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Sketch of Connecticut, Forty Years Since/Chapter VIII

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[107]
CHAPTER VIII.

            A man I am, of quaint, uncourtly speech,
            And uncouth manners, nurtur'd from my youth
            To bide the buffet of the wintry blast,
            And toil unshrinking when the sultry skies
            Scorch'd the green verdure of the earth I till'd;
            Yet not by health, or peace, or sweet content
            Unvisited, nor yet by patient trust
            In Him, the harvest's universal Lord,
            Uncheer'd.        ———————

THE agricultural part of Madam Lathrop's possessions, or as it is styled in New-England "landed estate," was situated in one of the smaller towns in the vicinity of that where she resided. It was under the care of a farmer of undoubted integrity, and industry, who rendered her, with great punctuality, her stipulated share of its products. His father had been, for many years, tenant of the same estate. After him a younger son succeeded to this trust, but died at an early age. The present occupant, being the only remaining branch of the family, and feeling an affection for the abode of his infancy, returned from "upcountry," where, to use his own expression, he had "moved to make room for brother Zedekiah;" and resumed with delight the culture of those fields, where he had "driv-team when a leetle boy."

Madam Lathrop had often taken pleasure in his conversation, which was marked with that plain common-sense, [108] which seems the birthright of the New-England farmer, while the simplicity of his opinions on some subjects, and the oddity of his dialect, administered to her entertainment.

Calling one morning on his patroness, for whom he cherished a respect, almost bordering upon adoration, he was requested to walk into her parlour. This he had ever refused to do, under pretence that his "shoes were clumsy, and he was afraid of meeting some of the gentlefolks, whose ways he was not used to." But she being some what indisposed, and declining to go into her kitchen, he appeared at the door, with a well meant bow, which the dandies of the present day, who deal principally in nods and shrugs, might consider a semi-prostration. The revolution, which in giving us liberty, obliterated almost every vestige of the politenes of the "old school," had not then done its work completely. Individuals were found, forty years since, in every grade of society, who, having been educated when a bow was not an offence to fashion, nor respect for age a relic of monarchy, continued the exercise of both, without being hooted at as aristocrats, or "quizzed" as antidiluvians.

Farmer Larkin was dressed in a suit of stout cloth, whose deep brown colour was produced by an infusion of the bark of the butternut. It had grown the preceding summer upon his own sheep, and after sustaining many processes of mutation in the domestic laboratory, now appeared upon his own person. The mail of Diomede was [109] not more invulnerable to the shafts of the Trojans, than this to the attacks of winter; and if a crevice ever appeared in it, the arts of housewifery were in instant requisition, like "armourer accomplishing the knight, with busy hammers closing rivets up."[1]

A neat broad brimmed hat, which his father had worn on great occasions for half a score of years, a drab coloured great-coat, with deep cuffs, and huge buttons, both taken from the Sunday wardrobe, out of reverence to "the Lady," and vast shoes of the skin of that animal whom the Brahmins worship, completed his array. His countenance, where the blasts of winter, and heats of summer had long set their seal, exhibited that decision, and contempt of bodily hardship, which in ancient Sparta was dignified as a virtue. It also displayed that mixture of sobriety with contentment, resting on the basis of moderated desires, and humble piety, which often gives the agriculturist of our country a dignity, which Sparta in her pride never knew.

Mr. Larkin, at entering the apartment, seemed desirous to make his way on that narrow stripe of the floor, which in those days was always permitted to surround the car pet. At length a large table, which he doubted whether it were decorous for him to move, obstructed his course, and he exclaimed with some perplexity,—

"I must tread on the kiverlid." The Lady suppressing a smile, said,—

"I beg, good Mr. Larkin, that you would step on the [110] coverlet. It would save Beulah some labour, who prides herself on the whiteness of the floor, which she daily scours."

Thus assured, he made one or two strides towards a chaii which she placed for him, walking on tiptoe, and murmuring with some regret, as he rested his heels upon the hearth,—

"Your ha-ath too, is as clean as a cheeny tea-cup, Ma'am. I hate to put my coarse huffs on it. But I ha'nt been used to seein' kiverlids spread on the floor to walk on. We are glad to get 'em to kiver us up with a nights. This looks like a boughten one," he added, examining the figure, and feeling its texture. "'Tis exceedin curous. They must have had a pretty many treadles in the loom, that wove this."

The Lady remarked that the use of carpets, like other luxuries, was gaining ground too rapidly among those who were often deficient in real comfort." Silks and satins put out the kitchen-fire, as a wise man has said."

"Ay, Ma'am, he answered, just so I tell my young gals, when they get a teasin' their mammy, for somethin fine; and gay. See to your under-riggin', I tell 'em, and keep yourselves whole and neat. It's as much as I can do, to get along, says I, in any comfortable kind of a way with such a snarl on ye. And if there was'nt so many, says I, and I was a monied man, ye should not go a flauntin' around with your top-knots, for there's no use in 'em, but to make young folks vain, and silly ones stare, If ye larn [111] to be extravagant, ye'll be likely to be old gals all your days, for men are afeard to marry women who spend money, and never make it."

The Lady expressed her approbation of his correct judgment, and inquired after the welfare of his family.

"All stout and hearty, thank'e Ma'am. My wife sent compliments to you, and Molly tell'd me to say, that she was a thousand times beholden to you, for your good present. She, and all on 'em, wishes you a happy New-Year."

"I thank them for their kind recollections. Molly, I think, is the plump girl with such rosy cheeks."

"Why, as for that matter, they're all in the same situation, as plump as patridges, and swarmin round like bees. Molly's the oldest on 'em, and as fat as butter. She'll be fourteen years old, come the tenth day o' February—and that will be Sabba-day arter next. She weighs about twice as much as you do, Ma'am, I guess. She's rather more stocky than her mother, and I hope will be as smart for bizness. She'll spin her run o' tow-yarn, or woollen, afore dinner; and she has wove six yards a day, of yard-wide sheetin'. She takes in weavin', when any body will hire it done, and so buys herself her bettermost does, which is a help to me. Jehoiakim, the oldest boy—he's named arter his grandaddy—and is a stout, stirrin' youngster. He'll hoe nearabout as much corn in an hour, as I can; and cold winter days, he'll chop and sled wood through the snow, without frettin a bit. But I s'pose 'tant [112] right and fittin to brag about my children, Ma'am. It seems as if I thought my geese were all swans."

"It gives me pleasure, my good friend, to hear of the welfare of your family, and the habits of industry in which you are training them. I hope that you are also careful, that their minds are stored with useful knowledge."

"O yes Ma'am. They all go to the deestrict-school, more than ha-af o' the winter; though it's nigh upon two mild from the house. In the summer time, it's kept a leetle spell by a woman—and then the younger ones go, to keep 'em out o' the way o' them who are glad to work at home. I s'pose they larn somethin' about sewin' and readin'. But Tim, the third child, he's the boy for larnin'. He took a prodigious likin' to books, when he was a baby; and if you only show'd him one, he'd put it rite into his mouth, and stop squallin'. He 'ant but eleven year old now; and when he gets a newspaper, there's no whoa. to him, no more than to our black ox when he sees the haystack, till he's read it clear through, advertisements and all. The Master says that he's the smartest of all the boys about spellin', and now he takes to cypherin marvellously. So that I don t know but sometime or other, he may be hired to keep our deestrict-school. But I hope my heart a nt lifted up with pride, at sich great prospects, for I know that "God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace unto the humble."

"I trust you will always remember that humility is necessary to our religion. But it is equally your duty to [113] receive the gifts of God with gratitude, and to enjoy them with a cheerful spirit. I know not that I recollect the names of all your children."

"It's no wonder that ye don't Ma'am, there's such a neest on 'em. They're as thick as hops round the fire this winter. There's Roxey and Reuey, they're next to Tim, and look like twins. They pick the wool, and card tow, and wind quills, and knit stockins and mittins for the fokes in the house; and I've brought some down with me to day, to see if theyll buy 'em to the marchants' shops, and let 'em have a couple o' leetle small shawls. Then there's Keziah, she 'ant but a trifle over six year old, and I recken she has a kind of a hard time on't; for she takes most o' the care o' the three youngest ones. Jehu is about as big as she is, and pretty obstropolous, so that I have to take him in hand, once in a while. Then there's young Tryphena, and the baby Tryphosa, who's rather tendsome, and Keziah's tied to 'em a'most every minute when she 'ant abed. So her Mammy is able to see to the cheese-tubs, for you know, sich a dairy as we have keeps a woman pretty tight to't. There's nine 'o the young ones, Ma'am, and as I said afore, the oldest is but e'en a just fourteen. Yet I should be sorry to have one less, though I should work off my fingers' eends clear to the bone lo maintain 'em. I m willin to slave for 'em, but I mean they shall do their part, and not grow up in idleness to laff, and make game of their old hard-workin' parents, and [114] be moths in the world, arter they get to be men and women."

The paternal narrative was interrupted by Cuffe bearing refreshments; for the Lady seldom permitted any one to leave her mansion, without partaking its hospitality, A well warmed mince-pye, and a mug of sparkling cider, she had supposed would be useful in guarding the farmer from the extreme cold of his ride; and he soon convinced her, by his formidable attacks upon both, that she had not misjudged in the question of what was palatable. After despatching his refection, and some business respecting the farm, he hesitated slightly and said—

"I wonder now, if you'd take it hard, Ma'am, if I should trouble you with some o' my own family consarns, and ax your advice about 'em, seein' you've had more years, and experunce than I?" The Lady assured him of her willingness both to listen, and to serve him, according to her ability.

"Well then, it's all about my nephew, Amariah Stuton. He's liv'd with me now goin' on ten year. About the time o' my movin' into York Slate, his daddy died, and the children was all necessiated to be put out. My old woman, she set on me to take this boy, cause he was her sister Jemima's son, and she always set great store by 'Mima. I tell'd her he was a spindlin', white-liver'd thing, and never'd stand the fever and agy in the new countries. But she kept at me, till she had her way, as women are pretty apt to do; and he did better than I expected [115] and grow'd up to a chunked, healthy youngster. He'll be 19 year old, come next April-fool-day; and I meant to a done well by Amariah, when he got to be of age, and give him a decent settin' out, and then hired him by the month, if so be that he was agreeable to 't, and pay him the money.

But he's growin' despate unstiddy of late, ever since the judgment o' God upon our church, and congregation, in lettin' the Methodist loose among us. You ha'nt heard of our chastisement for our backslidins, and lukewarmness, have ye, Ma'am? Poor Deacon Bump takes it to heart so sadly, that he's grown as thin as a June-shad. Why these people have hired a room rite over acrost the way from our meetin-house, and when our worthy minister begins the sarvice a Sabba-day mornin', they begin what they call their exercises, and what with their screechin' and scramin', and singin' and tumlin' down, they make sich a racket, that it's utterly unpossible, for us to hear any thing to be edified with. They hold out longer than we too, and have love-feasts, and night-meetins, and a deal that I cant make neither head nor tail on, and I grieve to say that Amariah is gittin' bewitched arter 'em. I m sure I don't know what religion there can be in sich actions, and as for their lungs, if they wa'nt made o' soal-luther, I'm sure they'd be wore into holes like a honey-comb."

"The Methodists, my good friend, though their manner of worship differs from ours, must not be thought destitute [116] of true piety. They sometimes exhibit an excess of that zeal, which we are reproached for being deficient in. We should guard against condemning those, who differ from us in opinions, or forms. They may have as much sincerity as ourselves, and though "man judgeth according to the outward appearance, you know who iooketh upon the heart."

"Land o' Goshen! why Lady! You don t think that all the crutters, who call themselves Christians, are as right as we, do ye? There's the Episcopalians, I went to their church, once at the landin' a' Christmas I think they call'd it. I took it at first, for a merry-makin', there was so many green branches plastered up here and there: but they kept such a perpechual jumpin' up, and sittin' down, that afore they'd done it made my bones ache as bad as a hard day's work. What religion there is in readin prayers out of a book, I never could see. Then there's the Baptists, who think a man is to be saved, by sousing over head and ears in cold water. But these Methodist folks seem to me the most strangest of all. Why they don't hold to the doctrine o lection, and them that won't believe the Bible, when it's as plain to 'em as the nose on their face, have denied the faith, and are worse than an infidel. They make a long talkin' too, about arrivin' at perfection, and Amariah he holds forth consarnin' it. But I m sure he's a great deal more unparfect than he was. when he was just a larnin' by heart in his catechise, that "no meer man since the fall is able to keep the commandaments." Now, he must go racin' to all the night [117] meetins', and that makes my boys unstiddy, and teaze to go long with him. They shan't stir a step while I live. Was'nt their honoured grandaddy deacon in the Presbyterian meetin' fifteen years and better? They sha'nt scandalize him, while I have the rule over 'em.

But as I was a sayin' of Amariah, he tells his experunces at their meetin's, and sometimes at twelve o' clock at night, he'll wake up in his bed, and scrame some o' the Methodist hymns so loud, that he sets the baby a roarin', bein' scared, and no crutter in the house can get one wink o' sleep till he's a mind to give over. Then if I, or his A-ant, open our heads to say one word to him about it, then he makes a towse, and is parsecuted, and I s'pose tells an experunce out on't to Mr. Snortgrass, his minister, who is a terrible tonguey man."

"Your situation, good Mr. Larkin, requires considerable delicacy. Yet I can assure you, that Mr. Whitfield, the leader of a great part of the sect of Methodists, was a man of real excellence and piety. My husband, who was educated in the same faith which we profess, and was sincerely attached to its precepts, possessed that liberality of soul which I strive to imitate, arid gave to differing sects the praise of whatever virtue they displayed. Mr. Whitfield was always an honoured guest at our house, when he made his excursions through this part of the country. I will relate a little anecdote of him, which may prove to you, how much his thoughts were fixed upon a future state. Soon after the death of our three little sons, he breakfasted with us. Some Chocolate was [118] brought in, and the recollection of their fondness for that beverage, and of their recent burial, brought tears to my eyes. My husband explained the emotion by saying, "she thinks of the olive-plants that once flourished around our table, and in one week were smitten." The Divine for a moment raised his eyes upwards, then laying his hand upon the head of my husband said, with a vivacity and earnestness which characterized him, "My dear Doctor! what a lift is this towards heaven."

"Well Ma'am, I's pose that was clever enough since you think so. But most folks would say it sounded despate like want o' feelin', not to seem to be sorry for you, nor nothin' sich-like. Now, what would ye have me to do about Amariah's business, for it's high time for me to be a gittin' under way, Ma'am."

"Mr. Larkin, your own good sense will guard yon against any violent opposition to a young man who, if he is deceived, deserves pity, if sincere, candour. This strong excitement will be likely to pass away, if you do not nourish it by waking angry passions. Extremes are not apt to be lasting, and, in any case, moderation will be most effectual. Remember, my friend, that contention about doctrines, is neither that love which is the evidence of the Spirit, nor that holiness, without which no man shall see God. And I doubt not that you will feel, after a little more reflection, that, as long as we are so compassed about with infirmity, we should dread to judge, lest

we also be judged, or to condemn, lest we be condemned."

Notes[edit]

  1. Shakespeare, King Henry V, Act IV, Prologue.