to see it; but to let young men, unconnected with them, and who are destined for the ministry, educate themselves, as the poor young men of other professions do.
When do we ever hear that a lawyer or a doctor owed their education to the industry or the alms of women ?
We have said all this before, and we shall say it again and again. There must be a change for the better in the affairs of poor women; they are degraded by their poverty; and their degradation is the cause of nearly all the crime that is committed." Aladdin's Lamp. New York, 1833
NISKAYUNA, NEW YORK. July 1837. Shaker Worship Service.
I went out to see the Shakers at Niskayuna. So much has already been said about their tenets that I shall not repeat them, further than to observe that all their goods are in common, and that although the sexes mix together, they profess the vows of celibacy and chastity. Their lands are in excellent order, and they are said to be very rich.
We were admitted into a long room on the ground-door, where the Shakers were seated on forms, the men opposite to the women, and apart from each other. The men were in their waistcoats and shirt-sleeves, twiddling their thumbs, and looking awfully puritanical. The women were attired in dresses of very light striped cotton, which hung about them like full dressing-gowns, and concealed all shape and proportions. A plain mob cap on their heads, and a thick muslin handkerchief in many folds over their shoulders, completed their attire. They each held in their hands a pockethandkerchief as large as a towel, and of almost the same substance. But the appearance of the women was melancholy and unnatural; I say unnatural because it required to be accounted for. They had all the advantages of exercise and labour in the open air, good food, and good clothing; they were not overworked, for they are not required to work more than they please; and yet there was something so pallid, so unearthly in their complexions, that it gave you the idea that they had been taken up from their coffins a few hours alter their decease: not a hue of health, not a vestige of colour in any check or lip; one cadaverous yellow tinge prevailed. And yet there were to be seen many faces very beautiful, as far as regarded outline, but they were the features of the beautiful in death. The men, on the contrary, were ruddy, strong, and vigorous. Why, then, this difference between the sexes, where they each performed the same duties, where none were taxed beyond their strength, and all were well fed and clothed?
After a silence of ten minutes, one of the men of the community, evidently a coarse illiterate person, rose and addressed a few words to the spectators, requesting them not to laugh at what they saw, but to behave themselves properly, &c. and then he sat down.
One of the leaders then burst out into a hymn, to a jigging sort of tune, and all the others joined chorus. After the hymn was sung they all rose, put away the forms on which they had been seated, and stood in lines, eight in a row, men and women separate, facing each other, and about ten feet apart; the ranks of men being flanked by the boys, and those of the women by the girls. They commenced their dancing by advancing in rows, just about as far as profane people do in when they dance quadrilles, and then retreated the same distance, all keeping regular time, and turning back to back after every third advance. The movement was rather quick, and they danced to their own singing of the following beautiful composition:
Law, law, de lawdel law,
Law, law, de law,
Law, law, de lawdel law,
Lawdel, lawdel, law--
keeping time also with the hands as well as feet, the former raised up to the chest, and hanging down like the forepaws of a dancing bear. After a quarter of an hour they sat down again, and the women made use of their large towel pocket-handkerchiefs to wipe off the perspiration. Another hymn was sung, and then the same person addressed the spectators, requesting them not to laugh, and inquiring if any of them felt a wish to be saved, adding "Not one of you, I don't think." He looked round at all of us with the most ineffable contempt, and then sat down; and they sang another hymn, the burden of which was--
"Our souls are saved, and we are free
From vice and all in-i-qui-ty."
which was a very comfortable delusion, at all events.
They then rose again, put away the forms as before, and danced in another fashion. Instead of LÕete, it was Grande ronde. About ten men and women stood in two lines in the centre of the room, as a vocal band of music, while all the others, two and two, women first and men following, promenaded round, with a short quick step, to the tune chaunted in the centre. As they went round and round, shaking their paws up and down before them, the scene was very absurd, and I could have laughed had I not felt disgusted at such a degradation of rational and immortal beings. This dance lasted a long while, until the music turned to croaking, and the perspiration was abundant; they stopped at last, and then announced that their exercise was finished. I waited a little while after the main body had dispersed, to speak with one of the elders. "I will be with you directly," replied he, walking hastily away; but he never came back.
I never heard the principle upon which they dance. David danced before the ark; but it is to be presumed that David danced as well as he sung. At least he thought so; for when his wife Michal laughed at him, he made her conduct a ground of divorce.
Every community which works in common, and is provided for in the mass, must become rich, especially when it has no children to maintain. It is like receiving a person's labour in exchange for victuals and clothing only, and this is all I can perceive that can be said in favour of these people. Suffice it to say, I have a very bad opinion of them: and were I disposed to dilate on the subject, I should feel no inclination to treat them with the lenity shewn to them by other travellers.
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA. Feb. 1, 1842 Religious Fervor of Women.
While here I heard complaints of the religious excitement into which the city had been just thrown by the arrival of a popular New England preacher, who attracted such crowds that at length all the sittings of his church were monopolized by the fair sex. American gallantry forbids that a woman should remain standing while gentlemen are comfortably seated in their pews, so that at last the men were totally excluded. Notice was immediately given that certain services were to be entirely reserved for the men; this announcement well calculated to provoke curiosity, and to tempt many a stray sheep from other folds. It was then thought expedient for the ministers of rival sects to redouble their zeal, that they might not be Ieft behind in the race, and even the sober Episcopalians, though highly disapproving of the movement, increased the number of their services; so that I was assured it would be possible for the same individual between the hours of seven o'clock in the morning and nine in the evening, to go seven times to church in one day. The consequences are too like those occasionally experienced in the " old country," where enthusiasm is not kindled by so much free competition, to be worth dwelling upon. Every day added new recruits to a host of ascetic devotees, and places of public amusement were nearly deserted-- at last even the innocent indulgence of social intercourse was not deemed blameless: and the men who had generally escaped the contagion in the midst of their professional avocations, found a gloomy cast over society or over their domestic circle. The young ladies, in particular, having abundance of leisure, were filled with a lively sense of their own exceeding wickedness, and the sins of their parents and guardians.
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS. February 1842. Public Meeting Places for Women of Society.
The tone of society in Boston is one of perfect politeness, courtesy, and good breeding. The ladies are unquestionably very beautiful-in face: but there I am compelled to stop. Their education is much as with us; neither better nor worse. I had heard some very marvellous stories in this respect; but not believing them, was not disappointed. Blue ladies there are, in Boston; but like philosophers of that colour and sex in most other latitudes, they rather desire to be thought superior than to be so.
Evangelical ladies there are, likewise, whose attachment to the forms of religion, and horror of theatrical entertainments, are most exemplary. Ladies who have a passion for attending lectures are to be found among all classes and all conditions. In the kind of provincial life which prevails in cities such as this, the Pulpit has great influence. The peculiar province of the Pulpit in New England (always excepting the Unitarian Ministry) would appear to be the denouncement of all innocent and rational amusements. The church, the chapel, and the lecture-room, are the only means of excitement excepted; and to the church, the chapel, and the lecture-room, the ladies resort in crowds.
LEBANON, NEW YORK. Spring 1842. Visit to the Shaker Village.
Between nine and ten o'clock at night, we arrived at Lebanon: which is renowned for its warm baths, and for a great hotel, well adapted, I have no doubt, to the gregarious taste of those seekers alter health or pleasure who repair here, but inexpressibly comfortless to me. We were shown into an immense apartment, lighted by two dim candles, called the drawing room: from which there was a descent by a flight of stops, to another vast desert, called the dining-room: our bedchambers were among certain long rows of little whitewashed cells, which opened from either side of a dreary passage; and were so like rooms in a prison that I half expected to be locked up when I went to bed, and listened involuntarily for the turning of the key on the outside. There need be baths somewhere in the neighbourhood, for the other washing arrangements were on as limited a scale as I ever saw, even in America: indeed, these bedrooms were so very bare of even such common luxuries as chairs, that I should say they were not provided with enough of anything, but that I bethink myself of our having been most bountifully bitten all night.
The house is very pleasantly situated, however, and we had a good breakfast. That done, we went to visit our place of destination, which was some two miles off, and the way to which was soon indicated by a finger-post, whereon was painted, "To the Shaker Village."
As we rode along, we passed a party of Shakers, who were at work upon the road; who wore the broadest of all broad brimmed hats; and were in all visible respects such very wooden men, that I felt about as much sympathy for them, and as much interest in them, as if they had been so many figure-heads of ships. Presently we came to the beginning of the village, and alighting at the door of a house where the Shaker manufactures are sold, and which is the headquarters of the elders, requested permission to see the Shaker worship.
Pending the conveyance of this request to some person in authority, we walked into a grim room, where several grim hats were hanging on grim pegs, and the time was grimly told by a grim clockwhich uttered every tickwidh a kind of struggle, as if it broke dhe grim silence reluctantly, and under protest. Ranged against the wall were six or eight stiff high-backed chairs, and they partook so strongly of the general grimness that one would much rather have sat on the floor than incurred the smallest obligation to any of them.
Presently, there stalked into this apartment, a grim old Shaker, with eyes as hard, and dull, and cold, as the great round metal buttons on his coat and waistcoat; a sort of calm goblin. Being informed of our desire, he produced a newspaper wherein the body of elders, whereof he was a member, had advertised but a few days before, that in consequence of certain unseemly interruptions which their worship had received from strangers, their chapel was closed to the public for the space of one year.
As nothing was to be urged in opposition to this reasonable arrangement, we requested leave to make some trifling purchases of Shaker goods; which was grimly conceded. We accordingly repaired to a store in the same house and on the opposite side of the passage, where the stock was presided over by something alive in a russet case, which the elder said was a woman; and which I suppose was a woman, though I should not have suspected it.
On the opposite side of the road was their place of worship: a cool, clean edifice of wood, with large windows and green blinds: like a spacious summer-house. As there was no getting into this place, and nothing was to be done but walk up and down, and look at it and the other buildings in the village (which were chiefly of wood, painted a dark red like English barns, and composed of many stories like English factories), I have nothing to communicate to the reader, beyond the scanty results I gleaned the while our purchases were making.
These people are called Shakers from their peculiar form of adoration, which consists of a dance, performed by the men and women of all ages, who arrange themselves for that purpose in opposite parties: the men first divesting themselves of their hats and coats, which they gravely hang against the wall before they begin; and tying a ribbon round their shirt-sleeves, as though they were going to be bled. They accompany themselves with a droning, humming noise, and dance until they are quite exhausted, alternately advancing and retiring in a preposterous sort of trot. The effect is said to be unspeakably absurd: and if I mayjudge from a print of this ceremony which I have in my possession; and which I am informed by those who have visited the chapel, is perfectly accurate; it must be infinitely grotesque.
They are governed by a woman, and her rule is understood to be absolute, though she has the assistance of a council of elders. She lives, it is said, in strict seclusion, in certain rooms above the chapel, and is never shown to profane eyes. If she at all resemble the lady who presided over the store, it is a great charity to keep her as close as possible, and I cannot too strongly express my perfect concurrence in this benevolent proceeding.
All the possessions and revenues of the settlement are thrown into a common stock, which is managed by the elders. As they have made converts among people who were well to do in the world, and are frugal and thrifty, it is understood that this fund prospers: the more especially as they have made large purchases of land. Nor is this at Lebanon the only Shaker settlement: there are, I think, at least, three others.
They are good farmers, and all their produce is eagerly purchased and highly esteemed. "Shaker seeds," "Shaker herbs," and "Shaker distilled waters," are commonly announced for sale in dhe shops of towns and cities. They are good breeders of cattle, and are kind and merciful to the brute creation. Consequently, Shaker beasts seldom fail to find a ready market.
They eat and drink together, after the Spartan model, at a great public table. There is no union of the sexes, and every Shaker, male and female, is devoted to a life of celibacy. Rumour has been busy upon this theme, but here again I must refer to the lady of the store, and say, that if many of the sister Shakers resemble her, I treat all such slander as bearing on its I face the strongest marks of wild improbability. But that they I take as proselytes, persons so young that they cannot know their own minds, and cannot possess much strength of resolution in this or any other respect, I can assert from my own observation of the extreme juvenility of certain youthful Shakers whom I saw at work among the party on the road.
They are said to be good drivers of bargains, but to be honest and just in their transactions, and even in horse-dealing to resist those devilish tendencies which would seem, for some undiscovered reason, to be almost inseparable from that branch of traffic. In all matters they hold their own course quietly, live in their gloomy silent commonwealth, and show little desire to interfere with other people.
This is well enough, but nevertheless I cannot, I confess, incline towards the Shakers; view them with much favour, or extend towards them any very lenient construction. I so abhor, and from my soul detest that bad spirit, no matter by what class or sect it may be entertained, which would strip life of its healthful graces, rob youth of its innocent pleasures, pluck from maturity and age their pleasant ornaments, and make existence but a narrow path towards the grave: that odious spirit which, if it could have had full scope and sway upon dhe earth, must have blasted and made barren the imaginations of the greatest men, and left them, in their power of raising up enduring images before their fellow-creatures yet unborn, no better than the beasts: that, in these very broadbrimmed hats and very sombre coats-in stiff-necked solemn visaged piety, in short, no matter what its garb, whether it have cropped hair as in a Shaker village, or long nails as in a Hindoo temple-I recognise the worst among the enemies of Heaven and Earth, who turn the water at the marriage-feasts of this poor world, not into wine, but gall. And if there must be people vowed to crush the harmless fancies and the love of innocent delights and gaieties, which are a part of human nature: as much a part of it as any other love or hope that is our common portion: let them, for me, stand openly revealed among the ribald and licentious; the very idiots know that they are not on the Immortal road, and will despise them, and avoid them readily.
Leaving the Shaker village with a hearty dislike of the old Shakers, and a hearty pity for the young ones: tempered by the strong probability of their running away as they grow older and wiser, which they not uncommonly do: we returned to Lebanon, and so to Hudson, by the way we had come upon the previous day. There, we took the steamboat down the North River towards New York, but stopped, some four hours' journey short of it, at West Point, where we remained that night, and all next day, and next night too.