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Experiences of a Backwoods Preacher
Chapter XVII. Change and Progress

WHEN we compare the present with the past, we see that wonderful changes have been effected in this country during the term of one lifetime. Some of these changes imply real progress, and some of them, perhaps do not. We must not forget that there may be much change, with but little progress.

I can well remember when things in this country were very different from what they are at the present time. The condition of the country, the state of society, the position of education, and the influence of the churches have all assumed widely different aspects since the days of my boyhood. Then the country was very largely in an unreclaimed state. Much of the soil was still covered with primeval forests. Society was honest and industrious, but unpolished. Education was in a crude and inefficient condition, the schools being the merest apologies for institutions of learning as compared with our present school system. The Church was less deficient in zeal than it was in means and appliances.

Things have Changed.

The yelping of the Indian dog, and the war-whoop of his master have died away in the distance, and in their stead is heard the hum of the threshing-machine, the rattle of the railway train, the whistle of the steam engine, and the ringing of the school-bells. The tall forest trees have given place to the orchard trees. The log hut or slab shanty has been succeeded by the more elegant frame or brick, or stone dwelling. The cow-path has grown into a turnpike. The clanking of the logging chain has been exchanged for the tinkling of sleigh-bells, and the old ox-cart has its successor in the fine carriage.

Society has changed, too, as much as the country has improved. The people of the past generation had very different ideas respecting many things from what we have. And their surroundings in early life differed from those of the youth of the present day ; but they made the best use of the few advantages they had. To say that they were weaker than their descendants, either mentally or physically, would be to say what is the very reverse of what is true. To admit, however, that for want of proper training and culture, they were less able to show what was in them, than their grandchildren are, is only granting what cannot be disputed. But if some of those sturdy men who cleared up the land in our front townships, could visit the scenes of their old-time toils, and see some of their great-grandsons trying to handle an axe or a hand-pry, they would be as much amused as we would be to sec a boy start off to mill, with a bag thrown over a horse’s back, having a bushel of wheat in one end of it, and a big stone in the other end to make it balance.

If some of the old dames who helped to make the homes of our country, and who were so handy with the wheel and distaff, the rolling-pin, and the knitting-needles, could revisit the room-of-all-work, where her house-wifely skill won its former triumphs, and catch some of her great-granddaughters trying to darn little Bessie’s hose, or to patch Willie’s coat, she would be likely to take the work into her own hands, and say, “Law sakes, child, what do you know about mending children’s fixings? Let me do this, and you
go and pound some kind of tune, like “Auld Lang Syne,’ or ‘Bonnie Over the Rhine,’ out of the pianner.”

Let it be understood that I am presenting the extremes. Some of the grandmas were as much at home in the parlour as they were in the kitchen. And some of the granddaughters are as much at home in the kitchen as they are in the parlour. These old people did their work, and did it well according to their opportunities and the means at their disposal. Well will it be for us, who have inherited the fruits of their honest toil, if we are as true and faithful in our day and generation as they were in theirs.

But there have been great changes, too, in educational matters during the last fifty years. In fact, the schools at the time of my boyhood were very rudimental in their modes of instruction, and extremely limited in the range of subjects taught in them. Very many of the teachers of those days attempted nothing more than the fundamental branches of common school education. And a man that could read pretty well and do ordinary sums in arithmetic, as well as write a fair hand and spell most of the words correctly, was looked upon at that time as being a fair scholar.

But how different it is now, when our boys and girls are ready for the high school at twelve or thirteen. At sixteen they are fit for college, and many of them are graduates at twenty-one or two.

But, it may be asked, is our system, with all its excellences, the best that could be adopted? Is there not too much drawing the youth of our country away from the common walks of life, and towards the colleges and the professions? Will not the various industries and interests of the country be made to suffer by so many of the young being encouraged in the belief that toil is degrading, and that a labouring man is inferior to a professional man?

Would it not be better to make our schools to so far harmonize with the real and actual wants of the people, as to be their educator in the ordinary affairs of everyday life, instead of absorbing so much of the time of thousands of children on subjects that are of little or no use to them after they leave the common school ? Better to train the children to be active workers in the great national hive, than to merely fit them to fastidiously sip the honey that other toilers have gathered.

The professions are already overcrowded, and every year adds to the difficulty. It has been truly said, in regard to these professions, “There is plenty of room at the top.” But it is also true, that the ascent is so steep, and the way so full of anxious aspirants, that very few have the ability and energy to rush up the steep acclivity, press through the motley gathering that intercepts his way, and reach the top. Are there not men in the professions who rank as third or fourth class there, who would have made first-class farmers and mechanics? I do not mean by this that farmers and mechanics need less brain, or less force of character, than the doctor, or lawyer, or clergyman. But a different combination of faculties is all that makes a successful man in one calling out of an individual who would be a complete failure in another.

But I am told that a classical education does not disqualify a man for work. That may be true. But does it qualify him for work in the ordinary affairs of life? I am now bordering on to seventy years of age, and I have never seen a B.A., or an M.D., or lawyer, comfortably and contentedly or successfully shoving the plane or holding the plough. The time that should have been spent in learning how to do these things was given to other things that are of but little practical benefit in these callings. True, there are some highly educated women who are good housekeepers ; but they can adapt themselves to surrounding circumstances better and more readily than men can do.

Our school system seems to take it for granted that every child is a universal genius; and it seems to overlook the fact that success in one thing does not guarantee success in everything. The system, as yet, is not sufficiently elastic to adjust itself to the various demands of the great variety of minds, for the cultivation and development of which it ought to provide.

In the churches, too, we find change and progress. Not that they are more earnest and zealous. Not that they have more of love for God and humanity. Not that the members are more spiritual, nor that the services are more punctually attended. In none of these things can the churches of to-day claim to be much in advance of what they were half a century ago. The difference is found in clearer conceptions of the demands of the world upon the Church, in a fuller recognition of the claims of missionary effort, in a stronger feeling of unity among Christians, in a closer application of Bible precepts to the practices of everyday life, in a keener sense of individual obligation, and in embracing a wider range of subjects, and in laying broader plans for carrying out the Divine injunction to Christianize the world.

The results of these changes are found in the great increase in the contributions to the various institutions of the Church, in the advancements of the cause of temperance, and in the expansion of missionary operations.

There have also been great changes in the habits and methods of domestic life. Machinery now does most of the heavy work at which our fathers found their hardest toil. Both out door and in the house the burden of life’s toils is made light by the substitution of the mechanical contrivances for the exercise of bone and muscle. Men do not now need the napkin to wipe the sweat from the brow, so much as they need the oilcan to grease the machinery. Everywhere is heard the hum of whirling wheels and revolving pulleys. From the kitchen, where the cook handles the egg-beater, to the barnyard, where the men drive the steam-thrcsher, the heaviest work is done by some sort of an unconscious servant in tin* shape of a machine.

An Old Homestead.

Not many months ago I visited an old homestead. In a field near the house were a number of men working at wheat harvesting. The present owner was sitting quite comfortably on the seat of one of those machines called a harvester, driving a fine horse team around tin; field, cutting as good a crop of fall wheat as any man could expect to reap. The men were binding and “shocking up” what the machine cut down. There were four men at one dollar and seventy-five cents a day, which, with the wages of the teamster and horses, along with the use of the harvester, I estimated at twelve dollars a day. They expected to cut ten acres that day. Now, that would be one dollar and twenty cents an acre for harvesting. Allowing fifteen dollars for hauling into the barn and threshing, and five dollars for contingencies, would bring the outlay up to thirty-two dollars, after the wheat was grown, to make it ready for market. There would not be less than two hundred bushels, which, at eighty cents per bushel, would be one hundred and sixty-dollars for the field of wheat.

But while I was making these calculations it occurred to me that, long years ago, I saw other harvest hands going over the same piece of ground. The father of the present proprietor was swinging a grain cradle as but few men could do it. His oldest son and a neighbour were raking and binding. The field was very “stumpy” then. Fifteen bushels to the acre would be the highest yield. The wheat was hauled into the old log barn on a “woodshod” sled. It was trodden out on the floor with oxen, or threshed out with a “flail,” and cleaned out of the chaff with an indescribable instrument called a “fan.” What was not needed for bread and seed was carried with an ox team over twenty-five miles, and sold for seventy cents a bushel, and mostly store pay at that.

I knew that man for a number of years, and I never heard him complain of hard times. I never knew him to be without money in his pocket, nor without a slice of bread and butter for a hungry traveller, or an unfortunate neighbour. He and his thrifty wife practised that kind of domestic economy that gauges its wants by the possibilities of supply, and keeps its outlay within the limits of its income. And they had many neighbours who were like them in these things.

These are the kind of people who have left us the fruits of their honest toil. Let us, who have entered into their labours, follow more closely their example in needful industry and self-denial. Then there would -be less complaining about hard times, which mostly come in on the line of our extravagances.

Back Country Towns.

Before closing this chapter, I wish to say a few words about the lively towns that have sprung up in the territory where my ministerial life has been passed.

When I commenced my itinerant life, in LS5G, Orangeville was a small village, so was Meaford, and Owen Sound, and Kincardine. Now they are towns. Next came up the villages of Mount Forest, Listowel, and Walkerton. These are all towns now. Later still came Wingham, Shelburne,and Palmerston. I travelled over the sites of these long before they were thought of as places for towns. Durham, Paisley, Port Flgin, Arthur, Fergus, Flora, Teeswater, Thornbury, Tiverton, Priceville, Chatsworth, Flesherton, Eugenia, Southampton, Tara, Hanover, Clifford, Harriston, Chesley, Mildmay, Bervie, Ripley, Singhampton, Heathcote, Kimberley, Ethel, Bluevale, Brussels, and last, but not least, Clarkesburgh. These are all places of more or less importance, and some of them are rapidly growing into the dimensions of towns.

There are two or three other subjects that 1 intended to notice ; but the space at my disposal is filled up.


I always feel a sort of sadness come over me when I am parting with friends. So now, kind readers, I experience regretful emotions at taking leave of you. With many of you I am personally acquainted. I have sat at your tables, I have slept in your beds, I have warmed myself at your firesides and in many ways I have shared your hospitalities.

For some of you I visited your sick, buried your dead, baptized your children, and married your sons or daughters.

With some of you I have prayed and wept, as you knelt in humble penitence at the feet of the Crucified One ; and when you found the joys of salvation I rejoiced with you.

With others of you I have not the pleasure of an acquaintance; but I trust that you are not unfriendly either to myself or my little book.

I have given you facts in as pleasing a manner as I could, without extravagant colouring. I have tried to tell you the truth in describing these experiences. In doing this, I have used the language of the home circle as it is spoken by the working people of our own country.

If I have succeeded in meeting your expectations, I shall rejoice; but if I have failed to do so, I shall regret very much that my ability in this has not equalled my desire and intention. The disappointment will be more keenly felt by the writer than it can be by the reader.

And now, wishing every one of my readers a prosperous and contented life, and a home at last in the bright beyond, I must reluctantly say good-bye.

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