The Doctor went immediately to his study and put on his best coat and his wig, and, surmounting them by his cocked hat, walked manfully out of the house, with his gold-headed cane in his hand.

‘There he goes!’ said Mrs. Scudder, looking regretfully after him. ‘He is such a good man!—but he has not the least idea how to get along in the world. He never thinks of anything but what is true; he hasn’t a particle of management about him.’

‘Seems to me,’ said Mary, ‘that is like an Apostle. You know, mother, St. Paul says, “In simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world.”’

‘To be sure,—that is just the Doctor,’ said Mrs. Scudder; ‘that’s as like him as if it had been written for him. But that kind of way, somehow, don’t seem to do in our times; it won’t answer with Simeon Brown,—I know the man. I know just as well, now, how it will all seem to him, and what will be the upshot of this talk, if the Doctor goes there! It won’t do any good; if it would I would be willing. I feel as much desire to have this horrid trade in slaves stopped as anybody; your father, I’m sure, said enough about it in his time; but then I know it’s no use trying. Just as if Simeon Brown, when he is making his hundreds of thousands in it, is going to be persuaded to give it up! He won’t—he’ll only turn against the Doctor, and won’t pay his part of the salary, and will use his influence to get up a party against him, and our church will be broken up and the Doctor driven away,—that’s all that will come of it; and all the good that he is now doing to these poor negroes will be overthrown,—and they never did have so good a friend. If he would stay here and work gradually, and get his System of Theology printed,—and Simeon Brown would help at that,—and only drop words in season here and there, till people are brought along with him, why, by-and-by something might be done; but now, it’s just the most imprudent thing a man could undertake.’

‘But, mother, if it really is a sin to trade in slaves and hold them, I don’t see how he can help himself. I quite agree with him. I don’t see how he came to let it go so long as he has.’

‘Well,’ said Mrs. Scudder, ‘if worst comes to worst, and he will do it, I, for one, shall stand by him to the last.’

‘And I, for another,’ said Mary.

‘I would like him to talk with Cousin Zebedee about it,’ said Mrs. Scudder. ‘When we are up there this afternoon, we will introduce the conversation. He is a good sound man, and the Doctor thinks much of him, and perhaps he may shed some light upon this matter.’

Meanwhile the Doctor was making the best of his way in the strength of his purpose to test the orthodoxy of Simeon Brown.

Honest old granite boulder that he was, no sooner did he perceive a truth than he rolled after it with all the massive gravitation of his being, inconsiderate as to what might lie in his way:—from which it is to be inferred, that, with all his intellect and goodness, he would have been a very clumsy and troublesome inmate of the modern American Church. How many societies, boards, colleges, and other good institutions, have reason to congratulate themselves that he has long been among the saints!

With him logic was everything; and to perceive a truth and not act in logical sequence from it a thing so incredible, that he had not yet enlarged his capacity to take it in as a possibility. That a man should refuse to hear truth, he could understand. In fact, he had good reason to think the majority of his townsmen had no leisure to give to that purpose. That men hearing truth should dispute it and argue stoutly against it, he could also understand; but that a man could admit a truth and not admit the plain practice resulting from it was to him a thing incomprehensible. Therefore, spite of Mrs. Katy Scudder’s discouraging observations, our good Doctor walked stoutly, and with a trusting heart.

At the moment when the Doctor, with a silent uplifting of his soul to his invisible Sovereign, passed out of his study, on this errand, where was the disciple whom he went to seek?

In a small, dirty room, down by the wharf, the windows veiled by cobwebs and dingy with the accumulated dust of ages, he sat in a greasy, leathern chair by a rickety office-table, on which were a great pewter inkstand, an account-book, and divers papers tied with red tape.

Opposite to him was seated a square-built individual,—a man of about forty, whose round head, shaggy eyebrows, small, keen eyes, broad chest, and heavy muscles, showed a preponderance of the animal and brutal over the intellectual and spiritual. This was Mr. Scroggs, the agent of a rice plantation, who had come on, bringing an order for a new relay of negroes to supply the deficit occasioned by fever, dysentery, and other causes, in their last year’s stock.

‘The fact is,’ said Simeon, ‘this last ship-load wasn’t as good a one as usual; we lost more than a third of it, so we can’t afford to put them a penny lower.’

‘Ay,’ said the other—‘but then there are so many women!’

‘Well,’ said Simeon, ‘women a’n’t so strong perhaps to start with; but then they stan’ it out, perhaps, in the long run, better. They’re more patient;—some of these men, the Mandingoes particularly, are pretty troublesome to manage. We lost a splendid fellow, coming over, on this very voyage. Let ’em on deck for air, and this fellow managed to get himself loose and fought like a dragon. He settled one of our men with his fist, and another with a marlinespike that he caught,—and, in fact, they had to shoot him down. You’ll have his wife; there’s his son, too,—fine fellow, fifteen year old by his teeth.’

‘What! that lame one?’

‘Oh, he a’n’t lame!—it’s nothing but the cramps from stowing. You know, of course, they are more or less stiff. He’s as sound as a nut.’

‘Don’t much like to buy relations, on account of their hatching up mischief together,’ said Mr. Scroggs.

‘Oh, that’s all humbug! You must keep ’em from coming together, anyway. It’s about as broad as ’tis long. There’ll be wives and husbands and children among ’em before long, start ’em as you will. And then this woman will work better for having the boy; she’s kinder set on him; she jabbers lots of lingo to him, day and night.’

‘Too much, I doubt,’ said the overseer, with a shrug.

‘Well, well,—I’ll tell you,’ said Simeon, rising. ‘I’ve got a few errands up town, and you just step over with Matlock and look over the stock;—just set aside any that you want, and when I see ’em all together, I’ll tell you just what you shall have ’em for. I’ll be back in an hour or two.’

And so saying, Simeon Brown called an underling from an adjoining room, and, committing his customer to his care, took his way up-town, in a serene frame of mind, like a man who comes from the calm performance of duty.

Just as he came upon the street where was situated his own large and somewhat pretentious mansion, the tall figure of the Doctor loomed in sight, sailing majestically down upon him, making a signal to attract his attention.

‘Good morning, Doctor,’ said Simeon.

‘Good morning, Mr. Brown,’ said the Doctor. ‘I was looking for you. I did not quite finish the subject we were talking about at Mrs. Scudder’s table last night. I thought I should like to go on with it a little.’

‘With all my heart, Doctor,’ said Simeon, not a little flattered. ‘Turn right in. Mrs. Brown will be about her house business, and we will have the keeping-room all to ourselves. Come right in.’

The ‘keeping-room’ of Mr. Simeon Brown’s house was an intermediate apartment between the ineffable glories of the front parlour and that court of the Gentiles, the kitchen; for the presence of a large train of negro servants made the latter apartment an altogether different institution from the throne-room of Mrs. Katy Scudder.

This keeping-room was a low-studded apartment, finished with the heavy oaken beams of the wall left full in sight, boarded over and painted. Two windows looked out on the street, and another into a sort of court-yard, where three black wenches, each with a broom, pretended to be sweeping, but were, in fact, chattering and laughing, like so many crows.

On one side of the room stood a heavy mahogany sideboard, covered with decanters, labelled Gin, Brandy, Rum, &c.; for Simeon was held to be a provider of none but the best, in his housekeeping. Heavy mahogany chairs, with crewel coverings, stood sentry about the room; and the fireplace was flanked by two broad arm-chairs, covered with stamped leather.

On ushering the Doctor into this apartment, Simeon courteously led him to the sideboard.

‘We mus’n’t make our discussions too dry, Doctor,’ he said; ‘what will you take?’

‘Thank you, sir,’ said the Doctor, with a wave of his hand,—‘nothing this morning.’

And, depositing his cocked hat in a chair, he settled himself into one of the leathern easy chairs, and, dropping his hands upon his knees, looked fixedly before him, like a man who is studying how to enter upon an inwardly absorbing subject.

‘Well, Doctor,’ said Simeon, seating himself opposite, sipping comfortably at a glass of rum-and-water, ‘our views appear to be making a noise in the world. Everything is preparing for your volumes; and when they appear, the battle of New Divinity, I think, may fairly be considered as won.’

Let us consider, that, though a woman may forget her firstborn, yet a man cannot forget his own system of theology,—because, therein, if he be a true man, is the very elixir and essence of all that is valuable and hopeful to the universe; and considering this, let us appreciate the settled purpose of our friend, whom even this tempting bait did not swerve from the end which he had in view.

‘Mr. Brown,’ he said, ‘all our theology is as a drop in the ocean of God’s majesty, to whose glory we must be ready to make any and every sacrifice.’

‘Certainly,’ said Mr. Brown, not exactly comprehending the turn the Doctor’s thoughts were taking.

‘And the glory of God consisteth in the happiness of all his rational universe, each in his proportion, according to his separate amount of being; so that, when we devote ourselves to God’s glory, it is the same as saying that we devote ourselves to the highest happiness of his created universe.’

‘That’s clear, sir,’ said Simeon, rubbing his hands, and taking out his watch to see the time.

The Doctor hitherto had spoken in a laborious manner, like a man who is slowly lifting a heavy bucket of thought out of an internal well.

‘I am glad to find your mind so clear on this all-important point, Mr. Brown, the more so as I feel that we must immediately proceed to apply our principles, at whatever sacrifice of worldly goods; and I trust, sir, that you are one who, at the call of your Master, would not hesitate even to lay down all your worldly possessions for the greater good of the universe.’

‘I trust so, sir,’ said Simeon, rather uneasily, and without the most distant idea what could be coming next in the mind of his reverend friend.

‘Did it never occur to you, my friend,’ said the Doctor, ‘that the enslaving of the African race is a clear violation of the great law which commands us to love our neighbour as ourselves,—and a dishonour upon the Christian religion, more particularly in us Americans, whom the Lord hath so marvellously protected, in our recent struggle for our own liberty?’

Simeon started at the first words of this address, much as if some one had dashed a bucket of water on his head, and after that rose uneasily, walking the room and playing with the seals of his watch.

‘I—I never regarded it in this light,’ he said.

‘Possibly not, my friend’ said the Doctor,—‘so much doth established custom blind the minds of the best of men. But since I have given more particular attention to the case of the poor negroes here in Newport, the thought has more and more laboured in my mind,—more especially as our own struggles for liberty have turned my attention to the rights which every human creature hath before God,—so that I find much in my former blindness and the comparative dumbness I have heretofore maintained on this subject wherewith to reproach myself; for, though I have borne somewhat of a testimony, I have not given it that force which so important a subject required. I am humbled before God for my neglect, and resolved now, by his grace, to leave no stone unturned till this iniquity be purged away from our Zion.’

‘Well, Doctor,’ said Simeon, ‘you are certainly touching on a very dark and difficult subject, and one in which it is hard to find out the path of duty. Perhaps it will be well to bear it in mind, and by looking at it prayerfully some light may arise. There are such great obstacles in the way, that I do not see at present what can be done; do you, Doctor?’

‘I intend to preach on the subject next Sunday, and hereafter devote my best energies in the most public way to this great work,’ said the Doctor.

‘You, Doctor?—and now, immediately? Why, it appears to me you cannot do it. You are the most unfit man possible. Whosoever’s duty it may be, it does not seem to me to be yours. You already have more on your shoulders than you can carry; you are hardly able to keep your ground now, with all the odium of this new theology upon you. Such an effort would break up your church,—destroy the chance you have to do good here,—prevent the publication of your system.’

‘If it’s nobody’s system but mine, the world won’t lose much, if it never be published; but if it be God’s system, nothing can hinder its appearing. Besides, Mr. Brown, I ought not to be one man alone. I count on your help. I hold it as a special providence, Mr. Brown, that in our own church an opportunity will be given to testify to the reality of disinterested benevolence. How glorious the opportunity for a man to come out and testify by sacrificing his worldly living and business! If you, Mr. Brown, will at once, at whatever sacrifice, quit all connection with this detestable and diabolical slave-trade, you will exhibit a spectacle over which angels will rejoice, and which will strengthen and encourage me to preach and write and testify.’

Mr. Simeon Brown’s usual demeanour was that of the most leathery imperturbability. In calm theological reasoning, he could demonstrate, in the dryest tone, that, if the eternal torment of six bodies and souls were absolutely the necessary means for preserving the eternal blessedness of thirty-six, benevolence would require us to rejoice in it, not in itself considered, but in view of greater good. And when he spoke, not a nerve quivered; the great mysterious sorrow with which the creation groaneth and travaileth, the sorrow from which angels veil their faces, never had touched one vibrating chord either of body or soul; and he laid down the obligations of man to unconditional submission in a style which would have affected a person of delicate sensibility much like being mentally sawn in sunder. Benevolence, when Simeon Brown spoke of it, seemed the grimmest and unloveliest of Gorgons; for his mind seemed to resemble those fountains which petrify everything that falls into them. But the hardest-shelled animals have a vital and sensitive part, though only so large as the point of a needle; and the Doctor’s innocent proposition to Simeon, to abandon his whole worldly estate for his principles, touched this spot.

When benevolence required but the acquiescence in certain possible things which might be supposed to happen to his soul, which, after all, he was comfortably certain never would happen, or the acquiescence in certain suppositious sacrifices for the good of that most intangible of all abstractions, Being in general, it was a dry, calm subject. But when it concerned the immediate giving up of his slave-ships and a transfer of business, attended with all that confusion and loss which he foresaw at a glance, then he felt, and felt too much to see clearly. His swarthy face flushed, his little blue eye kindled, he walked up to the Doctor, and began speaking in the short, energetic sentences of a man thoroughly awake to what he is talking about.

‘Doctor, you’re too fast. You are not a practical man, Doctor. You are good in your pulpit;—nobody better. Your theology is clear;—nobody can argue better. But come to practical matters, why, business has its laws, Doctor. Ministers are the most unfit men in the world to talk on such subjects; it’s departing from their sphere; they talk about what they don’t understand. Besides, you take too much for granted. I’m not sure that this trade is an evil. I want to be convinced of it. I’m sure it’s a favour to these poor creatures to bring them to a Christian land. They are a thousand times better off. Here they can hear the gospel and have some chance of salvation.’

‘If we want to get the gospel to the Africans,’ said the Doctor, ‘why not send whole ship-loads of missionaries to them, and carry civilization and the arts and Christianity to Africa, instead of stirring up wars, tempting them to ravage each other’s territories, that we may get the booty? Think of the numbers killed in the wars,—of all that die on the passage! Is there any need of killing ninety-nine men to give the hundredth one the gospel, when we could give the gospel to them all? Ah, Mr. Brown, what if all the money spent in fitting out ships to bring the poor negroes here, so prejudiced against Christianity that they regard it with fear and aversion, had been spent in sending it to them, Africa would have been covered with towns and villages, rejoicing in civilization and Christianity!’

‘Doctor, you are a dreamer,’ replied Simeon, ‘an unpractical man. Your situation prevents your knowing anything of real life.’

‘Amen! the Lord be praised there for!’ said the Doctor, with a slowly-increasing flush mounting to his cheek, showing the burning brand of a smouldering fire of indignation.

‘Now let me just talk common-sense, Doctor,—which has its time and place, just as much as theology; and if you have the most theology, I flatter myself I have the most common-sense: a business-man must have it. Now just look at your situation,—how you stand. You’ve got a most important work to do. In order to do it, you must keep your pulpit, you must keep our church together. We are few and weak. We are a minority. Now there’s not an influential man in your society that don’t either hold slaves or engage in the trade; and, if you open upon this subject as you are going to do, you’ll just divide and destroy the church. All men are not like you; men are men, and will be, till they are thoroughly sanctified, which never happens in this life,—and there will be an instant and most unfavourable agitation. Minds will be turned off from the discussion of the great saving doctrines of the gospel to a side issue. You will be turned out; and you know, Doctor, you are not appreciated as you ought to be, and it won’t be easy for you to get a new settlement; and then subscriptions will all drop off from your book, and you won’t be able to get that out; and all this good will be lost to the world, just for want of common-sense.’

‘There is a kind of wisdom in what you say, Mr. Brown,’ replied the Doctor, naïvely; ‘but I fear much that it is the wisdom spoken in James iii. 15, which “descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.” You avoid the very point of the argument, which is, Is this a sin against God? That it is, I am solemnly convinced; and shall I “use lightness? or the things that I purpose do I purpose according to the flesh, that with me there should be yea, yea, and nay, nay?” No, Mr. Brown, immediate repentance, unconditional submission, these are what I must preach as long as God gives me a pulpit to stand in, whether men will hear or whether they will forbear.’

‘Well, Doctor,’ said Simeon, shortly, ‘you can do as you like; but I give you fair warning, that I, for one, shall stop my subscription, and go to Dr. Stiles’s church.’

‘Mr. Brown,’ said the Doctor, solemnly, rising, and drawing his tall figure to its full height, while a vivid light gleamed from his blue eye, ‘as to that, you can do as you like; but I think it my duty, as your pastor, to warn you that I have perceived, in my conversation with you this morning, such a want of true spiritual illumination and discernment as leads me to believe that you are yet in the flesh, blinded by that “carnal mind” which “is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” I much fear you have no part nor lot in this matter, and that you have need, seriously, to set yourself to search into the foundations of your hope; for you may be like him of whom it is written, (Isaiah xliv. 20,) “He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, is there not a lie in my right hand?”’

The Doctor delivered this address to his man of influence with the calmness of an ambassador charged with a message from a sovereign, for which he is no otherwise responsible than to speak it in the most intelligible manner; and then, taking up his hat and cane, he bade him good morning, leaving Simeon Brown in a tumult of excitement which no previous theological discussion had ever raised in him.

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook