[From Howitt's Journal.]
A Mormon Conventicle.
BY JOHN G. WHITTIER.
PASSING up Merrimack street the other day, my attention was arrested by a loud earnest voice, apparently engaged in preaching, or rather " holding forth," in the second story of the building opposite. I was in the mood to welcome any thing of a novel character, and following the sound, I passed up a flight of steps leading to a long, narrow and somewhat shabby room, dignified by the application of Classic Hall.
Seating myself, I looked about me. There were from fifty to one hundred persons in the audience, in which nearly all classes of this heterogeneous community seemed pretty fairly represented, all listening with more or less attention to the speaker.
He was a young man, with a dark, enthusi-astic complexion, black eyes and hair, with his collar thrown back, and his coat cuffs turned over, revealing a somewhat unique quantity of “fine linen," bending over his coarse board pulpit, and gesticulating with the vehemence of Hamlet's player, "tearing his passion to rags." A band of mourning crape, fluttering with the spasmodic action of his left arm, and an allusion to "our late beloved brother, Joseph Smith," sufficiently indicated the sect of the speaker. He was a Mormon—a saint of the latter days.
His theme was the power of faith. Although evidently unlearned, and innocent enough of dealing in such "abominable matters as a verb or a noun, which no Christian ear can endure," to have satisfied Jack Cade himself, there was a straight forward vehemence and intense earnestness in his manner, which at once dis-armed my criticism. He spoke of Adam in Paradise, as the lord of this lower world—"For," said he, " water couldn't drown him, fire couldn't burn him, cold couldn't freeze him—nothing could harm him, for he had all the elements under his feet. And what, my hearers was the secret of this power? His faith in God: that was it. Well, the devil wanted this power. He behaved in a mean, way, and deceived Eve, and lied to her, he did. And so Adam lost his faith.—And all this power over the elements that Adam had, the devil got, and has it now. He is the prince and the power of the air, consequently, he is the master of the elements and lord of this world. He has filled it with unbelief, and robbed man of his birthright, and will do so until the hour of the power of darkness is ended, and the mighty angel comes down with the chain in his hand to bind the old serpent and dragon.
Another speaker, a stout, black-browed "son of thunder," gave an interesting account of his experience. He had been one of the apostles of the Mormon Evangel, and had visited Europe. He had " but three cents in his pocket,"when he reached England. He went to the high professors of all sects, and they would not receive him ; they pronounced him "damned already." He was reduced to great poverty and hunger; alone in a strange land, with no one to bid him welcome. He was on the very verge of starvation. "Then," said he, "I knelt down and prayed in earnest faith, 'Lord, give me this day my daily bread.' O, I tell ye, I prayed with a good appetite; and I rose up and was moved to go to a house at hand. I knocked at the door, and when the owner came, I said to him, 'I am a minister of the Lord Jesus Christ, from America. I am starving; will you give me some food?' 'Why, bless you, yes,' said the man, 'sit down and eat as much as you please.' And I did sit down at his table, blessed be God ; but, my dear hearers, he was not a professor; he was not a Christian, but one of Robert Owen's infidels. The Lord reward him for his kindness."
In listening to these modern prophets, I dis-covered, as I think, the great secret of their success in making converts. They speak to a common feeling; they minister to a universal want. They contrast strongly the miraculous power of the gospel in the apostolic time with the present state of our nominal Christianity. They ask for the signs of divine power; the faith, overcoming all things, which opened the prison doors of the apostles, gave them power over the elements, which rebuked disease and death itself, and made visible to all the pre-sence of the living Cod. They ask for any declaration in the Scriptures that this miraculous power of faith was to be confined to the first professors of Christianity. They speak a language of hope and promise to weak, weary hearts, tossed and troubled, who have wander-ed from sect to sect, seeking in vain for the primal manifestations of the divine power.
In speaking of Mormonism as a delusion, I refer more particularly to the apocryphal book of Mormon. That the great majority of the "Latter Day Saints " are honest and sincere fanatics, I have no reason to doubt. They have made great sacrifices, and endured severe and protracted persecutions for their faith. The reports circulated against them by their unprincipled enemies in the West, are, in the main, destitute of foundation. I place no dependence upon the charges made against them by the ruffian mob of the Mississippi valley, and the reckless slave-drivers, who, at the point of the bayonet and bowie-knife, expelled them from Missouri, and signalized their Christian crusade against unbelievers by murdering old men, and violating their innocent wives and daughters. It is natural that the wrong- doers should hate those whom they have so foully injured.
The Prophet himself, the master-spirit of this extraordinary religious movement, is no more. He died by the hands of wicked and barbarous men, a martyr—unwilling, doubtless, but still a martyr of his faith. For after all, Joe Smith could not have been wholly insincere. Or, if so at the outset, it is more than probable that his extraordinary success, his wonderful power over the minds of men, caused him to seem a miracle and a marvel to himself; and like Ma-hommed and Napoleon, to consider himself a chosen instrument of the eternal power.
In the "Narrative of an Eye-witness of the Mormon Massacre," published in a western paper, I was a good deal impressed by the writer's account of the departure of the prophet from "the holy city," to deliver himself up to the state authorities at Warsaw. It was well understood, that in so doing, he was about to subject himself to extreme hazard. The whole country round about was swarming with armed men, eager to imbrue their hands in his blood. The city was in a fearful state of alarm and excitement. The great Nauvoo legion, with its two thousand strong of armed fanatics, was drawn up in the principal square. A word from the prophet would have converted that dark silent mass, into desperate and unsparing defenders of their leader, and the holy places of their faith. Mounted on his favorite black horse, he rode through the glittering files, and with words of cheer and encouragement, ex-horted them to obey the laws of the State, and give their enemies no excuse for persecution and outrage. " Well," said he, as he left them, "they are good boys, if I never see them again." Taking leave of his family, and his more intimate friends, he turned his horse, and rode up in front of the great temple, as if to take a final look at the proudest trophy of his power, After contemplating it for a while in silence, he put spurs to his horse, in company with his brother, who, it will be recollected, shared his fate in the prison, dashed away to-wards Warsaw, and the prairie horizon shut down beneath him and the city of saints for the last time. Once in the world's history we were to have a Yankee prophet, and we have had him in Joe Smith. For good or for evil, he has left his track on the great pathway of life; or, to use the words of Home, "knocked out a window in the wall of the nineteenth century," whence his rude, bold, good-humored face will peep out upon the generations to come. But the prophet has not trusted his fame merely to the keeping of the spiritual. He has in-corporated himself with the enduring stone of the great Nauvoo temple, which when com-pleted, will be the most splendid architectural monument in the New World. With its huge walls of hewn stone—its thirty gigantic pillars, loftier than those of Baalbec—their massive caps carved into the likeness of enormous human faces, themselves resting upon crescent moons, with a gigantic profile of a face within the curve—it stands upon the elevation of the most beautiful city cite of the west, overlook-ing the "Father of Waters ;"—a temple unique and wonderful as the faith of its builder, em-bodying in its singular and mysterious architec-ture. the Titan idea of the Pyramids, and the solemn and awe-inspiring thought which speaks from the Gothic piles of the middle ages.
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