The New Timothy

By WM. M. BAKER. New York : Harper and Brothers.

MR. BAKER has already made himself favorably known by his story of the secession days in the South, which he called, not very attractively, “Inside,” and he has an almost unique combination of qualities for the achievement of popularity, in his very evident power as a literary artist, and his very strong and explicit religious orthodoxy. Of course it may be doubted whether novelists should be a source of pride to any sect ; yet we suspect that none are loath to see their religious opinions arrayed in the pretty and effective garb of romance. The Devil, who once had all the good tunes, has been obliged to give some of them up, as everybody knows who listens to the lively yet sacred marches and quicksteps played nowadays in the churches ; and the enemy of souls is quite likely to be made to relax his monopoly of the best stories, though here, we must say, he shows the strongest fight.

However this may be, it is quite certain that Mr. Baker, who is an earnest and active clergyman of the evangelical persuasion, is also a clever and amusing writer, with an eye for character which would be notable in one of the wicked. In “ The New Timothy,” as in his former novel, he has laid the scene in the Southwest, where, in creed at least, there is far more Puritanism than could have been found in New England any time during the last fifty years. Those rude backwoodsmen and patriarchal planters, and those slaveholding village bankers and lawyers, when they got religion, got religion of the old kind, and had no doubts about it after they had got it. But they got it in no cold-blooded way, out of books ; it was preached into them by very fervent apostles, — men of their own experiences, sympathies, and prejudices. Their religion did not make them Abolitionists, but it did make them vastly better men than they would otherwise have been ; and at the worst, it was one of the most interesting and picturesque phases of their life.
Mr. Baker’s story is that of a young clergyman, who comes from a seminary to the charge of a Southwestern cure of souls, himself a Southwesterner, but refined and enfeebled by his college life. He is no great figure, either before or after his selfemancipation from seminary traditions, and his encounter of the local sinners upon their own plane of sentiment ; and neither are any of the young gentlemen and ladies of the story remarkable, least of all that young lady with the intolerable name of John. But all the rude and bad people are new and charming. So good society as the Meggar family we have not seen, in a novel, for a long time; and the hunter, Brown Bob Long, is a convert of a sort not to make us sorry that he is saved.
Mr. Wall, the minister, goes, by Long’s advice, upon a bear-bunt with the Meggar family, and by rashness and good luck kills the bear. This feat so far raises him in their opinion, that it is possible to let them know who he is ; and the bear-hunt is finally blest to the conversion of all the Meggar boys, the mother being already a “ professor.” We cannot give a clearer idea of the Meggar family, or a better proof of Mr. Baker’s almost singular power of faithfully reproducing such character, than by some passages descriptive of Mr. Wall’s arrival on a Sunday at their cabin : —
“ The road before the cabins has evidently been for years the gathering-place of cattle. Among the mire lies an old wagon, and parts of another cumber the rotting logs placed on end, one higher than the other, at the fence by which the yard is entered. Half a dozen old saddles stride the fence, left there since being taken off the horses from sheer laziness, and which will not be taken into the house by their owners until the last possible moment before night.
“ The rider sees, drawing nearer, that there is quite a group of men lounging in the passage of the cabins and under the front shed. A rough-looking set they are ; and, to his dismay, he observes quite a group of them around a whiskey-barrel standing on end, playing cards upon its red head, with oaths and exclamations. The screams of a tortured fiddle come from within the house. In fact there is a miasma of wickedness and whiskey and wretchedness upon the whole den.....
“ But two or three of the men least occupied are looking at him at last. They arise and come out together in their dirty shirtsleeves, pipe in mouth. They reach the fence, and lean upon it on their folded arms, — rough, red-headed, blowzy, bearded, large-nosed men they are. It is not Mr. Wall they are interested in at all ; it is his horse. A man they can see any time, and attach very little value to when seen. A fine horse is quite another thing. So far as the rider can see, they have not as yet observed that he has accompanied the horse.
“ ‘ How much that critter cost you ?’ asks Doc. Meggar at last of the owner; and it is the first recognition by any one of them there of his existence.
“ ‘ He was given to me by my uncle,’ replies that gentleman.
“ ‘ Ketch my daddy, let alone uncle, givin’ me sech an anemil,’ remarks Jake, with severe sarcasm, implying strong doubt of the statement.
“ ‘ But what will you take, now ? Not a serviceable hoss, mind ; too flimsy across the l’ins. On’y a sort of fancy anemil; ain’t a paint hoss nuther, say ? ’ asks Bill, resuming his pipe.
“ ‘ Thank you. I don’t want to sell,’is the reply.
“ ‘ Of course not! What you want to do is to swap. I seed that in your eyes the minit you rode up. That’s what you come for ! Just you hold on a bit! ’
“ The rest of the men scent an attempted swap from the outset. There are Old Man Meggar himself and two friends with whom he has been gambling upon the barrel, who remind Mr. Wall of dirty and defaced cents, and who circulate there as Zed and Toad. Not even the greasy cards can stand against the attractions of a swap of horses, and these join the group. No one has the least concern as to who the visitor is. The entire interest is centred in Mike, and Mr. Wall has a new insight into Swift’s tale of the Yahoos and their four-footed masters.....
“ But this venerable head of the household, Old Man Meggar ! A miserable little shrivelled-up old sinner; his scanty wisps of white hair in strings about a weazen face; a pair of small eyes, red and watery from some sixty years of steady intoxication. To his toothless mouth swearing seems the only language left, flowing uninterruptedly with a rivulet of tobacco-juice which trickles down his ragged white beard from either filthy corner thereof. To him, as to his host, Mr. Wall now makes his appeal.
“ ‘ This is old Mr. Meggar, I believe?’ he says, with an inclination toward that old reprobate. ‘I started on a little visit to you, got lost in the woods, have had no dinner, am as hungry as you please. If it is convenient, sir, I would like a little something to eat. As to our horses, gentlemen, they can wait! ’
“. . . . The visitor has appealed to that one of the virtues which is about the only one left to that household, — hospitality. In such a frank and cordial way, too !
“ ‘ Certainly, sir, certainly !’ said the old man, and he climbed feebly over the fence, followed by his guest, the rest remaining about the horses. ‘ What could I hev been thinking of ? I oughter hev — ’ And here a dirty negro-woman emerged from a sidehovel in answer to his curses. ‘ Where’s ole woman ? you cullud cuss ! ’
“ ‘ Same place, Massa ! sa-a-ame place ! Down’t end ob garding ! ’Hind de butterbeans ! ’
“ ‘ A prayin’ away ! ’ said the master, with unspeakable disgust ‘ You jest run. down there, quicker ’n a flash. Tell her there’s a man here at the house wants his dinner. You clip it. Take seat, sir. Ev’ry afternoon, year ’round, same way ! Hev a pipe, sir ? A-prayin’ rain or shine, ’hind them butter-beans!—Bill’ (at the top of his voice to the men at the fence), ‘ hev you an’ Jake left enny o’ that whiskey ? Not a single drop ?’ (In a lowered growl)—‘ Of course not. Yon ’ll hev to wait a little, sir. Boy’s gone to cross-roads for more, and I ’ll lamm him when he gets here ! A -prayin’ ! Ez if Almighty ever comes in rifleshot o’ the place ! ’ and the oaths and tobacco-juice and hospitable attentions to his guest flowed on, mingled with unspeakable contempt at the conduct of his wife, praying behind the butter-beans.
“ ‘ And what might your name be, stranger ? ’ he asks at last.
“ ‘Charles Wall,’ replies the visitor, suddenly and stoutly, but with a terror down his very spine. He need not have feared. Old Man Meggar knows nothing of him or of any other of his class !
“ ‘ And your name is Meggar,’ he continued, in the same breath. ‘ Meggar, Meggar ; I don’t remember ever meeting with any of that name before.'
“ A few of the men have torn themselves from the horse, and are lounging about the speaker. His remark brings out from all an instant, unanimous, uproarious shout of laughter.
“‘ Why, what is the joke?’ Mr. Wall inquires, as soon as he can be heard. His simplicity in asking such a question provokes another and heartier peal.
“ ‘ Well, you see,’ said his host, wiping with his yellow sleeve his watery eyes, and leering upon his guest like a decrepit satyr, — ‘ you see, I’m the child of misfortin. I did n’t happen to hev any father, ’cept my mother. Her name was Meg, — Meg something or other ; I don’t rightly mind what; don’t matter. I s’pose people that knew ray mother, seein’ me a little shaver toddlin’ about, ’d say, “ Hello, little Meggar !” and it come that way. Can’t say who begun it. Anyhow, Meggar’s my name. No, you never heern tell of the name before, I suppose ! ’
“ And he led off again in a peal of that particularly filthy kind of laughter which indicates the nature of the joke starting it.”
Next to these Meggars and Bob Long, we suppose the best pieces of characterpainting are General Likens, and Mrs. General Likens, the former silent as the latter is talkative. Her talk is all excellent, and as natural as the General’s silence. They are simply religious planter-folk, Virginians by birth, and with apparently only the thoughts and opinions of their class ; but it is in skilful characterization of them both that Mrs. Likens is made to say after the General’s death : —
“ ‘ But there’s one thing I must tell you, child,’ she adds, after quite a silence. ‘ I’ve wanted to do it for months, — have started to do it a dozen times, but it was too awful. We are alone now,’ adds the old lady, lowering her voice and rising to see that the door of their chamber is shut, for it is as they are about lying down at night. ‘ I shudder to tell even you. It never happened to the General, in full at least, till after that awful night Uncle Simeon raved — you remember it — about blood and burnin’. It wouldn’t then, only the General’s understanding had grown weak-like in that matter before. I know you won’t breathe it to a soul. It would kill me dead if I thought people dreamed of a syllable of it. It would blacken the General’s name forever, because people couldn’t understand he was out o’ his head when he thought it, as I could. It was part of the disease that killed him, — he was so perfectly sensible ’cept in that. An’ it act’ly reconciled me to his death some, I’d all the time such a deathly terror he might let it out ; you see it was growin' on him. He thought slavery — the ownin’ our own black ones — was a wrong thing, almost a sin ! ’ added Mrs. General Likens, her lips to John’s ear, and in accents of horror. ‘ It’s weighed on my mind dreadful ! He was crazy, an’ could n’t help it, you know.’
“ As they endeavored to compose themselves to sleep, exhausted by this fearful revelation, Mrs. General Likens added: ‘I’m afraid you won’t be able to sleep a wink tonight thinkin’ of it, but I had to tell you. He was deranged, you know, —not responsible like ; an’ it nigh drove me crazy, too, to think of it. But try an’ go to sleep if you can. I feel very tired to-night. ’ ”
How very effectively this indicates a whole condition of things now passed away forever ! There is little else about slavery in the book, — that is to say, it appears only for artistic purposes, and seldom even for these.
No one has made better pictures of Southern country and village life than these, and only Major De Forrest has equalled them. As a story, “ The New Timothy” is not much, but as a study of life little known to literature, it is most successful and commendable.