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James Dodson

Among the aphorisms of Solomon occur these words, “of making many books there is no end,”—words which, to most readers, suggest the instant inquiry, “What would he say if living in our time?” The answer to this question can at best be only conjecture, and it is, therefore, left to each one to frame for himself. It is manifest, however, that the present age is wonderfully prolific in multiplying books. The human mind, by its divine constitution, is necessarily active, and in most minds there is a natural propensity, orally or in writing, to communicate their thoughts to others. The force of this propensity is greatly diversified; as much so, perhaps, as the features of our faces. Although the multitudes of books, magazines, pamphlets, and tracts which issue from a teeming press amount to millions annually, they do not amount to a tithe of the thoughts of human hearts which find no expression, either in word or writing. But, alas! many or most of these, whether latent or expressed, are of such moral complexion as to confirm the testimony of him who alone searcheth the heart, that “out of it proceed evil thoughts,” etc. Most modern books have at least one material advantage above those of former ages—they are more convenient to handle. The ponderous folios are now mostly confined to encyclopaedias and illustrated family Bibles. The value or utility of the illustrations in the latter may be questionable. Pictures are for children, and even they are more amused than instructed by them.

Believing that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are an objective and supernatural revelation of the character and will of God, of supreme authority, and alone infallible as a directory of human belief and conduct; and believing, moreover, that the law and the testimony, though distinct, are inseparable (Exod. 20:17), and that the precepts of the moral law are best interpreted in the life of the Lawgiver himself, and then in the approved examples—the footsteps of his hitherto little flock, the flock of slaughter; it shall be my endeavor, in the following “Narrative,” to have this law and these examples always in view. Accordingly, having occasion to speak of myself in connection with others, and disregarding the charge of egotism, I will use the first person and singular number. My warrant may be seen in the example of the first inspired writer, especially in the Book of Deuteronomy. Likewise, the Apostle of the Gentiles, within the compass of a few verses, and in necessary self-defence, speaks both in the first and third persons (2 Cor. 12:1-5). It is an instructive fact that Paul was “constrained to appeal unto Caesar;” but he had been obliged repeatedly to ask from heathens that liberty denied to him by his own countrymen—to defend himself in defence of the gospel (Acts 21:37-39). All people know that the most effectual way to destroy the credibility of a witness is to destroy his moral character. I shall have occasion to vindicate myself in vindicating truth and order against false accusations, misrepresentations and evil surmisings. In doing this, it will be necessary to designate persons by name in connection with public transactions. Many of the actors within the compass of this “Narrative” are silent in the grave—indeed, most of them; but I trust that nothing from my pen will do wrong to the memory of those from whose sentiments and practice I was constrained to dissent. With some of them I often “joined sweet counsel, and walked to the house of God in company.”

Some may suppose that the title and the contents of this book do not harmonize. Well, to tell the truth, the heterogeneous matter to be recorded caused considerable difficulty in fixing upon a suitable title, inasmuch as important events before my time cannot rank under “Reminiscences,” yet they are surely “historical.” Also history and biography, like twins, are closely allied. What is history? Is it not biography extended, a record of events in which individuals and their associates were the actors? And, as to autobiography; when one writes of’ himself, this sort of writing is most commonly attributed to an ambitious desire for posthumous fame. But every rule, we say, has exceptions. Even so in this case. Moses, David, Jeremiah, John, Paul, and others, wrote about themselves, especially as they were associated with others in public transactions which had an influence for good or evil upon communities. But will any Christian say that any of these men was actuated by mercenary motives or unholy ambition? Certainly not, and if any one would venture to insinuate that they, or any one of them, was so actuated, he would thereby subject himself to just suspicion of being guilty in the matter falsely imputed to them—no uncommon case (Ex. 2:13, 14).

Many books are entertaining to a certain class of readers, simply because they are amusing, and such books are of little, if any, intrinsic value. Other books are interesting to a smaller and better class, because they are both entertaining and instructive, and these are intrinsically valuable. And when one has become interested in any book, and believes that he has received instruction by its perusal, he naturally desires to know something about the author. If any reader of the following pages should find them interesting, and believe that he has derived instruction from them, I propose to gratify a natural and lawful curiosity, by giving him, at the very outset, some account of myself, having regard to that great and solemn assembly when “every one of us shall give an account of himself to God.”