A Revival Sermon at Little St. John's

O hit may be de las’ time yo’ll eb - ber hyeah me

prayeh, an’ hit may be de las’ time; I don’ know.

THE church of Little St. John’s, Anderson County, stands in the hollow fork of the Foxford Ridge road, just this side Fink’s Camp-Meeting Grove. The building, formerly a ginhouse, was bought by the black men of the settlement, and converted into a sanctuary, used also as a schoolhouse for the black children. The negroes bought also the plantation bell which once rang summons to the cottonfield gang, and erected it upon the roof of the church in a crude little belfry of boards. By day the church, beaten purple-gray and lichen-green by the weather, is spotted over with orange patches of sunlight, sifted through the thin-leaved branches of the oaks surrounding it. By night the whole crossroads huddle close together in the darkening brilliance of the moonlight, which is half mystery.

It was a quiet night in August. As we approached the church the passion-flowers lay in the vines by the roadside like fallen stars. The long-leaved pines sent out a hyacinthine sweetness, and the resinous perfume of rosemary pine drifted down the hill to us. In the hollows below the little church lay a little uncultivated cotton patch, idling its life away. Below the fallow cotton patch the tassels of a field of corn sent out a haunting fragrance through the night.

To the senses of primitive men these odors of the night are maddening things. The smells of the day and the perfumes of artifice belong to the cultivated races. The mist which crept along the hollow smelled of a thousand subtle things: fennel, marigold, fumitory, dogsbane, snakeroot, pipsissewa, stramonium, the Voudou conjurer’s atropin. Strong on the wind came a whiff of another rankness, solanum, with its distortion and hopeless delirium, its promised satisfaction of revenge, reconciliation of lovers, and gratification of passion. The mist, heavy with odors, crept along the cotton patch, and entered the shadowy edge of the grove. The dim light of the church, faint and yellow, crept from the wide-open doors, shimmering among the pillared tree trunks, and faced the outer darkness, as the primitive church in the worn East faced the utter darkness and the void, and found there Oph and Jaldabaoth.

The little, struggling church on the hillside, the shadowy darkness in the hollow, made, to my mind, a strange picture of the conflict between the powers of good and ill, of the half-pagan, half-Christian, entirely Oriental religion which struggled with the early faith in Antioch, Ephesus, and Alexandria, and which has, to a greater or less extent, descended upon the American negro, like a Manichæism which rivals Christianity, a contest of the forces of good and evil; on one side light, life, law, order, and truth; on the other darkness, impurity, all that is evil, and death.

The full and rising moon shone brilliantly over the Carolina wood. One bright planet, silvery-green, hung high overhead. It was past nine o’clock. A network of wandering paths, foot-worn, water-worn, dew-wet, and shimmering, came gathering in at the crossroads. A dark figure, small groups of figures, came down the slope, following the pathways across the cottonfields, or up through the dale. The road, by noon as red as a bright, brick-colored geranium bloom, lay half-lost, with all its color, in the moonshine.

Along the road members of the congregation were coming, singing, not loudly, as wild airs as ever African twilight listened to. Through the faint light and the mist we could see them in the darkness and the shadow of the woods, seeming a part of it, their bodies swaying from side to side, hands upraised, with harsh, clapping sounds, their feet scarcely clearing the sandy ruts, shuffling, scuffling along, in time to the beat of their music.

Where the preacher came, by another path, with a one-armed deacon, hymnbook and Bible in their hands, there was decorous — it were not true to call it pompous — silence.

The women had not yet come. There had been a prayer meeting, led by lay brothers, exhorters, before the evangelist, preacher, and deacons came. As we paused at the edge of the little grove a man with a wonderfully soft, deep voice was praying. He seemed almost to be singing, his voice was so melodious and so evenly modulated in its tones; a bass, not of the rasping, guttural variety common among mountain whites, but deep and suave as an organ-pipe. His prayer, in its strange, sweet, half-chanted intonations, seemed a Laus Perennis, its melodious flow going steadily and musically on without a pause, like an old Ambrosian chant; old Antioch seemed to listen with us.

Suddenly, without a pause, and where I could not lay my finger, the chanted prayer turned into a song. The same deep bass voice led it. The others, with scarcely a moment’s hesitation, joined in its quaint refrain. The grouped voices rolled heavily and compactly together, like distant, condensed thunder in a barrel; or, rather, like a dozen sleepy trombones making music under a window at night. The voices all were bass, or baritones, of a rather sombre cast, and all possessed the same searching, melancholy tone. The blending was close, the effect rich and full, the passionate, dramatic melody (with gradations of tone which sharps and flats are inadequate to express, — persistently minor) now and then rising in a rush of sound into the harmony of some strange, chromatic, accidental chord. Individual voices could be distinguished, modulating themselves to the greater body, some a little sharp, some a little flat; all feeling, as if without knowledge or intent, for that vibrating sense which attests perfect harmony, or for the unjarring flow of perfect unison; never quite attaining either, yet, nevertheless, going on in unbroken sweep. Some were singing antiphonally, at deeper octave, some magadizing, using indifferently and irrelevantly harmonies of the third, fifth, or sixth, producing odd accidental concords of sound, strange chromatic groups of semitones, and irregular intervals such as are found in Magyar music. Yet, as they sang, dissonance and harsh intervals seemed to weed themselves away; the melody sweetened, the discordant voices fell, or wrought themselves, into a complex, unusual harmony, and ended suddenly upon a diminished chord, startling both my companion and me.

There were figures now passing through the shadows among the oak trees; they swished through the little fern brake under the pines; a black bench under the trees was filled.

The preacher, the deacons, and the evangelist had gone up the church steps; the women of the congregation had come; the wooden flights creaked and rattled under their heavy tread. We stopped at the door to look in, not wishing to stare about the Lord’s house, even if it were a shanty.

Three kitchen lamps with wrinkled tin reflectors were nailed against the wall. They shed a dim, uncertain light through the church, fading away into the darkness behind us. The doors were of unplaned, whip-sawed plank, warped and cracked. They had no locks; on one hung three rusted links of an old padlock chain. The windows were boarded up with rough plank, the congregation being too poor to purchase glass. Wide cracks in the walls everywhere let in pale streaks of the moonlight. Along the ridgepole the wind had stripped away two rows of shingles, and through the gap a line of stars peeped faintly down through the yellow lamplight. The ridgepole looked like a bare-boned spine. The lamplight, smoky at best, lost itself among the beams and shadows overhead, the room being unceiled. The wind whiffed up softly through wide cracks in the floor.

The benches were of plank and slabs, bored each with four holes into which peg-legs were driven; the seats of the benches shone, worn smooth by attrition. A small pulpit of boards with a little ledge held the dog-eared Bible; behind the pulpit, upon a rude bench, on a ruder platform, sat the preacher, the evangelist, and the one-armed deacon. In front of the pulpit and its little square platform was a small table on four uneven legs. The old cotton-bale door in the end of the building, behind the pulpit platform, was planked over: the people were poor indeed, and this was their highest chancel. The house was a mere shell of scantling and weather-boards, cheaply erected, illconstructed, unpainted, unwhitewashed, cobwebbed, and gray. At the end opposite the pulpit the bell-rope dropped like a pendant vine through a hole in the roof, fully a yard across, and but scantly covered by the tottering belfry. A larger lamp, with a white porcelain shade, hung directly before the pulpit, above the little table, swaying slightly to anti fro.

The church was well filled. The women were seated at one side, the men at the other. The congregation, both men and women, came in, sat down, arose, changed their seats, or went out again with perfect freedom, and with, apparently, no restraint whatever upon their movements.

The preacher leaned on the pulpit, one hand at either side. The worn Bible lay between them. lie held in one hand a roll of “notes,” to which he never referred. He was tall, and his face powerful, though grotesque, oddly akin to the grotesquery of the shopworn, shambling lions in the negro artist, Tanner’s, picture of Daniel in the Lion’s Den. His voice when he spoke was deep, and not unsuggestive also of power.

“Brederin,” he said, in a tone so quiet that I had to fix my attention, “you will find my tex’ in de sixt’ chapteh er Rebelations.”

The vision and the mystery of Revelation, and the dramatic darkness of the Minor Prophets, are a golden storehouse to the African.

“I hab foun’ de chapteh, but I loss de vuss, an’ I can’t fin’ hit; so I’ll read yo’ out’n de nex’ chapteh. I t’ank de Lo’d I don’ keep museff tuh one chapteh er de Scripcheh: I belieb ter read de whole er de Scripcheh an’ try tuh ondehstan’ hit. My tex’ is in de sixteent’ vuss an’ de las’ paht er de sebenteenth: ‘An’ dey shill hongry no mo’, neider thusty any mo’.’ Den agin hit say, ‘ Go’d gwine wipe away all de teahs fum dey yeyes.’”

He stood for a moment silently looking at the faces of his auditors and leaning on his hands.

“Brederin: I wan’ ter talk tuh you t’night ’bout de inneh man an’ de inneh woman, an’ I hope hit will suit yo’ ! Dis revibal bin er-goin’ on ’bout twelve nights; some souls is bin save; but some er you hain’t took de wohd er Go’d to yo’ heaht; no, not by no manner o’ means !

But I’m goin’ ter be gentle wid yuh, my brederin. Dere’s a heap er t’ings I wants ter tell yuh, but you can’t stan’ ’em . . . no, suh; you can’t stan’ ’em.

“Now I ain’ gwine have no laffin’! I’m in dat fix, ter-night, I won’t stan’ no foolin’. Yo’-all keep on an’ yo’-all ’ll git blowed up! Sometimes you kin play wid me; but you can’t play wid me to-night! Some er you, I reckon, is mighty tiuhd, ’cause you bin losin’ yo’ night’s res’; but w’ich does you t’ink orter be de mores’ tiuhd, you or me ? I know you has bin in de fiel’ all tru de heat an’ de burding er de day; but ’peahs tuh me like I orter be de mores’ tiuhd; ’cause you-all kin skip erbout in de service, an’ you-all kin nod; an’ you don’t hab ter help all thu de meetin’; but I can’t git no res’ . . . I’m erbleeged tuh be up hyeah, talkin’ an’ preachin’ an’ stan’in’ up. An’ ’peahs ter me ef I kin keep on er-preachin’, you-all orter could keep on er-listenin’.”

He spoke a little more sharply, with something like a snap in his voice: —

“An’ I don’ wan’ no sleepin’; but I want yuh all tuh wek up one ernutheh. An’ ef yo’ see yo’ nabuh sleepin’, I want yuh ter gib um er nudge; an’ ef de man buh-hine yo’ gone ter sleep, I don’ want yuh ter say nuttin’ . . . t’un an’ wek um up, an’ tell um say ‘I’s doin’ a ’commodation ter de Lo’d ! ’ . . . An’ I don’ wan’ no noise; I want ebbryt’ing quite.

“Now, I wan’ tuh tell yo’ w’at hit is ter be a Christian. An’ I want yo’ all tuh help me . . . tuh knit up wid me in de meetin’, tuh hol’ me up, tuh tek hol’ er de gospel plough, an’ set hit down deep ; not tuh set back an’ nod, an’ sleep, an’ laff, an’ talk. , . I wan’ chuh all ter

tek hol’ er de plough !”

“Yes, Lo’d!” said the one-armed deacon. “Yes, Lo’d! Dat’s right!”

The preacher’s voice seemed genuinely earnest: —

“Brederin’, hit’s a decent thing ter be a Christian; hit’s a intelligent thing ter be a Christian; brederin, hit’s de height, de very height an’ de mountingtops er deservation. Christianity have got poweh tuh sabe all de soul ’pon topper dis yeth.”

“Dat’s mighty right! Yes, Lo’d!” said the one-armed deacon.

“An’ dat ain’t all; not by no manneh er means! Dere’s vircheh in bein’ er Christian: Christianity is vircheh. Dat’s a fac’. . . . Christianity is vircheh, an’ vircheh mek er good pussonal life; vircheh mek er good citizen; vircheh mek er country truly free; vircheh mek er gret nation; vircheh builds up a race. Dere’s two kin’s er vircheh, muh brederin, pussonal an’ spiritual. ... I hopes yo’ll git ’em both! Christ, Christian, Christianity . . . dat’s hit: Christianity come fum Christ; Christianity is tuh bin lak Christ. Fo’ ouah Fawtheh w’ich is in hebben so berry lub de worl’ dat ’e gabe ’is only begotten Son, dat whosoebber belieb in Him might hab ebberlastin’ life.”

“Deah Lo’d!” “Amen!” “Yes, Lo’d!” came from the body of the church. “Ooh! O-oh!” agitated voices began to cry. Some one began to sing under his breath, with just enough tone to be audible, not enough to rise above a deep hum: “He dat belieb on de Fawdeh an’ de Son, hat ebberlastin’ life!”


He dat be-liebe, He dat be-liebe, Hat eb - ber-last - in’ life!

He dat be - lie-bet’on de Fa-deh an’ de Son, Hat eb - ber-lastin’ life!

The preacher’s voice rose loud and strong: —

“An’ dey shill hongry no mo’; neider shill dey thusty any mo’ ... an’ Go’d gwine wipe away all de teahs fum dey yeyes!

An’ dey shill hongry no mo’ ;

Neider shill dey thusty any mo’;

An’ God gwin’e wipe away all de teahs fum dey yeyes !

“Muh brederin, how yo’-all reckon John knowed all dese t’ing wut ’e wrote ? How yo’-all reckon dis hyeah man foun’ out all ’bout hebben an’ de las’ day, an’ all ? I don’t ondehstan’ hit; but hit’s er fac’, . . . de Lo’d showed all dese signs an’ wondehs ter John.

“How yo’ reckon de Lo’d let th’ee er fo’ er fibe wicked mens tek John an’ do ’im lak dey done um, . . . dem lowdown, despitable an’ desputable mens, wut bine John han’ an’ foot wid ropes an’ fettahs an’ chains an’ bon’s, an’ tuk ’im aboa’d dat onfit ship, an’ fotch ’im way down ter dat Lonesome Valley, down een de Isle er Patmos?”

His voice began to rise, and to quiver with a tense resonance exceedingly queer to hear; and his tongue had begun to drop into a faintly-marked rhythm.

“‘An’ ’e shill hongry no mo’!’ . . . Brederin, dat ship wuz’n fit’n tuh ca’y passengehs, no-way; her timbuhs wuz all broke up, an’ I reckon she wuz er-leakin’ wawteh; yit de Lo’d let dem mens bine John, an’ ca’y um way obeh ter dat oddeh sho’, an’ lan’ um day on dat Islánt an’ come back safe dis sider home! I dunno w’y de Lo’d leff um; but ’e leff um. Go’d done a good many t’ing I do’no w’y ’e done um; but ’e done um,— ’e hab er p’int ter make. So ’e leff ’em took John way obeh in dat Lonesome Valley, way dey wuz n’t er man, ner a house, ner a village, ner a ma’shal tuh puhvent de imposination o’ wicked peoples, an’ dey chain um ter a tree.

“But dough John’s uthly pusson wuz chain ter a tree, er a stake, dowm in dat Valley, alone by ’isseff, de Lo’d leff ’is spirichil pusson mount ter hebben on er cloud. Dis wuz de Lo’d’s day, min’ yo’, an’ not jes’ any week-day, dat ’e show dese t’ing tuh John; but on de Lo’d’s day, muh dyin’ brederin!

“Now w’ile John chain dey, dere come er voice er-callin’, —

John, O John! Come up hytheh; Come up hytheh, John!’

“‘Wha’d’ yo’ want, Lo’d? Wha’d’ yo’ want, now ? ’

“‘Come ansee! Come an’ see!’”

John, o John ! Come up hytheh ; come up hytheh, John ! Wha’d’ yo’ want,Lo’d ?

Wha’ d’ yo’ want now? Come see ! Come, see !

The preacher’s dark eyes swept the congregation. He peered under the swinging lamp, leaning down across the pulpit, and quick as a flash his voice changed from the ecstatic to the ironic: —

“Sleep on . . . sleep on . . . tek yo’

res’! Yo’ done met yo’ match dis night! Sleep on! Brederin; don’t yo’ remembah ’bout dat young man settin’ in de windeh, hyeahin’ Paul preach, an’ ’e gone tuh sleep an’ fall out’n de windeh an’ kill ’eseff ? Yes, suh; knocked de breff outen um. But de Lo’d mobe Paul conscien’, an’ ’e bring dat young man back out’n de daid agin, an’ ’e breave inter um de breff er life once mo’. Now, dese yuh benches ain’t so high as dat windeh; but ef yo’ wuz tuh fall off’n one you might skin up yo’ face, er mash yo’ nose, er bruise yo’ forehaid. So you jes’ remembah de young man dat fall out’n de windeh! ... I don’t see how you-all kin come fum yo’ home tuh dis yuh chu’ch, whuh bin all dis preachin’ an’ prayerin’, an’ dese brillian’ lights, an’ gone ter sleep! No, suh; I don’t see how yo’ done hit; but yo’ do. Sleep on . . . tek yo’res’. . . . Yo’done met yo’match dis night!”

With an expression of righteous irony he turned back to his well-thumbed notes, which still remained, twisted up like a paper spill, in his hand: —

“John yeah er voice er-callin’ ’im: — “‘John, John, O John!’ . . . ‘W’at yo’ want now? W’at yo’ want now, Lo’d ?’ An’ de angel say ’Come ansee! Come an see!’

{ Wha’d’ yo’ want now ? John, John, 0 John ! } Wha’d’ yo’ want now, Come an’ see! Come an’ see 1 ’ { Lo’d ? An’ de angel say

“An’ John gone wid de angel. An’ eh ca’y um ter a spring er clean, sweet wawteli runnin’ down. John ’e say ‘Wut is de spring ? ’ An’ de angel ’e tell um say ‘ ’T is de spring er ettunal life, an’ dem wut drink er dat spring er life dey ain’ gwine thusty no mo’ . . . an’ dey shill be no mo’ sorruh, ner death, ner mo’nin’; all dem t’ing is pass’ away.’ Den de angel say ’John, O John!' . . . ‘W’at yo’ want now? W’at yo’ want now?’ . . . ‘Come an’ drink; come an’ drink!’ An’ John ’e drink . . . an’ ’e ain’ gwine thusty no mo’! . . . Anhanh! brederin! you gwine sleep hyeah; but yuh ain’ gwine sleep w’en I tu’n yo’ loose. I knows well dat w’en yo’ leaves dis hyeah meetin’, yo’ ain’ gwine tek yo’ res’, but yo’ gwine prowl-l, prowl-l, an’ peruse dis whole settlement. An’ brederin, I tell you now, you bettah tek yo’ res’; ’case, brederin, ef’n we on’y could tell jes’ how long we gwine lib, an’ w’en Go’d gwine summons us, hit’d be a diffrun’ matteh; but we do’no. Hit may be atter w’ile; hit may be now; yit we do’no. Sleep, an’ tek yo’ res’! Mebbe, w’ile you res’ de Lo’d call yuh, an’ yo’ gwine wek no mo’: yo’ daid. Sleep, sleep; an’ tek yo’ res’! Yo’ hab met yo’ match dis night! . . . ‘An’ dey shill hongry no mo’!’

“ Den de angel show Johner gret crowd er people. An’ de angel say ter John, ‘How many in dat multitude ? ’ An’ John biggin fo’ count um ter ’eseff . . . but de angel say ‘No man can’t count ’em! . . . an’ dey shill hongry no mo’! . . . fo’ de Lo’d gwine sen’ ’em down dem hebbenly manniehs fum on high.’

“Now I gwine tell you erbout dese hebbenly manniehs. W’en de Chillen ob Isrum-m wuz een de Wildahness-um-m, dey had nuttin’ ter eat an’ tuh drinkm-m-m! ” His voice now rose to an ecstatic shout, half a recitative and half a chanting song, in the midst of which a deep-throated humming sound took the place of words, like some stringed instrument playing, subordinate, through a chant; and at every humming pause, he bent, and kissed the Bible lying on the altar before him: “An’ de brooks wuz gone dry-m-m-m, an’ de springs wuz tu’n ter dus’-m-m-m-m . . . an’ dey shill hongry no mo’-m-m-m . . . an’de Lo’dm-m-m ’e say tuh ol’ Moseh-m-m-m-m, ‘Mo-seh-m-m! Mo-seh-m-m!’ ‘W’at yo’ want, Lo’d? W’at yo’ want-m-m-m?’ ‘Go, Mo-seh-m-m-m-m, go, go; an’ smote de rock-m-m-m-m! ’ . . . an’ dey shill thusty no mo’-m-m! An’ ol’ Moseh-m-m, ’e gone, an’ ’e smote-m-m-m de rock-m-m-m . . .an’ dey shill thusty no mo’-m-m-m-m! An’ de hebbenly manniehs fell lak fall de midnight dewm-m-m-m! An’ dese manniehs bin erbout de bigness er a w’ite bean, so long, an’ so big-m-m-m-m . . . an’ de Lo’d say ter de Chillen ob Izrum-m-m, ‘Go, go; pick ’em up fo’ yo’ famblies; go, git yo’ breakfusses, an’ yo’ dinnahs, an’ yo’ suppahs!’ An’ dey gone, an’ dey pick ’em up, an’ dey eat dey fill . . . an’ dey shill hongry no mo’! An’ de angel showed John a bushel medger er dem hebbenly manniehs . . . an’ dey shill hongry no mo’ ... no mo’-m-m-m!”

There was a sound of scuffling feet through the church. The congregation swayed, forward and back, to and fro. They were making a moaning sound like a heavy wind in the distance. Their voices, on certain deep, harmonious tones, now sounded incessantly along the seekers’ bench and through the room, tremulous, regularly vibrating, on not more than three tones or four, with a sound like the under-drone of a monstrous bagpipe. At times this droning rose almost to a chant; at times it died away to one or two deep, resonant men’s voices, a bass and a baritone. A woman’s voice, as if in obligato to the strange melody, rose steadily and softly through the voices of the entire chorus, like a clear, shrill little silver bell, ringing in a chime of bronze and copper; deep-toned and heavy bells, not rung, but set into a sonorous murmur and tremulous vibration by the wind through an old gray minster tower. I did not know the air she carried; she probably improvised it as she sang. It was like one clear violin string played in an orchestra of viols, the sleepy, murmuring, bumblebee sound of a dozen viols d’amour, and the grumble of a score of huskily whispering doublebasses. With one finger playing a wandering aria, pianissimo, on the flat keys of an organ treble, with three tones of a strangely intervaled, mediæval tetrachord held down, unchanging, in the pedal - bass, some idea of this wildthroated, droning song might be conceived, but hardly otherwise. Steadily above it the preacher went on, chanting his Ambrosian measures, his impassioned flow of crudest eloquence, grotesque, yet impressive, rushing on unchecked: — “An’ torreckly de angel ca’y John ter a valley, a deep-down valley-m-m-m, an’ een de valley wuz a multitude-m-m-m . . . dat no man could n’t numbah-m-m-m-m! Hit wuz de Hos’ er de Redeem’-m-m-m . . . wut wuz wash’ een de blood er de Lamb . . . an’ hit mek no diffeyunce erbout dey cullah-m-m-m-m . . . ner dey kin’-m-m-m-m, w’ite er black-m-m-m, er Caucassium-m-m-m, er Ethiopiumm-m-m, er Mungolium-m-m-m; dey shill all be dere-m-m-m ! An’ John biggin fo’ count’ em ter eseff, say ‘De Tribe er Judah-m-m-m, twelve thousan’-m-m-m, an’ de Tribe er Daniem-m-m-m, twelve thousan’-m-m-m-m, an’ de Tribe er Jerieo-m-m-m, twelve thousan’-m-m-m . . . an’ dey shill hongry no mo’; neider shill dey thusty any mo ’; an’ Go’d gwine wipe away all de teahs fum dey yeyes! . . . an’ de Tribe er Josephum-m-m-m, twelve thousan’-m-m-m, an’ de Tribe er Monassum-m-m-m, twelve thousan’m-m-m; an’ John ’e count ten thousan’ time ten thousan’ er thousan’, — but de angel say ter um, ‘ No man can’t numbah dat multitude ’ . . . an’ dey shill hongry no mo’ . . . neider shill dey thusty ”...

At this juncture there was a heavy crash on the bare floor; the boards rattled. A boy, overcome with sleep, had plunged head-first from his bench to the aisle, and measured his length like a bag of sand. He was now only half awake; he did not know where he was; the mourners turned, staring. With a dazed expression on his still slumber-bound face, the boy crept back to his bench. His neighbors urged him, in hoarse whispers, to withdraw; he would not. The preacher went on without ceasing, — “An’ de angel say,—

“’John, O John!’ . . . W’at d’ yo’ want now ? W’at d’ yo’ want now ? ’ . . . ‘Come ansee! Come an’ see!’

“An’ de angel showed um er book boun’ wid sebben seal, an’ ’e tell um say ’e mus’ fine somebuddy wuthy tuh brek dem seal-m-m-m, an’ open de bookm-m-m, tuh read de salbation er manki’ng. An’ de angel say ‘Who, who-oo, is wuthy ter open dem seal ? ’

Who, who-oo,is wuthy ter open dem seal ?

“Den he an’ John dey gone such de yeth; but dey could n’ fine nobuddy wuthy ter open de book, noway. An’ John wuz erbout tuh weep, w’en de

angel tell um say ‘Don’t yo’ weep, John; don’t yo’ weep !

Don’t yo’ weep, John ; don’t yo’ weep!

W’en de Lo’d sta’at out tuh fine somebuddy ’e don’t jes’ such de co’nehs; ’e such ebbrywuh! ’ An’ den de angel gone, an’ ’e such de hebbens, ah’ ’e such de sun, an’ ’e look in de moon, an’ ’e such de stahs . . . an’, muh dyin’ brederin, de stahs wuz er-shakin’ een de element ! ”

Like a strange litany the voice of the congregation rose: —

es,Lo’d ! O - o - oh, muh - si - ful God ! Ye - e - es, Lo’d !

o-oh muh-si-ful God ! Ye - e - es, Lo’d ! O - o - oh, muh -si -ful God !

Ye - e - es, Lo’d ! 0 - o - oh, muh - si - ful God ! M - m - m - m -

D. C. ad libitum.

o oh, yes, Lo’d ! m - m

The preacher went on: — “Torreckly ’e come back, an’ ’e tell John say ’e foun’ somebuddy wuthy . . . eh bin de Lion er de Tribe er Judahmm-m-m-m . . . an’ ’e ain’ gwine hongry no mo’!

“Den de Lamb ’e cut dem seal; ’e

open de book, an’ ’e biggin ter read de salbation er man-ki’ng! Hit tliundeh an’ hit Iightnin’, too . . . an’ de beas’es an’ de angels dem all biggin fo’ sing:— “‘Holy, Holy, Holy, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lo’d Go’d A’mighty, w’ich wuz, an’ is, an’ is tuh come!’

Ho - ly, ho ly, ho ly, ho - ly, ho - ly, ho - ly,

Lo’d God A’migh-ty; w’ich wuz, an’ is, an’ is tuh come!

“An’ muh dyin’ brederin, dat ain’t all! No, suh; not by no manner o’ means . . . not by no manner o’ means! John year a voice er-callin’: ‘John, O John!’ . . . ‘W’at yo’ want, Lo’d? W’at yo’ want now?’ . . . ‘Come an’see;come an’ see!’

“Muh dyin’ brederin-m-m-m-m, de bottomless pit wuz open! Deah wuz er lek er fiah . . . er lek er fiah, er-blazin’ an’ er-flamin’ . . . an’ deah wuz de akuh er de condemn’ . . . O sinnah man! way yo’ gwine tuh tek yo’ stan’ ? ”

The house broke into inarticulate ejaculations: —

“Lo’d hab mussy erpon us! O-o-oh, muh-si-ful Go’d! Muh sweet Jesus, don’t yuh fuhgit me! Sa-ave us, Lo’d ! ” And suddenly a heavy bass voice began to sing:

“ Oh, Hell so deep, an’ Hell so wide, Hit gawt no bawtum, an’ neideh no si-ide! Oh, Lo’d, O Lo’d! . . . O Lo’d! O Lo’d! . . . O Lo’d! O Lo’d! wut ha’am I done ?”

Oh,Hell so deep, an’Hell so wide, Ain’ got no bot-tom, nor nei-der no siide.


Oh,Lo’d, Oh, Lo’d, Oh,Lo’d, Oh,Lo’d, Oh,Lo’d, Oh,Lo’d,Whut ha’am I done?

The voices of the congregation, forsaking almost instantly their individual groaning, grouped into a chanting, moaning harmony, ululating and crying,

O-oh !O-oh ! Oh,Lo’d,sabe us !

The medley fell into an unusual swinging rhythm; the humming rose loud and louder, gathering and adding to itself accidental suggestions; one impromptu phrase of music, which fitted the passing words, was caught up instantly; the congregation was swept away by an hysterical, rhythmical, emotional tide: utterly strange and new, never before heard, an air sprang into being, — refrain first, then both refrain and line; one swift, bold, strong voice leading on. Their wild emotions strangely stirred, the primitive congregation swept, full tide, into such an air as one carries

home with him, rolling for days afterward, in his ears.

“My dyin’ brederin, way yo’ gwine stan’?” shouted the preacher. “Way yo’ gwine stan’ w’en dey tek de cubbah off’n hell, an’ no wawteh noway? Yo’-all gwine come er-runnin’ an’ er-cryin’ ‘ Way is muh crown er glory ? Way is muh long w’ite robe ? Way is muh place ? ’ But fuh dem wut ain’t bin convuhted dey ain’t gwine ter be no place! Oh, brederin, way will yo’ stan’ een dat day ?

“ Den de angel say ter John,” shouted the preacher, “‘John, O John!’ ‘W’at d’ yo’ want, Lo’d ? W’at d’ yo’ want now?’ ‘Come an’ see; come an’ see! Dey gwine ter blow out de moon ... an’ dey shill hongry no mo’! ’ An’ den de las’ trompet hit biggin fo’ soun’; an’ dey blow out de moon; an’ de sun tu’n black, an’ de moon run intuh blood, an’ destahsm-m-m-m biggin er-dancin’ een de element, an’ er-shakin’ an’ er-fallin’ ’pon dis yeth-m-m-m-m . . . an’ de yeth biggin fo’ bu’-m-m-m-m . . . an’ de daid biggin fo’ rise, all dem dat wuz slain by de beas’-m-m-m-m . . . an’ dey shill hongry no mo’! An’ de rich man, dat borruh money fum anuddah rich man, an’ tell um rich lies so ’e would n’t had tuh pay hit back ... he gwine be deah; an’ ’e gwine run back an’ fo’th tuh de rocks an’ de mountings, an’ ’e gwine cry tuh de rocks an’ de mountings, ‘Rocks an’ mountings, fall on me, an’ hide me fum de face er an angry Go’d! . . . an’ ’e gwine be on fiah; an’ de money ’e borruh an’ nebbah pay back, hit gwine be on fiah! Yes, sub, muh dyin’ brederin; an’ dat ain’t all; not by no manner o’ means! De sinnah man gwine be deah, an’ e sins gwine be on fiah; an’ de murdereh, ’e gwine be deah, wid ’e murdeh, an’ wid all ’e murderin’ inklements, an’ ’e gwine be on fiah, too; an’ ’e gwine run back an’ fo’th, cryin’ ‘Rocks an’ mountings,fall on me, an’ hide me fum de face er an angry Go’d! ’ An’de blasphemeous man ’e gwine be deah, wid ’e blasphemin’ tongue on fiah! An’ de man wut cheat, ’e gwine be deah, wid all dat cheatin’ money in ’is pocket-book; an’ ’e gwine be on fiah, an’ de pocket-book gwine be on fiah! An’ dis pencil wut put down de wrong figgah, hit shill be day, an’ hit gwine be on fiah ; an’ dem wrong accounts wut hit kep’, an’ dem lyin’ figgah wut hit mek, dey gwine be on fiah, an de lyin’ han wut mek dem lyin’ figgahs, hit gwine be on fiah,too!

“An’ de wicked mens wid dat race prejucidy dat mek de w’ite an’ de black mens hate one ernurrer, dey gwine be day, an’ dat wicked race prejucidy gwine be on fiah; dey all gwine be on fiah, an’ er-bu’nin’ an’ er-poppin’ on de face er dis yeth. An’ de bush-whackeh ’e gwine be day, an’ dem Ku-Klux dey gwine be day, an’ dey shill all be on fiah!”

“Yes, Lo’d! Amen! Amen!” pealed from the congregation,

“An’ de money dat you owed an’ did n’t pay gwine be day, an’ dat money gwine be on fiah!

“An’ dat ain’t, all, muh brederin . . . not by no manner o’ means! De daid folks gwine come up out’n de sea, th’ee hunnud thousan’ uv ’em, dat is bin drown’ in de sea er t’ousan’ yeahs, an’ nobuddy knowed nuttin’ ’tall erbout hit. An’ dey all gwine say ‘W’at’s de matteh ? W’at’s de matteh?’ An’ dey gwine tell um say ‘ Dis yuh is de Great Day! ’ . . . an’dey shill hongry no mo’, neider shill dey thusty no mo’, an’ de Lo’d gwine wipe away all de teahs fum dey yeyes! An’ er angel fly acrost de yeth; ’e blow er ho’n, an’ ’e cry say: —

“‘Woe, wo-oh! Woe, ivo-oh! Woe, wo-o-oh! ter all dem dat‘bin wukkers er in-e-quitty! ’

Woe, wo - oh ! Woe, wo oh ! Woe, wo oh !


ter all dem dat bin wunkers er in -e -quitty!

“An’ de angel wid de sebben viles, ’e gwine tu’n um loose, an’ de worl’ gwine peh-ish up . . . an’ dem wut dwells ’pon topper dis yeth dey gwine be mighty suhprise’; dey gwine holleh say, ’W’at dis mean? W’at dis mean?’ An’ dis yeth gwine up een er blaze!

“Den de son gwine say ter ’e fawtheh, ’Help me now!’ An’ ’e fawtheh say ’e no can’t help um, ’e ’pen’ intiuhly ’pon Go’d . . . an’ dey open er do’ . . . an’ out come er w’ite hoss wid er man on um . . . ’e Death . . . ’e Death! We all gwine ter daid! We all gwine ter daid!”

“Oh, my Lo’d!” “Oh, my Go’d!” “Oh, my Lo’d A’mighty!” came from the congregation. The wild lamps flared in the wind.

“Sleep on! Sleep on! Tek yo’ res’! Muh brudder, yo’ll not be er-sleepin’ een dat day! Go on wid yo’ sleepin’! A-a-a-a!” his voice arose to a sardonic, nasal cry. “Yo’ll all be glad ter hab er Go’d den, een dat day, w’en de stahs een de element is er-fallin’! Sleep; an’ go on er-sleepin’! Yo’ll not be er-sleepin’ much een dat day! Oh, wut er happy time fuh dem wut is bin redeem ’! De fawtheh an’ de son kin gone tuh de same prayeh-meetin’ an’ prayeh de same prayeh; de muddah an’ her daughtah kin gone tuh de same chu’ch an’ hyeah de same summon! Oh, muh dyin’ brederin, wut er happy day dat gwine ter bin !

“Ol’ Ezekium-m-m-m, ’e shill be deah; an’ Jeremium-m-m; an’ David, little Davy, twelve yeahs ol’, whut stood up, erlone by ’isseff, wid er sling-stone, an’ fit Goliah, champeen er de Phistillions, an’ puhsuv de constitootionality er de Hebrews; little baby boy Davy, jes’ twelve yeahs ol’, ’e gwine be deah! Yes, suh; dey all gwine be deah! Oh, whut er blessed day! . . . An’ dey shill hongry no mo’; dey shill thusty no mo’ . . . an’ de Lo’d gwine wipe away all de teahs fum dey yeyes!”

His voice suddenly dropped to as quiet and unmoved a tone as if he were speaking only to the one-armed deacon who sat close behind him: “Muh dyin’ brederin, we ’ll be led in prayeh. I meant tuh be gentle wid yuh ter-night; but yo’-all done got me stirred up. I want yo’-all tuh git down on yo’ knees, tuh-night, flat on de flo’. Dis yuh’s de las’ night er dis revibal, an’ none er you do’no w’en yo’ call gwine come! Git down on yo’ knees, ebbry one er yuh! ”

To their knees dropped all, their heads buried deep in their folded arms upon the rude benches; a rustling went through the church.

“Ouah Fawtheh w’ich is in hebben; hyeah de prayeh w’at gone up to Thee fum dis yuh chu’ch! Out’n all de blessin’ wut you hab in hebben sen’ down one on Little Saint John’s. Lo’d, write ouah name in de Lamb book o’ life . . . we shill hongry no mo’ ... we is dem wut is bin in gret tribulation . . . God gwine wipe away all de teahs fum dey yeyes • • • day gwine nebbah no mo’ tuh sorruh, nebbah no mo’ ter cry! De Lo’d Jesus say, w’en ’e preach een de mountings, ‘Blessed is dem dat hongry, fo’ dem shill be fill . . . dey shill hongry no mo’! De Sperrit tell um say ‘Come! Yea, tell hit ter all de chu’ches: come runnin’! I know yo’ labuh an’ yo’ bon’s; I know dat yo’ bin mean as grass wut pa’ach een de ubben; but come, an’ come er-runnin’, an’ I gwine gib yo’ a new name wut nobuddy ebbah yeah . . . ’t is er name wut nobuddy knows. An’ I gwine gib yo’ de mo ’nin’ stah fo’er play-t’ing . . . ef’n yo’ keep good watch.”

“ Watch! Oh, good Lo’d, watch! ” rose the wailing moan of the congregation.

“Dey gwine feed us ’pon dem hebbenly manniehs!”

“Watch! Oh, good Lo’d, my Lo’d!”

“De Lion uv Judea.” . . .

“ Oh, my sweet Jesus! Lamb er God’! ”

“ ’E got poweh tuh sabe all soul ’pon topper dis yer uth, er ’pon de sout’ side er de globe . . . an’ dey gwine hongry no mo’! An’ we gwine be w’ite, my brederin, w’ite, wash’in de blood ub de Lamb! An’ dey gwine show us de t’ings w’ich gwine ter be ... an’ de angel, an’ de beas’, an’ de multitude er de Redeem’ dey all gwine sing, ‘Holy, holy, holy, holy, Lo’d Go’d A’mighty! To Thee gwine be glory an’ honuh an’ poweh!’ An’ dey gwine hongry no mo’ . . . dey all gwine weah crowns er glory an’ robes er salbation . . . an’ dey gwine res’ er season fum dey wuk . . , an’ dey gwine thusty no mo’ . . . an’ no mo’ sorruh, ner cryin’! . . , Oh, Lo’d, we is dem wut is come outer gret tribulation. . . . How long, Lo’d? How long?”

A murmur ran through the church, rising slowly, ceasing, slowly ebbing away like the sound of a wave along a beach: — “Dis time unaddah yeah I may be gone,

In some lonesome grabeyahd.

. . . Oh, Lo’d, how long?”

Dis . time a - nud - deh yeah, may be

In some lone - some grabe - yahd O Lo’d, how long ?

As quietly as if no previous great emotion had stirred him, the preacher ended:

“Lo’d, we know dat the Millemium ain’t gwine ter come ’til dis yuth bin convuhted. De yuth not gwine convuhted till dis wicked race prejucidy cease . . . an’ Lo’d, dis race prejucidy ain’t gwine cease tell some one tek ’e courage in ’e han’ an’ gone ter de Naytional Gubberment wut bin in Washi’ton, an’ tell de gret Administratuh: ‘Dis yuh race prejucidy mus’ cease! Yes, suh; hit mus’ cease!’ An’ hit ain’ gwine cease ontel de Naytional Gubberment an’ de gret Administratuh bin convuhted an’ do right. Lo’d, we know ebbry man gwine be jedge een dat las’ day ’cordin’ ter ’e lib, an’ dem wut’s name ain’ writ een de Lamb book er life gwine ride dat w’ite hoss wid dem daid mens, an’ gwine cas’ een er lek er fiah wid dem wut bin two time daid . . . an’ nobuddy ain’ gwine hide um no mo’ fum de face er an angry Go’d. But, oh, Lo’d Go’d, tek we inter de kingdom an’ de patience; fo’ we is de bruddeh er John een ’e hahd trial!”

“Dat’s so, Lo’d!” huskily added the voice of the one-armed deacon.

“ Lo’d, let dem wut yeah tell dey nabuh ter come . . . tell um say ‘ Come er-runnin’ . . , tell um say ‘Come quick!’

. . . dat dey all gwine be convuhted!”

“Eben so, good Lo’d; eben so!” said the voice of the one-armed man.

“An’ w’en de ol’ shippy er zion come er-sailin’ roun’ de ben’, an’ de angel er de Lo’d come er-flyin’ down tuh put on de wings er de mo’nin’, Lo’d Jesus, put ’em on fawtheh an’ motheh, sistuh an’ bruddah, w’ite, black, an’ yelluh mens alak. Amen, Lo’d, amen!”

The meeting went on, to what end I do not know. With no desire to laugh, with no desire to mock, my companion and I arose and went out from the place, thoughtfully; with patience wondering to what end, dear Lord, Lord of white man and black, — to what end, and to what far purpose, in Thy kingdom everlasting, and here upon earth ? The faint yellow light of the two doorways shone down the steps and followed us into the darkness. We looked back once. The still pines were silhouetted before the church; the night wind sang a wild refrain to the song below; the trees moved gently in the wind; green leaves with a thousand countless edges rustled sharply in the white moonlight. The mountains seemed unreal, crystalline.

Postscript. Strange and grotesque as this sketch may seem, ridicule of any sort is utterly outside the writer’s purpose. The body of the sermon is absolutely as preached at Little St. John’s, with simply a few elisions to obviate the incessant repetition to which the negro preacher is prone. The writer feared to condense, lest only the strikingly grotesque phrases should be the ones retained, and the sermon’s crude, childlike, emotional eloquence be misrepresented. The smile seems inevitable, but it is certainly coupled with pity and wondering thoughts. As to the music: no attempt is made in the scores to give harmonies, save in one slightest instance. No score written could convey the barbaric and stirring effect of a congregation of primitive negroes singing an old-time spiritual song. Some of the airs to these spiritual songs are in the pentatonic scale, some in the compass of a tetrachord, some correspond to various of the mediæval modes, while others are irreducible to European scales, containing, as they often do, such quarter-tones or other fractional intervals as are found in the Siamese system; their harmonies are correspondingly wild and irregular, being for the greater part accidental or instinctive, except under direct white influence. The personal reproofs directed at the congregation by the preacher were all in sharp, ironic, conversational tone; but the remainder of the sermon, after the opening passages, was chanted, from first to last, upon four tones, shown in the angel’s cry of “Woe, wo-oh! ” The tones employed were usually those of the address “John, O John!” used with infinite variation. To this intoning Sidney

Lanier refers interestingly at the close of his Science of English Verse. The foregoing sermon and service may be taken as typical of the primitive negro churches of the South. In contact with the whites they are less, in remoter districts and in the low country of the coast much more, primitive and strange. Such services are always highly emotional, sometimes hysterical, almost madly corybantic, combining with a half-Christian service a half-pagan frenzy. A sermon more thoughtful, more logical, more ethical than the foregoing would be apt to receive some such discouraging reception as met “the educated nigger’s” sermon on the Altamaha, in W. E. B. DuBois’s sketch, “The Coming of John,” in The Souls of Black Folk.