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Nebraska State Journal


November 5, 1893
page 13

One Way of Putting It.

THE church was crowded; hundreds of men and women were sitting in front of the minister who stood under the twisted brass chandeliers and spoke of the brotherhood of man. He looked over the well dressed, well educated audience and his interest quickened under the pleasant knowledge that he was being appreciated. His white face flushed and his thin lips trembled with enthusiasm, enthusiasm over the beauty of the women in the audience, the grandeur of the voluntary by Haydn that died from the great moaning pipes of the organ, and over his own eloquence and conscious power. He grew earnest over man's eternal brotherhood, he spread his hands in eloquent gestures. As he quoted an extract from Browning he took a white hot house rose from the cut glass rose bowl beside him and shook the water gently from its leaves. He laid the fleshy white petals against his nostrils with evident satisfaction, then dropped it again into the water. Rich, melodious words dropped from his tongue, and his voice had in it a sympathetic quiver born of excitement and the grandeur of his subject. At last he closed with five of the grandest lines that Shakespeare ever wrote and sat down among the palms and drew toward him a silver pitcher of ice water, and the thunder of the pipe organ took up the strain and went on preaching of the brotherhood of man.

          

IN a bare, barn-like room with a low ceiling and grated windows sit 300 convicts in stripes. Before them stands the little white-haired chaplain speaking in a trembling voice, telling them of the brotherhood of man. They smile indulgently at him, they have their own ideas about fraternalism. He thanks God for the blessing of life, and they wonder if life is a thing to be thankful for. There is a tremor in the old man's voice as he speaks to them. He is very artful in his discourse; he tells them something to set them laughing first, and dreary, lifeless laughter it is that echoes through the empty cell rooms and dies away in the iron corridor. Then he tells them he is going to leave them, he who has worked among them for ten years. His lips tremble a little but he says bravely:

"You are getting so much better, boys, that they are going to get you a taller chaplain than I, one who can reach further and do more good."

Even the darkest faces look lovingly at him, and some of the younger men wipe their eyes with their hands. The old chaplain is not as strong for the ordeal as he thought himself, he murmured a few broken words of benediction, and the men marched out with that swinging gait which is peculiar to this brotherhood of crime who are surely God's younger, less favored sons, not the heirs of the promise.

          

SHE sat clear up in the highest gallery where very few women go, and only one class of women go entirely alone. She had been very handsome once, she was so still, that was the worst of it. Had she been a plain woman one could have looked at her with less pain. Tall, well formed women always make more pitiable wrecks than the little ones, there is more of them to ruin. Her head was fully shaped and was set proudly on a white firm throat. The pose of her head alone was enough to make her beautiful. Her face was so disfigured by paint one could tell very little about it. Her eyes were dull and red about the lids. She kept setting her teeth to keep from yawning and was evidently very sleepy. She leaned over the gallery rail and looked listlessly down into the balcony. Presently a man and woman entered a box on the right. He carried a little girl whom he placed on his knee while he tenderly took off her white furs. He turned his face to the light, and the woman in the gallery started and clutched the railing tightly. The handsome couple in the box looked only at themselves and at the child, smiling proudly at each other when she spoke. When the overture begins the little girl is frightened and clings closely to her papa. Regardless of crumpling his dress coat and tie he draws her close to him. The arm he has put about her tightens and with his hand he draws her head down till her hair is lying tumbled all over his shoulder, and he presses his cheek against hers. As the lights are turned down for the first act, the woman in the gallery leans back against a post and laughs inordinately.

          

THE dance was over. The old German fiddler sat leaning back in his chair while the floor manager put out the lights and the awkward country beaux helped the girls put their wraps on. The fiddler had had a long night of it. The dance had been of the rowdy kind that lasted until long after midnight. He had thrown off his coat and vest hours ago, and his collar hung like a wet rag about his neck. His face was red and shiney and dripping with perspiration which ran in little streams down all its numberless wrinkles and furrows. His eyes were bleared and dull and his breath was heavy with whisky. As he sat there watching the dancers go, he put his fiddle mechanically under his chin and began to play one of the loud, coarse dance tunes with which he had inflamed plebeian blood all night long. While he played morning glimmered dimly through the worn window shades. He stopped his bacchanalian strain and began playing an old German morning hymn, one of the kind that takes one's soul right up, the kind with singing larks and morning mists and stirring grasses and odorous corn and awakening children in it.

"Get out of here Fritz, we're going to lock up," shouted the floor manager.

He rose and hugging his fiddle in his arms he reeled away, wiping from his bleary eyes the tears that resulted from too much sentiment and whisky.

          

JUST over there is the Salvation army tent, and one can see by the dim oil lights the loud talking men in uniforms and the faces of the crowd. It is a strange collection of faces that looks up at the speaker, they ought to inspire him. There are some full of interest, some smiling with that cynical indifference which is born of sorrow and disappointment and some are blank as though some mighty hand had wiped their minds of all understanding. More than one have the marks of the beast in their foreheads. Presently they begin to sing: they all sing and sing very loud, "Washed in the Blood of the Lamb." Well, it would take a good deal to get them clean. Most of them have the sins of their fathers and their fathers' fathers upon them. If the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, He is letting some of His property go to pieces most shamefully.

It is very sad music that floats out from the tent for most of the men and women who are singing are so awfully miserable, miserable with the two most hopeless kinds of misery, ignorance and sin. It was after all not such a startling thing that centuries ago, one man died for the sins of the world. Many other men have done it, almost any of us would in our better moments if we only had egotism enough.

          

ONE of the Salvation army women stands on the street corner singing. The flickering gas light shines in her face, and throws its gleams on the uniforms of the men who beat the drums beside her. She is singing "Rock of Ages," and many people who do not ordinarily take much interest in religious matters stop and listen to her a moment, then sigh and hurry on. It is hard to hear that song with indifference, for most of us have heard it sung over the coffins of those we loved best. The woman's voice is sweet and powerful, and her dark eyes gleam with excitement. Her face is thin and white, and is wrinkled and seamed as though it were scrawled over with rough character, yet it must once have been beautiful. She has not always been a Salvation army woman. As she throws her arm back above her head to shake the tambourine, there is a certain graceful something in the movement that startles one, and for a moment it is easy to imaging her singing very different songs than this in very different places than a street corner. This enthusiasm of hers is a sort of after glow that lights up her worn face where other fires have burned themselves out.

          

DOWN the street goes a heavy-featured coarse-looking man, dressed in the uniform worn by the Salvation army. Across the back of his collar is the word "saved" in large letters. Yonder goes a professor of language whose features are moulded with that exquisite delicacy which is the product of long centuries of purity of life and development of intellect on the part of his ancestors. Yet the man in uniform is "saved," while this man is lost. "Saved" not by knowledge, or capacity or righteousness, but by enthusiasm. Well, why not? Let us give the church as well as the devil its dues. By what is a man ever saved other than by enthusiasm? Why, you may take it in the mental world. It is not the great, scholarly mind that does the great work, it is the man who knows a few things and loves them. A genius is just another way of defining a great enthusiast. The finely trained minds who lose themselves in the world, the men who know all about poetry but never write a line, the men who know every date in history but never are heard of by the publishers of histories, these are all lost men, lost eternally because of their frozen souls. There is nothing very paradoxical after all in being saved by enthusiasm.



Notes

Go back Church: The description suggests an Episcopal church, possibly Holy Trinity Church, on the northeast corner of 12th and J Streets.

Go back Minister: the minister at Holy Trinity in 1893-94 was the Rev. John Hewitt, who lived nearby at 1222 J St.

Go back Haydn voluntary: Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), an Austrian composer who established the form of the symphony and string quartet, lived and composed for a time in London. A voluntary (an instrumental interlude in a church service) could have been taken and transcribed for organ from many of his works.

Go back Robert Browning: Robert Browning (1809-1889). His poems were favorites of intellectuals and would-be intellectuals; in America many people, especially women, joined Browning Clubs to study his work in social settings.

Image available at the New York Public Library Digital Gallery.

Go back Five of the grandest lines that Shakespeare ever wrote: Although there are many candidates for Shakespeare's grandest lines, a sermon on the brotherhood of man might have quoted from Portia's speech in The Merchant of Venice (Act 4, scene 1):The quality of mercy is not strained.It droppeth as the gentle rain from heavenUpon the place beneath. It is twice blest:It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes.'Tis mightiest in the mightiest. It becomesThe thronèd monarch better than his crown.

Go back convicts: The Nebraska State Penitentiary was built in 1876, three miles south of Lincoln. Alexandra Bergson visits the penitentiary in O Pioneers! The Nebraska State Penitentiary, Lincoln, Nebraska, circa 1909.

Go back Chaplain: Methodist minister the Rev. Philander W. Howe (died c. 1903) came to Lincoln about 1880 from New York City and was serving as the chaplain of the state penitentiary soon after. He was also the Lincoln city missionary and agent for the Aid and Relief Society from 1890 to 1893; the Lincoln city directory does not give him those titles from 1894 on, though he continued to have an office in the County building for several more years.

Go back Heirs of the promise: In speaking of the promise God made to Abraham and his descendants, and thus to all believers, Paul wrote in Hebrews 6.17, "God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath."

Go back Old German morning hymn: Possibly "Awake, my heart, and render" (Wach auf mein Herz, und singe) by Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676), or W. Hermann's Herrlicher Morgen.

Go back Salvation army: Methodist minister William Booth made it his mission to minister to the poorest and most hardened people in the slums of London; the mission took on a quasi-military organization and was named the Salvation Army in 1878, with Booth as the general. Work in the United States began officially in 1880. Street corner bands and singers attracted the attention of passers-by and encouraged their attendance at revival meetings.

Go back Marks of the beast: Chapters 13-20 of Revelations contain the apocalyptic visions of John concerning the supernatural beasts that would rise up; the second beast forces worship of the antichrist and puts his mark on his followers. Rev. 16.1-2 says, "And I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth. And the first went and poured out his vial upon the earth; and there fell a noisome and grievous sore upon the men which had the mark of the beast, and upon them which worshipped his image."

Go back Washed in the Blood of the Lamb: Elisha A. Hoffman (1839-1929) wrote the words and music for this popular hymn, published in 1878 in Spiritual Songs for Gospel Meetings and the Sunday School. The first verse and refrain are as follows: Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing power?Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?Are you fully trusting in his grace this hour?Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?Are you washed in the blood, In the soul cleansing blood of the Lamb?Are your garments spotless? Are they white as snow?Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?The song became particularly associated with the Salvation Army; Vachel Lindsay's poem, "General William Booth Enters into Heaven" (1913) uses the line, "Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb" as a refrain, and the poem is meant to be sung to the tune. The song draws on Revelations 7.14: "These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."

Go back Sins of their fathers: This and similar phrases are scattered throughout the Bible, but Cather may be referring particularly to Isaiah 65.7: "Your iniquities and the iniquities of your fathers together, saith the Lord, which have burned incense upon the mountains, and blasphemed me upon the hills: therefore I will measure their former work into their bosoms," or Daniel 9.16 "let thine anger and thy fury be turned away from thy city Jerusalem, thy holy mountain; because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and thy people are become a reproach to all that are about us."

Go back The earth is the Lord's . . .: Psalm 24 begins, "The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof; the world and they that dwell therein." The first clause is repeated in 1 Corinthians 10.26 and 28.

Go back Those we loved best: Apart from the death of her grandfather, William Cather, in 1887, Cather had had little experience of the death of those close to her until 1893, when her grandmother, Rachel Boak (prototype for Mrs. Harris in the 1932 story "Old Mrs. Harris") died in June, her friend and mentor William Ducker died in August, and her friend Fannie Wiener (prototype for Mrs. Rosen in "Old Mrs. Harris") died in September.


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