My coming back to my native town was an event of public notoriety. I had won laurels, and as I was the village property, my laurels were duly commented on and properly appreciated. Highland was one of those thrifty Yankee settlements where every house seems to speak the people so well-to-do, and so careful, and progressive in all the means of material comfort. There was not a house in it that was not in a sort of healthy, growing state, receiving, from time to time, some accession that showed that the Yankee aspiration was busy, stretching and enlarging. This had a new bay-window, and that had a new veranda; the other, new, tight, white picket fences all round the yard. Others rejoiced in a fresh coat of paint. But all were alive, and apparently self-repairing. There was to every house the thrifty wood-pile, seasoning for winter; the clean garden, with its wealth of fruit and its gay borders of flowers; and every new kind of flower, and every choice new fruit, found somewhere a patron who was trying a hand at it.

Highland was a place worth living in just for its scenery. It was at that precise point of the country where the hills are inspiriting, vivacious, reminding one of the Psalm,—"The little hills rejoice on every side!" Mountains are grand, but they also are dreary. For a near prospect they overpower too much, they shut out the sun, they have savage propensities, untamable by man, shown once in a while in land-slides and freshets; but these half-grown hills uplift one like waves of the sea. In summer they are wonderful in all possible shades of greenness; in autumn they are like a mystical rainbow—an ocean of waves, flamboyant with every wonderful device of color; and even when the leaves are gone, in November, and nothing left but the bristling steel-blue outlines of trees, there is a wonderful purple haze, a veil of dreamy softness, around them, that makes you think you never saw them so beautiful.

So I said to myself, as I came rambling over hill and dale back to the old homestead, and met my mother's bright face of welcome at the door. I was the hero of the hour at home, and everything had been prepared to make me welcome. My brother, who kept the homestead, had relinquished the prospect of a college life, and devoted himself to farming, but looked on me as the most favored of mortals in the attainments I had made. His young wife and growing family of children clustered around my mother and leaned on her experience; and as every one in the little village knew and loved her, there was a general felicitation and congratulation on the event of my return and my honors.

"See him in his father's pulpit afore long," said Deacon Manning, who called the first evening to pay his respects; "better try his hand at the weekly prayer meeting, and stir us up a bit."

"I think, Deacon," said I, "I shall have to be one of those that learn in silence, awhile longer. I may come to be taught, but I certainly cannot teach."

"Well, now, that's modest for a young fellow that's just been through college! They commonly are as feathery and highflying as a this year's rooster, and ready to crow whether their voice breaks or not," said the deacon. "'Learn in silence!' Well, that 'ere beats all for a young man!"

I thought to myself that the good deacon little knew the lack of faith that was covered by my humility.

Since my father's death, my mother had made her home with my Uncle Jacob, her health was delicate, and she preferred to enjoy the honors of a grandmother at a little distance. My Uncle Jacob had no children. Aunt Polly, his wife, was just the softest, sleekest, most domestic dove of a woman whose wings were ever covered with silver. I always think of her in some soft, pearly silk, with a filmy cap, and a half-handkerchief crossed over a gentle, motherly bosom, soft moving, soft speaking, but with a pair of bright, hazel eyes, keen as arrows to send their glances into every place in her dominions. Let anybody try sending in a false account to Aunt Polly, and they will see that the brightness of her eyes was not merely for ornament. Yet everything she put her hand to went so exactly, so easily, you would have said those eyes were made for nothing but reading, for which Aunt Polly had a great taste, and for which she found abundance of leisure.

My mother and she were enjoying together a long and quiet Saturday afternoon of life, reading to each other, and quietly and leisurely discussing all that they read,—not merely the last novel, as the fashion of women in towns and cities is apt to be, but all the solid works of philosophy and literature that marked the times. My uncle's house was like a bookseller's stall,—it was overrunning with books. The cases covered the walls; they crowded the corners and angles; and still every noteworthy book was ordered, to swell the stock.

My mother and aunt had read together Lecky, and Buckle, and Herbert Spencer, with the keen critical interest of fresh minds. Had it troubled their faith? Not in the least; no more than it would that of Mary on the morning after the resurrection! There is a certain moral altitude where faith becomes knowledge, and the bat-wings of doubt cannot fly so high. My mother was dwelling in that land of Beulah, where the sun always shineth, and the bells of the heavenly city are heard, and the shining ones walk. All was clear to her, all bright, all real, in "the beyond;" but that kind of evidence is above the realm of heavy-footed reason. The "joy unspeakable," the "peace that passeth understanding," are things that cannot be passed from hand to hand. Else I am quite sure my mother would have taken the crown of joy from her head and the peace from her bosom, and given them to me. But the "white stone with the new name" is Christ's gift to each for himself, and "no man knoweth it save he that receiveth it."

But these witnesses who stand gazing into heaven are not without their power on us who stand lower. It steadied my moral nerves, so to speak, that my mother had read and weighed the words that were making so much doubt and shaking; that she fully comprehended them, and that she smiled without fear.

She listened without distress, without anxiety, to all my doubts and falterings. "You must pass through this; you will be led; it will all come right," she said; "and then perhaps you will be the guide of others."

I had feared to tell her that I had abandoned the purpose of the ministry, but I found it easy.

"I would not have you embrace the ministry for anything but a true love," she said, "any more than I would that you should marry a wife for any other reason. If ever the time comes that you feel you must be that, it will be your call; but you can be God's minister otherwise than through the pulpit."

"Talk over your plans with your uncle," she said; "he is in your father's place now."

In fact, my uncle, having no children of his own, had set his heart on me, and was disposed to make me heir, not only to his very modest personal estate, but also to his harvest of ideas and opinions,—all that backwater of thoughts and ideas that accumulate on the mind of a man who thinks and reads a great deal in a lonely neighborhood. So he took me up as a companion in his daily rides over the country.

"Well, Harry, where next?" he said to me the day after my return, as we were driving together. "What are you about? Going to try the ministry?"

"I dare not; I am not fit. I know father wanted it, and prayed for it, and nothing would be such a joy to mother, but——"

My uncle gave a shrewd, sidelong glance on me.

"I suppose you are like a good many fellows; an education gives them a general shaking up, and all their beliefs break from their lashings and go rolling and tumbling about like spars and oil-casks in a storm on ship-board."

"I can't say that is true of all my beliefs; but yet a great many things that I tried to regard as certain are untied. I have too many doubts for a teacher."

"Who hasn't? I don't know anything in heaven or earth that forty unanswerable questions can't be asked about."

"You know," answered I, "Tennyson says,

'There lives more faith in honest doubt,

Believe me, than in half the creeds.'"

"H'm! that depends. Doubt is very well as a sort of constitutional crisis in the beginning of one's life; but if it runs on and gets to be chronic, it breaks a fellow up, and makes him morally spindling and sickly. Men that do anything in the world must be men of strong convictions; it won't do to go through life like a hen, craw-crawing and lifting up one foot, and not knowing where to set it down next."

"But," said I, "while I am passing through the constitutional crisis, as you call it, is the very time I must make up my mind to teach others on the most awful of all subjects. I cannot and dare not. I must be a learner for some years to come, and I must be a learner without any pledges, expressed or implied, to find the truth this way or that." "Well," said my uncle; "I'm not so greatly concerned about that—the Lord needs other ministers besides those in the pulpit. Why, man, the sermons on the evidences of Christianity that have come home to me most have been preached by lay preachers in poor houses and lonely churches, by ignorant men and women, and little children." "There's old Aunt Sarah there," he said, pointing with his whip to a brown house in the distance, "that woman is dying of a cancer, that slowly eats away her life in lingering agony, and all her dependence is the work of a sickly, consumptive daughter, and yet she is more than resigned to her lot, she is so cheerful, so thankful, so hopeful, there is such a blessed calm peace, and rest, and sweetness in that house, that I love to go there. The influence of that woman is felt all through the village—she preaches to some purpose."

"Because she knows what she believes," I said.

"It was the same with your father, Harry. Now my boy," he added, turning to me with the old controversial twinkle in his eye, and speaking in a confidential tone—"The fact is, I never agreed with your father doctrinally, there were weak spots in his system all along, and I always told him so. I could trip him and floor him in an argument, and have done it a hundred times," he said, giving a touch to his horse.

I thought to myself that it was well enough that my father wasn't there to hear that statement, otherwise there would have been an immediate tilting match, and the whole ground to be gone over.

"Yes," he said; "it wasn't mainly in your father's theology that his strength lay—it was the Christ in him—the great warm heart—his crystal purity and simplicity—his unworldly earnestness and honesty. He was a godly man and a manly man both, and he sowed seed all over this State that came up good men and good women. Yes, there are hundreds and hundreds in this State to-day that are good men and good women, mainly because he lived. That's what I call success in life, Harry, when a man carries himself so that he turns into seed-corn and makes a harvest of good people. You may upset a man's reasonings, and his theology may go to the dogs, but a brave Christian life you can't upset, it will tell. Now, Harry, are you going to try for that?"

"God helping me, I will," I said.

"You see, as to the theologies," he added, "I think it has been well said that the Christian world just now is like a ship that's tacking, it has lost the wind on one side and not quite got it on the other. The growth of society, the development of new physical laws, and this modern scientific rush of the human mind is going to modify the man-made theologies and creeds; some of them will drop away just as the blossom does when the fruit forms, but Christ's religion will be just the same as ever—his words will not pass away."

"But then," I said "there are a whole labyrinth of perplexing questions about this Bible. What is inspiration? What ground does it cover? How much of all these books is inspired? What is their history? How came we by them? What evidence have we that the record gives us Christ's words uncorrupted?"

"If you had been brought up in Justin Martyr's time or the days of the primitive Christians you would have been put to study all these things first and foremost in your education, but we modern Christians, teach young men everything else except what we profess to think the most important; and so you come out of college ignorant, just where knowledge is most vital."

"Well, that is past praying for now," said I.

"Yes; but even now there is a way out—just as going through a bog you plant your foot hard on what land there is, and then take your bearings—so you must do here. The way to get rid of doubts in religion, is to go to work with all our might and practice what we don't doubt, and that you can do whatever your calling or profession."

"I shall certainly try," said I.

"For example," said my uncle, "There's the Sermon on the Mount. Nobody has any doubt about that, there it lies—plain enough, and enough of it—not a bit of what's called theology in it. Not a word of information to settle the mooted questions men wrangle over, but with a direct answer to just the questions any thoughtful man must want to have answered when he looks at life. Is there a Father in the heavens? Will he help us if we ask? May the troubles of life be our discipline? Is there a better life beyond? And how are we to get that? There is Christ's philosophy of life in that sermon, and Christ's mode of dealing with actual existing society; and he who undertakes in good faith to square his heart and life by it will have his hands full. The world has been traveling eighteen hundred years and not come fully into the light of its meaning. There has never been a Christian state or a Christian nation, according to that. That document is in modern society just like a lump of soda in a tumbler of vinegar, it keeps up a constant commotion, and will do so till every particle of life is adjusted on its principles. The man who works out Christ's teachings into a palpable life-form, preaches Christianity, no matter what his trade or calling. He may be a coal heaver or he may be a merchant, or a lawyer, or an editor—he preaches all the same. Men always know it when they meet a bit of Christ's sermons walking out bodily in good deeds; they're not like worldly wisdom, and have a smack of something a good deal higher than common sense, but when people see it they say, "Yes—that's the true thing." Now one of our Presidents, General Harrison, found out on a certain day that through a flaw in the title deeds he was owner to half the city of Cincinnati. What does he do? Why, simply he says to himself, 'These people have paid their money in good faith, and I'll do by them as I'd be done by,' and he goes to a lawyer and has fresh deeds drawn out for the whole of 'em, and lived and died a poor, honest man. That action was a preaching of Christ's doctrine as I take it, and if you'll do as much whenever you get a chance, its no matter what calling you take for a pulpit. So now tell me what are you thinking of setting yourself about?"

"I intend to devote myself to literature," said I. "I always had a facility for writing, while I never felt the call or impulse toward public speaking; and I think the field of current literature opens a wide scope. I have had already some success in having articles accepted and well spoken of, and have now some promising offers. I have an opportunity to travel in Europe as correspondent of two papers, and I shall study to improve myself. In time I may become an editor, and then perhaps at last proprietor of a paper. So runs my scheme of life, and I hope I shall be true to myself and my religion in it. I shall certainly try to. Current literature—the literature of newspapers and magazines, is certainly a power."

"A very great power, Harry," said my uncle; "and getting to be in our day a tremendous power, a power far outgoing that of the pulpit, and that of books. This constant daily self-asserting literature of newspapers and periodicals is acting on us tremendously for good or for ill. It has access to us at all hours and gets itself heard as a preacher cannot, and gets itself read as scarcely any book does. It ought to be entered into as solemnly as the pulpit, for it is using a great power. Yet just now it is power without responsibility. It is in the hands of men who come under no pledge, pass no examination, give no vouchers, though they hold a power more than that of all other professions or books united. One cannot be a doctor, or a lawyer, or a minister, unless some body of his fellows looks into his fitness to serve society in these ways; but one may be turned loose to talk in every family twice a day, on every subject, sacred and profane, and say anything he chooses without even the safeguard of a personal responsibility. He shall speak from behind a screen and not be known. Now you know old Dante says that the souls in the other world were divided into three classes, those who were for God and those who were for the Devil, and those who were for neither, but for themselves. It seems to me that there's a vast many of these latter at work in our press—smart literary adventurers, who don't care a copper what they write up or what they write down, wholly indifferent which side of a question they sustain, so they do it smartly, and ready to sell their wit, their genius and their rhetoric to the highest bidder. Now, Harry, I'd rather see you a poor, threadbare, hard-worked, country minister than the smartest and brightest fellow that ever kept his talents on sale in Vanity Fair."

"Well," said I, "isn't it just here that your principle of living out a Gospel should come? Must there not be writers for the press who believe in the Sermon on the Mount, and who are pledged to get its principles into life-forms as fast as they can?"

"Yea, verily," said my uncle; "but do you mean to keep faithful to that? You have, say, a good knack at English; you can write stories, and poems, and essays; you have a turn for humor; and now comes the Devil to you and says, Show me up the weak points of those reformers; raise a laugh at those temperance men,—those religionists, who, like all us poor human trash, are running religion, and morals, and progress into the ground.' You can succeed; you can carry your world with you. You see, if Virtue came straight down from Heaven with her white wings and glistening robes, and always conducted herself just like an angel, our trial in life wouldn't be so great as it is. But she doesn't. Human virtue is more apt to appear like a bewildered, unprotected female, encumbered with all sorts of irregular bandboxes, dusty, disheveled, out of fashion, and elbowing her way with ungainly haste and ungraceful postures. You know there are stories of powerful fairies who have appeared in this way among men, to try their hearts; and those who protect them when they are feeble and dishonored, they reward when they are glorious. Now, your smart, flippant, second-rate wits never have the grace to honor Truth when she loses her way, and gets bewildered and dusty, and they drive a flourishing business in laughing down the world's poor efforts to grow better."

"I think," said I, "that we Americans have one brilliant example of a man who had keen humor, and used it on the Christian side. The animus of the "Biglow Papers" is the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount translated into the language of Yankee life, and defended with wit and drollery."

"You say truth, Harry, and it was no small thing to do it; for the Anti-Slavery cause then was just in that chaotic state in which every strange bird and beast, every shaggy, irregular, unkempt reformer, male and female, were flocking to it, and there was capital scope for caricature and ridicule; and all the fastidious, and conservative, and soft-handed, and even-stepping people were measureless in their contempt for this shocking rabble. Lowell stood between them and the world, and fought the battle with weapons that the world could understand. There was a Gospel truth in

'John P. Robinson, he,'

and it did what no sermon could; this is the more remarkable because he used for the purpose a harlequin faculty, that has so often been read out of meeting and excommunicated that the world had come to look at it as ex-officio of the Devil. Whittier and Longfellow made valiant music of the solemn sort, but Lowell evangelized wit."

"The fortunate man," said I, "to have used a great opportunity!"

"Harry, the only way to be a real man, is to have a cause you care for more than yourself. That made your father—that made your New England Fathers—that raises literature above some child's play, and makes it manly—but if you would do it you must count on one thing—that the devil will tempt you in the outset with the bread question as he did the Lord.

"Command that these stones be made bread;"

is the first onset—you'll want money, and money will be offered for what you ought not to write. There's the sensational novel, the blood and murder and adultery story, of which modern literature is full—you can produce it—do it perhaps as well as anybody—it will sell. Will you be barkeeper to the public, and when the public call for hot brandy sling give it to them, and help them make brutes of themselves? Will you help to vulgarize and demoralize literature if it will pay?"

"No;" said I, "not if I know myself."

"Then you've got to begin life with some motive higher than to make money, or get a living, and you'll have sometimes to choose between poisonous nonsense that brings pay, and honest truth that nobody wants."

"And I must tell the Devil that there is a higher life than the bread-life?" said I.

"Yes; get above that, to begin with. Remember the story of General Marion, who invited some British officers to dine with him and gave them nothing but roasted potatoes. They went away and said it was in vain to try to conquer a people when their officers would live on such fare rather than give up the cause. Do you know, Harry, what is my greatest hope for this State? It's this: Two or three years ago there was urgent need to carry this State in an election, and there was no end of hard money sent up to buy votes among our poor farmers: but they couldn't be bought. They had learned, 'Man shall not live by bread alone,' to some purpose. The State went all straight for liberty. What I ask of any man who wants to do a life-work is ability to be happy on a little."

"Well," said I, "I have been brought up to that. I have no expensive habits. I neither drink nor smoke. I am used to thinking definitely as to figures, and I am willing to work hard, and begin at the bottom of the ladder, but I mean to keep my conscience and my religion, and lend a helping hand to the good cause wherever I can."

"Well, now, my boy, there're only two aids that you need for this—one is God, and the other is a true, good woman. God you will have, but the woman—she must be found."

I felt the touch on a sore spot, and so answered, purposely misunderstanding his meaning. "Yes, I have not to go far for her—my mother."

"Oh yes, my boy—thank God for her; but Harry, you can't take her away from this place; her roots have spread here; they are matted and twined with the very soil; they run under every homestead and embrace every grave. She is so interwoven with this village that she could not take root elsewhere, beside that, Harry, look at the clock of life—count the years, sixty-five, sixty-six, sixty-seven, and the clock never stops! Her hair is all white now, and that snow will melt by and by, and she will be gone upward. God grant I may go first, Harry."

"And I, too," said I, fervently. "I could not live without her."

"You must find one like her, Harry. It is not good for man to be alone; we all need the motherly, and we must find it in a wife. Do you know what I think the prettiest story of courtship I ever read? Its the account of Jacob's marriage with Rebecca, away back in the simple old times. You remember the ending of it,—'And Isaac brought her into her mother Sarah's tent, and took Rebecca and she became his wife, and Isaac was comforted for his mother's death.' There's the philosophy of it," he added; "it's the mother living again in the wife. The motherly instinct is in the hearts of all true women, and sooner or later the true wife becomes a mother to her husband; she guides him, cares for him, teaches him, and catechises him all in the nicest way possible. Why I'm sure I never should know how to get along a day without Polly to teach me the requirings and forbiddens of the commandments; to lecture me for going out without my muffler, and see that I put on my flannels in the right time; to insist that I shall take something for my cough, and raise a rebellion to my going out when there's a north-easter. So much for the body, and as for the soul-life, I believe it is woman who holds faith in the world—it is woman behind the wall, casting oil on the fire that burns brighter and brighter, while the Devil pours on water; and you'll never get Christianity out of the earth while there's a woman in it. I'd rather have my wife's and your mother's opinion on the meaning of a text of Scripture than all the doctors of divinity, and their faith is an anchor that always holds. Some jackanapes or other I read once, said every woman wanted a master, and was as forlorn without a husband as a masterless dog. Its a great, deal truer that every man wants a mother; men are more forlorn than masterless dogs, a great deal, when no woman cares for them. Look at the homes single women make for themselves; how neat, how cosy, how bright with the oil of gladness, and then look at old bachelor dens! The fact is, women are born comfort-makers, and can get along by themselves a great deal better than we can."

"Well," said I, "I don't think I shall ever marry. Of course if I could find a woman like my mother, it would be another thing. But times are altered—the women of this day are all for flash and ambition, and money. There are no more such as you used to find in the old days."

"Oh, nonsense, Harry; don't come to me with that sort of talk. Bad sort for a young man—very. What I want to see in a young fellow is a resolution to have a good wife and a home of his own as quick as he can find it. The Roman Catholics weren't so far out of the way when they said marriage was a sacrament. It is the greatest sacrament of life, and that old church does yeoman service to humanity in the stand she takes for Christian marriage. I should call that the most prosperous state when all the young men and women were well mated and helping one another according to God's ordinances. You may be sure, Harry, that you can never be a whole man without a wife."

"Well," I said; "there's time enough for that by and by; if I'm predestinated I suppose it'll come along when I have my fortune made."

"Don't wait to be rich, Harry. Find a faithful, heroic friend that will strike hands with you, poor, and begin to build up your nest together,—that's the way your father and mother did, and who enjoyed more? That's the way your Aunt Polly and I did, and a good time we have had of it. There has always been the handful of meal in the barrel and the little oil in the cruse, and if the way we have always lived is poverty, all I have to say is, poverty is a pretty nice thing."

"But," said I, bitterly, "you talk of golden ages. There are no such women now as you found, the women now are mere effeminate dolls of fashion—all they want is ease and show, and luxury, and they care nothing who gives it—one man is as good as another if he is only rich."

"Tut, tut, boy! Don't you read your Bible? Away back in Solomon's time, it's written, 'Who can find a virtuous woman? Her price is above rubies.' Are rubies found without looking for them, and do diamonds lie about the street? Now, just attend to my words—brave men make noble women, and noble women make brave men. Be a true man first, and some day a true woman will be given you. Yes, a woman whose opinion of you will hold you up if all the world were against you, and whose 'Well done!' will be a better thing to come home to, than the senseless shouting of the world who scream for this thing to-day and that to-morrow."

By this time the horse had turned up the lane, and my mother stood smiling in the door. I marked the soft white hair that shone like a moonlight glory round her head, and prayed inwardly that the heavens would spare her yet a little longer.

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