Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
The Rev. Peter Mullens
By Josiah Gilbert Holland (18191881)
[Arthur Bonnicastle. An American Novel. 1873.]
ON entering The Mansion that day in my usual informal way, I found the Rev. Peter Mullens lying nearly upon his back, in the most luxurious chair of the large drawing-room, apparently in a state of serene and supreme happiness. He was enjoying the privileges of the cloth, in the house of a professional brother who had been exceptionally favored. For the time, the house was his own. All petty cares were dismissed. All clouds were lifted from his life, in the consciousness that he had a good coat on which had cost him nothing, and that, for a few days at least, board and lodging were secure at the same price. His hair was brushed back straight over his head in the usual fashion, and evidently fastened there by the contents of a box of pomatum which he had found in my old chamber. He had managed to get some gold-bowed spectacles, and when I met him he presented quite an imposing front. Rising and greeting me with a cordial and somewhat patronizing air, he quickly resumed his seat and his attitude, and subsided into a vein of moralizing. He thought it must be a source of great satisfaction to me that the property which had once been my own, apparently, had been devoted to the ministry, and that henceforth The Mansion would be the home of those who had given themselves to the church.
Mullens evidently regarded himself as one who had a certain pecuniary interest in the estate. The house was to be his tavernhis free, temporary homewhenever it might be convenient for him to pass a portion of his time in the city. Indeed, he conducted himself as if he were my host, and expressed the hope that he should see me always when visiting the town. His assumptions amused me exceedingly, though I was sorry to think that Henry and Claire would feel themselves obliged to tolerate him.
At the dinner-table, Mr. Mullens disclosed the questions in regard to his settlement. The truth is, said he, that I am divided on a question of duty. Given equal opportunities of doing good, and unequal compensation, on which side does duty lie? That is the question. I dont wish to be mercenary; but when one church offers me five hundred dollars a year, payable quarterly in advance, and the other offers me five hundred dollars a year, payable quarterly at the end of the quarter, with an annual donation-party, I feel myself divided. There is an advantage in being paid quarterly in advance, and there is an advantage in a donation-party, provided the people do not eat up what they bring. How great this advantage is I do not know; but there is something very attractive to me in a donation-party. It throws the people together, it nourishes the social element, it developes systematic benevolence, it cements the friendship of pastor and people, it brings a great many things into the house that a man can never afford to buy, and it must be exceedingly interesting to reckon up the results. Ive thought about it a great deal, and it does seem to me that a donation-party must be a very valuable test of usefulness. How am I to know whether my services are acceptable, unless every year there is some voluntary testimonial concerning them? It seems to me that I must have such a testimonial. I find myself looking forward to it. Heres an old farmer, well say, without any public gifts. Hosannas languish on his tongue, and, so far as I can tell, all devotion dies. He brings me, perhaps, two cords or two cords and a half of good hard wood, and by that act he says, The Rev. Mr. Mullens has benefitted me, and I wish to tell him so. He has warmed my heart, and I will warm his body. He has ministered to me in his way, and I will minister to him in my way. Heres a woman with a gift of flannela thing thats always useful in a ministers familyand theres another with a gift of socks, and heres another with a gift of crullers, and heres a man with a gift of a spare-rib or a ham, and another with a gift of potatoes, and
Yes, that is what troubles me, he responded. I wish to do right. There may be no difference between having your pay quarterly in advance and the donation-party; but the donation-party, all things considered, is the most attractive.
Well, if I accept your advice, said Mr. Mullens, you must stand by me. This place is only six miles from Bradford, and if I ever get hard up it will be pleasant to think that I have such friends at hand as you and Brother Sanderson.
Mullens remained at The Mansion several days, and showed his white cravat and gold-bowed spectacles all over the city. He was often in my office, and on one occasion accompanied me to the court-room, where I gave him a seat of honor and introduced him to my legal friends. He was so very comfortable in his splendid quarters, so shielded from the homely affairs of the world by his associations, and so inexpensive to himself, that it was a hardship to tear himself away at last, even with the prospect of a donation-party rising before him in the attractive perspective of his future.
He had been several days in the house, and had secured such plunder as would be of use to him, personally, when he surprised us all by the announcement that he was a married man, and was already the father of a helpless infant. He gave us also to understand that Mrs. Mullens was, like himself, poor, that her wardrobe was none of the most comfortable, and that her helpless infant would rejoice in garments cast off by children more favored than his own. His statement was intended to appeal to Claire and Millie, and was responded to accordingly. When he went away, he bore a trunk full of materials, that, as he said, would be useful in a ministers family.
Henry and I attended his instillation shortly afterwards, and assisted him in beginning his housekeeping. We found Mrs. Mullens to be a woman every way adapted to the companion she had chosen. She was willing to live upon her friends. She delighted in gifts, and took them as if they were hers by right. Everything was grain that came to her mill in this way. Her wants and her inability to supply them were the constant theme of her communications with her friends and neighbors, and for ten long years she was never without a helpless infant with which to excite their laggard and weary charities. Whenever she needed to purchase anything, she sent to me or to Millie, or to her friends at The Mansion, her commission,always without the money. She either did not know how much the desired articles would cost, or there was such danger of losing money when sent by post, or she had not the exact change on hand; but she assured us that Mr. Mullens would call and pay us when visiting Bradford. The burden thus rolled upon Mr. Mullens was never taken up by him; and so, year after year, we consented to be bled by this amiable woman, while the Mullens family went on increasing in numbers and multiplying in wants. It became a matter of wonder that any religious society should be content with the spiritual ministrations of such a man as Mullens; but this society was simple, and poor, and their pastor had an ingenious way of warming over his old broth and the old broth of others which secured for him a certain measure of respect. His tongue was glib, his presence imposing, and his self-assurance quite overwhelming.
But at last there came a change. New residents in the parish saw through his shallow disguises, and raised such a storm of discontent about his ears that he was compelled to resign his pulpit and to cast about for other means of living. No other pulpit opened its doors to him. The mans reputation outside of his parish was not a desirable one. Everybody had ceased to regard him as a man capable of teaching; and he had so begged his way and lived upon his acquaintances, and had so meanly incurred and meanly refused to recognize a thousand little debts among his early friends, that it was impossible for him to obtain even a temporary engagement as a preacher.
There was nothing left for him to do, but to become a peddler of some sort, for which office he had rare natural gifts. Leaving his family where they were, he took an agency for the sale of the Cottage Bible. He drove a thrifty business with this publication, going from house to house, wearing always his white cravat, living upon the ministers and deacons, and advertising himself by speeches at evening meetings and Sunday-schools. Sometimes he got an opportunity to preach on Sunday, and having thus made his face familiar to the people, drove a brisk business among them on Monday. His white cravat he used as a sort of pass on railroads and steamboats, or as an instrument by which it was to be secured. Every pecuniary consideration which could be won from a contemptuous business world, by the advertisement of the sacred office which he once held, he took the boldest or the most abject way to win.
It must not be supposed that old Mullens, as people learned to call him, was really distressed by poverty. Never paying out a cent of money that came into his hands if he could avoid it, he accumulated a handsome property, which he skilfully hid away in investments, maintaining his show of poverty, through all his active life. Henry shook him off at last and helped me to do the same. We heard of him not long ago lecturing to Sunday-schools and buying wool, and it is not ten years since he appeared in Bradford as an agent of a life-insurance company, with specially favorable terms to clergymen who were kind enough to board him during his visit. I shrink from writing here the stories I heard about him, concerning the way in which he advertised his business by mixing it with his public religious teachings, because it associates such base ideas with an office which I revere as the highest and holiest a man can hold; but when I say that in his public addresses he represented the Christian religion as a system of life-insurance of the spiritual kind, I sufficiently illustrate his methods and his motives.
He passed a useless life. He became a nuisance to his professional brethren, a burden to all who were good-natured enough to open their houses to him, and a disgrace to the Christian ministry. Wearing the badge of a clergyman, exacting as a right that which was rendered to others as a courtesy or a testimonial of love and friendship, surrendering his manhood for the privileges of ministerial mendicancy, and indulging his greed for money at the expense of a church to which he fancied he had given his life, he did, unwittingly perhaps, what he could to bring popular contempt upon his profession, and to associate with the Christian religion the meanest type of personal character it is possible to conceive.
Amid the temptations of this poor, earthly life, and the weaknesses of human nature, even the most sacred profession will be disgraced, now and then, by men who repent in dust and ashes over their fall from rectitude, and the dishonor they bring upon a cause which in their hearts they love; but Mullens carried his self-complacency to the end, and demonstrated by his character and influence how important it is that dunces shall not be encouraged to enter upon a high walk of life by benefactions which rarely fail to induce and develop in them the spirit of beggars. I am sure there is no field of Christian benevolence more crowded with untoward results than that in which weak men have found the means for reaching the Christian ministry. The beggarly helplessness of some of these men is pitiful; and a spirit of dependence is fostered in them which emasculates them, and makes them contemptible among those whom they seek to influence.
Though the Rev. Peter Mullens is still living, I have no fear that I shall be called to an account for my plain treatment of him, as he will never buy this book, or find a friend who will be willing to give or lend it to him. Even if he had such a friend, and he should recognize his portrait, his amour propre would not be wounded, and he would complacently regard himself as persecuted for righteousness sake.