A Century of Science and Other Essays Part 13

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Seven years elapsed before my second and last visit to these worthy people. In the mean time a large addition had been made to the princ.i.p.al house, nearly doubling its capacity; and I was told that the community had been legally incorporated under the Hebrew t.i.tle of Adoni-sh.o.m.o, or "The Lord is there." One would naturally infer that the members.h.i.+p had increased, but the true explanation was very different. On a Sat.u.r.day afternoon in the summer of 1882, in company with fifteen friends, I visited the community. Our reception this time was something more than polite; there was a noticeable warmth of welcome about it. We were ushered into one of the newly built rooms,--a long chapel, with seats on either side and a reading-desk at one end. All the women, both hosts and guests, took their seats on one side, all the men on the other. A whisper from my neighbour informed me that the community was reduced to twelve persons: thus the guests outnumbered the hosts. The high priest, Father Richards, a venerable man of ruddy hue, with enormous beard as white as snow, stood by the reading-desk, and in broken tones gave thanks to G.o.d, while abundant tears coursed down his cheeks. Now, he said, at last the word of the Lord was fulfilled. Two or three years ago the word had come that they must build a chapel and add to their living-rooms, for they were about to receive a large accession of new converts. So--just think of it, gentle reader, in the last quarter of this skeptical century--there was faith enough on that rugged mountain-side to put three or four thousand dollars, earned with pork and apple-sauce, into solid masonry and timber-work! And now at last, said Father Richards, in the arrival of this goodly company the word of the Lord was fulfilled! It seemed cruel to disturb such jubilant a.s.surance, but we soon found that we need not worry ourselves on that score. The old man's faith was a rock on which unwelcome facts were quickly wrecked. Though we took pains to make it clear that we had only come for a visit, it was equally clear to him that we were to be converted that very afternoon, and would soon come to abide with the Adoni-sh.o.m.o.

Then Sister Caroline, stepping forward, made a long metaphysical harangue, at the close of which she walked up one side of the room and down the other, taking each person by the hand and saying to each a few words. When she came to me she suddenly broke out with a stream of gibberish, and went on for five mortal minutes, pouring it forth as glibly as if it had been her mother tongue. After the meeting had broken up, I was informed that this "speaking with tongues" was not uncommon with the Adoni-sh.o.m.o. A wicked wag in our party then asked Sister Caroline if she knew what language it was in which she had addressed me.

"No, sir," she replied, "nor do I know the meaning of what I said: I only uttered what the Lord put into my mouth." "Well," said this graceless scoffer, with face as sober as a deacon's, "I am thoroughly familiar with Hebrew, and I recognized at once the very dialect of Galilee as spoken when our Saviour was on the earth!" At this, I need hardly add, Sister Caroline was highly pleased.

By this time there had been so many deaths that induction by simple enumeration was getting to be too much for the Adoni-sh.o.m.o. They were beginning to realize the old Scotchman's conception of the elect: "Eh, Jamie! hoo mony d'ye thank there be of the elact noo alive on earth?"

"Eh! mabbee a doozen." "Hoot, mon, nae sae mony as thot!" We found our worthy hosts less willing than of old to discuss their doctrine of terrestrial immortality, and there were symptoms of a tendency to give it a Pickwickian construction. Since that day, their little community has vanished, and its glorious landscape knows it no more.

It is a pity that before the end it should not have had a visit from Mr.

Hyland C. Kirk, whose book on "The Possibility of Not Dying" was published in New York in 1883. In this book the philosophic plausibleness of the opinion that a time will come when we shall no longer need to shuffle off this mortal coil is argued at some length, but the question as to how this is to happen is ignored. Mr. Isaac Jennings, in his "Tree of Life" (1867), thinks it can be accomplished by total abstinence from "alcohol, tobacco, coffee, tea, animal food, spices, and caraway." This is sufficiently specific; but Mr. Kirk's treatment of the question is so hazy as to suggest the suspicion that he has nothing to offer us.

I once knew such a case of a delusion without any theory, or, if you please, the grin without the Ches.h.i.+re cat. In the course of a lecturing journey, some thirty years ago, I was approached by a refined and cultivated gentleman, who imparted to me in strict confidence and with much modesty of manner the fact that he had arrived at a complete refutation of the undulatory theory of light! To ask him for some statement of his own theory was but ordinary courtesy; but whenever we arrived at this point--which happened perhaps half a dozen times--he would put on a smile of mystery and decline to pursue the subject. I a.s.sured him that he need have no fear of my stealing his thunder, for I had not the requisite knowledge; but he grew more darkly mysterious than ever, and said that the time for him to speak had not yet come.

A few months later, this gentleman, whom I will designate as Mr.

Flighty, appeared in Cambridge, and came to my desk in the college library. Distress was written in his face. He had called upon Professor Silliman and other professors in Eastern colleges, and had been shabbily treated. n.o.body had shown him any politeness except Professor Youmans, in whom he believed he had found a convert. "Ah!" I exclaimed, "then you told him your theory; perhaps the time has come when you can tell it to me." But no; again came the subtle smile, and he began to descant upon the persecution of Galileo, a favourite topic with cranks of all sorts.

He asked me for some of the best books on the undulatory theory, and I gave him Cauchy, whereat he stood aghast, and said the book was full of mathematics which he could not read; but he would like to see Newton's Opticks, for that book did not uphold the undulatory theory. "Oh!" said I, "then are you falling back on the corpuscular theory?" "No, indeed; mine is neither the one nor the other," and again came the Sibylline smile. As I went for the book, I found Professor Lovering in the alcove, halfway up a tall ladder. "Hallo!" said I _sotto voce_. "There is a man in here who has upset the undulatory theory of light; do you want to see him?" "Heavens, no! Can't you inveigle him into some dark corner while I run away?" "Don't worry," I replied,--"make yourself comfortable; I'll keep him from you." So I lured Mr. Flighty into a discourse on the bigotry of scientific folk, while Old Joe, whose fears were not so easily allayed, soon stealthily emerged from his alcove and hurried from the hall.

The next time that I happened to be in New York, chatting with Youmans at the Century Club, I alluded to Mr. Flighty, who believed he had made a convert of him.

"Ay, ay," rejoined Youmans, "and he said the same of you."

"Indeed! Well, I suspected as much. Unless you drive a crank from the room with cuffs and jeers, he is sure to think you agree with him. I do not yet know what Mr. Flighty's theory is."

"Nor I," said Youmans.

"Do you believe he has any theory at all?"

"Not a bit of it. He is a madman, and his belief that he has a theory is simply the form which his delusion takes."

"Exactly so," I said; and so it proved. Severe business troubles had wrecked Mr. Flighty's mind, and it was not long before we heard that he had killed himself in a fit of acute mania.

My story must not end with such a gruesome affair. Out of the many queer people I have known, let me mention one who is a.s.sociated with pleasant memories of childhood and youth. This man was no charlatan, but a learned naturalist, of solid and genuine scientific attainments, who came to be a little daft in his old age. Dr. Joseph Barratt, whose life extended over three fourths of the present century, was born in England.

He was at one time a pupil of Cuvier, and cherished his memory with the idolatrous affection which that wonderful man seems always to have inspired. Dr. Barratt, as a physician practising in Middletown, Connecticut, is one of the earliest figures in my memory,--a quaint and lovable figure. His attainments in botany and comparative anatomy were extensive; he was more or less of a geologist, and well read withal in history and general literature, besides being a fair linguist. Though eminently susceptible of the tender pa.s.sion, he never married; he was neither a householder nor an autocrat of the breakfast table, but dwelt hermit-like in a queer snuggery over somebody's shop. His working-room was a rare sight; so much confusion has not been seen since this fair world weltered in its primeval chaos. With its cases of mineral and botanical specimens, stuffed birds and skeletons galore; with its beetles and spiders mounted on pins, its brains of divers creatures in jars of alcohol, its weird retorts and crucibles, its microscopes and surgeon's tools, its shelves of mysterious liquids in vials, its slabs of Portland sandstone bearing footprints of Tria.s.sic dinosaurs, and near the door a grim pterodactyl keeping guard over all, it might have been the necromancing den of a Sidrophel. Maps and crayon sketches, mingled with femurs and vertebrae, sprawled over tables and sofas and c.u.mbered the chairs, till there was scarcely a place to sit down, while everywhere in direst helter-skelter yawned and toppled the books. And such books! There I first browsed in Geoffroy St. Hilaire and Lamarck and Blainville, and pa.s.sed enchanted hours with the "Regne Animal." The doctor was a courtly gentleman of the old stripe, and never did he clear a chair for me without an apology, saying that he only awaited a leisure day to put all things in strictest order. Dear soul! that day never came.

Dr. Barratt was of course intensely interested in the Portland quarries, and they furnished the theme of the monomania which overtook him at about his sixtieth year. He accepted with enthusiasm the geological proofs of the antiquity of man in Europe, and presently undertook to reinforce them by proofs of his own gathering in the Connecticut Valley.

An initial difficulty confronted him. The red freestone of that region belongs to the Tria.s.sic period, the oldest of the secondary series. It was an age of giant reptiles, contemporary with the earliest specimens of mammalian life, and not a likely place in which to look for relics of the highest of mammals. But Dr. Barratt insisted that this freestone is Eocene, thus bringing it into the tertiary series; and while geologists in general were unwilling to admit the existence of man before the Pleistocene period, he boldly carried it back to the Eocene. Thus, by adding a few million years to the antiquity of mankind and subtracting a few million from that of the rocks, he was enabled at once to maintain that he had discovered in the Portland freestone the indisputable remains of an ancient human being with only three fingers, upon whom he bestowed the name of _h.o.m.o tridactylus_. For companions he gave this personage four species of kangaroo, and from that time forth discoveries multiplied.

Such claims, when presented before learned societies with the doctor's quaint enthusiasm, and ill.u.s.trated by his marvellous crayon sketches, were greeted with shouts of laughter. Among the geologists who chiefly provoked his wrath was the celebrated student of fossil footprints, Dr.

Edward Hitchc.o.c.k. "Why, sir," he would exclaim, "Dr. Hitchc.o.c.k is a perfect fool, sir! I can teach ten of him, sir!" In spite of all scoffs and rebuffs, the old gentleman moved on to the end serene in his unshakable convictions. A courteous listener was, of course, a rare boon to him; and so, in that little town, it became his habit to confide his new discoveries to me. When I was out walking, if chary of my half hours (as sometimes happened), a long detour would be necessary, to avoid his accustomed haunts; and once, on my return from a journey, I had hardly rung the doorbell when he appeared on the veranda with an essay ent.i.tled "An Eocene Picnic," which he hoped to publish in "The Atlantic Monthly,"

and which he insisted upon reading to me then and there. At one time a very large bone was found in one of the quarries, which was p.r.o.nounced by Dr. Hitchc.o.c.k to have belonged to an extinct batrachian; but Dr.

Barratt saw in it the bone of a pachyderm. "Why, sir," said he, "it was their princ.i.p.al beast of burden,--as big as a rhinoceros and as gentle as a lamb. The children of h.o.m.o tridactylus used to play about his feet, sir, in perfect safety. I call him _Mega-ergaton docile_, 'the teachable great-worker.' Liddell and Scott give only the masculine, _ergates_, but for a beast of burden, sir, I prefer the neuter form. A gigantic pachyderm, sir; and Dr. Hitchc.o.c.k, sir, perfect fool, sir, says it was a bullfrog!"

The mortal remains of this gentle palaeontologist rest in the beautiful Indian Hill Cemetery at Middletown, and his gravestone, designed and placed there by my dear friend, the late Charles Browning, is appropriate and n.o.ble. For the doctor was after all a sterling man, whose un.o.btrusive merits were great, while his foibles were not important. The stone is a piece of fossil tree-trunk, brought over from Portland, imbedded in an amorphous block untouched by chisel, save where, on a bit of polished surface, one reads the name and dates, with the simple legend, "The Testimony of the Rocks."

_November, 1898._



From the _Springfield Republican_. (1876.)

As queer a people as are often met, and apparently as upright and religious, withal, are the Community situated on the stage-road between Athol and Petersham, and commonly known thereabouts as "Howlandites" or "Fullerites." According to their account, nearly twenty-one years ago, two Worcester women, Mrs. Sarah J. Hervey and her sister, Caroline E.

Hawks, had come to hope for a divine revelation to them, and in expectation of it had gone to a camp-meeting at Groton. Entering the meeting they heard a stranger "talking in tongues," who proved to be the man to meet their wants, in the person of Frederick T. Howland, a Quaker, of good social standing, from New Bedford. That day, September 15, 1855, was the origin "in the faith," though not in temporal a.s.sociation, of the Community, these three being the "pioneers," as Sister Hervey takes pride in calling herself and a.s.sociates. Mrs.

Hervey's husband died a year or two later, though not in the faith, "these things," as they say, "having been beyond him." Soon after, the new belief received the addition of eight persons from Athol, among them Leonard C. Fuller, the present Spiritual head of the Community, and his wife. In May, 1861, having been "moved by the Spirit" to form an a.s.sociation for living together, they settled at Fuller's, at the south end of Pleasant Street in Athol. In August, 1864, they removed to their present farm in Petersham. Brother Howland held the position of head of the body till killed by a runaway horse, not quite two years ago. His people considered him a prophet, and say the Lord spoke by him, and that he led them as Moses led the people of Israel.

Their religious belief in many respects resembles that of the Adventists, but differs in the vital point, that the reign of Christ, under the expected new dispensation, is to be spiritual, and not personal, as the Adventists hold. They construe the saying of John the Revelator, "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day," to refer to a period of time to begin with the 7000th year of the world, which is near at hand. The judgment day they believe has already begun, and in a short time, at the opening of the new dispensation, the holy dead are to be raised. When a man who has only received "common" salvation dies, he has no consciousness till the resurrection; but some, who are "specially"

saved, will not die. Miracles will be performed commonly. When the new dispensation begins they are to be of the 144,000 spoken of by John, and are to judge the nations. They do not believe in a hypothetical heaven somewhere in s.p.a.ce; the earth is not to be destroyed but changed; and finally the devil is to be bound for a thousand years. They entirely denounce Spiritualism, saying that it is from the Devil, or Antichrist.

Brother Howland, they say, lay down to rise with the prophets, and they have written out what they claim to be prophecies made by him months or years before his death as to the manner in which it should occur, which, judged by the event, are certainly striking.

The Community live mostly upon farinaceous food; they drink princ.i.p.ally water, sometimes herb tea. No flesh is eaten, because there is to be a rest.i.tution of the order of things that prevailed in the garden of Eden, and nothing that grows in the ground, because the ground is cursed. They live on the apostolic plan of having all property in common. If any among them wish to get married, they have to leave the Community.

Morning and evening they "wait before the Lord," standing, repeat the Lord's prayer, and read and explain the Bible, "as the Spirit gives utterance." Although the district public school is only a stone's throw away, the half-dozen children of the Community, whom they have adopted, "as the Lord sent them," are taught at home by Sister Hervey. Sometimes, the neighbours' children come in, also, and they are said to do better there than at the public school. The school gives an occasional visit before the family, and a Christmas tree is provided. No jewelry is worn, and they dress very plainly; though the "world's people" claim that the Community wear as expensive "fixin's" and show as much pride as they do.

The Community observe a seventh-day Sabbath, extending from 6 P. M., Friday, to the same hour, Sat.u.r.day. The exercises begin at 10 o'clock, Sat.u.r.day, and continue without intermission till 3. They are of the opinion that they need not go to a synagogue or "where the minister has to go 'round and wake the people up, as he did down to the Advent Church in Athol, last Sunday." The family seat themselves in the parlour on three sides of the room, with the occasional visitors on the fourth side; and the exercises consist of exhortations by the various members, according as they are moved by the Spirit, with abundant "amens" from the rest. If no one feels called upon to speak, they study the Bible.

Often they break out into singing. The house is free to visitors at all times. Last year from June to October, they had over two hundred visitors, among them nineteen, unexpectedly, one Sabbath.[52]

Their number, now about twenty, varies from time to time. They say they do not expect additions, though recently they have received two or three which they count of considerable importance. One of them is a woman, formerly a member of the Shaker Community at Dayton, O., where she was not satisfied, who walked all the way from Ohio to join them; another is an ex-Baptist minister from Athol. They say they have suffered considerable persecution "for righteousness' sake." Mrs. Fuller thinks she was cheated out of property which her mother left her, and, because of the faith, two of their number, while sick, they say, were turned out of a house on School Street in this city. They add, however, that those forward in opposing them have died sudden or violent deaths. On the other hand, they are prospering; they own a farm of two hundred and ten acres, and Brother Asa Richards, their Temporal head, raises stock, grain, fruits, etc., nearly sufficient to support them. Brother Fuller, though their Spiritual head,[53] does the marketing, princ.i.p.ally in Athol. They have decided to enlarge the house and build a chapel in a short time, "if the Lord permits." Last winter, to protect their property, they went to the secretary of the Commonwealth and were organized under recent state laws as a corporation, with all the powers of a chartered body, under the name of "Adoni-sh.o.m.o," Hebrew for "the Lord is there;" that name being found in Ezekiel xlviii. 35. All their property will now remain in the Community while a single member of it is living.

It may be added that the views which outsiders hold of their Community do not always agree with their own. A "brother" named Mann died, last fall, and, by their own confession, they had some difficulty with his heirs, but finally settled for a nominal sum. At first they refused to pay over anything, but the heirs, four in number, threatening law, they finally concluded that the Lord willed them to give up $800. The common belief is that Mann was worth as many thousands; at any rate, the Petersham property was deeded to him in connection with Howland. Athol people scout the idea that Howland had prophetic powers, and think that the Community was simply the result of a shrewd plan of his to get a living without working for it.

A Century of Science and Other Essays Part 13

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