Confessions of a Weak-Minded Man–No. 3

San Francisco News Letter/March 21, 1868


Since the publication of my former “Confessions,” I have been thrown into a terrible state of nervous excitement by the receipt of the following letter:

“Mr. Phineas Tittle or your other name Gwinnett as is more likely your real one;

“Sir:–Your Wicked attacks through the columns of an Unholy newspaper upon a Humble Instrument in the hands of god for the conversion of Souls is an act of Atrocity to which History furnishes no parallel as is moreover your Unhallowed Stabs at his Church under pretence of Admiration and Devoutness which you need not think I can’t see through your Irony. I pray he may not Cut you Off in your middle of Iniquity as you so Richly Deserve is my prayer and Punish you in the Lake of Fire and Brimstone where there shall be Weeping and Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth and where the Worm dieth Not And The Fire is Not Quenched I Remain Your Friend And Well-wisher “Walls of Zion, March 15, 1868.”

Now this is really distressing. I never expected to have such language addressed to me, and thought there was but one place in the city where it was used. And even there I supposed it was employed only for the salvation of sinners and the edification of the pious. For these two purposes I understand it is well adapted. I never like to be forcible and cutting in my-remarks; I prefer to be mild and respectful: but were it not that this anonymous letter is compiled mainly from the Scriptures—which I worship—I should say that it is scurrilous. But I dare not so characterize it, for besides the reasons I have mentioned, there is the additional one that I am in doubt as to who wrote it. From his evident familiarity with the divine language of Holy writ, I infer that the author is a clergyman; and it would be terrible indeed if I should apply the term “scurrilous” to the inspired words of a minister of God. Still, I wish he had put his name to it, that I might have more lively feeling of contrition and a stronger sense of the gravity of the reproof administered. It cannot be the Rev. Mr. Fitzgerald, for the language of the letter is not strong enough; and the style and sentiment are too elevated for Dr. Wadsworth. I shall lay the whole matter before Elder Knapp, that humble instrument in the hands of God for the conversion of souls. Heavens, what a coincidence! Upon my soul, the very words of the letter! This is past belief; I am really becoming distracted. I must have been thinking about that Tower of Babel again.

But why should I be accused of wickedness and atrocity? I know, of course, that I am wicked. We are all wicked—excepting members of the Church, who are holy. If there is any fact that may be considered fairly established, it is the fact of man’s total depravity. Among our Anglo-Saxon ancestors, as we are told by Lea and others, law and custom required that a witness’ oath should be reduplicated in several churches; and that testimony was considered most worthy of credence which had been sworn to on the greatest number of altars. These repeated oaths were always taken in cases of importance. The doctrine of Total Depravity is of immense importance. It has been sworn on a great many altars. It is true. But I wander. I am wicked, though not intentionally so; but I never knew I was atrocious. I try to be good. I honor my father and my mother, that my days may be long in the land. There have never been any statistics compiled showing the great longevity of those persons who honor their parents. This is a great oversight. Divine Truth does not stand in need of statistical confirmation, but such tables would be very valuable to the Life Insurance companies. This, however, is another digression, and has nothing to do with my alleged atrocity. Even in my early youth I was a constant attendant at Sabbath school, and every week committed to memory an incredible number of verses from the New Testament, which I recited before my teacher with as great rapidity as one could desire, I understood them, too, quite as well, I think, as I do now. Was this atrocious? In short, I always struggle to be righteous, for I do not wish my children to be seen begging bread. David says he never saw the seed of the righteous doing so; and David was a man to be revered. Uriah, the Hittite, may have thought differently. Still I have thought that, being a king, David’s acquaintance with the families of the Jerusalem beggars may not have been an extensive one. However that may be, I have never considered it right to regard the parents of beggars as necessarily wicked people, without further evidence. I have observed, however, that they are usually poor. But David knew best, and I submit and worship, as I always do when I read anything holy.

Augustin Nicolas tells of a poor peasant who was condemned for sorcery. After undergoing the most inhuman tortures, he confessed his guilt and acknowledged the justice of his punishment, merely asking if it were not possible to be a sorcerer without knowing it. He was promptly put to death. Now I think one may be atrocious without being at all aware of it; and such I believe to be my unfortunate condition. But I don’t know; appearances are against me. They are always against me. I think I have spent half my life in explaining away appearances. Some Theologians have spent all their lives doing the same thing. Mr. Stevenson, I learn, has employed a lawyer to explain away appearances. He should be well paid. It is astonishing how deceptive appearances are, and how easily they may be explained away. I am confident that if the editor of the Alta would employ a great deal of spare time and a little of his equally spare talent in doing this, he might be regarded as a man of considerable honesty and ability. For a long time the Pacific Museum of Anatomy appeared to me like an enormous rat-trap, presided over by a tenacious leech. The hallucination was incongruous. I admit—all my hallucinations are. It was a long time before I could get it right in my mind. Finally, two lines in a newspaper made it clear that the Museum is a Repository, conducted by a Benefactor. How easily he did it.