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Past and Present
Lorenzo Dow

Who has not read or heard something of this almost world-renowned and perhaps useful itinerant oddity ? Some of my readers have undoubtedly seen and heard him as well as myself, but many, especially younger persons, never did, to whom it might not be uninteresting to hear something further about him.

None need be informed that he had been for some years in early life an accredited Methodist Preacher in the United States, and continued a Methodist in his doctrinal opinions to the end of his days; but for many years he was not amenable, at least to the old Methodist body, if indeed to any other, but labored pretty much, as he would say himself, “on his own hook.”

I have not learned from any authentic source that he was ever in Canada West more than once, during which visit the writer had the privilege, if such it might be called, of being in his company, more or less for five or six days; and might have been longer, but that he got thoroughly satiated with his oddities in that time. It was in the summer of ’29, at a Camp Meeting held between what is now the village of Brighton and the beautifully picturesque Presque Isle Harbor, on the land of James Lyons, Esq., and member of the then existing “Saddlebag Parliament,” so called, of which some time or other we may venture some Recollections. The spot was then within the bounds of the Cobourg circuit, which at that time extended from Hope to the Carrying-Place. The preachers on the circuit were the Rev. James Norris and the Rev. Ephraim (now Doctor) Evans, both of them then in their “probation.” In order to give the meeting eclat, Lorenzo Dow, then figuring largely in the “Genesee Country,” directly across the Lake, was invited to attend. Accordingly on the morning of the day before the one on which the meeting was to begin, with his usual punctuality to his engagements, he made his appearance—he had come across in one of the sailing packets, which then perhaps, more frequently than now, plied between Rochester and Presque Isle —and an odd appearance it was. To begin at the top, the hair upon his head and face had been left to grow till it was some six or eight inches long, while the former was surmounted with a coarse chip hat. He had on a snuff-colored cloth vest— striped cotton pants—coarse cow-hide shoes—and a long white flannel surplice over all, without pocket or buttons: it was fastened around him with strings; his pocket-handkerchief was tied by one corner to a hole in the breast of it, while it was mainly thrust down one of the sleeves of his outer garment for lack of a pocket.

The news of his coming brought together a great many people from the two adjacent circuits—Hallowell, which then included all the country from the Carrying-Place to the Fifth-Town Point; and Belleville, which extended from the Trent to the Indian Woods, and from the Bay of Quinte to Madoc and Marmora. There were also a goodly number of preachers. There were besides those on the circuit the Reverends William Ryerson, the Presiding Elder, George Ferguson, Robert Corson,

Hamilton Biggar, whom the writer then saw and heard for the first time, the lamented "William Smith, and the venerable William Case, then the President of the Conference, with a large posse of Indians from Grape Island, his then residence, as also several of his staff; such as Thomas Hurlburt, then on his way to Munceytown, where he learned the Indian language and laid the foundation for his usefulness; and the devoted, heavenly-minded, angelic-looking John Benham, afterwards the Superintendent of Methodist Missions in Liberia. These two last were only exhorters then, as was also Conrad Vandusen, who gave his first exhortation from “the stand,” after an attempted sermon by the writer, who also was there in the character of a preacher.

Lorenzo lodged the first night after his arrival in one of the tents, the only person that did without bed or bed-clothes, arid every subsequent one he must have slept in the woods, for no person knew where he lodged. This, we were informed, arose as much from necessity as eccentricity, he being oppressed all his life by an asthmatical affection that made a bed oppressive to him at any time, especially a close apartment in summer. He was very much by himself—very taciturn when in company—he only condescended to converse with the oldest and best informed, and that sparingly on the gravest subjects of information. He was very inquisitive in a quiet way. And the facts he gleaned in his extensive travels, I have reason to believe were lodged in a most tenacious memory, as it was astonishing to observe the accuracy with which he would speak with regard to names and dates of the most curious and out-of-the-way occurrences and facts in history. He was always serious as the grave, but he often made others laugh with his odd expressions, especially in his preaching.

But some are naturally saying, “ what of his preaching ? Was he an able and eloquent preacher? Or what was it like?” We cannot say whether it was able and eloquent or not, for the simple reason that it was not “ like ” anything the writer has ever heard from anybody else. This will be decided by a little detail. He would not tell the Presiding Elder when he would preach, but said he would do so whenever it suited himself. His first address was an exhortation after the Eev. Robert Corson, who had preached on the parable of the Prodigal Son, Dow’s remarks were a series of comments on those parts of the parable he chose to take up after the other had gone over them. We may premise that his dialect was the broadest “ old Virginia” that could be thought of. He said that his brother had remarked that the citizen of the far country was “ the devil,” who sent him into fields to feed swine. “Now,” said he, “the devil has got a great many swine-feeders now-a-days. There is one character that may be denominated the devil’s swine-feeder. He frequents balls, and routs, and assemblies, and gcreeks on an insignificant piece of wood called a fiddle, while the people jump up and down and turn their backs and faces, and cut up their didos.”

When he came to where the “elder brother was angry and would not go in,” Dow exclaims with all the sang froid imaginable, “Oh, I guess he must have been a close communion Baptist 1” He hated all exclusiveness and bigotry in religion. He was very catholic himself, and was very hard on those who were not so.

Late in the afternoon of Saturday, it was quite evident that he had a mind to preach that evening. He sent some young men into the woods to procure a large, long pole, with which they constructed a rude “altar” for penitents in front of the stand. In the meantime he had seated himself on the stand and sang one of his favorite odes, with a sepulchral sort of voice, which made it plaintive enough. Only one verse is remembered.

“One night all pensive as I lay,
Alone upon the ground,
I cried to God, began to pray—
A light shone all around.”

Having thus attracted a large crowd around him, he rose and sounded the horn employed in convoking the assembly, which he held in his hand. So soon as the people saw that it was Dow that was going to preach, they came scampering from all directions to the preaching place. The introductory part of the service was very solemn. He gave out the hymn commencing with the lines,

“How beauteous are their feet,
Who stand on Zion’s hill,
Who bring salvation on their tongues,
And words of peace reveal.”

When he kneeled down to pray, the first petition he offered was for two young men whom he said “ stood there talking.” He prayed that God would “ convert them, that they might go home and serve him.” His text was Revelation, xxii. 2. u And in the street of it,”and^on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bear twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” It would take up too much space for us to recite what we remember of the sermon. Suffice it to say, it was strictly methodical, although that method was original enough, while every part of it was truly unique. He made some very excellent remarks in the commencement on the Revelation as a whole. Then he came to the New Jerusalem itself, the admeasurement of which he explained, and compared it with several of the^largest cities in the world; such as London, Paris, Canton, &c., with the size and population of which he .seems to have had accurate acquaintance. Indeed, he appeared to have a remarkable memory for matters of that kind. The tree, from the femenine pronoun “her” being applied to it, he decided to mean the church. The “twelve manner of fruits,” he decided to mean just so many particular graces, which he named, counting them on his fingers, and illustrated in a very able, though, it must be confessed in a very unusual manner. I need not say that he had fixed attention ; but a spirit of conviction also seemed to run through the assembly; and when he gave an invitation for penitents to come forward, which he did at the close of his sermon, there was an instantaneous rush for the “altar,”—a perfect jam. The writer never saw the like before or since. The preachers poured out of the stand into the prayer-meeting. Dow went down himself, passing from one mourner to another. The battle was truly “set in array,” and lasted the most of the night. And “signs and wonders were wrought in the name of the holy child Jesus.”

His next sermon, I think, was on Sunday night. If I remember right, he began without singing. Certainly he did not sing the second time; but as he rose from prayer he thundered out 'the following words of Holy Scripture, “Behold ye despisers, and wonder, and perish; for I work a work in your day, a work which ye shall in no wise believe though a man declare it unto you.” He then made a full stop, and looked around upon the congregation,—But says one, “Where’s your text?” “Go home and brush the dust off your Bible; and between the two lids you’ll find it. For there are some people, when they go home from meeting, if they were to be damned for it, couldn’t tell where the text was.” The sermon was of a piece with this rough exordium. In the course of it, he vindicated camp-meet-ings, and told a number of remarkable experiences of his own connected with such meetings and revivals in general. Many of the objections he took notice of were ridiculous enough, which he answered in a manner equally absurd and laughable. It would scarcely be becoming to recite some things he came over, but they had a keen edge for those for whom they were intended.

This was more or less characteristic of all his preaching; and those side cuts and home thrusts no doubt were rendered useful. The fame of his eccentricities brought out vast multitudes to hear. Among these were bar-room loafers, gamblers and horse-racers, universalists and other infidels, with all of whom he knew how to deal, and for whom he had ammunition prepared.

Instances of this we had on two or three occasions. In the forenoon of Sunday there was an immense congregation, and the presiding minister found it impossible to get some of them to seat themselves and submit to the order of the meeting, observing which, Dow arose and settled them in the following adroit, though odd manner. Said he, “I have travelled a great deal in my life time, in England, and Ireland, as well as America ; and I have remarked that every assembly is made up of three descriptions of characters. The first is the gentleman; he behaves well for his honor’s sake. The second is the Christian he behaves well for Christ’s sake. The third class, might denominate Tag-Rag and Bobtail  these will neither behave well for God nor the devil’s sake. Now if you want to advertize yourselves as belonging to this class, begin with your didos.” This was enough j no one seemed disposed to give occasion for his being put down as belonging to that class, and the best of order ensued. During the course of the meeting, Mr. Evans preached on the judgment from Rey. xx. 12, “And I saw the dead, small and great, &c.” At the close of the sermon, Dow rose up and gave an address, and remarked, that while his brother was speaking on the judgement, a thought struck his mind on the subject of witnesses; and said it appeared to him, that God was to be -witness as well as judge. He then quoted Mai. iii. 5, “ And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false-swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me saith the Lord of Hosts.” From this text he took occasion to dwell upon each description of character here denounced in a manner as able and searching as it was original. I remember his telling us, when describing the manner in which “ the stranger is turned aside from his right,” of an instance that happened to himself; said he, “ I rode up to a tavern door one day and called for a gallon of oats to feed my horse. The landlord calls out to the boy, 'Take this horse to the stable, and mind and give him some oats.’ Now I didn’t like the way he laid the emphasis on the word 1 mind. So after a while, I went to the stable and found that my horse had had no oats. I, therefore, went to the landlord and ordered another gallon; and went and saw him fed. I then went and put myself where I could see him, and he couldn’t see me; and after a little I saw the tavern keeper come and take away the oats again. I then called for my bill, and took my horse and started.”

He visited several places intermediate between the campground and Kingston, where I believe he preached in the market-house : at the Carrying-Place, Belleville, Grape Island, and Hallowell. The Carrying-Place was the last place at which we heard him preach. “Quench not the Spirit,” was his text. I think there was more laughter than conviction produced by this sermon. The school-house was crowded with people, who all remained after the sermon in hopes of having a word with so strange a preacher, or at least the privilege of feasting their eyes with his odd appearance. But after waiting for some time in vain, casting their eyes down the road, they saw him some half a mile distant, bundle in hand, making off as fast as he could walk. While they had stood watching the door, he had slipped out of the back window. He hired a canoe and made his way to Belleville that night.

We might have heard him there, but we were satisfied, and thought we could spend our time as profitable some other way. We don’t mean to say his preaching was not useful. We think t was very much so to certain characters. While preaching in Hallowell on the danger of covetousness, he suddenly stopped and screamed in prayer, “Lord have mercy on the richest man in the place!” There was a gentleman present who was reputedly the richest in the community, on whom this produced a good effect, temporarily at least; for the next Saturday afternoon, being Quarterly Meeting, when the Presiding Elder, according to the custom of the times, was exhorting the people of the village to exercise hospitality to the strangers, this person arose and said, “You can send a hundred to my house if you please.” At the same time that we make this admission, we could see that his oddities produced a great deal of merriment; and the young people began using his slang, much of which consisted of the lowest vulgarisms. A good man he was, no doubt; and, as we have already said, useful in his widely eccentric orbit, yet one such character in half a century is enough.

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