Thomas Bangs Thorpe compared the steadfast in faith to the clinging opossum in his somewhat rambling essay, "Opossums and 'Possum Hunting." A frontier preacher warns the faithful that the world, the flesh, the devil compose the wind that is trying to blow you off the gospel tree. But don't let go of it, hold on to it as a 'possum would in a hurricane. If the forelegs of your passions get loose, hold on by your hind legs of conscientiousness; and if they get loose, hold on eternally by your tail, which is the promise that the saints shall persevere unto the end."
"The Harp of a Thousand Strings" was the specialty of Alf Bunett, a comedian who became famous as an entertainer in Union army camps.
Thar may be some here to-day, my brethring, as don't know what persuasion I am uv. Well, I must say to you, my brethring, that I'm a Hard Shell Baptist. Thar's some folks as don't like the Hard Shell Baptists, but I'd rather have a hard shell as no shell at all. You see me here to-day, my brethring, dressed up in fine clothes; you mou't think I was proud, but I am not proud, my brethring, an' although I've been a preacher of the gospel for twenty years, an' although I'm capting of the flatboat that lies at your landing, I'm not proud, my brethring.
I am not gwine to tell edzactly whar my tex may be found; suffice to say, it's in the leds of the Bible, and you'll find it somewhar between the first chapter of the book of Generations, and the last chapter of the book of Revolutions, and ef you'll go and search the Scriptures, you'll not only find my tex thar, but a great many other texes as will do you good to read, and my tex, when you shall find it, you shall find it to read thus:--"And he played on a harp uv a thousand strings--sperits of jest men made perfeck."
My tex, my brethring, leads me to speak of sperits. Now, thar's a great many kinds of sperits in the world--in the fuss place, thar's the sperits as some folks call ghosts, and thar's the sperits of turpentine, and thar's the sperits as some folks call liquor, an' l've got as good an artikel of them kind of sperits on my flatboat as ever was fotch down the Mississippi river; but thar's a great many other kinds of sperits for the tex says, "He played on a harp uv a t-h-o-u-s-and strings, sperits of jest men made perfeck."
But I'll tell you the kind uv sperits as is meant in the tex, is FIRE. That's the kind uv sperits as is meant in the tex, my brethring. Now thar's a great many kinds of fire in the world. In the fuss place thar's the common sort of fire you light your cigar or pipe with, and then thar's foxfire and camphire, fire before you're ready and fire and fall back, and many other kinds uv fire, for the tex says "He played on a harp uv a thousand strings, sperits uv jest men made perfeck."
But I'll tell you the kind of fire as is meant in the tex, my brethring--it's HELL FIRE! an that's the kind uv fire as a great many uv you'll come to, ef you don't do better nor what you have been doin'--for "He played on a harp uv a thousand strings, sperits of jest men made perfeck."
Now, the different sorts uv fire in the world may be likened unto the different persuasions uv Christians in the world. In the fuss place we have the Piscapalions, an' they are a high sailin' and high-falutin set, an they may be likened unto a turkey buzzard, that flies up in the air, an' he goes up, and up, and up, till he looks no bigger than your finger nail, and the fuss thing you know, he cums down, and down, and down, and is a fillin' himself on the carkiss of a dead hoss by the side of the road, and "He played on a harp of a thousand strings, sperits uv jest men made perfeck."
And then thar's the Methodis, and they may be likened unto the squirrel runnin' up into a tree, for the Methodis beleeves in gwine on from one degree of grace to another, and finally on to perfection, and the squirrel goes up and up, and up and up, and he jumps from limb to limb, and branch to branch, and the fuss thing you know he falls and down he cums kerflumix, and that's like the Methodis, for they is allers fallen from grace, ah! and "He played on a harp uv a thousand strings, sperits uv jest men made perfeck."
And then, my brethring, thar's the Baptist, ah! and they have been likened unto a 'possum on a 'simmon tree, and thunders may roll and the earth may quake, but that 'possum clings thar still, ah! and you may shake one foot loose, and the other's thar, and you may shake all feet loose, and he laps his tail around the limb, and clings and he clings furever, for "He played on a harp uv a thousand strings, sperits uv jest men made perfeck."
Now, my brethering, as I have before told you, I am an oneddicated man, and know nothing about grammar talk and collidge highfalutin, but I am a plane unlarnt preacher of the Gospil, what's been foredaned and called to prepare a pervarse generashun for the day of wrath-- ah! "For they shall gnaw a file, and flee unto the mountains of Hepsidam, whar the lion roareth and the wang-doodle mourneth for his first born"--ah!
My beloved brethering, the tex says they shall gnaw a file. It does not say they may, but shall. Now, there is more than one kind of file. There's the hand-saw file, the rat-tail file, the single file, the double file, and profile; but the kind spoken of here isn't one of them kind nayther, bekaws it's a figger of speech, and means going it lone and getting ukered, "for they shall gnaw a file, and flee unto the mountains of Hepsidam, whar the lion roareth and the wang-doodle mourneth for its first-born," ah!
And now there be some here with fine close on their backs, brass rings on thar fingers, and lard on thar har, what goes it while they're yung; and thar be others what, as long as thar constitooshins and forty-cent whiskey last, goes it blind. Thar be sisters here what, when they gets sixteen years old, cut thar tiller-ropes and goes it with a rush. But I say, my dear brethering, take care you don't find, when Gabriel blows his last trump, your hands played out, and you've got ukered!--ah! "For they shall gnaw a file, and flee unto the mountains of Hepsidam, what the lion roareth and the wang-doodle mourneth for his first born."
No, my brethering, "they shall flee unto the mountain of Hepsidam"; but thar's more dams than Hepsidam. Thars' Rotter-dam, Had-dam, Amster-dam, and Don't-car-a-dam"--the last of which, my brethering, is the worst of all and reminds me of a sirkumstans I onst knowed in the state of lllenoy. There was a man what built him a mill on the north fork of Ager Crick, and it was a good mill and ground a sight of grain; but the man what built it was a miserable sinner, and never gave anything to the church; and, my dear brethering, one night there came a dreadful storm of wind and rain, and the mountains of the great deep was broke up, and the waters rushed down and swept that man's mill-dam to kingdom cum, and when he woke up he found that he wasn't worth a dam--ah! "For they shall gnaw a file, and flee unto the mountains of Hepsidam, whar the lion roareth nd the wang-doodle mourneth for his first-born--ah!"
I hope I don't hear anybody larfin; do I?
Now, "whar the lion roareth and the wang-doodle mourneth for his first born"--ah! This part of my tex, my beseaching' brethering, is not to be taken as it says. It don't mean the howling wilderness, whar John the Hard Shell Baptist fed on locusts and wild asses, but it means, my brethering, the city of New Y'Orleans, the mother of harlots and hard lots. . . ; whar honest men are scarcer than hens' teeth; and whar a strange woman once took your beluved teacher, and bamboozled him out of two-hundred and twenty-seven dollars in the twinkling of a sheep's-tail; but she can't do it again! Hallelujah--ah! "For they shall gnaw a file, and flee unto the mountains of Hepsidam, whar the lion roareth and the wang-doodle mourneth for his first-born--ah!
My brethering, I am the captain of the flatboat you see tied up thar, and have got aboard of her flour, bacon, taters, and as good Monongahela whiskey as ever was drunk, and am mighty apt to get a big price for them all; but what, my dear brethering, would it all be wuth if I hadn't got religion? Thar's nothing like religion, my brethering: it's better nor silver or gold gimcracks; and you can no more get to heaven without it, than a jay-bird can fly without a tail--ah! Thank the Lord! I'm an oneddicated man, my brethering; but I've sarched the Scripters from Dan to Bersheeba and found Zion right side up, and hard shell religion the best kind of religion-- ah! 'Tis not like the Methodists, what specks to get to heaven by hollerin' hell-fire; nor like the Univarsalists, that get on the broad gage and goes the hull hog--ah; nor like the Yewnited Brethering, that takes each other by the slack of thar breeches and hists themselves in; nor like the Katherliks, that buys threw tickers from their priests; but it may be likened unto a man what has to cross the river--ah!--and the ferry-boat was gone; so he tucked up his breeches and waded acrost--ah! "For they shall gnaw a file, and flee unto the mountains of Hepsidam, whar the lion roareth and the wang-doodle mourneth for his first born!
Pass the hat, Brother Flint, and let every Hard Shell Baptist shell out.