Ohio History Journal

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Who Wrote

Who Wrote

"The Harp of a Thousand Strings"?





OF THE ECCENTRICS who flourished in the backwoods areas of

America in the first half of the nineteenth century, the Hardshell

Baptist preachers were among the most amusing to outsiders. Trav-

elers through the South and West found diversion in contemplating

the oddities of these sermonizers, who, unlike the clergy of most

other denominations, made no bones about chewing tobacco or

drinking whiskey in public.1 Dead set against reformers who

wished to deprive man of his innocent worldly comforts like mint

juleps, they were sometimes called "Ten-Gallon Baptists" or "Whis-

key Baptists." According to Edward Eggleston, who was both

literary local colorist and social historian, the travesty of Calvinism

by which they justified their liberal principles was expressed some-

what as follows: "Ef you're elected you'll be saved; ef you a'n't

you'll be damned. God'll take keer of his elect. It's a sin to run

Sunday-schools or Temp'rence s'cities, or to send missionaries. You

let God's business alone. What is to be will be, and you can't

hender it."2

Depending for a livelihood on such secular activities as trading

on the Mississippi and its confluents, most Hardshell preachers

were only part-time clergymen. As a rule they were poorly trained

and their sermons were frequently so fantastic that the temptation

to mimick them was irresistible. Of the many burlesques which

resulted, perhaps the best known is "The Harp of a Thousand

Strings." The scene of this harangue was the reputedly rowdy


* George Kummer is assistant professor of English at Western Reserve University.

His last contribution to the Quarterly was "Specimens of Ante-Bellum Buckeye

Humor," published in the October 1955 issue.

1 J. S. Buckingham, The Slave States of America (London, 1842), 1, 197.

2 Edward Eggleston, The Hoosier School-Master (New York, 1883), 102.