Up from Methodism

By Herbert Asbury

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Title: Up from Methodism

Author: Herbert Asbury

Release date: March 2, 2024 [eBook #73085]

Language: English

Original publication: New York: Albert A. Knopf, Inc, 1926

Credits: Gísli Valgeirsson, David E. Brown, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net (This file was produced from images generously made available by The Internet Archive)









  _Copyright 1926 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc._

  _Manufactured in the United States of America_


          _CHAPTER I_ [_Page_ 3]

        _CHAPTER II_ [_Page_ 25]

        _CHAPTER III_ [_Page_ 36]

        _CHAPTER IV_ [_Page_ 56]
            AGENTS OF GOD

        _CHAPTER V_ [_Page_ 98]

        _CHAPTER VI_ [_Page_ 115]

       _CHAPTER VII_ [_Page_ 129]

        _CHAPTER VIII_ [_Page_ 168]




On my father’s side, according to my family belief, I am related
to Cotton Mather; on my mother’s side to Roger Williams. My
great-great-uncle was Francis Asbury, the first Bishop of the Methodist
Church to be ordained in America; his elder half-brother was my
great-great-grandfather, Thomas Asbury, who, disowned by his father
for various sins, ran away from the family cottage in England and
went to sea. Later he kidnapped Susan Jennings and married her, and
then settled in Virginia and so escaped the fate of the Bishop, who
doubtless went to the Methodist Heaven.

My great-grandfather was the Rev. Daniel Asbury of Fairfax County, Va.,
an early pillar of Methodism and one of the great organizers of the
Church in the South. When a young man he went to North Carolina, and
in 1791 founded, in Lincoln County, the first Methodist church west of
the Catawba River. Later he was a Presiding Elder and labored valiantly
for the Wesleyan God. When but a boy he was captured by the Indians and
kept a prisoner for several years, and is said to have converted the
entire tribe to Christianity. Throughout his whole life Sunday was his
great day--he was born on Sunday, converted on Sunday, captured by the
Indians on Sunday, released on Sunday, reached home on Sunday, was
ordained as a minister on Sunday, and on a Sunday married Nancy Morris
in Brunswick County, Va. His first child was born on Sunday and he died
on Sunday.

My grandfather was the Rev. William Asbury of North Carolina, a local
preacher who, for some reason that I have never known, quit raising
souls to Heaven and moved over into Mississippi, where he had equally
poor success raising coons and cotton. He married Susan Lester Marks,
member of an equally religious family. Several of his seven sons were
Methodist preachers, and my father, too, would have assumed the cloth
had not the Civil War come along. He enlisted in the Confederate Army
and became an officer of infantry, and infantrymen do not make good
preachers. At the close of the War he studied Civil Engineering and
then moved to Missouri, and settled in Farmington, where I was born.
He was county Surveyor of my home county of St. Francois for more
than thirty years, and City Clerk of Farmington for twenty years. The
exigencies of local politics compelled him to attend services and take
an active part in church work, but I have no recollection of him as a
religious man, although he imposed religion upon his home and impressed
upon his family the necessity of Christian salvation.

I first suspected that he might not be as religious as reported when I
whacked him across the shins with a broomstick as he sat in the yard
one day nursing his rheumatism. He did not turn the other shin. This
was not long after we had moved from the cottage across the street
from the Masonic and Catholic cemeteries to our new house on the other
side of the town, near the mansions of our first families, the Webers
and the Cayces. Curiously enough, these graveyards were side by side,
although their occupants presumably went to different Heavens. There
was a high fence between them, and it was not easy to dispose of the
border-line burial plots; the Protestants felt that a few Catholic
demons might be able to crawl through or under the fence, and the
Catholics did not wish to have their mortal remains so close to those
of such benighted heathen as the Methodists and the Presbyterians.

My mother’s people, the Prichards and the Blues, came originally from
North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee, and were for the most part
devout Baptists, believing that in immersion alone was true salvation.
The strength of their religious convictions may be seen in the fact
that many of them never forgave my mother for marrying a Methodist
and transferring her letter to my father’s Church, forsaking the
austerities of her family faith. They considered the Methodists too
liberal! The true Baptist of those days was in a constant emotional
upheaval; his religion was a canker that ate deeper and deeper, and he
was able to find no relief; the more religious he became, the more
miserable he was. On the other hand, the Methodist enjoyed terrific and
periodical emotional explosions, and thereafter was generally able to
live for a few days in comparative calm. But the Baptist was wrapped
in gloom from the moment of his conversion until he was called home to

When my mother’s forbears came up from the South they settled within
a radius of twenty miles of Farmington, many of them in the vicinity
of Hazel Run and French Village. They were farmers, with a sprinkling
of small storekeepers, preachers and country doctors. My mother’s
father, Joseph Prichard, was a farmer, but he was very religious and
was renowned throughout the countryside around French Village for his
exploits as a faith healer; he could cure toothache, remove warts and
stop the flow of blood. His method was merely to say: “It will be gone
by the time you get home,” and generally it was. He frequently removed
warts from my own hands; at least they vanished within a reasonable
time after he had looked at them and pronounced his incantations, and I
regarded him with awe.

There was a tradition in our family that my grandfather boasted Indian
blood in his veins, and although I do not think it was true, at the
time it gave me great pride and satisfaction; it invested me with
authority at such times as we played Indian and Wild West games. He
made a two-year trip overland to California during the 1849 gold rush,
without conspicuous success, and brought back with him the musket with
which we were given to understand he had slain innumerable Indians. Two
or three times a year his children and his grandchildren, a vast horde
all told, held family reunions at his French Village farm, and the big
moment of the day came in the afternoon when all of the grandchildren
trooped into the woods behind the barn to watch Grandpa kill a
squirrel. We stood in a half-circle, almost overcome by awe, while my
grandfather loaded his gun with great care, pouring the correct amount
of powder from his powder horn and dumping the bullets from his pouch
into the palm of his hand, where he counted them carefully. And then he
killed the squirrel, while we stood behind him and marveled. He never
failed; he was an excellent rifle shot; in his ninety-first year, three
years before he died, he knocked a squirrel from a tree as easily as
Davy Crockett could have done it.

As a young man in Georgia and later in Missouri my grandfather Prichard
was famous as a leader of Baptist sing-songs. His favorite hymn was
“The Prodigal Son,” which he was wont to bellow with fanatical fervor
as he sat bolt upright in an uncomfortable, straight-backed chair and
directed the singing with a stick. He sang from an old hymn book which
had been in his family for many years, a curious volume with the music
printed in square notes. Many of the hymns expressed sentiments that
to-day, even in religious circles, would be considered obscene. I
recall one that said: “Oh, sinners! My bowels do move with desire!”

I was constantly under the influence of my mother’s people, who did
what they could to overcome the pernicious influence of the Methodists;
they prevailed upon me to visit them and attend their revivals and
other religious meetings, and otherwise attempted to oversee and assure
my eventual salvation. Some of my father’s people, too, had come up
from the South, from Virginia and North Carolina and Mississippi, and
had settled around Farmington. Many of them were excessively pious,
although it is my recollection that they did not carry their love of
God and man into the conduct of their temporal affairs; religion was
not permitted to interfere with business. Between them and my mother’s
people there was a constant, although not open, fight for my soul, and
the souls of my sister and brothers. The bout appears to have been a


We were a musical family. My elder brother and I played the harmonica,
or French harp, as we called it then, and my sister performed capably
upon the organ, the guitar and the mandolin. She was particularly
adept upon the guitar, and enjoyed an enviable reputation for the way
she whanged out the fandango pieces and the tune descriptive of the
Battle of Sebastopol, which requires much banging and thumping and
difficult fingering. My father was a fiddler. He did not know one note
from another, but he could tuck his fiddle under his chin, tap the
floor with his foot and play with great spirit such tunes as “Fisher’s
Hornpipe,” “Billy in the Low Ground,” “Turkey in the Straw” and “The
Arkansas Traveler.” But his muse was dumb if he could not pat his foot.
I could also beat a snare drum passably, and later I learned to play
the violin, the cornet and the alto horn, so that we had quite a family
orchestra, and our house was frequently filled with music. Anyhow we
played these instruments.

But not on Sunday. Our Preacher assured us that music on Sunday, except
in church, was sinful and an affront to the Heavenly Father, and on
Saturday night, after a final orgy of melody, my mother gathered up
the guitars and mandolins, the fiddles, the drums and the harmonicas
and all of the other musical instruments, even the jew’s-harp, and
put them under lock and key until Monday morning. We could not even
play a comb on Sunday, although on rare occasions, usually when the
Preacher was there and gave permission and absolution from sinful
consequences, I was permitted to bring out my big harmonica, from
which I could produce the sonorous tones of an organ, and play church
hymns such as “Rock of Ages” and “Nearer, My God, to Thee.” But I was
forbidden to play “Turkey in the Straw” or “The Mocking Bird” with
variations. The latter was my favorite tune, because by jiggling my
hand over the harmonica I could produce a very effective trill which I
fondly believed was as beautiful as the singing of a canary, but if I
launched into such a tune on Sunday I had debauched the Sabbath, and my
harmonica was taken from me. And frequently I myself was taken into the
woodshed and taught a proper respect for the Lord’s Day.

Under no circumstances could we play the fiddle in our house on
Sunday, because of all music, that which came from the fiddle was the
most sinful. It was the Devil’s instrument. No fiddling on Sunday had
been a cardinal rule of my father’s family since Colonial days in
Virginia, and later in Mississippi and in North Carolina my grandmother
had compelled her Negro slaves to put up their musical instruments
from Saturday night to Monday morning. Eventually I took lessons
from the music teacher in Farmington and learned to call the fiddle
a violin, and as I grew older I played when I pleased, although not
very successfully. But so long as the instrument remained a fiddle it
was played in our house on Sunday on only one occasion. And then the
performance was a neighborhood scandal, and only the fact that the
instrument had been played by a Preacher saved us from getting into
trouble with God and His representatives in Farmington.

This tweaking of the heavenly nose occurred during a District
Conference, when the visiting preachers were parceled out among the
faithful of the local Methodist church. Two came to us, one a young
man filled with good works and a constant, fretful worry over the
low estate of the human race, and the other an old man who had been
a wicked sinner in his time and who had never been able to resist an
occasional temptation to have a good time. He was a Virginian and an
accomplished fiddler, but he could play nothing but dance music, which
the darkies had taught him. The first Sunday they were at our house my
father admitted that we had a fiddle, and the old Preacher demanded
that it be brought out for him to perform upon. My father and mother
were in terror all afternoon for fear that the neighbors would hear
the wailing of the fiddle, although they prevailed upon the old man to
use a mute and the music could hardly be heard outside the room. We
were particularly afraid that a devout Sister, who lived next door to
us and whose principal occupation was going to church, might hear it;
if she had it would have been nothing short of a catastrophe, for the
tale would have been all over town before nightfall. So we closed the
windows and the doors, muted the fiddle and put the old Preacher in
the parlor, where he fiddled until he had sinned enough. But even then
several people passing along the street heard it, and I do not think
that we ever quite lived it down. We could convince no one that the
fiddle had been played by a Man of God. Everyone knew better; Men of
God did not do such things.


Every Wednesday night we attended prayer meeting, and on Sundays we
went to Sunday school and twice to church. And on Sunday afternoon,
and on week days, there were the sessions of the various church
organizations. We had grace before meat in our home, and when the
Preacher came to dinner he delivered long-winded prayers on the
universal theme of “gimme.” We did not have that emotional orgy called
family prayer, but I did not escape it; I encountered it in many
Farmington homes and in the houses of almost all of my relatives.

It was particularly oppressive in the home of an oppressively devout
kinsman whom I called uncle. He was not actually my uncle; he was
related to my father by marriage, and I do not believe there was any
blood kinship, but I thought of him as uncle, and he had a certain
measure of authority over me, so that to a considerable extent I
was under his control and subject to his influence until I became
intelligent enough to have an occasional thought of my own.

My uncle was an extraordinarily pious man, an official of our church
and of our Sunday school, and a leader in every movement designed
to entice the sinner from his wicked ways and lead him to the true
religion of the Wesleyans. He was intent upon salvation for everyone,
and let no opportunity pass to serve the Lord. He frowned upon
laughter, and although he had a very charming family, there was little
joy in his home; a laugh seemed to make him uncomfortable and start a
train of dismal religious thought, and I gathered the impression that
all mirth was a direct and studied affront to God.

Every night after dinner, or supper, as we called it then, his living
room was given over to family prayer. I frequently spent the night with
his youngest son, my chum for many years, and was compelled to attend
with the others and absorb my nightly dose of religion, and listen to
a solemn account of the fearful things that God would do to us if we
strayed from the path of righteousness. There was no laughter, and
there were no jokes; the whole atmosphere of the house turned gray
and gloomily oppressive when my uncle rose from his seat, glanced
sorrowfully at his family, and announced:

“We will now have prayers.”

He turned and with bowed head passed into the living room. We sat at
the supper table for a moment in silence, myself seeing goblins and
fearsome avenging creatures of God leering at me from every shaded
corner of the room, and my mind racing madly over the day’s activities
to discover what I had done that required an alibi. In a few moments
my aunt arose and went slowly into the other room, and then one by one
the others. We marched solemnly, with downcast eyes; we might have
been going to a funeral. Indeed, it seems to me now that we must in
truth have been going to a funeral; here was a fine house built for the
warmth of human happiness, turned into a forbidding mausoleum by the
mere mention of God.

In the living room Uncle awaited us, standing beside the small table
on which, always, there was nothing but the Family Bible. He waited
in silence until we had taken our places, and then he laid reverent
hands upon the Book and began fumbling with the pages, glancing sharply
over his spectacles to make sure that everyone was undergoing some
sort of emotional upheaval, and looking particularly for some sign of
revolt from his son and myself. I doubt if he ever knew it, but when I
attended family prayer in his house I did not think of revolt. I was in
an agony of fright; I felt as if something was crushing me, and that
something was my uncle’s God, an avenging monster ready to devour me
for my sins. God was in the house and I was afraid.

The most uncomfortable chairs in the house were used for family prayer,
and we perched upon their edges, afraid to sink back and relax, because
we had been told many times that discomfort and righteousness were
well-nigh synonymous. God would have been scandalized and indignant
had we made ourselves comfortable to listen to His Word. And then my
uncle read from the Bible. He read without joy; he held in his hand
the Book which in his eyes was the sole hope of humanity, the Book
that contained the glad news that for all mankind there was salvation,
but he read it as if it were a sentence of death, slowly and solemnly,
dwelling with horrible clarity upon those phrases that promised
punishment. The Bible seemed to have no effect upon him but to make him
gloomy and miserable.

At the conclusion of his reading, he slowly closed the Bible and placed
it upon the table. He then stood for a moment in profound thought,
his chin resting upon his breast. I assumed that he was overcome by
contemplation of the sins of a wicked world. Those of us who were young
began about this time to itch with that devilish itch which invariably
afflicts a youngster when there is a penalty for scratching. We itched
and itched, but we were afraid to scratch because God was in the room,
and we knew as well as we knew anything that He would punish us if we
moved. And finally my uncle stared at the ceiling and said:

“Let us pray.”

With almost the precision of automata we knelt by our chairs, our knees
grinding into the hard carpet, while my uncle’s voice soared in a
sonorous appeal to the Lord to give us some of this and some of that,
to bless us and make us prosperous, and, in effect, to hell with such
infidels as Jews, Catholics and Presbyterians. And then he rose slowly
to his feet and passed from the room, without speaking. We followed,
and scattered about our various affairs, but it was a long time before
we could shake off the effects of the religious debauch and play with
any zest. And nearly always I awoke some hours later in the throes of
a nightmare, pursued by fiends and demons shrieking that I was to be
boiled and fried and cooked in the fires of Hell.

Every night year after year this sort of thing went on in houses all
over Farmington, and for that matter all over the United States. It
would be interesting to know how many hours were wasted in the course
of a year by such senseless appeals to the Heavenly Father, by this
constant reiteration of “gimme, gimme, gimme.”


Many of my relatives on my mother’s side attended Colony Church,
about three miles from Farmington. This was a hard-shell Baptist
congregation, the members of which took their religion with the utmost
seriousness and were constantly on the lookout for sin to rear its
reptile head. If it did they assailed it with glad cries. There was
no organ in this church; indeed, for many years none of the Baptist
churches in and about Farmington would permit any sort of music at
their services, holding that music was an invention of the Devil
designed to entice Christians from respectful contemplation of the
mercies and graces of the Lord, and that no devout Christian could hear
music and still keep his mind on God and his heart true to the faith.
Their attitude toward the organ was exactly that of the good Sister of
whom Will Carleton sang in his Farm ballads:

  I’ve been a Sister good and true
    For five and thirty year;
  I’ve done what seemed my part to do,
    And prayed my duty clear.
  But death will stop my voice, I know,
    For he is on my track;
  And some day I to church will go,
    And nevermore come back.
  And when the folks get up to sing,
    Whene’er that time shall be--
  I do not want no patent thing,
    A-squealin’ over me.

In later years, of course, the Baptists became almost civilized and
most of their churches bought organs; in some there were even pianos.
But in few of the churches of the Farmington countryside, in my
early youth, was there more fervent religion on tap than at Colony
Church. There were frequent revivals, and many basket dinners, when
the farm women brought huge quantities of food to the church early
in the morning, and all day long the congregation gave itself up to
an orgy of eating and saving souls. At most of these revivals there
were foot-washings; they were usually announced at the morning service
for the afternoon, and then there was a great scurrying home or to
the nearest creek, or crick, as it was generally called, where the
feet were washed vigorously with soap and made presentable for public
exposure in the aisles and around the pulpit of the church.

One of the most famous of the Colony Church foot-washings, one that
is still talked about when the good Brothers and Sisters get together
in that neighborhood, ended the enmity of a widow, Sister Letts, and
a lawyer whose name I do not recall. For years there had been great
bitterness between them, and although the congregation had prayed for
them and had exhorted them to forgive, the Lord had not entered their
hearts, and so they continued to treasure their hate. But at length, on
a Sunday morning during a revival, the preacher announced that there
would be a foot-washing that afternoon, and the Brother rose and spoke:

“I have opened my heart to God,” he said, “and He has instructed me to
forgive Sister Letts. This afternoon I shall wash her feet.”

There was a murmur of enthusiasm all over the church, and one
leather-lunged Brother popped to his feet and shouted: “Amen, Brother!
Glory to God!” And then Sister Letts bounced to her feet and cried that
she, too, praised the Lord and would wash the feet of the Brother.

That afternoon the church was crowded. Almost every family of the
countryside was on hand to see God end this bitter quarrel which had
come so near to disrupting the congregation. The service proceeded as
usual, opening with some such catchy hymn as “Bringing in the Sheaves,”
and then through the sermon to the slow, solemn songs like “How Firm a
Foundation” and “Nearer, My God, to Thee.” Then came the foot-washing,
when the Brothers and Sisters proved their humility and showed that
when it came right down to brass tacks they were no better than Jesus
Christ. It was felt that the legal Brother and Sister Letts should
have the honor thus to show off first before God, and so for a little
while no one moved when the Preacher announced that the time had come,
and that basins of water and towels would be provided.

But at length the Brother got to his feet and marched stiffly down the
aisle to the pulpit, where he procured a pan and a towel. With these
in hand he paraded back up the aisle toward the last row, where Sister
Letts rocked back and forth and murmured in ecstasy:

“Praise the Lord, Brother! Praise the Lord!”

Moving slowly to a chorus of amens and unintelligible mumblings of
piety, the Brother was some distance up the aisle when Sister Letts
started to meet him. Halfway between the back door and the pulpit they
stopped, facing each other. And then a new difficulty arose. They had
by now thoroughly given themselves to God and were suffused with a
wonderful glow of self-appreciation at this proof of their humility,
but each wanted to prove it first. Each appeared to feel that the one
who first washed a foot would receive the greater amount of kudos from
the Lord.

So they began to argue, and the heat of the discussion spread all over
the congregation, and here and there Brothers and Sisters became so
upset by the spirit that they jumped to their feet and began shouting
loudly, bouncing up and down and flinging their arms about. My sister,
a small child, was practically overcome by curiosity, and added to the
excitement by leaning too far from her seat and falling into the aisle,
so eager was she to see the ceremony. She was promptly spanked and put
back in place by my Aunt Ophelia, and several devout persons near her
intimated strongly that she was a sinful, blasphemous little wretch.

It seemed for a time that there would be a deadlock, as neither Sister
Letts nor the Brother was willing to give in. So the congregation sang
a hymn while they stood staring at each other, and then the Preacher
prayed to the Lord to make a decision as to who should wash whose feet
first. And apparently God said Eeney Meeney Miney Mo and picked Sister
Letts to be It, for the Brother suddenly surrendered and sat in a
chair which had been pushed into the aisle for him. He bared his foot,
and Sister Letts dropped to her knees and poked it into the basin of
water. I do not know if the Brother wriggled his toes. Having laved
him, Sister Letts plied her towel vigorously to a groaning chorus of
“Amen!” that arose from all parts of the church, and then she sat in
the chair and removed her shoe and stocking and the Brother performed
the ceremony. The congregation, everyone filled to the bursting point
with emotion, then stood and sang quaveringly “How Firm a Foundation.”
Sister Letts and the Brother returned to their seats. It was generally
agreed that by washing each other’s feet they had practically assured
themselves choice seats in Heaven.


I was fallow ground for all these seeds of piety, for I was a highly
emotional and excitable boy. I wept when I heard slow music, I shivered
with fear over the ghost stories and the frightful tales of Hell that
were told to me with such regularity, and it was usually I who saw the
spooks when we played or hunted for bumblebees among the tombs of the
Masonic cemetery. There is no telling what I might have seen had I ever
been able to summon sufficient courage to enter the Catholic cemetery
at night. I did go as far as just inside the gate once, and immediately
there arose in front of me an apparition that to my mind could be
nothing less than the Devil himself. And this was not surprising, for I
well knew that the Catholics were worshipers of a false God, and it was
quite likely that their graveyard was the abode of evil spirits.

Because of my temperament, which impelled me to believe everything
I was told, and because from time to time I had shown indications
of being a bad boy if restraint were not exercised, I received more
religious instruction than my sister or my brothers. Again, there was
the matter of ancestry. Our family connections, especially my father’s
people, were very proud of our relationship to the Bishop and our
direct descent from the Rev. Daniel Asbury, and they settled on me to
carry on the family tradition. There was much talk of sending me to a
theological school, and I appeared to be destined for the Church, so
that I was always waiting for the call to preach, though conscious of a
vague hope that it would be delayed.

But I had no idea that I should escape such a fate, for I accepted as a
basic fact of life that in every generation at least one Asbury should
be a Methodist preacher. Wherever I went I encountered the assumption
that I was to succeed the Bishop and the Presiding Elder, and become a
Methodist Messiah howling in the wilderness of sin and shoving souls
into the heavenly hoppers with both hands. Everyone seemed to take it
for granted, and when I talked to a stranger he invariably said:

“Well, well! So your name is Asbury?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Kin to the Bishop?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, well! I suppose you will be a preacher, too?”

“Yes, sir. I guess so.”

If the person to whom I talked was himself a Preacher, or a Brother, he
would smile gently, pat my head with a moist palm and say: “God bless
you, my boy,” and pad on down the street. I can recall but one person
who did not make some such senseless remark. He was a hardware drummer
from St. Louis, a fat, waggish person in flashy raiment, doubtless a
sinner, who stopped me as I marched proudly past Doss’s barber shop
carrying a string of fish, one of which was as large a bass as was
ever taken out of the St. Francis River. He tried to buy the big fish,
and when I refused to sell he asked me my name and the inevitable
conversation followed. But when I said to him: “Yes, sir, I guess so,”
he wrinkled his nose and said: “Don’t be a damned fool, kid.”

I felt a sudden rush of affection for this outspoken person, although I
shuddered at the thought of what would happen to him if a Preacher or
a Brother heard him using profanity and told God about it. I proffered
him one of my string, a fine crappie, which he accepted gratefully
and on which he feasted later at the St. Francis Hotel. Later in the
evening I met him as he swung blithely through the doors of Perringer’s
Saloon, and he jovially invited me in to have a glass of beer. I
thought he must be crazy; I would no more have entered a saloon then
than I would have committed mayhem upon the Preacher. In later life, of
course, I did enter saloons, but have never been able to bring myself
to bite a preacher, although at times I have been sorely tempted. But
it was a long time before I understood what the drummer meant when he
said, as we parted:

“Well, look out, kid, and don’t let them put that Bishop stuff over on


Farmington was about eight or ten miles from the lead-mining district
of Southeast Missouri, where a great number of low foreigners were
employed, but God did not permit any ore to be found near us and so
kept our town holy and undefiled by their presence. We did not greatly
concern ourselves with their evil ways, because we knew that foreigners
were little if any better than the beasts of the field, and that
God had put them on earth for some inscrutable purpose of His own,
with which we were not to meddle. Even the Preachers and the amateur
devil-chasers in such towns as Flat River and Bonne Terre devoted their
activities principally to spreading the Gospel among the home-bred and
let the Hunkies carry on whatever nefarious practices pleased them
best. We didn’t want them in our Heaven, anyhow.

Our town nestled in the foothills of the Ozarks, some eighty-six miles
from St. Louis and two miles from the De Lassus station on the Belmont
branch of the Iron Mountain Railroad. But the civilizing influences of
the city seldom touched any of us except a few wealthy families who
could afford the railroad fare for frequent trips. We had then some
2,500 inhabitants, the vast majority of whom were devout workers for
the Protestant God, especially on Sunday. During the week many of them
put sand in the sugar and weighed their thumbs with the sausage, and
otherwise engaged in legitimate and profitable business enterprise, but
on Sunday they praised the Lord.

There were but two or three Jewish families in town then, and I do not
recall that they ever attempted to practice their religion; certainly
not in public. Doubtless our God would have destroyed them if they had
thus flaunted their sin in our faces, and mocked us with their heathen
rites. It is my recollection that they attended the Presbyterian
church, but if so it was for business or social reasons. The Catholics
had a church, but they were not numerically strong, and did not
amount to a great deal in the town’s scheme of things, although they
occasionally captured a city office or did a bit of proselyting among
the backsliders of the Protestant congregations. They labored earnestly
one whole summer trying to ensnare my sister after her allegiance to
the Methodist Father had wavered, but they were unsuccessful. She could
not swallow the Pope, or the holy images and the like. Nor could she
learn to cross herself properly, although I became much interested
and helped her; we used to go behind the barn and practice in all
seriousness, but we invariably found ourselves giggling at the rite.
And few things can destroy religion quicker than a hearty giggle.

The Protestants of Farmington made little if any effort to induce the
Catholics to abandon their debaucheries and embrace the true religion;
generally we considered them benighted heathens and crazy people and
let it go at that, confident that in due time God would blast them with
His wrath, destroy their churches and perhaps send their young women to
Heaven to be virgin angels in a Protestant paradise. I was very eager
to see this wholesale destruction, and waited patiently for many years,
hoping that God would furnish advance information to His intimate,
our Methodist pastor, so we would be able to view the performance. I
strongly favored an earthquake and a bolt of lightning, as being more
spectacular. But I am sorry to say that nothing ever happened, although
one night lightning struck the steeple of the Catholic church and there
was some talk about town that God was limbering up His muscles and
getting ready to show what He could really do.

Some of our most advanced thinkers conceded that perhaps the Catholics
and the few nondescripts who professed religion for the sake of
business but who would not attend church, had their own God, quite
different from ours and unquestionably a very inferior Deity. But
people who held this view were considered entirely too charitable; it
was all right to admit that God might, in the fullness of time, and
out of that loving mercy which keeps half the world constantly at the
throats of the other half, relent and permit a few Catholics to enter
Heaven as low menials, but to say that they might have a Heaven of
their own was going a bit too far. Both socially and spiritually they
were on the other side of the railroad tracks. They were simply not
in our set, and when any of them attended our parties, as sometimes
happened despite every precaution, it was a matter of very great
concern. Things may be different now, but when I was a boy cringing
before the threatening lash of the Methodist God, there was grave doubt
that anyone who lived south of the Post Office would ever amount to
anything spiritually.

All of the reigning sects of the Protestants had churches in our
town. There was also a Lutheran Church somewhere down by Schramm’s
Ice Plant, but its congregation was made up of Germans and what not,
who ranked scarcely higher than the Catholics and the Jews. For some
time during my final year in high school I was devotedly attached to a
young Lutheran girl, and this attachment was the cause of considerable
concern among some of my relatives. It was, then, my intention to marry
her, although I quickly abandoned it after I had tentatively broached
the matter to one of my aunts.

“She is not a Christian girl,” my aunt protested.

“She is a Lutheran,” I said. “They are Protestants.”

“But some of their services are in German! How can they be Christians?”

She was perfectly sincere. She believed firmly that God understood
no language but English, and that, having no knowledge of German, He
could not look with favor upon a Lutheran. But it developed that this
particular Lutheran could not look with favor upon a Methodist, which
was probably an insult to our Methodist God. It was a great many years
before I overcame my surprise that God did not do something about it,
yet He seems to have done nothing but make her happy and her husband

Most of the churches in our town were on Columbia Street, the
principal thoroughfare, and they and their subsidiary schools were
so numerous that we proudly called Farmington “The City of Schools
and Churches,” and enjoyed great renown throughout Southeast Missouri
for municipal piety and Christian education. On this street worshiped
the Presbyterians, the Southern Methodists--this was the church of
the Asburys and enjoyed special favors from the Lord--the Northern
Methodists, and the Christians or Campbellites. The Baptists had a
church in another part of town, in Doss’s Addition. Each of these
churches had a great many interlocking organizations, including Home
Missionary Societies, Foreign Missionary Societies, Ladies’ Aid
Societies and other holy groups.

The Ladies’ Aid Societies of the Middle West have become famous, and
they deserve their renown. When I was a boy they were in truth most
noble organizations. They rotated their meetings at the homes of the
members, performing at each house about once every two weeks, according
to the number of women who belonged. Their sessions were excessively
sanctimonious; they opened and closed with prayer, and frequently some
good Sister would at other times feel the spirit of the Lord working
within her, and she would pop up from the quilting frame or the shirt
on which she was sewing for the heathen and yelp an appeal to God to
give her something or damn somebody. There were also Bible-readings
at these meetings; in fact every time a member of our church called
on another member, a verse from the Bible was read and a prayer was
offered. And curiously enough these devout Christian Sisters displayed
a greater liking for the books of the Old Testament than for those of
the New.

In all of our congregations there were many special societies for young
people, to which the children of the godly had to belong and whose
meetings they had to attend. Their number was great, and the majority
of their titles escape me, but I recall such outfits as the Christian
Endeavor, the Loyal Temperance Legion, the Epworth League, the Baptist
Young People’s Union, and the Sunshine Brigade. The Legion was a union
organization of juvenile foes of rum, and we used to meet on Sunday
afternoons in the Presbyterian or Southern Methodist church and hear
lectures on the evils of drink, after which we would stand, raise our
right hands and shout in unison:

                We hate Rum!
                We hate Rum!
                We hate Rum!
  Our bodies will never be ravaged by drink!

The Sunshine Brigade was another union organization, in which all of
the churches combined, and was composed of boys from eight to twelve
or thirteen years of age. We met two or three times a week, in the
evening after supper, generally on the spacious lawn of Merrifield
Huff, the lawyer, and first we heard a Bible-reading and a prayer. Then
we drilled, in military fashion, under the command of older boys who
had been away to military schools. Then there were more verses from the
Bible, another prayer, and we were sent home with unctuous commands to
be good boys and think often of the mercy of the Lord. They called us
“Little Soldiers of the Lord,” and “Our Group of Manly Little Fellows.”
There was nothing we could do about it.

The activities of the Epworth League and the Baptist Young People’s
Union are too well known to require comment; they persist to this
day, and there seems to be no likelihood that the present generation
will make an intellectual advance sufficient to laugh them out of
existence. Fortunately Farmington was spared the Young Men’s Christian
Association, and I had no contacts with that remarkable agency of
salvation until I went to France with the American Army. Of my many
encounters with the Y. M. C. A. abroad, two stand out in my memory.
One occurred when I wanted a toothbrush, while in command of a platoon
of infantry in the support line on the Vesle river front, between
Fismes and Bazoches. I walked the eight miles or so back to division
headquarters with a five-franc note in my pocket, all the money I had
in the world.

The Y. M. C. A. canteen was open there, and after the secretary in
charge had greeted me sweetly as Brother and inquired after the
condition of my immortal soul, he produced a toothbrush, for which he
wanted two francs, then about forty cents. I said I would buy it, there
being no Red Cross hut near where I could have got one for nothing, and
laid down my five-franc note. But the Y. M. C. A. man could not change
it, nor could we find anybody else around headquarters who could do so.
The Y man said that he could not let me have the toothbrush without
payment and put it back in the case, and I walked the eight miles back
to my command without it, rejecting his offer of a free pocket Bible
with the observation that the line was one hell of a place for a Bible.

The second encounter with the Y. M. C. A. occurred a week or so
later, at La Pres Farm, on the same front and on the road between
Mont St. Martin and Chery Chartreuve. I had about two hundred sick
and flat-footed infantrymen there, waiting for gas masks and other
equipment so they could be moved to the front, and they had nothing to
smoke. Neither did they have any money, because they had not been paid
for months. To the farm came a Y. M. C. A. man laden with boxes, and
when I asked him what they were, he said cigars. He showed them to my
platoon sergeant and myself; they were fine, fat, handsome smokes.

I suggested that he lay out his stock, and that I would have the
sergeant march the troops past in columns of twos, so that each man
could have a cigar.

“That’s fine,” said the Y man, “they’re fifteen-cent cigars, but the
boys can have them for ten cents.”

I told him that to my knowledge there was not ten cents in the whole
outfit, and suggested that he give the cigars to the soldiers and look
to Heaven for payment. But he would not; he said that he had brought
the cigars to the line to sell and that he had to have the money for
them. So I did the thing that seemed best under the circumstances. I
took his cigars away from him, the sergeant headed him for Division
Headquarters, and I kicked him as hard as I could in the pants. The
last I saw of him, he was stumbling down the hill toward the crossroad
vowing vengeance. But I paid little attention to him; I was busy
handing out free cigars, and a few minutes later everybody at the farm
was puffing happily.

We had also in Farmington three denominational schools, Elmwood
Seminary, a girl’s college with primary and grammar departments for
both sexes, operated by the Presbyterians across the street from their
church; Carleton College in the lower end of the town, a Northern
Methodist institution, and Baptist College, near the Baptist church.
Carleton and Baptist were coeducational. I was educated--God save the
mark!--at Elmwood and Carleton, and at both there was much emphasis
on religious teaching. Carleton, of course, since it was run by the
Northern Methodists, was frankly a mill for grinding out workers for
the Lord, and they poured out of the hopper in large numbers for
many years. Gawky country boys came from the farms around Bull Run,
Hazel Run and French Village, and down-state toward Libertyville and
Fredericktown, and entered Carleton College, to emerge a few years
later rip-snorting evangelists hot on the trail of the Devil. Those
who did not become professional Satan-chasers developed, in the course
of time, into pussyfooting Brothers with keen ears for scandal, gimlet
eyes for boring searchingly and suspiciously into all amusement and
pleasure, and wagging tongues for scattering seeds of holiness. And
God made their teeth very sharp, for backbiting.

Curiously enough, the Presbyterians in Farmington comprised the liberal
element, in so far as we had a liberal element. This was because our
wealthy families, or at least our social leaders, were apparently
Episcopalians at heart and perhaps belonged to the Presbyterian
congregation only because we had no Episcopal church. They were able to
go to St. Louis frequently, and did, and consequently acquired a bit of
metropolitan polish, and rubbed off some of our small-town intolerance
and roughness. From time to time rumors were afloat that some of these
people had been seen entering Episcopal churches in St. Louis, but I
have never heard that they were verified.

But for many years this element had a virtual monopoly of such sinful
practices as playing cards, dancing and buggy-riding on the Sabbath.
I have heard several Brothers and Sisters, and more than one doleful
and sorrowing Preacher, speak regretfully of the unholy spectacle of a
young man of one of these families driving a spanking pair through the
heart of the town on Sunday afternoon, with an abandoned young woman
beside him and neither apparently caring one single damn about the fate
of religion. It was prophesied that they could come to no good end. But
the germ they planted multiplied enormously.



Sunday should be a day of gladness, and of light and beauty, for it
is then that the forthright religionist is closest to his God, and
when he is, if ever, in communion with the Holy Spirit and presumably
receives instruction with which to confound the wicked during the
ensuing week. But in small communities which suffer from the blight of
religion it never is, and when I was a boy in Farmington Sunday was a
day of dreadful gloom; over everything hung an atmosphere of morbid
fear and dejection. In the morning the whole town donned its Sunday
suit, almost always black and funereal and depressing, and therefore
becoming to religious practice, and trudged sorrowfully and solemnly
to Sunday School and to church, there to wail doleful hymns and hear
an unlearned man “measure with words the immeasurable and sink the
string of thought into the fathomless;” and beseech the Lord upon
the universal prayer theme of “gimme.” Then the village marched, in
mournful cadence, back home for Sunday dinner. But before the meal was
eaten the juvenile members of the religious household were commanded
to remove their sabbath raiment, and were not again permitted to
assume the habiliments of the godly until after supper, when the family
clutched its Bibles and wandered forth despairingly to evening service.

These excursions, with attendance upon the various meetings of
the young people’s societies and other church organizations,
comprised almost the sum total of the Sunday activity of our town’s
inhabitants. In recent years the young folks there appear to have gone
wholeheartedly to the Devil, and are gallivanting about the country in
automobiles, listening to radios, dancing, attending baseball games on
the Sabbath and otherwise disporting themselves in a sinful manner, but
in my youth we had to observe a very definite list of Sunday taboos, in
addition to the special don’ts laid down by the more devout families,
according to their fear of God and the fervor of their belief.

We could not play card games on Sunday. Regulation playing cards
of course, were taboo at all times in the best and most religious
families, for God, we were told, had informed the Preacher that cards
were an invention of the Devil, designed to lure true believers into
sin; but on Sunday we could not even play such games as Lotto, Old
Maid and Authors. On week days these were considered very amusing and
instructive pastimes, although in some quarters it was felt that they
caused too much laughter, but if anyone so much as thought of them on
Sunday he was headed for Hell.

The taboo against drinking was in effect every day in the week for
the godly and their children, not on account of the possible harmful
physical effects of liquor, but because God objected. And even the
Town Sot hesitated to take a drink on Sunday, for he knew that every
Preacher and every Brother and Sister would be howling to God to damn
his immortal soul and make a horrible example out of him. And how they
did love horrible examples!

No indoor games were permitted. This taboo was in force against
“Drop-the-Handkerchief,” “Puss-in-the-Corner,” “Ring-Around the Rosy,”
and “London Bridge is Falling Down;” in fact, it included everything
the Preacher could think of except games founded on the Bible. That
is, we could play games in which questions of Biblical history were
asked and answered, but they had to be conducted in a very solemn and
decorous manner. At the first laugh, or at the first question based
on the more ribald portions of the Scriptures, such as Numbers and
Deuteronomy, the game was stopped and everyone went home in disgrace.
One of my young friends who once asked what happened to Laban’s
household idol was soundly thrashed, as was another who requested a
young lady to enumerate the ingredients of Ezekiel’s bread. The curious
may learn what the Holy Prophet ate by consulting Ezekiel 4:15.

We could have no outdoor games; in many families, indeed, it was
considered irreligious to go out of doors at all except to church.
Restless boys were sometimes permitted to walk around the block, and
once in a great while to play, if they did so quietly and remained in
the back yard, where, presumably, the Lord could not see them. Anyhow,
the neighbors couldn’t.

Parties and teas were forbidden, and we could not visit on Sunday, as
a general rule, except among relatives. And such visits were usually
turned into holy sing-songs, but since most of the hymns were either
pornographic or slightly Sadistic, there were thrills galore in this
sort of thing.

Walking along the main street of the town on Sunday was a sin of the
first magnitude. Occasionally a group would obtain permission to stroll
sedately down to Old Maid’s Springs and take kodak pictures in a
refined and genteel manner, but a young man and a girl caught ambling
along Columbia street were the objects of much unfavorable comment. It
was generally agreed that they were no better than they should be, and
often a Preacher, or a Brother or Sister, would stop them and order
them to cease desecrating the Lord’s Day by such frivolous conduct.

“Go home,” they would be told, “and pray to God to forgive you.”

We could not go buggy-riding on Sunday until we were old enough to
take our hope of the hereafter in our hands and tacitly admit our
allegiance to Satan. Girls who did so and thus flaunted their sin were
ostracised by many of our best families, and were regarded as abandoned
hussies, if not scarlet women. A man had to hold a good many promissory
notes for his daughter to get away with a thing like that.

The Lord did not approve of Sunday-night suppers, and so we could not
have them. In the homes of the godly there was only a cold snack for
the evening meal. It was considered sinful to light a fire in the
cook-stove after twelve o’clock noon. One woman who moved to Farmington
from St. Louis had the brazen audacity to give formal Sunday-night
dinners, but she scandalized the town and nobody would attend but a few
Episcopalians disguised as Presbyterians. And even they could not bring
themselves to wear evening clothes. But God soon punished her; she was
so severely criticised that she finally went back to the city.

Dancing on Sunday, of course, or for that matter on any other day, was
the Sin of Sins. I was told, and until I was almost grown believed it,
that whoever danced on the Sabbath would immediately be engulfed in a
wave of Heavenly wrath, and his soul plunged into the Fires of Hell to
frizzle and fry throughout eternity.

Sunday newspapers were not considered religious, although my father
went to the Devil to the extent of buying them each Sunday and
permitting my brothers and myself to read the comic sections. Usually
we went to Pelty’s Book Store for them after church, bringing home the
St. Louis _Globe-Democrat_, the _Republic_ and the _Post-Dispatch_,
together with a horde of small boys whose parents would not permit them
to read anything on Sunday but the Bible, and who therefore came to
our house and sprawled all over the place reading the comics and the
magazine sections. My father was severely criticized for buying the
Sunday newspapers, but he persisted in his wickedness. My prayerful
uncle would not permit them in his house; indeed, all of his books but
the Bibles remained in a locked case from Saturday night to Monday
morning. But when my brothers and myself passed his home with the
Sunday papers under our arms he always stopped us, and kept us waiting
on the sidewalk for half an hour or more while he glanced at them and
eagerly devoured the news. But he would not let us come in while we had
the papers; he would meet us on the walk, and we were not old enough to

My father finally became very tired of this practice, and himself went
after the papers. The first day he did this, my uncle was on his front
porch, waiting for us to come by, and he stopped my father and reached
for one of the papers. But my father would not let him have any of

“No, no,” he said. “You do not believe in Sunday papers.”

And thereafter my uncle did not read our Sunday papers, although he
occasionally visited us in the afternoon and looked at them, after
expressing his sorrow at finding them in our house. Once he found his
son sprawled in our yard guffawing over the antics of the Yellow Kid
when he should have been at a meeting of the Loyal Temperance Legion,
lifting his childish voice against the Rum Demon. My uncle chased the
lad home with threats of punishment, and then himself took up the funny

Baseball games were played by the ungodly on the outskirts of the town
on Sunday, but the game was frowned upon by the Preachers and the
Brothers and Sisters, who denounced it as a lure of Satan and predicted
dire spiritual tortures for the players. Small boys who attended the
games were soundly whipped, but occasionally we became so feverish
with the desire to witness a contest that we slipped away from home
and watched the game, pretending that we were going to visit relatives
and listen to hymns played on an organ. But there were always spies of
the Lord at the game to tell on us. It was this opposition to Sunday
baseball that drove my younger brother out of the Methodist Sunday
school, only a little while after I myself had abandoned the church. He
was in the class taught by Brother Benjamin Marbury, a lawyer and an
exceedingly loud and bitter antagonist of baseball. He denounced the
game before his class one day, and my brother said that he could not
see anything wrong with it. Brother Marbury stared at him sternly.

“Would Jesus Christ attend a baseball game on Sunday if He were here?”
he demanded.

My brother said he did not know, but thought He would, and Brother
Marbury immediately knelt and asked God to forgive the blasphemy.
My brother was infuriated and never went back to Sunday school. His
comment was: “What did he have to bring Jesus Christ into it for?”


We arose at the usual hour on Sunday morning, perhaps a little later,
and immediately after breakfast began to get ready for Sunday school.
There was hair to comb, shoes to polish in the kitchen, cravats to
tie around necks that had become enlarged and reddened by various
activities on the playing fields, and there were nickels to secrete
for the collection boxes. Worse, there were Sunday-school lessons and
Golden Texts to learn, and the catechism to memorize. Dressed in our
Sunday suits, our hair slicked moistly to our heads and Sunday-school
pamphlets in our hands, my two brothers and I went solemnly down to
Newman’s corner, turned into the unnamed street that ran past Elmwood
Seminary and then into Columbia Street and so to the Southern Methodist

Ordinarily a trip downtown was a great deal of fun; we tripped each
other, poked each other in the ribs or had two or three fights _en
route_, varying with the warmth of our friendship for other boys we
met upon the way. But on Sunday we went solemnly and fearfully, first
Emmett, then myself and then Fred, according to age and stature. We
met other similar groups, arrayed as we were in their Sunday suits
and clutching their lesson pamphlets, and our greetings were subdued
and formal. We converged upon the church, and all over town the bells
tolled and the faithful marched to hear God’s intimates explain His
written word, and tell us calmly and definitely what He meant by the
most obscure passages in His Book.

We sat in church for an hour and a half listening to various versions
of the Hebraic fairy tales. In our church the Sunday-school room was
set apart from the main auditorium, but occasionally the attendance
was so large that it overflowed into the church proper. To most of
us Sunday school was torture, and I have no doubt that it is still
torture to most children. It may be that I did not learn a great deal
about the Bible in Sunday school, but I do know that it was in Sunday
school that I first began to doubt the Book. I was naturally curious
and inquisitive, and even then, young as I was, I could not swallow the
miracles of Jonah and the whale, and the idea of the virgin birth of
Jesus I considered absurd, because in common with most small-town boys
I had a very definite knowledge of the procedure employed in bringing
babies into the world. Up to the age of seven or eight I thought the
doctor brought them in his suitcase, or that they grew on bushes in the
back yard and were plucked when ripe, but after I began to loaf around
the livery stable and the Post Office building I acquired more correct
information. Nor could I believe that Noah’s Ark would have held two of
every living thing then upon the earth. But the Preachers and Brothers
and Sisters insisted that these things were literally true; they
denounced anyone who doubted and sought for symbolical meaning as an
unbeliever and a blasphemous son of Satan.

My sister, at the age of ten, was the object of special prayers and
solemn conferences because, for no other reason than that she wanted
to be contrary, she expressed a doubt of the Virgin Birth. She was in
Mrs. Judge Carter’s Sunday-school class at the time, but she did not
like Mrs. Carter and disagreed with her when she thought she could
do so without subsequent punishment. Mrs. Carter frequently told her
pupils, all little girls about eight or ten years old, of the marvelous
manner in which Christ came into the world, but she told it so vaguely
that none of them had any real understanding of it. One Sunday morning,
after Mrs. Carter had read something about the Virgin Birth, my sister
said flatly that she did not believe it.

“Don’t believe what?” asked Mrs. Carter.

“Virgin birth,” said my sister. “I think it’s foolish.”

Unfortunately, she made this observation at a time when the whole
Sunday school was quiet save for the mumbling of the catechism in
various classes, and her thin little voice reached every corner of
the room. And instantly there was a horrified silence, broken after a
moment by someone who said: “It’s that blasphemous little Asbury girl.”
Mrs. Carter was stunned; the effect upon her was the same as if God had
walked in the door and announced that Buddha, or Zoroaster, and not
Jesus Christ, was His son. She stared for a moment at this brash child
who had defied religion and, in effect, denounced the Holy Book.

“Mary!” she said terribly. “Do you realize what you have done?”

My sister’s conception of virgin birth, or of any sort of birth, was
decidedly hazy. She thought Virgin Birth meant that Christ had been
born in a stable, and she knew perfectly well that no nice child would
be born in such a place. Anyhow, she had heard so much about it that
she had become quite bored by it, and she felt it incumbent upon her
to deny it. But from Mrs. Carter’s attitude she knew that she had said
a terrible thing; at first she thought of recanting, but she looked
about and felt of herself, and when she did not see any avenging angels
entering and could find no sign that she had been stricken, she stuck
to her guns.

“Well,” she said, “I just don’t believe it.”

“Mary!” said Mrs. Carter. “Go home and pray!”

So my sister went home, but I do not think that she prayed. Mrs. Carter
and the Preacher called that afternoon and told my father and mother
what had been said and done that day in God’s house, and there was a
considerable to-do about it, both Mrs. Carter and the Preacher dropping
to their knees and praying, and insisting, that my sister pray also for
forgiveness. But my father and mother took the attitude that since my
sister did not know what she was talking about, she probably had not
sinned to any great extent. But it was a good many years before she
again had courage to express a doubt as to the Virgin Birth. And if she
goes to Heaven she will probably find that Mrs. Carter and the Preacher
have instructed St. Peter to catechize her about it, and not to admit
her until she has atoned fully for her heinous offense at the age of


Some of our families in which there was an unfortunate excess of girls
permitted them to have callers on Sunday afternoon, but such affairs
were conducted in a prim and prissy manner. Holiness was the motif. The
boy, if he had been a good lad all week and had done nothing to affront
God or the Preacher, was dressed in his Sunday suit, and the young
lady wore the frock that was kept in reserve for weddings, funerals
and baptizings, and those cannibalistic exercises called the Lord’s
Supper. And it was definitely understood that if a boy called on a girl
on a Sunday, he was courting her, and intended to propose marriage.
They could not talk; they must converse, and their conversation must
be on subjects both inspiring and uplifting. These bons mots that are
now known as wise cracks were frowned upon, and a repetition of them
resulted in the young gentleman being shown the door.

The piano and the phonograph, in those houses which possessed such
wonders, were under lock and key and covered over with draperies to
hide them, for it was God’s day and God wanted no foolishness. The
girl’s father sat in various strategic places about the house, moving
from one to another as his suspicions of the boy’s intentions arose and
subsided, and her mother moved solemnly to and fro in her best crinkly
silk dress. There was nothing of joy in the hearts of a boy and girl
who underwent the torture of the Sunday-afternoon call; to paraphrase
the immortal song of Casey, God had struck them out.

The first, and almost the last, young lady upon whom I called on a
Sunday afternoon lived near the waterworks, and her father and mother,
rocking solemnly upon the front porch and doubtless reflecting gloomily
upon the wickedness of the race, presented such a forbidding spectacle
that I walked four times around the block before venturing in. But at
length I did, and the then idol of my heart greeted me at the front
door. Ordinarily she would have seen me coming, and she would have
poked her head out of the window and yelled: “Hey! I’ll be out in a
minute.” Then we would have piled side by side into the lawn swing and
begun swapping trade-lasts, and the air would have been thick with
appreciative squeals and “he saids” and “she saids.” But this was
Sunday, a day given over to the glory that is religion, and so she met
me at the door with a prim and pretty curtsy. Her father gave me a
gentle but suspicious greeting, because to the religious parent every
boy thinks of a girl only in terms of seduction, and her mother stopped
her rocking chair long enough to inquire:

“Did you go to Sunday school to-day, Herbie?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“What was the Golden Text?” she demanded, suspiciously.

I told her and she asked:

“Did you stay to church?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Brother Jenkins preached such a beautiful sermon.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

And then she smiled a gentle smile, sighed a dolefully religious sigh
and told her daughter that she could take me into the parlor, that holy
of holies which was darkened and unused during the week, but opened on
Sundays for callers and on other special occasions such as funerals and
weddings. The room was extraordinarily gloomy, because the curtains
were never raised enough to let in a great deal of light, and it
smelled musty from being closed all week. And invariably the gloom was
added to by a crayon portrait of the head of the house, a goggle-eyed
enlargement of a very ordinary photograph by Trappe, which stood on an
easel in a corner.

I had considered this call an occasion, and with the aid of my elder
sister who was visiting us from Memphis, I had made an elaborate toilet
and had been permitted to wear my Sunday suit. But I did not have a
good time; I had known this girl a long time and admired her intensely,
but she seemed suddenly to have changed. She sat stiffly on one side
of the room near a window, hands folded demurely in her lap, and I sat
as stiffly on the other. We inquired coldly concerning each other’s
health, and I had prepared in my mind a suitable and, indeed, quite
holy comment on certain aspects of our school life and was about to
deliver it when her mother called gently from the porch:

“Don’t play the piano, dear: it’s Sunday.”

My observation went unuttered, and we sat for some little time in an
embarrassed silence broken only by the crunch of her mother’s rocking
chair and the crooning melody of a hymn, each wishing to Heaven
that the other was elsewhere. I yearned to hear the piano, but this
instrument, with its delightful tinkle and its capacity for producing
ragtime, was generally regarded as a hellish contraption; in fact, any
sort of fast music was considered more or less sinful. If there had
been an organ in the house, the young lady would have been permitted
to play it, and we could have sung from the family hymn book, provided
we did so in proper humility. But there was only a piano, and it was
taboo. Presently the mother spoke again:

“Don’t play the phonograph, dear; it’s Sunday.”

This admonition was modified later by permission to play an organ
record of the hymn, “Face to Face,” and we played it over five times
before the mother got tired of hearing it. She said, “You’d better stop
now, dear; it’s Sunday.” Then she suggested that we turn to other
means of entertainment.

“Perhaps Herbie would like to look at the album, dear. Would you,

“Yes, ma’am,” I said.

So we looked at the album, stiffly and in silence, the sacred book held
on our knees, but we were very careful that our knees did not touch.
We dared not giggle at the sight of the bushy-whiskered members of the
young lady’s family, and made no comment on their raiment, which we
rightly considered outlandish. We turned the pages and stared, and the
girl explained.

“That’s Uncle Martin.”

“Taken when he went to Niagara Falls on his honeymoon, dear,” said her
mother. “Uncle Martin was a great traveler.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said, feeling that comment was expected.

“Wouldn’t you like to travel, Herbie?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Well, be a good boy and read your Bible and maybe some day God will
make you a great traveler.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“But don’t travel on Sunday, Herbie.”

“No, ma’am.”

And crunch went the rocker and we turned another page, to find Aunt
Ella smiling gently at us through a mass of glorious flounces and
trains and switches. We learned from the mother that Aunt Ella had been
converted, at an extraordinarily early age, during a revival near Hazel
Run, and had lived a singularly devout and godly life. Then we looked
through the stereopticon at various places of interest, murmuring our
awe when the mother swished gently into the room and pointed out, in a
view of Niagara Falls, the exact spot where Uncle Martin had stood. It
was, she explained, one of God’s rocks.

To my knowledge this family had some very comical stereopticon views,
scenes depicting the life of an unfortunate tramp who was kicked
heartily and effectively at every place he applied for nourishment,
but we did not see them on Sunday afternoon. They were Saturday-night
stuff. Saturday night was nigger night in Farmington, and the whole
town let down the bars somewhat. That was the night when those who
drank got tight, and when those who bathed got wet, and when those who
had amorous intentions did their best to carry them out. Had I called
on Saturday night I should have been permitted to enjoy the adventures
of the unfortunate tramp, but not on Sunday. They had been put away,
under lock and key in the writing desk, and would not be brought out
until Monday. They were not calculated to promulgate a proper respect
for the Lord’s Day; they were considered downright wicked one day a
week and funny the other six.

Even in my infatuated condition an hour or so of this was quite enough.
Ordinarily this girl and I had much in common; at that time I ranked
her high among the beautiful flowers of God, and had I stopped at her
house on a week day we would have had gleeful and uproarious converse,
although even then we would have been liable to religious instruction
and catechism from every snooping Brother and Sister who saw us. But
the taboos that this Christian family had raised on its holy day stood
between us and could not be broken down; we were horribly uncomfortable
in each other’s presence, and we never got over it. She was never
afterward the same girl. And when I took myself and my Sunday suit into
the sunlight of the porch her mother stopped rocking and crooning hymns
long enough to demand.

“Are you going to church to-night, Herbie?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I replied. “I got to.”

And so I went out of the gate and away from there.

This sort of thing in the homes of Farmington drove all of the boys
to more or less open revolt as rapidly as they reached an age at
which they felt able to defy parental and churchly authority. By the
time I left the town the Sunday-afternoon callers, except those who
made unavoidable duty calls, were to be found only in the homes of
the ungodly, where there was music and pleasure and gayety, where
the parlor was wide open seven days a week and the phonograph blared
and the piano tinkled whenever anyone wanted to hear them. To these
houses also went the girls from the devout families for clandestine
meetings with their sweethearts; they could not entertain anyone in the
dismal mausoleums into which their fathers and mothers had transformed
their homes. Many a small-town romance has been blighted by the
Sunday-afternoon call.



In Farmington we had not only those Preachers who had been ordained to
the ministry and so licensed to preach by both God and man, but the
town was overrun with volunteers, Brothers and Sisters who shouted
the word of God whenever they could find an audience, who gave the
testimony at the camp meetings, the protracted meetings, and at those
orgies conducted by the professional evangelist who chased the Devil
from any town that would guarantee him a fat fee. These Preachers and
their allies controlled Farmington to a very large extent, and when
they were defeated, at elections or otherwise, they raised their voices
in howls of denunciation and called upon God to punish the guilty. It
was many years before I learned that a candidate endorsed by a Preacher
was not necessarily called by God to assume the office.

It was essential for any man who wanted to hold public office to
profess religion and be seen at church, and usually the more noise he
made in religious gatherings, the greater his chances of success at the
polls. If any candidate dared to hold views contrary to those of the
godly, a vile whispering campaign was started against him, and his
personal life was raked over and bared with many gloating references to
the Christian duty of the people to punish this upstart. Occasionally
the ungodly or anti-religious element elected a mayor or what not, but
generally religion triumphed and thanks were offered to God, and then
throughout his term the office-holder was harassed by pious hypocrites
seeking favors and special privilege. My father, as county surveyor and
city clerk, was constantly being checked up to determine if he remained
steadfast in the faith.

I do not think that my father was regarded as a first-class Christian
in Farmington; I am sure that in many quarters it was felt that he
was more or less disgracing his ancestry because he did not bound to
his feet at camp meetings and similar gatherings and make a holy show
of himself with hypocritical testimony. He went to church, and until
I was old enough to do pretty much as I pleased, he saw to it that I
went also, and to Sunday school and Epworth League and other places
where the Methodist God could take a peek at my soul. But he was
only passively religious; he showed no tremendous enthusiasm for the
Wesleyan Deity, and he never made a particularly active effort to keep
me in the path that, according to some, leads to spiritual glory.

In a religious sense I was annoyed much less by my father and my
mother than I was by the busybodies who seemed to be appointed by the
Lord to take care of everybody’s business but their own. Most of the
religious instruction that I received came from volunteers, either
relatives of my parents, or Brothers and Sisters whom I encountered
during my pathetic efforts to have a good time. And, of course, from
the Preacher. To many of these I put questions; I asked them to explain
certain things in the Bible and in the church service that I did not
understand, and which seemed to conflict with the little definite
knowledge that I had of life and human beings. Invariably I was told
that the Bible needed no explaining; I was merely to believe it and
have faith.

I was afraid of the Preachers in Farmington, and of the Brothers and
Sisters, desperately afraid of them, because they filled my mind with
horrible pictures of Hell and the roaring fires of old Nick; their
object in talking religion to small boys seemed to be to frighten them
into being good. And I think that most of the other boys were afraid of
them, too, except such brave souls as my cousin, Barney Blue, who was a
“bad boy” and afraid of neither God nor Devil. One of my great moments
was when I heard Barney tell a prying old Brother to go to hell. And
curiously enough, and incomprehensibly to many of the good old people
of Farmington, Barney is to-day exceedingly prosperous and well thought
of in his community.

But there were very few like Barney; most of us trembled in our boots,
even the red-topped ones we were so proud of, when a Preacher or a
Brother or Sister came snooping about, head bowed under its burden of
religious horror, and demanded information as to our conduct and the
condition of our souls. In the cities the cry of the youngsters was
“Cheese it, the cop,” but in Farmington it was “Look out, there’s a
Preacher!” We could not start a game of marbles anywhere in town but
one of them, or else a Brother or Sister, did not pounce upon us and
demand to know if we were playing “for keeps.” And since we invariably
were, and did not know enough to tell the Preacher what was politely
called a fib, the game stopped then and there while we absorbed a
little religion and learned that God abhorred little boys who played
for keeps.

We were told that God had His eye on us when we did such things, and
that our Guardian Angels put black marks in their little books every
time we shot a marble.

“You must give your heart to Jesus,” we were told. “He will not let you
dwell in the Heavenly Mansions if you persist in this sinful practice.”

We used to play marbles in a vacant lot behind the Christian church,
and it was a very fine playground, with a level stretch on which the
marbles rolled beautifully. But we had to give it up, because the lot
was near the home of a Sister, who spent most of her waking hours in
front of her window, staring out through the curtains in a constant
search for sin and scandal. We had no more than drawn the ring and
legged for first shot than she came out on her porch and shouted:

“Are you boys playing for keeps?”

And we answered in unison, politely, as we had been taught:

“Yes, ma’am.”

She stopped the game, swooping down upon us with the glint of the
Heaven-born fanatic in her eye. She told us that we were wicked
and sinful and blasphemous and Heaven knows what else besides to
play for keeps in the very shadow of a House of God. She invariably
threatened us with punishment ranging from spanking to everlasting
torment in Hell, and if we dared to say anything to her other than
the conventional “Yes, ma’am,” she said we were saucy and threatened
to telephone our mothers. Occasionally she did so, and a marble
game behind the Christian church was then followed by the wails of
little boys being led into the woodshed. She performed her war dance
many times, and finally we went to play near the livery stable. The
atmosphere there was not so uplifting, but at least we were in peace,
for the hostlers had no interest at all in our immortal souls, although
they were very much interested in who won the marbles.


The livery stables in Farmington were a sort of symbol of the heretical
element of the town. The big Mayberry & Byington barn, down the block
from Braun’s Hotel and Saloon, was a particularly delightful place to
loaf; it was infested by sinners, abandoned wretches who swore horrible
oaths, smoked cigarettes, and drank whisky and gin out of big bottles.
The politicians loafed there at such times as they felt they would not
be seen by the more godly part of our citizenry.

Two of our most celebrated darkies, Uncle Louis Burks and Uncle
Mose Bridges, spent most of their time at the Mayberry barn, and we
considered them quite fascinating, especially Uncle Louis. He regaled
us with tales of the days when, in the South before the Civil War, he
had no duties except be the father of as many children as possible;
that was his job. He estimated the number of his progeny anywhere
from fifty to five hundred, according to the amount of liquor he had
consumed before counting, and we generally gave him the benefit of the
doubt and called it five hundred. We ranked him with the great fathers
of the Bible, and I recall that it seemed to me somewhat strange that
the preachers did not offer Uncle Louis’s achievements as proof of the
truth of certain portions of the Book.

Uncle Mose’s principal claim to our attention was his dog, a sad-eyed
little mongrel that trotted at the end of a string everywhere Uncle
Mose went. We were permitted to play with the dog occasionally, much to
the disgust of our parents, as we invariably went home scratching. Both
Uncle Louis and Uncle Mose were regarded as sinners, partly on account
of their color. It was not believed that a black man could enter the
Kingdom of Heaven, although the deluded creatures had churches and
prayed to God. And then their domestic arrangements were somewhat
haphazard, and Uncle Louis frequently boasted that he did not marry
all the mothers of his children before the War. Both he and Uncle Mose
were familiar figures around Farmington for many years; they did odd
jobs at the homes of the godly, and for their pay received part cash
and part religious lectures and prayers. They thrived on the cash, and
apparently the prayers did not hurt them.

It was at the livery stable, also, that the drummers from St. Louis,
waiting for rigs to take them to the towns of the lead-mining district
around Bonne Terre, Flat River and Elvins, left their stocks of
stories. The coming of a drummer was an event with us; it meant that we
should hear things that were not meant for our little ears, and that
for a little while at least we could revel in the sight of a man given
over to sin and seemingly enjoying it. He used to assure us solemnly
that playing marbles for keeps was not a sin anywhere in the world
but in Farmington, and tell stories, which we regarded as fanciful
untruths, of towns in which little boys did not have to go to Sunday

The drummer came in on the herdic from De Lassus before the interurban
railroad was built, and he was generally a gorgeous spectacle. He was
not welcomed in our best homes, and even his presence in church was not
considered a good omen for the forces of righteousness, so he could
usually be found loafing in front of the livery stable or dozing in a
chair tilted against the wall of the St. Francis Hotel. He brought with
him not only the latest stories, but the most advanced raiment; the
first peg-top trousers ever seen in Farmington adorned the legs of a
shoe drummer traveling out of St. Louis, and they created a furor and
established a style. Soon our most stylish dressers had them.

Besides being the abode of wickedness and the lair of Satan, and
therefore an extraordinarily fascinating place, the livery stable was
also the principal loafing place of a darky who had fits. He was one of
our town characters, and was regarded by myself and the other boys as a
person of remarkable accomplishments. We felt that to be able to have
fits set him above us; we gloated enormously when he suddenly shrieked,
fell to the ground and began foaming at the mouth. Our attitude toward
him was respectful, and he appreciated it. He was, it seemed to me,
proud of his fits. I have known him to rise, finally, brush himself off
and ask, simply:

“Was it a good one?”

Generally we thought it was. This darky became such an attraction
for us that for a long time, when a group of us could find nothing
interesting to do, and when there was for the moment no one in sight to
remind us of our duty to God and the church, it was the custom for one
of us to say:

“Let’s go over to the livery stable and see Tod have a fit.”

We thereupon trooped solemnly to the big barn and gathered in a circle
about the darky, who was generally sitting against the side of the
building whittling on a stick. We watched him silently for a while, and
then someone mustered up courage enough to say:

“Going to have a fit to-day, Tod?”

With the instinct of the true artist, Tod ignored us for a time, intent
upon his whittling. Finally he gave us brief attention.

“Maybe,” he said, and returned to his task.

And then suddenly he uttered a blood-curdling shriek and tumbled
headlong from his chair. We watched, fascinated, uttering little
murmurs of “ah!” as he writhed and moaned, and when it was all over we
settled back with a little sigh of satisfaction. We felt that we had
seen a first-rate performance, and when the darky had a fit in front
of the Post Office, or in the yard of the courthouse, his audience was
increased by as many boys and men as were downtown, shopkeepers leaving
their wares to run across and watch.

There was nothing of callousness in our attitude toward the darky. My
own feeling in the matter was that Tod was having fits for our benefit,
and because he enjoyed it, but at length I came to learn that he could
not help it, that the poor fellow was ill. Then I was sorry for him,
and one day I asked one of our most prominent Brothers why Tod had
fits. He immediately seized upon the question to give me some religious

“He has sinned,” said the Brother, “and God is punishing him.”

He elaborated his statement, explaining that Tod had probably neglected
to attend Sunday school, or had not read his Bible, and that he had
thus become a blasphemous sinner and was being properly dealt with.
He pointed out that I, too, might grow up and have fits if I was not
a good boy. Now, I did not want to have fits, and neither did I want
to be a good boy. I wanted to have some fun; I wanted to run about,
and play marbles, and go swimming, and put tick-tacks against people’s
window on Halloween night. I wanted to do all sorts of things that
good boys did not do, yet I most certainly did not want to have fits.

“But, Uncle Si,” I said, “how do you know that God is making him have
fits? And why does God do it?”

“Herbie!” He was shocked. “You are blasphemous! You must not question
the wisdom of the Almighty. I have faith, and I believe in God and the
holiness of His acts. I know that this man must have sinned, or God
would not punish him so.”

I was not prepared to confound this faulty logic; it was not then
the business of small boys to question anything their elders told
them, but to accept without comment the pearls of wisdom that fell
from bewhiskered lips. But it seemed to me small business for God to
be engaged upon. Yet it did not cause me great surprise, for I had
long known that the God who pressed so heavily upon Farmington was a
conception of unutterable cruelty, an omnipotent Being whose greatest
joy lay in singling out the weak and lowly and inflicting horrible
tortures upon them, to the vast and gloating satisfaction of the
Brothers and their kind.

Some time afterward, because I was worried over this torturing and
punishment of the darky whose writhings had now become less an amusing
exhibit than a terrible manifestation of the Almighty, I asked another
Brother how he knew that God had a hand in it. But neither he nor Uncle
Si ever told me. None of them were ever able to tell me how they knew
so well what God wanted and what God did not want; they merely left
with me the impression that on occasion they walked with God and that
God spoke to them and asked their advice on the conduct of the human
race. But the source of their information I could not determine.

I have never found anyone who could satisfy my curiosity on this
point; I never then, or later, found a religious enthusiast who would
admit that he was offering merely his personal interpretation of the
utterances that other men had credited to the Almighty. But there
was nothing that entered the mind of God that the Preachers and the
Brothers and Sisters of Farmington did not know and that they could
not explain and apply to local affairs. They knew precisely what was a
sin and what was not, and it was curious that the sins were invariably
things from which they received no pleasure. Nor was anything which
paid a profit a sin. They knew very well that God considered it a sin
to play cards or dance, but that He thought it only good business
practice to raise the price of beans or swindle a fellow citizen in the
matter of town lots, or refuse credit to the poor and suffering.


As I grew older, and began to be skeptical of what I was told, I
became increasingly annoyed not only by the mental mannerisms of these
people, but by their physical mannerisms as well. Not only did they
walk as if their soles were greased, sliding and slipping about, but
they talked as if their tongues were greased also. Their language was
oily; they poured out their words unctuously, with much roundabout
phrasing and unnecessary language. If they wanted to tell about a man
going across the street from the Court House to the Post Office they
would take him up the hill past the Masonic cemetery, with side trips
to Jerusalem and other Jewish centers. If I went downtown and met a man
like Sheriff Rariden, who will always have a place in my affections
because he permitted his son Linn and myself to roam the jail yard and
stare through the bars at the nigger prisoners, he would say:

“How’re you, Herbie? How’re your folks?”

But if I met a Preacher the greeting was this:

“Good afternoon, Herbert. And how are your dear father and mother?”

And then he patted me on the head, pinched my arm, and padded away,
sliding greasily along the pavement, his eagle eye alert for little
boys playing marbles or for other signs of sin. He might have been
skinny and pitifully in need of food, but nevertheless I thought of
him as greasy. He had about him an unwholesome atmosphere; I could not
be comfortable in his presence. I felt that he had to be watched,
and when I became old enough to understand some of the looks that he
bestowed upon the young and feminine members of his flock I realized
that he should have been.

I had not lived very many years before I learned to look upon
Preachers, and their familiars, the Brothers and Sisters, as useless
incumbrances upon an otherwise fair enough earth. But while I hated
all of them, with a few natural exceptions, the one I always hated
most was the current pastor of our Southern Methodist church. He was
my spiritual father, the guardian of my soul and the director of my
life in the hereafter, and he tried to see to it that I went into the
hereafter with proper respect for him and a proper respect for his God.
I had to call him Brother and be very meek and gentle in his presence,
and stand without moving while he patted me on the head, asked me fool
questions, and told me how much God loved little boys and girls. He
called me a “manly little fellow,” which annoyed me exceedingly, and I
have the word of my young nephew that small boys are still annoyed by

But he made it quite clear, out of his profound knowledge of the wishes
of the Almighty, that God did not want little boys and girls to have
a good time. Quite the contrary. God wanted them to do exactly what
the Preacher told them to do; He wanted them to accept the Preacher as
their guide and their philosopher and to believe everything they were
told, without fretting him with unanswerable and therefore blasphemous
questions. He wanted the little boys and girls to spend most of their
time praying to Him to “gimme this and gimme that,” and the rest of it
being little gentlemen and little ladies, solemn and subdued, speaking
only when spoken to and answering promptly when called. God told the
Preacher, who relayed the message on to me very impressively, that it
was a sin to play marbles on Sunday, or to play for keeps at any time;
that it was a sin to roll hoops on the sidewalk in front of the church
or rattle a stick against the picket fence in front of the parsonage.
Everything that I wanted to do, everything that seemed to hold any
promise of fun or excitement, was a sin.

But it was not a sin to saw wood for the Preacher, or to carry huge
armfuls of sticks and fill his kitchen bin, and it was not a sin to
mow his lawn or rake the trash in his back yard. The children of the
godly were permitted to do these things because of the profound love
which the Preacher bore for them; his motto was “Suffer little children
to come unto me, and I will put them to work.” And since by his own
admission the Preacher was a Man of God, we were permitted to perform
these labors for nothing. A boy was paid twenty-five to fifty cents,
enormous and gratifying sums in those days, if he mowed the lawn or
raked the trash for a family given over to sin, but if he did the job
for a Preacher or a devout Brother, he received nothing but a pat on
the back and a prayer, or he could listen to a verse from the Bible
and a lecture on his duty to serve the Lord and, incidentally, the
self-appointed ambassadors of the Lord.

Once when I was about twelve years old our pastor telephoned my mother
and asked that I be sent to his house to help him perform certain
tasks which should have been done by the darky men of all work about
town. But our family did not wish to offend the Preacher, so I did
the work. And it was hard work. I toiled all morning cleaning out the
Preacher’s woodshed and stacking split stove wood in neat piles, and
then I carried in enough to fill two big wooden boxes in the kitchen.
During this time the Preacher sat in his study, holding communion with
God, and I presume, reading the Scriptures. Occasionally he came out
to the woodshed to superintend my work, ordering me to do this and do
that and scolding me because I did not work faster, but he did none of
the work himself. And when I was through he told me to come into his
study and receive payment. I hurried after him, very weary, but with
pleasant visions of a quarter floating before my eyes. I believed that
was the least I should receive, and to me it was a great deal of money;
properly expended at McKinney’s or Otto Rottger’s, it would keep me in
jawbreakers for more than a week, and there might be enough left to buy
a bag of peewees or an agate.

But I did not receive the twenty-five cents. The Preacher closed the
door when we got into his study, and then he commanded me to kneel. He
put a hand on my shoulder, and he said:

“My dear boy, I am going to pray for you. I am going to ask the Lord
Jesus to enter your heart and make you a good boy.”

And then he knelt and prayed somewhat in this fashion: “O Lord Jesus,
bless this little boy who has this day performed labor in Thy behalf,”

It was all very confusing. I went home somewhat in doubt as to whether
the Preacher or God owned the woodshed.

But labor of little boys was not all that the Preachers got for
nothing. They were inveterate beggars, and all of them had fine, highly
developed noses for chickens and other dainties; it was seldom that
a family could have a chicken or turkey dinner without the Preacher
dropping in. It is true that their salaries were not large, but they
had free use of the parsonage, and they were not in dire circumstances
at all. Yet they always had their hands out, grasping; they were
ecclesiastical tramps begging for a donation. In our town we used to
give showers for them; many families made periodical donations to the
Pastor, and sometimes there were surprise parties, when the Preacher
and his wife were led into a room and shown piles of old clothing,
food and discarded furniture, all of which was sent next day to the
parsonage. The Preacher was always pathetically grateful for these
things; he would kneel in the midst of them and offer a prayer for the
souls of the good people who had thus given him the clutterings of
their cellars and attics, which they had no further use for. He seldom
had enough self-respect to refuse them.


The notion was prevalent in Farmington, among the Brothers and Sisters,
that the Preachers were their servants and should peddle God to them
365 days a year. It was felt also that their wives should be constantly
at the Lord’s work; that they should be at home at all times, available
for consultation and prayer meetings, and that when they went abroad
they should dress soberly and walk with due humility. The wife of
Brother Court, one of our Methodist pastors, was severely criticized
for her departure from this formula of conduct. Apparently the Courts
had means other than the salary paid them by the church, and they kept
a maid, which in itself was enough to arouse suspicion that Mrs. Court
was not a true servant of the Lord.

But the straw that broke the religious back of the Courts and hastened
the end of Brother Court’s ministry was the fact that Mrs. Court took a
nap each afternoon. This was considered nothing less than scandalous,
and for a long time our Brothers and Sisters refused to believe that
the wife of a man of God should so far forget herself as to lie abed
when she might be praying or sitting at her front window looking
through the curtains for a sin to happen. But the story persisted, and
was broadcast by a discharged servant who swore that with her own eyes
she had seen Mrs. Court sound asleep at three o’clock in the afternoon.
Finally two Sisters appointed themselves a committee of investigation.
They rang the bell at the parsonage one afternoon, and told the maid
that they had called to join Mrs. Court in afternoon prayer, and,
although they did not say it, backbiting gossip.

“Mrs. Court,” said the maid, “is asleep and cannot be disturbed. Can
you call later?”

They could not. They had barely strength enough to get home, but after
prayer they revived sufficiently to sally forth and carry the awful
news throughout the town. There could no longer be any doubt. The
wife of the Pastor of the Southern Methodist church took a nap in the
afternoon. The Sisters had called, and had been so informed by the
maid, and while a few chronic doubters remained, the vast majority
realized that in a matter involving such serious consequences to Mrs.
Court’s spiritual welfare, a matter that directly affected and almost
destroyed her chances of going to Heaven, the Sisters could not tell a

So Brother Court soon resigned and accepted a call to a town where
members of his family could sleep when they felt like it, and could
even snore without jeopardizing their immortal souls. Nor did his
successor last very long. He was an Englishman, and spoke in a high
nasal voice, pronouncing his words very distinctly, syllable by
syllable. He was criticized for several reasons. One was that his
favorite phrase was “and an-gels can do no more,” and it was felt that
it was somewhat blasphemous to mention angels so often before mixed
company. And then he spoke from notes, whereas it was a custom of our
Pastors to preach solely out of divine inspiration at the moment of

There was much talk about the new Preacher’s notes, and it was felt
that, somehow, he was lacking in devotion to God; many Brothers and
Sisters argued that if he were really a Man of God he would not have
to use notes, but would be inspired and filled with words as he rose
in the pulpit. His finish came the Sunday morning that the wind blew
through an opened window and scattered his notes, so that he had to
leave the pulpit and chase the scraps up and down the aisle before he
could proceed with his discourse. This was regarded as direct evidence
that God had deserted him, and he left town soon afterward.


The personalities of the preachers of my home town, impressed as they
were upon my growing, plastic mind, probably will remain with me
always, but I am thankful that for the most part their names elude me.
I remember clearly, however, Brother Jenkins and Brother Fontaine,
of our Southern Methodist church; Brother Nations, of the so-called
Christian church; Brother Hickok, of the Presbyterian church, and,
clearest of all, Brother Lincoln McConnell, the professional itinerant
evangelist who “converted” me with the aid of half a dozen strong-armed
and strong-lunged Brothers and Sisters who dragged and pushed me down
the aisle of the church to the mourners’ bench, where I was surrounded
and overwhelmed by “workers for the Lord.”

Brother Jenkins I recall as a meek, thin little man with a sad smile
and a classical appetite for fried chicken. At the time I was very
much in awe of him, and listened to his every utterance with the
most profound respect. I thought him saintly, and concluded that he
and God were the closest sort of friends, and that the Deity would
not dare launch upon a plan for a new universe or start a new war
without consulting Brother Jenkins. But in truth he was probably only
under-nourished. Brother Jenkins was a demon quoter of platitudes and
Biblical passages; nothing happened that it did not remind him of a
quotation from the Bible.

Brother Fontaine was a plump man who would have been jovial and
possibly likable--that is giving him the benefit of a great doubt--if
he had not been so burdened by the troubles of God and if he had not
been so frightfully aware of the responsibilities of his position
as a recipient and promulgator of Heavenly wisdom and commands. He
officiated at the wedding of my sister, principally because our family
belonged to his church and the presence of another preacher at the
wedding would have deprived Brother Fontaine of a goodly fee and made
an enemy of him for life. Christian charity does not function well when
it hits the pocketbook. I think my sister would have preferred Brother
Hickok, but she yielded to public opinion and Brother Fontaine got the
job. He arrived at the house chewing tobacco, a habit of his which he
disliked intensely in other men, but for which he found justification
for himself in the belief that he walked with the Lord and that it was
tacitly understood he was to have a little leeway.

He was excessively sanctimonious; and so was his wife. We have never
forgiven her for her attitude at the wedding. I recall that she looked
suspiciously from time to time at the groom, and watched the whole
proceeding with an air that said there must of a necessity be something
wrong somewhere; for one thing, there was quite a deal of laughter in
our house that day, and that in itself was a sign that the Lord was
not hovering over the housetop. Immediately after the ceremony Sister
Fontaine paraded up front and began waving her hands back and forth
before my sister’s face, shouting at the top of her lungs: “Praise the
Lord, Sister! Praise the Lord!” We gathered that she thought my sister
should immediately fall upon her knees and thank God that she had at
last acquired a husband, even though Sister Fontaine did not seem to
think much of him. But we were greatly offended; we considered it a
reflection on our family and wholly uncalled for, because my sister
was, in fact, neither old nor homely, and she had had and rejected a
great many first-class matrimonial opportunities.

I had an intense dislike for Brother Fontaine and his ways, and time
has not softened my impression of him. He dearly loved to be the only
man in a feminine gathering, where he could make heavy inroads upon
the cake and ice cream and lay down the law to the adoring Sisters. I
have seldom known a Preacher who was not afflicted with this mania, but
in Brother Fontaine it had developed into a highly acute disease. I
remember that he was always present at our house when the members of
the Ladies’ Aid Society came once each week for their bit of sewing for
the heathen and to enjoy their pleasant afternoon of scandal. He had no
business there; he did not sew and he did not contribute much to the
symposium, but he listened avidly and ate heartily.

It was “Don’t you think so, Brother Fontaine?” and “I fear I must take
issue with you, Sister. The Lord provideth answers for all problems
affecting human conduct.” Fool talk like that.

It was the practice of our Southern Methodist preachers to stand at the
door of the church after every performance and shake hands with the
customers, making such remarks as “Praise the Lord, Sister! Get right
with Jesus, Brother!” I always dreaded this part of the service, and
several young girls told me that they did also. All of the preachers
who did this, and almost all of them did, shook hands with a clammy
pressure that put me in mind of an oyster, and it always seemed to
me that when a lady customer passed through the door the Man of God
invariably found it necessary to sigh.

But although I cannot rate Brother Fontaine very highly among the
servants of the Lord, my younger brother consigned him to even lower
depths. They went fishing together once, at Brother Fontaine’s request,
and Fred appeared at the parsonage with lunch, fishing tackle and
car fare. Brother Fontaine knelt and asked divine guidance for the
expedition, and then they boarded a trolley car and went to De Lassus,
to fish the St. Francis River around Blumeyer’s Ford. Fred paid his

“You must pay my fare, too, Fred,” said Brother Fontaine. “I am the

So Fred paid. There was nothing else that he could do; he was afraid
that if he did not Brother Fontaine would whistle to God to call down
an avenging angel armed with thunderbolts and lightning. Then it
developed that Brother Fontaine had brought neither lunch nor fishing
tackle; he had brought only himself, and being a Man of God that was
sufficient. Perhaps he felt that since his influence with the Almighty
was undoubtedly great enough to make the trip successful, Fred had
no right to expect him to bear any of the expenses or furnish any
equipment. So he used Fred’s tackle and ate Fred’s lunch, and when that
was not enough for him he sent Fred a mile and a half to a farmhouse to
buy a bottle of milk, for which Fred paid and which the reverend one
guzzled without offering to share it.

Throughout the whole day Brother Fontaine alternately prayed and
fished, but there must have been something wrong with his connecting
line to Heaven, for he caught no fish. He finally turned the tackle
over to Fred, with the remark that Fred had not brought the right
sort of worms, and with the further explanation that worms being God’s
creatures as well as fish, God probably did not want the fish to eat
them. Fred fished earnestly; he was ordinarily a good and successful
fisherman, and it was a matter of pride with him not to go home
without a string. But neither did Fred catch any fish, and he became
increasingly annoyed at Brother Fontaine.

The preacher apparently labored under the delusion that Fred required
religious instruction. He told, several times, the story of the loaves
and the fishes, and many other Biblical fairy tales as well. Once, when
Fred was anxiously watching his cork and felt certain that a perch was
nibbling at his hook, Brother Fontaine stopped him to read the Sermon
on the Mount from a Bible which he drew from his pocket. Everything he
saw reminded him of something in the Scriptures. So passed the day, and
when Fred came home that night, with no fish, he ate heavily of supper
and then dared parental wrath by saying:

“No more of these damned preachers for me.”

Brother Nations is probably Farmington’s most illustrious gift to
religion. It is true that he eventually resigned from the ministry and
became Probate Judge and Principal of the High School, but he remained
a steadfast adherent of the Protestant God and a singularly devout and
godly man. I presume he still is, as he is the same Gilbert O. Nations
who in 1924 ran for President as the candidate of what he called the
American party, asking for the votes of the electorate on a pro-Ku Klux
Klan and anti-everything else platform. I am told that he is now the
editor of a magazine devoted to baiting the Catholics.

Once when Brother Nations was principal of the Farmington High School
he whaled me because Barney Blue and I had thrown snowballs at Jake
Schaeffer, the town truckman. I felt that the licking was coming to me
and I bore no malice; only the week before I had thrown lumps of coal
at Pete Anderson’s house across the street and had been warned that the
hurling of anything at all would result in punishment. But after the
thrashing was over, Brother Nations told me that throwing snowballs
at Jake Schaeffer was a sin against God: that Christ had reference to
it when he said: “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” I
could not plead that I was without sin, because it had been impressed
on me by every Brother and Sister and Preacher that I met that I was
practically broken out with it. But young and gullible as I was,
Brother Nations’ statement sounded silly.

I could understand that from Jake Schaeffer’s viewpoint I had sinned,
and grievously, because Jake was stooping over when the snowball
struck and I had put a stone in the center of it to make the snow pack
tighter; I was willing to admit that and repent. But what did God care
if two boys smacked snowballs against a soft part of Jake’s person? It
seemed to me that if God had been really interested in the matter He
would have advised Jake Schaeffer not to stoop over when two boys were
abroad with snowballs. Thus He might have prevented a sin. Further, if
God was as intelligent as I had been led to believe, He must have known
that boys cannot resist the temptation to throw snowballs, and since
He made both the boys and the snowballs He was responsible for the sin
committed against Himself. But Brother Nations appeared to believe that
God had permitted me to sin in order that I might taste the joys of
castigatory rebuke. And I did.

Brother Hickok was the only Preacher of those days to whom I gave the
slightest measure of respect. I had a genuine admiration for him, but
it was not because he was a Preacher or because he pretended to any
inside knowledge of the customs of Heaven or the thoughts and wishes of
God. On the contrary, I have heard him admit that there were things in
the Bible he did not understand, and I have heard him admit that there
were passages in it that he did not particularly care for. But I liked
him simply because he chewed tobacco without any effort at concealment,
and played lawn tennis on the courts near our home, and because I
suspected, every time I saw him wallop a tennis ball or bite a chunk
from a slab of plug-cut, that he was Wild Bill Hickok in disguise.

About the time Brother Hickok came to Farmington I acquired a book
devoted to the adventures of Wild Bill, Kit Carson, Buffalo Bill and
other heroes of the Western plains, and of them all I liked Wild Bill
best. He seemed to me to be everything that a man ought to be. He had
more notches on his gun than any of the others, and it appeared that
he could not so much as sneeze without a redskin biting the dust. I
put the question of identity to Brother Hickok rather bluntly, and
told him I would respect his confidence, but he denied it, although I
gathered the impression that he was a relative of Wild Bill and, of
course, mighty proud of him. But I was not satisfied, and for a long
time I shadowed him in the manner set forth by Old and Young King Brady
in that sterling nickel novel, “Secret Service,” hoping to learn his
secret. However, I never did solve the question to my own satisfaction.

But principally I admired Brother Hickok because he was the only
Preacher I knew who did not proclaim incessantly that he was a Man of
God and therefore entitled to the largest piece of pie, and because he
was the only one who did not seem to be impressed by my relationship
with Bishop Asbury. He didn’t seem to give a damn about the Bishop; his
only ambition, so far as I was concerned, was to beat me at tennis,
which he did. But from the others, and from the Brothers and Sisters,
I got the impression that the right reverend deceased, seated at God’s
right hand between Jesus Christ and St. Peter, perhaps crowding the
latter a bit, had nothing to do but receive messages from the Almighty
touching on my conduct, and relay them to me by whatever Preacher I
happened to meet. For many years I thought that God and the Bishop had
a consultation on my case every night.

I do not think that I shall ever forget Brother Lincoln McConnell,
although I probably should not recognize him if I saw him to-day.
I hope not. But for some eighteen long years I have cherished a
compelling desire to stand him in a corner, minus his band and singers
and his other aids to emotion, and then bind and gag him. After that
I want to talk to him for hours and hours, embellishing my remarks
with such florid words as I have acquired in various military and
journalistic enterprises, and possibly inventing new ones for the
occasion. He was responsible for the most miserable period of my life.
But it was he, too, who definitely kept me from being a Preacher, or
even a Brother, and so, perhaps, I should thank him. If he had let me
alone I might at this moment be calling some other preacher Brother;
I might be an intimate of God, and a walking Baedeker of Heaven; I
might even be gloating over the glories of a Heaven paved with gold and
populated by angels, all female, all beautiful, all amiable. Certainly
I should not be given over to a life of sin; that is to say, I should
not be having a pretty good time with this business of living.

Brother McConnell, as I write, is a pastor of a Baptist church in
Oklahoma City, Okla., with occasional forays onto the Chautauqua
platform, and is a potent force in the life of that abode of
righteousness. But if reports are to be believed, there are even there
those who consider him a blight. He has been the central figure in
several rows that have undoubtedly redounded to the greater glory of
God; he tried to prevent the citizens of his town from seeing one of
the best American plays of recent years because it dealt a bit too
truthfully with certain aspects of religious fanaticism, and he erected
a radio broadcasting station which blanketed the city and forced the
population to listen, willy-nilly, to his sermons and his ponderous
pronouncements against sin.

I once wrote a magazine article in which I discussed a few of the
activities of Brother McConnell, and he put me in my place in an
interview which, it seems to me, shows that he has not changed a great
deal since the time that I first shook hands with him as he leaned over
the mourner’s bench and beseeched me to give my heart to his God. I
give it here. It appeared in the Oklahoma City _News_, on January 27,

  “He is a very small potato.” That was the reply of the Rev. Lincoln
  McConnell, First Baptist Church pastor.... “I have some doubt,” said
  the Rev. McConnell, “as to whether I should feel honored or otherwise
  by the repeated mention of my name in this article by Herbert Asbury
  without realizing that this writer cannot possibly have inherited
  anything more from his illustrious ancestry than his name.

  “I confess that it is rather surprising to me that editors of a
  magazine could attach enough importance to such cheap drivel as this
  as to give it the position and the space they do.

  “The natural assumption is that they believe about religion, the
  religion of Christ, what this poor fellow does, and therefore,
  actually believe that this ‘weak stuff’ is a contribution to their

  “I remember Farmington, Mo., very well, having been there about
  twenty-five years ago. I do not remember Herbert Asbury at all.

  “I am not surprised that I do not, as he must have been then somewhat
  as he evidently is now--a very small potato--and while I would feel
  naturally as interested in his conversion as in anyone else, at the
  same time I am forced to admit that it would not be possible for a
  man of training and experience to list a man of his evident mentality
  very highly, even though he were a professed convert in his meeting.

  “I am very sorry that he was not really converted. If the Editor of
  the _American Mercury_ cares for things of a really constructive
  nature, I can give him the life story of thousands of men and women
  whom because of the genuineness of their conversion to Christ in my
  own meetings, have given to the world characters of such beauty and
  worth as have reflected credit upon themselves and their church and
  have proved a blessing to society at large.

  “I have never asked people to stand up if they want to go to Heaven.
  I think that very ridiculous.”


It was these people who taught me of God, and who had dominion over
my spiritual welfare! And not only did they instruct me to worship
their conception of Him; they threatened me with eternal damnation
if I didn’t, and with even more horrible punishment if I ventured to
cast doubt upon the truth and holiness of the Bible. Eternal damnation
meant that I should, in the life to come, hang throughout eternity on
a revolving spit over a great fire in the deepest pit of Hell, while
little red devils jabbed white-hot pokers into my quivering flesh and
Satan stood by and curled his lip in glee. I received the impression
that Satan was the only one actively concerned with religion who was
ever permitted to laugh. God was not, nor His disciples, and that Satan
could and apparently did was sufficient proof that laughter was wicked.

And they described God to me, and told me in minute detail of the
architectural design of Heaven and the furnishings of the Mansions
in the Sky. I do not know where they obtained their information. I
gathered that God was an old man who wore a long white nightgown and
boasted a luxuriant growth of whiskers, with a disposition compounded
of the snarls of a wounded wildcat and the pleasant conceits of a
_must_ elephant. He chewed tobacco--perhaps that impression was due
to the fact that so many of our preachers were addicted to the vile
weed--and He had an enormous head which contained an eye for every
person on earth, and this eye was constantly upon its object. And it
was a vindictive and jaundiced eye, peering into the innermost depths
of the soul and the mind and the heart for some thought or feeling that
might call for punishment.

The descriptions of Heaven and the physical appearance of the angels
varied somewhat, according to whether the tale was told by a preacher
or a Brother, or a Sister. But all of them talked with gusto of streets
paved with gold and of clouds lined with silver, of magnificent
buildings constructed of precious stones, and of angels sitting on
the clouds with no worthier purpose in life than strumming a golden
harp, protected from the weather by no more substantial raiment than
a white nightgown, a halo and a pair of sandals. And whoever told the
tale, there was always that underlying idea of sybaritic magnificence;
Heaven bore no resemblance to the lowly stable in which the founder
of their religion was born, and it was not a somber retreat for the
further development of the soul and the cultivation of those virtues
that are lost sight of upon the earth. As it was described to me in my
youth, and as it is still described on those rare occasions when I can
bring myself to hold converse with a Preacher, Heaven was a celestial
reproduction of the palace of a Babylonian monarch. Nobody worked, and
God’s House abounded with gold and silver and rubies and diamonds,
and on every cloud that rolled down the street was a beautiful woman,
eternally young and amiable. The Heaven that I was taught to aspire to
was a motion picture set on an even grander scale than the creations of
Cecil De Mille.

But even more emphasis was placed, in these tales, on feminine
virginity. It seemed that Heaven was filled with virgins; I have never
heard a Preacher describe an angel without mentioning the fact that the
angel was a virgin, and I have never heard a Preacher describe Mary
simply as the mother of Jesus. She is always the Virgin Mother, and
he pronounces it all in capitals. Even as a boy I was impressed with
the frequency with which the word “virgin” appeared in the discourses
of our Pastor and in the lectures so freely bestowed upon me by the
Brothers. It seemed to me that the word fascinated them; although I
might be trembling with fear that God would strike me dead because I
had not learned my Sunday-school lesson or had forgotten the Golden
Text, I was so impressed that I found time to wonder at the enthusiasm
with which they mouthed it.

It seemed impossible for Preachers or devout Brothers to say “virgin”
as casually as they did other words; they gloated over it, toyed with
it, rolled it about their tongues and tasted the full flavor of it
before it slid drippingly from their lips with an amazing clarity of
pronunciation. Usually they accompanied it with a doleful sigh. I
thought then that the sigh was from excess of piety, and I thought that
their eyes shone and their breath came a little faster from the same
cause, that these things were possibly manifestations of God, and I was
greatly impressed. But I am older now and I know better.

When I became old enough to understand what was meant by virginity,
and to understand that it was something more than a badge of the
angels, I understood also many other things that had hitherto been
mysteries. I knew then what was in the mind of one of the Brothers, an
extraordinarily devout man with an astounding knowledge of the wishes
of God and the manners and customs of Heaven, when he stopped me on the
street one day and asked me what, if anything, had happened on a recent
hay ride to Blumeyer’s Ford and back by members of our social set.

“Did the boys and girls sit close together?” he asked.

“Yes, sir. We had to. We were on a hay wagon.”

“Did you boys sit right up against them?”

I told him we did, and in my youthful innocence I remarked that I had
been compelled to sit so close to one girl that we could hardly tell
our legs apart. The old man drew a sharp breath, sighed and his eyes
glistened. He repeated the word “legs” with gusto, he gloated over it,
and then he said:

“You sat so close to her that your legs touched? Your leg touched hers?
Your leg was right up against her?”

“Yes, sir. I had to.”

“The leg of a young virgin!” mused the old devil. “That was wicked. It
is wicked to think of the legs of a virgin. God will punish you.”

He went away muttering to himself. I was disgusted, not at his ideas,
because I had practically the same thought about virgins that he did,
and so did most of the other boys of the town, but at his manner. Here
was an old man who had set himself up as a mundane representative of
the Lord, who told me whom to worship and how to worship Him, who held
daily communion with God and received messages from Him touching on
my conduct, gloating and trembling because a boy had sat with his leg
against the leg of a girl in the forced confinement of a hay ride. God
knows what is happening to him if he is alive in these days of short
skirts and silk stockings.

Another of our Brothers, a very prominent member of one of our
Protestant churches, kept a store in the business district not far from
the Court House. He was waiting on a customer the day that the first
woman to ride astride in our town cantered down Columbia Street, and
his performance was a town scandal for many years. He caught a glimpse
of the girl through the window, and he abandoned his customer and
rushed to the street, in company with half the county officials who
had been dozing with their feet on their desks, and all of the town
loafers. The Brother followed her for several blocks, missing no detail
of her costume, which was rather bizarre and daring for those days, and
then he went back to his store and his customer.

He stood for a while wrapped in contemplation.

“She was riding like a man!” he said. “Her legs--her legs----”

My experiences in these matters, of course, were principally with
Preachers and Brothers, but I had occasional contacts with the Sisters.
They, too, described God and Heaven, but they did not conceive God as
being quite so old and feeble as the Being worshipped by the Brothers,
and for the most part they populated Heaven with handsome, stalwart
young men, presumably virgins. I recall one exceedingly devout Sister
who expressed the belief that there were no female angels in Heaven,
and I have heard her praying with extraordinary fervor to God, in
effect, to make an exception in her case. Whether she was justified in
this optimistic opinion of herself I never knew, but I assume that she
and the other Sisters, in their discussion of the virginity of angels,
experienced the same sort of vicarious pleasure that seemed to mean so
much to the Preachers and the Brothers.


I did not go to many camp meetings; ours was not a camp-meeting
country. We went in more for protracted meetings, and for the stirring
revivals of professional evangelists, held in comfortable church
buildings. Usually I went to camp meeting only because some girl in
whom I was interested had to go. But they were very popular with a
certain type of young man about Farmington, who knew that religious
emotion is very akin to secular emotion; the line of demarcation is
very thin, and most men who have been around religious women very
much know that one emotion can quickly be transformed into the other.
Young girls are much easier prey after they have been overwhelmed by
religion, their nerves upset and their brains whirling with emotion,
and they are then easily persuaded that the Lord will forgive, even
though His earthly agents will not. Of course such a statement could
not be proven, but it is quite likely that more seductions have
occurred at camp meetings, and _en route_ to and from them, than on
all the front porches and lawn swings that were ever manufactured,
although in Farmington for many years a lawn swing was regarded as a
lure of Hell. Even while the service was in progress the buggies around
the meeting tent were filled with men and women petting, or, as we
called it then, spooning.

Strange things happened at these camp meetings, and at the other
gatherings as well, when a forthright religionist saw the light. At one
such holy conclave an old woman, for many years a thorn in the flesh of
the godly, suddenly bounced to her feet and shouted:

“Praise the Lord! My corn hurts! Praise the Lord!”

And this, because it embodied physical suffering and a great deal of
mental torture as well, was accepted as an infallible sign that God had
at last entered her soul. She had been converted, and all the rest of
her life she was a prying, sanctimonious old pest. She used to stop me
on the street and inquire as to the condition of my soul, and ask me
whether I said my prayers at night, and whether I read the Bible, and
she would grab me by the arm and pinch me and demand the Golden Text
of the last Sunday-school lesson. And if by any chance I had forgotten
or did not know, she scolded me and predicted dire things for me in
the life to come. Incidentally, she knew all about the life to come;
it seems that God had appeared to her in a vision, and had described
Heaven to her.

At all of these meetings extraordinary efforts were made to ensnare the
children and convert them to Christianity; the workers for the Lord
were not at all concerned with the fact that the children did not know
what it was all about, that they had no opportunity to choose their own
religion, and with the further and obvious fact that they succumbed to
nothing but fright and a great surge of emotion. That method persists.
The Church still obtains its converts by noise and appeals to primitive
emotion, and by threats, rather than by intelligently implanting a true
and deep-seated conception of God and the heavenly wonders. But to the
religionists a convert is a convert, no matter how obtained; I have
known boys to be thrashed because they would not profess religion.

As with the Catholic Church, the unspoken and always denied slogan of
the Methodists and of the other Protestant sects is “Catch ’em while
they’re young,” but unlike the Catholics the Protestants cannot hold
them. For one thing, they do not put on a good enough show; they do not
understand lighting, and they have no uniforms and no Latin chanters. A
Catholic priest covered by a surplice or what not, and his voice rising
and falling sonorously in the chanting of a bit of Latin, is a very
impressive spectacle, and his appearance lends dignity to his words.
The gentle stare that most of them wear is also effective. As soon as
an embryo Methodist becomes intelligent enough to visualize the sort
of Heaven that the Brothers are preparing for him, he shudders and
forthwith goes to the Devil, while the Catholics fill their converts
with such fear of God and the Pope, or the Pope and God, to put them
in the order of their importance, that very few get away. A renegade
Catholic is almost as rare as a Methodist Preacher who does not think
he is sprouting wings, and that his voice is truly the Voice of God.



It is clear, then, that not only was my ancestral background religious,
but that I lived in an atmosphere heavy with religious feeling.
Religion and the Church dominated the whole of my early life. Among all
of my relatives I do not recall one whose home was not oppressed, and
whose life was not made miserable and fretful, by the terrible fear of
a relentless God whose principal occupation seemed to be snooping about
searching for someone to punish. Religion was poured down my throat
in doses that strangled me and made me sick of soul. There was simply
too much of it. God was fed to me morning, noon and night, and He did
not taste good; I was hounded from pillar to post by a pack of baying,
sanctimonious hypocrites beseeching me to get right with Jesus, and to
read and believe that collection of Hebrew fairy tales called the Bible.

I came finally to think of God as I did of castor oil, and the flavor
that He left in my mouth was just as frightful. He and His religion
were personified by the dour-faced men and women who went sliding
about the town; rubbing their hands together, scraping the skin from
their souls but not from their palms. They were irritatingly gentle,
and they sighed soulfully and mouthed platitudes with enormous gusto;
they called each other Brother and Sister and poked their messy,
prying fingers into every bit of fun that anybody tried to have;
they fed their little shriveled souls with scandal and smeared dirt
over everything that was amusing. They regarded all young men as
professional seducers, and for the greater glory of God ruined the
reputations of young girls who went buggy-riding and seemed to enjoy
it--and nothing can be so completely and irrevocably ruined as the
reputation of a young girl in a small town.

But despite the feelings of disgust and revolt which the labors of
these servants of the Lord evoked in me, I did not definitely align
myself on the side of the non-believers and the sinners until after I
had been “converted.” I began on that night to hate the Church and its
religion, and all of its prying, messy hypocrisy and sanctimony. And
especially I hated the preachers and the Brothers and Sisters. I still
do; they give me a pain in the neck. I felt that I had been betrayed; I
knew that the spirit of God was not working in me, but I was told that
it was and dared to deny it. I was told that I must “get right with
the Lord,” whatever that may be. I felt that the Brothers and Sisters
and the evangelist had taken an unfair advantage of my emotions; there
was a band at the revival, and under the influence of music I will do
anything. It compelled me to do something that I did not want to do; it
humiliated me in my own eyes, and nothing that has ever happened to me
since has made me so miserable and ashamed.

I had reached the ripe old age of fourteen or fifteen when the hand of
the Lord, operating through the agency of Brother McConnell and a horde
of wailing Brothers and Sisters with religious fervor breaking out upon
them like boils, reached out and plucked me from the burning. But it
was not their fault that I had not been converted earlier; they had
tried often enough. One of my earliest recollections is of a Preacher
asking me why I did not profess religion and join the Church, and why
I had not given my heart to God, as he called it. I was occasionally
singled out at protracted meetings and at revivals and made the object
of special prayers, but until Brother McConnell came with his improved
technique and circus methods I had always held out.


My own church, of course, was the Southern Methodist, but the revival
meeting at which I was converted was a union gathering in the Northern
Methodist edifice, which was about a block from Braun’s saloon and
an even shorter distance from the county jail. We called it the Rock
church because it was constructed largely of granite blocks. Its
members were considered good enough people in their way, but they were
hardly among the socially elect, for many of them lived south of the
Post Office among the Catholics and the Lutherans, and in some circles
it was suspected that they held, at times, intercourse with the Devil.
Nevertheless, they were Methodists and Christians and first-class
politicians, and by this time they have probably assumed control of the

All of the Protestant congregations of Farmington chipped in to pay
the $600 demanded by Brother McConnell for his week’s work for the
Lord. This was a goodly fee, but it was not considered exorbitant,
as Brother McConnell was a professional devil-chaser with a national
reputation, and it was felt that he, if anyone, could put Farmington on
the right side of the heavenly ledger. There was considerable rivalry
among our good people as to who should entertain the evangelist and pay
for his fried chicken and other delicacies, and I do not recall who
finally drew the plum. But the family whose bed and board he graced
was considered very fortunate; it had practically assured itself of
ultimate salvation, since the emissaries of the Devil would not dare to
invade such a sanctuary of God.

Brother McConnell was an extraordinarily agile man. Throughout his
service, and particularly after the collection had been taken up and
found to be good, he bounded back and forth about the pulpit, chasing
the Devil hither and yon, shaking his hair from his eyes, sweating at
every pore and roaring charges about dens of evil that I, for one, was
never able to find in Farmington, although I headed several exploring
parties. He dealt largely in that sort of goods; to him, and to most of
the other preachers that I recall, morality and goodness were nothing
but chastity, and they never let an opportunity pass to insinuate that
the finest men in our town whiled away their idle hours with scarlet
women. Their insinuations, of course, had no basis in fact; to my
knowledge there was but one professional scarlet woman in town, and
there simply was not time. However, there were, to be sure, amateurs.

The church was crowded on the night I was told that Jesus had taken
possession of my soul. I sat about the middle of the center section
with my elder brother, a phlegmatic boy who was also converted but
who would never talk much about it, while across the aisle were my
sister and my younger brother. Every few moments the evangelist would
stop shouting and sink back into his chair, gasping, wiping his brow
and breaking into sobs as he bowed his head in a prayer that came in
a throaty mumble from his lips. Here and there throughout the house
was an echoing gasp and a strangled sob, utterances of tortured and
frightened souls about to be swirled into a great wave of religious
frenzy. And standing in the aisle and about the pulpit were Brothers
and Sisters, experienced revival workers, eager retrievers for the
Lord, their faces flushed with emotion and their eagle eyes roving the
congregation in quest of just such persons.

The instant the evangelist sat down, his band leader popped up like
a trained seal, and from the band and the augmented choir poured the
lilting measures of a hymn.

  Oh, that will be
  Glory for me!
  Glory for me,
  Yes, glory for me!
    When by His grace
    I shall look on His face,
  That will be glory,
  Yes, glory for me!

The first hymn was usually something of this sort, a tune with a swing
to it, to get the congregation swaying in rhythm, and to attract the
uncertain sinners lounging about the door and looking in, unable to
decide whether or not to enter. Usually they came in after hearing
“Glory” and a song or two like “Bringing in the Sheaves” and “Jesus,
Lover of My Soul.” Later the choir swung into the doleful songs like
“Rock of Ages” and “Nearer, My God, to Thee.” The emotional appeal
was terrific; after the first hymn or two the audience joined,
bellowing the words with fanatical fervor. Murmurs began to arise as
the evangelist alternately talked and prayed, and then suddenly the
music stopped, the preacher shut off his talk and for an instant there
was a silence. It was theatrical hokum, but effective as always. Then
Brother McConnell leaped and lunged to the front of the pulpit, his
eyes glaring and his hair streaming down before his eyes. He flung his
arms wide.

“Come to Jesus!” he shouted. “Brothers! Sisters! Come to Jesus!”

He stood there trembling, imploring the sinners to abandon their
hellish lives, and the choir boomed into song:

  Lives there a friend like the lowly Jesus?
  No, not one!
  No, not one!

All over the church now there were cries of ecstatic agony as the
victims writhed in emotional torture, and after a little while people
began jumping to their feet and shouting:

“Glory! Glory to God! Hallelujah!”

The noise was deafening. People were shouting in every part of the
audience, they were weeping and moaning. One old woman jumped to her
feet, climbed onto her seat and began to yell:

“I see Jesus! I see Jesus! I see Jesus!”

She repeated it over and over again, “I see Jesus!” and finally she
collapsed into her seat, mumbling and weeping. The evangelist took up
the cry. He roared back and forth across the pulpit, shaking his hands
above his head, calling on God to damn the sinners. His whole body
quivered and he screamed at the top of his voice:

“Jesus is in this house! Come to Jesus! Give your heart to God!”

And above the roar of his voice and the rumble of the seething
congregation rose the music. It ebbed and flowed, it beat against the
rafters and rebounded from the floor, always that regular beat of a
hymn, like tom-toms in the jungles of Hayti. Many of the choir members
sang hysterically, their voices rising on the high notes into veritable
shrieks, but there was no change in the steady thunder of the organ or
the wail of the violin, and there was no escaping the emotional effect
of the song:

  “Bringing in the sheaves,
  Bringing in the sheaves,
  We shall come rejoicing,
  Bringing in the sheaves.”

Then there was testimony. Old skinflints who had devoted their lives
to cheating their neighbors, old women whose gossiping and backbiting
were the talk of the town, hopped into the aisles and told how, at
some previous meeting, God had entered their hearts and made them pure
and holy. Their voices rose to shrieks; they grew red in the face from
the fervor of their shouts, and one old man who had only that day
cheated half a dozen men in a real-estate deal stood in the aisle with
his hands raised toward Heaven and wept bitterly over the sins of the
world. Tears streamed down their faces, and many who had only a few
hours before dumped sand in the sugar groaned loudly in sympathetic
torment, and shouted “Amen, Brother! Amen!”

By this time Brother McConnell’s collar hung limp about his neck, but
his passion for the Lord was unchecked. He stopped the testimony when
it appeared that everybody in the church wanted to say something; there
was another hymn and he began calling for converts. He shouted that we
were all wicked sinners and must come to Jesus.

“All who want to go to Heaven stand up!”

Naturally, everybody stood up. He told them to sit down; they obeyed,
for he held them in the hollow of his hand.

“All Christians stand up!”

Everybody stood up except my sister, and as I think things over after
the lapse of years I know that was what first caused me to suspect that
she was, and is, a remarkably intelligent woman. She said afterward
that she resented Brother McConnell’s holier-than-thou attitude, and
thought he was an old windbag. She could not swallow his repeated
assertion that he was a representative of God, and that the Lord
had sent him to gather Farmington into the fold. She had, better
than anyone else there, control over her emotions; she could not be
stampeded. But for several years thereafter she was the target of a
great deal of missionary zeal; even the Catholics tried their hands
with her after it had become obvious that she would not subscribe to
the beliefs of the Methodists, but all of it was unsuccessful. They
could not feaze her even when they pointed her out as “that Asbury girl
who wouldn’t say she was a Christian.”

Half the men and women in the church were sobbing while the band
played, the choir sang its dismal tunes and Brother McConnell swayed
back and forth in the pulpit and pleaded with them to get right with
God and confess their sins.

“Oh, Brothers, come to Jesus!” he cried. “Let God enter your heart this
night! Give your heart to Jesus!”

At the beginning of the moaning and groaning the Brothers and Sisters
who were to act as procurers for the Lord scattered over the church,
and as the services went on they picked out the ones who seemed to be
most upset emotionally and therefore ripest for glory. They hung over
these poor creatures, sniveling down their necks, exulting in their
misery, exhorting them to march down the aisle and see God. These
Brothers and Sisters, of course, had been converted many years before
and were O.K. with the Lord.

“Oh, Brother!” they pleaded. “Come to glory! Give your heart to Jesus!
Jesus died that you might be saved! He died on the cross for you!
Brother, come to Jesus!”

And so on _ad nauseam_, with their continual repetition of Jesus and
glory, glory and Jesus. There was no attempt at sensible argument, no
effort to show the prospective converts that the Christian religion was
better than the Mohammedan religion or the religion of Zoroaster; there
was nothing but a continual hammering at emotional weaknesses. And
finally the bewildered brains of the victims sagged under the strain
and they stumbled into the aisles and were hauled and shoved and pushed
down to the mourners’ bench, and presumably into the presence of God as
embodied in His earthly representative, Brother Lincoln McConnell.


I was fair game for them. There was hardly anybody in the church who
did not know how emotional and how excitable I was, and how music
affected me. Why, I used to be thrilled over the way I myself played
the violin, and have been known to hang entranced over a tune of my
own composition! Even before the services began I saw that many of the
Brothers and Sisters had spotted me and were only waiting the proper
moment to pounce upon me, and when the call for converts came as many
of them as could get near me pleaded and begged and cajoled; they
scrambled and almost fought in their eagerness to ensnare such a prime
morsel for the Lord. They could have worked no more furiously if God
had been keeping the score. They screeched at me that now was the time
to see Jesus, that God was waiting impatiently for me to be converted.

Some of them even threatened. They painted horrible pictures of Hell;
they told me that unless I went down the aisle and confessed my
sins and asked God to forgive me I would sizzle and burn and scorch
forevermore. One old woman, her face working with fanatical fury,
screamed at me that I was holding up the salvation of my whole family;
that my father and my mother and my sisters and brothers would not
go to Heaven unless I professed religion; she shouted that Satan was
waiting outside the church to lead me into the depths of Hell and light
a fire under my immortal soul. The whole crew pushed and tugged and
hauled at me; one Brother got hold of my arm and tried to drag me into
the aisle, yelling “Come to Jesus! Jesus is calling for you!”

And up on the platform Brother McConnell was rampaging to and fro,
working himself into a frenzy, shouting that “Jesus wants you!” and
above the roar of the Christian workers and the moans of the victims
rose the wailing whine of a violin played off key, the thunder of the
organ and the emotion-filled voices of the choir.

  “Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
  Let me hide myself in thee!”

By this time I was crying; I did not want to go to Hell, and I was
horribly afraid of the Devil, and I was not old enough to realize what
was being done to me. Yet something kept telling me that I should not
do this thing; that it was all a mockery and a fraud. I know now, and
I knew soon after that night, that the music was what was the matter
with me, not religion. I did not see Jesus, and I never have. It was
that slow music; that doleful, wailing chant of the hymns. I couldn’t
withstand it. I never could. In the army I used to go to all of the
funerals because I got such a terrific kick out of the funeral march
and the sliding tramp of troops marching at half-step.

But I was doomed. It was in the cards that my self-respect was to be
stripped from me and that I was to be emotionally butchered to make a
religious holiday. They dragged and hauled at me until I was in the
aisle, and then they got behind me and urged me forward. One old
woman leaped ahead of us and performed a war dance that would have
done credit to a frenzied worshiper of Voodoo. And as she pranced and
cavorted she screamed:

“A bad boy is coming to Jesus!”

Others were going down too, shepherded by the hard-working Brothers
and Sisters, and as they reached the bench Brother McConnell reached
forward and grabbed their hands. For each one he shouted “Praise the
Lord! Another sinner come to Jesus!” and then he gave the sinner
an expert shove that catapulted him into the hands of a waiting
Brother who immediately knelt with him and prayed. The team work was
magnificent. I tried to hang back, but the band began playing again.
The thunderous cadences of “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” pealed from the
organ, and I couldn’t stand it. I was being torn to pieces emotionally,
and I staggered and stumbled down the aisle, sobbing, hardly able to
stand. They thought it was religion, and the Brothers and Sisters who
were pushing and shoving me shouted ecstatically that God had me;
it was obvious that I was suffering, and suffering has always been
accepted as a true sign of holiness.

But it was not God and it was not religion. It was the music. Behind
me came my brother, sedately, as he always did things. He went calmly
to join the godly; for him there was no pushing and no pulling; when
he saw me being dragged into the aisle he simply got to his feet
and followed. I have always suspected that he went along merely to
take care of me; frequently he did that. He was continually fighting
my battles, and if he did not like the nicknames that the other
boys fastened onto me, he protested so fiercely that the name was
transferred to his shoulders. They tried to call me “Cat” for some
obscure reason when I was a boy, and my brother did not like it; and to
this day he is “Cat” Asbury in Farmington.

Brother McConnell grabbed my hand and shook it clammily when I reached
the mourners’ bench, and I was shoved into a seat. Immediately a
Brother plopped down beside me, an old man whom I had known all
my life, and who I knew perfectly well was an old skinflint and a
hypocrite, a Sunday Christian. He put his arm around my shoulders and
began to pray, crying down my neck and shouting that another soul
had been saved, calling on the Lord to witness the good work that he
was doing. I half expected him to say: “Give me credit, God; give me
credit!” And all the time I was wishing to God that the band would stop
playing; my nerves were being shattered by the constant and steady beat
of the hymns, and the penetrating wail of the violin and the thunder of
the organ.

And at last it did stop. There was silence in the church, except that
here and there someone was writhing and moaning. But the shouting had
ceased. Brother McConnell had his benches full, all of his workers had
each a convert to work upon, and he decided to call it a day and save
whatever sinners remained in the congregation for another night. So
printed cards were passed around, which we were to sign, indicating the
church we would join. Then the evangelist said for all of us who had
been baptized to sit down. My brother and I sat down.

With no music to upset me I began to think, and the more I thought, the
angrier I got. I was ashamed; I boiled with fury and I wanted to smash
the Brothers and Sisters in their smug faces. But I was just a boy and
I was afraid. It was at this point that my younger brother came down
the aisle and tapped me on the shoulder.

“Hey!” he said. “Mary said to stand up; you haven’t been baptized!”

“You tell her,” I said, “to go to hell!”

Luckily none of the Brothers and Sisters heard me, so I escaped special
prayers. I signed my card, agreeing to become a member of the Southern
Methodist church, and soon afterward I was released. My sister and my
two brothers went home, but I sneaked away and went down to the Post
Office, where I found another boy whose influence with a bartender was
sufficient to get us a drink. I went with him to a saloon not far from
the old Grand Leader building, and there I had my first drink, a gin
rickey, and when the bartender would not sell me another I gave a Negro
cart-driver a half-dollar and he bought me a bottle of squirrel whisky
which I consumed in the vacant lot behind the Odd Fellows’ Hall. I got
gloriously drunk, and about three o’clock in the morning I staggered
home and up the stairs to the room which I shared with my brother. I
awakened him, trying to undress, and he asked:

“What’s the matter with you?”

“Hell’s fire, Emmett!” I replied. “I’ve got religion.”

I went to the preacher’s house the next day so Brother Jenkins could
sprinkle holy water upon my head and mumble a prayer, and later, having
thus been baptized, I joined the church, but I joined with my tongue
in my cheek and a sneer in my heart. I have never seen anything in any
church since that would impel me to remove either my tongue or the
sneer. And when I admitted publicly that I had been converted and was
now a good and faithful servant of the Methodist God, I said to myself:
“Over the left.” That was our way of saying: “I am like hell!”



I went downtown the next morning after I had become a certified one
hundred per cent. convert, and was met by swarms of Brothers and
Sisters who overwhelmed me with congratulations, and regaled me
with tales of their own experiences when they saw God, and of the
temptations that the Devil would now prepare for me. It seemed that I
was not yet safe; I had, so far as they knew, accepted God and was one
of His chosen children, although not a Jew, but He would still permit
Satan to have his way with me upon occasion. I was instructed to walk
humbly and with downcast eyes, not daring to look up lest I be led into
sin. The Brothers, gloating the while, seemed especially anxious that
the handsome young virgins of the town should not induce me to tread
the scarlet paths of wickedness; the Sisters were more concerned with
the Drink Demon, and the evils of playing cards and dancing. One Sister
stopped me in front of Morris Brothers’ store and, beating time with
her hand, lifted her voice in song:

  “Yield not to temptation,
  For yielding is sin.”

And so on.

Nearly all of them seemed to be obsessed by the conviction that at last
I had done something to justify my ancestry; that Bishop Asbury had
looked down from the Heavenly Mansions upon Brother McConnell’s revival
meeting and had approved the manner in which my conversion had been
brought about.

“The Bishop is proud of you to-day, Herbie,” said one devout Brother
who sold shoddy clothing at high prices. “Last night was a great night
for God and the Bishop.”

I did not ask him how he knew that Bishop Asbury was proud of me, nor
did I inquire into the source of his information that the conversion,
by force, of a fourteen-year-old boy was a great thing for God. I
merely said: “Yes, sir,” and went my way. But it went on day after day;
everybody in town, it seemed, had a word to say about the pride that
now swelled the heart of the Bishop as he went about among the virgins
of Heaven and lolled on a cloud strumming his golden harp and producing
platinum and diamond music. I got very tired of it, and finally, to one
old Sister who had apparently thought of nothing else for a week, I

“Oh, to hell with the Bishop!”

What blasphemy! She gasped and hurried away, and long before I reached
home she had telephoned and told my mother that I had blasphemed and
cried out against God. Naturally, my mother was worried; she thought
from the tale told to her that I had gone up and down the streets of
the town shouting defiance of God and yelling open praise of the Devil
and all his works. But I told her the whole story, and she listened
without comment, and when I had finished all she said was this:

“Well, don’t say ‘hell’ to them.”

I think that was the last I ever heard from my mother about religion,
and from my father I heard even less. Once my mother asked me to
read the Bible, and although of course I had already done so, I read
it again. I read it twice, from the first absurdity of Genesis to
the final fairy tale of Revelation. But I found nothing in it that
caused me to believe that it was an inspired work, and nothing that
proved, to me, the correctness of the pretensions so freely made by
the Sisters and Brothers and the Preachers that they, and they alone,
were the representatives and accredited agents of Jesus Christ on
earth. And the sermons that I heard thereafter--the Preachers selected
single verses from the Bible and constructed elaborate harangues
around them--struck me more forcibly than ever as the trashiest sort
of poppycock and balderdash. I was no longer afraid of the Hell that
they pictured with such avidity, and I no longer thrilled to their
tales of the magnificence of Heaven, although of course to a growing
boy the presence of so many virgin angels, all apparently willing and
available, was interesting. But none of them preached the religion of
Christ; they preached hatred and revenge. They held out slight hope
of reward; instead they were prophets of torture, promising eternal
punishment for petty crimes.


It was about this time, also, that I began to investigate the glories
of Bishop Asbury, and to make such inquiries as I could into his
saintly virtues. We had in our library the Bishop’s Journals in three
volumes, and we had also two or three volumes of biography, all of
which I read. In later years I have read many others. Probably twenty
or thirty books, in one form or another, have been written about Bishop
Asbury, and I think that I have gone pretty thoroughly into most of
them. But most of them are senseless if not downright idiotic; they
were written by preachers and published by the Methodist Church, and
the whole slant is religious. They are based on the assumption that a
Preacher and a Bishop must of necessity be a holy man, and that all the
little idiosyncrasies and faults that give a clue to the real character
of the man, are but manifestations of the fight between God and Satan.

From an ecclesiastical point of view there can be no question of Bishop
Asbury’s greatness, for there have been few men who have left a more
definite imprint on American religious culture. There were fewer than
500 Methodists in America when he came here in 1771; when he died there
were 214,000, with good churches and great influence. He had completed
the church organization according to his own ideas, ignoring to a
large extent the plans of John Wesley as set forth by Thomas Rankin
and Thomas Coke, and he had assumed as much power as a Pope of Rome.
As a religious organizer he has had few equals, and it is a great pity
that he did so much unnecessary organizing, and that his amazing genius
should have flowered in such a futile and preposterous creation as
the present-day Methodist Church; a great pity that he could not have
developed a more flexible creed, one that would have grown as the world
grew, instead of standing stock-still and viewing the universe with
intolerant suspicion, with constant bickerings about the wishes of God
and yelping appeals to the Almighty to damn somebody.

But statistically Bishop Asbury is even greater. He preached his first
sermon in America at Philadelphia on the day he set foot on this
continent, in October, 1771, and delivered his final pronouncement
against sin on his deathbed, when, propped upon his pillows, he
expounded the twenty-first chapter of Revelation. In these forty-five
years he preached some 17,000 sermons, and probably 20,000 in his whole
life, for he began preaching when he was about fifteen or sixteen, some
three years after his conversion. The number of words that he uttered
for the Lord is simply incalculable; there is no telling how far they
would reach if they could be laid end to end.

In their methods of preaching and in their intolerance the preachers
of my boyhood, of other sects as well as Methodists, were devout and
faithful followers of Bishop Asbury. The bellowing evangelist of the
Billy Sunday and Lincoln McConnell type is his lineal ecclesiastical
descendant. He preached always at the top of his voice, for he had
great faith in exhortation, and to him the good sermon was the noisy
sermon; even to-day the Preacher who rants and raves is the one who is
regarded by his flock as nearest to God. When Bishop Asbury was not
preaching he was praying; he rose every morning at four o’clock and
prayed and read the Bible until six, when he breakfasted and set forth
on his travels. He would not sleep more than six hours a night because
Wesley had decided that six hours was enough. One day a week he fasted,
and part of another day, punishing his flesh for the greater glory of
the Lord.

This love of self-inflicted punishment affected his whole life. As
a boy he was moody and sensitive; he appears to have been of the
type that complains constantly that he is being “picked on.” He was
introspective, finding his greatest joy in self-pity, and he was never
happy, as we used to say in Missouri, unless he was miserable. His
playmates in the little English school near Birmingham called him
“parson” because of his pious lugubriousness, and when the teacher beat
him or something happened to cross him he sought solace in prayer.

References to his numerous physical ailments begin to appear in Bishop
Asbury’s Journals about 1772, when he was in his late twenties. He
had never been strong physically, and never after he came to America
was he in good health. He was apparently a hypochondriac, with all
the hypochondriac’s morbid delight in recounting his symptoms; many
pages of his Journals are filled with them. He took enormous doses of
medicine, performed slight surgical operations upon himself, and raised
great blisters on the slightest provocation, frequently blistering his
whole body from throat to abdomen. Once he preached a whole afternoon
with so many blisters that he was not able either to stand or sit,
for he had blistered not only the soles of his feet but less refined
portions of his anatomy also; he had to be propped up in the pulpit,
where he raved and ranted for hour after hour, saving many sinners. He
took no care of himself whatever, riding horseback through snowstorms
and rainstorms with biting pains in his chest, and with his stomach and
throat filled with ulcers, feverish from pain and religion.

All of these things he notes in his Journals with great gusto, and
gives long lists of the medicines he took and the measures he employed
to combat his sickness. Tartar emetic was his favorite remedy, and
of this he swallowed enormous quantities. For an ulcerated throat he
used a gargle of “sage tea, honey, vinegar and mustard, and after
that another gargle of sage, tea, alum, rose leaves and loaf sugar to
strengthen the parts.” Another favorite remedy was a diet, as he called
it, made from this remarkable formula: “one quart of hard cider, one
hundred nails, a handful of snake root, a handful of pennell seed, a
handful of wormwood.” He boiled this concoction from a quart to a pint,
and drank a wineglass of it each morning before breakfast for ten days,
meanwhile using no butter, milk or meat. He notes in his Journal that
“it will make the stomach very sick.” It will. I brewed the drink once,
and I had as soon drink dynamite; bootleg gin is nectar by comparison.

There can be little doubt that Bishop Asbury’s physical condition had
a great deal to do with his extraordinary piety, for it is true that
most of the religious leaders have had many things wrong with their
bodies, and that the sicker a man is, the more religious he is likely
to be. A man who is healthy and normal mentally and physically seldom
becomes fanatically religious. True, healthy men sometimes become monks
and preachers, but except in rare instances such men are comparatively
moderate in their views. And generally they do themselves very well in
a material way, especially if they become monks.

It was once my journalistic duty to make a daily visit to a Franciscan
monastery in Quincy, Illinois, and the good brothers remain a high
light in a somewhat drab period. Jovial and pot-bellied, they were
veritable Friar Tucks in brown bathrobes, extraordinarily hearty
eaters and drinkers, and not even at pre-Volstead banquets have I ever
received as much free food and drink as from the good Franciscans. It
was easy to see why such men as these went in for religion, but it is
not so easy to understand the motive of the Protestant minister. The
earthly rewards are nothing to speak of, and what with evolution and
one thing and another, he can no longer be certain that there is a
Heaven to go to.

The Franciscans were fascinating spectacles as they padded on their
sandaled feet through the gardens of the monastery and along the
graveled paths that led to the church next door. I became particularly
fond of Brother John--I think they called him Brother John, anyhow I
did--who might have stepped from the pages of Boccaccio. He was the
press representative of the monastery; he always answered my ring,
and through the bars of the door I could see him, waddling genially
down the corridor, puffing and rattling his keys. It always seemed
to me that Brother John was miscast; doubtless he lived a happy and
carefree life, though perhaps overly cluttered with prayer, but I
thought it a great pity that he could not have been an alderman. And
what a bartender he would have made! His paunch would have elected him
a City Father, and his fund of stories would have got him a job in any
first-class barroom. But possibly he has reformed and is now leading
some such useful life.

Brother John made but one effort to convert me and induce me to join
the Catholic Church, and when I said “Bunk!” he stopped immediately and
said that inasmuch as I would undoubtedly go to Hell he would still
take advantage of my reportorial capacity to get a little publicity
for the Church before that unfortunate event occurred. But there was
no tolerance in the attitude of my reverend relative, the Bishop. His
outstanding characteristic was intolerance; it shows in a hundred
different acts of his career; he was arbitrary and domineering. Anyone
who was well dressed or who bore any outward signs of prosperity
was offensive in his sight; he preached the gospel of poverty and
self-denial, and believed that all pleasure was wicked and that
self-inflicted suffering was heavenly bliss. He was imperious and
scornful of restraint and opposition; what he said was true he thought
was true, and that was all there was to it. When men differed with him
they were wrong, and he had no disposition to reopen any question which
he had once settled in his mind. He believed that he was appointed by
God to rule the Methodists in America, and that he was a legitimate
successor of the Apostles. In 1801 he wrote:

“I will tell the world what I rest my authority on; first, divine
authority; second, seniority in America; third, the election of the
General Conference; fourth, my ordination by Thomas Coke, Philip
William Otterbein, Richard Whatcoat and Thomas Vasey; fifth, because
the signs of an Apostle have been seen in me.”

Divine authority and the signs of an Apostle!

Yet his steadfast belief that he was so appointed was one of the
secrets of his power and influence, which were greater than that of any
other churchman of his time. We are even yet feeling their effects,
and we shall continue to feel them. There seems to be no hope, what
with Boards of Temperance, Prohibition and Public Morals and similar
intolerant activities, that the Methodist Church will ever become more
worthy of respect than it was in his day. Indeed, it grows worse and

Another prime factor in Bishop Asbury’s extraordinary piety, as can be
seen by the entries in his Journals and by a study of the biographies
written by other clergymen, was his terrific mental turmoil. Throughout
his whole life his mind whirled like a pinwheel; he was constantly
in what, back in Missouri, we used to call a “terrible state.” About
the time he began to be ill he started referring to himself as “Poor
Francis,” and thereafter that was the dominant note of his life. He
pitied himself because of his physical ills, and then dosed himself
with horrid medicines, and with bleedings and blisterings, making
his ailments more painful and himself an object of greater pity. He
tortured himself thus physically, and flogged his mind with constant
thoughts of his unworthiness; he was continually groveling before God,
beseeching the Almighty to put temptation in his path. These extracts
taken at random from his Journals show the trend of his thought:

“I do not sufficiently love God nor live by faith.

“I must lament that I am not perfectly crucified with God.

“I feel some conviction for sleeping too long.

“My heart is grieved and groaneth for want of more holiness.

“Unguarded and trivial conversation has brought a degree of spiritual

“My conscience reproves me for the appearance of levity.

“A cloud rested on my mind, which was occasioned by talking and
jesting. I also feel at times tempted to impatience and pride of heart.

“My heart is still depressed for want of more religion.

“Were I to stand on my own merit, where should I go but to hell?

“Here I received a bitter pill from one of my greatest friends
[referring to his last letter from John Wesley]. Praise the Lord for my
trials also! May they be sanctified.”

Bishop Asbury preached the same doctrine of personal conversion and
sanctification that is preached by present-day Methodist ministers, and
he sought this blissful state for himself with frenzied zealousness.
At times he thought he had entered into what he called the full
fruition of a life with God; at other times he fancied himself given
up to Satan. The older he grew, the gloomier and more introspective
he became, and like most of the other great religionists he had a
pronounced streak of melancholia. He had alternating periods of
exaltation and depression; he was either soaring the heights of
religious ecstasy or floundering in the depths of sin and despair. He
did not seem able to find any middle ground in which he could obtain a
measure of peace and contentment; occasionally in his Journals he noted
that he was happy in God and at peace, but the next entry showed him
groaning in great vexation of spirit, crying out a doubt of the value
of his religious life. He yearned for a constant religious thrill, and
mourned because he could not satisfy his yearning.



Almost immediately after my conversion, or at least as soon as it
had become noised about that I had consigned my holy relative to
what some of our more finicky Sisters, unable to bring themselves to
say “Hell,” referred to coyly as “the bad place,” I abandoned myself
to a life of sin and became a total spiritual loss in the eyes of
all Farmington except members of my immediate family and certain of
my intimate friends who collaborated with me in various wicked but
pleasant enterprises. That is to say, I cast aside the taboos and the
inhibitions that religion had thrown about me, and became for the
first time in my life a normal boy. I existed simply to play and raise
hell generally, and for some curious reason the activity which gave me
the most pleasure was throwing rocks at the church or in some manner
interrupting the service.

It was not long before even the most hopeful had ceased their talk
of sending me to a theological school and fitting me to carry on
the family labors, for I began to smoke cigarettes, play cards,
swear, drink when I could find a bartender willing to ignore the law
forbidding the sale of liquor to a minor, and to cock an appreciative
and appraising eye at the girls. It was then agreed that it was too
late to do anything with me or for me, and on the Sunday morning that
I mounted my new bicycle and rode brazenly past the Southern Methodist
church as the Brothers and Sisters filed with bowed heads into the
edifice for worship, I was consigned body and soul to the sizzling pits
of Hell.

I suffered a great deal of physical agony before I learned to smoke
cigarettes, and it was some time before I learned to blow smoke through
my nose with the nonchalant ease affected by the group of older boys
and young men who loafed in Doss’s barber shop and around the Post
Office Building and McKinney’s peanut and popcorn machine. My older
brother had learned a year or so before, and he frequently made himself
very offensive to me by boasting that he could smoke a whole package of
Sweet Caporals or Drums without becoming ill. I yearned to try, but he
would not give me a cigarette, and neither would any of the other boys,
and my finances were in such shape that I could not purchase any. And,
of course, such wicked things could not be purchased and charged to my
father; I could have charged a plug of chewing tobacco to him, but not

But one day I was loafing hopefully in McKinney’s when my brother came
in and produced a dime that he had amassed by laborious work chopping
wood at home, and bought a package of Sweet Caporal Little Cigars.
These were really nothing but cigarettes wrapped with tobacco instead
of paper, but they resembled a cigar and were thought to be infinitely
more stylish and manly than the ordinary cigarette. I asked him for
one, and he said he would not give one to John the Baptist himself. But
I persisted, and followed him home, aghast at his determination to hide
behind the barn and smoke the whole package one after the other.

“I’ll light one from the end of the other,” he boasted.

Finally as we came opposite Brother Nixon’s house just south of Elmwood
Seminary, he relented and very carefully opened the box and handed me
a Little Cigar. It was a great moment. The yard of Elmwood Seminary
fairly swarmed with girl students, including the young lady who at the
time represented everything that was desirable in the female sex, and
I visioned their cries of startled admiration as I passed, puffing
nonchalantly, blowing smoke from my nose and perhaps from my ears.

I had no doubt of my ability to handle the innocent-looking Little
Cigar; indeed, at that time I considered no problem insurmountable.
My brother instructed me to fill my mouth with smoke and then take a
long, deep breath, and after that blow the smoke out gently and slowly,
holding the Little Cigar between the first and second finger and
crooking the little finger as we did when we drank tea or coffee, that
being a mark of gentility and refinement. As we came in front of the
old Clardy homestead less than half a block from the Seminary I struck
a match and applied it to the end of the Little Cigar, while my brother
watched anxiously and from time to time gave me advice. I puffed as he

“Got a mouthful?” he asked.

Unable to speak, my cheeks bulging, I nodded.

“Now take a long breath.”

But, alas, I did not breathe; I swallowed, and while the smoke
penetrated me and spread throughout my interior, it did not take the
correct route. I began to strangle, and my brother got excited.

“Blow it out, you damn fool!” he cried. “You’ll choke!”

I did choke. I did even worse; I became very ill, and the spectacle
which so intrigued the young ladies of the Seminary that day was not
that of a young gentleman going nonchalantly to Hell by the cigarette
route. Instead, they saw a very sick boy rolling on the sidewalk trying
desperately to stem a distressing internal upheaval.

It was several days later before I had enough courage to try again,
and I debated within myself whether or not God had caused me to be so
ill in order to show me that smoking was a sin. But I had definitely
committed myself to the Devil, so a few days later I begged a dime
from my father and bought a package of Drums and another of Sweet
Caporals, the two most popular brands of cigarettes. With these, and
a supply of matches, I went behind the barn. I made a neat pile of
sawdust to lie upon, and there I remained the whole afternoon, smoking
one cigarette after another. I was terribly ill at first, but gradually
improved until the last three or four gave me no trouble. I did not
have much appetite for dinner that night, but I had conquered the
cigarette and I felt a glow of pride at the fact that I had got a very
good start in the direction of the bad place.

The basis of my overwhelming desire to smoke cigarettes was the fact
that cigarette-smoking when I was a boy in Farmington was one of the
major sins. It ranked with adultery and just a little ahead of murder
and theft. The Preachers called them coffin nails and delivered violent
sermons against them, and every once in a while an evangelist would
come to town with medical charts showing the effect of tobacco upon
the interior human organs. But the fact that it was bad physically for
growing boys was seldom stressed at all; we were impressed instead with
the fact that God thought it a sin to smoke cigarettes, although it did
not appear that it was a sin for the tobacconist to sell them. That was

Many efforts were made to reform me after I had begun to smoke. My
mother said she had hoped I wouldn’t, but that was all she said, and my
father said he did not give a hoot whether I smoked or not, but that he
hoped I would not be a fool and overdo it. He himself had learned the
art of chewing tobacco when he was a boy of seven in Mississippi, and
so far as I have ever been able to learn, God had never called him to
account. He died at the age of seventy-nine, suddenly, and a slab of
plug-cut was in his pocket. It is impossible for me to believe that God
refused him entrance into whatever Heaven there may be on account of
his habit, which he thoroughly enjoyed.

But the Preachers and the Brothers and Sisters did not agree with my
parents, nor would they admit that it was none of their business. On
the contrary, they said that it was the Lord’s business, and since they
were the duly accredited agents of the Lord, appointed by Him to lead
Farmington into the paths of righteousness, it was their business also.
When Brother Fontaine was our Methodist pastor he did not look with
disfavor upon chewing, because he himself was seldom without a chew and
presumably had an indulgence from God, but he looked upon the cigarette
as an invention of the Devil. In this view he was upheld by the
Ladies’ Aid Society and the Farmington branch of the Women’s Christian
Temperance Union. And the W. C. T. U., with the possible exception of
the Methodist Board of Temperance, Prohibition and Public Morals, was
and is the world’s best example of an organization maintained for the
sole purpose of minding other people’s business.

The hullabaloo over my smoking only made me more determined to smoke
until my insides turned black and I was called home by Satan and
transformed into a tobacco demon. For that reason I probably smoked too
much. As a matter of principle I always lighted a cigarette just in
front of the Southern Methodist church, and in front of the home of my
uncle, who was an enemy of anything that provided physical pleasure and
contentment. I always smoked another as I passed the Northern Methodist
church, the scene of the McConnell revival orgy, and still another in
front of the Christian church, in memory of Brother Nations. That was
four in half a mile, and of course was too many, but sometimes I was
not permitted to finish all of them. Frequently a Brother or a Sister,
seeing me thus flaunting my sin on the public highway, snatched the
nasty thing from my mouth and gave me a lecture that dripped religion
and was principally concerned with the fate of boys who defied God and
Jesus Christ by smoking cigarettes. One Sister asked me:

“Where did you get the vile things?”

I told her that I had bought them at her husband’s store, and she

“You saucy, blasphemous boy!”

But on that particular occasion I was not lectured, although she
telephoned my mother that I had been impudent to her. My mother told
her it was too bad.


I learned to play pinochle when I was about fifteen, only a few
months after I had become an accomplished cigarette fiend and was
generally considered a fine prospect for Satan, and thereafter was a
regular participant in the game that went on every night in the back
room of Karl Schliesser’s cigar factory. This was a notable den of
evil, and while religion had me in its clutches I thought black magic
was practiced there, and that its habitués had communion with the
Devil; among us it was believed that God had doubtless never heard
of the place or He would have destroyed it with a withering blast of
lightning. It was frequented by Germans and other low forms of life,
and they were principally Catholics and Lutherans, with a sprinkling
of renegade Protestants like myself. The Brothers and Sisters held the
opinion that if this crowd had a God at all he must have been a very
queer being, for bursts of ribald laughter came from Schliesser’s back
room, and there was card-playing, and I do not doubt that occasionally
someone gambled.

Schliesser was the Town Socialist, and was looked upon with grave
suspicion by the better element, as in those days it was generally
recognized that a Socialist was an emissary of the Devil. But the
Brothers and Sisters and the Preachers looked with even more suspicion
upon Victor Quesnel. In this attitude they had the support of the
Catholics. Victor Quesnel was born in France, but he had lived in
Farmington for many years. He frequently quoted Voltaire, and appeared
to believe that a man’s religion and his belief or disbelief in God was
a matter of his own personal taste, and he was therefore regarded as an
atheist. As a matter of fact he was probably more truly religious than
most of the pious Brothers and Sisters; the principal difference was
that he did not try to compel everyone he met to embrace his creed.

Frequently, and without particular regard as to who heard him,
Quesnel discussed the advantages of sleeping naked, or, as we say
in present-day journalism, undraped. That was his hobby. He said he
thought it was a healthful practice, that he slept better without
clothing, and that come what might he was going to continue to sleep
that way. This was considered heathenish doctrine; some of our finest
church members owned stores in which they sold nightgowns and pajamas,
and it was felt that Quesnel’s attitude was not only a direct affront
to God but was also injurious to business. Moreover, the Brothers and
Sisters did not consider such a practice modest; there were scores,
perhaps hundreds of people in Farmington who had never in their lives
removed all of their clothing. Once at a meeting of the Ladies’ Aid
Society I heard an old Sister say that she had reached the age of sixty
and had never been entirely undressed; and that when she bathed she
kept her eyes closed as she applied the sponge to her body. A great
deal of juicy conversation could be overheard at these Ladies’ Aid
meetings by a bright young lad who knew where the best keyholes were


Sunday was much more enjoyable after I had become a sinner and had
left Sunday school and the Church to whatever fate the Lord had in
store for them. I arose a little later, had a leisurely breakfast and
a refreshing quarrel or fight with my brothers and sister, and then
went leisurely to my room and as leisurely put on my Sunday suit, with
no intention of removing it until I retired for the night. Curiously
enough, as soon as I quit going regularly to church and Sunday school I
began to wear my Sunday suit all day, and the little voice that I had
in the selection of this garment I raised in hopeful pleas for loud
checks and glaring colors. No longer did I wish to clothe myself in
the sombre blacks suitable for church wear and religious activity; I
desired to blossom and bloom in the more violent and pleasant colors of

Once arrayed in my Sunday suit, I left the house, a cigarette dangling
from my lower lip, and my hat, carefully telescoped in the prevailing
mode, sitting just so on the side of my head. I tried to time my march
downtown so that I would reach Elmwood Seminary just as the young lady
students resident there marched across the street, after Sunday school,
from the Presbyterian church; they were not permitted to remain at
the church during the fifteen or twenty-minute interval because they
attracted such hordes of feverish boys intent upon everything but
religion. Usually I reached the scene in time, and leaned nonchalantly
against the Seminary fence, puffing vigorously and ostentatiously on a
cigarette and winking at various and sundry of the girls as they passed
in their caps and gowns.

For these smart-aleck activities I was presently placed upon the
school’s black list and was not permitted to call upon the one night
each month allotted to such social intercourse, but as I soon learned
to climb a rope ladder this did not annoy me greatly. Anyhow, calling
night at Elmwood Seminary was not very exciting. The procedure was to
place a dozen or so chairs about a big room, in pairs but with at least
twelve inches between them, in which sat the girls and their callers.
In the center sat a gimlet-eyed teacher, constantly ready with
Biblical and other uplifting quotations and seeing to it that nothing
scandalous occurred. From eight to ten the caller was permitted to
engage his lady love in conversation, but it was a rule that everything
that was said must be audible to the teacher on guard. Whisperings and
gigglings were taboo, and resulted in the young man being placed on
the black list, and forbidden thereafter to darken the doors of the
institution. But occasionally the teacher relaxed her vigilance for a
moment, providing an opportunity to arrange a clandestine meeting. That
was the principal reason that the boys of Farmington went to Elmwood on
calling nights.

The regular Sunday incident of the Seminary girls having been brought
to a satisfactory and successful conclusion, I went on downtown. I was
very young then, and I considered myself, in my Sunday suit, a very
striking and elegant figure. I thought of myself as a parade, and felt
morally certain that the eyes of every girl were upon me, and that
their hearts were fluttering with amatory admiration. The Methodist
church was only two blocks south of the Presbyterian edifice, and I
generally reached it as the Sunday-school pupils trooped out with their
arms full of lesson pamphlets and their souls full of salvation, Golden
Texts and catechisms. I regarded them pityingly, puffed vaingloriously
at my symbol of sin, and went on past the Christian church and the
Northern Methodist church and so to McKinney’s, the Post Office
Building and the fascinating popcorn and peanut machine.

In the winter time Doss’s barber shop was generally open until noon so
Billy Priester could shine the shoes of the young bucks who proposed to
defile the Sabbath by gallivanting around with young hussies. It was a
favorite loafing place for all abandoned wretches who did not care for
the glory that was free in all churches. But in summer we generally sat
in front of McKinney’s and the Post Office Building and, when finances
permitted, ate popcorn and peanuts, envying Riley Hough as he hurried
out now and then to attend to the machine and stuff his mouth with
popcorn before hastening back into the store.

All of the young sinners of the town loafed there during the church
services, and at twelve o’clock noon we rose in a body and walked
down the street to Pelty’s Book Store, where the Sunday papers were
distributed. The afternoons were devoted to baseball games and amatory
pursuits, and occasionally we went fishing. But this was considered
a Cardinal Sin, and was frowned upon by even our liberal element;
it was felt that it was a desecration of God’s Day to drag one of
His creatures from the river with a cruel fishhook. On week days, of
course, fishing was all right, although a waste of time, but on Sunday
an expedition to Blumeyer’s Ford, or to Gruner’s Hole, was followed
the next morning by buzzing comment all over town, and only a grown man
could hope to indulge in such sinful adventures and escape subsequent


It was the custom of our pastors and pious brethren, and of the
professional sorcerers who were imported from time to time to cast
their spells and shoo the demons away from our housetops, to proclaim
loudly and incessantly that our collective morals were compounded of
a slice of Sodom and a cut of Gomorrah, with an extract of Babylon
to flavor the sorry stew. They worried constantly and fretfully over
our amorous activities; in their more feverish discourses appeared
significant references to the great difficulty of remaining pure,
and in effect they advised our young women to go armed to the teeth,
prepared to do battle in defense of their virginity.

In Farmington and other small towns of the Middle West this sort of
thing was the principal stock in trade of those who would lead their
brethren to the worship of the current god; the evangelist assured
his hearers that their town was overrun by harlots, and that brothels
abounded in which prominent men abandoned themselves to shameful
orgies, while church attendance dwindled, and collections became
smaller and smaller, and chicken appeared less and less frequently upon
the ministerial table. His tirades were generally in this fashion:

“Shall we permit these painted daughters of Jezebel, these bedizened
hussies, to stalk the streets of this fair city and flaunt their sin
in the face of the Lord? Shall we permit them to lure our sons and
brothers into their vile haunts and ply their nefarious trade in the
very shadow of the House of God? No! I say NO! Jesus Christ must live
in this town!”

Immediately everyone shouted “Amen, Brother!” and “Praise the Lord!”
But it was sometimes difficult to determine whether the congregation
praised the Lord for inspiring the evangelist so courageously to defy
the harlots, or for permitting him to discover them. If the Man of God
could find them, why not the damned, too? Certainly there were always
many who wondered if the brother had acquired any good addresses or
telephone numbers since coming to town. Not infrequently, indeed, he
was stealthily shadowed home by young men eager to settle this question.

These charges and denunciations were repeated, with trimmings, at the
meetings for men only which were always a most interesting feature of
the revivals. At similar gatherings for women, or ladies, as we called
them in small-town journalism, his wife or a devout Sister discussed
the question from the feminine viewpoint. What went on at these latter
conclaves I do not know, though I can guess, for I have often seen
young girls coming out of them giggling and blushing. The meetings for
men were juicy, indeed. The evangelist discussed all angles of the
subject, and in a very free manner. His own amorous exploits before
he was converted were recited in considerable detail, and he painted
vivid word pictures of the brothels he had visited, both as a paying
client and in the course of his holy work. Almost invariably they were
subterranean palaces hung with silks and satins, with soft rugs upon
the floor, and filled with a vast multitude of handsome young women,
all as loose as ashes. Having thus intimated, with some smirking, that
for many years he was almost the sole support of harlotry, he became
confidential. He leaned forward and said:

“There are such Dens of the Devil right here in your town!”

This was first-hand information, and immediately there was a stir in
the audience, many of his hearers betraying an eagerness to be gone.
But before they could get away the evangelist thundered:

“Shall we permit them to continue their wicked practices?”

I always hoped to be present some day when the audience forgot itself
and answered that question with the thought that was so plainly in its
mind, namely, “Yes!” But, alas, I never heard it, although there was
much shouting of “Amen!” and “Glory to God!” These meetings for men
only were generally held in the afternoon, and their net result was
that the business of the drug store increased immediately, and when
night fell bands of young good-for-nothings scurried hither and yon
about the town, searching feverishly for the Dens of the Devil. They
searched without fear, confident that modern science would save them
from any untoward consequences, and knowing that no matter what they
did they would go to Heaven if they permitted a preacher to intercede
for them in the end, or a priest to sprinkle them with holy water.

But the Dens of the Devil were not found, neither in Farmington nor in
any other small town in that region, for the very good reason that they
did not exist. The evangelist did not know what he was talking about;
he was simply using stock blather which he had found by experience
would excite the weak-minded to both sexual and religious emotions.
He knew that when they were thus upset they would be less likely to
question his ravings--that they would be more pliable in his hands and
easier to convert.

Our small towns were not overrun by harlots simply because harlotry
could not flourish in a small town. It was economically impossible;
there were not enough cash customers to make the scarlet career
profitable. Also, the poor girls had to meet too much competition from
emotional ladies who had the professional spirit but retained their
amateur standing by various technicalities. And harlots, like the rest
of us, had to live; they required the same sort of raiment and food
that sufficed their virtuous sisters; it was not until they died that
they wore nothing but the smoke of Hell and were able to subsist on a
diet of brimstone and sulphur.

Many men who in larger communities would have patronized the
professionals could not do so in a small town. They could not afford
to; it was too dangerous. The moment a woman was suspected of being
a harlot she was eagerly watched by everyone from the mayor down to
the preachers, and the name of every man seen talking to her, or even
looking at her, went winging swiftly from mouth to mouth, and was
finally posted on the heavenly bulletin board as that of an immoral
wretch. A house in which harlotry was practiced was picketed day and
night by small boys eager to learn the forbidden mysteries, and by
Brethren and Sisters hopefully sniffing for sin. It was not possible
for a harlot to keep her clientèle secret, for the sexual life of a
small town is an open book, and news of amorous doings could not travel
faster if each had a tabloid newspaper.

Exact statistics, of course, are not available, but it is probably true
that no small American town has ever harbored a harlot whose income
from professional services was sufficient to feed and clothe her. Few
if any such towns have ever been the abode of more than one harlot at
a time. When I was a boy every one had its town harlot, just as it had
its town sot (this, of course, was before drunkards became extinct) and
its town idiot. But she was generally a poor creature who was employed
by day as a domestic servant and practiced her ancient art only in her
hours of leisure. She turned to it partly for economic reasons, but
chiefly because of a great yearning for human companionship, which
she could obtain in no other way. She remained in it because she was
almost instantly branded a Daughter of Satan, and shunned by good and
bad alike. She seldom, if ever, realized that she was doing wrong;
her moral standards were those of a bedbug. She thought of harlotry
in terms of new ribbons and an occasional pair of shoes, and in terms
of social intercourse; she was unmoral rather than immoral, and the
proceeds of her profession, to her, were just so much extra spending

Small-town men who occasionally visited the larger cities, and there
thought nothing of spending from ten to fifty dollars in metropolitan
brothels, were very stingy in dealing with the town harlot. They
considered a dollar an enormous price for her, and frequently they
refused to give her anything. Many small communities were not able to
support even a part-time harlot; consequently some members of the craft
went from town to town, taking secular jobs and practicing harlotry
as a side line until driven out by the godly, or until the inevitable
business depression occurred. I recall one who made several towns along
the O. K. Railroad in Northeastern Missouri as regularly as the shoe
drummers. Her studio was always an empty box car on the town siding,
and she had a mania for inscribing in such cars the exact dates and
hours of her adventures, and her honoraria. It was not unusual to find
in a car some such inscription as this:

  “Ten P.M., July 8. Fifty cents.”

These writings, scrawled in lead pencil or with a bit of chalk, were
signed “Box Car Molly.” Once, in a car from which I had unloaded many
heavy bags of cement, I came across what seemed to be a pathetic bit of
very early, and apparently authentic, Box-Car-Molliana. On the wall was

  “I was ruined in this car May 10.

                                     “BOX CAR MOLLY.”

Our town harlot in Farmington was a scrawny creature called variously
Fanny Fewclothes and Hatrack, but usually the latter in deference
to her figure. When she stood with her arms outstretched she bore a
remarkable resemblance to the tall hatracks then in general use in
our homes, and since she was always most amiable and obliging, she
was frequently asked to pose thus for the benefit of drummers and
other infidels. In time, she came to take a considerable pride in this
accomplishment; she referred to herself as a model, and talked vaguely
of abandoning her wicked life and going to St. Louis, where she was
sure she could make a living posing for artists.

Six days a week Hatrack was a competent and more or less virtuous
drudge employed by one of our best families, but Sunday was her day
off, and she then, in turn, offered her soul to the Lord and went
to the Devil. For the latter purpose she utilized both the Masonic
and Catholic cemeteries. Hatrack’s regular Sunday-night parade, her
descent from righteousness into sin, was one of the most fascinating
events of the week, and promptly after supper those of us who did not
have engagements to take young ladies to church (which was practically
equivalent to publishing the banns) went downtown to the loafing place
in front of the Post Office and waited impatiently.

On week days Hatrack turned a deaf ear to the blandishments of our
roués, but on Sunday night she was more gracious. This, however, was
not until she had gone to church and had been given to understand,
tacitly but none the less clearly, that there was no room for her in
the Kingdom of Heaven. Our Sunday-night services usually began about
eight o’clock, following the meetings of the various young people’s
societies. At seven-thirty, regardless of the weather, the angular
figure of Hatrack could be discerned coming down the hill from the
direction of the cemeteries. She lived somewhere in that section and
worked out by the day. She was always dressed in her best, and in her
eyes was the light of a great resolve. She was going to church, and
there was that in her walk and manner which said that thereafter she
was going to lead a better life.

There was always a group of men waiting for her around the Post Office.
But although several muttered “Here she comes!” it was not good form
to speak to her then, and she walked past them as if she had not seen
them. But they, with their wide knowledge of the vagaries of the Agents
of God, grinned hopefully and settled down to wait. They knew she would
be back. She went on up the street past the Court House and turned
into the Northern Methodist church, where she took a seat in the last
row. All about her were empty seats; if they were not empty when she
got there they were soon emptied. No one spoke to her. No one asked
her to come to Jesus. No one held out a welcoming hand. No one prayed
for her. No one offered her a hymn book. At the protracted meetings
and revivals, which she invariably attended, none of the Brothers and
Sisters tried to convert her; she was a Scarlet Woman and belonged to
the Devil. There was no place for her in a respectable congregation.
They could not afford to be seen talking to her, even in church, where
God’s love, by their theory, made brothers and sisters of us all.

It was pitiful to watch her; she listened to the Word with such rapt
attention; she sang the hymns with such fanatical fervor, and she so
yearned for the comforts of that barbaric religion and the blessings
of easy intercourse with decent people. But she never got them. From
the Christians and their God she got nothing but scorn. Of all the
sinners in our town Hatrack would have been easiest to convert; she
was so pathetically eager for salvation. If a Preacher, or a Brother,
or a Sister, had so much as spoken a kind word to her she would have
dropped to her knees and given up her soul to the Methodist God. And
her conversion, in all likelihood, would have been permanent, for
she was not mentally equipped for a struggle against the grandiose
improbabilities of revealed religion. If someone had told her, as I was
told, that God was an old man with long whiskers, she would not have
called Him “Daddy,” as some of her more flippant city sisters might
have done; she would have accepted Him and gloried in Him.

But she was not plucked from the burning, for the workers for the
Lord would have nothing to do with her, and by the end of the service
her eyes had grown sullen and her lip had curled upward in a sneer.
Before the final hymn was sung and the benediction pronounced upon the
congregation, she got to her feet and left the church. None tried to
stop her; she was not wanted in the House of God. I have seen her sit
alone and miserably unhappy while the Preacher bellowed a sermon about
forgiveness, with the whole church rocking to a chorus of sobbing,
moaning amens as he told the stories of various Biblical harlots, and
how God had forgiven them.

But for Hatrack there was no forgiveness. Mary Magdalene was a saint
in Heaven, but Hatrack remained a harlot in Farmington. Every Sunday
night for years she went through the same procedure. She was hopeful
always that someone would speak to her and make a place for her, that
the Brothers and Sisters who talked so volubly about the grace and the
mercy of God would offer her some of the religion that they dripped
so freely over everyone else in town. But they did not, and so she
went back down the street to the Post Office, swishing her skirts and
brazenly offering herself to all who desired her. The men who had been
waiting for her, and who had known that she would come, leered at her
and hailed her with obscene speech and gesture. And she gave them back
leer for leer, meeting their sallies with giggles, and motioning with
her head toward the cemeteries.

And so she went up the hill. A little while later a man left the group,
remarking that he must go home. He followed her. And a moment after
that another left, and then another, until behind Hatrack was a line of
men, about one to a block, who would not look at one another, and who
looked sheepishly at the ground when they met anyone coming the other
way. As each man accosted her in turn Hatrack inquired whether he was
a Protestant or a Catholic. If he was a Protestant she took him into
the Catholic cemetery; if he was a Catholic they went into the Masonic


I fell a willing victim to the wiles of the Rum Demon on the night of
my conversion, and thereafter, in common with other boys of the town
who were aflame with revolt against the religious taboos which had so
oppressed us, I drank whenever I could obtain the liquor. This was not
often, because I seldom had any money and it was difficult to find a
bartender who would sell a drink to a minor. The eagle eye of the W. C.
T. U. was constantly upon him. But occasionally the darkies would buy
for us in return for one swig at the bottle, and as often as possible
we purchased by this means a pint or quart of whisky or gin. I did not
drink because I liked the taste of liquor, for I didn’t, and I do not
now, but I thought it was smart and manly to get drunk.

And there was another, and a deeper reason. It seemed to me that in
the eyes of the Preachers and the Brothers and Sisters a man could
commit no more heinous sin than to get tight; it was even worse than
smoking. Such being the case, I felt that it was incumbent upon me to
achieve that condition, and thereby show them that I had no use for
them and the things for which they stood. And that was also the reason
we sang vulgar songs, and roared with gusto the parodies on hymns
that we learned from time to time. It was our custom to get as drunk
as possible and then group ourselves about the pump in the courthouse
yard, where we bellowed ditties and parodies until the town marshal or
some outraged Brother or Sister stopped us.

There were few such songs that we did not sing; it was at the pump,
on a summer night, that I first heard the “Song of Jack Hall.” It
was taught to us by a shoe drummer from St. Louis, who sang it with
appropriate gestures, and for a long time it was our favorite song. The
version that we sang was this--it should be rendered with great gusto
and feeling, and the final line of each verse should be dragged from
deep down in the chest:

  Oh, me nyme it is Jack Hall, ’tis Jack Hall,
  Oh, me nyme it is Jack Hall, ’tis Jack Hall;
  Oh, me nyme it is Jack Hall,
  And I’ll tell youse one and all,
  The story of me fall,
    God damn your eyes.

  Oh, I killed a man ’tis said, so ’tis said,
  Oh, I killed a man ’tis said, so ’tis said;
  Oh, I killed a man ’tis said,
  And I kicked his bloody head,
  And I left him lyin’ dead,
    God damn his eyes.

  So they chucked me here in quod, here in quod,
  So they chucked me here in quod, here in quod;
  So they chucked me here in quod,
  With a ball and chain and rod,
  They did, so help me God,
    God damn their eyes.

  Well, the parson he did come, he did come,
  Well, the parson he did come, he did come;
  Well, the parson he did come,
  And he looked so God-damned glum,
  As he talked of Kingdom Come,
    God damn his eyes.

  And the sheriff he came, too, he came, too,
  And the sheriff he came, too, he came, too;
  And the sheriff he came, too,
  With his little boys in blue,
  He said: “Jack, we’ll see you through,
    God damn your eyes.”

  So it’s up the rope I go, up I go,
  So it’s up the rope I go, up I go;
  So it’s up the rope I go,
  And those devils down below,
  They’ll say: “Jack, we told you so!”
    God damn their eyes.

The parodies on hymns that we sang were almost innumerable, and were
undoubtedly sung all over the country by other boys who, in the eyes
of their elders, were only being smart-alecky, but who, like us,
had a deeper reason for the eagerness with which they paraded their
disrespect for the Church and for religion. It was one of the few ways
we knew to flaunt our sin, and nothing pleased us more than to break up
a church service, or at least interrupt it, by bellowing at the top of
our voices some disreputable and unholy parody that had reached us in
one way or another.

One of our most enjoyable Sunday-night escapades was to gather in a
group outside a church window, and sing a parody immediately after
the choir and the congregation inside had sung the hymn itself. We
persisted in this until finally the pastor of the Northern Methodist
church had Wint Jackson, the Night Marshal, chase us away. We went
without comment or objection when Jackson ordered us to disperse,
because he had just killed a desperado named Yates, and we considered
him something of a hero; we thought that he went about with his finger
constantly in the trigger of his revolver, and that the finger itched.

On this particular night the parody which made the Methodist minister
so angry, and swept from his mind all thought of his Christian duty to
turn the other cheek for us to swat, was on “Oh, that will be glory for
me.” Our version went like this:

  Oh, there will be no chicken for me,
  No chicken for me, no chicken for me;
  When all the preachers have gulped their share,
  There’ll be no chicken, no chicken for me.

To give the proper swing to the tune, “gulped” must be pronounced

Perhaps the most celebrated of all the parodies, at that time, was on
the favorite old hymn, “At the Bar.” We sang it thus:

  At the bar, at the bar,
  Where I smoked my first cigar,
    And the nickels and the dimes rolled away;
  It was there, by chance,
  That I ripped my Sunday pants,
    And now I can wear them every day.

Another parodied “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” thus:

  Nero, my dog, has fleas,
  Nero has fleas;
    Although I wash him clean,
  Nero, my dog, has fleas.

And thus, to the tune of “Hallelujah, Thine the Glory”:

  Hellilujah, I’m a hobo,
  Hellilujah, I’m a bum;
  Hellilujah, give us a handout,
  Revive us again.

There was also in circulation at that time a great number of parodies
on hymns in which mention was made of Beecham’s Pills, the merits
of which were emblazoned on every barn and fence throughout the
countryside. I have heard that these parodies were circulated by
the Beecham Pill people themselves in response to a plea of English
churches for hymn books, but I do not know if the story is true. One of
our favorites of this collection was the parody on “Hark, the herald
angels sing.” It went:

  Hark, the herald Angels sing,
  Beecham’s Pills are just the thing;
  Peace on earth and mercy mild,
  Two for man and one for child.


To my long list of unhallowed but frequently pleasant accomplishments
I added, in my sixteenth summer, journalism and dancing; I went to
work on the Farmington _Times_ and learned to waltz and two-step, and
on occasion danced the Virginia Reel and the quadrille with spirit
and abandon if not with elegant grace. The practice of journalism was
not then, in all quarters, considered a sin of the first magnitude;
nor is it so considered to-day except when various Preachers and
other goody-bodies find their names mentioned infrequently and their
daily denunciations ignored. It is then the fashion to denounce the
newspapers, and to deplore the low plane to which the fourth estate has
fallen. But in Farmington in my youth the feeling against the Sunday
newspaper was so great that it was felt generally that all journalism
was at least slightly tainted, and so I list it as a sin. So far as the
financial rewards go, it is even now nothing less than a crime.

There was no question about the sinfulness of dancing, especially the
round dances, as we used to call the waltz and two-step. In some parts
of the country exception was made for the square dances, but everywhere
in my section of Missouri the waltz and two-step were considered Steps
toward Hell. I frequently heard Preachers and Brothers and Sisters
pronounce solemn judgment against young girls who indulged in such
heinous practices, and brand them before God and man as abandoned
scarlet women glorying in the unsanctified embraces of wicked men. That
was the way the Preachers usually talked, too. One man in our town was
even criticized for waltzing with his wife.

Not only was the wicked waltz and the devilish two-step, no matter
how decorously performed, a Sunday taboo in our town, but in our most
religious families it was taboo at all times, and several persons were
dismissed from church for participating in such orgies. We had one
Preacher who informed us that both Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed
by God because their inhabitants danced and for no other reason, and
the prediction was freely made that Farmington was destined for the
same dreadful end, and he intimated that we would not even reap the
resultant benefits of great fame and publicity. His tirades were
strikingly similar to the ones that are being made every day now by the
Methodist Board of Temperance, Prohibition and Public Morals against
New York City and other centers of sin.

As I have said, for many years the Presbyterians, city slickers at
heart, had a virtual monopoly of dancing in Farmington. It was they
who introduced the waltz and the two-step, to the great horror of
all of our old women, both male and female, and it is they who must
be held responsible when God sends His avenging angels to blast and
destroy. Occasionally a Baptist or a Methodist backslid sufficiently to
trip the light fantastic toe, as I delighted to call it as a juvenile
reporter on the _Times_, but not often; generally the Presbyterians
alone thus flaunted their wickedness. But when God failed to perform
as expected, others became bold and abandoned all caution, and when I
left Farmington, dancing was general and the town was obviously headed
straight for Hell. But even then there was very little dancing done on
Sunday night.

We had two newspapers in Farmington, the _Times_ and the _News_, the
former owned by Mr. Theodore Fisher and the latter by the Denman
brothers, extraordinarily devout members of the Northern Methodist
church and leaders in most of the town’s religious activities. Mr.
Fisher was a Presbyterian, a liberal at heart, but for business
reasons he was unable to do or say anything to stem the tide of
prying Puritanism. Both papers were controlled by the churches of the
town, and published everything that the Preachers and the Brothers
and Sisters asked them to; as I grew older, Mr. Fisher became more
confidential and frequently expressed his disgust at many things that
went on in Farmington, but he was powerless. If he had said a word in
favor of a more liberal attitude his paper would have had an even more
difficult time getting along, and Heaven knows it was hard enough as
it was; Mr. Fisher frequently had to spend all of Saturday morning
collecting advertising accounts so he could pay wages in the afternoon.
But the _News_ was always very prosperous.

When I went into the newspaper business, or game, as it is called in
the motion pictures and the schools of Journalism, I went in with the
enthusiastic thoroughness with which I had abandoned myself to a life
of sin. Mr. Fisher hired me at $2 a week, during the summer vacation,
to be the office devil, and for that princely wage I built the fires
each morning, swept the office, carried copy, set type, distributed pi,
kicked the job press, cranked the gasoline engine on Thursdays, fed the
big roller press, folded the papers, wrote names on them and carried
them to the Post Office in sacks. And I had many other duties besides.

These multitudinous activities sufficed me for a few weeks, because
in doing them, and in so being engaged in journalistic practice, I
had the same feeling that so encouraged me when I danced or drank or
smoked cigarettes; I was confident that I was doing something of which
the righteous did not wholly approve. But later I became ambitious. I
wanted to be an editor. Only God knows why, but I did. So I became an
editor; indeed, I became many editors. Using the small job press and
Mr. Fisher’s stock of vari-colored inks, I printed cards informing the
world that I was sporting editor, society editor, fire editor, crime
editor, baseball editor, football editor, financial editor, religious
editor, and barber-shop editor, this last because I purposed to
interview the customers in Doss’s barber shop.

Thus equipped, I felt able to handle any journalistic problem that
might confront me, and I spent my spare time interviewing people
and gathering items which, because of the extreme godliness of our
citizens, usually consisted of nothing more exciting than announcements
that so-and-so was on the sick list, or had been on the sick list and
was now improving. When I asked a banker if he knew any news I gravely
presented him with my financial-editor card; and when it became my
proud duty to interview my youthful idol and our most famous citizen,
Mr. Barney Pelty, the major-league baseball pitcher, he learned by
ocular proof that I was both sporting editor and baseball editor,
and as such fully competent to transmit to type and to posterity his
deathless utterances. As I recall them, these were generally that he
would be in town to visit his relatives or because some member of his
family was on the sick list, and would then return to St. Louis to
take up again the onerous duties of his profession. Once he predicted
that the Browns would win the pennant, and I wrote this exclusive
information with all the large and handsome words at my command, but he
was mistaken.

As time went on I became almost everything that it was possible
to be on the _Times_; I was printer, pressman, reporter, mechanic,
editor of this and that, and what not. But I was never permitted to
write editorials or chronicle the doings of our best people. The
_Times_ was passionately addicted to the Democrats, and each week our
editorial page trumpeted the widely known and indisputable fact that
the Republicans were a lot of skunks. These blasts were written, and
well written, by Mr. Fisher himself, and my own share in the good work
was merely to put them into type, and occasionally correct Mr. Fisher’s
phraseology when I did not think that he had expressed himself clearly.
And since these corrections were made at the case after the proof had
been corrected, they nearly always got printed, sometimes with dire
results. Once Mr. Fisher wrote, in jovial vein, about the gaudy house
in which a certain political candidate resided, and I corrected it
to read “bawdy house,” holding that the latter was more definitely

Another member of Mr. Fisher’s family, who had previously spoken to me
pleasantly when she met me on the street but who regarded me as nothing
but hired help after I had accepted employment, wrote about the social
activities of our first families on Columbia Street and the second and
third families in Doss’s Addition. I was occasionally permitted to
describe the pitiful doings of the Catholics, the Lutherans and other
curious humans down near the ice plant, and the weekly dances given
by the abandoned young people at our chief source of civic pride, the
insane asylum. But the functions of Society were obviously beyond
the descriptive powers of a mere printer’s devil. It was bad enough
that such a person had to set the type. Nevertheless I attended these
functions, and gained great comfort by inserting my name in the list
of those present, and by adding the important and vital information
that dainty and delicious refreshments had been served and a good time
had by all. If it was a birthday party the host was wished many happy
returns of the day. It was my belief at that time that it was against
the law to publish an account of a social event without so stating. It
was not always true; frequently the refreshments were not delicious
and no one had a good time, but in those days I did not have that high
regard for the truth that I have since acquired through labors on the
great metropolitan journals; indeed, a night seldom passes now that I
do not ask myself: “Have I written the truth to-day?” The answer, has,
so far, eluded me. But Mr. Fisher, and to an even greater extent the
Brothers Denman, sole owners of the _News_, frankly tried to please the
advertisers and the subscribers; there was not then that fine spirit of
independence which is such an essential part of modern journalism.

I advanced rapidly on the _Times_, and eventually was receiving $7
a week and had appointed myself to so many editorships that my cards
filled two pockets. I was satisfied, and probably would have remained
so for some years, but the end of my allotted time in Farmington was
drawing near. I went to Northeast Missouri to visit relatives, and Mr.
Fisher discharged me for over-staying my leave. This was a terrific
blow; it seemed to me that my journalistic career had been cut off in
the flower of its youth. I went to work in a lumber yard, and kept the
job until the first carload of cement came in. But after I had pulled
and tugged at the ninety-eight-pound sacks for ten hours I concluded
that the lumber business held out no glowing promise for a young man
who wished to retain his health and have leisure for a reasonable
amount of traffic with Satan.

So I resigned and went to Quincy, Ill., where after considerable
negotiations I obtained a job as reporter on the Quincy _Journal_ and
embarked on a career in daily journalism. So far this has kept me in
the cities, where the opportunities for sin are vastly more numerous
than in the small towns, but where there is less sin in proportion
to the number of inhabitants. This is true despite the horde of
wailing prophets and professional devil-chasers and snoopers whose
principal occupation is violent and false denunciation of every city
large enough to have an electric-light plant. And in a city one can,
by diligent search, find a few people who will admit that a man’s
religion, or his lack of religion, is his own affair.


If there is anything in religious inheritance, or in the influence
of a religious environment, I should be, if not an actual Pastor of
a flock, at least one of the most devout of the faithful, a snooping
Brother concerned only with good works. But instead of carrying on the
work of my forefathers I find myself full of contempt for the Church,
and disgust for the forms of religion. To me such things are silly; I
cannot understand how grown people can believe in them, or how they can
repress their giggles as they listen to the ministerial platitudes and
perform such mummeries as are the rule in all churches.

Never since the night of my “conversion” have I gone into a church to
worship. I have frequently entered such dens of righteousness, but my
visits, except for a few that I made soon after Brother McConnell’s
revival meeting to please my father and mother, have been on newspaper
assignment or out of curiosity. I have inquired into the doctrine of
almost every sect that has adherents in America, but in none of them
have I been able to find any sign of a true and beneficent God. I can
see only groups of sanctimonious, self-seeking Little Jack Horners
chasing about poking their fingers into someone else’s pie, and then
shouting gleefully: “Look at me, God! Look what I found! Ooooh! Ain’t
it nice and smutty?” They cannot practice their religion without
prancing and cavorting before the public eye; they are constantly
showing off. They are not so much concerned with the glory of God as
with the glory of the front page. And what time they are not whirling
giddily in such imbecilities, they are engaged in disgusting squabbles
among themselves as to who shall have the local agency for purveying
religion; they want to copyright salvation in the name of their
particular sect.

On all sides we hear that religion is the greatest thing in the world
and that mankind’s chief need is more of it. But it is my conviction
that mankind would be infinitely better off with less of it, and
probably best off with none of it. Nothing has ever caused more
trouble. The whole history of religion is a record of war, murder,
torture, rape, massacre, distrust, hypocrisy, anguish, persecution and
continual and unseemly bickering; it is a rare church that has not
been the scene of disorderly brawls. It has divided towns and nations
into bitter factions; it has turned brother against sister and father
against son; it has blighted romances; it is a prime cause of insanity;
there is hardly anything harmful to the human race that it has not
done as it pursued its meddlesome, intolerant way down the ages. Its
followers proclaim loudly that their particular belief is synonymous
with love, and bawl threats and epithets against anyone who denies
it; but in truth religion comes more nearly to being synonymous with
hatred and revenge, with each sect praying to God to grant it special
privileges and to damn the others.

I have never at any time regretted my complete withdrawal from all
forms of religion and churchly ceremony. During many years of my
childhood, while mental and physical habits were forming, these things
kept me in constant terror; I was horrified by the thought of the awful
things that God was preparing to do to me; I was fearful and miserable
lest I give birth to an idea that was not perfectly righteous and in
keeping with His commands as laid down by His agents. The Bible, which
I necessarily interpreted in the light of what I had been taught,
caused me more nightmares than any other book I have ever read, and I
was vastly more alarmed by the tales of the fires of Hell related to
me by the Preachers and the Brothers and Sisters than I was in later
life by the thunder of German artillery or the crackle of machine-gun

Since I left Farmington I have been near death many times, both as a
soldier in France and from the natural illnesses incident to civil
life. At least three times I have been told that I had but a few hours
to live. Yet even then I did not feel the need of religion, nor for a
preacher or a priest to pray over me to a God that neither of us knew,
and perform ceremonies founded on pagan rites. How can an intelligent
God pay any attention to a last-minute deathbed repentance that it
is so obviously the result of fear and nothing else? The religionist
expects God to wash all his sins off the slate merely because, when he
is about to die, he says he is sorry. If there be a God, cannot He look
into such a shrunken little soul and see that there is nothing in it
but a fear of death and a horror of the unknown?

I am not an atheist, because for all I know to the contrary there may
be a God, or any number of Gods, but to me the God worshiped by my
forefathers and by the religionists of to-day is a cruel, preposterous
creation conceived by a people who felt the need of chastisement.
He is a celestial traffic cop, hounded by whimpering weaklings who
beseech Him to tell them they are on the right road, and yet keep
trying to show Him which way the traffic should go. In the Christian
and Jewish conceptions of the Heavenly Father I can see nothing that
is fit for a civilized man to worship; indeed, the nearer a man
approaches civilization and intelligence, the less need there is for
him to worship anything. Conversely it is the stupid, illiterate man,
knowing neither how to read nor how to think, who is most often the
religious fanatic. He understands nothing and is afraid of everything;
he goes through life as a small boy goes past a graveyard at night,
whistling to keep up his courage. He requires religion and its twin,
superstition, to give him strength to contemplate the wonders of the
sunset and the falling rain.

For my part, I simply refuse to worry about God. If there is a God, I
hope that I may in time find favor in His sight and obtain my share
of the spiritual loot; there is nothing that I can do about it. And
if there is no God, there is nothing I can do about that, either. I
profess neither knowledge nor theory about the Supreme Being and the
heavenly wonders; knowing nothing, I believe nothing, and believing
nothing, I am prepared to believe anything, asking only reasonably
correct information and authentic signs. These I fail to find in
selfish prayers, constant squabbling over the wishes of the Lord and
the building of magnificent temples within sight and hearing of the
ramshackle tenements of the poor. I do not believe that I shall ever
find them, for

  “Wherefore and whence we are ye cannot know,
  Nor where life springs, nor whither life doth go.”

Without religion I thoroughly enjoy the business of living. I am
oppressed by no dreadful taboos, and I am without fear; I set myself no
standards save those of ordinary self-respect, decent consideration of
the rights and privileges of others, and the observance of the laws of
the land except Prohibition. To my own satisfaction, at least, I have
proved that religion and the Church are not at all necessary to a full
and happy life. And if I am thus a sinner and my chance of ultimate
salvation forfeit, then the fault lies at the door of those fanatics
whose method of teaching religion to a child was, and is, to hammer it
into his head by constant threats of terrible punishment, by drawing
torturing word pictures of Hell, by describing God as a vicious,
vindictive old man, by scolding and tormenting and laying down taboos
until the poor child’s brain whirls in an agony of fright and misery.
I know of no better way to salute them than to refer them to certain
words of their own Savior, to be found in the thirty-fourth verse of
the twenty-third chapter of the Book of St. Luke.

       *       *       *       *       *

If I ever have a son, which now seems unlikely, his boyhood will be
quite different from my own. For him Sunday shall be a day of rest and
pleasure; there shall be no taboos, and no attendance upon church and
Sunday school unless their performances are more interesting than other
available entertainment. They now rank just below the moving pictures,
and are therefore last. I shall bring my son in contact with the sacred
books of the Christians, the Jews, the Buddhists and of all the other
religions as rapidly as he is able to comprehend them, and he shall be
permitted to choose his own religion if he decides that a religion is
necessary to his happiness and peace of mind. But if he shows any signs
of becoming a preacher, priest or rabbi, or even a Brother, I shall
whale hell out of him. I am that intolerant.



_This book is composed on the Linotype in Bodoni, so-called after its
designer, Giambattista Bodoni (1740-1813) a celebrated Italian scholar
and printer. Bodoni planned his type especially for use on the more
smoothly finished papers that came into vogue late in the eighteenth
century and drew his letters with a mechanical regularity that is
readily apparent on comparison with the less formal old style. Other
characteristics that will be noted are the square serifs without fillet
and the marked contrast between the light and heavy strokes._


       YORK · BOUND BY H.
         WOLFF ESTATE,
           NEW YORK.


  Italicized text is surrounded by underscores: _italics_.

  Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

  Inconsistencies in hyphenation have been standardized.

  Archaic or variant spelling has been retained.

  On page 39, based upon context, “We could have no indoor games” in the
    original should be “We could have no outdoor games”; this eBook
    reflects this change.



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