Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/516

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ber matrons, young men, maidens, and little children, flocked to the common center of attraction; every difficulty was surmounted, every risk ventured, to be present at the camp-meeting."

The concourse became immense. At one of these assemblages the attendance was computed at twenty thousand souls. And here were united all the elements best suited to stir the emotional nature of man and to derange his nervous system. The spectacle at night, as Dr. Davidson depicts it, was one of the wildest grandeur. With great beauty of description he says: "The glare of the camp-fires, falling on a dense assemblage of heads simultaneously bowed in prayer, and reflected back from long ranges of tents upon every side; hundreds of candles and lamps suspended among the trees, together with numerous torches flashing to and fro, throwing an uncertain light upon the tremulous foliage; the solemn chanting of hymns swelling and falling on the night wind; the impassioned exhortations, the earnest prayers, the sobs, shrieks, or shouts, bursting from persons under intense agitation of mind; the sudden spasms which seized upon scores, and unexpectedly dashed them to the ground—all conspired not only to invest the scene with terrific interest, but to work up the feelings to the highest pitch of excitement."[1] To these circumstances, that tended so powerfully to excite the nervous centers, we have to add others which gave intensity to their effect. The meetings were protracted to a late hour in the night, keeping the feelings long upon the stretch. A reverent and general enthusiasm ascribed the bodily agitations to a mysterious, divine agency. The preaching was fervid and impassioned in the extreme. Many of the preachers, unable to control their emotions during the sermon, went around in "a singing ecstasy," shouting and shaking hands with others, as much excited as themselves. In this way everything was done to "heap fuel on the fire," and it was at such meetings that thousands fell in convulsions to the ground.

Some of the actors in these strange scenes have left records of the state of their minds, which show that they were in a condition bordering on insanity, if not actually insane. One of them relates that, while under conviction on account of his sins, he went about the woods for two years, through rain and snow, "roaring, howling, praying, day and night." And when light and hope broke in at last upon his mind, which he describes as a "rushing, mighty wind, that descended from heaven, and filled his whole being," he went shouting over the encampment all night and a great part of the next day. He continues: "I now made the mountains, woods, and canebrakes ring louder with my shouts and praises than I once did with my howling cries; I never fell on my knees in secret but the Lord poured out his power, so that I shouted out aloud. Sometimes I shouted for two or three hours, and even fainted under the hand of the Lord. I was ready to cry out at the name of Jesus. The brightness of heaven rested continually upon

  1. Dr. Davidson's "History of the Presbyterian Church in Kentucky."