Page images

sometime after the funeral, if Mr. Payson had married a second wife,-inferring from his prayer, that he knew experimentally the feelings inseparable from a state of widowhood.

The following imperfectly described rencounter with a lawyer of Portland, who ranked among the first in the place for wealth, and was very fluent withal, will serve to show Mr. Payson's insight into character, and his power to mould it to what form he pleased; and at the same time prove, what might be confirmed by many other instances, that his conquests were not confined to "weak women and children."

A lady, who was the common friend of Mrs. Payson and the lawyer's wife, was sojourning in the family of the latter. After the females of the respective families had interchanged several "calls," Mrs. was desirous of receiving a formal visit from Mrs. Payson; but to effect this, Mr. Payson must also be invited, and how to prevail with her husband to tender an invitation, was the great difficulty. He had been accustomed to associate experimental religion with meanness, and, of course, felt or affected great contempt for Mr. Payson, as if it were impossible for a man of his religion to be also a man of talents. He knew by report something of Mr. Payson's practice, on such occasions, and, dreading to have his house the scene of what appeared to him a gloomy interview, resisted his wife's proposal as long as he could, and retain the character of a gentleman. When he gave his consent, it was with the positive determination, that Mr. Payson should not converse on religion, nor ask a blessing over his food, nor offer a prayer in his house. He collected his forces, and made his preparation, in conformity with this purpose; and when the appointed day arrived, received his guests very pleasantly, and entered, at once, into animated conversation,-determined, by obtruding his own favorite topics, to forestall the divine. It was not long before the latter discovered his object, and summoned together his powers to defeat it. He plied them with that skill and address, for which he was remarkable; still, for some time, victory inclined to neither side, or to both alternately. The lawyer, not long before, had returned from Washington City, where he had spent several weeks on

business at the Supreme Court of the United States. Mr. Payson instituted some inquiries respecting sundry per sonages there, and among others, the Chaplain of the House of Representatives. The counsellor had heard him perform the devotional services in that assembly. "How did you like him?"-" Not at all; he appeared to have more regard to those around him, than he did to his Maker." Mr. Payson was very happy to see him recognize the distinction between praying to God, and praying to be heard of men; and let fall a series of weighty observations on prayer, passing into a strain of remark, which, without taking the form, had all the effect, on the lawyer's conscience, of a personal application. From a topic so unwelcome he strove to divert the conversation; and, every few minutes, would start something as wide from it, as the east is from the west. But as often as he wandered, his guest would, dexterously and without violence, bring him back; and as often as he was brought back, he would wander again. At length the trying moment, which was to turn the scale, arrived. The time for the evening repast had come; the servant had entered the parlor with the provisions; the master of the feast, became unusually eloquent, resolved to engross the conversation, to hear no question or reply, to allow no interval for " grace," and to give no indication by the eye, the hand, or the lips, that he expected, or wished for such a service. Just as the distribution was on the very point of commencing, Mr. Payson interposed the question-" What writer has said

The devil invented the fashion of carrying round tea, to prevent a blessing being asked ?"-Our host felt himself "cornered;" but, making a virtue of necessity, promptly replied “I don't know what writer it is; but, if you please, we will foil the devil, this time :-Will you ask a blessing, Sir ?"-A blessing, of course, was asked; and he brooked, as well as he could, this first certain defeat, still resolved not to sustain another by the offering of thanks on closing the repast. But in this, too, he was disappointed. By some well-timed sentiment of his reverend guest, he was brought into such a dilemma, that he could not, without absolute rudeness, decline asking him to return thanks. And thus he contested every inch of his ground, till the visit terminated. But at every stage, the

[ocr errors]

minister proved too much for the lawyer. He sustained his character, as a minister of religion, and gained his point in every thing; and that too, with so admirable a tact, in a way so natural and unconstrained, and with such respectful deference to his host, that the latter could not be displeased, except with himself. Mr. Payson not only acknowledged God on the reception of food, but read the scriptures and prayed before separating from the family; and did it, too, at the request of the master-though this request was made, in every successive instance, in violation of a fixed purpose. The chagrin of this disappointment, however, eventually became the occasion of his greatest joy. His mind was never entirely at ease, till he found peace in believing. Often did he revert, with devout thankfulness to God, to the visit which had occasioned his mortification; and ever after regarded, with more than common veneration and respect, the servant of God, whom he had once despised; and was glad to receive his ministrations, in exchange for those on which he had formerly attended.

His knowledge was not, as many have supposed, limited chiefly to theology; he was familiar, beyond what is common, with the whole circle of the sciences,--so much so, that eminent men of the different professions, who have incidentally met with him, without knowing who he was, have, for the first half hour of their conversation, mistaken him for one of their own class. By physicians he has been thought a physician; and a lawyer, by lawyers; and even the experienced senator has found him an invincible antagonist, on ground which his profession merely would not require him to assume.

He never ceased to add to his stock of knowledge; and his intelligent manner of conversing on any topic whatever, would excite less of wonder, if the amount of his reading were known. He was a subscriber for Rees's Cyclopedia, and read the numbers, generally throughout, as they successively issued from the press. He has been reputed a great novel reader; but this report, as it would be naturally understood, misrepresents him. He expended little money or time on books of this class. He knew something of every fictitious work, which was introduced into the place; but this knowledge was gained, per

haps, in an hour's time, in some retired corner of a bookstore, which was kept by one of his parish. He had good reasons for knowing what kind of books circulated among his people, and especially, if any of them were immoral in their tendency. If he read them on his own account, it was for mere relaxation, from which his vigorous and well balanced mind derived strength and freshness for more solid pursuits.

His own views of a proper course of reading to be pursued by a Christian, were once given, extempore, in conversation, from which it will be seen, that novels have, at most, but a very dubious place.

"It may be proper, and perhaps, advantageous for a Christian to read sparingly works of taste. History he ought to read, and biography. Some knowledge of the philosophy of the mind is desirable, and may be obtained without very great expense of time. Church history, and a knowledge of ancient eastern customs, will be very useful. Every kind of knowledge, which expands, strengthens, and adorns the mind, may be properly sought by the Christian, and ought to be sought by every Christian, who has leisure and opportunity for reading. Our aim in seeking it should be, to qualify ourselves to serve and glorify God more effectually, and to increase our power of being useful to our fellow creatures. It is an old remark, that, "knowledge is power." To increase our knowledge, then, is to increase our power of doing good. Highly as I prize such writers as Fenelon, Kempis, &c., I am convinced we may study them, not, perhaps, too much, but too exclusively. We may study them to the exclusion of other writers, whose works demand our attention; and we may be so intent upon watching our feelings, as to forget to watch our words and actions. As some are content with a religion which is all body, so others may aim at a religion which is all soul; but religion has a body, as well as a soul. If some think it sufficient to cleanse the outside of the cup, others may be so much occupied in cleansing it within, as to forget that it has an outside. Both deserve attention."

The press, which is with some their principal means of usefulness, was very little employed by Mr. Payson. cherished a very low estimate of his own qualities, as a writer, and could rarely be persuaded to submit a production for publication. To a request from a maternal association in Boston, for the copy of a sermon of a specified character, he replied-"It would gratify me exceedingly to comply with the request. There is no honor, no favor, that God can bestow, which I should prize more highly, than that of doing good with my pen, of leaving something behind me to speak for Christ, when I am silent in dust. But this honor, he who distributes his gifts to every man, as he will, does not see fit to grant me. My sermons will not bear perusal. I must resign the privilege of doing good with the pen to those who are more able." He certainly undervalued himself as a writer; or else the Christian public have widely erred in their estimation of the very few publications, to which, during his life time, he consented. His discourse before the Bible Society of Maine, in 1814, was the first, which he suffered to go to the press, and the myriads of copies, which have been put in circulation, show in what manner it is appreciated. And yet, while correcting the press, he says of it, "it seemed so flat, I would have given any thing to recall it from the press."

The success of this sermon is a good comment on the secret history of its origin :

"May 2, 1814, Mond.-Was so much exhausted, that I could scarcely move. Made a few visits. Tried to write; but felt that I could as soon make a world, as write a sermon for Thursday, without special divine assistance.

"May 3.-Was employed all the forenoon in preparing a sermon to be preached before the Bible Society. Felt that I was utterly incapable of it, and that if I was enabled to write one, the glory would not be mine. Prayed for assistance with a strong hope of obtaining it. Made a few visits.

"May 4.-Was employed upon my sermon, and was favored with considerable assistance. Felt, I hope, some thankfulness. But all my prayers for assistance, as well

« PreviousContinue »