[Lebanon—Sunday, 25 June 1871]

Sunday morning at Lebanon. The day rose fair and strong in the perfection of June. It was a surprise too in its marvellous beauty because last night gave no promise of clearing. To be sure we are not skilled in telling the signs of the skies in a hill country. I know not if anyone can be! But for us who live habitually where we can watch the horizon, the sky becomes a sphinx and holds her own secrets here among the hills. Soon after nine we started for the Shaker village and church. We found many carriages bound in the same direction and two stages beside a large number of country people on foot who doubtless chose this fine day to make an excursion thither which they had been promising to themselves all winter long. The world’s people were almost as numerous as the Shakers who appear to have dwindled in numbers since our last tour thither about six years ago. There are fewer young people among them, and the elders with their self denials, their penances, and their much labor, seem older than their years. Such a lonely loveless forlorn life as it is! Jamie said as we drove away what room there is for a tragedy to be written out concerning these people! Surely there is tragedy enough and except Hawthorne’s Canterbury Pilgrims I know nothing which approaches the subject. Frederick Evans who is the only real power among them as to natural gifts spoke well & forcibly; his address was made quite as much to us world’s people perhaps rather more than to his own sect. He stepped forward too, before speaking straight to the centre of the hall and stood facing us, while it is the universal custom for their speakers to say what they are moved to deliver just where they are sitting or standing. There were only about a hundred of the Shakers in all, possibly a hundred and twenty at the outside. It was evidently a very successful meeting. Many of the company were moved to speak, among them several women. One, a young woman, said very simply and with an earnestness which brought the tears to my eyes “I have never felt my privilege in belonging to this society as I do today. United as we are in the spirit, determined to put away the flesh and all the temptations of the world, I feel myself sustained by you all. In the world we hear the expression “save us from ourselves” here we are helped and delivered from ourselves. I thank God more earnestly than I have ever been able to do before for this great Mercy in bringing me to you. I will never leave you! I will devote my life to keeping in what we believe to be the strait way. I can never be grateful enough to you for keeping me from myself”.

Thereupon she stopped as they all do abruptly—a great improvement upon the circumlocution and nonsense in winding up which most professional speakers and preachers in particular employ—the blood suffused her pale face, her hands shook, and excitement was painfully evident, but a hymn which was immediately sung by the company subdued the painful appearance of rising emotion and she soon became quiet as before. A young man also spoke—after he had ended the same twitching of the muscles of the face and arms appeared. He became quite pale and I was in fear lest some of the terrible scenes of convulsion I had heard described should take place. Again the music came—as is the custom among them and after a while he also was healed. Men and women and both under the common average of health & good looks. Their ugly dress too intensifies their ugliness. The women wore muslin caps perfectly round and plain and shaker bonnets of straw which they took off on entering the church—white muslin kerchiefs, or the old woven white silk folded over their shoulders—these were a perfect square folded together and the folds pinned down behind at the neck. They wore under these a high white linen or cambric collar on a round neck kerchief of linen or cambric—then came the dress of pearl colored stuff of cheap quality, the skirt ironed into plaits and all made just alike—tight sleeves, no cuffs, a white handkerchief folded over their knees when they sit down, one white petticoat and odd looking shoes with small uncomfortable looking heels and broad soles, home made. The men wore a kind of brown home spun—the trousers evidently made by no good pattern but straight from top to bottom, hair cut square, good comfortable straw hats and for the most part, large also comfortable looking shoes. The men for the most part were lower in quality (physically & morally) even than the women. They had one little boy and it was touching to see how the elder who accompanied him evidently found it the one joy of his life to educate this adopted son. I can fancy the eagerness with which the younger men are watched by the elder in the hope of retaining them and thus building up the fading faith. Frederick Evans leaves no subject unchallenged. Darwin and the schools of science as well as those of theology have been brought before the tribunal of his faith and found wanting. We deny the flesh, he says we live already a life of the spirit. When this body is put away what is to become of you world’s people who devote yourselves to the pleasures of the world and to the ways of the natural man. The natural man must altogether die; what then shall be left for you but nonentity, while we having lived a life of the spirit shall be already among the angels.

This was the tenor of all that was said. They live revoked and despised and rejected that they may find themselves the sooner among the Chosen.

Whatever form religion may take, it is still religion and seeing this little handful of men and women here separated from all natural ties, living this lowly sad conventional life, all for God’s glory and from their own desire to work out their sure and speedy salvation, sad as it was and dark and miserable and heart rending, there was still the knowledge of their faith to enliven it all, and the meaning that all shall pass away like the grass. Nevertheless the eternity of misery which these days must sometimes hold for these poor estranged ones comes over me in this sunshine and among these hills, and over the brightness of the landscape hangs like a pall.

Went up on the hill behind the hotel in the afternoon with Shakespeares Sonnets, where we lay in the grass and read in luxurious delight until night. The moon was brilliant and we sat or walked by turns on the fine precipice overlooking the landscape.


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