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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

George Alfred Townsend (1841–1914)

The Circuit Preacher

HIS thin wife’s cheek grows pinched and pale with anxiousness intense;

He sees the brethren’s prayerful eyes o’er all the conference;

He hears the bishop slowly call the long “appointment” rolls,

Where in his vineyard God would place these gatherers of souls.

Apart, austere, the knot of grim presiding elders sit:

He wonders if some city “charge” may not for him have writ?

Certes! could they his sermon hear on Paul and Luke awreck,

Then had his talent ne’er been hid on Annomessix Neck!

Poor rugged heart, be still a pause, and you, worn wife, be meek!

Two years of banishment they read far down the Chesapeake!

Though Brother Bates, less eloquent, by Wilmington is wooed,

The Lord that counts the sparrow’s fall shall feed his little brood.

“Cheer up, my girl! here Brother Riggs our circuit knows ’twill please:

He raised three hundred dollars there, besides the marriage fees.

What! tears from us who preached the word these thirty years or so—

Two years on barren Chincoteague, and two in Tuckahoe?

“The schools are good, the brethren say, and our church holds the wheel:

The Presbyterians lost their house; the Baptists lost their zeal.

The parsonage is clean and dry; the town has friendly folk,—

Not half so dull as Murderkill, nor proud like Pocomoke.

“Oh, thy just will, our Lord, be done! though these eight seasons more

We see our ague-crippled boys pine on the Eastern shore,

While we, thy stewards, journey out our dedicated years

Midst foresters of Nanticoke or heathen of Tangiers!

“Yea! some must serve on God’s frontiers, and I shall fail perforce

To sow upon some better ground my most select discourse:

At Sassafras or Smyrna preach my argument on ‘Drink,’

My series on the Pentateuch at Appoquinimink.

“Gray am I, brethren, in the work, though tough to bear my part;

It is these drooping little ones that sometimes wring my heart,

And cheat me with the vain conceit the cleverness is mine

To fill the churches of the Elk, and pass the Brandywine.

“These hairs were brown when, full of hope, ent’ring these holy lists,

Proud of my order as a knight,—the shouting Methodists,—

I made the pine woods ring with hymns, with prayer the night-winds shook,

And preached from Assawaman Light far north as Bombay Hook.

“My nag was gray, my gig was new—fast went the sandy miles;

The eldest trustees gave me praise, the fairest sisters smiles;

Still I recall how Elder Smith of Worten Heights averred

My Apostolic Parallels the best he ever heard.

“All winter long I rode the snows, rejoicing on my way;

At midnight our revival hymns rolled o’er the sobbing bay;

Three Sabbath sermons, every week, should tire a man of brass—

And still our fervent membership must have their extra class!

“Aggressive with the zeal of youth, in many a warm requite

I terrified Immersionists, and scourged the Millerite;

But larger, tenderer charities such vain debates supplant,

When the dear wife, saved by my zeal, loved the Itinerant.

“No cooing dove, of storms afeard, she shared my life’s distress—

A singing Miriam, alway, in God’s poor wilderness.

The wretched at her footstep smiled, the frivolous were still:

A bright path marked her pilgrimage, from Blackbird to Snowhill.

“A new face in the parsonage, at church a double pride!—

Like the Madonna and her babe they filled the ‘Amen side’:

Crouched at my feet in the old gig, my boy, so fair and frank,

Naswongo’s darkest marshes cheered, and sluices of Choptank.

“My cloth drew close; too fruitful love my fruitless life outran:

The townfolk marveled, when we moved, at such a caravan!

I wonder not my lads grew wild, when, bright, without the door

Spread the ripe, luring, wanton world—and we, within, so poor!

“For, down the silent cypress aisles came shapes even me to scout,

Mocking the lean flanks of my mare, my boy’s patched roundabout,

And saying: ‘Have these starveling boors, thy congregation, souls,

That on their dull heads Heaven and thou pour forth such living coals?”

“Then prayer brought hopes, half secular, like seers by Endor’s witch:

Beyond our barren Maryland God’s folks were wise and rich;

Where climbing spires and easy pews showed how the preacher thrived,

And all old brethren paid their rents, and many young ones wived!

“I saw the ships Henlopen pass with chaplains fat and sleek;

From Bishopshead with fancy’s sails I crossed the Chesapeake;

In velvet pulpits of the North said my best sermons o’er—

And that on Paul to Patmos driven, drew tears in Baltimore.

“Well! well! my brethren, it is true we should not preach for pelf;

(I would my sermon on St. Paul the bishop heard himself!)

But this crushed wife—these boys—these hairs! they cut me to the core;—

Is it not hard, year after year, to ride the Eastern Shore?

“Next year? Yes, yes, I thank you much! Then my reward may fall!

(That is a downright fair discourse on Patmos and St. Paul!)

So, Brother Riggs, once more my voice shall ring in the old lists.

Cheer up, sick heart, who would not die among these Methodists?”