Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

Marse Henry (Vol. 2) by Henry Watterson

Part 4 out of 4

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.4 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

God--truth where we can find it--which shall irradiate the life that is.
If when we have prepared ourselves for the life to come love be wanting,
nothing else is much worth while. Not alone the love of man for woman,
but the love of woman for woman and of man for man; the divine fraternity
taught us by the Sermon on the Mount; the religion of giving, not of
getting; of whole-hearted giving; of joy in the love and the joy of others.

_Who giveth himself with his alms feeds three--
Himself, his hungering neighbor and Me_.

For myself I can truthfully subscribe to the formula: "I believe in God the
Father Almighty; Maker of heaven and earth. And Jesus Christ, his only Son,
who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered
under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried; He descended into
hell, the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from thence He
shall come to judge the quick and the dead."

That is my faith. It is my religion. It was my cradle song. It may not be,
dear ones of contrariwise beliefs, your cradle song or your belief, or your
religion. What boots it? Can you discover another in word and deed, in
luminous, far-reaching power of speech and example, to walk by the side of
this the Anointed One of your race and of my belief?

As the Irish priest said to the British prelate touching the doctrine of
purgatory: "You may go further and fare worse, my lord," so may I say to my
Jewish friends--"Though the stars in their courses lied to the Wise Men of
the desert, the bloody history of your Judea, altogether equal in atrocity
to the bloody history of our Christendom, has yet to fulfill the promise
of a Messiah--and were it not well for those who proclaim themselves God's
people to pause and ask, 'Has He not arisen already?'"

I would not inveigh against either the church or its ministry; I would not
stigmatize temporal preaching; I would have ministers of religion as free
to discuss the things of this world as the statesmen and the journalists;
but with this difference: That the objective point with them shall be the
regeneration of man through grace of God and not the winning of office or
the exploitation of parties and newspapers. Journalism is yet too unripe to
do more than guess at truth from a single side. The statesman stands mainly
for political organism. Until he dies he is suspect. The pulpit remains
therefore still the moral hope of the universe and the spiritual light of
mankind.

It must be nonpartisan. It must be nonprofessional. It must be manly and
independent. But it must also be worldy-wise, not artificial, sympathetic,
broad-minded and many-sided, equally ready to smite wrong in high places
and to kneel by the bedside of the lowly and the poor.

I have so found most of the clergymen I have known, the exceptions too few
to remember. In spite of the opulence we see about us let us not take to
ourselves too much conceit. May every pastor emulate the virtues of that
village preacher of whom it was written that:

_Truth from his lips prevailed with double sway,
And fools who came to scoff, remained to pray._

* * * * *

_A man he was to all the country dear,
And passing rich with forty pounds a year._

* * * * *

_His house was known to all the vagrant train,
He chid their wanderings, but relieved their pain;
The long-remembered beggar was his guest,
Whose beard descending swept his aged breast;
The ruined spendthrift, now no longer proud,
Claimed kindred there, and had his claims allowed;
The broken soldier, kindly bade to stay,
Sate by the fire, and talked the night away;
Wept o'er his wounds, or, tales of sorrow done,
Shouldered his crutch, and showed how fields were won.
Pleased with his guests, the good man learned to glow,
And quite forgot their vices in their woe;
Careless their merits or their faults to scan,
His pity gave ere charity began._

IV

I have lived a long life--rather a happy and a busy than a merry
one--enjoying where I might, but, let me hope I may fairly claim, shirking
no needful labor or duty. The result is some accretions to my credit. It
were, however, ingratitude and vanity in me to set up exclusive ownership
of these. They are the joint products and property of my dear wife and
myself.

I do not know just what had befallen if love had failed me, for as far back
as I can remember love has been to me the bedrock of all that is worth
living for, striving for or possessing in this cross-patch of a world of
ours.

I had realized the meaning of it in the beautiful concert of affection
between my father and mother, who lived to celebrate their golden
wedding. My wife and I have enjoyed now the like conjugal felicity
fifty-four--counted to include two years of betrothal, fifty-six years.
Never was a young fellow more in love than I--never has love been more
richly rewarded--yet not without some heartbreaking bereavements.

I met the woman who was to become my wife during the War of Sections--amid
its turmoil and peril--and when at its close we were married, at Nashville,
Tennessee, all about us was in mourning, the future an adventure. It was
at Chattanooga, the winter of 1862-63, that fate brought us together and
riveted our destinies. She had a fine contralto voice and led the church
choir. Doctor Palmer, of New Orleans, was on a certain Sunday well into the
long prayer of the Presbyterian service. Bragg's army was still in middle
Tennessee. There was no thought of an attack. Bang! Bang! Then the bursting
of a shell too close for comfort. Bang! Bang! Then the rattle of shell
fragments on the roof. On the other side of the river the Yankees were upon
us.

The man of God gave no sign that anything unusual was happening. He did not
hurry. He did not vary the tones of his voice. He kept on praying. Nor was
there panic in the congregation, which did not budge.

That was the longest long prayer I ever heard. When it was finally ended,
and still without changing a note the preacher delivered the benediction,
the crowded church in the most orderly manner moved to the several
doorways.

I was quick to go for my girl. By the time we reached the street the firing
had become general. We had to traverse quite half a mile of it before
attaining a place of safety. Two weeks later we were separated for nearly
two years, when, the war over, we found ourselves at home again.

In the meantime her father had fallen in the fight, and in the far South
I had buried him. He was one of the most eminent and distinguished and
altogether the best beloved of the Tennesseeans of his day, Andrew Ewing,
who, though a Democrat, had in high party times represented the Whig
Nashville district in Congress and in the face of assured election declined
the Democratic nomination for governor of the state. A foremost Union
leader in the antecedent debate, upon the advent of actual war he had
reluctantly but resolutely gone with his state and section.

V

The intractable Abolitionists of the North and the radical Secessionists of
the South have much historically to answer for. The racial warp and woof in
the United States were at the outset of our national being substantially
homogeneous. That the country should have been geographically divided and
sectionally set by the ears over the institution of African slavery was
the work of agitation that might have attained its ends by less costly
agencies.

How often human nature seeking its bent prefers the crooked to the straight
way ahead! The North, having in its ships brought the negroes from Africa
and sold them to the planters of the South, putting the money it got for
them in its pocket, turned philanthropist. The South, having bought its
slaves from the slave traders of the North under the belief that slave
labor was requisite to the profitable production of sugar, rice and cotton,
stood by property-rights lawfully acquired, recognized and guaranteed by
the Constitution. Thence arose an irrepressible conflict of economic forces
and moral ideas whose doubtful adjustment was scarcely worth what it cost
the two sections in treasure and blood.

On the Northern side the issue was made to read freedom, on the Southern
side, self-defense. Neither side had any sure law to coerce the other.
Upon the simple right and wrong of it each was able to establish a case
convincing to itself. Thus the War of Sections, fought to a finish so
gallantly by the soldiers of both sides, was in its origination largely a
game of party politics.

The extremists and doctrinaires who started the agitation that brought it
about were relatively few in number. The South was at least defending its
own. That what it considered its rights in the Union and the Territories
being assailed it should fight for aggressively lay in the nature of the
situation and the character of the people. Aggression begot aggression, the
unoffending negro, the provoking cause, a passive agent. Slavery is gone.
The negro we still have with us. To what end?

Life indeed is a mystery--a hopelessly unsolved problem. Could there be
a stronger argument in favor of a world to come than may be found in the
brevity and incertitude of the world that is? Where this side of heaven
shall we look for the court of last resort? Who this side of the grave
shall be sure of anything?

At this moment the world having reached what seems the apex of human
achievement is topsy-turvy and all agog. Yet have we the record of any
moment when it was not so? That to keep what we call the middle of the road
is safest most of us believe. But which among us keeps or has ever kept the
middle of the road? What else and what next? It is with nations as with
men. Are we on the way to another terrestrial collapse, and so on ad
infinitum to the end of time?

VI

The home which I pictured in my dreams and projected in my hopes came to me
at last. It arrived with my marriage. Then children to bless it. But it
was not made complete and final--a veritable Kentucky home--until the
all-round, all-night work which had kept my nose to the grindstone had been
shifted to younger shoulders I was able to buy a few acres of arable land
far out in the county--the County of Jefferson!--and some ancient brick
walls, which the feminine genius to which I owe so much could convert to
itself and tear apart and make over again. Here "the sun shines bright" as
in the song, and--

_The corn tops ripe and the meadows in the bloom
The birds make music all the day._

They waken with the dawn--a feathered orchestra--incessant, fearless--for
each of its pieces--from the sweet trombone of the dove to the shrill
clarionet of the jay--knows that it is safe. There are no guns about. We
have with us, and have had for five and twenty years, a family of colored
people who know our ways and meet them intelligently and faithfully.
When we go away--as we do each winter and sometimes during the other
seasons--and come again--dinner is on the table, and everybody--even to
Tigue and Bijou, the dogs--is glad to see us. Could mortal ask for more?
And so let me close with the wish of my father's old song come true--the
words sufficiently descriptive of the reality:

_In the downhill of life when I find I'm declining,
May my fate no less fortunate be
Than a snug elbow chair can afford for reclining
And a cot that o'erlooks the wide sea--
A cow for my dairy, a dog for my game.
And a purse when my friend needs to borrow;
I'll envy no nabob his riches, nor fame,
Nor the honors that wait him to-morrow._

_And when at the close I throw off this frail cov'ring
Which I've worn for three-score years and ten--
On the brink of the grave I'll not seek to keep hov'ring
Nor my thread wish to spin o'er again.
But my face in the glass I'll serenely survey,
And with smiles count each wrinkle and furrow--
That this worn-out old stuff which is thread-bare to-day

Book of the day: