Frances Trollope - Women at Camp Meeting
Instead of the few hysterical women who had distinguished themselves on that occasion, above a hundred persons, nearly all females, came forward, uttering howlings and groans, so terrible that I shall never cease to shudder when I recall them.
Religious Revivalism, violating every principle of Christ, is often the result of un-religious competition between preachers. The Change Agent device has always been to seduce unstable young women by well-understood devices of manipulation. The most powerful agent of change is a revivalist with the looks and success the young girls (or strange men) want in their own lives. Frances Trollope, Domestic Manners of the Americans, written during her travels in America during 1827-1831 gives many first-hand observations of religious revivalism and the conditions necessary to bring it about She is especially appalled how women control the church and defend the preacher whose influence is described in Women at Camp Meetings.
Her observations agree with the historical certainty that this out of mind phenomenon is the product of men trying to be king of the mountain for personal power and "seeing Godliness as a means of financial gain." Among sincere evangelists, it still moved under the need of some visual sign that my new theology is superior to yours. While she did not witness Cane Ridge she encountered some of the identical movements still operating. She was in West Tennessee and on to Cincinnati in 1828. Writers of the American Restoration Movement repeat many of the same events and were embarassed in later life over their use of the "anxious seat" and the need for some sign produced in the physical bodies of the "converts.
CINCINNATI, OHIO. Summer 1829. Women at a Camp Meeting.
The exhortation nearly resembled that which I had heard at "the Revival," but the result was very different;
for, instead of the few hysterical women who had distinguished themselves on that occasion,
above a hundred persons, nearly all females, came forward, uttering howlings and groans, so terrible that I shall never cease to shudder when I recall them.
They appeared to drag each other forward, and on the word being given, " let us pray,"
they all fell on their knees; but this posture was soon changed for others that permitted greater scope for the convulsive movements of their limbs;
and they were soon all lying on the ground, an indescribable confusion of heads and legs.
They threw about their limbs with such incessant and violent motion, that I was every instant expecting some serious accident to occur.
But how am I to describe the sounds that proceeded from this strange mass of human beings? I know no words which can convey an idea of it.
Hysterical sobbings, convulsive groans, shrieks and screams the most appalling, burst forth on all sides.
I felt sick with horror. As if their hoarse and overstrained voices failed to make noise enough,
they soon began to clap their hands violently. The scene described by Dante was before me:
- Quivi sospiri, pianti, ed alti guai
- Risonavan per l'aere
- Orribili favelle
- Parole di dolore, accenti d'ira
- Voci alti e fioche, e suon di man con elle. "
Many of these wretched creatures were beautiful young females. The preachers moved about among them, at once exciting and soothing their agonies. I heard the muttered " Sister! dear sister!"
I saw the insidious lips approach the cheeks of the unhappy girls;
I heard the murmured confessions of the poor victims,
and I watched their tormentors, breathing into their ears consolations that tinged the pale cheek with red.
Had I been a man, I am sure I should have been guilty of some rash act of interference;
nor do I believe that such a scene could have been acted in the presence of Englishmen without instant punishment being inflicted;
not to mention the salutary discipline of the tread-mill, which, beyond all question, would, in England, have been applied to check so turbulent and so vicious a scene.
After the first wild burst that followed their prostration, the meanings, in many instances, became loudly articulate: and I then experienced a strange vibration between tragic and comic feeling.
A very pretty girl, who was kneeling in the attitude of Canova's Magdalene immediately before us, amongst an immense quantity of jargon, broke out thus:
"Woe! woe to the backsliders! hear it, hear it Jesus! when I was fifteen my mother died, and I backslided, oh Jesus, I backslided! take me home to my mother,
Jesus! take me home to her, for I am weary! Oh John Mitchel! John Mitchel!" and after sobbing piteously behind her raised hands, she lifted her sweet face again, which was as pale as death, and said,
"Shall I sit on the sunny bank of salvation with my mother? my own dear mother? oh Jesus, take me home, take me home!"
Who could refuse a tear to this earnest wish for death in one so young and so lovely?
But I saw her, ere I left the ground, with her hand fast locked, and her head supported by a man who looked very much as Don Juan might, when sent back to earth as too bad for the regions below.
One woman near us continued to "call on the Lord," as it is termed, in the loudest possible tone, and without a moment's interval, for the two hours that we kept our dreadful station.
She became frightfully hoarse, and her face so red as to make me expect she would burst a blood-vessel.
Among the rest of her rant, she said "I will hold fast to Jesus, I never will let him go; if they take me to hell, I will still hold him fast, fast, fast!"
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA. August 1830. Sunday Observances in Philadelphia; Unhealthy Alliances between Clergy and Female Parishoners.
We visited many churches and chapels in the city, but none that would elsewhere be called handsome, either internally or externally.
I went one evening, not a Sunday, with a party of ladies to see a Presbyterian minister inducted. The ceremony was woefully long, and the charge to the young man awfully impossible to obey, at least if he were a man, like unto other men.
It was matter of astonishment to me to observe the deep attention, and the unwearied patience with which some hundreds of beautiful young girls who were assembled there, (not to mention the old ladies,) listened to the whole of this tedious ceremony;
surely there is no country in the world where religion makes so large a part of the amusement and occupation of the ladies.
Spain, in its most catholic days, could not exceed it: besides, in spite of the gloomy horrors of the Inquisition, gaiety and amusement were not there offered as a sacrifice by the young and lovely.
The religious severity of Philadelphian manners is in nothing more conspicuous than in the number of chains thrown across the streets on a Sunday to prevent horses and carriages from passing.
Surely the Jews could not exceed this country in their external observances.
What the gentlemen of Philadelphia do with themselves on a Sunday, I will not pretend to guess,
but the prodigious majority of females in the churches is very remarkable.
Although a large proportion of the population of this city are Quakers, the same extraordinary variety of faith exists here, as everywhere else in the Union,
and the priests have, in some circles, the same unbounded influence which has been mentioned elsewhere.
One history reached me, which gave a terrible picture of the effect this power may produce; it was related to me by my mantua maker; a young woman highly estimable as a wife and mother, and on whose veracity I perfectly rely.
She told me that her father was a widower, and lived with his family of three daughters at Philadelphia.
A short time before she married, an itinerant preacher came to the city, who contrived to obtain an intimate footing in many respectable families.
Her father's was one of these, and his influence and authority were great with all the sisters, but particularly with the youngest.
The young girl's feelings for him seem to have been a curious mixture of spiritual awe and earthly affection. When she received a hint from her sisters that she ought not to give him too much encouragement till he spoke out,
she showed as much holy resentment as if they had told her not to say her prayers too devoutly.
At length the father remarked the sort of covert passion that gleamed through the eyes of his godly visitor, and he saw too, the pallid anxious look which had settled on the young brow of his daughter; either this, or some rumours he bad heard abroad, or both together, led him to forbid this man his house.
The three girls were present when he did so, and all uttered a deprecating "Oh father!" but the old man added stoutly, " If you show yourself here again, reverend sir, I will not only teach you the way out of my house, but out of the city also."
The preacher withdrew, and was never heard of in Philadelphia afterwards; but when a few months had passed, strange whispers began to creep through the circle which had received and honoured him, and, in due course of time,
no less than seven unfortunate girls produced living proofs of the wisdom of my informant's worthy father. In defence of this dreadful story I can only make the often repeated quotation, "I tell the tale as 'twas told to me;" but, in all sincerity I must add, that I have no doubt of its truth.
NEW YORK CITY. Spring 1831. Sunday Amusements for Gentlemen; Effect of Religion on Females.
On the opposite side of the North River, about three miles higher up, is a place called Hoboken. A gentleman who possessed a handsome mansion and grounds there, also possessed the right of ferry, and to render this productive, he has restricted his pleasure-grounds to a few beautiful acres, laying out the remainder simply and tastefully as a public walk. It is hardly possible to imagine one of greater attraction; a broad belt of light underwood and flowering shrubs, studded at intervals with lofty forest trees, runs for two miles along a cliff which overhangs the matchless Hudson; sometimes it feathers the rocks down to its very margin, and at others leaves a pebbly shore, just rude enough to break the gentle waves, and make a music which mimics softly the loud chorus of the ocean. Through this beautiful little wood a broad well-gravelled terrace is led by every point which can exhibit the scenery to advantage; narrower and wider paths diverge at intervals, some into the deeper shadow of the woods, and some shelving gradually to the pretty coves below.
The price of entrance to this little Eden, is the six cents you pay at the ferry. We went there on a bright Sunday afternoon, expressly to see the humours of the place. Many thousand persons were scattered through the grounds; of these we ascertained, by repeatedly counting, that nineteen-twentieths were men.
The ladies were at church. Often as the subject has pressed upon my mind, I think I never so strongly felt the conviction that the Sabbath day, the holy day, the day on which alone the great majority of the Christian world can spend their hours as they please, is ill passed, (if passed entirely) within brick walls, listening to an earth-born preacher, charm he never so wisely.
"Oh! how can they renounce the boundless store
Of charms, which Nature to her vottries yields!
The warbling woodland, the resounding shore,
The pomp of groves, and garniture of fields,
All that the genial ray of morning gilds,
And all that echoes to the song of even,
All that the mountain's sheltering bosom yields,
And all the dread magnificence of heaven;
Oh ! how can they renounce, and hope to be forgiven !"
How is it that the men of America, who are reckoned good husbands and good fathers, while they themselves enjoy sufficient freedom of spirit to permit their walking forth into the temple of the living God, can leave those they love best on earth, bound in the iron chains of a most tyrannical fanaticism?
How can they breathe the balmy air, and not think of the tainted atmosphere so heavily weighing upon breasts stil dearer than their own?
How can they gaze upon the blossoms of the spring, and not remember the fairer cheeks of their young daughters, waxing pale, as they sit for long sultry hours, immured with hundreds of fellow victims,
listening to the roaring vanities of a preacher, canonized by a college of old women?
They cannot think it needful to salvation, or they would not withdraw themselves.
Wherefore is it? Do they fear these self-elected, self-ordained priests, and offer up their wives and daughters to propitiate them? Or do they deem their hebdomadal freedom more complete,
because their wives and daughters are shut up four or five times in the day at church or chapel?
Is it true, that at Hoboken, as every where else, there are reposoires, which as you pass them, blast the sense for a moment,
by reeking forth the fumes of whiskey and tobacco, and it may be that these cannot be entered with a wife or daughter.
The proprietor of the grounds, however, has contrived with great taste to render these abominations not unpleasing to the eye; there is one in particular,
which has quite the air of a Grecian temple, and did they drink wine instead of whiskey, it might be inscribed to Bacchus.
Frances Trollope, Domestic Manners of the Americans Written during her stay in America, 1827-1831