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Past and Present
“My First Circuit”


Where is the itinerant Methodist Minister in whom the* pronunciation of these words—“ My first circuit’’—does not awaken varied recollections and emotions! It is so at least with the writer. The following is an attempt, made some years ago, to transfer some of these thoughts and emotions to' paper. .

f My first circuit lay on the- North side of one of our great North American lakes, and extended into the interior some forty or fifty miles. It required between three and four hundred miles travel, in going from one- appointment to another, to pass around it. It composed the whole or a part of each of nine townships/all of which were newly settled, excepting the front of two which were based upon the Lake. With the exception of this “ old survey,” the oldest part of the remaining ones had not been settled above six or eight years, and some of them not near so long. In these new settlements my colleague and self preached each thirty-two times every four weeks, or eight times a week. This was our "regular work”— we had many et ceteras beside. And this was all the preaching the people in those settlements enjoyed, excepting the labours of a Presbyterian minister, who preached in two or three places; and an occasional sermon in one place from an Episcopalian minister; or rather, I mean to say, that those townships were wholly supplied by Methodist preachers, with the exceptions I have named. We had several Local and Located preachers, who went far and near on the Lord’s day to warn and instruct their fellow settlers, which labors they performed without fee or reward. And the itinerants certainly did not make their fortunes. The writer remembers that his share of the contributions for four months labour was one dollar and a half in cash, and the cloth for a pair of overalls—and a scant pattern it was, for he had to make the waist-banda of something else

Considering the newness of the country, the settlements were pretty dense; still, we had, here and there, some long rides through unbroken forest. These rides to him were the most delightful that could be imagined. The scenery in other respects was not of the grand or imposing kind. There were no high mountains or deep valleys,, noT cliffs nor crags. The face of the country was too arable for that. The only diversity was that of a “ ridge and swale,” with here and there a meandering stream, on which clacking mills and busy hamlets were springing up; and now and then you met with a dreary swamp. But the sombre, primeval, interminable forest, had always the greatest charms for the writer. Here he could more directly hold converse with nature and nature’s God. The soil, as already hinted, was very rich; hence it produced a very thick and heavy growth of forest trees. There was the venerable, rugged oak—the tall and stately pine—the lofty sugar-maple—the “ shell-bark hickory,” which looked like a beggar in his tatters—the majestic elm—the beautiful birch, with its school-going associations—the storied beech—the prodigious bass-wood—and the solemn hemlock—with a variety of others, generally of a smaller kind, too numerous to mentionr mixed up in wild and magnificent confusion. .

The forest on that circuit, was to me at once my closet,, study, and the place of my hallowed and delightful meditation.

In those days no “home” was assigned the “junior preacher,” or indeed the senior either, if (as in the case of my colleague, of precious memory) he chanced to be single—they were expected to find a home “ wherever night overtook them.” A home was a superfluity to preachers when their appointments were daily. The houses in which we lodged often consisted of one room, which served the important purposes of parlor, dining room, kitchen, nursery, and bed-room; and the best of them were very small, so as to afford, with a large family their usual appendage, but poor conveniencies for study. The writer remembers that his usual practice was, to select his text for the day in the morning—(and be it known he had his whole stock of sermons to manufacture after he began to travel on a circuit)—then to steal out to the grove, where he prayed over it, consulted the parallel passages, and formed his •plan. His horse was now got up; and he performed the filling up of his sermon in the saddle. The silence and solemnity of the forest through which he rode he found to be most delightfully condusive to meditation. And for several years he had no idea of sermons being “ got up” any other way. This is the method, it is said by his biographer, that the great Richard Watson, in the early days of his ministry, also got his sermons—“he plucked them,” as he termed it, “off the bushes as he rode along.”

The simplicity and hospitality of these new settlers, and the sincere joy they manifested at the preacher’s arrival, will never be forgotten by me while memory retains her seat. Religion could not be said to have been in a lively state on that circuit at the period referred to. It had enjoyed a general revival two or three years before; but was now suffering under a partial declension. Still, there were some of the most exemplary, pious Christians, on that circuit 1 ever knew. Some of these were “fathers in Israel,” who had emigrated from England and Ireland; and some of them had been converted in the wilds of Canada. I shall never forget the cordial and encouraging reception I met with fromone of these “old disciples,” on coming to his house, a few days after my arrival on the circuit; a man whose sterling piety yet lives on earth in the person of his descendants, both children and grand-children. He had the reputation of being rather knowing, and somewhat hard on incompetent preachers, My appointment fell in his neighborhood on the evening of the day to which I refer; I rode anxiously up to the door and dismounted; there was no person in the house; I passed through it. “Father C,” had just returnedfrom the hay-field, and was drinking from “the old oaken bucket that hung in the well;” his eye fell upon me, as he raised his head: “This,” said he, “is our new preacher, I suppose.” “I have come to endeavor to supply the place of one, sir,” I timidly responded, fearing I should not abide the ordeal—“ Fear not!” said the venerable man, “any young man in that spirit will succeed.” He was a father to me during the four months that intervened between that and Conference. His wife was a mother also. Some of the more recently converted are in my recollection, who regularly kept the Wednesday and Friday fasts, and prayed in their families three times a day.

The number of members on that new circuit, if I recollect aright, was about 350. The Methodists in this country were then one; a Methodist was a Methodist, and needed no other term to make his position more definite, They did not have to distinguish them then, as an enemy to Methodism did the various kinds of Methodists the other day in the neighborhood of the little country village in which he lives; viz: as Mr. White’s kind of Methodists, Mr. Brown’s Methodist’s, and Mr. Black’s Methodists”; referring to three of his neighbors. No; there were none of these distinctions then. It was before any of our unhappy divisions; and before any of the different bodies of Methodists in England had sent preachers into the country. And I can bear record, that the Preachers labored as faithfully then as they do now, that they had the spur of emulation to goad them on ; and the country was as adequately supplied with preaching, in proportion to the population, as it is now, without any of the present confusion and deformity. In those days the minister in charge was not intimidated from the faithful execution of discipline by the threat, that the discontented would send for a preacher of another sort of Methodists to rend the society. Would that it were in this one particular, as when I travelled my first circuit.


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