Reminiscences of an octogenarian in the fields of industrial and social reform/04

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Joshua King Ingalls

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Upon the breaking up of the business occasioned by Mr. Smith's failure there was great difficulty in obtaining steady and remunerative employment. I went to Fall River for a while; but returned to Providence after a few months. I now became acquainted with Rev. Wm. S. Balch, pastor of the First Universalist Church. The Young Peoples' Institute, which I had joined, was held in the vestry of this Church. Mr. Balch often attended and took part in our discussions. It was here I was first introduced to him, and we were sometimes pitted in debate with each other. He invited me to his study and the use of his library, and finding that my employment was not constant, proposed that I should join a class who were studying with him. Among those I met at his house were a Mr. B. H. Davis, Mr. Wood a young student at Brown University, Zephaniah Baker

and a Mr. Richards, all of whom were studying with him for the ministry, Brought in personal contact with him, and with them, religious doctrines again became subjects of thought with me, and finding the mental atmosphere so free, and more exhilarating, than it had ever been among the other sects, I was very naturally drawn into sympathy with the broader faith, more particularly as it gave greater scope to my love of discussion, and theoretical investigation. [20] Through Mr. Balch's invitation, it was arranged that I should spend my leisure time in his study, and prepare to preach the "great salvation." I know now, how little I was qualified and equipped for such an undertaking, but everything seemed possible to me then. The time I spent with him was serviceable in many ways, and by it, I attained some degree of culture, which otherwise might never have been enjoyed: but the teaching, and direction of thought, were too controversial, and disputatious to form the basis of a true culture. Mr. Balch was a man of much natural talent, but lacked careful training, and so jumped at conclusions, instead of proceeding through logical deduction. With great capacity for observation, he lacked the synthetic faculty for systematic thought. He stimulated one's desire to know more individual things, and to a greater love of mental freedom. He was a Democrat of the New Hampshire pattern, and although at heart an Abolitionist, his interest in the success of the party never flagged, until the control of the party was abandoned to the Hunkers, and fraternized with the "Silver Grey Whigs." Early in the War of the Rebellion he detected the centralizing tendency of the Republican party, and its evident fostering care of plutocratic trusts, and monied combinations. Although interested in him, to the very last, his course since the war, in relation to political partisanship has been little known to me. I judge however, he did not change his political or religious creed. He was gifted as an extemporaneous speaker, yet often confused his hearers, by rapid alternations of themes, and unconnected threads of discourse. He was on the whole of a just and generous temperament, but in which a natural acquisitiveness sometimes wrought a tumult. The memory of this kind, and almost fatherly interest in me, has by no means been dimmed by the half century of change, which has intervened; but it is sometimes relieved by amusing recollections of his parsimonious, and acquisitive peculiarities. He had assisted me pecuniarily in my time of study, and when I had obtained the ability to support myself, he asked me to give him a note, which I did. He kindly forbore to ask me for payment, but when, after two years or more I was able to pay it, I found he had calculated the interest, compounding it each year, and after the time I had removed to New York State, had computed it at seven per cent., the then legal rate there. I told him, [21] the note had been made in Rhode Island, where the legal rate was six per cent.; that he had taught me "Gospel," and not "Law," and that the Bible condemned interest altogether. If he was right as to the law, he would have to go to law to collect his note. If he "appealed unto Caesar, unto Caesar he should go." Seeing I took the matter seriously he said he did not really intend to insist upon it. I refer to this, only as an illustration, that quite conflicting elements enter into the composition of the best of men.

When in 1847 the New York Association came down to Southold to narrow the Universalist platform, Mr. Balch sided with the reactionists, although he had ever been treated by them, as a sort of doctrinal Anarchist. He stopped with a Sea-Captain over night, who in talking over the situation said he had "never liked Mr. Ingalls, since he became so active in the Temperance movement, and showed sympathy with the Dorr Rebellion; but now, he puts the Bible under his feet. I'll be —— if I'll stand it, any longer." The humor of this, will be seen, when it is known that Mr. Balch had ever been conspicuous as a Temperance advocate, and had been compelled to leave Rhode Island, for his outspoken sympathy with Thomas W. Dorr.

In 1883, at about eighty years of age, he spoke to his old society in Bleecker St., New York City. I attended at the evening meeting. He was aged, and infirm, but the lineaments of the man of thirty-five were still plainly visible, and the volubility of utterance was still there. The sermon was on the Resurrection; Paul's fifteenth chapter of first Corinthians being the basis. It took me back, nearly a half century, when I had listened admiringly to the same discourse—I say the same, although neither had been written. The manner, the treatment, and largely the language was the same. In religion, he had learned, and forgotten nothing it seemed, in that forty-five years since I had first listened to this same sermon.

After the meeting was dismissed, I sought an interview with him, and although it seemed difficult for him, to fully recognize his old pupil, he was cordial though expressing a regret at my agnosticism. How closely his character had held to its early tendencies, exhibited itself in the conversation which ensued with some of the monied men of the church, with whom he then and there made an appointment to meet in Wall Street, next morning, to invest in certain stocks, in [22] which he was to give them, or be given points. Although afflicted with physical infirmities, most of his life, he lived to attain an age considerably past four score years.